To put it mildly, the past week has been an unusual week for those of us in the United Kingdom. Last week marked the culmination of the EU referendum: Whether we should stay or leave the European Union.
The consequences of the majority decision, to leave, are yet to be seen in their entirety. What we can be sure of, is that there has been a disintegration of relationships: The relationship between the United Kingdom and the EU; our relationship with fellow Europeans and the relationship between people of the United Kingdom.
It seems as though the sense of division in values between people of the UK, has become apparent, now, more so than ever. As the child of immigrants, it is heart-breaking to learn that, for some people, the entire reason for voting to leave the EU was to close our borders to people of other countries. Others went a step further; their decision to leave was swayed by the possibility of EU citizens being made to leave the UK. That their reasons to leave were not entirely grounded in truth is a whole other discussion. The fact remains: There is a very strong desire, felt by some, to be separated from the “other”.
It is all the more heart-breaking that such a desire should come to the fore during Ramadan.
Ramadan is a time for fostering and cultivating relationships. In my household, for example, it is the only month in which we all come together to eat. Furthermore, there is a sense of unity within the Islamic community. For an entire month, we are all doing the same thing. We find ourselves exchanging stories of how the fast went, on a particular day, with family members in other parts of the world. We laugh together about the struggles of waking up for Suhoor (pre-fast meal).
The division of our country in a month of charity, hospitality and togetherness compelled me to re-evaluate the way in which I foster my own relationships. Was I, in the month of Ramadan, adhering to Islamic teachings on how to interact with others around me?
To answer such a question would of course require a description of what Islamic teachings, on relationships, entail. An obvious source for the answer is the Sunnah. The Sunnah is a record of the Prophet Muhammad’s (SAW) sayings, teachings and deeds. Muslims are taught to adhere to the path followed by the Prophet (SAW).
Most Muslims – and some non-muslims – know that there is an abundance of stories which demonstrated the kindness, patience and tolerance shown by the Prophet (SAW) – all of which are integral to building and sustaining relationships. To do justice to all these stories through this blog piece – or in fact anything I write – would be impossible. So I will settle for an introduction to some of the many acts of kindness he (SAW) showed.
The Prophet (SAW) showed consideration for others. If a child cried, while he (SAW) was leading prayer, he would shorten in. The reason for this was to make matters easier for the child’s mother.
The Prophet (SAW) was tolerant, patient and selfless. A striking example of this, is that of his encounters with an elderly neighbour. The elderly neighbour threw garbage in the way of a Prophet (SAW), on a daily basis. One day he (SAW) noticed she was not there. He (SAW) went in to her house with the intention to find out if she was OK, and in good health. On learning that she was ill, he (SAW) offered to provide her with assistance.
The Prophet (SAW) showed a preference for mending relationships. He was in favour of reconciliation. He was quick to offer his assistance, wherever it was required.
To live life according to the Sunnah, therefore, would mean to live with kindness and humility. To live as the prophet (SAW) did, would be to make kindness and selflessness a way of life.
As a Muslim, I have always known that the Sunnah dictates I show tolerance and love toward others – regardless of their race or religion. But the consequences of intolerance and fear, of the “other”, have never been as clear to me as they are today.
Much of the past week has been about “taking back”. Many have been swayed – to vote leave – by notions of taking back their country, their jobs, their schools, their resources. There is a strong belief, among some people, that they would benefit by separating themselves from the “other”. I can’t help but wonder how much happier we would all be, how much more we would all flourish, if we focussed less on taking, and more on giving; If we focussed more on the beauty of what unites us whilst embracing one another’s differences; If we learned that peaceful co-existence can only come from showing kindness.
I am painfully aware that there isn’t much that I can do to create tolerance and love between people all over the world. Or even in my own country. Unfortunately, most of us are not in a position to achieve this.
However, we must not lose sight of the fact that we can still play some part – however small in creating harmonious relationships between members of different communities. The Ramadan tent project is the epitome of such efforts; It brings together people from all walks of life. It celebrates differences while uniting people. It does so by giving. The Ramadan Tent project gives International students, who are participating in Ramadan, a place to come together when they are most likely to feel the absence of their families. The tent provides homeless people with food and water; it provides homeless people an opportunity to engage with and feel part the community. Something which we are all entitled to. It gives volunteers – like myself – an opportunity to give back to the community.
There is no reason why you and I can’t do the same. There is no reason why we can’t extend a helping hand in order to show people that they are not alone. That elderly neighbour with no family – perhaps she deserves a visit. Perhaps she could do with a hand watering the plants? The homeless man who sits outside your tube station – he could probably do with a hot drink on a cold day.
We can’t dictate the actions of those who choose to be divisive. But we can govern our own behaviour. We can choose love over hatred; we can choose cohesion over division. We can choose kindness as a way of life.