By Princess Maleiha Bajunaid Candao
(Names, places, and some words used in this story are products of fiction. This story is NOT alluded to any person or groups.)
Farooq is a young little boy living with his poor family in a town called Jihad.
He grew up seeing how his parents, Ina Mariam and Ama Abdullah worked very hard for their daily subsistence. Oftentimes, he would pretend not hungry so that his younger siblings could eat for the day. He would rather give his share of the food to them. To satisfy his rambling stomach, he would hide outside to drink water.
There are ten of them in the family. His Kaka Zamrod had to skip school to fight for a cause. Farooq would always asked his Ama (father) why does his kaka (older brother) need to do that? His father would just simply say: "for freedom".
For a young boy like Farooq, his father's reply was vague. He wants to know more about freedom but he could not get enough answer to satisfy his curiosity.
Abdullah is a typical Muslim farmer who would do everything to feed his family. His wife, Mariam, is financially dependent on him and has only the children and him as her focus.She had no education for she is just one of those who are unfortunate not to benefit from education owing to poverty.
The mentality prevailing in the far-flung areas of Jihad province is the struggle of the fittest. The lesser the member of the family, the more they have the chances to survive. But this is not seen in their practices for those who have less have more kids. Hence, financial survival is difficult owing to more mouths to feed. Life for them is a hand-to-mouth existence.
Money was not enough for simple recreations like television and movies. Extra money for them would mean extra food on the table.
Farooq and his fellow kids witnessed the big disparity of life in Jihad town. They were brought up by their parents to believe that if they have nothing, they are worthless as a people. Only those who have the money and influence have a voice in the Jihad province.
This mentality has persisted which developed the fear for ruling elites. The poor consider themselves powerless--a psyche that was allowed to prevail to contain rebellion among the masses.
At his early age, Farooq knew what money and power can do to people like them--injustice."Ahh,that is why", Farooq told himself one day when he did not join his friends to bath in the river.
He went to his father's farm and sat under a mango tree. His eyes admired the paddy field-- a fruit of his father's labor. Soon his father will harvest rice and it means more food again. While his eyes explored the vastness of the area where his father works, he wondered why his father would always say: "the money is not all ours. we have debts to pay and loansharks get more than me".
"But father", Farooq questioned:"Why do you allow that? It is you who worked hard for the farm but you do not get enough?""
"I have no power my son. I have to accept the situation or die. I need to live longer for you, your mother and siblings". I have no money to buy guns for if I have, I would have joined your Kaka Zamrod."
Most of the land owners in Jihad town belong to ruling politicians with private armies. They spare no lives and they rule like God. No one can stand up against the injustice they committed or suffer the consequence of death.
For those who can find a safer place for their families and livelihood, they would migrate to nearby towns. But for those who are the poorest of the poor, silence and blindness to the atrocities of those in power are their only way out of violence.
Farooq realized that he and his family and those who are in the same predicament cannot fight for their rights not unless they join the armed struggle. He has gradually captured the full essence of what his father told him before:"for freedom".
Farooq said to himself: "Freedom can be attained through armed struggle." A thought that he has proven to be contrary to what he wants to see--PEACE.
As a child, Farooq, though not educated, would love to hear stories from friends about fairy tales.
His friend, Rauf, a kind young boy with the same age as Farooq, comes from a well- to- do family. Rauf's parents taught him never to discriminate friends owing to their social status. Rauf and his family owns a school that educates Muslim and non-Muslim children with special lessons on co-existence. Rauf's mother is Balik Islam, used to be a Christian.
Rauf would always find time to share fairy tale stories to Farooq. He brought story books with him whenever he and Farooq would meet to exchange their experiences for the day.This developed the curiosity of Farooq to meet a true princess in his life. Like what he pictured from books, perhaps the princess he would meet is very beautiful with lots of other pretty women as her maids.
This was the thought that occupied his mind before he went to bed. And just as he wished, he saw a beautiful princess in his dream.
While in slumber, Farooq saw himself walking on a dark alley leading to a lighted place. He had no idea what he was doing in that place except that in his little curious heart, he learned of a princess who is living in a place nearby.
He followed his instincts until he saw a lady smiling at him. Farooq at his tender age admired the beautiful lady and walked towards her. As he approached the lady, she smiled at him and shook his hands."I was expecting you, Farooq", said the beautiful lady.I thanked Allah that he showed the way to you.
Do you know that you are an admirable little boy?, said the lady.
Farooq smiled with shyness and with a soft voice asked: "Why?"
The lady told Farooq that she loves little boys and girls who always seek answers for all the questions in their minds. By seeking, she said, you will find the truth. When you find the truth, you will know what you have to do.When parting was necessary, the lady told Farooq never forget to pray for Allah's guidance:
"His true words are your light. Only his true words and not the words of those who use them to manipulate events and minds."
Farooq woke up with a smile the following day. He told everything to Rauf. He even shared that he was surprised seeing a princess with no maids and no crown.
Rauf laughed at him and said:
"Ha ha ha ha. In the real world, even real princesses need not dress up extravagantly nor use a crown. My mother told me that true princesses touch the heart and not impress the eyes."
Farooq conversation with Rauf enlightened him more about the lives of royalty. Perhaps, he said again to himself:
That is the kind of princess I want to marry. One who will lead with humility and not with ostentatious display of wealth.
Abdullah and Mariam found it strange that one morning, their son, Farooq, talked with sense.
While they were resting that night, Farooq told them:
I saw a princess in my dream and she told me to always ask and seek for answers. She said if I know the truth, I will know what to do.
Abdullah smiled at his son: "Who was the princess in your dream?"
"I did not ask her name for I was shy. But she touched my face and did not mind that my clothes were dirty. She made me sit beside her and told me those things."
Do you think ama, I can marry a princess one day?
Abdullah laughed and said: Nothing is impossible my son. But living with this condition, be happy if you find one of her maids who is willing to be your bride. Let us go to sleep now. There are many works to be done in the morning, Insa Allah.
"Insa Allah, Ama."
The following day was a good news for Farooq . Finally, Rauf's mother, a public teacher, has allowed Farooq to sit down in her class on value education.
Farooq had to do this secretly for he did not want to upset his father.
Abdullah shares the same view of most uneducated Muslims that those who will go to school will be christianized. But Farooq remembered what the princess told her: Always ask questions and seek for answers.
Rauf's mother is a Muslim convert. She has embraced Islam when she married Rauf's father. In Islam, men can marry non-Muslims provided that his wife and kids will follow the Islamic faith. Out of love, she surrendered.
Farooq learned the meaning of co-existence while he listened to the lecture. He has absorbed the meaning of respect for other people regardless of their religion.
He found out that Islam is a religion that has peace as a lifestyle. He thought that he need not fear his non-Muslim friends for kindness is not choosy. One can be fair and just to all. Farooq 's thinking progressed while he was being exposed to good values and learning.
He also discovered that self-discovery is an important tool to be a better Muslim and that through peaceful negotiations, a Muslim can still find justice without using guns.
Conflict of views started to seep into the life of Farooq. Oftentimes if his mother asked him to do an errand for him, to buy something in the store of her Babo Fatima, he would hear elders talking about the peace talks and armed struggle.
He would hear them say that non-Muslims do not think well of Muslims. He did not interrupt but he remembered the mother of Rauf who used to be a Christian. She was the one who taught him that kindness and justice should not be discriminatory.Now he hears a different thing.
Will he stand up for what he thinks is right and that the elders were wrong? Why it seems that those who think otherwise are labelled as "munafiq" (unbelievers).
The little boy in Farooq has slowly comprehend that in a rigid-thinking and biased community, there is no room for progressive thinking. It confines one's mind to what is considered to be prejudistic and if accepted as a way of thinking, there will never be a peaceful co-existence.
Farooq thought he needed a breather. He wished that he could see the princess in his dream again.
That night, slept came hard for Farooq . He needed an objective answer so that he knows if he is right.
Suddenly the princess appeared in his dream and sat beside his bed. Farooq was excited to see her.
Then the princess told Farooq :
"Islam is a religion of peace and a way of life. To live in peace you must learn to accept and respect differences. You cannot change how people will think but you can live up to the ideals of being a TRUE MUSLIM. A true Muslim does not hurt other people or coerce them to believe him. He will always be for peace and if injustice is done against him, he will seek to settle it in a peaceful manner and must always be willing to forgive if his enemy will seek his forgiveness."
Farooq woke up with a smile. His princess gave him a kiss on his cheek and told him to be a good boy.That inspired Farooq to do what the princess advised her to do.The following days were light for Farooq.
He made many friends and everyone was drawn to him for his kind and caring ways. The burden in his heart has diminished and he now reaches out to all the people in his neighborhood.
He now smiles when he joins conversations with his elders. His Bapa (Uncle) Masunsil noticed how he talks about peace. One time in their exchange, Bapa Masunsil asked how he is. Farooq answered gleefuly by saying that he has achieved freedom now.
"What do you mean by that, pakiwatan (nephew)?"
"Bapa I am now free from bias and prejudice. I have understood that Islam means kindness and acceptance. There should be no compulsion."
Pakiwatan, who told you that? In this town we need Jihad so that we can get our lands.""The princess told me that Bapa. She said, Islam is peace and a way of life. That is why peace must always rule."
"Pakiwatan, you are still young to say that. How can you live in peace if your land is taken away from you? How can you like non-Muslims if they stole our lands? How can we have faith in this Christian-ruled government if they will only scrap out Muslims from their lands?"
"Bapa, if they stole our lands, then why do we allow fellow Muslims to steal our lands too? There are Muslims doing that? Why don't we question them? Why only the non-Muslims?
Bapa, is justice discriminatory?"
Bapa Masunsil did not answer him and told him he will be back in the next few days to answer his question. He had to do something important.Farooq understood that his uncle could not give him a direct answer for he saw the confusion in his eyes.
The little boy in Farooq has transformed into a man with sensitivity and values that are commendable.He has pushed his way out of the box to understand the reasons for all the misunderstanding between the Muslims and Christians in his community.
He wanted to be the peace maker, the one who can reunite the community by providing a sense of direction to everyone, even to his family if needed. But how can a little boy do it? Who will believe him?That night he wanted to talk with the princess.
But the princess did not appear in his dreams again.
Farooq grew up fast but his mind did not stop asking questions and seeking for answers. He has understood the reasons of the conflict for he managed to finish high-school through the help of Rauf's mother who made him a scholar.
Farooq excelled in his class and he was always chosen as the leader in most class activities for he is always objective and fair.Farooq knew that everything started with peace in his mind. For he cared that the people in his community will stop fighting with each other owing to deep-seated conflict arising from differences in religion.
But he knew in his heart that it is still a long way towards genuine peace. Yet with this in mind, he can still afford to smile for he believes in the power of having faith in the teachings of TRUE ISLAM and his unwavering faith in the justness and justice of Allah.
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(Photo: net archive)