It was with a great deal of interest that I read the commentary by Mehboob Qadir on the page of Daily Times on 12th February. I was captivated by his manner of introducing the reader to his topic. It was an excellent piece.
“Tall, strong and shady trees do not grow in thin air, shifting sands or swamps. Our sturdy Bunyan is a local tree which stands majestically in the firm soil through the ages and even centuries of ferocious storms, sun and shower. It goes on replanting itself where it originally grew out from. The result is a profound and traditional respect bordering on reverence. It is a well-regarded part of our folklore from Khyber to Kanniya Kumari and from Jalpaiguri to Jam Nagar all across South Asia. That is why it is a lasting, loving legend in popular sentiment. It is because Bunyan belongs here incontrovertibly and finally...
We are told that we are native sons of the soil which in other words means we were the ones who have inhabited this land since times immemorial. Fine but tell us whom to take pride in...”
The thoughts above offered by a military officer reminded me of something penned by Marcus Aurelius: “A branch cut off from the adjacentbranch must of necessity be cut off from the whole tree also. So too a man when he is separated from another man has fallen off from the whole social community. Now as to a branch, another cuts it off, but a man by his own act separates himself from his neighbour when he hates him and turns away from him, and he does not know that he has at the same time cut himself off from the whole social system. Yet, he has this privilege certainly from Zeus who framed society, for it is in our power to grow again to that which is near to us and be to come a part which helps make up the whole. However, if it often happens, this kind of separation, it makes it difficult for that which detaches itself to be brought to unity and to be restored to its former condition. Finally, the branch, which from the first grew together with the tree, and has continued to have one life with it, is not like that which after being cut off is then ingrafted, for this is something like what gardeners mean when they say that it grows with the rest of the tree, but that it has not the same mind with it.”
Let’s blur the two lines of thought and then bring things back into focus.
The Bunyan tree survives because its roots keep replanting within the soil with which it is familiar. And yet, according to Marcus Aurelius, a tree is also dependent upon the branches for overall health. Both writers, using the tree as analogous to humanity, remind us of a few simple truths.
Whom to take pride in? The roots go down in the soil of remembrance. Yet, remembrance is not meant to branch out in duplication. We can remember the past and honour our personal heroes and the struggles of prior people. But it was a different era on a remotely-connected time-line. The heroes and their struggles are also engulfed within historical complexities that cannot possibly be fully understood. We remember, but we cannot take ownership.
The branches represent our present generation. Marcus Aurelius writes of a man separated from another man; how he has fallen off from the whole social community, how his hatred of his neighbour separates him from the greater community. It seems that our pride of place in history can be the very hand that wields the saw which hacks our branch off from the bigger tree. That hand can be the hand of our parents and the oral traditions. That hand can be our mentor and his desire for dominance. And most, unfortunately, that hand can be our own when we have a drive for spiritual ascension.
Marcus Aurelius speaks of the difficulty of being brought back into unity and restoration to a former condition. If I were to cast him with a prophetic voice, I would swear he spoke of Islam. If there is one thing which plagues the Islamic gestalt, it is the drive for unflinching unity and returns to the former glories of a different epoch.
On my shelf are two books with strongly worded declarative statements regarding Islam. One author writes, “The Covenant of Madina stipulates that the Muslims ‘Constitute one Ummah’ and ‘All believers shall rise as one man against whomsoever rebels or seeks to commit injustice, aggression, wrong action or spread mutual enmity between the believers, even though he be one of their sons...”
The other author, one whose powerful writing is acknowledged by myself without allowance for my own ideological indoctrination is Sayyid Qutb. In Milestones, Qutb writes, “When the number of Believers reaches three, then this faith tells them: “Now you are a community, a distinct Islamic community...”
Does anyone else hear the sound of a handsaw?
So where do you belong and whom do you take pride in? How is it that the Bunyan tree survives the centuries? It is quite simple. The roots remain and take care of themselves. But what is visible is under the care and stewardship of man.
Celebrate your traditions and honour your ancestors but live in the present. This is the only time given by your Creator. If you have a community of three, it is sufficient. You belong to a family, and that family belongs to you. Love the few that choose to love you. Cling to those who cling to you. But do not hate the branches which reside above or to the side of your own. Let them live and let them be. Take pride in those who surround you. And let the tap root of your love for humanity run deep.
The writer is a freelance journalist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org