By Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi
30 June 2015
THIS time many years ago, while I was a
student in the University of Oregon, US, Ramadan had a unique flavour. Our
Muslim community was diverse.
Arabs, especially from the Arabian Gulf
region were dominant. Pakistanis, Indians, Indonesians and Africans came next
in population size.
Many new American Muslims joined our
community. We may not see all of them in daily prayers, but most attended
Friday prayer, and almost all came to Iftar and Eid prayers.
In Ramadan, the mode wholly changed. Maybe
not much of a change in schools and public space, but it was different in our
Islamic Centre with its Ramadan activities.
Families helped in lending colour to the
atmosphere. Women made special dishes for Iftar, and they and our children
joined the festival.
Around Iftar tables and during evening
prayers, Muslims from all backgrounds, following different sects, young and
old, religious and liberal, born Muslims and new Muslims sat side by side,
prayed shoulder to shoulder, read the one and only sacred book — the Quran —
and listened to same sermons.
Women did the same. Our better halves were
even more organized, enthusiastic and energized. They ran Arabic, Qur’anic,
Hadith and even cooking classes.
And when Eid came, more activities took
place in and outside the centre. Kids were given a taste of the happy occasion
in mosques, game contests and outdoor playgrounds, with wrapped gifts to all of
In Abubaker Asseddiq Islamic Centre of
Eugene, Oregon, we were one big, happy family. My Shiite, Sufi and Salafi
friends were as welcome as those who only came to mosque for Eid prayers.
Their lifestyle, personal convictions and
private affairs were not of others' concern. They could come to the Centre and
share our social activities with no question asked about their sexual
orientation, line of work or sectarian, political, ideological affiliation.
Intellectual issues and events would be
discussed, but often in an academic mode of respect, tolerance and acceptance.
Sermons were carefully worded not to upset
anyone. I miss that atmosphere, today, in the lands of Islam. I see mosques
assigned to each sect exclusively.
I watch satellite channels promoting
sectarian disagreements. I hear highly respected scholars, who have a large
following, spreading hate speech.
I find top Arab and Muslim politicians,
parliamentarians, and leaders advocating divide and rule policies. And I follow
with horror the misuse of social media in interfaith arguments among Muslims.
I was afraid of what that may lead to. In
college, I studied the Rwandan problem, when, in 1994, and within few months
(April to July), the majority of Hutus killed half a million to a million of
their fellow citizens — Tutsis (and moderate Hutus), for no reason other than
the differences in heritage and historical allegations.
The international community took too long
to recognize what was happening as a genocide, and end it.
The advocates of hate and revenge had been
turning the peaceful coexistence among the population into a mad
ethnic-cleansing war that benefited none but inhuman leaders thirsty for power
at any cost.
What I feared most came true in Iraq first,
after the US invasion, in 2003, then in Syria, since 2011, and now in Yemen.
Lately, my beloved country, an oasis of
peace and security, and now in peaceful Kuwait, sectarian attacks is becoming
more destructive and bloody.
It breaks my heart and frustrates my
intelligence to witness the results of trends long in process and progress.
How come our cool heads in every leadership
department never saw this coming? Why no one in control rooms seems to expect
what should be expected? One country after the other fell in the same trap and
went through the same Hell gates, without learning from current experiences in
the very close neighbourhoods! If history is too far to learn from, are current
affairs hard to grasp, as well?
I'm shocked, confused and disappointed that
the law against hate speech and discrimination we have been calling for ages
was voted down by a majority of the Shoura Council, after all what has happened
and resulted from such criminality.
I could accept the reasons if modifications
were suggested, but to totally shoot the proposed law down was inexcusable.
It hints to alarming personal and common
convictions and motivations. The Islamic Summit in Makkah, 2012, called for
laws forbidding hate speech and approved the establishment of a centre in
Riyadh for intersect dialogue.
In line with this vision, we urgently need
actions for those strategies to work. Our world is on fire, our enemies are in
action, and we all must rise up to the challenge before it's too late.
Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi is a Saudi writer based in Jeddah.