Event Review: Love of the Nation is from Faith with Shaykh Ahmad Saad
Who: Shaykh Ahmad Saad
When: 25th June 2012
Where: SMU Ngee Ann Kongsi Auditorium
By: Muslim Societies of the various Universities, with the support of SimplyIslam.sg[/box_dark]
If love of the nation is from faith, as narrated by our Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), then I readily admit that I am a man lacking in faith. I’m not a big fan of this place we call home: I routinely root for the opposing team whenever the Singapore Lions play, I smirk when people tell me how wonderful this city-state is, I prefer the company of people I’ve met across the causeway.
I think my sense of anti-patriotism stems from this niggling feeling I’ve always had, that I have to choose between being a good Muslim and a good Singaporean. That I am expected to water down my religious ideals and inclinations to integrate successfully into this secular country. That the praying, halal-food-eating, track-pants-wearing, handshake-from-opposite-sex refusenik with daughter-in-hijab and wife-in-kitchen has no place in modern Singapore society.
The frustration I feel is compounded by some of the explanations offered by local religious teachers, unsatisfactory at best, colluding with the Singapore Government at worst. Can’t cover your aurah? Darurah. Can’t perform Friday prayers because of NS? Darurah. Can’t find any employment anywhere other than MBS? Darurah. Welcome to Singapore, we’re in a permanent state of darurah. Ho hum, pass the butter.
So I hope I can be forgiven for thinking that Shaykh Ahmad Saad’s lecture last Monday, Love of the Nation is from Faith (Hubbul Watan Minal Iman), was going to be scarcely more than an exercise in maintaining the status quo. After all, all the signs were already there. Well, one obvious one at least. Invited Malay MP from the ruling People’s Action Party, check.
Fortunately, the Shaykh made many salient points over the course of his hour-and-a-half-long lecture which gave me much to reflect upon with regards to my indifference towards Singapore. Suffice to say; had my pink IC been a living, breathing thing, it would have heaved a huge sigh of relief.
Being a Good Muslim & A Good Citizen a False Dichotomy
To begin (for those reading this simply to extract information from the lecture, I’m sorry you had to wait five whole paragraphs), Shaykh Ahmad Saad was quick to caution against what he considered to be a false dichotomy: the prevalent idea that one has to choose between being a good Muslim or a good citizen.
He argued that one could not divide ‘faith’ and ‘land’ into two separate entities, and that the arrival of faith is meant to fix the problems of the land/nation. Therefore, he concluded, a good Muslim must also be a good citizen.
But what about the Nazis, I wondered. Weren’t they considered good citizens as well? As if reading my mind, Shaykh Saad said that our service to our country was not because of the government that rules, because governments rise and fall (I take it the Shaykh was referring to every country on this planet except Singapore). It is forged out of our remembrance of Allah, our sense of right and wrong, and our loyalty to the land and its people.
Shaykh Ahmad Saad also corrected the common perception of the Arabic term “watan”; often translated as one’s nation or homeland. He said that we do not have to be tied down to the place of our birth, citing the example of Prophet Ibrahim a.s., who was born in Iraq, but later moved to Palestine and Mecca, and the Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. who had the greatest affinity for the people of Medina (the Ansar) despite having been born and raised in Mecca.
Even the Companions were constantly roving, with very few having died in either Mecca or Medina. Needless to say, early Muslims were very much ahead of their time, becoming globalised citizens and able to adapt to wherever they were, without having to compromise their religious beliefs.
Lessons from Prophet Ibrahim’s Plea
To this end, Shaykh Ahmad Saad shared a supplication he would often make, “Oh Allah, plant me where I will be fruitful.” He said that the “watan” is to be understood as any land where one can be beneficial and contribute to society. Shaykh Ahmad referred to the verse 37 of Surah Ibrahim, to elucidate four points on how a Muslim can contribute to society.
The verse speaks of Prophet Ibrahim’s plea to Allah swt, “O our Lord! I have made some of my offspring to dwell in a valley without cultivation, by Thy Sacred House; in order, O our Lord that they may establish regular prayer: so fill the hearts of some among men with love towards them, and feed them with fruits: so that they may give thanks.”
The four learning points for Muslims are:
- To establish prayer. It is through the establishment of prayer that one develops God-consciousness and a moral compass, an integral element of any good citizen.
- To incline hearts towards them. This can only be achieved if Muslims show kindness to others around them, as the people of Medina did for the people of Mecca. To illustrate their level of kindness, Shaykh Saad spoke of their willingness to divorce one of their wives so that she could get married to a Meccan; I found this anecdote rather funny, can’t say my wife appreciated the Shaykh’s sense of humour though.
- To work for one’s sustenance (feed them with fruits). Muslims have to stop depending on welfare benefits and burdening the societies they live in. It is imperative that they contribute to the economy, though not in the sense of rich Muslims paying exorbitant fees for empty stuff which bring little benefit to others (On the Shaykh’s no-no list: Harrods, Emirates Stadium and customised license plates).
- To show gratitude. Whatever the pressures of daily life, Shaykh Ahmad Saad advised the audience to always be grateful. If you live in security from fear and starvation, be grateful, he said.
Indeed, the Shaykh had many pearls of wisdom to share with the young crowd, who seemed buoyed by his infectious optimism for the many contributions a good Muslim could do for the community. Nevertheless, I felt he was at times unaware of the unique situation of Muslims in Singapore, and the challenges they face vis-à-vis Muslims in Britain, for instance.
For example, the Shaykh answered a question on what a Muslim soldier of a secular nation’s army could do, if faced with the prospect of war against a Muslim-majority country, by suggesting that a tax be paid by the Muslims of the country to exempt them from such a situation (similar to the jizya paid by non-Muslims as a replacement for not having to serve in the Muslim army). In any case, his alternative answer was the more-applicable-to-Singapore-situation; that Muslims fight crime and injustice, even if such crimes and injustices are committed by fellow Muslims (Malaysian soldiers you have been warned).
In conclusion, I can’t deny much of what Shaykh Ahmad Saad said. In the wake of recent world-changing events, Muslims have often been exhorted to work hard, to contribute to their community, to improve their image to the watching world.
But I think what’s more pressing is what he didn’t say; that the problems our faith was sent to fix, are problems that many nations, including Singapore, are not interested in fixing. Atheism, moral degradation, the lack of modesty among individuals, the relentless pursuit of wealth, the mindless pursuit of entertainment and fun, these problems are but the tip of the giant iceberg known as the postmodern condition. And if we are to be truly good Muslims and citizens, then I think we must start pointing out these problems to our fellow countrymen.[divider]
Shahnawaz Abdul Hamid
The writer graduated from Nanyang Technological University with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. He blogs about football, politics and religion at www.hayatshah.com.