Muslims in Barbados celebrated the end of the month of fasting last Sunday. The festival of Eid ul Fitr brings Muslims out early in the morning for prayers and sermons and then a day of visiting family and friends, exchanging gifts and feasting.
This year, I had the unique opportunity of participating in the early morning Eid prayers and immediately afterwards, attending a multi-faith service that my friend, Canon Noel Burke, head of the Barbados Christian Council, had organized for the World Association of Floral Arrangers at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre. He invited Muslims to participate with a reading from our scared scriptures.
The rains on Sunday morning did not damper the Eid celebrations and Muslims turned out in their colourful attire to give thanks for completing a month of fasting. The sermon was a reminder of our responsibility to live as good, productive human beings, contributing to humankind and never losing hope of the Mercy of our Creator and the Creator of all that is around us. It was also a reflection on us as the best of creation given the task of worshipping God as he should be worshipped, leaving off pride and haughtiness and doing good to all others, especially our immediate family and relatives.
Arriving immediately from the Eid prayers to the multi-faith service, my family and I were struck by the beauty of the floral creations on display at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre. The World Association of Floral Arrangers were having their international meeting here in Barbados this year and floral arrangers from all over the world were on the island to participate.
The sacred scriptural readings at the service from the various faith-based groups and the sermon all had a common thread of the same message. I could not help but ponder over the similarities in our messages. Leaving the Eid event with the words of the Imam’s sermon echoing in my ears and attending a multi-faith event was surreal, to hear Canon Burke’s homily basically having the same theme and carrying the same message.
Canon Burke reminded those gathered that the Prophets and great leaders of faith all pointed their companions and disciples to the wonders of nature. He urged us to ponder over them for in these wonders one will find the awesome power of God. He said to look around at the beautiful flowers and plants and observe their varying colours and shapes, similar yet different. Recognizing that as mortals, we certainly don’t possess the ability to create any of these in like manner.
It is on this theme of nature as I was reminded to observe from the words preached by both the Imam and the Canon that I reflect today. Our scriptures tell us in many verses to ponder over the creation of God. The sun, the moon, the universe, the seas, the land and all the animals, birds, plants and other living organisms that make up this world and are part of our existence. Spend time to observe and reflect for verily in all of these are signs and lessons for us.
Human beings are, by and large, caught up in their own existence. We don’t spend enough time or energy caring about each other far less on observing and caring for the rest of the world that exists around us. Yet this natural world is very much part of the world we occupy and the two must co-exist in harmony. A destruction in one may very well be the destruction of the other and vice versa; the enhancing of one is the enhancement of the other.
We can’t take for granted our solar system, our animal kingdom or even our plant world. All exist for a purpose and all point to the power of the Creator which people of faith recognize. Regardless of what we believe it to be, we must all recognize that the natural world around us and all its components are integral to our continued existence.
This natural world can be kind, gentle, beautiful, welcoming, life sustaining and it can equally be harsh, ugly and life taking. In this tropical paradise we call home to which many come from all over the world to see and find a place to relax, we can also find some of the most dangerous natural occurrences known to humankind. From hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanoes to insect-borne diseases. We have both extremes so it is very important that we understand and appreciate the natural world.
We recently had the very tragic occurrence of a young man losing his life after being attacked by bees. A tragedy unheard of in Barbados by this generation and probably by the previous generation. In the aftermath of this sad occurrence, I heard one of the local bee experts, Mr. Gibson, explaining on the radio that from his observation, bees on the island have been acting up in the last months and becoming more aggressive. In his opinion, this aggressive behavior points towards impending bad weather for the island. The last time such a phenomena occurred was just prior to hurricane Janet. He further warned that Barbadians should avoid going around bee hives.
Whether we choose to heed such warnings or not, the reality is that nature and those creatures that make up that world can teach us a lot about life.
I recently attended a meeting in Argentina made up of alumni from the Caribbean and Latin America. A workshop at that meeting dealt exclusively with the attributes of an ant and the lessons for us human beings from such an insignificant creature. I didn’t realize there is so much we mighty, proud human beings can learn from the simple ant.
That workshop chose verses from our scriptures, the Holy Quran, from the chapter called “the Ant”, to explain the lessons of this tiny insect. The verses reflected on an encounter between Solomon and his army and a colony of ants. In the verse, the Prophet Solomon is approaching the valley of the ants with his army and hears an ant warn the other ants that they should take cover as they might be crushed and Solomon smiles at this statement.
What is striking is that the ant, which for humans is considered an insignificant creature, a blip on the radar of creation, has so much wisdom that we can take. The ant (a female ant) had so much care for her colony and fellow ants that when she saw danger coming in the form of Solomon and his army, instead of protecting herself, she warned the others in her colony by calling out “o ye ants”. She loved for the ants what she loved for herself; to be safe from danger.
The ant advises the other ants, the other members of her community to take cover and enter into their dwellings lest they be crushed. She is communicating a serious message to the others about their potential death, just look at her mercy.
She acknowledges the fact that even though the ants might die that Solomon and his army are unaware of their actions and the fact that they might crush the ants. So she is merciful and does not a portion blame to them and signals to the ants that they are not blameworthy as they are ignorant of their actions and do not mean to harm them intentionally.
The ant’s last statement is a responsible statement that will not cause enmity in the hearts of her colony and also she has made an excuse for her fellow creation and not let her own situation affect her judgement. The ants might die but she understands that this is not the fault of Solomon.
Several other lessons are taken from the ant including their characteristics of working together, storing their food for the hard times, and their unbelievable strength. Aesop’s fable of the Ant and Grasshopper also comes to mind as a reminder that ants will carry on busily doing their task and not wasting time and so will be able to survive any future harsh occurrences.
Such is nature and the world around us that sadly many of us take for granted and sadly don’t spend enough time reflecting on its many lessons.
(Suleiman Bulbulia is a Justice of the Peace, Secretary of the Barbados Muslim Association and Muslim Chaplain at the Cave Hill Campus, UWI. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)