As a person that bores easily, I am a huge fan of difference. Not the crazy kind of difference, the good kind. The crazy kind of difference is the kind that leads to a fanaticism that more often than not is dangerous because it is blinding. And because I am a fan of difference, I am appreciative of different colours, difference in landscape, difference in thought, difference in views of the world, and I could go on and on. The thought that in an alternative world all we would see is blue or black, or we would all dress the same or our thinking would be the same is one that scares me and that I simply refuse to entertain.
Do not get me wrong. There is beauty in sameness, in what we millennials call ‘twinning.’ However, the diversity that difference, if handled properly and accepted as part of our normal represents is unrivalled. Many times, however, the world has chosen to see difference as an enemy. The manifestation of this is in the physical, emotional and psychological warfare waged people have waged against others due to difference in race, tribe, religion and even sex. Examples are the ethnic cleansing of Jews in Nazi Germany, the genocide in Rwanda and the constant misogyny women continue to face even as the world boasts progress in ideology.
In recent months, headlines in the media have been about what some have termed as ethnic cleansing of the minority Rohingya Muslims in Burma/Myanmar. A country that has known nothing but military rule for more than 50 years, having elected its first civil president in early 2016 is now in the spotlight for the wrong reasons. Its military has been accused of attacking civilians, torching their homes and causing many to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh. What is worse is that the leader of the party in charge of the government, a Nobel peace prize winner for her championing of human rights has remained silent and has watched as the persecution of the Rohingya goes on. She has even gone ahead to deny the very identity of the people facing persecution, asking the United States ambassador not to use the term ‘Rohingya.’
This world has constantly had me worried for being on the ‘wrong’ side of the equation – female, Muslim and black. Speaking about my religion, I cannot compare being asked annoying questions (which sometimes are innocent) and getting angering comments thrown my way to the plight the Rohingya face. I am thankful that I have not had my headscarf ripped off my head or that I have not been forbidden from practising my religion. Yes, there have been times that it has been made awkward and difficult even, but that aside. I now realise that maybe non-Muslims do not comprehend what being Muslim is all about and a lot of the narratives on social media, television and newspapers have not helped much.
Being Muslim means belief in one God, called Allah (mostly, since there are 99 names used to refer to Him) and worshipping Him alone. Islam is a term that means peace and it is meant to be a unifying factor for people diverse in tribe, race, language, ideology and so on. It is a religion that emphasises kindness to other human beings – whether of similar religion or not and kindness to other creation. It does not teach violence against people of other faith, contrary to the narrative that has been peddled around. Islam demands unity and brotherhood, love for the less fortunate, respect for women and children and the uplifting of the poor by the rich.
As the Rohingya continue to face persecution, partly for their subscription to Islam, my suggestion is that people pick up books or watch videos on YouTube and learn about the religion in its true sense. Not just Islam, as many as possible, so as to have a broader view of the world. The world needs to understand and accept that even in difference there is sameness – that we are all human beings who would rather laugh than cry, who want the best for ourselves, who bleed when they fall, who hurt and who are all trying to do our best each and every single day. I have said it before and I say it again, difference is here to stay, that is the way it is and we can only learn to live by the words ‘agree to disagree’.
While those in power continue to condemn the acts of the Burmese military, calling for sanity and providing aid to the Rohingya, let those that ascribe to religion pray for the Rohingya and let us all speak against the notion of difference as an enemy.
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