Suddenly, a new year and still dominated by dangerous political individuals who are leading us down a path of more wars and strife.
Are there any voices of sanity and compassion that counteract the cacophony of mad shoutings from leaders such as the American Trump, the Indian Modi, the Saudi Mohammed Bin Salman or the Burmese Aung San? Their actions are full of venom and intolerance, and instead of leadership that draws people together, they divide us by race, religion or politics.
Are there any actions we can take as individuals to counteract feelings of helplessness?
To start with, I think we need to look for alternative narratives from those we receive from these leaders. For example, in contrast to Trump’s rallying call to make America great again, there is another version on the hopes for America in a poem by the African American poet Langston Hughes (1935) “Let America be America again.”
Hughes was part of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. His poem speaks of the lives and hopes of those who are dispossessed and who did not gain from the “American dream.” The refrain is, “America never was America to me.”
Parts of the poem follow:
(America never was America to me.) …
… Say, who are you that mumble in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?
I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the lands,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek —
and finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak. …
O let America be America again —
The land that never has been yet —
and yet must be — the land where every man is free. …
What is to be done by those of us who still seek meaning in our lives through faith, and how can a simple Muslim counteract the message of intolerance and rigidity, being funded by states such as Saudi Arabia or brutal groups such as ISIS? What about the same intolerance being preached by some Christians, Hindus and Buddhists?
It seems the practice of religions does not always lead to peace or tranquillity for many of us. Religion becomes another tool for suppressing others.
Why can’t Muslims pay heed to those teachings of our religion that are gentle instead of practising violence against others? Contrary to what some Muslims said, there is an acceptance of diversity in Islam, as shown in this verse:
“We have appointed a law and a practice for every one of you. Had God willed, God would have made you a single community, but God wanted to test you regarding what has come to you. So, vie with each other in doing good. Every one of you will return to God who will inform you regarding the things about which you differed.”
The source of hope for me is the individuals in my life — my loving, caring family, friends, and, yes, at times kind strangers. To have time with them is such a comfort as they lift me up and sustain me when I am down. However, no one can disregard the ills of the world nor wash away the evil men do to each other, but there are glimmers of hope!
In response to my question regarding any meaning to one’s life, one of the friends referred me to a quote from Virginia Woolf’s book, “To the Lighthouse.”
Woolf addresses the question: “What is the meaning of life? That was all — a simple question; one that tended to close in on one with years. The great revelation had never come. … Instead, there were daily little miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark.”
Let us concentrate on the “daily illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark,” and not be as pessimistic as T.S. Eliot, who writes that: “This is the way the world ends … not with a bang but a whimper.”
Maybe we are destroying the world, but until then, we can continue actively practising loving deeds rather than destructive ones. We do have a choice.
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