Each one of us has a different consciousness of things, and this consciousness dominates our lives and governs our behaviour. So, one might be God-conscious, class-conscious, colour-conscious, consciousness of other physical features, sectarian-conscious, or whatever the case might be.
Many of the attitudes that we have towards people are formed during our childhood and depend on the attitudes and ideas prevalent in the home or the community in which we live. So, to a large degree, how we feel about others is determined by the domestic or community culture in which we had lived. Later on in life, we might acquire other attitudes with regard to people by certain events in our lives and by what we acquire from the dominant culture of the country. Another important attitude-forging activity is education. Because the education in this country is, for example, mainly Euro-centered, and here I also include the media, we might acquire attitudes towards people from what went on in our classrooms or what we have read or listened to. There is a vast array of different cultural elements that impact on us. If many of us look at ourselves today, we cannot recognize what we are because of the extent that we had changed. If I think of myself, I had changed from a bare-footed, scruffy little boy from Salt River to a university professor, and this involved multifarious changes in my personality.
You see, today when we are generally fairly stable human beings or supposed to be, we have to a big extent settled our attitudes towards and our ideas of people. But we can still be categorised. Many of us, because of a variety of factors, are class-conscious or colour-conscious or at a lower level, clothes-conscious, or whatever the case might be. In many cases, what we have become is expressed by prejudice. Thus, a person who is class-conscious will be very careful as to where he lives, the car he drives, the people he associates with, the shopping malls he goes to, the social clubs he belongs to and the friends he has. And he also has a deep-seated prejudice against those who are not of his “class”. He might associate with the poor but he does so very uncomfortably. He does not belong to those on the other side of the railway line.
Very similar to being class-conscious, is to be racial or sectarian-conscious. We, who have grown up in this country know all about this. In fact, an array of laws or the statute books of this country entrenched prejudice against others and highlighted physical differences amongst human beings. This state of affairs was so severe that it caused major upheavals in the lives of human beings in this country. Many of us have lived through this so I need not explain it. What we have come to see is that both class-consciousness and race-consciousness and even religious-consciousness can have a devastating effect on what we do and on our association with others.
What does Islam say about this? Of course, Islam recognises that there are group and individual differences between people. But Islam swept all that aside when it declared that human beings are divided into those who believe and those who do not believe, that those who believe were brothers and sisters to each other, and that the only difference recognized as being important amongst human beings, is the extent of each one’s piety or taqwa, as stated in the Qur’an. We must understand how these factors mentioned cast aside real and artificial differences amongst people and gave recognition only to one’s relationship with one’s God. Perhaps this was a great difficulty when Islam came. Islam did not deny there were such things as class, religion or racial differences, but when it came to our relationships with our Lord, the trappings of these differences become insignificant. The only matter that is important to Islam, is whether one is a believer and the extent of one’s taqwa; nothing else. This cuts across all the differences that human beings have brought into existence amongst themselves, for Islam does not ask to what class or tribe you belong, as is so common in this country, or how you are classified as a population group. Allah Almighty looks at one’s heart and one is classified in terms of the contents of that heart; contents which give expression to one’s beliefs and the extent of one’s piety.
You see, perhaps one of the most devastating intrusions in our lives, or rather how we see ourselves and others, is the inherent prejudice that accompanies the recognition of tribal, class or sectarian differences amongst people, and it is this prejudice which takes various forms in one’s life that destroys whatever there is of striving for a relationship with one’s Lord that is based on the religiously good. It is unbelievable how prejudice or bad attitudes towards people who are considered as “other”, destroy one’s religious integrity. Does one think that one can become of the intensely pious by worshipping one’s tribe or one’s class or all the other things that we worship in society? Do you think so? In my study of the Muslims in the Cape Peninsula, I came across people who considered it more important to be “Indian” or “Cape Malay” than to be Muslim. In the light of my analyses, how much Islam is in the heart of a tribalist or sectarian or in the hearts of those who see themselves as being of a particular class of people? How much of Islam is in these hearts? Sometimes Islam is just a social convenience to hide the true nature of class or tribal decadence.
A Muslim’s heart must only be for his Lord. When it is not for his Lord, it is for things other than his Lord, and when it is for things other than his Lord, what is left of true Islam in that heart? We ask our Lord to take each one of our hearts between His “two fingers” and to direct those hearts towards Him, away from all those things that are destructive to what is spiritual and pious, amin. We must become concerned about ourselves, examine our hearts, check its true nature and plead for changes for the better.
[Letters to Seekers on the Spiritual Path Vol 2 – Unpublished 2012]