In Search of Humanity
Issue 89 February 2012
February 11th 2011 was the day the Mubarak regime fell in Egypt. Tunisia’s dictator, Ben Ali, had fl ed the month before. The whole region was to feel the shock waves in the year ahead. There was change of the most dramatic kind.
In these pages, I often talk about the need for change; change within individuals to transform their own lives, but also the change needed to transform communities and societies. Our world is so obviously and painfully in turmoil, and thus in desperate need of transformation. I have felt this way since I was a child, and every day it is borne out in one shape or form; from the grinding poverty and famine to war; from the crimes of individuals to the crimes of nations; from the spectre of fi nancial collapse to the chasm of global inequalities.
I am no longer a Utopian. I once believed that we could create an ideal community or society, where justice reigned and people committed themselves to its maintenance because it was worth the sacrifi ce. However, life has shown me that this is unlikely, and idealised communities are probably not possible on this earth. Not even the Prophet’s community was filled with faultless individuals, all living in perfect harmony and peace.
Our frailties as humans were played out to me on the day a woman protester was savagely beaten in Egypt; batons rained down on her exposed body, and a pack of men stamped on her head and chest. I conveyed my horror on my public Facebook page. Most people were similarly outraged, but there were a few individuals whose response startled me. Some denied the abuse had happened, despite the scenes before our
eyes. Others suggested that the woman should not have been there, and because she was, her violent assault was expected. Some were concerned that she had exposed her body in public, and others were concerned about the negative effects on Egypt’s tourism industry.
I was mortifi ed by these reactions. I felt like a piece of my humanity had silently died. The quote by George Sands kept running through my head, “Humanity is outraged in me and with me. Let us not dissimulate nor try to forget this indignation, which is one of the most passionate forms of love.”
I was so outraged by humanity that I felt like despairing. Then I remembered two things. Firstly, despair is an attribute of Shaitan, and I should not follow his path. Secondly, I pondered on this verse of the Qur’an: “And Lo! When your Lord said to the angels, ‘Indeed, I will make upon the Earth one who shall be custodian of it.’ They asked, ‘Will You place upon Earth one who causes corruption therein and sheds blood, while we declare Your praise and sanctify You?’ God replied, ‘Indeed, I know that which you know not’.” (2:30)
As I have referenced before in these pages, the angels were horrifi ed by the creation of humanity because of our capacity for violence and mischief. They saw the cruelty, the bloodshed, and destruction coming. Yet the Creator of the Universe saw good in us. If He can see good in us, and thinks we are worth creating, then there has to be something worthwhile in humanity. Indeed, it has to be something so worthwhile that even the horrors we are capable of committing cannot diminish our value.
After the Merciful created us, despite the warnings of the angels, He went on to impart to Adam the names of all things. Adam—capable of intelligent thought—learnt them. Perhaps this is the thing that makes us so worthwhile: our ability to reason, and thus we should see knowledge as capable of making us righteous. Even when Adam failed by making the wrong choice and eating of the fruit from the tree, he repented, and the Creator “accepted his repentance. Indeed, it is He who is the Acceptor of repentance, the Merciful” (2:37). So, perhaps it is our ability to choose, or to know right from wrong, and to seek forgiveness when we are in the wrong, which makes us a worthwhile creation.
Whatever it is; our intelligence, our ability to choose freely, our ability to know right from wrong, or some other attribute of which only God knows, the fact remains that He knows that which the angels know not—
and neither do we.
It is because of this that I do not fall into abject hopelessness when it comes to humanity. We are capable of
infl icting so much pain, yet we are also capable of absorbing pain for others, as a mother does in the throes of birth. We are capable of so many lies, but also the ability to speak great truths, as we see from people throughout history who spoke truth to power, and died for it. We are capable of great destruction, but we also have the ability to build great monuments, as we can see from the civilisations our forefathers have created. Within ourselves, we can be the worst and the best of creation. So let us choose to strive to be the best, and along the way, hopefully we will find our humanity.