By Imam Abdullah El-Amin, MMNS
For the past two and a half weeks I have been in Nairobi and Mombassa, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar, Tanzania. As I am preparing to leave from these countries, I am reflecting on what I have seen in regards to the universality of the religion of Islam.
I went to East Africa on a mission of the Federal governmentâ€™s USAID and the Detroit Department of Health and Substance Abuse. My primary responsibility was to build coalitions among the various faith communities in Zanzibar to help coordinate interfaith activities between Christians and Muslims to enhance the spirit and power of cooperative interaction.
The mere fact that I was asked to go there is a sad commentary of the state of affairs in the religious community there â€“ and, unfortunately in many places world-wide. One thing I have observed is the need for Muslims and Christians to come out of the boxes many of us have put ourselves in. It became more obvious to me that the religious community, both here and there, has a hard time venturing out from our comfort zones, whether they be cultural, ethnic, or mathab. Interfaith work, with a productive agenda, is practically non-existent in most parts of the world.
I visited many churches and mosques and was well received at all of them. I visited Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, and others, including local traditional churches. I also had the opportunity to meet and visit many imams of varying schools of thought. I was able, by the Grace of ALLAH, to coordinate a historic meeting at the office of the Chief Mufti of Zanzibar, The highest Islamic official in all Zanzibar. I say â€œhistoricâ€ because, although they knew each other well, they had never come together with a plan for continuing dialogue before. It simply was not done there. When they were in each otherâ€™s company, they did what we often do here in America â€“ met and greeted each other, drank some tea, said some niceties, and then went back to their respective niches.
The meeting, hosted by Mufti Harith Helef, was attended by representatives of Catholicsm, the Lutheran chief officer, the Bishop of the Anglican church, plus many imams from various schools of thought including Maliki and Hanifi â€“ which also donâ€™t tend to meet much. We agreed that religious cooperation is the surest method to neutralize Shaitaan.
You see, Zanzibar has started to have a drug problem that has spawned an increase in HIV infection. Although neither the drugs nor the HIV is as bad as it is here in America, the potential for total devastation of the population is much worse in Zanzibar because there are thousands of young men and women unemployed, unproductive, uneducated, and just ripe for an onslaught of Satan. We found that there, as well as here in the U.S., the easiest victims for Shaitaan to overpower are the illiterate and those enslaved by some negative aspects of their culture. However, with the visible and vocal presence of the respected religious leaders, who the people respect, the people see a brighter picture of the purpose ALLAH created man for in the first place â€“ as caretakers and representatives of His creation.
We have an opportunity to do so much more here in America because we have a precious commodity that most of the world does not have â€“ freedom of speech and action. The suppression of these basic human qualities is a huge part of the problem in Zanzibar. If the people do happen to have an opinion about, say, world events, they are not open to express it. For instance, I did a radio interview on a station called Radio Islam, which is run by Zanzibarâ€™s Ministry of Information. In private conversation I asked the manager of the station what he thought about the Israeli attack on Gaza. He simply said he didnâ€™t have an opinion because the Prime Minister had not commented yet.
But nearly everyone respects the religious leaders because the people have a strong belief in ALLAH. They just donâ€™t have knowledge of or recognize the high position of Adam in the Qurâ€™an. So these religious leaders have the ability (and responsibility) to show the people the true strength of religious respect. Regardless of your political system of government, faith in ALLAH will not allow you to be a tool of the Devil and use drugs.
The religious leaders at the meeting with Mufti are designing a poster with a picture of them linking arms and showing their respect for each other. They are also visibly and vocally expressing that this unity is possible because there is only One God over all.
As I said earlier, our freedom in this country is precious. It also takes away our excuses to fall so easily to the onslaught of Satan. People in most other countries are not ignorant. They are very hard workers and very bright. It is just the suppression of their freedom to exercise their humanity that keeps them down. That is why when most of them come to America they excel because, for the first time, they can actually pursue a dream without fear of retribution.
Whatâ€™s our excuse?
As Salaam alaikum
Al Hajj Imam Abdullah El-Amin