When I was a child, I had this obsession of watching TV. I bet most of my time at home especially during holidays, was spent befriending that black box named Panasonic. Not too classy of a name though. I remember her being far from having the perfect figure. If she joins a beauty pageant, she’d be the laughing stock of those slim and slender flat screen TVs of today. Her voice husky at times, and her image gets blurry when we move the fish bone aerial on top. Talk about sensitivity.
I enjoyed watching TV so much simply for one reason – I love watching people. The TV opened a vast opportunity for a curious, mischievous-at-times kid like me to actually see the hidden parts of the world and meet people of different colour, race, religion, tribe, you name it.
Looking and knowing those differences always fascinated me to understand people more. I watched almost everything not to mention Teletubbies just to know how white kids play. I watched Kung Fu movies and got the perception that all Chinese knows Kung Fu which, when I got my first Chinese friend I know it’s not true. I became a fan of all Japanese superhero programs – Ultraman, Flashman, Mask Man, Masked Rider – but got lucky not to believe that monsters really like to visit Japan and make a scene. I watched Malay dramas and saw a pattern – love is like salt to gulai it has to be the main agenda – even my favourite drama, “Cinta Si Penggali Kubur” is about love. And yes, I watched Bollywood movies and got stunned by the speed the dancers change their outfits and how more and more dancers come out of nowhere like Naruto performing his cloning technique. Wow, that’s a mouthful.
People will always be different. Go and travel around the world and I bet you’ll never find someone exactly like you. Even your best friend, whom you claim knows you inside-out is not your replica. Even your mother, whom you stayed in her womb and fed from her breasts isn’t exactly like you. Even your life partner, whom you say is your half, is just your half. People are different because they are created to be different. As a deen worker, being different makes da’wah an adventure..an exciting one, really.
O mankind! we have created You from a male and a female, and made You into nations and tribes, that You may know one another. Verily, the Most honourable of You with Allah is that (believer) who has At-Taqwa . Verily, Allah is All-Knowing, All-Aware.
(Al-Hujurat : 13)
People sometimes see differences as a reason to feel more superior to others. History has shown that not little blood has been smeared and not few babies have lost their fathers because of disputes and conflicts caused by differences. The apartheid in South Africa, slavery in America, tribal conflicts in Africa, Sunni-Shiah disputes in Iraq, Catholic-Protestant clash in Northern Ireland, 16th September riot in Malaya are but some of the recorded history of human clashes caused by untolerated and misunderstood differences.
Young kids and stigma
I remember an interesting experience I encountered a few years back regarding differences and stigma. My friends and I were assigned to run a project to identify social patterns in the society, using kids as samples. So we went to a nearby kindergarten and decided to do some interviews with the kids. We had fun games with them, ran here and there and occasionally asked questions with everything recorded. After getting them comfortable with my presence, camera rolling, I began to ask questions, probing social patterns that can be seen. At this point, getting excited with a camera in front of them, the kids gathered around me like bees sucking honey.
Me : Adik-adik, best tak pergi sekolah?
Kids : Best!!!
Me : Cikgu kat sini baik tak?
Kids : Baik!!!
Me : Hm, dekat sekolah belajar apa ya?
Kids : Belajar lukis, warna, Matematik, ABC, Bahasa Melayu …..
A kid at the back : Bahasa India! (Everyone laughed their heart out)
All the kids burst into laughter! And I was puzzled, really.
What exactly caused the kids, these pure 5,6 year old kids to laugh at the mention of the word ‘India’? Does it sound funny? Or does it mean funny? I don’t think so, seriously. These kids weren’t even exposed wide enough to gain contact and to have friends from a different race or religion. Then what exactly came into their minds when the word is said? This, I still don’t have the answer. But one thing I noticed, obviously a stigma has been implanted. A stigma that says, it’s OK to laugh at the word India. I know this might sound racially sensitive, but it’s a fact. A cruel one, indeed. A stigma has been implanted to think it’s fine to make fun of people who are different from you. Young kids were taught, maybe unconsciously, not to tolerate differences. And I pray, that this will reverse.
Why not make differences a unifying factor?
Imam Hassan al-Banna once said, “We don’t invite to unite minds. We invite to perfect the saff.”
The Imam knows too well, and recognizes the differences among men. Thus he invites people not to see only from one’s limited perspective. He invites people to retain their identities, keep their different hats, and speak their own voice but be in a perfect saff. In a perfect saff people submit to the One Greater Being who created them and wanted them to be different. In a perfect saff people stay different but stand shoulder to shoulder and foot to foot facing one direction. In a perfect saff different languages merge into one. In a perfect saff one leader is more than enough. In a perfect saff different size and colour do not matter a pinch. In a perfect saff hearts become one.
Understand, respect and tolerate. Come, let’s perfect our saff.