Saturday, March 31, 2012

Mahmoud and Michael

Once there were two brothers who were identical twins. They lived with their family in the leafy suburb of Greenacre in Sydney’s south west. The family migrated to Australia in 1975 after the war in Lebanon and the twins were born in Bankstown Hospital.

Mahmoud and Michael were in their third year at university and they were both excited about what prospects lay ahead for them as they searched for internships. Mahmoud wanted to work in I.T. and Michael in law.

Mahmoud sent his CV to many companies requesting an internship and Michael did the same with different legal firms. Michael received ten replies and of the ten, five requested an interview. Mahmoud sent out twelve letters and got no replies whatsoever.

After another year, Michael went on to work at one of Sydney’s prestigious legal firms and is now in his fifth year with the firm and they have offered him a position as partner.

Mahmoud, dropped out of his course and changed his name to Mark and is now working at an IT company as a trainee technician. He is doing well and hopes to work his way up to management.

What’s in a name?

Shakespeare once asked in ‘Romeo and Juliet’;

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose,
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

Was he so visionary that he knew that one day Michael and Mahmoud would have this experience?

The sad reality is that many young Muslims are compelled to change their names so they can fit in or get ahead in life.

Identity is so important in one’s life, especially a young person, who is full of vitality and motivation, who needs to have a sense of belonging and acceptance.

In Australia we have many young Muslims, born in Australia but living between two worlds. At home they are the obedient Muslim, who speaks Arabic to his parents and outside, he is another person altogether, doesn’t speak about his religion or his culture, dresses and acts like his mates and shortens his name or Anglicises it altogether. Mohamed becomes Mo, Mustafa, Mus, Abdullah, Ab and Rabih – Robbie and so on.
The problem is serious but it is one that most adolescents must invariably experience on some level at one stage in their development. Yet, for Muslim kids it’s becoming increasingly different with the rise in Islamaphobia and anti-Islamic sentiments filtering through the media and into politics and society.

There is an ‘us and them’ mentality and many young Muslims prefer to hang out with their own, where their accents wont be mocked, they wont be stared out or ridiculed and where they feel accepted. The divide will only grow wider as young Australians who live in the northern beaches or in the Eastern suburbs, will rarely have met or know any one of Middle Eastern origin, unless they happen to be Lebanese Christians who attend the same Catholic school.

I grew up exactly this way. I had two identities and I did not really belong to either. I got to the point where I rebelled completely and moved away to live the life of a travelling vagrant searching for myself. I discovered my dearest twin, my brother in Islam, who taught me the meaning of brotherhood, who showed my true self and I realised that I should never have been ashamed of my faith at all. It was merely an illusion.

What I did was I travelled to many Islamic places, places that were regarded as the seats of learning in the Golden age of Islam, I came back to Australia inspired and began to learn my faith, to study and to know right from wrong and to put real Islam into practice. I didn’t listen to stories or superstitious traditions and I used my logic and reason. I read widely.

I didn’t stay locked up in my community, I studied other civilisations, I read about politics and I improved my English and corrected my accent. I never compromised my faith but I also wanted to understand the mindset of other faiths. I got involved with different organizations and set up my own projects and led the way. I did self-improvement courses and leadership programs. I lobbied for human rights for refugees in detention and I met with politicians and community leaders and I learned about diplomacy and the art of persuasion. But all along I kept strong in my faith and I kept away from wrong doing or things that would weaken my iman.

I was a teacher for a while and I got lot of satisfaction teaching young Muslims. I also got to understand their issues and I made it my practice to empower them and give them encouragement to succeed. I have been working with youth for some time now and still get enormous satisfaction from giving them guidance and advice.

At the end of the day you must be proud of your identity but not sit around doing nothing about your predicament or just complain or hate others.

Allah says he will not change a people unless they change themselves.

“Truly, God does not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.” (Quran 13:11)

So young Muslims have to ‘Carpe Deum’! Seize the Day! And reverse the trends that are happening today in terms of attitudes towards Muslims. It starts firstly with oneself.

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