Islam’s Spiritual Tradition
at the Skirball Cultural Center
Los Angeles, California
September 25, 2008
on Islamic Spiritual Tradition at the Skirball Cultural Center
September 25, 2008
Zaman's presentation follows
(Our apologies for the missing moments in the opening of Jahan's presention)
Islam’s Spiritual Tradition
Knowledge and spiritual growth are the necessary components in human development. For one without the other leaves a void in human character. Al-Ghazali says:
“I can excel in rational knowledge (law, theology, philosophy, and science) while remaining egotistical and arrogant. People can become masters in worldly knowledge with their inner self still impure.”
Therefore, Muslims live by the commitment to scientific discoveries to protect and to cherish, that which has been entrusted onto him/her, as well as values of devotion, compassion, consideration, fairness and justice. To portray them otherwise, is ignorance and irresponsible.
Despite their gifted ability to thin, and to act Freely, humans, are fallible, for God is the Only Perfect Being. This imperfection makes practice of faith a constant struggle. Judging another person’s intention sand final destiny sets us in a realm, that is beyond our given capacity.
In the light of the harsh realities of our time, we must seek from God a continuous desire, to respect the other, because, the disrespectful will not be God’s Grace. The spiritual search for Divine is common to all faith communities, even though, there may appear differences in the Form.
Maulana Jallaludin Mohammad Balkhi-Rumi says: The lamps are different, but the light is the same. One matter, one energy, one light, one light-minded, endlessly emanating all things, one turning and burning diamond. One, one, one. (Translated by anonymous). In addition to Islam’s emphasis on tawheed, of One God, one humanity: Sufism, Islam’s mystical tradition, adds a dimension of seeking the promise of an all-encompassing love of the beloved in the dissolution of self.
God is first and last. We come from Him and onto Him we return. Between birth and death, is mystic journey wrapped in Beauty, Love and Purpose. It is up to us to unwarp the Beauty, discover the Love and live the purpose.
Here is how Hafiz explains this concept.
“In the beginning, when your Beauty manifested itself in your Majesty and Glory, (referring to God). Love appeared (in my heart) and set my existence afire…
That joyous day, I (Hafiz) rid my heart of all motives, only to carve it with your Love and sing my way till the End (of time)”. (Translation by Jahan Stanizai)
Sufi is derived from the Arabic word safa (purity), is defined as a particular ethnical discipline within Islam.
Although each Sufi chooses a path or trariqa, they are bound by the same ethical discipline of One God and One Love.
Through zikr, (utterance and remembrance of the name of God) and Sema’ (listening and audition of the voice of God) a mystic believes to purify both thought and deed.
One thought, one word and one deed is the ultimate destination to the One Purpose.
Knowledge clarifies the mind and faith purifies the heart.
“The ego is a veil that comes between the mind and the heart, keeping both in the shadow. To find his/her enlightened self, an individual must pierce through this veil and let the light to shine through to overcome his or her illusory self.
Khwaja Muinuddin Cheshti of India advises:
“Mere talk of peace will avail you naught. Mere talk of God and religion will not take you far. Bring forth the energy of your being and reveal the magnificence of your mortal self. Be a blazing fire of truth, a beauteous blossom of love and a soothing balm of peace. With you spiritual light, dispel the darkness of ignorance, dissolve the clouds of discord and war, spread good will, peace and harmony among all peoples.”
“God love them and they love God.” Quran 5: 54. A Sufi’s bitter pain of the separation form the Beloved ends in the Ecstasy of the union.
Rahman Baba says:
Now I see myself as a saint and now a sinner. Such predicament between this gain and loss.
The Beloved is so indelibly etched in my heart I don’t know whether I am Rahman or the Beloved. (Translated by Zaman Stanizai)
For a Muslim Sufi, the Quran clears the mind and Mohammad brings it closer to the heart.
Maulana Jallaluddin Mohammad Balkhi, Rumi says:
“I am the servant of the Quran as long as I have life. I am the dust on the path of Mohammad, the Chose one.”
Speaking of Heart and love, at the end I would like to offer a gift to my husband, from the treasure of Kahlil Gibran, on the anniversary of our love and our union as a husband and wife, and to join all of you loving couples.
“We were born together, and together we shall be forevermore.
We shall be together when the white wings of death scatter our days.
Ay, we shall be together even in the silent memory of God. But let there be spaces in our togetherness. And let the winds of the heavens dance between us. Love one another, but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of our souls.
Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup
Give one another of our bread but eat not from the same loaf.
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of us be alone.
Even the stings of a lute are alone, though they quiver with the same music.
Give our hearts, but not into each other’s keeping, for only the hand of life can contain our hearts.
And stand together, yet not to near together: for the pillars of the temple stand apart.
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.
With love, in love, your beloved.
The Culver City Area Interfaith Alliance and the Interfaith community in Southern California celebrated Peace Sunday at the IMAN Peace Center on September 21, 2012. That day was our anniversary and Jahan gave this presentation on Rumi's Who Am I.
Exactly a year later she was eulogized on the same stage when the 2013 Peace Sunday was named in her honor.
In the name of God
the giver of all things and forgiver of all sins.
Listen to the song of this reed,
Wailing, severed from its source of need.
Ever since they cut me from the reed bed
My wail has caused men and women to weep.
Yes, indeed separation from one’s roots is strikingly painful, particularly when it is forced by calamities such as wars. A feeling, I am too familiar with.
Who is this Rumi? Why does he speak to our sensibilities at this time?
Rumi was born in 1207, in Balkh, a City in modern day Afghanistan. A land that is still burning in the fire of a different war.
As a young boy, he was uprooted from his homeland when the Mongol invaders swept through Central Asia, destroying and burning anything of value, in their path.
To save their lives, the young Rumi and his family traveled for months and years, with a caravan that carried them on the back of camels and donkeys, landing him in his new dwelling, Qunia, a City in modern day Turkey where he lived the rest of his life till Dec. 17, 1273.
What is it about Rumi that makes him the object of love for so many around the world? What need does he fulfill or what wound does he heal?
In every gathering I play my lament,
I am a friend to both happy and sad.
I have joined in mirth with the merry,
And wailed with the sore.
They tore me from the reed bed in torturous pain
From my screams have mankind wept all, but in vain.
Each, thought I share their way,
None bothered to find, what I had to say.
During his young adulthood, Rumi grew into a refined scholarly figure, a teacher and a poet. Here is a peak at Rumi’s pain through the window of his poetic expressions:
I need an open bosom, to vent my pain of separation
To convey the story of my passion and return with elation.
Rumi was not content. There was something missing within him of which he knew not.
It was not until later in his life, when Rumi met Shams (The Sun), who opened his bosom to feel Rumi’s heart. Shams became the light that gave rise to Rumi’s spiritual birth.
And yet, once again a perpetual state of longing and yearning captured Rumi’s heart, when Shams, his beloved mentor and confident disappeared from his life.
To quench the burning flame within his heart, in a state of ecstatic whirling, Rumi recited thousands of spontaneously rhymed verses uniquely interwoven into stories, inviting the human imagination into the realm of physical to metaphysical and yet again to the spiritual, colored and accented beautifully and skillfully by verses from the Holy Quran.
All quench their thirst except these mystic fish,
Though swimming in boundless Grace, still wish to dish.
The Songs of the Reed, encapsulate his master piece of art, the Mathnawi Ma'nawi, while he whirls, turns and twists the imagination from taking the Nafs, from Talab, the basic needs of want into Fana the height of consciousness, a state of nothingness, of no desire.
The Song of the Reed is a metaphor of an ordinary Reed separated from its dirt bed, pierced, carved and polished into a hollowed musical instrument of sound, breathed into life, played by lovers around the Muslim world that sets the heart of every lover ablaze for the union of the beloved.
How may an immature understand a wise one’s call?
Rumi’s spiritual journey landed him in unison with the Devine within piercing through all boundaries that separated the Man from the Human. And thus the search ended with the elated stage of Hoo. (The Devine Breath of Life)
WHO AM I? **
1. Whither thy wisdom O’Mankind
Lost have I my identity,
Neither Jew, nor a Christian,
Neither Zoroastrian, nor a Muslim.
2. Not an Easterner, nor of Western source,
Neither from land nor of the ocean shore,
Not of evolutionary ranking store,
Nor of the Whirling Cosmos’ core.
3. Neither of dust, nor of air,
Neither of water, nor molded by fire,
Not from high in the sky, nor the lowly grounds,
Neither of ordinary existence, nor from heavens bounds.
4. I come forth not from India,
Neither China, nor Bulgaria,
Not of Khorasan, nor of Trans-Oxiana,
Neither am I of Mesopotamia.
5. Neither from Hell, nor of Heaven thither,
Not a son of Adam, nor born of Eve,
Nor am I from the Celestial Heaven.
6. My home is a place without space,
My location without a trace,
Free of body
I am from the Blessed Spirit.
7. From the Self I shed duality,
Behold I, two worlds in Unity,
I search Unity, I see Unity,
I know Unity, and I chant Unity.
8. Primordial and of Eternity
Manifestly present and unseen
Aware of nothing
But of ‘Hoo & Yaa Man Hoo*’ am I!
Introduction of Rumi
February 17, 2011
Introduction of Rumi
Migration is a natural phenomenon. From birds in the sky, to the fish in the sea to humans on earth, all roam around, as it is their natural right. This is part of the divine plan for ecological sustainability.
However, when this migration is forced by calamities, such as wars, it opens the door to horrible and senseless pain and suffering and destruction. Unfortunately, the stories of such pain and suffering still continue to repeat themselves, despite our self proclaimed human civilization about which nothing is civilized or human as we see the worst of kind of violence perpetrated by humans on humans due to greed, quest for power and worldly wealth.
Faith brings us together on this sacred occasion, to strive and use our strength of unity, and treasure of our diversity, to sustain life and protect our environment.
Maulana Jalaluddin Mohammad Balkhi, known as Rumi.
Rumi was born on September 30, 1207 near Balkh, Afghanistan. His childhood at a tender age of 12 was abruptly interrupted by the atrocities of the Mongol invasions that swept through central Asia, which destroyed most everything in its path including anything of value to human civilization.
In the struggle for survival, together with his family Rumi left the comfort of his home country, on a journey marked by the uncertainties in both physical and spiritual domains, which eventually landed him in Konya, Turkey, where he lived until his death on December 17, 1273. He is known as Rumi in the west because of his association with Anatolia in the eastern Roman Empire.
Rumi, as it appears from his writings later in life, resisted to be enfolded by the hardships of his unsettling childhood. Following in his father’s footsteps, he became a well-known scholar and teacher of religion.
Rumi met Shams Tabrizi, his mentor who became the source of Rumi’s enlightenment into his spiritual world.
After a short period of time, Shams suddenly disappeared from Rumi’s life, which left Rumi in a state, of yearning.
His literary accomplishments culminated in his masterpiece, the Mathnawi Ma’nawi, the spiritual couplets.
The significance of Rumi’s Mathnawi is its unique style of eloquent story telling interwoven by thousands of rhymed verses.
Today, his name as the poet of Love and Light appears in literary circle around the globe.
Rumi, dictated the Mathnawi in his state of spontaneous ecstatic whirling. It is this spontaneity and authenticity of thought that masterfully weaves the realm of his physical journey, into metaphysical and yet again into the spiritual through stories intertwined with thousands of verses of his own poetry enriched with verses from the holy Quran.
The Song of the Reed, encapsulates the entire Mathnawi, his masterpiece of art and eloquence of style, while he whirls, turls and twists the imagination into taking the human desire, the Nafs from talab (or want) into the height of consciousness, through seven stages of internal journey, absolving it from all human wants into fana, an elation onto nothingness or no earthly desires.
“Song of the Reed”, is a story of an ordinary reed taken from its bed, carved, pierced and polished into Ney, an instrument played by lovers of sound, blowing the wind that sets the heart ablaze for the union with the Beloved.
Here is the Song of the Reed, in the original, with a literal translation of English by Ibrahim Gamard.
The Song of the Reed by Rumi
Translated by Ibrahim Gamard
1. Listen to the reed (flute), how it is complaining!
It is telling about separations,
2. (Saying), “Ever since I was severed from the reed field,
men and women have lamented in (the presence of) my shrill cries.
3. “(But) I want a heart (which is) torn, torn from separation,
so that I may explain the pain of yearning.”
4. “Anyone one who has remained far from his roots,
seeks a return (to the) time of his union.
5. “I lamented in every gathering;
I associated with those in bad or happy circumstances.
6. “(But) everyone became my friend from his (own) opinion;
he did not seek my secrets from within me.
7. “My secret is not far from my lament,
but eyes and ears do not have the light (to sense it).
8. “The body is not hidden from the soul, nor the soul from the
body; but seeing the soul is not permitted.”
9. The reed’s cry is fire — it’s not wind!
Whoever doesn’t have this fire, may he be nothing!
10. It is the fire of Love that fell into the reed.
(And) it is the ferment of Love that fell into the wine.
11. The reed (is) the companion of anyone who was severed from a
friend; its melodies tore our veils.
12. Who has seen a poison and a remedy like the reed?
Who has seen a harmonious companion and a yearning friend like the reed?
13. The reed is telling the story of the path full of blood;
it is telling stories of Majnoon’s (crazed) love.
14. There is no confidant (of) this understanding except the
senseless! There is no purchaser of that tongue except the ear [of the mystic.]
15. In our longing, the days became (like) evenings;
the days became fellow-travellers with burning fevers.
16. If the days have passed, tell (them to) go, (and) don’t worry.
(But) You remain! — O You, whom no one resembles in Purity!
17. Everyone becomes satiated by water, except the fish.
(And) everyone who is without daily food [finds that] his days become long.
18. None (who is) “raw” can understand the state of the “ripe.”
Therefore, (this) speech must be shortened. So farewell!
December 19, 2010
In Islam, the human will is submissive to that of God's Will. Therefore, prayers are not to be used for fulfillment of human needs, but only a mean to worship The Infinite Divine. Prayer can be performed in silence, in utterance, in remembrance or stillness.
This concept is beautifully expressed in the spiritual poetry of Rumi:
In all six directions, (N.S.E.W. Up, Down) I will bow my head to Thee alone. The gardens, the flowers, the birds, the sounds and sights, are, but signs of continuous worship of Your Infinite Presence.
Khalil Gibran--A Christian, living among Muslims in Lebanon-- in early 20th, Century.
In his book "The Prophet", Gibran writes;
Then a Priestess said, speak to us of prayer, and he answered: You pray in your distress and your need; you might pray also, in the fullness of your joy and in your days of abundance.
If it is for your comfort to pour your darkness into space, and it is for your delight to pour forth the dawning of your heart.
When you pray you rise to meet in the air those who are praying at that very hour, and whom save in prayer you may not meet.
Are prayer, but the expansion of you into the living ether?
If you enter the Temple for asking, you shall not receive. And if you enter into it to humble yourself, you shall not be lifted; or even if you enter it to beg for the good of others, you shall not be heard.
It is enough to enter the Temple invisible. I cannot teach you how to pray in words, for God listens not to your words, only when He, Himself, utters them through your lips.
And, I cannot teach you the prayer of the seas, the forests and the mountains, but you who are born of the forests, the seas and the mountain, can find their prayer in your heart. And if you listen in the stillness of the night you shall hear them saying in silence,
"Our God, who art our winged self, it is they will in us that willeth.
It is thy desire in us that desireth.
It is thy urge in us that would turn our night, which are thine, into days which are thine also.
We cannot ask thee for aught, for thou knowest our needs before they are born in us; Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself, thou givest us all."
In frail health, but sound mind Jahan explains the essence of Islam in 50 seconds for the Civility Project
Offering a prayer
at an Interfaith function
June 17, 2011
In the Name of God the Merciful The Beneficent
The Giver of All things and the Forgiver of All Sins
O’ Mighty The One, The Only Creator, of the Universe.
My prayer is not an offering, because, you are, The Omnipotent, Free of wants and Needs.
You are The Praiseworthy, but my prayer is not about praising Thee, for you are above and beyond the domain of my limited imagination.
I could ask you to fulfill my needs, or cure my ailments, but, my prayer is not about asking for my needs, for you are the All Knowing and know my needs and wishes better than myself, before, they are born within me.
You are The Rahman, who gives abundantly with compassion, and you are the Raheem, who forgives indiscriminately.
You have given me more than I could ask for, and I am beholden to that. I am learning to be content, to be free from greed.
I only pray, that I may remain connected to you in my conscience, to have you present in my thoughts, my words, my actions and my deeds, in every breath I take. So, I can hold myself accountable and follow the straight path of those, whom you have sent to us for guidance.
It is only then, that I will be free from my false worldly attachments, and seek humility instead of pride and arrogance, courage instead of cowardice and deceit, and hope instead of fear and animosity. And then alone, the love for power will be defeated by the power of Love.
And, I will find solace in Thy presence alone, so, the destruction of a Temple, the crucifixion of A Being, and the Burning of a Holly Book will lose their potency of violence, and be deemed as acts stemming from the darkness of ignorance, and nontoxic to my core.
Beyond the right doing and beyond the wrong doing, there is a field, I will meet you there.(Rumi). To enter this field, I must detach myself from the unworthy objects of desire and submit only to Thy Will, to immerse myself in the true meaning of Islam, Peace. Jahan Stanizai 6/17/2011
Translation of Rumi in celebration of Rumi's birthday
September 30, 2007
I am a form giver, I create images every moment.
I make hundreds of them and adorn them with my spirit.
But when I see your image, I set all others on fire
And melt them down in surrender for you.
Who are you?
A drunken wine server who is willing to quench my thirst?
Or a wise foe, set to ruin every house I build?
I pour my Soul in you blending with you
adoring the incense absorbing your fragrance.
Every drop of my blood in merging the earth,
tells the story of Love immersing in Red.
In this house of water and earth, the heart is missing without you,
O, my Love, either you enter this house of mine
Or take me home with you.
Jahan Stanizai’s presentation at the Annual Conference of
The Association of Muslim Social Scientists
Georgetown University Fall 2000
What is in a name?
The link between Prejudice, Racism and Violence
A man gave a coin to four different people. One of them, a Persian, said, "I want to buy some angur with that!" The second man was an Arab and he said, "I want inab not angur, you worthless fool!" The third was a Turk and he said, "This is my money and I don‘t want inab. I want uzum!" The fourth, a Greek, shouted, "Shut up all of you! I want istafil."
In their madness, the four started to argue and hit each other because they didn’t know the hidden meaning of names. They battered each other with their fists because they were empty of true knowledge and filled with Ignorance.
If an authentic mystic master, proficient in many languages, had been there, they would have been pacified. He would have said,
"I can give you everything you want with this one coin if you give me your heart sincerely and without dissimulation, this coin will accomplish all you want. Your one coin will become four, four enemies will become one heart. All what you say only produces struggle and separation; what I tell you brings harmony. So be quiet now, so I can talk for you." -- Maulana Jalalluddin Rumi, The Mathnawi
Had the men knew each other‘s language; they would have figured that they all wanted the same thing, "grapes".
Eight Centuries later, we are struggling with a similar kind of dilemma. The East and the West, the North and the South have loaded their guns against terrorism, without agreeing on the hidden meaning of the word. Each calling the other a terrorist [trying to] kill one another by any means possible.
Terrorism means violence committed by groups in order to intimidate a population or a government into granting their demands. Who is terrorizing whom?
Indeed, as Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi suggested centuries ago, if we have leaders proficient in the language (of diplomacy), we would win friends over enemies, not make enemies out of friends.
We must recognize that, fighting over names without understanding the meaning is a fruitless aim. We must also realize that although, names are an important tool for recognition of diversity and differentiation, however, they can equally be divisive. It takes wisdom to know the difference.
Names such as black, white, Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, atheist, communist, imperialist, Zionist, Asian, Middle Eastern, Armenian, Taliban, AI-Qaeda etc. are created to show biological, physiological, geographical, political or ideological differences among us for easy reference, not superiority or inferiority as perceived by many. People shall be free to name themselves any thing they wish or join any group, as long as it is done with the intention of promoting the welfare and building up of their communities not with the intention to harm others. I have come across volumes upon volumes of books, where the authors have tried to prove superiority of one group over another or vise versa, which have created animosity and tension among various groups and societies. This is either done intentionally out of prejudice or unintentionally due to ignorance.
Ignorance and prejudice are the two parallels that can be the most destructive aspects of human social behavior; often producing chilling acts of violence. Some of us may have lived or have learned through history, events of extreme violence unimaginable and unpredictable of human character, such as the annihilation of over three million Native Americans, the slaughter of around a million Armenians, the killing of over twelve million Poles, Gypsies, homosexuals, dissidents, and Jews in Europe by the Nazis, the racial violence against blacks in South Africa and The United States, the encampment of Japanese Americans in the United States, and the recent acts of violence against innocent Americans, victims of 911 and the spreading violence against Muslims at the global level under the disguise of war on terrorism, are just a few examples of some of the extreme acts of violence committed by humans against humans that come readily to mind and many more before them dating back to the era of Abel and Cain, referenced in the holey books of Judaic-Christian-Islamic traditions, the only two men, who were brothers, but killed one another for a cause, in their own minds.
Abel and Cain is a metaphor that I often use as an example of human aggression against each other regardless of race, religious identity or social and political ideologies.
It has been documented that acts of violence of human against human is much more severe than that of other species against each other. And it continues to increase with an alarming rate with our technological advancement.
Technological advancements should be used for the promotion of our cause for humanity not the other way around. Today we experience quite the opposite. As biological advances have been changed to biological warfare, nuclear technology has created intended nuclear disasters, and chemical developments are reversed to chemical skirmishing. Such abuses of technology may not leave a glimpse of hope for our future generations.
Our generation has inherited a complex and highly interactive world that compels us to engage our intellect, education, compassion and critical thinking with a purposeful mission more than ever before.
Now more than ever, the world needs leaders and citizens with a deep sense of understanding of their cultural and intellectual heritage and the critical thinking required to have the respect for differences, and moral discrimination, the passion for justice and the competence and the confidence that will impel them to make a positive contribution, bring a welcoming change and make sense of nonsense in order to leave behind a world not worse than we inherited.
To engage ourselves fully in this process, we must strive to eliminate prejudice, racism, and the ensuing violence. To do so, we must first increase our knowledge and understanding of human nature, the causes, the consequences and links between our thinking, our words and our actions and try to work with it to the best of our ability, rather than to control it. Working with nature facilitates harmonious relationships, while controlling it develops conflicts, which can lead to aggressive behavior. To accomplish this goal, we aught to be compelled by our conscious to find the hidden meaning of intentions, words and actions, to harmonize our relationships; otherwise, we are bound to make mistakes of irreversible consequences.
Having said that, from a psychological perspective, it is imperative to know what aggression is, how it develops, how it manifests itself in human behavior and what can be done to eliminate it altogether or at least minimize it. My understanding of human nature can be summarized from a psychodynamic perspective as following,
Psychodynamic theories, like many other theories centuries before them, believe that there is a phenomenon beyond physiology that is very complex and beyond our understanding of the human brain, and that is the human mind. Psychoanalytic theory explained the human mind as an energy that is driven by the human "life and death" instincts. Or simply put, by love and hate.
According to this theory, humans are biological beings, self sufficient in self-preservation through the life (love) and death (hate) instincts.
Love is a positive energy that connects human with nature for the purpose of peaceful co-existence and it also allows humans to co-exist harmoniously with each other to ensure the continuation of their existence through the process of procreation.
Hate is the energy that compels us to protect ourselves from environmental harm and annihilation in order to reassure the existence of love force to continue without obstacles. Therefore, love and hate work hand and hand. In other words they can be viewed as the two sides of the same coin. One cannot operate without the other.
Therefore, our love energy allows us to enjoy the pleasures of life and hate is the energy that allows us to remove the obstacles that interfere with our pleasures in life. Thus creating a constant 'checks and balances' within us to ensure a smooth continuation of life and a balance between our internal and external realities.
Although Love and Hate drives are instinctual, or innate, the expression or manifestation of them is nurtured or learned. Both are manifested according to our perceptions as individuals and as social beings in accordance with our cultural orientations and developmental stages. Therefore, no universal definition of love and hate exists. Just as love comes in different forms such as love of the self, love for others, love of nature and love of God so does hate. Our love and hate can be expressed as aggressive, digressive or progressive, depending upon who we really are as people and where do we stand in our developmental process.
Aggression is born as a result of undesirable accumulation of personal or environmental frustrations. Frustrations are the products of either environmental attacks on our person, property or our political, ideological or mental state, or lack of progress in our personal lives either due to our own inability to move forward or due to perceived or actual environmental obstacles.
Human beings are equipped to tolerate a certain amount of frustration in order to co-exist and to survive as social beings. The level of tolerance of each one of us is unique and depends on our genetic and environmental factors, (a discussion beyond the scope of this presentation). However, when our mental tolerance has reached its limit, our bodies react. If this reaction is directed inward, it is digression or repression, which would manifest itself in the form of depression (if not treated, it will end in suicide). If directed outward, it can manifest itself in the form of aggression (if not treated, it will end in homicide or genocide). This can occur on individual or societal level, examples of which we may have heard of or may have experienced at some point in our personal lives. Having said that, we will examine some causes of frustrations.
Prejudice is one of the causes of our frustrations.
What is prejudice?
Humans are born with fully developed brains. At birth the brain is as a blank slate, ready to perform. One of the functions of the brain is thinking. When born, an infant‘s brain is free of perceptions. Our perceptions are our way of thinking. Similar to writings on a blank slate. Our environment forms our perceptions. Our parents shape our first perceptions. As we grow older, schools, our peers, the media, and society in general keeps this process alive and feeds it until we reach the end of our lives. Prejudice, is a product of our perception and therefore a learned concept, which manifests itself in learned behavior. In other words, how we display our prejudice or any other behavior is how we have learned it from our environment.
Prejudice, means prejudgment. Judgment based upon our perception and ignorance of facts. Prejudice induces us to judge a person based on his/her membership in a particular group, rather than as an individual. This may also be labeled as stereotyping. Although, stereotyping is more cognitive and prejudice more affective. For example, a child of 4 or 5 years of age in the United States already knows the difference between a white and a black person and has a perception of what is expected of each person belonging to that race. While we all know that all black people are not the same just as all whites are not.
As stated above one of the contributing factors in creating prejudice is the media. An example of media-induced prejudice is, association of the word terrorism with the word Muslim [when used for] long and frequently enough it generates a negative mindset against Muslims in the world. This causes the Muslim population around the globe a certain degree of frustration. When their mental tolerance limit is reached, they react. Different individuals or societies according to their perceptions and cultural values, manifest this reaction differently. It may be in the form of peaceful demonstrations, media responses etc. by more educated and advanced Muslim thinkers in open societies, or in the form of verbal or physical violence among less educated and closed societies. The means used to express such frustrations and violence varies in large degrees as we have observed. This concept is applicable to any group of people, when negatively affected.
What motivates prejudice?
There are various theories that are worth mentioning here. One is the psychodynamic approach of "displaced anger." This occurs when the source of frustration or annoyance cannot be attacked directly because of fear of retaliation or simple unavailability of the source of anger. For example, a man who left his home country for fear of persecution or war is angry for leaving his family and country of birth behind. He lacks the courage to attack his aggressor for fear of retaliation or fear of death, instead he displays aggression towards his wife, blaming her for his life circumstances, while knowing full well that, she, just as he, is the victim of the same circumstances. And therefore, displacing his anger on her, because she is weaker and closer to attack.
Another example of displaced anger relating to the current events is the bombing of Afghanistan. After the unfortunate tragedy of 9/11/2001. When over three thousand Americans were cowardly slaughtered within a matter of minutes, we were exasperated and rightfully so, but instead of retaliating against the actual perpetrators of the crime, our government simply attacked a weaker country to reduce our anger and appease the public that something is really being done, while knowing full well that no Afghan had participated in this act of terrorism nor at any other time. Because Afghanistan is a country not capable of retaliation against our military might, it was an easy target. Had Afghanistan, like most other countries, been equipped with nuclear weapons, it would not have been readily attacked. Given these circumstances, we can imagine the frustration and agony of the Afghan nation who was first destroyed by the Soviets and now by the Americans even though, in this instance, we may call it ‘a friendly fire.’ This is a very paradoxical term to justify our aggression. How can a bomb fire be friendly? Does it bum gently?
I am not an advocate of nuclear defense under any circumstances, but my common sense dictates that if we, upon our sole discretion, allow ourselves to attack countries which do not have adequate military defense mechanism, we will set a precedence for the leaders of other nations to develop means of mass destruction, either to protect themselves against unprovoked military actions or to expand their territorial power over other counties, to follow our example. In both cases the results will prove to be disastrous, totally under mining the long and hard efforts of our good leaders [in trying to] reduce nuclear defense capabilities around the globe.
There are numerous other examples of displaced anger that come to mind, however, suffice it to say that strikes against innocent American civilians around the world is another example of displaced anger against the American government and its biased and discriminating foreign policies toward other nations. Such as approving the build up of nuclear weapons in some countries, but disapproving them for others. Or promoting democracy in Western countries while demoting it in non-western nations. Without going into political details, our show of support for tyrant and oppressive leaders of some countries is a clear example. Since, the anger of those nations who feel the negativism and discriminating pressures from the U.S. Government cannot reach the American military might; it is cowardly unloaded on the innocent American civilians around the world.
A second theory is the "realistic group conflict" which argues that competition between groups can lead to prejudice and create hostility. This type of resentment arises when one group frustrates the needs of other groups, creating a conflict of interest. An example of this is the current world economic conflict over resources among nations, i.e. oil. The majority of the world‘s nations are prejudiced against the American government for frustrating their needs for their own oil in the interest of the United States. This frustration may be real or perceived; nonetheless it is causing a global hostility against innocent American civilians.
The third is the cognitive bases of prejudice. Humans, automatically categorize objects, people or events, etc. in groups for easy storage of information in their memory boxes, which facilitates retrieval. For example, we perceive others as male or female, black or white, or young and old, tall or short, etc. (categorizing by gender, race, or age, etc.). This leads us to an ‘all-or-nothing’ mentality called "illusory correlation". For example, through our media, we have heard the word Muslim in relation to Arabs and we have also heard the mistreatment of women by Muslims. We automatically assume that all Arabs are Muslims and all Muslims mistreat their women. This occurs when there is a lack of or misinformation about the Arab traditions or culture and Islam. If we disseminate accurate information that all Arabs are not Muslims and all Muslims are not Arabs and that most Muslims love and respect their women, this "illusory correlation" would not occur. Furthermore, mistreatment of women in the Middle East is only seen and judged through the lens of Western cultures and not defined through the Muslim perspective.
Another example of "illusory correlation" in the current world conflict is the link between Taliban and Pashtuns in general and their linkage to terrorism. This illusion has been created in our minds by our media causing a negative prejudice against the two groups and as a consequence a tremendous and unnecessary loss of innocent lives. Taliban in Arabic simply means students; no association of terrorism is linked to it in any way. Furthermore, all Taliban are not Pashtuns and neither are all Pashtuns Taliban and no Afghan has been linked to terrorism under any circumstances to this date.
Prejudice is not always negative. It is applicable to the same degree to create an unjustified positive view of an individual, a group or a society, which we call the "In" group, simply put, the favorable group. This is called ego-centrism (individual) or ethno-centrism (group affiliation). For example, during Hitler‘s rule, the Nazis were the "In" crowd. Anyone affiliated with the group was proud to be a Nazi (ego-centrist).
Another example of attributing positive traits to groups is the perception that Western culture is progressive, and Eastern or Middle Eastern culture is regressive. Therefore, Western cultural values must be imposed on Eastern cultures, because we think that what is good for us, must be good for them. And again we define good and bad cultures through our Western lens (ethno-centrism). When in fact adaptation to the Western culture and its ideals is even hard for the immigrants who have lived in the United States for decades, let alone to the people who live in their own countries. If we apply the accurate knowledge in accordance with social psychology, that cultures are neither superior nor inferior, and that they are merely different, the imposition of cultural values upon one another would be rendered irrelevant.
What is Racism?
The idea of "race" was first introduced in very general terms to mean "type" or "variety". Originally the word race had no rigid or scientific definition or prejudicial connotation. It merely reflected commonsense observation that even though men were all the same species, they reflected certain distinct physical differences on a more or less geographical basis.
During the industrial revolution, when the Europeans moved into Africa, and took Africans as slaves for free labor force; they introduced the idea of "Racism" to connote inferiority of the slaves in order to justify their slavery. Since then racism has become a popular concept among the so-called white race, in order to show their superiority over other races. Therefore, people of color have been unfairly mistreated for lack of better knowledge. Anyone with a superior knowledge would know that there is no innate superiority or inferiority among races. Given a chance and the opportunity, all races have equal potential to excel although individual differences among people of all races are to be acknowledged.
Islam teaches that, no human is superior over another, except in his/her piety.
Since prejudice and racism are a learned human perception and the resulting aggression (violence) is a learned behavior, with consistent education, perseverance and implementing peaceful alternatives it can be unlearned over time, even though it may not be totally eradicated. Otherwise, we would be no different than primitive humans, (Abel and Cain).
Peaceful means by which to express one‘s anger and frustration is called assertion. Assertion is defined as expressing one‘s anger or frustration without hurting one self or another in any way or without damaging one’s own or another‘s property.
Although we Americans claim to be a peaceful nation, our actions speak otherwise.
It‘s extremely difficult to teach children non-violent means of expressing their frustration, when our government is encouraging war, a violent action. Or when our media portrays our 6- or 7-year-old children as bullies. Showing interviews with young children on television asked about their thoughts on war and peace and children responding in a bullying tone of voice "don‘t mess with America, or else." Or when unemployment has reached epidemic proportions, instead of promoting peaceful means of creating jobs, we are constantly luring our young men and women as "guns for hire" into law enforcement or military personnel. We are deliberately creating a generation of bloodthirsty warmongers for economic gains and military superiority. We need more teachers, nurses and diplomats for example, rather than war personnel.
As stated above, our instinctual inclination is to protect life, not destroy it. Therefore, we must consider it our civil duty to teach our children peaceful alternatives to protect their interests, since no human being in his/her right mind desires to kill or be killed.
Not too long ago, the world perceived America as a kinder and gentler nation and treated Americans with respect and hospitality. Today, Americans are the target of hate crimes around the globe because our government interferes with their love for life in their own way.
Those of us, who claim to be of superior knowledge, must exhibit the leadership and the quality of character to exemplify to the rest of the world that America can resolve her conflicts by non-violent means. We Americans must clear our names and our tarnished image and gain back the respect that we deserve. Let not our characters be assassinated by a few warlords. Lets solve our conflicts not extinguish them by force.
Conflicts can surface when individuals, families or nations express a disagreement about a situation. Since people are different, so are their viewpoints. Therefore, conflict is a natural and neutral part of life. It challenges our ability to solve problems. How we view and resolve a problem, again, has to do with our perceptions.
If we are of the ancient and authoritarian mind, we will resort to the old ways of solving conflict, as reflected in the following quotation received from an Internet site.
"Beware of the leader who bangs the drums of war in order to whip the citizenry into a patriotic fervor, for patriotism is indeed a double-edged sword. It both emboldens the blood, just as it narrows the mind... And when the drums of war have reached a fever pitch and the blood boils with hate and the mind has closed, the leader will have no need in seizing the rights the citizenry. Rather the citizenry, infused with fear and blinded with patriotism, will offer up all their rights unto the leader and gladly so. How do I know? For this is what I have done. And I am Caesar." -- William Shakespeare
If we consider ourselves as collaborative and egalitarian, we can see a conflict as an opportunity for self growth as explained by this quotation: "Everything that irritates us about others can lead us in greater understanding ourselves." (Carl Jung).
The following peaceful alternative is suggested to resolve our conflicts:
1. To identify the source of the problem. This is achieved by open and honest discussion.
2. To contain the problem. That is to avoid exaggerating or reacting in the moment. This will prevent the conflict from spreading.
3. To confront the problem. Confrontation does not mean a head-on collision, as perceived. Head-on collision style causes a fight or flight reaction, which halts communication. Confrontation in this context means to have the courage to bring up the sensitive issues for discussion.
4. To have compassion. This means to see the problem from the other person’s point of view. To listen effectively and create a safe environment for the expression of feelings and thought of others.
5. To encourage collaboration. This is to negotiate. To discuss in a balanced way and find middle ground acceptable to all parties. This can also be achieved with the use of mediators, which will diminish hostilities and create a win-win situation for every one involved.
A war is never a win-win or even a win-lose situation as perceived by warmongers. A war has no winning side. Even the winner is a loser. Do not think of the short-lived War of Persian Gulf of a decade ago. Even that caused a considerable loss of life, which continues to this date, as the Gulf War Syndrome haunts our military personnel. Think of the miseries of the Iraqi nation, think of the millions of dead, maimed and sick children of the War-stricken nations around the world such as in Afghanistan, think of the despair of the Vietnam War or the depression era of World War II. We cannot go on killing, destroying and maiming the rest of the world so, we can remain "second to none."
When analyzing family behavior, according to the family systems theory, the family behavior pattern continues endlessly from one generation to the next, unless one generation acts as a "gate keeper" to end the bad behavior pattern for the next.
The same holds true for a nation. For example in the United States, beside our many impressive achievements as a country, has a history of genocide, slavery, and military aggression. This has left its ugly mark on our history, as a member of the world community. Therefore, our generation has a duty to act as the "gate keepers" for the next generation, if we are to survive as species, under the current nuclear threat.