Hospital, Hope, and Historic Legacy
Perched on the 7th floor of a suburban hospital, I peer at the Chicago skyline in the distance. Here for five days after my father suddenly “lost power” in his legs while feeding the birds in his yard; it was 92 degrees and he was stranded, baking for a few hours before a neighbor miraculously found him. While the event was unpleasant, he feels blessed as his children have risen to the cause as his advocates with numerous staff and specialists, tests, logistics, and he instigated a chain of reunions and collaborations that give him satisfaction, and above all, the feeling of love. We anticipate discharge to a physical rehabilitation within days.
With all the nasty news headlines, political and economic stresses, it distills down to this—we prevail when we have Hope. In Dad’s case, all testing so far was mercifully unspectacular, and an additional benefit, as I ponder it, is that rehab guided by professionals may speed up his recovery from winter doldrums to result in out-performing me in golf! I had better get my own training on track, in spite of numerous overseas relatives who have added to the complexity of my task schedule.
Yet, before spring sprang with its tulips, redolent lilacs and hyacinths, I was prompted to read Tariq Ramadan’s Islam and the Arab Awakening. It was not part of the Muslim Journeys book list, but I wish it was because he has a global following. This review will summarize contents and some of my own perspectives derived from his ideas.
Ramadan analyzes historic, geopolitical, and currently relevant perspectives. In his prescription for Arab and Muslim majority countries, he echoes a call I have heard even from OIC business research circles, that there is need for reform in education to foster innovation, critical thinking, and establishing a mission based stance toward collective responsibility, which may even question leadership if a better solution may be conceived. He recognizes the need in light of economic ripples from globalization, and the necessity of guidance and requirement to utilize young people in work. In particular, the value of women’s education and autonomy is acknowledged, and resolving poverty and corruption, which has undermined societies.
In timely manner, he qualifies that Islamic shariah implies a call for justice, dignity, and freedom. It supports religious, cultural, and political pluralism. Ramadan’s expertise is qualified, as he holds a PhD. in Arabic and Islamic Studies from the University of Geneva (Switzerland), and he contends that shariah is not constitutionally rigid and reductive. He also explains that the often misunderstood term of jihad “resists racism, dictatorships, corruption and oppression.” He states that “only when Muslim societies actively envision and work for nothing less than these values can they achieve liberation.” This is a far different portrayal of these terms—shariah and jihad—than what the American public has been led to believe.
Efforts of a deliberate misinformation campaign have been revealed, as I have learned of several reports in the past year. Truly Machiavellian, there are enough well plotted schemes that convince this to be reality, not a conspiracy theory. Yet, Ramadan does not address these at all. What he does note though are the inequities of powerful nations in their willingness to engage in resolutions within Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia as contrasted with Syria and Yemen. Specific interest was abetted to unrests in petromonarchies of Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. Meanwhile, we also see further power plays and economic polarization in Greece and Cypress, and we question when will the purge end? Who loses and who gains? How can “they” get away with it, and can the juggernaut be halted without a hard landing? The printing of fiat currency is heading toward Jupiter with futile hope of ever meeting debt obligations on every scale. It’s a house of cards, and even my overseas guests—who sport the shopping malls have reported that designer brands are selling out, while middle-America is not even in the mall or they’re just window shopping.
My eldest children have commented that nearly all their classmates from high school and college have no job, and this we see in Arab societies as well. Educated and un or under employed, we have too many PhDs. What benefit was their education for? A better effort is required for guiding students toward employable fields and majors. Ramadan writes that “critical intelligence is mandated to resolve the waste of human capital. Globalization and unemployment needs some turnkey solutions, and although not everyone is an entrepreneur, we must utilize resources in a fulfilling and sustainable manner.” Working to eliminate poverty is a solution; yet, the widening gap of haves and have nots is directly oppositional to the solution required.
Ramadan’s writing expresses hope for Muslim majority societies to take the initiative in building its own alternative order. In my mind I sense powerful potential parallels with the Dark Ages and subsequent rise of the Golden Age of Islam which eventually catalyzed into the Renaissance. However, with the internet and social media’s pan-identity of “we” there is optimism to breach entrenched nationalistic, gender, and religious divisions in exchange for a united, humanistic bond with willingness toward inclusion.
The power of the people was just a glimmer in the Arab Spring, and we wait for its awakening to cure the malaise threatening our existence. To build, Ramadan calls for the following three priorities
• The dignity of the individual and labor
• Defined conditions for fair and equitable trade
• Compassion and efforts to relieve the poor
While Arab and Muslim majority societies seek solutions, it is fair to evaluate weaknesses, in order to recognize their vulnerabilities. Since Ramadan clearly rests the responsibility to ultimately lie with the people, irrespective of corrupt leaders and plots, he diagnoses that many greatly lack Spirituality. Of course, there are deeply spiritual people scattered in every society, he qualifies that the masses are not devoid of “religion,” rather they lack its deeper infused essence. “Adherence to rituals, and even moral concern, fall short of spirituality depicted as having a rock solid base in a meaning to life and peace in one’s heart resulting from an unshakable belief that permeates one’s personality resulting in inner security and serenity.”
He calls out that rhetoric and formality have taken precedence over the spiritual core, and that some people incorporate Sufi practices while maintaining parallel to them secular lifestyles. We’ve seen this in American society where there was a rising interest in Buddhism and yoga. While not all who choose yoga as their form of exercise connect to the spiritual relation to it, the popular rise of it into mainstream was sparked by people seeking to fill a void.
Who could blame them for casting away religion when it seems that all dogmatic religions “take away” and “restrict,” rather that enrich? Moreover, the argument that religion “gives comfort” can easily be dismissed because many other less polyanna-ish pursuits can also give at least a temporary comfort.
Ramadan contends, “What lies at the heart of spirituality is the willingness to not resist against life’s challenges, because at some point exhaustion sets in, if unabated. When the human reaches its limit in its ability to suffer, the only recourse is to reach beyond one’s self to an entity who never fatigues, who creates all, and can deliver ultimate relief. Certainty of this entity’s existence and a personal connection to it defines one as a Believer. The depth of the relationship between Creator and Believer determines the degree of spirituality. Just as muscle improves with effort, spirituality is deepened with effort to connect with one’s Creator. In our often busy lives, this requires an investment of time and consciousness. That justifies why Muslims pray 5 times a day, to maintain that “hand hold” and bond.”
Far from simply hiding and praying, a spiritual person is called upon to actualize virtue in caring for themselves, their fellow humans, plants, creatures, and the environment. The manifold aspects of this can be applied to all realms of life. For me, Ramadan’s clarification reminds that aspects of this should resonate throughout education, social, political, economic, cultural and artistic work. For every type of occupation, I can easily perceive its relevance in serving for a greater good, whether it be through social work, fine arts, math and science, literature and communication, law, health care and fitness, politics, agriculture, animal husbandry, travel, logistics, trade, manufacturing, marketing, finance, and defense. All are acceptable if they serve toward building and preserving a legacy of dignity for all, and respecting the benevolence and wisdom of the Creator. This respect and acceptance of the Creator’s higher authority is what feeds spirituality. Behaving contrary to one’s inherent autonomy, status of trust, honor, and responsibility erodes it.
My vocation in Education—inclusive of the plurality of languages, customs, arts, cuisines, and other facets of culture—can help us discover our own pan-identity. Giving meaning and worth to other cultures gives respect and bonds humans as global partners.
——-Enough heavy analysis; levity also bonds humans. To that extent, I’ve a hankering for reading something by P.G. Wodehouse. After all, balance is a characteristic of Islam, and much time hanging out at the hospital with Dad has me chomping at the bit to get moving outdoors as soon as I can assure he is comfortable in an interim setting to get his legs and lungs ready for golf.