“O people, lend me an attentive ear!”
the man called out over 1400 years ago at the plain of Arafah.
What followed was a series of words profound – announcing ideals timeless, yet way ahead of its time.
For in a world where societies were still organised by caste and women were treated as little more than chattel, Muhammad’s s.a.w. final sermon asserted a consistent thread throughout his lifetime struggle: equality among people and peoples.
“All mankind is from Adam and Eve,
an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor does a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab;
also a white has no superiority over a black nor a black has any superiority over a white
except by taqwa (God-consciousness) and good action.”
As breathtaking as those words were was its audience – the gathering at Arafah listening to the speech were men and women from a myriad of tribal, national and socioeconomic backgrounds. In that crowd were people and peoples who were enemies of each other just a few years prior.
On that day they were all united in performing the Hajj – affirming their faith in the Oneness of their Creator, and the oneness of His creation.
It was only to such an extraordinary gathering would the message of the sermon have resonated so strongly – strong enough to echo through the ages and the continents, and spread to an audience even bigger and even more diverse than that at Arafah over 1400 years ago.
The man called out 60 years ago at Merdeka Stadium:
Tunku Abdul Rahman announced to the world the birth of a new sovereign nation; one independent of the political clutches of her former colonial master.
Decades on, Malaysia has climbed to heights unimaginable in 1957.
Today she has become an influential political and economic force in Asia.
Today she has placed herself firmly on the world stage by participating in major international political decisions, through success in international sporting events, and is a favourite holiday destination for visitors the world over.
But today, her independence is still far from complete; behind the facade of a peaceful, dynamic melting pot this nation has not yet banished the spectre of poor race relations.
For the people of this fair land, unity has proven to be the unattainable Malaysian Dream – a Dream played out in the form of romanticised advertisements come every festive period featuring the Malay, Chinese and Indian boys who are the best of friends.
Yes, there is a beauty to diversity – but diversity can sadly be a double-edged sword.
After all, it is part of human nature to be uncomfortable with the presence of the Other – other races, other religions, other cultures different and unfamiliar to Us – our race, our religion, our culture.
The tragedy is that this discomfort can easily turn to fear, and the worst of the human condition present in all of us can manifest in society in the form of discrimination, exploitation and apathy.
In Malaysia we grow up being taught the importance of “tolerance” towards the Other.
But 60 years after Merdeka is a good a time as any to ask ourselves:
Is mere tolerance good enough anymore?
Specifically, an acceptance that diversity is not something to be loathed or feared.
In fact, diversity is described in the Quran as a sign of God:
“And of His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth and the diversity of your languages and your colors. Indeed in that are signs for those of knowledge.” – Al-Quran [30:22]
This genuine acceptance of diversity must occur in every racial, religious and socioeconomic group in Malaysian society. This must be an awakening which happens at the grassroot level, a realisation that the time for indifference and lazy waiting for government efforts to banish our national demons for us is over.
After all diversity is a cornerstone of our national identity, and unity is our Dream.
The Malaysian Dream will stay forever as that – a dream – if we continue to be satisfied with mere romanticisation of ‘the good old days’.
The definition of tolerance is to endure something unpleasant i.e. to tolerate a loud noise, or a bad stench.
Has this been how the diverse social groups in this country have been taught to coexist so far?
If so, no wonder that spectre of racial tension has never left us – we have given it license to stay by “tolerating” its presence..!
No – it is not tolerance we need, but rahmah: an Arabic word the meaning of which encompasses mercy, compassion, and love.
Let the Other not be feared, but be seen instead through the lens of rahmah.
This year, Muslims will celebrate Eidul Adha the day after Merdeka day.
It is a day which should not be overlooked as just another Malaysian holiday – because the celebration of Eidul Adha is a commemoration of Ibrahim’s a.s. willingness to sacrifice his beloved son on the command of his Lord, and in this is a lesson immensely relevant to Malaysians in 2017.
For a nation bound together by rahmah will be but a fantasy if we do not follow the example of Ibrahim a.s., and sacrifice. For us Malaysians, this sacrifice will have to be in the form of our time, effort, and above all our egos.
We have to do so by proactively and honestly connecting with those people – our neighbours, colleagues, strangers – who we now know merely as Abu, Ah Chong and Muthusamy.
In truly engaging with them we will come across inconvenient differences in perspectives, and issues which may challenge our worldview or make us uncomfortable.
But that is exactly the point: that perhaps, with dialogue, we will start to know them as more than just Abu, Ah Chong, and Muthusamy – and start seeing our common humanity.
In short our independence as a people will only be complete when we are united by a sense of rahmah; and that in turn will only come about with the sacrifice of our time, effort and egos.
This is a formula so very simple in theory – but exceedingly difficult in practice.
This year, the gathering at Arafah coincides with Merdeka day.
If anything, that gathering should be a source of hope that diversity does not have to mean disunity. And yes – a reminder that there is truly a beauty to diversity.
Those at that plain over 1400 years ago, listening to his sermon in person, were instructed by Muhammad s.a.w. to “take these words to those who could not be present here today”
Dutifully, they did. Perhaps we should lend an attentive ear.
Credit to : Muhammad Mikhail, an activist and member of IKRAM UKE Journalist Club
IKRAM UKE wish you all Happy Independence Day and Eid Adha.
And may Allah accept all of our good deeds and prayer on this blessed day of Arafah.
IKRAM UK & EIRE
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