Love for Our Fellow Muslims
By Amber Neumann
In 1945, Gamal Abdel Nasser wrote of the Muslim world:
Whether or not Nasser is your political cup of tea, I urge you consider his statement. Is it possible that one billion strong could be brought to mean just that? One billion. Strong.
If you are like most, right about now you're thinking "Yes, it's nice, but naive. Because, in truth, the extent of our unity extends only to the edges just outside of Jumu'ah prayers, Sunday Qur'an classes and Ramadhan iftars." Anything beyond that, and we start getting perilously close to 'us' and them' - shi'a, sunni, conservative, liberal, born Muslims, converts, Arab, non-Arab, men, women, immigrants, non-immigrants.... I'm running out of space, but not separations.
Or perhaps you're not concerned, since it doesn't touch you. Your family, community, town, nation are no doubt perfectly united in your approach to Islam and your roles as supporters of one another. If you are secure in this knowledge, let me assure you that are willfully blind. If you fail to see the exclusion, it is likely because you have chosen to exclude. Reality check: How often do you sit and eat and socialize with Muslims outside your language base, your socio-economic position? Sorry, folks, in this discussion, volunteer work doesn't count. I am speaking of friends, equals - brothers and sisters.
Tempted to stop reading? Perhaps we've touched a nerve here. But, please, don't go away just yet. There may be a solution. It is both naive and demanding, but just may work in it's sheer simplicity.
I suggest we get in touch with love. Not sex, not power - love. (Yes, I've said it, because we seem to have confused them somewhere along the way.)
We don't have much of a reputation for being very loving people, and I'm not even referring to non-Muslim perceptions. I mean amongst ourselves. Wow, the objections are so loud, I can hear them here at my computer at 12:30 a.m.! Calm down. I, too, have seen (and, indeed, known) the sweetness among us in the face of a child, the devotion to a parent, the awe of each blissful honeymoon day. I have seen the generousity of spirit for victims of disaster. I have known first hand the depth of love between Muslim spouses. These are precious jewels which largely remain within our own realms. It was as though there might somehow be something unseemly in expressing love on a larger basis.
It has been said that, as Muslims, we should be able to know each other in the streets. While this is usually said in reference to the clothes we wear, I would suggest that we do know each other - should we care to admit it. You know another Muslim when you see one, don't you? You feel it inside, but you are careful not to broach the subject until you receive some sort of signal, of confirmation that your hunch is correct. Why? Because you might lose face. If she or he does not practice and has lost their sense of Islamic identity, you might be rebuffed. Better to play it safe. No! Better, my sister, my brother, to reach out. Know that when you extend your hand to another, Allah extends his love with yours, and in what better company could one hope to be rebuffed?
You don't need me to tell you that Islam is a balanced religion. It demands the best of a human being - or at least that we strive for it. It demands self-discipline and sacrifice. It applauds a certain amount of ambition. It does not tolerate inertia of the mind, body or spirit. We have risen well to the need for self-discipline. We are true in our expression of love for Allah. But what of our love for each other? Perhaps this is harder, for Allah assures us that our love for him will always be returned. People are not so generous, and this is a lesson we have learned bitterly. At the battle of the Camels, under the foot of peasant's landlord, in the self-satisfied, barely-concealed mockery of those who are better off, in the kettles left boiling in Palestine, in too many civil wars, in the bitter-sweetness of the immigrant experience. Once burned, twice shy - our hearts seem to have grown old. Better to be safe? I hope not.