The following story is based on a true experience by a dear friend whom I had invited to “iftar” during the recent Ramadhan. The event was held in one of the halls at Kuala Lumpur’s Masjid Negara. For all of Malaysia’s enlightenment, she still designs some mosques that are quite inaccessible for “warga emas”, or senior citizens, who may be a bit walking-impaired. This was my worry but with all sincerity I had hoped that my friend would attend the event. And more importantly, the following incident has made me reflect upon what we call as da’wah bil hal – inviting people to Islam through our personal good qualities and actions. This is indeed is Rasulullah (may peace be upon him)’s lifelong practise. His moral conduct had drawn many people to love and embrace Islam. His trustworthiness and amanah had long since impressed the community of Quraisy Arabs. So much so that he was named Al-Amin, the Truthful One.
We find it sad that senior citizens have to endure great difficulties to access the National Mosque. Count them – in order to pray at Masjid Negara, one must first go up one flight of stairs to arrive at the security entrance. And then one must descend another flight to perform ablutions. Then one must go back up that flight and up another to get to the Prayer Hall. So that is four flights of stairs, and by the time you go home, it’s six flights altogether. I sincerely hope the relevant authority take prompt steps to remedy this situation, by at least improving the Mosque to have more disabled-friendly and senior citizens-friendly facilities.
My friend had initially confessed to me that he had given up hope of ever seeing the beautiful interior of this mosque due to his old-age impairment, but then he also said that my invitation to the Iftar became a sort of Jihadic challenge for him to make one last visit in this lifetime. By doing his ablutions at home, he figured he could eliminate two flights of the six, and by arriving early, he could take the initial two flights up very slowly.
He related to me that about half way up the second flight, one of our friends came bouncing along with five or six of her Malay friends, and as my friend was in considerable pain by this time, he felt that he would have been happy to stop a moment to greet and be introduced to those people. Instead, my friend was not given any “Salam”, and as these younger Muslims flew passed him on the stairs, they pointed somewhere and said, “Over there”. That was it.
He told me that at that particular point in time, he felt he had been run done by a speeding motorist. And then, he felt the most poignant sadness that, had he been a newly converted Muslim, he might well have committed apostasy after the heedlessness of these people. He made up a new term to describe their incredible behavior – evidence for the non-Muslim prosecution.
Aside from being hurt by their insensitivity, he was sad beyond words that these so-called “born Muslims”, one of whom held a position in a Muslim outreach association –of which saddens me most, were utterly oblivious to his pain, his good fellowship, and even his normal need to be greeted as a Muslim with the ”Salam”, as clearly enjoined by Al Qur’an and our Prophet Muhammad (may peace be upon him).
There is an absolute difference when he encountered another group of Muslim brothers. Several evenings before this, he had attended a similar Ramadan Iftar with a group, unfortunately sometimes considered deviationist, in the presence of their Sheikh who was visiting from the Middle East. He told me that at no time was he made to feel other than an honored guest. He was given a place at the central table near the Sheikh, who made him feel entirely welcome. He confessed to me that he could sense the dignity of his age, and the accumulated meaning and blessing of his entire lifetime. And now, here in Malaysia’s own National Mosque, in the space of five seconds he was made to feel a total outsider, as his age and struggle to get up those stairs was completely ignored by those local Muslims.
He further told me that as he also felt completely unwelcome after that encounter at the Masjid Negara, he broke his fast in the Prayer Hall itself. Other bitter experiences had caused him to bring his own back-up food for fast-breaking, a sort of chili insurance, but also as if some part of him knew that disaster may lurk along his struggle to mount the mosque stairway.
I regret to learn that after this incident, his trust in the behavior of born Muslims in this country has been seriously eroded by their own behavior over the years, and now had been definitively toppled yet again by people’s uncaring blindness. What a pleasure it might have been, had this fellow outreach-working sister stopped, returned the Salam my friend never had time to give, and happily introduced him to her other friends as her respected elder. There was, in the event, not the slightest difference between her behavior and that of any typical westerner. Nor did she treat my special guest in any way other than as a typical westerner. The Ramadhan does not seem to have penetrated very deeply into her being.
Personally I think this is one of our major problems. My many years in a da’wah organization, and born and growing up in a Muslim-majority country, I sometimes question my sanity. The West accuses Muslims of being no better than other religious groups, and in some ways much worse (tolerating suicide, for one thing). And this is the ‘evidence for the prosecution’ as displayed by us Muslims at Masjid Negara.
May Allah forgive these Muslims for disgracing the name of Islam, for disrespecting my friend’s place among them, and, not the least important, for ignoring Allah’s call to greet fellow Muslims with proper greetings. And we are also enjoined to portray good conduct and use kind words toward our non-Muslim friends.
And here is a hadith that clearly demonstrates the utter simplicity of good da’wah, of inviting people to the good as True Believers must do: The Prophet (may peace be upon) said, “You will never enter Paradise unless you are Believers. And you will never achieve genuine belief unless you love and respect each other. Shall I not tell you the way you can create love amongst yourselves? [That way lies in] frequently greeting each other with ‘Salam’” (Related by Muslim, Bukhari).