The spirit of a religious festival manifests itself in fostering the goodness of mankind, in promoting understanding and in the fact that men, women and children of this world belong to a single, large family.
Eid Al Fitr, which signifies the end of the Holy Month of Ramadan is one such-it signals an occasion to rejoice, forgive transgressions and forget differences-for, what is a world if it cannot keep its people together?
Although not born into the Islamic faith, I have, since my formative years, been drawn to the Muslim fraternity, fostering understanding with a small but well-knit circle of friends, as neighbours, classmates, work colleagues and so on. Thereafter, my career took me to the Kingdom of Bahrain, where I spent more than two decades pursuing the journalistic profession and more importantly, endeavouring to learn a little more about Islam.
Hailed as the seat of Islamic heritage and the land of the ‘Dilmun,’ to which the legendary traveller Gilgamesh reached in search of the true paradise on earth, I understood the meaning of Islam and its teachings.
The Islamic Spirit
Perched as the gateway between the East and the West, Bahrain is no more than 1500 kms away from Makkah, which is really the earth’s midpoint and a centre of religious tolerance, in the true spirit of Islam.
For all the explanation that is now given painstakingly by scholars and preachers that Islam does not condone violence, deliberate acts of terrorism and anything destructive conducted in its name, I had learnt the spirit of religious and social tolerance in the little Kingdom. There were and there are no restrictions for Hindus to conduct their religious festivals (Diwali is an occasion which the Bahrainis celebrate with gaiety), Christians to congregate and pray (Christmas is a great day when the entire country switches on the festive mood and New Year’s Day is a public holiday), Jews to have their synagogue, Sikhs to promote their Gurdwaras and so on.
In fact the country’s leadership is so enlightened and benevolent that people are encouraged to pursue their faiths and religious and social diversity are celebrated.
Why should you reader, know about what goes on in a small island nation of less than 700,000 people (of whom more than 250,000 are foreigners who live and work as expatriates) in New Zealand? Is there relevance?
Indeed. People like me, often so indifferent to religious segmentation (because we believe God is One and all people are one) begin to learn about Islam and respect its teachings because we are not forced to do so.
A society that practices religious and social tolerance, a country that welcomes foreigners into its midst in good faith and without reservation and an economy that accords equal opportunity to every human being is one that propagates the belief that all human beings are made equal-a belief that forms the core value in Islam and in the Holy Quran.
Islam does lay down strict codes for its believers to follow (which religion does not?) but there is no prescribed supervision. Like all other faiths-the Ten Commandments of the Old Testament and the Bhagavat Geeta-the dos and don’ts are mentioned but to paint a picture of extremity or harshness is unfair indeed. Scholars often say that moderation is a tenet in Islam and those who condemn other religions are not true Muslims at all.
Which takes me to yet another hotly debated topic, especially since September 11, 2001.
The terrorist attacks in the US, the loss of lives and property, followed by the bombings in Bali and London and other incidents have left a deep scar in the mind and heart of every Muslim, since, at least for the perpetrators claim to ‘do their sacred duty as Muslims’ through destruction.
Such acts are precisely what are meant to be shunned, for Islam is not only an egalitarian religion but also one that embraces humanity in general.
It is also a pity that the world or the US woke up to the dastardliness of terrorist-supremos only after 9/11, while many other countries of the world have been suffering from terrorist attacks purportedly perpetrated by those claiming to be the servants of Islam.
Thousands of lives have been lost in India by the terror unleashed by the so called separatists of the Kashmir Freedom Movement, while many ugly acts of terrorist groups have disturbed the tranquility of the Philippines and until a decade ago, Bali in Indonesia.
None of these serves to promote the great religion that Islam is and the teachings of the Holy Quran and the learned Prophet Mohammed.
There is more to such thoughts which are being shared by other, more erudite scholars, thinkers and writers, elsewhere in this Special Report.
1. In the sea of humanity, all are equal; how would you tell a Muslim from another?
2. Muslims pursue peace and piety- Some pilgrims in Makkah (Picture by Affif Shah)