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Fear of the New, Glamour of the Past

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Muslims have an ingrained tendency to see ethicality in primitive ethos and shunning the modernity for the moral dilemmas it poses. This wouldn’t help.

New technology and evolving human thought throws up new comforts as well as challenges. The larger question then to ask is: Should we shun the new liberties fearing vulnerabilities of the process?

By Maqbool Ahmed Siraj

Some people and even communities enjoy the addiction of living in the past. For them, past is always ideal, glorious, heroic, pious, and worth emulating. No wonder then why they tend to revert to the past precedents rather than employing creativity in finding their way out of the maze of challenges.
Such people have a negative attitude towards all that the science and technology and the human thought has to offer. They perceive threat of impurity in the new ideas and see danger lurking in there for their religious beliefs, moral order and civilized behaviour. New mores appear bereft of civility to them. They see nothing positive in ideas emerging from the world of academies and universities; gadgets and gizmos, products and processes being thrown up by labs and manufactories. For them, the past is ever-shining, suffused with morality, modesty and majesty and present is morbid, macabre, cruel and crafty. Any thought of changing the way they think, resolve issues and innovate simply depresses them.
Such people and communities are blind to new realities. They are ever immersed in discovering solutions in the past. Primitive mores and methods resonate with ethicality for them. They would think that the men and leaders of the past could do no wrong; they were steeped in morality and anything that questioned their infallibility needs to be rejected with all the disdain at one’s disposal. Dwelling in the heavy of haze of the past, they are laconic to the changes at best or pessimistic at the worst. Some individuals of the kind are found among all communities. But if nations were to be afflicted with the syndrome, it is time to sit up and take notice. A careful analysis would reveal that Muslims have inherited these traits in ample measure and that is one among the maladies that ails the community.

Nostalgia is fine
Being wistful is human and nostalgia is natural. In some measure, every individual is charmed by the memories of the past. Reminiscent of the childhood days, one would always think that sky of that era was much bluer during the days and studded with many more stars during the nights. One would also remember longingly of the warm embrace of his or her mother; crisp smell of dosas and fresh herbal fragrance oozing out of the chutney; cleaner rivers, serene boat rides and the air redolent with the boatman’s rustic song. Steam engines chugging through the hills sending out plumes of smoke; green fields dotted with scarecrows; the huqqah-blowing elders seated in the village chaupal; and women balancing curd handi over their heads negotiating the edge of hills are the stuff our childhoods are packed with.
But gone are the days when things were so simple, life so austere and people so amiable. The new age is upon us. We are amidst buzzing traffic, ringing phones, beeping gizmos and microwaves and roasters knowing no patience. Who amongst us would not like to revisit the schools where we studied; homes that saw us growing; the orchards where we threw stones to pluck those freshly sprouted mangoes? But how practical that would be? Can we desert our present and go back to those thatched mud huts? Few have the courage and still fewer would attempt it.

Not all hunky-dory
One should not be denied the right to reside in the glamourous memories of the past. But just think of the high infant mortality that deprived us of many of our would-be siblings. Those who survived were confronted with debilitating challenges of polio, smallpox, cholera, Diptheria in that era sans vaccination. Was it not the case that our grandmas worked in smoke-filled kitchens and dented utensils lined the shelves? Didn’t they spend their afternoons gyrating””in the process, of course keeping their waists slim””over the chakki (grinding stones)? Didn’t we sulk over and suffer separation with near and dear ones who had departed for offshore jobs and remained incommunicado for years without end? Didn’t our elders fall victims to fake hakims, vaids and aamils, and bet their hard-earned money on chit fund runners who disappeared within no time?

Questions to be asked
What is clear is that all was not hunky dory those days, to put it mildly. Today’s comforts like instant and multimedia communication devices, two-minute noodles and plentiful food choices, knowledge at the click of the mouse, shelf-to-body garments, warm water showers, online travel and hotel bookings, wired money, downloadable application forms, virtual classrooms were simply unthinkable. There is no gainsaying that all these have come with attendant hazards. Yes, there are traffic jams, online frauds, accessible pornographic material, global terrorists, plagiarism and piracy of intellectual property, unsolicited mail, invaded privacy, cyber crimes, surrogate parenthood, a confusing array of branded drugs and cosmetic surgeries and and everpresent threat of suck-out of investments to some corner of the globe. The question then to be asked is: Do these hazards ever dissuade us from embracing the modern comforts? Even more pertinent would be the question: Don’t we exchange certain vulnerabilities for a lot of liberties? And for Muslims, the larger question to be posed for themselves would be: Is it not possible to live ethically amid all these changes or should we reject the changes altogether?

Embracing the Future
The present surrounds us, demands every inch of our attention and warns of being wary of the challenges. The road down before us is of course lined with scenic spot as well as potholes. The car taking us ahead has a large transparent windshield as well as a small rearview mirror to be aware of the vehicles overtaking us. But imagine the horror if rearview mirror were to occupy the entire windshield. Let us not be prisoner of the past. Past is important to the extent it shows our bright spots and the lapses and blunders. But if it were to be the guide for the future in its entirety, we are in for trouble. It is time we gave up our obsession with the past and thought of negotiating the future with some creativity.