Saturday, April 26, 2008

The obscenity which is the United Arab Emirates is probably the closest you can get where you can see the fault line between the haves and the have nots. Actually, my saying that implies that I have a problem with those who are well off but in actuality I'm against the injustice which their lifestyle demands. I wonder, can you be rich and still be just? Still be clean? Though I, and millions like me, don't feel it, we are part of the rich world by living in the heart of Capital. The question begs me to answer it, can I stay here and still remain just? Still remain clean? I was speaking to my cousin yesterday and he was telling me how many Syrians my age can't wait to get out given half a chance, yet most Syrians I meet here can't wait to go back. Maybe the two of us should talk...

When I was in Syria, what struck me as odd was the number of people saying that I had a duty, whether Islamically or on a national level, to come back or at least live in an Arab or Muslim country. That I shouldn't be here in the UK. Their voices have never really gone away since last year and in fact have only gotten stronger. The question, I feel, is one of courage and principle. I spoke to a man who had to leave Syria in 1982 and live throughout the Arab world. Even though the countries he went to were Muslim, he never felt comfortable enough anywhere till he came back. He smiled at me through his beard, this book shop owner who didn't know me. I was asking for a book called the Book of Advice or Example (i3tibar) by Usama Ibn Munqidh and had walked in with my cousin to ask for it. The man started asking us what we did and when he heard that I studied International Relations, he sat me down and asked if we could talk - unimpressed with the topic and that it was taught to me in the West (as I am myself). We sat. He asked me what I thought politics was and whether I had heard of Islamic politics. I said I hadn't, to which he then gave me a long lecture on the political examples Umar Ibn al khattab and others. It sounded a lot like the realpolitik of Machiavelli but within the framework of Islam and it's boundaries rather than advocating murder, lying and cheating. I sat and listened, genuinely interested. He told us of his life story and what he went through, and also of the danger he faced if he returned to Syria. He did return, he told us, and he was imprisoned indeed, but what could he do? "This is my home, my family and friends are here" he said, "I went to Kuwait, but nobody wanted to buy books there, Egypt didn't work out and Yemen was 800 years back in the past so it was not possible for me to live there with my family". We talked of many things but finally we had to take leave of him. It was almost sunset and the time to break the fast. He shook my hand firmly and said.."you must try to come back" looking at me firmly in the eye. I said Inshallah and smiled.

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