Dialogue with a Muslim in South-East Asia has given much greater insight to the reasons behind the approach to understanding religion in this region, and possibly the overall non-Arab Muslim population globally. It must first be understood that the Prophet peace be upon him said,
يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ أَلا إِنَّ رَبَّكُمْ وَاحِدٌ وَإِنَّ أَبَاكُمْ وَاحِدٌ أَلا لا فَضْلَ لِعَرَبِيٍّ عَلَى أَعْجَمِيٍّ وَلا لِعَجَمِيٍّ عَلَى عَرَبِيٍّ وَلا لأَحْمَرَ عَلَى أَسْوَدَ وَلا
أَسْوَدَ عَلَى أَحْمَرَ إِلا بِالتَّقْوَى ... ) رواه الإمام أحمد 22391 وهو في السلسلة الصحيحة 2700
“O people! Verily your Lord is One and your father [Adam] is one. An Arab is no better than a non-Arab, and a non-Arab is no better than an Arab; a red man is no better than a black man and a black man is no better than a red man – except if it is in terms of taqwa (piety)…” (Ahmad, 22391; al-Silsilat al-Saheeh, 2700).
The man who was engaged in the dialogue is from a small town, is a father, grandfather, and has made one haj, and several umrahs. It was during his pilgrimages that he gained more insight to these positions. It cannot be said that his positions speak for all of his family, or his neighbours, or his race, but it gives insight in to some of the sincere among them and how they think, and why they think that way.
The Average South-East Asian Muslim
Islamic awareness went through different stages in this region. Before this region was given independence from the various European colonists, the normal people had several remnants of Hinduism in their cultures. There were few among them that had a good understanding of Islam, so those few became the Imaams. There were not many Arabic speakers among them, so even those in leadership, had only memorized recitations for the most part aside from basic knowledge of tawheed and what was influenced by the Sufi du'aat who brought the message of Islam to this part of the world. Like much of the non-Arab world, the knowledge gap between the average Muslim and the one who knows slightly more and can articulate that, causes the words 'Alim and 'Ulama to be inappropriately defined; what results from this is an entire society of people with no analytic capability in the sciences of Islam. After countries in this part of the world became independent republics and the Muslims in the region became more up to date with the developments in living conventions, there was more contact with Islamic learning institutions; most of them tend to favor al-Azhar, because of the Sufi influence and the dismissal of several juristic rulings and prohibitions, which have not been ignored nor trivialized by learning institutions in Saudi Arabia (for example).
More Than Familiarity
It has been thought that people outside
of Arabia cling to what was traditionally taught and understood even in the
light of proof and plausibility, due to a sentimental value, and a pride of
heritage. These social phenomena cannot be ignored and is indeed present; it is
Kibr, as in what was reported from
‘Abd-Allaah ibn Mas’ood,
" لا يدخل الجنة من كان في قلبه
مثقال ذرة من كبر ، قال رجل : إن الرجل يحب أن يكون ثوبه حسنا ونعله حسنة ، قال :
إن الله جميل يحب الجمال ، الكبر : بَطَر الحق وغَمْط الناس " .
رواه مسلم 91
Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “No one who has an
atom’s-weight of arrogance in his heart will enter Paradise.” A man said, “O
Messenger of Allaah, what if a man likes his clothes and his shoes to look
good?” He said, “Allaah is Beautiful and loves beauty. Arrogance means
rejecting the truth and looking down on people.” (Muslim, 91). In some
South-East Asian countries, men and women still travel the haramain for
religious education, but when they return, they are at odds with their
societies and have to make compramises when they do not support what they have learned, even when shown the
proof; many will not accept that their tradition did not take proof into
account, so there must be something else, and they insist on following that
even if said counter proof remains unknown. Kibr may not be the only
reason to make people reject truth, as this dialogue revealed.
When this Asian man went
for pilgrimage, he faced more stress than what is expected during travel. It
was not because of the intense desert heat, or the distaste for the
middle-eastern cuisine. What troubled him the most was the culture shock when
he saw the reality of the Arab people at large. Being a Muslim, where the Book
he reads for guidance is in Arabic, and the Messenger of his Lord and Master is
an Arab, and the classical scholars to which he subscribes for jurisprudence
are Arabs, created a vision of a race of pious people, radiant with the taqwah
of ALLAH. This exists in Arabia, but the entire race? Most Arabs he encountered
created distaste for those people. There was lack of enforcement for laborers
and administrative staff refusing to perform work without being paid a heavy
tip; so the pilgrim fears that his passport will be seized in customs. People
would not take service positions seriously; if a friend comes to visit during
working hours, customers will be unattended until their conversation is
completed. The relationship between Saudi's and foreign laborers creates a
prejudicial treatment of other foreigners (US and UK passport holders are often more revered).
The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “No one who has an atom’s-weight of arrogance in his heart will enter Paradise.” A man said, “O Messenger of Allaah, what if a man likes his clothes and his shoes to look good?” He said, “Allaah is Beautiful and loves beauty. Arrogance means rejecting the truth and looking down on people.” (Muslim, 91). In some South-East Asian countries, men and women still travel the haramain for religious education, but when they return, they are at odds with their societies and have to make compramises when they do not support what they have learned, even when shown the proof; many will not accept that their tradition did not take proof into account, so there must be something else, and they insist on following that even if said counter proof remains unknown. Kibr may not be the only reason to make people reject truth, as this dialogue revealed.
In the Eye of the Beholder
Most of this is not seen again once the pilgrims enter the Haramain, and they are treated with the best hospitality and assistance. However, after experiencing the harsh unrestrained Arab culture between Jeddah and Masjid al-Haraam, the non-Arab will be very reluctant to take even a God-fearing Saudi seriously.
What To Do?
This is a problem which will probably not be forgotten any time soon. Not everyone can overlook the flaws of human in light of the proven truth. Moreover, people's pasts will catch up to them; people like South-East Asians traditionally feel that the most spiritual person is the most trustworthy; the one who prays, and has little material wealth, and does not seek more. They do not say that there is sin or blame on scholars and callers who receive a government salary for their full-time devotion to servicing the religion of ALLAH. What they do not understand is that some ease, comfort and stability in life is supported by al-Islam, and there are proofs for that. However, some cultures cannot be un-impressed with excessively devout worship and asceticism, which is the appeal that Sufism gives such cultures.
Perhaps there should be less confrontation with Sufi's who have not become disbelievers. Many Scholars of the past praised them for their sincerity and their devotion to the worship of ALLAH, and the love of the prophet peace be upon him. The line was drawn at the limit of the Sunnah. Many Sufi's do not seem to see Bid'ah as a huge risk, nor Shirk when it comes to venerating the messenger of ALLAH, peace be upon him. Non-Sufi's understand the texts about these two evils to mean that they should be avoided with the utmost caution because no level of spirituality is worth that risk, and ALLAH knows best (also the belief that ALLAH sends revelation to Sufi saints is also reprehensible; while not all Sufi's have this understanding, they have some things in common with those who do believe it, so many Sufi traditions were not related in Qur'an or Hadeeth, but in the dreams of saints, so-called Awliyah of ALLAH). It should be noted that the real Ulama in Islam are not at odds with others who are at equal par in knowledge. Conflicts typically occur at the level of laymen or amateurs (such as the writer of this blog).