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Archive for April 2010

Tribalism

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Just a few days ago, yours truly was sat down amidst a group of ‘aunties’ and listening to their philosophies on life. Surprisingly (not), the topic of marriage came up. As I squirmed uncomfortably, avoiding any eye contact lest they began to discuss MY potential marriage, I noted their adamant views:
You should never marry outside’

(Slurps tea) ‘Oh yes I agree’

It even says in Islam’ (chews on cake, mouth open) ‘you should stay with your own kind’

The prophet married his cousin after all’

As I fought to maintain a straight face, I realised that I should not have been amused, but rather quite worried at their sincere expressions. I was not exactly taken aback by such comments; I’d heard them a hundred times before. It’s what I like to call ‘tribal mentality’ (or village mentality depending on what mood I am in).

We all know what tribes are: they are groups of people that share a common set of values, claiming descent from a particular ancestor and practising human sacrifices at the full moon. Well, maybe two out of the three-just don’t be too sure which two I’m talking about….

I’m not sure whether most of you are familiar with the tribes (or castes) of the Indian subcontinent, in particular Pakistan, or not. You have the Rajputs (literally sons of kings), the Jatts (farmers or landowners) and Mohchi (shoemaker). There are more, but these are the main ones. And they all think they’re superior to the other. The Rajput derives his arrogance from the fact that his ancestors used to rule, once upon a time. Note to Mr Rajput: you don’t anymore! Then Mr Jatt thinks he is high and mighty because he dominates the political arena and ploughs everyone’s land. These two dislike each other but join forces to poke fun of the Mochi when he’s around because he’s a shoemaker.

That’s not exclusive to this region. You get this in the Arab world too. There are hundreds of Arab tribes; and they all hate each other too surprise, surprise. The Iraqis hate the Yemenis, the Yemenis hate the Saudis and the Saudis hate, well, everyone else! In the Arab world, belonging to a certain tribe can be beneficial. Different tribes, of course, have different relationships with the governments of the countries they reside in. Governments tend to recruit security service personnel from the tribes that they regard as the most loyal. These tribes benefit greatly from this, and thus have a strong interest in the survival of the regime. In Saudi Arabia, the tribes of Najd are the strongest supporters of the Saudi royal family. Being a member of any of these tribes can have important economic benefits.

When it comes to marriage, tribes can be quite particular when it comes to their children. They must marry into the same tribe- or chaos as we know it will ensue: a plague of locusts; frogs falling from the sky; rivers of blood- oh wait no that’s what happened to Pharaoh… But you get my point. Then certain tribal members get narked when another member’s daughter was not given to so-and-so’s son. What is that all about? Is there something special about her; does she have the ‘Midas Touch’? Methinks not. Before you know it, one family stops talking to the other, which then has a domino effect thereby affecting the entire tribe and village and generations later they can’t even remember what they fought over in the first place.

I can, to some extent, excuse such mentality when these tribes are living abroad in their homeland. One would think though, that when they emigrate to countries such as the UK, USA, etc, where there is diversity and where Muslims from different ethnic backgrounds will be encountered, tribal mentality will be abandoned, of it not abandoned then at least mitigated. But in general, this does not happen. We set our own communities within communities: Pakistanis living in one quarter of the town, Bangladeshis in another, Arabs in their own sector and then the All-White area, where no brown face dares to go. We continue to segregate ourselves and maintain practices which ought not to continue in a modern multi cultural society.

The tribal mentality is quite absurd considering how Islam and the Qur’an encourage diversity and unity:

O mankind, We have created you from a male and a female, and made you races and tribes, that you may know one another (Al Hujurat: 13)

The Prophet (pbuh) married women from different tribes to end disputes and maintain harmony amongst the tribes. What better example to follow? Before we forget, we are all made from one man and one woman. We as Muslims complain that we are being discriminated against all the time, yet we discriminate against each other and that, I think, is where the problem lies.

The Muslim world today is divided. A good example of this can be seen in Iraq and Afghanistan; tribal feuds and sectarian schisms are destroying the countries, while the fat-cats looks on and see how they can benefit from this. If we all united, and decided to stick together, we could achieve anything; the world, as they say, would be our oyster. So in short leave the poor Mohchi alone- he does make your shoes after all. We all contribute to the world in one way or another. And to the aunties who still maintain their Nazi-like views after this: put a naan in it…

Written by Iram Ramzan

April 19, 2010 at 7:16 pm

Posted in islam, south asian

Tagged with , ,

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