The Enduring Heart
Issue 78 March 2011
“Christians held a mass in Tahrir Square, side by side with their Muslim brothers. All Egyptians were praying for freedom. My country, my Egypt, where the adhan calls and church bells ring and all people pray to Allah.”
My heart leapt when I read these words, written by a Facebook friend on my wall. Although thousands of miles away, I could feel the beauty of the hearts that had not just set aside differences, but rejoiced together in their diversity; and who together fought for their freedom and liberty.
I feel so very privileged to have authentically belonged to two world faith traditions, to have known and loved God through different eyes, but with the same heart.
And yet there have been times when my heart has ached at the divisions, and the intolerance of people determined to underline their differences in order to further their own interests rather than to seek harmony in order to bring goodness to the common good.
The Prophet talked of the heart, “Verily in the body, there is a morsel of flesh that if it is correct then the whole of the body is set aright, and if it is corrupt, the whole of the body is corrupt. It is the heart.” And it is the heart we must strive to purify in order to fully realise our true human potential.
The Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions have shown us not just the power of the people, but the heart of the people. After Mubarak’s patronising second speech, which provoked fury within the people, one word spread through the crowds of protesters, “Salama!” The throngs of people were urging each other to remain at peace, to be calm. They knew if they continued to resist the brutality and provocation with courage and fortitude, not with violence, then freedom would ensue. And so it was. Just a few hours later, Mubarak resigned and the people were triumphant.
Egypt shows us that change of a high magnitude is possible. They were leaderless in reality, yet they followed values. They were disparate in their backgrounds, yet united in their desire for human dignity. They had no map, yet they found their way through instinct and humanity.
And so it is with all problems we face in life. Change does not have to be on the scale of a national revolution. We put off change within ourselves, within our homes, within our community, claiming lack of leadership, lack of unity, lack of direction. Such excuses can no longer be used. Islam teaches that humanity is inbuilt with a natural inclination towards right and good. It is time we found our inner compasses.
Egypt has shown us the importance of three things. The success of the collective does not require homogeneity of viewpoint. Rather, it requires us to set aside difference for higher goals and aspirations. We are always so concerned with being ‘right’ that the humility necessary to unify is often not there. Imam Shafi used to say when issuing a legal opinion, “I think I am right, although I entertain the doubt I may be wrong; and I think the opposing opinion is wrong, although I entertain the possibility it may be right.” Such magnamity is often missing from our discourse, but consensus requires negotiation.
Secondly, change is achievable if you believe it is possible and can envision it. Self-belief is necessary to weather the inevitable storms that will batter your ambitions and hopes. They may not come in the form of the riot police or tanks on the street, but the internal whisperings which tells us ‘why bother’, ‘who do you think you are’, ‘you can’t achieve anything.’
Finally, Tunisia and Egypt showed us that the conquest of fear is a necessary prerequisite for the conquest of tyranny, indeed to affect any form of change. It doesn’t have to be the fear of an oppressive regime; it can be the fear of failure, the fear of embarrassment, the fear of change itself that inhibits our ability to move forward. But when we overcome our fears, we gain strength; as we increase in strength, we are better able to confront our fears. It is a virtuous cycle.
It is still early days after Tunisia and Egypt I know, but I am inspired. I try not to get too intoxicated on the dizzy beauty that I have seen unfolding; yet hope and optimism have been released, self doubt cast aside. Change for good - however great or small - is not only possible; it is achievable. Unity is not a theory, it is a lived reality. Common humanity, and the quest for dignity, are worth striving for. And the heart will endure.