Living for Diversity

By Devan Moonsamy

Diversity as a ‘Festival of Sacrifice’ – but what kind of sacrifice?

Eid-ul-Adha is just ending, and I am reminded of the struggles many Muslims are undergoing for various reasons. Eid-ul-Adha is the Festival of Sacrifice, a commemoration of how Ibrahim’s (or Abraham’s) faith was tested by God, how he proved himself worthy, and how God approved of him for his incredible show of faith.

Something often pointed out is that, even though Ibrahim was willing to sacrifice his own son at God’s command, God prevented the actual killing, and supplied an animal to be sacrificed instead. Therefore, many conclude that the sacrifice of human life is not in fact required by God to prove faith.

It would seem that what one does in service of God and obedience while alive are more important. What service and obedience require exactly people will not necessarily agree on. Some believe it does include the sacrifice of human life, not just to prove faith, but also to seek revenge and carry out justice.

However, the majority of Muslims are really peace-loving people. They have been spending a lot of time in congregated prayer for the festival, and while the theme of sacrifice is important, thoughts of revenge and seeking justice for wrongs are not on their minds. Many religious people will agree that it is for God ultimately to judge and punish humans if they deserve it. Our limited knowledge cannot substitute for God’s omnipotence and wisdom.

Muslims have a strong desire to worship God as their sacred text instructs, and to work and socialise together in a wholesome and meaningful life. Involvement in ‘terrorism’ runs contrary to this way of life.

That is why millions of Muslims align with the #NotInMyName campaign. The campaign was originally started by Muslims in the UK, who state on their website ‘we utterly condemn ISIS who are abusing the name of Islam with their acts of terrorism.’ Muslims are saying that ISIS does not speak for them and is misrepresenting their faith.

I am reminded of the 2014 hostage crisis which took place in a café in Sydney, Australia. I relate what a Muslim man named Umar from Australia said soon after the incident. He was extremely upset and said some things which at first were unexpected. He agreed that Muslims are being given such a terrible reputation by these acts of terrorism. However, Umar said that Muslims are being given this burden to carry for some reason. They are being persecuted for their faith, and that is to be expected.

Umar’s main concern was for ‘the righteous name of Allah’. That God is used as a justification for taking people hostage and killing them – that is the worst part. Muslims don’t want to be labelled terrorists. But more than that, they don’t want their God associated with terrorism. It’s not what people think about Muslims as much as what they think of Allah, who is an all-merciful, all-compassionate God.

According to many people’s religious faiths, God has the power to bring people back to life, to heal them, even to place them in a paradise, heaven or state of Nirvana. So the things we suffer will eventually be completely gone and replaced with something far better. Even in the here and now, the issue is not about our human worries and complaints. For many religious people, it’s about steadfast faith and humility.

One can certainly sense strong humility from someone like Umar, and a willingness to sacrifice his life, but not through his death, through his living for God. This is not easy when people point to you as the bad guy because of this decision. What this really means is that people must live for God every day, acting out their faith in all they do.

It’s not about seeking a heroic and glorious death with a one-way ticket to paradise. In comparison to the daily struggles we all face, the fight to resist various temptations, the latter seems something of a cop-out.

Yet, Muslims whose daily lives are such a far cry from the labels of ‘terrorist’ or ‘criminal’ are still being pasted with them by the ignorant. Some years ago, alarming evidence came forward that the 9/11 attacks on the US were more part of a kind of secret civil war than the acts of foreign-based terrorists. We probably won’t be able to settle on the truth of this matter for years to come because of the repercussions for citizens’ trust in their government.

Not everyone in current generations may be ready to admit the truth because the ‘War on Terror’ is all too fresh. In fact, it’s not over. It has been going on for a shocking 17 years and has required a massive sacrifice of human life, and I would include those who live with the scars in their daily life as part of that group. It has been America’s longest war ever, and predictions are that it will continue for about the next six years!

This not what the vast majority of Muslims want, or what the vast majority of people worldwide want. So why does it continue? There are still people who are angry and afraid to the point that they won’t or can’t give up the fighting. After almost two decades of fighting, some may not even know another way of life.

The evidence is certainly hard to swallow, and leaves one with such a sick feeling – even as a South African who may never have been to the US. I wonder if a better term for this ongoing war is the ‘War for Terror’.

There is too little being said about the needs of Muslims and others who have been caught in the crossfire. There are millions of displaced refugees who are struggling to find a safe place to settle down where they are welcome and can start to rebuild their lives. Even where they are being taken in, they may remain ostracised by the broader community for generations.

In South Africa, we have been largely shielded from the effects of the war, because our government did not become involved. Nevertheless, South Africans have been tested on their tolerance and ability to embrace and leverage diversity for everyone’s benefit, and people everywhere are facing this test.

Will we be willing to sacrifice our own comfort and advantage for the sake of diversity? Will we live our lives with conviction in being part of the solution? Will the world in time reject the senseless sacrifice of lives in favour of a different sacrifice – a sacrifice we can celebrate as a festival of the much higher cause to live for peace, for harmony, and guided by love for one another?