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  • Writer's pictureDr. Asma Abdullah

MY AWAKENING THROUGH DIVERSITY, UNITY AND PEACE

written by Dr. Asma Abdullah





My introduction to Al Hunafa started in 2000 when one of my non Muslim friends wanted to learn about Islam. We started to attend classes in the evenings for a couple of months until he was transferred to another country on a work assignment.

As the evening classes were no longer convenient for me for both safety and security reasons, I decided to attend the Sunday class by Ustaz Kabuye. Since then I have been attending his classes on Fiqh and Akidah and have even introduced a few of my good friends (Samsiah, Fatimah, Norma, Masitah, Halim, Aisha, and Hamidah) who are now regulars to Kabuye’s classes.

I now consider myself as very fortunate to benefit all these years from Prof Kabuye’s classes as I am able to absorb the true meanings of the concepts he shares with us in our Fiqh and Tawhid classes. My religious classes during my school days were only confined to reading the Quran and learning how to pray. There were no teachers in my secondary school and university days who were knowledgeable and familiar with the teachings from the Holy Quran. While we were taught to read the Arabic script most of my religious teachers did not have a deep knowledge of what we were reading and did not translate the true meaning of the text and their applications for our daily lives. Most of us grew up not knowing what the verses really meant for us. So, it was an awakening for me to realise that the Quran is a source of guidance but it needs to be interpreted by a scholar who is well versed in terms of language and meaning.

As a human resource development specialist I often received invitations to give talks and conduct workshops on a number of topics by various organizations and civil society groups. Often in preparing to deliver the talks I would refer to materials by famous scholars and writers from the West who were often quoted by my peers in their presentations. But there were local and foreign presenters who were able to make references to the various verses in the Quran and Hadith. If they can do it, I see no reason why I should not be able to do the same.

So, in 2009 when I was invited by a group of Malaysians to talk on Peace, Unity and Diversity I decided to search for the relevant verses to enhance my presentation. It was because of my exposure to Al Hunafa and the team of lecturers that I now have begun to refer to the verses in the Holy Quran. I was amazed at what I discovered from the Holy Quran on the topics and it was obvious that for so long I have ignored using it as a source of reference.

Certainly this was another awakening for me as I was able to locate the appropriate verses from the Quran and Hadith from Islamic scholars to strengthen my presentation.

This article will focus on what I managed to obtain from the Quran on the three concepts of Diversity, Peace and Unity and share them with my audience. I will also stress on the implications of the three concepts for our Malaysian context.

Diversity

Islam teaches us that diversity is a fact of life. God has created this whole universe with diversity. There is diversity among human beings as there is variety in gender, color, language and multiplicity of races and tribes. This diversity is considered natural and are indicative of God’s creative power and wisdom and are good and healthy since they endow human life with richness and beauty.

Some of the verses are:

[Surah Ar Rom (30) : 20-22]

20: And of His signs is that He created you from dust; then, suddenly you were human beings dispersing [throughout the earth].

21: And of His signs is that He created for you from yourselves mates that you may find tranquility in them; and He placed between you affection and mercy. Indeed in that are signs for a people who give thought.

22: And of His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth and the diversity of your languages and your colours. Indeed in that are signs for those of knowledge.

[Surah Fatir ( 35) : 27-28]

27: Have you not see that Allah sends down rain from the sky, and We produce thereby fruits of varying colours? And in the mountains are tracts, white and red of varying shades and [some] extremely black.

28: And among people and moving creatures and grazing livestock are various colours similarly. Only those fear Allah, from among His servants, who have knowledge. Indeed, Allah is Exalted in Might and Forgiving.


A common and popular verse which is often used by most renown world leaders to highlight the diversity of races, families and tribes for a healthy and constructive purpose, viz. that “you may know each other” is in:

[Surah Al Hujurat (49):13]

“O mankind, we have created you all from a male (Adam, the foremost father) and a female (Eve, the foremost mother) and formed you into nations and tribes so that you may recognize one another. The noblest among you with God is someone who is most conscious and fearful of Him. God is All-Knowing and All-informed. "


God wants human beings to derive benefits from this diversity and not to allow it to generate into unhealthy schisms and divisions in their ranks. Obviously this verse has a direct implication to our multicultural society as the purpose of diversity is to “know each other,” or to learn from the other as opposed to despising the other for the difference.

Unity

The second concept of Unity lays great emphasis upon mutual understanding, love and development of brotherhood among fellow Muslim brothers. In the eyes of Allah Almighty all Muslims are equal and no superiority is given to anyone on the basis of colour, caste and creed.

[Surah Al Baqarah ( 2) : 163 ]

"And your god is one God. There is no deity [worthy of worship] except Him, the Entirely Merciful, the Especially Merciful."

[Surah Al An Am (6):19]

"Ask (them, Prophet), “of all the things (in the Universe), what is most important as evidence?” Tell them, “it is God. For God is between you and me (as a witness to the fact that) this Quran has revealed to me so that with (the wisdom of) it I may warn you and anyone to whom it reaches (against polytheism and breaking His Laws). Could you really testify that there are other gods besides God?” Tell (them), “I will never testify (so).” Say, “He is the One and only God. And I have nothing to do with whatever you may associate with him."

[Surah Al Ikhlas (112): 1-4]

"In the name of God the Gracious, the Merciful;

Say he is God the One and Only God, the Absolute, the Eternal, the Uncaused Cause of every event and everything in the universe at anytime and independent of anything."

In a biological sense He does not father anyone nor was He ever fathered by anyone. There Is no one equivalent or comparable to Him

Unity in Islam is shown in the acceptance of the six articles of belief, the fundamentals of Islam -- belief in God, Angels, revealed scriptures, prophets, the Day of Judgment, and the destiny of man for good or evil. These beliefs are held by all Muslims.

Every Muslim is a brother to every Muslim and that the Muslims constitute one brotherhood. He does not oppress him, nor does he leave him at the mercy of others (Sahih Muslim Book 032, Number 6219)

With One God (Allah), in One religion (Islam), reciting one scripture (Al-Quran), facing a single qiblah (direction, the ka'abah) with same mode of worship (Assalaat) and with a common enemy, Allah desires the unity of mankind through Islam.

Disunity breeds weakness and loss of love and a Muslim would not take pride in disunity, rather he would strive to unite the ummah bearing in mind Allah's warning in:


[Surah Al Anfal (8): -1]

"...fear Allah, and adjust all matters of difference among you, and obey Allah and His Messenger, if you are believers".


Peace

The third concept of Peace is found in the "root" of the word "Islam" which in Arabic is SALAMA. It is the origin of the words Peace and/or a submission to God and peace to all humanity. It is, thus, no wonder why the salutation in Islam is: "Al-Salaamu ‘Alaikum or Peace on You."

The Islamic relationship between individuals and nations is one of peace. War is a contingency that becomes necessary at certain times and under certain conditions. Muslims learn from the Qur'an that God's objective in creating the human race in different communities was that they should relate to each other peacefully

[Surah Al Hujraat (49):13]

"O humanity! Indeed, We created you from a male and a female, and made you into peoples and tribes so that you may ˹get to˺ know one another. Surely the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous among you. Allah is truly All-Knowing, All-Aware."


While war is repeated 36 times in the Qur’an, Peace is repeated 67 times in various meanings. The word Peace in Islam appears in several surah in the Quran. As stated in:


[Surah Yunus 10:25]

Allah calls to the Home of Peace (i.e. Paradise) and guides whom He wills to the Straight Path.

[Al-Waqi`ah 56:90, 91]

And if he be of the Companions of the Right Hand, then there is safety and peace for those of the Right Hand.

[Surah Al A ‘raf 7: 46]

There will be a barrier between them. On the elevated places on the barrier separating paradise and hell, there will be men who will recognize everyone by their distinct features. They will call out to the future fellow residents of paradise, “peace be upon you,” even though they themselves have not entered it yet, but they hope to.

Muslims, in their daily prayers (see text below) have to send blessings and peace on the followers of Abraham (as) in exactly the same manner that they pray for the followers of Muhammad (saw).

“O God, bestow Your peace and abundant favors (blessings) upon Muhammad (saw) and his people, as You bestow Your peace upon Abraham (as) and upon his people. Indeed You are Glorified and Praised."

The above words are repeated numerous times depending on the cycles of the five daily prayers - (morning prayer 2 times, noon 4, late afternoon 4, evening 3 and in the night-time prayer 4 i.e. 17 times daily.

[Surah Yunus (10):10]

"Their invocation there will be, “Glory be to You, O God!” while their greeting will be

Peace” and their closing prayer will be “Praise be to God, the Lord of the entire Universe.”

[Surah Al Hashr (59):23]

"God is He beside Whom there is no god and Who is the Supreme Sovereign, the Holy, the Source of Peace, the Grantor of Security, the One Who determines truth and falsehood, the Almighty, the Possessor of Absolute Sway over everything, the Source of Greatness. Glory be to God. He is far above and pure from the impurity of anything they associate with Him."

[Surah Al-Baqarah (2):216]

"Jihad is ordained for you though you dislike it, and it may be that you dislike a thing which is good for you and that you like a thing which is bad for you. Allah knows but you do not know."

[Surah Al’Ankabut (29) : 67]

"Do they not then see that We have made a sanctuary secure, and that men are being snatched away from all around them? Then, donthey believe inn that which is vain, and reject the Grace of Allah?"

[Surah Al Anaam (6):127]

"For them will be a Home of peace in the presence of their Lord: He will be their friend, because they practised (righteousness)."

Implications for Multicultural Malaysia

Malaysia is a minefield of multicultural cultural sensitivities. We do not know where the minefields are until we step on them and the outcome can be alarming. In our attempt to navigate ourselves to avoid stepping on these hidden targets of potential conflicts, barriers and animosities, each of us have to take steps to build awareness, have knowledge and understanding and acquire appropriate skills of living in a diverse society.

I believe we can start by doing three things:

Firstly, we have to share the definitions of the three concepts of Diversity, Unity and Peace as found in the Quran with our family members, network of friends from different ethnic and religious groups and members of the public.

Secondly, we have to start to appreciate similarities and respect differences through open conversations and dialogues on how each ethnic group view the three concepts from their religious perspectives based on their affiliations – as Christians, Buddhists, Hindus and others. These different viewpoints and perspectives have to be shared in a friendly and informed manner.

And thirdly, we ourselves have to model behaviours based on the norms and values of a Muslim ummah who are able to work together with others and excel like it used to be in the case of Spain during the medieval ages. We were told that the Christians, Jews and Muslims were able to work together in the arts, sciences, architecture, music, astronomy and medicine and this collaboration took them to new heights.

Diversity is projected by the Qur’ân as a sign of God and hence to be respected. Different identities are for recognition and hence necessary and it should not lead to any conflict. Thus the Qur’ân clearly accepts the legitimacy of diversity.

The need to examine the three concepts and share perspectives can be the starting point for Malaysians to accept other traditions and faiths as reflected in the Sufi philosophy that “ religions are like beads in a rosary, separate yet bound by the same thread”.

As stated by Ibn Arabi, a great 12th century Sufi philosopher in his poem the “Tarjamanul Ashwaq”:

“My heart has become capable of absorbing all forms

It is a pasture for gazelles and

A monastery for the monks

A house of idols

Kaaba for the pilgrim

The tablet of Torah and the scripture of the Qur'an

I adhere to the religion of love in whatever direction its caravan advances

This true religion of love shall be my religion and my faith”

Conclusion

The Quran is a source that we need to use more often to extract its wisdom and strengthen our understanding on contemporary concepts such as Diversity, Unity and Peace. The more we use the verses from the Quran, the more we can begin to offer an added perspective especially among non-Muslims who are more likely to refer to Western based texts and scholarship.


My challenge is to be able to locate the appropriate verses in the Quran to expand my understanding of concepts in our everyday life and share them with others we are in contact with.


That is my awakening --- as I can now begin to use verses from the Quran to strengthen my delivery on worldly topics. Alhamdullillah.

Source: A magazine by Persatuan Al Hunafa, Issue 2020/21


References:

http://www.islamicity.com/articles/Articles.asp?ref=IV0603-2947

Peace, Unity and Diversity in the Qur’an

Meaning of the Noble Qur’an in Simple English by Mufti Mustafizul Hasan, Moiez A.Tapia, Edited by Khalid Mahmood Shaikh. Publisher Alwaaz International.


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