“And hold fast, all together, unto the rope of God, and do not draw apart from one another. And remember the blessings which God has bestowed upon you: how, when you were enemies, He brought your hearts together, so that through His blessing you became brethren; and (how, when) you were on the brink of a fiery abyss. He saved you from it. In this way God makes clear His messages unto you, so that you might find guidance, and that there might grow out of you a community (of people) who invite unto all that is good, and enjoin the doing of what is right and forbid the doing of what is wrong: and it is they, they who shall attain to a happy state!” [3:103-104]
The words effuse out from my mind this time. I don’t control them; sometimes, they have a will of their own. So forgive my lack of consistency, forgive my honesty, and just forgive me in general. I’m not always there, mentally speaking, but at least I have the courage to admit it.
As I’m writing these words, scores upon scores of my brothers and sisters across Miṣr (Egypt) and other parts of the Arab World, along with their fellow Christian countrymen, people I’ve never met, people I probably won’t ever meet from places I’ll most likely never visit, vacate decrepit buildings and flood the ill-kept streets of their lands, marching should to shoulder, standing hand in hand, demanding justice with makeshift signs and poetic slogans on their tongues while men on horses and dromedaries beat them mercilessly with whips or rods. Those who protest are likely to be among the poor, are likely forced to scrounge for their next meal – if even that; they have next to nothing, but what they lack in the material realm, they more than compensate for in the spiritual realm, the realm that matters above all: they have dignity, something power cannot grant, something knowledge cannot teach, something money cannot buy.
As I’m writing these words, somewhere, a child throws a stone, or a woman is trampled, or a man is set ablaze by way of self-immolation in the spirit of dissent. Whether or not the child is a progeny of a Copt or a Muslim is irrelevant; the religion of the woman, if she has one, doesn’t matter; the deity to which the smoldering husk used to supplicate to matters little. History shall takes its course. A Hand much more capable than the one who throw the stone, much greater than the one who signaled the charge which trampled the woman guides it to its intended destination, whatever that might be. I watch these events transpire from a good, safe distance, living vicariously through the experiences of the people I see in the news reports and through the fears and aspirations of my Muslim brothers and sisters here in the States. I can see the results of the tomfoolery of the arrogant ones, the despots and those who supported them, the Pharaohs and the sorcerers, manifest before my very eyes as wave upon wave of people with the will to self-determinate amass at rallies in park squares. God does what He wills, how ever He wills, to whatever extent He wills. Perhaps, deferring to Providence might invoke some visceral reaction to the contrary, might be deemed puerile, but there you have it. So it goes.
As I’m writing these words, a car is engulfed in flames and eventually explodes. The explosion is isotropic: shards of metal and glass fly in every direction, maiming without discrimination. Molotov cocktails and bullets sail through the air, bringing artificial Hell fire to some and rending the flesh of others. What’s the cost of a revolution? A few explosions maybe? Or maybe some innocuous waif or otherwise poor and disenchanted soul to be made mere fodder for grander principles of democracy and self-determination? Is the bedlam worth it in the end? Don’t worry. I’m just asking rhetorical questions, not out of self-righteous condescension, but just…to ask them. Besides, those questions are impertinent anyway, since history will take its due course, not matter the answers.
In truth, my cynicism grows by the day, like a cancer metastasizing to portions of my soul. A scholar once told me I’m too young to be so cynical. Apparently not. The ropes which bind us these days are tenuous at best, like gossamer: class, ethnicity, race, culture, nationality – all fleeting, all formless, all of a transitory, ambiguous nature; yet, for some reason, we give them much more credence than they deserve. The rope of God sits on the back self, collecting dusk particles. Sometimes, I must admit, when I see those Arabs protesting, I see just that, Arabs, just as I’m sure when some take a gander at me, they see only a Black man, not a Muslim as they are. Sometimes, again I must admit, I see the problem not as one which concerns all Muslims, but rather one which concerns only the Arabs, as something they have to work out amongst themselves, just as I’m sure – rather, I know – many see the problems of Blacks as just that, our problems to be worked amongst ourselves and not Muslim issues. The allegiance to transcendental values becomes compromised with these inner conflicts.
I already know my mistake, so please, don’t remind me. The internal tug-o-war between the ropes, the earthly connections which we share with other human beings, has dire consequences, but separation based upon flimsy lines of race or nationality often creates illusions. It’s true. We are different, but we are nonetheless one people, regardless of what we look like, something the neoconservatives and the jihadis alike, two heads of the same dark and murderous dragon, don’t seem to understand. Even for this cynical soul, the rope of God still has yet to be completely severed. Not yet. Not quite. Those transcendental values linger in the back of my conscious, even if they have abandoned the consciousness of other ethnocentric, nationalist souls. I struggle to hold fast unto those values, but sometimes I falter. What can I say? I’m human, all too human.
I don’t know Egypt and I doubt I’ll ever visit Egypt. Really, I don’t even know too many Egyptians. And really, to once again pose as the honest cynic, I’m not entirely convinced, were the situation to be reversed, that many Egyptians would reciprocate the support for Blacks. If my experiences as a Muslim thus far can be used as an appropriate indication, then I doubt it.
I nevertheless support them. I hope they succeed in their cause.
I want justice for them, just as I want just for myself and for my people. Thus spoke the Prophet, “None of you truly believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.” The Muslim version of the Golden Rule.
Thus spoke God, “O YOU who have attained to faith! Be ever steadfast in upholding equity, bearing witness to the truth for the sake of God, even though it be against your own selves or your parents and kinsfolk. Whether the person concerned be rich or poor, God’s claim takes precedence over [the claims of] either of them. Do not, then, follow your own desires, lest you swerve from justice: for if you distort [the truth], behold, God is indeed aware of all that you do!” [4:135]