The Gulf War that began in the later part of 1990 had tremendous impacts on the Muslims around the world, and we in Newcastle were no spared. There were confusions, enmity, hatred and mix of feelings – good or bad. As I walked down the street of Newcastle, I was greeted by a shout from a group of youths, “Hey black, where’s your scud missile ?”. OK, I’m tanned or brown and that’s close to black. A friend of mine who was a Palestinian said “I can’t believe it, they called me black ! Look, am I black?” Some anecdotes, haha…
As usual, the media were reporting their preferred versions of stories. As the allied forces were tearing Iraq apart, in the name of defending Kuwait, the Muslims were also more confused than ever. The Newcastle Islamic Students Society, which was an active club affiliated to the student union with more than 500 registered members coming from all over the Muslim world was in the state of near turmoil. The society was dominated by few major ethnic groups – we the Malaysians plus some Indonesians, the Arabs from Middle-east and North Africa, Iranians, Turkish, Indian subcontinents, and Sudanese as well as some African nationals such as Nigerians and Malawians.
The invasion of Kuwait by Iraq made the people from the Gulf against the Iraqis. Since Saudi Arabia allowed the Americans to use its territory as a launching pad for attacking Iraq, students from many countries turned against their Saudi friends. Then there were rumors about the Saudi’s involvement in the conflict in Southern Sudan, which made the Sudanese and other nationals to be less than friendly to the Saudis in the mosque. It sounds immature. But it was circumstantial. People were not thinking straight. In the end, the community was divided and the good relationships enjoyed previously were severed. It was sad to witness that some pious individuals who had nothing to do with the policies of their governments were denounced as anti-Islam or pro-Americans. In the few years after that black incident, situations were tensed in and about the university mosque.
And in the aftermath of the turbulence that we went through, I was elected as the President of the society. It was a difficult task indeed, because not only that I had to manage the society which was not in the best state, as the president, I was also responsible of the weekly Friday prayer and officially, the Imam of the mosque. These tasks, especially being the imam, impacted me significantly. It imparted pressure and demanded attention, but thinking in retrospect, these experiences had contributed significantly to my maturity. I can vividly recalled the incident when a group of students insisted me to lead the prayer although I preferred to ask Abdalla Ali of Bahrain to do it as his memorization and recitation of the Qur’an was much better than mine. But after a while, it became the norm, and Abdalla was unofficially the Imam of the daily prayers. As the official imam, I was still responsible to choose the khatibs for Friday prayers and as usual, I had to be on stand-by.
Thinking about these sad incidents made me smile. It was funny. It was unbelievable that many people had fallen into the traps of nationalism and pushing aside the principle of brotherhood that they claimed to adhere to, as a part of Islamic teaching. They had failed to realize that small nations were often treated as pawns, moved around by the super power of the day. They were manipulated, turned enemies onto each other by those who had interests in their resources, namely the black gold that had caused so many miseries – the oil. Yet again, they had fallen into these traps over and over. Don’t they remember the sayings of the prophet that a Muslim should not be bitten by a snake from the same hole twice?