Ebrahim Moosa – Cii Broadcasting (03-07-12)
It all starts off with an email. A few impulsive taps on a keyboard and some clicks on a mouse set into motion a cycle that can potentially alter the social dynamics of a community. Within seconds, inboxes are beeping everywhere announcing the news of an incoming message. Curiousity is aroused and eyes start to roll. Soon jaws drop and fingers begin to point. Emotions flare, trust wanes, relationships become vulnerable and ultimately the unity of an entire society may be threatened.
For all of us who happen to be socially connected, none suffer any delusions about the current state of disharmony and intolerance in the Muslim community. In fact, many of us have already seemingly pre-booked our prized seats at the edge of the cyber-ring where such polemical bouts take place, expectantly awaiting the next round of action. As the punches begin to land and the battle becomes more intense, we bay for more, urging on our preferred candidates. Ultimately, as the fighters withdraw to their corners and lick their wounds, we tally up the scores and execute our judgements.
In the context of Muslim community politics, those judgments would most likely be passed on the community leaders or Ulema caught up in the sparring. “How disgusting it is for Ulema to behave in such a way,” or “Just look at what type of leaders we have,” are some of the common sentiments that would predictably be expressed.
What the ‘spectators’ fail to notice though is that these altercations are no ordinary fights. They threaten to rupture the social fabric and unity of the community and harm the sacredness of our faith. And as those who, metaphorically speaking, sustain such brawls through their ticket purchases, we should rightfully bear some responsibility for the ugliness of the outcome.
Speaking on Cii’s Conversation recently, commentator Mohammed Nur challenged the widespread tendency to blame Ulema or leaders for the controversies raging in the community. Making reference to an anecdote where the companions of Ali RA complained to him about his leadership not being on par with that of his predecessors, Abu Bakr and Umar RA, he notes the Khalifa’s wise response: “Abu Bakr and Umar(RA) had followers like me, I have followers like you!”
“We are very quick to say ‘leaders, leaders, leaders,’ but what kind of followers are we?” he asks.
“Honestly, I would not like to be in a position of leadership in the Muslim community. If a Mufti says something today there will be someone saying this; if another Mufti says something else, there is someone saying that. If the Ulama want to go here, then people want to go there. What kind of followers do we have, do we have followers who are really interested in the religion, who are interested in educating themselves, or just interested in following these debates and forwarding emails of Muslims cursing each other.”
He takes particular issue with the mass circulation of emails and messages of a controversial nature calling them a great fitnah. “Everyone needs to be accountable, so we want scholars to take accountability for fatawa etc. but if followers of Ulema do not go about bashing each other and each others Ulema, and do not go around mailing these emails, then this debate remains confined between the two scholars. This (mailing) is gheebah, nameemah and spreading fitnah.”
Nur advises Muslim media and the administrators of such mailing lists to be very cautious in this regard. He says issues can become huge or remain negligible based on how they are projected in the public. If a platform is used to excessively debate on a particular topic, or if somebody creates a Facebook update that generates scores of comments, then it will become an issue, he says. “We as the public and people that use the media and the mimbar choose whether to make an issue into a big issue, whereas if we abstain from the issue it doesn’t become a big issue because it is not going to the public sphere.”
Whilst debate may generate listenership, readership or viewership, it may not always correspond with the best interests of the Ummah. Nur says debates have historically played a critical role in Muslim development and thus need only to be evaluated on the extent to which they contribute towards the Islaah(reformation) of the community. “Just because people engage in a negative fashion, does not mean that we should kill the principle and say no debate.”
Proposing a criterion for the fruitfulness of a debate, he suggests questioning whether either of the alternatives being contended could explicitly be considered as fardh, waajib, sunnah, or mustahab. “What is the hukm shari of following this issue,” he asks. “If it is a fardh or waajib, no one would be debating it.” According to him most of the issues regularly being debated in the community seldom rank even as nawaafil or mustahabaat.
“When you do not speak to a friend or a colleague or a neighbour for more than 3 days over an issue which is not even fardh or waajib, then this becomes a problem; when there is a problem in households; when people do not visit in-laws or next of kin anymore, then it becomes a problem…the whole ummah becomes consumed with these issues and there is a physical fallout and it has a real-time effect on the social dynamics of the community.”
Nur acknowledges that scholars themselves need to set the parameters on how they conduct themselves in the public sphere are how they engage in debate. He however urges followers to become proactive. “Ulema need to set examples, but do (we as) followers also not engage in ways that are not becoming? Perhaps its time for us as followers to reform our institutions ourselves, through manners other than us being part of this vicious cycle, and positively engage our ulema and leaders.”
He cautions against a “mob mentality” in community affairs and encourages followers themselves to be aware of the potential role they play in entrenching division. “As long as we consume it (fitnah) and entertain it, we are part of it”Controversies, Debate, Disunity, Ebrahim Moosa, Emails, Mohammed Nur, Unity