Malala example of how Islam can confront elephant in the room
“Islam has a sick world view. Denying that there is a connection between Islam and terrorism is being unhelpful.” These are the words of British Prime Minister David Cameron, in an emotive speech calling for greater British involvement in the fight against Islamic State.
The hard-hitting speech was a reaction to the toll that terrorism has taken on British subjects, particularly the killing of scores of British holidaymakers in Tunisia. He might well have been moved to say the same things about Christianity had he been alive during the infamous Crusades in the Middle Ages.
Years later, the perceptive South African Professor ZK Matthews said: “When the white man first came to this country, he had the Bible and we had the land. Today we’ve got the Bible and he’s got the land.”
Cameron’s tirade is perhaps the most direct call to Islam from a serving head of state to confront the elephant in the room. And what is that elephant? It is the same elephant that appears in different forms at different times in all religions, some to a greater degree than others. While amazing strides are being made in science and medicine, we have yet to come up with meaningful strategies to cope with religious excesses.
Indoctrination, superstition and ignorance are the fuel of these excesses. Thousands of years ago, Hindu holy scripts were manipulated to serve the ruling elite, giving the heinous caste system religious respectability.
The migrant labour system, although without direct religious sanction, introduced during the Cecil John Rhodes era, did much the same. From our Bill of Rights, our human rights constitution, to present-day poo throwers, we are addressing manipulation of religion and law designed to serve vested interest.
In present-day India, however, there are those who would rather die than confront this terrible practice as a sin against humanity. While the caste system is outlawed by the state of India, the practice is still rife. Not long ago, some Brahmin students immolated themselves in protest against affirmative action for Dalits in educational institutions.
However, while those high up in the Indian government condemn discrimination against Muslims and Dalits, the ruling BJP has yet to show its hand at local government level. In Sri Lanka, with the tacit backing of America, Britain and Israel, Buddhists with impunity ruthlessly engaged in years of ethnic cleansing against minority Tamil Hindus, Christians and Muslims, and to this day, have not allowed an independent inquiry into this brutal genocide on a scale to match that of the Rwandan genocide.
Tamil Tigers fought back courageously, but were eventually subdued by an uncompromising regime backed by superpowers. If you think this is bad, the excesses of proselytising religions have been, and still are, even more devastating. In their drive to convert “infidels” to their beliefs, both Christianity and Islam have the blood of millions on their hands.
In the Middle Ages, the Crusades were an orgy of carnage and mayhem, ostensibly to spread the word of that epitome of love and peace, Jesus Christ. Had he been alive during the evil campaigns that were to follow in his name, he might have again been moved to say, “Forgive them Father for they know not what they do”.
But Christianity appears to have watered down the missionary zeal of its “Middle Ages”. Reform from within the organised Church has considerably lessened overt proselytising. With some notable exceptions such as Africa’s “God’s Army”, unrestrained drives to “spread the word of God”, such as the brutal genocide by Spanish Conquistadors in parts of South America, are largely a thing of the past.
While the fanatical Bible Belt in America backed the evil Bush regime, Christianity has appeared to have quietened down on its earlier ruthless and unrelenting drive to “civilise the savages”. “Savages” such as Indians who taught them how to count and to play chess, and the so-called “Red Indians” who warned humankind that our stay on Earth is on a short lease to its rightful owners – future generations!
But what is more heartening is that Christians are openly debating their former unyielding stance on homophobia, birth control and abortion. In these instances, a once-dogmatic, unyielding religion now appears to be confronting the elephant in the room, bringing to bear a greater emphasis on genuine spiritual exercise, which is said to be the thrust of all the major religions.
“The nigger in the woodpile”, it seems, is the liberal urging of so-called “religious tolerance”. Okay, let’s grant that cricket enthusiasts can afford to be benignly tolerant of the possible distraction from the classic stroke-play of Hashim Amla and Moeen Ali by their ubiquitous beards, but we are reminded daily of how far we have wandered from the original humanity and spirituality of all religions when the early morning call of the muezzin is blasted over the loudspeakers of mosques plumb in the middle of multi-religious neighbourhoods.
There must be legions of silent sufferers who live in close proximity to these places of worship, such as my hypertensive wife. No doubt this is not being done to deliberately offend those of other faiths and those of no faith at all.
Years ago in the desert – then the decadent, hedonistic Arabian “world” – in which Islam was born, when there was no electrical amplification, the human voice was trained to penetrate long distances to call the faithful to prayer.
That call in its pristine form is inspiringly melodic as are the Gregorian chant, the Tamil thevaram and the Sanskritic kriti. These stirring sounds come from that place deep within the human soul that celebrates the beauty, the vastness and wonder of life.
One can imagine just how beautiful the call of the muezzin could be in the hands of Cape Town’s ambassadors of love and peace, Desert Rose, or in the stirring voice of that Quawali master, the late Fateh Ali Khan.
Instead of campaigns to convert “infidels”, shouldn’t Islam be doing justice to this original intent at the heart of all religious endeavour? How do we do that? Here’s what Malala Yousafzai – in her inspiring book I AM MALALA, which should be compulsory reading in all schools – has to say: “When we were invited to the White House we said we would accept the invitation on one condition.
“If it was just a photo session we would not go, but if Obama would listen to what was in our hearts then we would go. The message came back: you are free to say whatever you wish. And so we did! It was quite a serious meeting.
“We talked about the importance of education. We discussed the US’s role in supporting dictatorships and drone attacks in countries like Pakistan. I told him that instead of focusing on eradicating terrorism through war, he should focus on eradicating it through education.”
That from a 15-year-old Muslim girl who, despite taking a bullet through her eye, has not flinched in her quest to proclaim that the book is not “haram”, but humankind’s torch of life. And in her courageous quest to confront the elephant in her Islamic room.
l Govender is a South African playwright and author