BBC Thought for the Day, 11 October 2001: Hamza Yusuf
BBC Religion, 11 October 2001
The Afghans tell a humorous tale of an American who sought enlightenment in their land. When he arrived he asked the first Afghan he saw, " who is the most enlightened man in your land?" The Afghan who knew no english replied "namai safman" which in their language means, I donít know what youíre talking about.

The American set out looking for this fellow named Namai Fafman. He soon came upon a funeral procession and out of curiosity asked an onlooker who it was who had died. The Afghan not knowing english replied "Namai Safman." Again, "I donít know what youíre talking about." The American cried; "And to think, I just missed him."

The moral of this story is that we must understand a people before we can benefit from them. In the current crisis, all sides are shouting but no-one seems to be understanding. Unfortunately in the absence of real discourse extremism has produced its own language that the mob do understand. If youíre not with us, youíre against us, has become the mantra uttered by both extremes which oversimplifies a complex matter and only serves to further polarise and incite. Reason and truth have always resided in the difficult middle ground between black and white, good and evil. Indeed life seems anything but black and white and good and evil battle it out daily within our own souls. Adhering to this middle ground enables us all to see our common humanity and its shared core values whether sacred or secular.

The terror inflicted on September 11th was indeed evil. However, we should ask ourselves, are the retaliatory strikes presently terrifying and killing mostly innocent civilians a good response or are they a betrayal of the very core values we all share? The prophet Mohammed over fourteen hundred years ago said "beware of extremism, for it is that which destroyed the peoples before you." In the light of the present situation it is indeed wise advice. He also said, "My way is the middle way." Moderation is in fact the way of thinking people everywhere. The vast majority of humanity is not extremist but in key times can easily be driven so. To attack the seemingly intractable problem of terrorism at its roots we must address the condition that produced it and not just its ugly branches or bitter fruit. In our meeting with President Bush he said to American faith leaders twice, "I see opportunity through the tears." My fear is that if we continue to bomb an already war-ravaged and defeated nation while telling them that we are not at war with them or their religion, they will only reply "namai safman" I donít know what youíre talking about. ~ Hamza Yusuf

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