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Friday Sermon: Parable of the Patient Dog

By Babatunde Jose

“O ye who believe! Obey Allah, and obey the Apostle, and those charged with authority among you. If ye differ in anything among yourselves, refer it to Allah and His Apostle, if ye do believe in Allah and the Last day: That is best, and most suitable for final determination.” (Quran 4:59)

Islam makes no sharp division between sacred and secular affairs; it expects governments to be imbued with righteousness. Likewise Islam expects Muslims to respect the authority of such government for otherwise there can be no order or discipline. This however, is the bane of religious precepts in a secular environment. It is not in consonant with participatory democracy and the qualities desired from followers in modern democratic society. This is the origin of the proverbial docility, acquiescence and unquestioning acceptance of leadership and the ‘rankadede’ syndrome; an unquestioning obeisance of leaders. The above verse of the Quran is based on the assumption of a theocratic state. Modern nation states demand a different set of qualities from followers among which are; willingness to assume responsibilities, competence and self-management, efficiency, political engagement, readiness to be mobilized and lending a voice to protest bad leadership and of course, demand for accountability. Unfortunately, most of these qualities are wanting in the followership in our society; hence the absence of a culture of protest.

As followers we are too timid and complacent. We do not make forceful demands on our rulers. We acquiesce and resort to self help. We do not make them accountable and limit our complaints to rancorous discussions at the beer parlor or at social events over plates of jollof rice and Coca Cola.  In the words of Prof Wole Soyinka: “I have become increasingly convinced that, between leadership and the led, there is only a very thin dividing line, often nearly indistinguishable. There is no question in my mind that, most often, the so-called led are their own worst enemies, even to the point of self-betrayal and treachery to their own existence. . . . .” Wole Soyinka: ‘Handshake Across History’.  The key role of citizens in a democracy is to participate in public life. In other climes they protest and riot over increase in the price of bread or rice, fuel and other issues that impinge on the welfare of the people. Here we are content to accept all that they throw at us with equanimity. What have we done about the fantabulous take home pay of our legislators? Nothing! We do not protest the potholes on our streets or the delay in refuse disposal. We make little or no demands on our leaders and do not hold them responsible for our degradation. Political apathy can lead to low voter turnout as we witnessed during the last elections and stagnation in government.

The case of Lebanon illustrates the matter.  In CNN’s Fareed Zakaria’s  Global Briefing,  Bilal Y. Saab writes at the Middle East Institute, citizens of the fragile country (where civil war raged from 1975 to 1990  and where power is still split, for the most part, between Christians, Sunnis, and Shiites) did not take part in the Arab Spring. But, that has changed recently as Lebanon has joined the club of countries facing mass demonstrations. In the vein of Chile’s transit-fare hike, Ecuador’s end to fuel subsidies, and Hong Kong’s extradition bill, Lebanon’s proposed $6 monthly tax on WhatsApp calls touched off a movement. As in other cases, it’s about much more: “This is not about a messaging app,” Saab writes. “This is about less than half the people in Lebanon being connected to official water supplies, a tiny minority getting full electricity coverage, more than a third of the country’s youth being unemployed,” among other grievances. “My only surprise is that it has taken so long for the anger to spill on to the streets,” Roula Khalaf writes in the Financial Times, noting that reforms passed at “lightning speed” in response may not be enough.

The situation in Lebanon exemplifies our condition in Nigeria where untold hardships are being face by the people. It is left to us to extract commitments and action on issues from our political leaders before giving them our vote. “This is a duty we must not shirk. It is a duty to us and to posterity. But, considering all that has gone before, and threatens to kill the future of this nation, you have a responsibility to go further and say, ‘Enough’ of unchangeable casts of mind whose possessors only re-cycle themselves either directly or by surrogation. It is time to disarm the entire political scene and re-arm the visionaries. The nation needs new players, new minds. It is time that a united opposition seize the bull by the horns and make a determined effort towards total transformation.”

It has been argued that religion; in particular Islam is a contributing factor to the situation of political docility and lethargy of its adherents. This perhaps account for the proverbial acceptance of some of our brothers in the faith for the misrule of their leaders and why they have remained a-political. This thesis is however faulted in the light of the ‘Arab Spring’ and other uprisings and protests in patently Islamic climes. It is therefore not Islam or Christianity that makes a citizen apathetic, irresponsible to his political duties and obligations; rather it is the political culture of lethargy and de-participation.

Despite the suffering and challenges we face, we lack the culture of protest and rejection of bad governance. People are not prepared to make sacrifice on the barricades and as such resign their lives to fate. There are however instances in the stories of the Prophet and the Caliphs of the importance of followers asking questions and making demands on their leaders. A person cannot be a functioning member of his community if he or she lacks knowledge and wisdom. Equally a follower is expected to be courageous. According to Mohamed “courage is a quality of the soul, its heart’s strength against shock and composure when experiencing fear.” (Mohamed, Y. (2006); The Path to Virtue: The ethical Philosophy of AlRaghib Al-Işfahani: International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilization, p 275)   The earliest followers in Islam were credible, honest and courageous. Therefore, they established themselves as independent, critical thinkers whose knowledge and wisdom are dependable. Bashir bin Sa‘ad (r.a) was a courageous follower during ‘Omar’s (r.a) regime. He was bold enough to tell Caliph ‘Omar that they will straighten him as they do with their arrows if he fails to properly perform his duties as a leader.   Caliph Omar said, “It is the duty of the leader and followers to listen to each other and to voice out their concern.” He added, “When followers do not participate and provide input, they are not contributing something useful. And we are not useful if we do not consent to their contributions.” (Ali, A.J. (2005), Islamic Perspectives on Management and Organization. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar. P 135)

In the parable of the patient dog, we learn that’ the patient dog starves to death’. There can be no virtue in patience under naked hunger and suffering.

Barka Juma’at and a happy weekend

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