We are different, that is a fact of life. You and I, are different. The way we look, the way we were brought up, our experiences, our likes and dislikes, our beliefs and opinions are different.
Yes, there may be quite a lot of similarities between you and me, we may have been friends for the past 15 years, you might have grown up in the same city as me, our parents may have similar backgrounds and may indeed be friends, we may have gone to the same Qur’an school when we were kids, and I may have moved to the same country as you did, you may even be interested in a lot of the same things that I am too or you may be my blood sibling and still we are different. You aren’t me and I’m not you and that is perfect, we may learn a lot from each other. God created us, you and I, to be different.
“O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another…” [Qur’an 48:13]
Still, as a child you don’t really set out to think about what makes you different from everyone else, you just want to have fun like all the other kids do too. I grew up as a black Muslim in Germany, a minority in a minority.
My whole class knew that I was a Muslim, I didn’t hide it and my being black was not something I could really hide. They knew when I was fasting and what Ramadan was, I showed them how we pray during a visit to the mosque, I chose to play a Nasheed (Religious Song) when we gave a small presentation on our favourite music and gave a presentation about a river that was the namesake of the country my mother was born in and my father had roots in. My mother would make sure to tell my best friends mother not to feed me any meat when I stayed over at their little farm during the summer and we’d play Zelda, Mario Party or tag the whole day.
I have been quite privileged in the way that I have been brought up, that my parents are both academics/professionals and knowledgeable in the religion, for me to grow to be comfortable in my being different and still I sometimes hesitate. Hesitate, to speak out and take a stand, to break the silence. In such a moment of hesitation and inaction, I might as well have been dead.
“Sometimes I feel like my city is a graveyard.“
In his video The Graveyard, Suli Breaks expresses how we might as well be the walking dead, as we sacrifice our happiness for our salaries. The imagery of a city as a Graveyard is powerful, signifying the death of society, stagnation and truly painful silence permeating through each crook and cranny of the ruins of our city.
While the rows of gravestones tell the stories of those that have passed, their voices have died. Their words however still reach us, because they refused to be silenced. Still, we too often choose to ignore them, when empathy is lost, xenophobia rises, injustice and aggression is left unopposed, problems swept under the rug and conversations stifled. Resulting in exclusion and segregation or expression.
Expression in a hostile environment however requires a lot of courage. Courage to break the silence, to express yourself and stand up for yourself, your rights, your thoughts, your aspirations, your dreams and those of others around you. By being different and confident with yourself, the image that you project of yourself will invigorate the dead around you and inspire them to help break down the wall of silence.
Being humble, ascetic and conscious doesn’t mean staying silent at all times. It means choosing the right time to be silent and when to speak up and so while the Prophet (saw.) said:
“Whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day should speak good things or keep silent.” [Muslim: Sahih]
The hadith often becoming our go-to narration to tell someone to shut up. Keeping silent, here is predicated on not actually having anything good to say, that is to engage in speech which we would regret later. When acts of injustice are however carried out, that is when our silence makes us complicit as Dr. Martin Luther King said:
“He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.” [Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story]
We need to speak up. The Qur’an also says:
“Allah does not like the public mention of evil except by one who has been wronged. And ever is Allah Hearing and Knowing.” [Quran 4:148]
In our journey to emulate the noble characteristics that Allah (swt.) describes Himself with, we also have to listen and yes we have to be silent at times to get to know and fully understand the situation of those who are oppressed to be able to express it.
Will we face opposition? Yes, absolutely we will, but we will face hate whether we speak out about our grievances or not, whether we integrate or assimilate or not. Experiences of racism, xenophobia and of injustice of whatever kind whether from our teachers and classmates, or even parents can shatter self-confidence and scratch at our self-esteem, our sense of self-worth and our self body-image.
That is why it is so important that one, we have the courage to be different and proud of it and second, to know that we are not the only ones alive in this graveyard that there are others that are different too, who are not just stuck in the work/eat/sleep cycle and are trying to break down that wall with you. While our expression alone may at times cause us to be isolated within the status quo, it needs the courage of the one, to shatter the silence of the many.