The Absurdity of Nationalism part II


The Absurdity of Nationalism part II

I start off with a story that a beloved brother told me once about our great Sahaba named Salman Al-Farisi, who by his name you could probably infer was from Persia. When in Arabia he was asked on many occasions where he was from he would say “I am Salman, the son of Islam from the children of Adam.”

And so I say, ‘I am Yousaf, the son of Islam from the children of Adam.’

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So what was with the rant on nationalism in the last post? Well, it is absurd to me that one can be proud of something they had no control over to begin with. Let me explain what I mean when I say ‘proud.’ I am not merely speaking of ‘I love my country,’ rather I am talking about the ‘I am better than you’ because ‘MY PEOPLE’ from ‘THIS LAND’ are inherently better than yours. ‘My train of thought, my understanding of what is right and my definition of words like glory, modesty, appropriate, ‘manhood,’ ect. are the ONLY ones that are right!’

Now I cannot explain why I get so furious with this concept and why it irks me to distress but this thing called nationalism/ethnocentrism/tribalism drives me off the wall. What really perplexes me is the thought process of those who believe that they deserve entitlement based on merit that they didn’t earn themselves! It is like being proud of having black hair or brown eyes or having the genetic predisposition to round midguts instead of thunder thighs. It is like being proud of me being born at Princeton Hospital while you were born at a hospital of lesser standing. Ha-ha! The scissors used to cut my umbilical cord were made in China while yours were made in Taiwan… and we all know who wins that battle of metal making. As if your parents being from a place, with man-made borders that surround the piece of land that is currently being ruled by a certain group of people with a certain set of principles makes you more deserving of feeling good about yourself then the next guy whose parents were from a different place with a different set of MAN-made borders ect. ect. ect.

Why does this make you so angry Yousaf?? Because of what it has done to our community here in America. We havefarside3Pakistanis in one corner, Egyptians in another, Palestinians in a third, African Americans in another… Yousaf you ran out of corners… EXACTLY! There aren’t enough corners to put us and instead of just coming together we watch each other in fear, in the distance. We fear that our children may ‘become like them’ or God forbid… marry them. Children with mixed DNA!!!! Blasphemy. We either mock what we do not agree with or condemn it as absolutely un-Islamic, when all it is, is simply different.

But we will lose our culture? HARSH RESPONSE: So what!? What if our great culture is lost? What does it mean if your children don’t learn urdu or that dialect of Arabic (I am not speaking about the language of the Quran here… I am speaking about the spoken Arabic of the day… I am a huge proponent for every Muslim no matter where they are from to learn Fus’ha Arabic so that they can better understand the Quran… but I digress). What will they have lost if they did not carry on the tradition of stealing the groom’s shoe on his wedding day (that’s Pakistani culture), or killing a cat to display manhood (that’s Syrian and interesting lol), or there is no Zaffa (that’s Egyptian). Listen, all those things are ‘cute’ AND they can be fun BUT what will it really change if the next generation (or for that matter, this generation) doesn’t practice these things? The Answer: Nothing, they will adopt some other thing that will be as equally cute and fun, and everybody will still be happy and weddings will still be equally as stressful and enjoyable.

My thing with culture is this, I guess. It is fine and good as long we don’t think it is absolutely necessary for life or happiness or UNITY to continue. No, Islam kind of takes care of all of the necessities for those things and culture fills the ‘not important but cool’ category. If you have a unique understanding of appropriate (i.e. do not cross your legs (Arab countries) or put your hands on your head (Pakistan) or don’t make eye contact (like in Japan) OR make eye contact (like in America)) than that’s great BUT do not enforce these standards on people who do not think the same. Your ‘right’ may not be the same as mine and vice versa. The only things written in stone in terms of standards are those made by the ‘Knower of all things’ and not mere creations. Islam sets our absolute criteria for right in wrong and everything that is up for debate is simply that: UP FOR DEBATE.

Best part about this whole problem- Allah is truly Merciful and this problem will disappear by itself. How is that possible? Ask fourth generation Americans of Irish decent what their culture is. For that matter, ask the Americans ofamerican_muslim Italian, British, African or even third generation Korean descent what they believe their ‘culture’ is. You might say: NO, we are different. My children will know my parents heritage! They will hang on to out of place traditions and remain ethnically (fill in the blank with your ‘people’). How dare you think that my children will adopt this corrupt culture of promiscuity in America!

Well think about it. Before Islam came to Arabia, the only thing women were seen as were pieces of meat. In India/Pakistan/Bengaladesh, brothels and alcohol were commonplace. Egypt was and still really known for its belly dancers and sheesha, Afghanistan for its opium and drug trade, and West Africa for its history of violence. What has changed your perception of those places that you are from is the presence of this religion that Allah has perfected for us. So get over it and instead of holding on to ties that will inevitably be cut, look forward into making this place we live now a place worthy of being proud of. And guess what, it would be something you earned being proud of and not just an arbitrary reality you inherited.

Forgive me if I was offensive in any way… It is just how I feel and everything here, just like culture, is up for debate 😀 Time to eat! (I am going to eat an American hamburger, with curry spices, a side of hummus, Chinese noodles, pasta and I’ll down it with the universal cup of water!)

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~ by Yousaf on April 22, 2009.

5 Responses to “The Absurdity of Nationalism part II”

  1. I agree a billion percent. You shouldn’t be proud of something you have no control over. Now the bowl bender I left in the toilet earlier, THAT’S something to be proud of.

  2. 😉 Very nicely put. Your post makes so much sense, logically I can’t argue against it. BUT being a first generation immigrant who came to this country only a few years ago…holding onto my culture and being proud is my way of remaining what/who I was before. If I was to say I am not proud being from that country, I would feel like I am betraying “my people” back home and that I am turning my back to them. 😦

    But as I said, I am not writing this as a disagreement with your post…but rather just showing the difficulty/struggle people go through in figuring out what/who they should be.

  3. Salaam cousin,

    This is a great post that brings up a lot of interesting topics. I think what we need to understand is that there is a difference between nationalism/ethnocentrism and appreciation/multiculturalism. The former generates the faulty notion that one group of people are better than another simply based on the color of their skin, nationality, and ethnicity, while the latter celebrates diversity and promotes acceptance of one another — one is exclusive, the other is inclusive.

    Being proud of where you come from is not always nationalistic or ethnocentric. It *can* be ethnocentric, but it’s not always the case. Similarly, being appreciative and proud of your ethnicity doesn’t mean that you automatically think you’re “better” or “superior” to another person who has a different ethnic background. Islam is universal and it teaches universality, and this is evident in how Islam is found in the hearts of people in North and South America, Africa, Europe, the Middle-East, South Asia, the Far East — everywhere. As one of my friends puts it, “it is a STRENGTH.”

    We may have different opinions on what “universal” means. To some, it may mean that we need to abolish culture in order to achieve universality. For others, it’s not necessary. I, personally, don’t believe it’s necessary. I believe ethnic identity and religious identity are important and personal issues that all individuals come across, particularly during their adolescence. When Will Smith went to Africa to film “Ali,” an African bus driver opened the door and said to him and a group of other African-Americans, “Welcome home, boys.” Smith described how powerful that was for him. There’s a compelling story there — a *personal* story which may or may not carry meaning for others (interesting side note: As Muslims, we can’t overlook how many African-Americans found Islam via exploring their roots, since 20-30% of the African slaves brought to America were Muslim).

    You bring up the subject of inter-cultural marriages and integration. I agree with you here. I think it’s absurd for people to limit their life partners to one specific culture and I think it’s worse for fellow Muslims to put each other down based on our different ethnic backgrounds. Rather than saying we should abolish culture, I would say we should celebrate the differences, but then again, this all depends upon the individuals. I don’t think a person should be frowned upon if they want to be appreciative of where they come from (or not).

    I have to disagree with you on Americans who are of Irish, Italian, or British descent. I have White friends who are of Irish, German, and British descent and they’re proud of it. They may not speak Gaelic or German, but they make efforts to learn the languages along with the history. Even if they’re not in touch with their ethnicity, it doesn’t mean they’re devoid of culture. Culture is not rigid, it’s dynamic, it changes and adapts depending on so many factors, including religion.

    As a Muslim growing up in the United States, I think America needs to recognize that it’s a multicultural society and not simply a “melting pot.” The problem with “melting pot” is that it’s about assimilation. It’s about mixing everyone together so that we all have one identity. Multiculturalism isn’t limited to various cultures, but extends to religious diversity as well. Whether or not certain Muslims are appreciative of their ethnic backgrounds, Muslims are still very much part of America. When Spike Lee opened “Inside Man” with an Indian song, his message to America was that *this* is also part of America, it shouldn’t be perceived as something “alien” or “foreign.” In that same respect, Islam is also part of America. It shouldn’t be feared or thought of as something “foreign.”

    “O people, we created you from the same male and female, and rendered you distinct peoples and tribes, that you may know one another. The best among you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous. Allah is Omniscient, Cognizant.” (Qur’an, 49:13)

    As you pointed out with Pakistani Muslims, Palestinian Muslims, and African Muslims standing apart from each other, we should get to KNOW ONE ANOTHER. We don’t need to abolish culture to do that. My only problem with your post is that it seems to present culture in a negative light, and I worry about the perception that can potentially create of Muslims like myself who *do* find importance in culture (rather than just seeing it as something “cool”).

    I believe one of the beauties of Islam is that it’s multi-cultural. No human being of any skin color or culture is excluded from it. Allah’s arms are open to all human beings. Islam is time immemorial — it’s spirit is in the very creation of the Universe as well as ourselves. The universe abides by the Law of Submission and that includes every person, every tree, every piece of dirt, every atom, and every breath we take. Yes, we don’t have control over our skin color or where we’re born, but then again, we don’t control much anyway, do we? Allah is in control of everything and whether we are appreciative of culture or live without culture, it is our obligation as Muslims to live for Allah. No matter what our opinions are, we should respect other, not look down upon someone, and not think we’re better than them based on ethnicity or culture. We should be accepting of other Muslims who have different views than us rather than telling them how they *should* be (I’m not saying this is what you’re doing). I would totally be against the idea of enforcing culture on Muslims just as much as I would be against the idea of forcing Muslims not to take pride in their ethnic background.

  4. one of the most nationalistic people in history is Hitler. who admired Stalin, Mussolini and Napoleon for being just as nationalistic as himself.

  5. Very nicely put.

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