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Islamic Society ( 20 Sept 2013, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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The ‘Begum’ and ‘Saheb’ Culture



By Aisha Aijaz

18, Sep 2013

 Sakeena, a 10 year old who has never been to school, never enjoyed playing with dolls let alone the funky hi-tech gadgets,  is carrying a 1 year old in her lap, sitting on a table at a distance from begum Sahiba’s. Her dull glitter less clothes, unadorned arms and ears tell us, she’s the odd one. Sakeena’s job is to take care of the child who she can hardly carry, feed him, change his nappy and make sure he doesn’t cry while begum saheba enjoys her lavishly decorated table and socialising exercise. Sakeena has no right to run around, play or enjoy with her age-mates at the dinner and absolutely no sharing the table. She may get some food though.

 Najma, a 28 year old who looks to be 40, skinny and dark is sweeping the floor of a ‘Bangla‘ (a huge mansion). Her two-year old has an ear infection and she does not have money for antibiotics. Her concentration is everywhere. She has to finish work and get her child’s ailment sorted somehow. She takes a day off next day to see the doctor and to take care of her child who does not have proper clothes on his body and no footwear whatsoever whether it’s summer or winter. She gets told off as there was a grand dinner at Saheb’s place and Begum Saheba was in thick soup when Najma didn’t turn up as there was a big mess in the kitchen to be sorted after dinner. She was scolded, insulted and eventually fired.

 A child surrounded by a garbage heap, sorting paper and recyclables and eating our rotten left-overs from it at the same time - A child covered with houseflies sleeping on a pavement outside a jeweller’s shop (where jewellery of millions of rupees is being chosen). He dozed off while waiting for his father to go home, who sells Kulfi outside a popular shopping centre – A child who sits outside a fast-food restaurant and begs us for roti and cannot afford a chicken wing let alone a mighty burger - A child who cleans our windscreen for a few rupees and we shun him away because his water is dirty and would ruin our car – A baby sleeping in the lap of a begging mother unaware of the cruel world he has come to. She covers his face to avoid bright headlights of the cars passing by but we can see his beautiful but muddy feet sticking out of her chaadar - A child who sells a rose bud outside a restaurant where we spent thousands of rupees for what? Yes, one meal -

 A woman who washes our expensive branded and imported (etc.) dinnerware, breaks a small chip and is shouted at, beaten and declared unfit for her job – A woman who cleans our extravagant dining table, but is never allowed to share it, dusts our sofa but can’t sit on it and we love it when she sits on the floor near our feet – A driver who drives our luxurious car but waits for a bus for hours around midnight to get home and see his children on the weekend – The guard/Chowkidars who sleeps outside on the next door plot under a tent or in our car porch while we sleep in our air-conditioned room away from heat and mosquito bites – The labourer who builds our beautiful house in scorching sun, just to sleep in a place one can hardly call a room, but it’s all-in-one home for him (kitchen, bedroom, lounge etc.).

 Close your eyes

 Imagine the muddy feet, the dirty smelly clothes, no surety of food for the day, no money in the pocket, let alone banks, no transport. Recall their mistakes and shortcomings; recall our anger, lack of forgiveness, zero tolerance, and humiliation they face every day. And now, switch sides. Imagine they were us and we were them. Scary thought, isn’t it? They didn’t choose their fate neither did we. So why not fear the Creator who put us in a MORE difficult test than them by giving us authority over them.

 The dehumanization of the society had reached its limits. The above examples are complacently accepted. Humans are not equal. They are unequal just because they were born to parents of different social statuses. And the one who has money and authority is superior. The kings and queens found everywhere in our society show their grandeur with harshness and humiliation towards the subordinates at home as well as the less fortunate outside home. Softness, empathy and forgiveness are considered weaknesses.

 But this is not what we were taught, is it? ‘We are Muslims and we are proud’, ‘we love the Prophet (SAW)’ and ‘we are ready to die for him’ etc., but are we ready to live in a way he taught us to and follow his footsteps if it kills our big ego? Forgiveness, controlling anger and ignoring mistakes were compared by the Prophet (SAW) with strengths of a wrestler. He taught us that superiority came with piety and not money. Do we think that the mighty and wealthy Arab leaders who lashed and tortured the bodies of Khubab and Bilal (RA) were superior to them? No! Bilal, the black, the poor, the slave, the worthless was the most precious in the eyes of the Prophet (SAW). Did he eat in a separate corner, in different plates, a left-over food? Dig out something that supports us doing so with our servants. But, sharing tables is probably too much to ask for as far as our magnificence is concerned.

 “When the slave of anyone amongst you prepares food for him and he serves him after having sat close to [and undergoing the hardship of] heat and smoke, he should make him [the slave] sit along with him and make him eat [along with him], and if the food seems to run short, then he should spare some portion for him [from his own share]” (Muslim).

 Remember, Zaid Ibn Harith (RA) who was a slave and the Prophet (SAW) freed him and gave him the choice to go with his father, who had come, to take him, but he refused to go with his father and preferred to stay with the Prophet just because he was loved and cared for. He says he was never told his mistakes and the Prophet (SAW) used to cover what he did wrong without even mentioning it to him.

 Once the Prophet (SAW) reprimanded a companion like this,

 ‘O Abu Dhar! Did you abuse him (your slave) by calling his mother with bad names. You still have some characteristics of ignorance. Your slaves are your brothers and Allah has put them under your command. So whoever has a brother under his command should feed him of what he eats and dress him of what he wears. Do not ask them (slaves) to do things beyond their capacity (power) and if you do so, then help them.’ (Translation of Sahih Bukhari, Belief, Volume 1, Book 2, Number 29)”

 Gentleness and kindness are rare traits, very valuable in the scales of Allah. They are not weaknesses. They are actually extremely difficult traits to stick to in this materialistic world where everyone can get their mission accomplished at the point of a gun, money or a big tongue which cause similar damage to the weak ones. Kindness is a forgotten virtue. To kill an enemy might be easy in the current times, but killing ego is a hard job. But it raises us in the eyes of Allah and we are actually following the Prophet (SAW) when we do it. What a deal and what a surely victorious way. He went on to say, ‘Seek me among your weak ones, for you are given provision (or help) only by reason of the presence of your weak ones’.

 Once a man came to Prophet Muhammad (saw) and said, “O Allah’s Messenger! How many times should I forgive the mistakes of slaves?” The Prophet (SAW) kept quiet. The man repeated his question three times, and the Prophet replied at the third time, “Forgive them seventy times every day.”

We are in a more difficult test than they are. Their hereafter is easier, while we have to answer for every word that we uttered that broke them, every opportunity that we missed to help them and every action that we did to look down upon them as inferior human beings.  It was the equality, justice and liberty Islam talked of that attracted the poor and slaves to the call of the Prophet (SAW). We must correct ourselves and create a society that cares, loves and forgives shortcomings of each other.

“O God, grant me life as a poor man, cause me to die as a poor man and resurrect me in the company of the poor.” His wife asked him why he said that, and he replied: “Because (the poor) will enter Paradise (before) the rich. Do not turn away a poor man even if all you can give is half a date. If you love the poor and bring them near you, God will bring you near Him on the Day of Resurrection.” – Al-Tirmidhi, Hadith 1376