Still a modicum of innocence in the Caribbean
--says T&T's Dr Hamza Rafeek

by Linda Rutherford
Guyana Chronicle
July 27, 2000

TRINIDAD and Tobago's Health Minister, Dr Hamza Rafeek, says the Caribbean ought to be grateful, and should not take lightly the fact that there is still a modicum of innocence in the region in spite of the many influences of the developed world.

Delivering the feature address at the dedication of the Ruby Islamic Complex, East Bank Essequibo last Sunday, Dr Rafeek said: ".....We in the Caribbean need to consider ourselves fortunate so far, that even though we are exposed to influences and the culture of other developed countries, we still maintain a degree of innocence".

"Although we have begun to import, what I refer to as the `microwave culture', we have to a large extent, retained our core values and principles, and this is something we should guard jealously."

Warming to the topic, Dr Rafeek said that in some developed countries, it is taboo to pray in public schools on the grounds that it will infringe on the rights of those who do not believe in God.

He said that pornography is so rife in these same countries, that the paraphernalia associated with it can be bought openly at any neighbourhood shop.

"There is nothing sacred and private anymore about that aspect of human relationship, and in some countries human beings are being treated no different from animals in this regard," Dr Rafeek said.

Warning that the practice was gradually creeping into the Caribbean culture, he called upon society in general to guard themselves and their children against this scourge.

Another practice of the developed world with which he took issue is the State assuming responsibility for the elderly to the extent that there is little or no interaction between children and their aged parents.

As to the advances in modern technology and the likelihood of their impact on the lives of practising Muslims, Dr Rafeek said, "My submission is that these developments will affect the lives of us all and we therefore need to anchor them, and certainly their applications, against the background of sound moral principles".

Noting that there was guidance in the Holy Quran for every facet of human life, Dr Rafeek is of the view that persons need to re-focus on the holy book's teachings to guide their responses to present-day circumstances.

He cautioned however, that "in saying this, I am not in any way diminishing the importance of the traditional approach to religion and its ritual practices".

Dr Rafeek put forward the argument that these ritual practices in religion, (and all the revealed religions for that matter, did in fact have their fair share of such practices) are important and critical to the survival of religion. "They serve to satisfy and address the very important emotional aspect of the individual as far as his relationship with the Creator is concerned," he added.

As such he advocated that the Mosque, the Muslim house of worship, should never be used as a haven for abusing, demeaning or bringing into disrepute any other religion or individual, but rather to promote love, unity and harmony and respect for other people's faiths.

"It should be used to promote all the good things that would serve to bring people closer to God, for while it is true that God does not live in the Mosque, it is here that people come and gather for spiritual inspiration and guidance towards the straight path," Dr Rafeek said.

He further advocated that the Mosque should be seen as a sanctuary where people can find peace and comfort and be made to feel welcome, and a spiritual centre of the Muslim community.

Returning to current advances in technology, Dr Rafeek said that even before man reached the present stage of development there were predictions that science will so overtake and overwhelm the world that religion and God would become irrelevant.

So much so that secular thinkers like George Bernard Shaw and H.G. Wells viewed the dawning of the 20th century as marking "the close of history's religious phase".

Even as late as 1957, UNESCO's first Director-General Mr Julian Huxley was quoted as saying that God was "beginning to resemble, not a ruler, but the last fading smile of a cosmic Cheshire cat".

Dr Rafeek argued, however, that with all the scientific knowledge and technological advancements, on the night of December 31, 1999, "the entire world was humbled, trying to predict, but no one knowing exactly what would happen at the time of the roll-over".

"Billions of dollars and a tremendous amount of manpower," he said, "were expended in preparation for what was branded the Y2K problem. Yet no one in the world was sure as to what would happen on that night."

More to the point, he said "that night, man's limitations were exposed for all to see when the attention of the entire world was focused on what would happen in New Zealand at the turn of the millennium".

The lesson here, he said was that despite the many advances scientifically, "we must never deny God His place in our lives lest we do so at our own peril".

"The central message must always be submission to a higher being and recognising our own limitations," he said.

Closer to home, Dr Rafeek urged that to ensure the survival of the Ruby Jamaat the leaders must pay special attention to its youths and young children given the difficulties of keeping them within the `straight and narrow'.

What with the influence of the television; the proliferation of the use of illegal drugs and its easy availability; the culture of promiscuity and the high incidence of HIV/AIDS at our doorsteps; and the glamorisation of crime and criminal activities, "we need desperately to get a hold on our young people".

Contending that no amount of legislation or government policing will be able to deal effectively with these issues, Dr Rafeek expressed the view that control has to come from the home and the religious institutions.

Here he noted that the Ruby Complex had the opportunity of being an excellent training ground for instilling good moral values in children, provided that there were innovative activities to attract them.

In reality, he said, a Mosque is not always an attractive place for a young person. "You have to develop innovative ways of attracting the youths to this complex. And prayers and lectures will not be enough. Develop activities compatible with the religion of Islam which will allow the young people to have an affinity for this complex."

In closing, Dr Rafeek urged the leaders of the Jamaat: "Do it now before it is too late, and we lose an entire generation."

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