Can I wear your kufi, brother? *
By Samar Luberto
There is a Native American saying that goes something like - “You can never really know another human being unless you walk a mile in his/her moccasins (shoes).”
If pondered over sufficiently, this is a very valuable saying as it opens the mind to a new way of perceiving and thus understanding fellow human creatures. Perhaps this saying has even more relevance in the modern world, in which ‘wanton’ nationalism is the breeding ground for prejudice, racism and other types of discrimination of such a diversity and number, the likes of which heretofore have never been experienced. Particularly is this relevant to the situation of modern-day Muslims the world over whose very name (i.e. Muslim) professes a link to the Islamic ideals of racial equality and fairness. Muslims need to explore and fully understand the beliefs that they hold about one another and to examine these beliefs in the light of Islamic teachings.
Think about it, what if you really did put on the shoes of your sister or brother in Islam? Do they fit your feet or do your feet fit into them? Do you like these shoes (do they like you?)? Seriously, as a mental process, it is a very graphic way of trying to understand where someone is coming from by pretending to be them - by attempting to understand their feelings and reasons for feeling the way they do, by listening and often by reading up on the literature of various groups, religions and cultures. Most importantly, it is by withholding one’s judgment until sufficient time has passed that one can honestly claim to have put on the shoes of another. How does this apply to the relationships of Muslims today? Let’s see.
Although there is what is termed ‘a global resurgence of Islam’, it is not apparent that there is (as of yet) a global resurgence of unity among Muslims. Many Muslims are delving into their Islamic ‘roots’ and desiring to make a return to Islamic practice, but so often is this practice only topical; that is, that (not-necessarily-Islamic) cultural practices hold greater sway than true Islamic teachings. A shining example of this could be the current trend in the USA for Muslims to pledge allegiance first to their particular cultural groups or national affiliations and secondly to the cause of Muslims. This goes beyond the natural necessity for affiliation with similar language/similar culture. Muslims need to examine the virtues of this type of affiliation.
The second problem of modern Muslim relationships lies in not how they affiliate with each other, but how they do not affiliate with each other. Perhaps, strict unicultural allegiance would not be such a problem except for the fact that it often precludes any meaningful relationships with others of different backgrounds. An example of this is the very narrow-minded practice of considering one’s own culture as the prime criteria to which the deficiencies in others’ cultures are exposed and those of one’s own are hidden, i.e. racial and cultural supremacy pattern. Many Muslims are not aware that they think in such ways, being as it is, often very subtle. Thus, Muslims need to examine their own ways of thinking and subject this examination to rigorous criteria.
If Islam is the profession of the Muslims, then to Islamic criteria do Muslims look as the prime criteria that determines the nature of their relations with one another. As far as the validity of racial and cultural supremacy, the Qur’an says: “O mankind! Lo! We have created you make and female, and have made you nations and tribes that ye may know one another. Lo! the noblest of you, in the sight of Allah, is the best in conduct. Lo! Allah is Knower, Aware.” (49:13) In addition, the Prophet (pbuh) said: “God does not judge according to your bodies and appearances, but He scans your hearts and looks into your deeds” (Muslim)
The cause of Islam is the cause of the Muslims united, not superficially divided and estranged due to over-reliance on countries of origin. Thus, the Prophet said:
“The relationship of the believer for another believer is like (the part of) a building, one of which strengthens the others.” He illustrated this by interlacing the fingers of both of his hands (agreed upon). Another hadith states: “You will not have faith until you love one another…May I direct you to a way by which you will love one another? Spread greeting and salutation between yourselves. Spread the practice of saying: Peace: be upon you’ amongst yourselves.” (Muslim)
By collectively understanding and applying these and other such sayings, Muslims can improve their relations with one another. Thus, we Muslims need to scrutinize our own attitudes towards each other. Do they fit the criteria found in the Qur’an? Do they model the Prophet’s example? Place yourself in the other person’s shoes and just try to understand.
Originally published in the April – June 1992 print edition ofThe American Muslim