I have noticed lately that there seems to be a rise in religious overzealousness without much practical applications to fundamental religious teachings of being a responsible citizen of the community. While I have derived my observations specifically from my interactions with fellow Muslims from my East African community via social media sites, this trend seems to be more pronounced among social circles that identify themselves as fairly conservative and traditional. Before I go any further, I would like to state that I am pro-democracy and free speech, and I believe that each person is entitled to living her/his personal philosophy as long as it doesn’t harm others. The problem I have is that there are plenty of ‘proud to be Muslim/Islam is the best’ declarations without much practice to them. The old adage “Talk is cheap” has not survived this long for no reason-people tend to say a lot without necessarily doing a lot.
One of the key characteristics that separates humans from other organisms is self-determination. Non-human lives are largely determined by environmental factors and their actions are basically driven by individual primal survival needs. Their day is generally summarized as ‘today I will either be the hunter or the hunted’. Humans on the other hand have higher and more complex social brains; the evolution of our intelligence has allowed us to constantly push physical boundaries so much so that the saying ‘the sky is the limit’ today sounds rather old-fashioned. Our social intelligence however sometimes leaves a lot to be desired. While we are at a point where we are exploring life on Mars, we tend to be Neanderthals when dealing with each other. It’s no wonder we are constantly bashing each other back into the proverbial Stone Age.
Albert Einstein is quoted as saying “We can not solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them”. Our community today is ridden with poverty, corruption, and poor education standards; factors that contribute to the underdevelopment of our society. Every Mpwani is talking about our Swahili towns being taken over by non-indigenous folk. There is real fear of our once proud and indestructible culture dwindling to extinction. Things need to change in order to stop our towns from going in a downward spiral. To talk of positive change is good, but in order to ensure long lasting and sustainable improvements, the very nucleus of our social DNA has to be altered. We need to think on a micro scale rather than a macro scale.
There is a verse in the Quran that states:
“And indeed Allah does not change a peoples’ condition unless they change what is in themselves” (13:11).
I honestly feel that changing the world doesn’t start with complicated legislations, high-tech machinery, or performing social welfare stunts that would rival Superman’s physical feats. Often times, the greatest impact for global change starts with our own personal conviction to be that change. And before you can start telling me that ‘mateso yetu ni majaliwa’ (our problems are pre-destined), I challenge you to think of problems as opportunities for growth rather than decline. Think of human beings as balls in a pool table; our individual movements have a direct impact on other balls as well. The way we come into contact with other balls will determine how those other balls roll, eventually determining if that winning ball will fall into the hole or not. If you were a ball, would you give a winning ‘hit’ to other balls? In your daily life, will you grumble about how life is unfair or will you be the one that makes someone else’s day better? Will you give a smile rather than waiting for one? Will you build yourself up economically rather than wait for government handouts (that are dwindling every day anyhow). Will you be the one that inspires others to serve the common good?
Mombasa, Lamu, and the rest of the Coast have what it takes be a key player in Kenya’s development. Consequently, our increased participation in activities that promote self-reliance will also ensure that our standard of living will improve as a whole. In the popular song ‘Azimio la Arusha’, taarab legend Juma Bhalo extols the virtues of self-reliance:
“Ni jambo lenye fakhari-mtu kujitegemeya,
Humwepuka kila shari,-na balaa za duniya,
Kwa uwezo wa Qahari- mambo yote hutengeya”
(Self reliance is a virtuous attribute, one to take pride in,
Through self reliance, (social and economic) calamities of life are detracted away from you,
By God’s will, a lot of success goes in your favor)
In the end, perhaps it is common human decency that will end up being our saving grace. The concept of do unto others what you would wish to be done to you has to be the social norm in order for us to be successful as a group. Declarations of religious pride don’t elevate a community. Actions do.