Friday, June 13, 2008

REFLECTION: God, mum and Maxine McKew ...

A Muslim proverb says that a child’s first university is her or his mother’s lap. Young children at this age are like soft clay and can be moulded into more or less a permanent shape that will prove difficult to change in later years. It’s a process that might be called education by osmosis.

I graduated from the university of my Indian mother’s lap with a fear of the prayers of others, especially those I have wronged. The word for oppression in both Arabic and Urdu (my mother’s North Indian dialect) is zulm. An oppressor is zaalim and the oppressed is muzloom. Mum’s Urdu formula was fairly straight forward.

Zulm na karo. Kiyun kar Allah Ta’ala muzloom ka dua hamesha soontahey, chahe muzloom kaafir ho aur zaalim musalman.

Literally this means: “Do not commit zulm. Because God Almighty always hears and responds to the prayers of the muzloom, even where they refuse to acknowledge Him and the zaalim believes in Him”.

I’ve seen this formula work time and time again in my own life. Even if sometimes the effect was somewhat delayed. At primary school there was one boy in my class named Matt who always bullied me for having the wrong-coloured skin.

Then one day I was walking home when I noticed that Matt was teasing a blonde-headed white-skinned child from another school who lived up the road from me. I couldn’t understand why. After Matt left, I introduced myself to the boy who told me his name was Tim. I asked Tim: “Why are they teasing you for? You’re not dark”.

Tim told me the reason. We agreed it was time to take action, but felt powerless to do anything. I rushed home to tell mum about these people with white skin and blonde hair who get teased and bullied just like I did. She was confused.

“Who are these strange white people?”

“Tim said they’re called Catholics.”

Immediately mum put her favourite proverb into practise. She went with me to Tim’s place and spoke to his mum. Within days, she had befriended all the Catholics in the street. A delegation of Catholic mums, led by an Indian Muslim woman, approached my Grade 4 teacher and registered a complaint against Matt.

My mum and her new-found Catholic friends had their prayers answered through collective action and solidarity. And to think the first time mum ever voted Labor was when Maxine McKew was the candidate! Maybe it’s because Maxine was Catholic.

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

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