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M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

My Photo
Location: Morgan Hill, California, United States

Malaysian-born Bakri Musa writes frequently on issues affecting his native land. His essays have appeared in the Far Eastern Economic Review, Asiaweek, International Herald Tribune, Education Quarterly, SIngapore's Straits Times, and The New Straits Times. His commentary has aired on National Public Radio's Marketplace. His regular column Seeing It My Way appears in Malaysiakini. Bakri is also a regular contributor to th eSun (Malaysia). He has previously written "The Malay Dilemma Revisited: Race Dynamics in Modern Malaysia" as well as "Malaysia in the Era of Globalization," "An Education System Worthy of Malaysia," "Seeing Malaysia My Way," and "With Love, From Malaysia." Bakri's day job (and frequently night time too!) is as a surgeon in private practice in Silicon Valley, California. He and his wife Karen live on a ranch in Morgan Hill. This website is updated twice a week on Sundays and Wednesdays at 5 PM California time.

Sunday, December 03, 2017

Beyond Emulating The Prophet

Beyond Emulating The Prophet, s.a.w.
M. Bakri Musa

(Based on a talk given at the South Valley Islamic Community, Morgan Hill, California, on the occasion of Mawlid Nabi, December 2, 2017)

First of Two Parts:

The Koran commands Muslims to emulate Prophet Muhammad, s.a.w. In Surah Al Ahzab (33:21), approximately translated, “You have in the Messenger of Allah a beautiful example for those who hope for God and the Last Day.”

         There is no shortage of resources to draw upon to learn about Prophet Muhammad, s.a.w., from encyclopedic collections of his hadith and voluminous accounts of his sunnah (his habits, practices, and daily life) to the countless biographies (seerah) and historical accounts.

         This treasure trove should be a blessing, a guide for us on how to become better Muslims, and in turn better human beings. It is disappointing to note that the reality is far different. Those sunnah and seerah have become instruments for endless schisms and strives. We argue over their authenticity, interpretations, and yes, even relevance. Far from being sources of enlightenment, sunnah and seerah divide us. Thousands have been killed and maimed over those differences. The Sunnis and Shiites are still killing each other in the Middle East today. Having noted that, it would be trivial for me to draw your attention to the fact that companions of the prophet who are revered in one book of hadith are reviled in another.

         Even the observance of Mawlid divides us. Some consider it bida’a (an adulteration of the faith), as with aping the Christians with their Christmas. Yes, in many countries Mawlid is celebrated with the exuberance far exceeding Christmas, with parades and prizes. Disagreements over Mawlid have raged for so long, divided so many, consumed oceans of ink, and caused millions of sore throats.
         This controversy, like so many others related to our faith, stems from our inability or refusal to acknowledge a more fundamental issue. That is, we are trapped by words and language, unable or unwilling to appreciate their limitations and constraints especially when translated across eras and cultures.

         We translate bida’a as “innovation,” forgetting that today innovation means change for the better, an improvement. We encourage innovation. The word now means the very opposite of what it was during the Christian reformation when it meant challenging the prevailing orthodoxy, as Martin Luther did. You could be excommunicated, or worse, for indulging in innovation.

         This failure to be vigilant of the constantly changing meanings of words traps many. Consider hadith and sunnah. To be precise, they are not what the prophet said or did, rather what the historical narrators recalled or remembered about what the prophet said and did. There is a world of difference between the two. Imam Bukharis’ collection of hadith is considered the most sahih; yet he was not even born until over 180 years after the prophet’s death. Ibn Ishaq’s seerah, one of the earliest, was written over a hundred years after the prophet’s death.

         Consider the hadith familiar to many, that our faith would be divided into 73 sects, and all but one destined for Hellfire. That means any one sect has only a slightly better than one percent chance (1/73) of being correct. If you were being told that you have that probability of surviving surgery, you would take your chance with a bomoh.

         Yet every Muslim believes that his or her sect is the one and only true path to salvation, all others misguided, misled, and hell-bound. Such a mindset leads to a messianic zeal to correct the others “misguided” even to the point of death and destruction in the mistaken belief that it would for their own good! Better to suffer the punishment here on earth than in the Hereafter, these zealots reassured themselves with the smugness and arrogance. For others, that mindset breeds intolerance, exclusiveness, and destructiveness.

         If you appreciate statistics and probabilities, you realize that the chance of your sect being misled is 72 out of 73, over 98.6 percent! In life, that’s a practical certainty! Realizing that humbles you, prompting you to learn from others. That nurtures an open mindset that would lead to greater tolerance and generosity towards others different from you. It encourages you to be inclusive lest you would exclude that one righteous group.

         We are blessed to live in America where personal freedom is cherished. As such we are free to explore the vast, rich and varied traditions of our faith. Consider that in Malaysia, at its International Islamic University’s library, Shiite kitabs are kept under lock and key. You have to register with the authorities to borrow or browse any! If you preach Shiiism, you would be punished just as severely as if you were advocating communism! And Malaysia is widely acknowledged as a “moderate” Islamic country. Imagine the intolerance elsewhere.

         We should use the freedom we have in the West to explore not only the other proverbial 72 sects but also other faiths. Have the humility to acknowledge the high probability that our sect might be among the erroneous 72!

         I have learned much from the other traditions; from the Wahhabis, the anchoring stability of rituals and traditions; the Ismailis, the importance of stable leadership and social cohesion; and the Ahmaddiyas, the vital role of education and necessity for accommodation. The Sufis and Salafis have taught me to simplify my life, a necessity in this increasingly complex and bewildering world.

         Imam Feisal Rauf is right when he stated in his book, What’s Right With Islam: A New Vision For Muslims and The West, that America is the most Sharia-compliant nation. Many Muslims, obsessed with labels rather than content, miss this point.

         On this Mawlid Nabi we gather to honor this Last Rasul of Allah. I prefer that word over celebrate. With the latter, the children would expect gifts! Tonight, only cakes and desserts. I will depart from tradition and not lead a chorus of praises for our prophet, s.a.w. I will spare you my half-baked Arabic quoting hadith and my far-from-acceptable tajweed reciting the Koran that would grate on your ears. Instead I will focus on the achievements of Allah’s Last Prophet. No one, not Sunni or Shiite, Muslim or non-Muslim, and historians or lay people would dispute those achievements.

         I will highlight four; three after he received his prophethood, and one, before. First, he ushered the Arabs out of their clannishness and tribalism to a society that transcended those and be based only on the belief in Allah. Second, he initiated a cultural sea-change in the Arabs’ attitude towards women. Third, he altered the Arabs’ vengeful “an eye for an eye” sense of justice to one that emphasized mercy, forgiveness, and restitution.

         Last, though by chronology his first, Mohammad, s.a.w., was such a diligent, dependable and trustworthy worker such that his employer Khatijah married him. To use the language of modern business, she made him an equity partner!

         In the second part I will elaborate on those achievements and the lessons they hold for us today.

Next:  Second of Two Parts:     Personal Freedom – The Foundation of Islam


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