Monday, June 13, 2005

A Year Without Service?

The Messenger of God (peace & blessings of God be upon him) was known even to his enemies for his services to the poor and the community.

Before revelation came to him, the Prophet joined a body known as ‘Hilf al-Fudul’ to fight for justice on behalf of persons without traditional tribal protection. Indeed, he was one of the founding members of that body.

Even after revelation, he recalled his involvement in the pledge to serve the downtrodden. He once said publicly: “I was there before revelation to pledge in support of the weak. If I was called upon even after revelation to renew my loyalty to that group, I would gladly do so”.

The honesty and integrity of the Prophet were never questioned, even by his enemies. Few were surprised when he refused to be bribed to abandon his mission. Fewer were surprised by the loyalty he generated in his followers.

The Prophet’s life was one of service to all people. He established a system of spiritual purification based on active service to the community. His tradition was followed by those following in his footsteps.

Muslim scholars and rulers served their communities. Every mosque had lodging for travellers. Homeless people were provided for. Hospitals provided free medical care. The community guaranteed the wages of professors and teachers. Public parks and baths guaranteed fresh air and good health.

In India, scholars like Muin ad-Din Chishti established the tradition of service by feeding homeless and poor people regardless of their faith. This tradition is found even in sufi offshoots such as the traditional Sikh communal meal at the gurudawara (house of worship).

On the battlefields, Muslim and Jewish doctors were sent by Saladdin to bring relief to the Crusader king of Jerusalem who suffered from a severe skin disease. The head of this medical team was a Jewish rabbi who was not disqualified from his post notwithstanding the fact that he had written a book in Arabic o why Judaism was superior to Islam.

This is our history. We are a people of service.

But when it comes to Australia, our service stops. I can think of very few Australian Muslims whose service to the broader community is recognised and known. We are not seen to be active in any areas of public life.

This especially became evident this long weekend when the Queens Birthday Honours List was published. Not a single Muslim made it to that list.

It is true that we do good deeds for recognition by our Lord, not to have our names published in an honours list. But the fact is that such lists are read and noted by the broader community. Our absence from that list speaks volumes for our refusal to contribute to our communities.

Where are the Muslim public servants assisting governments with implementing policy? Where are the Muslim medical researchers or fundraisers or educators or academics or writers or journalists or civic leaders? Where are our deeds mentioned and recognised? What evidence do ordinary Australians have that we really do wish to contribute to this country?

I am proud to be Australian. But sometimes I feel ashamed to be an Australian Muslim. When I see Muslims visibly contributing little and openly complaining about discrimination, I feel ashamed of belonging to a community that prefers to take and take but gives nothing in return and expects everyone to make allowances for them.

It’s as if we have forgotten about our heritage. We talk a lot about it. We argue and complain when we are discriminated against or when some journalist or talkback host speaks ill of us. Yet what have we done lately for this country? How can we expect our fellow Australians to be charitable to us when we visibly contribute little to Australia?
© Irfan Yusuf 2005

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