Monday, January 28, 2008

REFLECTION: Bhangra Pluralism

Tonight was my nephew’s engagement party. My nephew was born at Royal North Shore Hospital in Sydney some two decades ago. I was there in the waiting area when he arrived into the world. I was also given the task of whispering the adhaan (call to ritual Islamic worship) in his ear.

Now, after all these years, I see him doing the traditional bhangra dance with his three mates – one Jewish, one Hindu and one Sikh. And masha-Allah (by God’s will), he is sensible enough to know that having these friends in no way compromises the adhaan his uncle whispered into his ear at a time he would no longer remember.

No doubt my nephew would have shared his best friend’s bar mitzvah. It’s likely that he’ll be best man when his friend ties the knot at his home or their synagogue. And when my nephew ties his knot, his Jewish best mate will be his best man.

One day, his uncle will also tie the knot. The role of my best man is already reserved for my best mate from school. The fact that he is an Anglican and a chorister has little bearing on the matter. Just as I was best man at his wedding in the Cathedral when he was marrying his Japanese wife, who was then still Buddhist.

Allah sent us to this world to live in peace and to spread peace. Pluralism is perhaps the highest and most sublime collective human expression of peace. It isn’t enough for us to tolerate those different to us. We must understand them, accept them as they are and befriend them.

The wonderful thing about Australia is that it allows us the freedom to develop such friendships. No doubt Jews and Muslims in Hebron would be shocked to learn that a young Muslim man who prays five times a day could have a young Jewish man as his oldest and best friend.

But why should this surprise anyone? The Prophet Muhammad married a woman who was a Jewish family. Indeed, she was a Jewish princess named Safiyya. Why should it surprise us that a Sikh and a Hindu are also part of this circle of friendship? One Indian Muslim gentleman told me today that Muslims are breathing much more easily in India. I asked him why. He said that the political winds had changed now that India had a Sikh Prime Minister. We also spoke of Mohandas “Mahatma” Gandhi, a practising Hindu some of whose closest friends and benefactors were Muslims.

So many of our Muslim brothers and sisters across the world live in virtual mono-cultural and mono-confessional societies where ethnic and religious differences are forcibly ironed out or kept hidden. Allah has saved us living in countries like Australia, New Zealand, United States etc from such a misfortune.

In Australia, we are enjoying the experiences of medieval Andalusia, but our convivencia has been established by the Australian constitution and protected by the rule of law and liberal democracy.

May God preserve our convivencia for generations to come. God bless Australia.

© Irfan Yusuf 2007

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