What is the solution? The solution is for all of us to reconnect and reflect upon the purpose of our scholars and leaders and to support anyone working to unify and lead our community in the right direction. Majlis-e-Ulma-e-Imamia Jammu and Kashmir, is one example of group of leaders attempting to do this. I am not saying that this is the perfect organization, but they are working in that direction.
By Syed Zahid Rizvi:
In the opening pages of a book called The Education of a Gardener, the author writes that the key to a thriving, beautiful garden is unity in diversity. What does this mean? It means we must learn not only to garden, but to live by the laws of nature. The Quran is a book of guidance to help us do just that and unity in diversity is an imperative repeated throughout its pages. When we buy a smart phone today, it always comes with a user manual written by the manufacturer. The manual tells us about all the different parts, their function, how to use them, problem solving and so on. We do not meet or even know the creator of most of these products, but we know it was created and we trust in their user manuals to help guide us. So similarly, we too were created and while we do not know our creator, we have faith in the Quran, which is the user manual sent down to guide us. Its purpose is to help us know ourselves, how we function, what we need, what to do, what not to do and so on.
We do not need to go to a madrasa to understand the words of the Quran. It is manifest all around us. It is reality. When we take a walk in the forest, there are different trees, shrubs, flowers, insects, rocks, animals, temperatures, and degrees of moisture. There is so much diversity, that scientists are still discovering new species every day. However, when we take away from this diversity in some way, the ecosystem’s health will automatically decline. This is a law of nature. For example, if we remove an apex species, then their prey will grow in population and the domino effect of change will ripple outwards transforming the entire landscape. Even if we remove the tiniest of species, such as plankton from the ocean, it will have fatal consequences for the largest of species. Diversity is a sign of a healthy ecosystem, where all the different parts work together in unity, in ways both known and unknown to us.
One thing that differentiates humans from animals, is our ability to cultivate both the physical soil, but also our cognitive and spiritual landscapes. I have two neighbors. One has planted every square inch of his yard with flowers & fruits and even lined the pathway in front with pots of even more flowers. As I walk past his yard with my daughter, she grabs at lavender flowers and sprigs of rosemary. She nibbles on ripe blueberries and stops to study the bees. As we pass by her house the flowers abruptly end and our gaze is met by burnt grass, dried out from the hot summer sun. Can these gardens be considered equal in quality? No. What is the main difference between them? One is filled with diverse plants where the gardener spends time everyday getting to know and caring for all the different parts. The other one has no diversity and just requires that the owner trims the grass every now and again. Now let’s imagine all the neighbors and landowners of the city got together to plan and cultivate every square inch of spare land, it would become a paradise.
As Muslims, we know that we need to be unified. It is commanded of us by Allah. It is written, so there can be no confusion. We cannot wait for everyone to come from the same school of thought or live their life in the exact way that you want.
While I could go on to elaborate on the benefits of unity in diversity, my goal is to apply it to the social-political situation in Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir, the native soil in which I was raised from a seed. As a Muslim, I am a minority in India, as a Kashmiri, I am a minority among Indian Muslims, as a Shia, I am a minority among Kashmiris and as an Abbasi I am a minority in my own native village where almost every resident is a Shia Muslim. Is it not strange that a Shia Muslim can be a minority among Shia Muslims? All these titles are lines of division, as if I can live my life disconnected from my Sunni brothers, Sikh, and Hindu neighbors. Moreover, within the Shia community in Kashmir, there are even more divisions when it comes to politics and religious leaders. As humanity, and as Muslims, we have been divided into so many factions. We have been disconnected and taught to hate or at best avoid each other because of these differences. This has allowed invasive, hegemonic powers to take over most of the positions of power in the world. While we are divided in our fight for truth and justice, our enemies are united in oppression. This is similar to the way an invasive plant easily takes over an unhealthy ecosystem and continues to spread destruction until it arrives at its own demise.
As Muslims, we know that we need to be unified. It is commanded of us by Allah. It is written, so there can be no confusion. We cannot wait for everyone to come from the same school of thought or live their life in the exact way that you want. Nor can we each rise individually, with our very own Facebook page and our own groups of followers. No. This must stop. This must stop in Kashmir. Our egos are fueling division, and the common people are suffering. Our women our being raped, our men and children are being kid-napped and tortured. Our youth are denied quality education and are being made addicted to narcotics. We must unify ourselves, first as Shias and then continue from there to build connections, healthy relationships where we can work together in our diversity, like a healthy garden, to cultivate a more just socio-political ecosystem.
The current political landscape among Shia’s in Kashmir is divided into at least eight parties, each struggling on their own and having little impact on the wellbeing of the community they represent. While these parties’ leaders might benefit from fame and income, they are not fulfilling any political purpose according to the Quran. In fact, these divisions that they allow to exist fuel the oppressors power.
The current political landscape among Shia’s in Kashmir is divided into at least eight parties, each struggling on their own and having little impact on the wellbeing of the community they represent. While these parties’ leaders might benefit from fame and income, they are not fulfilling any political purpose according to the Quran. In fact, these divisions that they allow to exist fuel the oppressors power. Fame and income are not bad things in themselves. They are benefits. The problem is that many leaders and scholars have confused these benefits with purpose. Let’s look at food and the act of eating. The purpose of consuming food is to sustain our body so we can continue to develop our soul. However, there are many benefits. It has a good smell, it tastes good, many people earn a livelihood from growing and selling food and so on. However, when we are full sometimes we continue to eat for these benefits, but our actions are no long serving any purpose and in fact will have a negative impact on our health, which we see in the form of diabetes, cavities, heart deficiencies and so on. Similarly, the purpose of a leader is to unify and guide a community towards a more just system of government where all humans are treated in a dignified manner. There are many benefits that include fame because everyone must know about the person (s) who are leading them. Income is another benefit, for surely, we all need some type of stipend to sustain ourselves and our families. Power is another benefit. However, when we see people seeking to create and lead their own political party for only the benefits, without any purpose, we can only expect to see the degradation of the community. This is a law of nature that is manifest all around us in many different contexts.
What is the solution? The solution is for all of us to reconnect and reflect upon the purpose of our scholars and leaders and to support anyone working to unify and lead our community in the right direction. Majlis-e-Ulma-e-Imamia Jammu and Kashmir, is one example of group of leaders attempting to do this. I am not saying that this is the perfect organization, but they are working in that direction. Everyone cannot have their own Facebook page, their own fan club, their own party. This is like bricks being scattered across a field. They must come together in an organized manner if they are to form a structure. Majlis-e- Ulma-e-Imamia Jammu and Kashmir is made up of more than eighty-eight scholars. They have elected a board and are attempting to work together to work towards a more just leadership among Shias. Again, this is just a starting point, but we need to grab hold of that purpose and begin to strive in that direction. We are calling on Momineen and Muslimeen and every citizen of Kashmir to learn more about this platform and see how they can be of support. Do not seek the benefits. Strive for the purpose and the benefits will follow.
Quran is a book of guidance. Its only goal is to develop human beings. Imam Ali (A.S) was well versed in physics, chemistry, and astronomy. But he did not choose to be a teacher of any one of these subjects. He taught religion. Why? Because his first goal was to develop human beings on the moral plane. As individuals and as a society, we must continue to strive to develop and cultivate these moral and ethical attributes that bring us closer to a perfect human being. Unity is one of these attributes I am petitioning for.