In search of a few good men, and women

By Firoz Abdul Hamid

Emir Abdul Qadir Al-Jazairi was a truly unusual leader, one the world is so orphaned of in these times. I chanced upon him about three years ago when I was researching for a speech I was writing for someone. An Algerian Islamic scholar, political and military leader and a successful merchant in the 19th century, Abdul Qadir fought the French colonialism when they invaded Algeria in 1830. He led a phenomenal life evolving from a Sufi to becoming one of world’s leading icons, with his legacy stretching across four continents. He is renowned to have released his French captives because he had insufficient food to feed them as he felt he could not give them the justice they deserved in his captivity.

The French, as well as Abraham Lincoln, honoured him for saving the lives of many Christians in his own home in 1860 when the Druze attacked Christians in Syria. Amongst the people he defended was the French counsel; the people who colonised his country. There were also renowned stories of prison guards in France becoming Muslims just witnessing the nobility of his character. In 1865, he was invited to Paris by Napoleon III and was greeted with respect. His green and white standard became the flag of independent Algeria. The town of Elkader, US, was named after him, and it is said that there are a total of three cities named after him in the US. When you read his biography, Al-Jaiziri’s struggles were founded on sound ethics that brought forgiveness and justice to the fore even in the face of betrayal and persecution.

Many writers quote Al-Jaiziri as one of the many true faces of the Muslim faith. Some have even called him “the last Muslim”. His life story is worth reading, a legacy worth emulating – of a class of men of few, and far between especially in current times.

Emir Abdul Qadir Al-Jazairi

As the world tap dances between public health issues, economic doldrums and political stasis, with our own wellbeing hanging on balance whilst having immense difficulty in deciphering who is actually fighting for our rights – the civil societies, the government, the regulators or are we left to fend for ourselves – the people on the street are searching for stories of real hope. In these times where the lines between the real heroes and pseudos, the unfeigned trailblazers and the opportunist, the bona fide light bearers and those who would do a double take on their words is so indistinct, someone like Emir Abdul Qadir reminds mere mortals like me that we are in desperate need of those few good men and women, now in all countries, Muslim and non-Muslim alike. 

We live in paradoxical times mired in religious and racial brandishing and pigeonholing, dominated by right wing nationalism and extremism, as well as sectarian politics dipped in unclear economic plans, never mind a lucid rescue plan and exit plan out of this crisis, a leader who is selfless in his or her commitments, void of agenda and bartered returns is an invaluable proposition for any civilisation never mind healing notion to those suffering untelling pains due to this pandemic.

That being said, in this seeming grim endless tunnel which we today call life, I personally see a shade of hope. And that isn’t from the current generation but from the future. The youth, and especially teenagers of today have begun questioning the whole ethos of institutions, leadership and government. I have had at least eight teenagers – their ages between 15 and 18 years – asking me in the last two weeks alone, why are jobs of chairmen and CEOs being handed out like Russian roulette, and whether these people are truly capable and if they know exactly what they are doing? Who holds them to account? Who holds the person appointing these people to account, if those selected turn out to be a disaster which we have sadly seen in reels of recent past? These questions were unsolicited, I might add.

Arundhati Roy

That segments of our teenagers are asking probing and innocuous questions I never knew existed when I was 18, never mind 15, is a sign of true hope for those of us who feel we are stuck in this deserted island, in some backwaters with no near help. Not only is this a reflection of their own vast understanding of what is happening, rather we are seeing an emerging trend of a new generation not having the kinds of faith we probably had  and wish to still have in formal institutions and governments. As the writer Arundhati Roy recently wrote in one of her beautiful essays, Covid-19 is seamlessly moving societies through a portal of what was to what will be. And we need to now make sense of what will be in all fronts of our being as humanity.

The forms of institutions and the acrylic statures of top management don’t move this young generation anymore. Formal institutions with decked business cards, corner and leathered offices and titles mean nothing to them, in fact they question its purpose for human prosperity. The cabal of traditions and norms expected for people of these stratospheres makes no sense to this younger generation anymore. As we board the train of despair, constantly derailing in stations of planning and failing as many have recently said, it is questions from the next generation which will turn a corner to rebuilding a society grounded on values and not status, on character and integrity, and not connections, on performance and not in godfathers, on accountability and not in escape clauses. 

As I write this piece on a Friday, the Chapter of the Cave in the Holy Quran, a recommended chapter for Muslims to read that tells the story of the cave sleepers, seems so poignant to me. The sleepers were the young in a society who self-extradited themselves into a cave completely disillusioned by the state of society then.  To escape the injustices and not be a party of it, they were said to have slept in the cave for over 300 years. It is the young then, and now who will no longer tolerate what most of us have grinned and borne. The young then and now who will call to question the norms that we adopted as sacred. It was the young Prophet Ibrahim (PBUH) who called out traditions of his forefathers which led to changing of a generation as told in the Abrahamic scriptures of Islam, Christianity and Judaism. It was the young David who took on Goliath (Prophet Daud [PBUH] and Jalut in the Muslim tradition) when no one else would, and won. It is therefore the young which our focus must very quickly focus on. The sleepers cave is situated outside the village of Al-Raqim ten kilometres east of Amman, Jordan for those interested in visiting.

In this context, the roles of governments and the private sector, its structure and forms of governance as we know it today, I dare say will not hold in the next decade. In the next two to five years, governments, markets and the private sector will look different, and need to look different. These institutions are imposing their structures on reality, and net result has been nothing but disaster and this is what we are witnessing as I write this piece in the form of face masks, contact tracing, testing, personal protective equipment and response plans in the heart of “civilised” nations. All of which is culminating into numbers of mortality the mind is sagged at computing.

Othello with Iago, the manipulating villain

Turning of tables will happen – reality will impose its veracity upon the unviability of the structures of our institutions. Those who stubbornly remain and cuddle on to status quo are doomed to self-extinction. Institutions as we know it today around the world are challenged from all fronts. The way forward is to forensically review all institutions, the government, as well as statutory bodies. Start with what matters most and work backwards to boldly redesign systems required to honour what matters most. Life itself matters most, followed by livelihood of these lives, and justice, security and peace. When this is mapped out on a blank drawing board, our institutions – public and private sector – will look different. And I would argue if and when these models are implemented, they will serve the needs of the decades to come. This needs to be done with honest discourse with the true intent of change, and not a box ticking exercise of just developing plans that will be shelved to gather dust.

At the heart of this change lies the will of a few good men and women who will challenge the status quo. At the heart of this transformation lies the tenacity of the few good men and women which we so desperately need who will say no to just another plush appointment. At the heart of this lies the sincere will of a few good men and women in the private sector who will no longer hide behind share buy backs and dividends to justify a company is doing well and start investing in true societal transformation. At the heart of this, thus, lies our own conscience in what we choose, who we choose and what we tolerate as right and wrong in our societies. This is more often than not reflected and translated into who we elect to represent us in the corridors of democracy.

Politics globally, and locally, is fast turning Shakespearian, with unimaginable twists and turns. In the play The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice, the character Iago plays the role of the archetypal villain where he would manipulate all other characters, controlling their “wills” by ensnaring them into an intricate web of lies. He does this by getting into the fold of confidence of all characters and playing on their weaknesses while they see him as “honest” Iago. We have become increasingly oblivious of the “Iagos” in our midst; sacrificing the very thing we may have worked to build within moments. Perhaps our civilisation as we know it today stands at the junction of the integrity of Abdul Qadir Al-Jaiziri and the whispers of Iago.

And so the fictional story of The Mayor of Casterbridge comes to mind as I conclude this. It tells the story of one Michael Henchard, who would sell his wife and daughter when in a state of total intoxication. Realising what he had done, Henchard would take an oath to remain sober for 21 years. He would rise to become the Mayor of Casterbridge (a town in Dorchester, Dorset, UK) in the ensuing years.

Unbeknown to him, his past would haunt him at the pinnacle of his success. An inevitable fall from grace follows and he ultimately dies alone. Poignant in this tale is that, beneath all the success, perhaps the same man was there all along and only cloaked by his exterior achievements. His character was not refined even as his outward achievements were. At the heart of this tale is, as Thomas Hardy would so eloquently present, “character is destiny”.  

That destiny can be that of our countries, our organisations and businesses and our own. As we witness the rise and fall of once formidable world leaders – in politics and business –, one wonders if behind the mirage of charisma and sound bites lie many such Mayors of Casterbridge in our own institutions and organisations causing a permanent damage to our country, our society and to lives of our next generation. It is therefore now more than ever, we need to start the rigorous, forensic and urgent search for the few good men and women who will not succumb to being another Mayor of Casterbridge, but rather live by the character of Emir Abdul Qadir Al-Jazairi, notwithstanding the sleight of hand of the Iagos in our midst.



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By Firoz Abdul Hamid Emir Abdul Qadir Al-Jazairi was a truly unusual leader, one the world is so orphaned of in these times. I chanced upon him about three years ago when I was researching for a speech I was writing for someone. An Algerian Islamic scholar, political and military leader and a successful merchant in the 19th century, Abdul Qadir fought the French colonialism when they invaded Algeria in 1830. He led a phenomenal life evolving from a Sufi to becoming one of world’s leading icons, with his legacy stretching across four continents. He is renowned to have released...

By Firoz Abdul Hamid

Emir Abdul Qadir Al-Jazairi was a truly unusual leader, one the world is so orphaned of in these times. I chanced upon him about three years ago when I was researching for a speech I was writing for someone. An Algerian Islamic scholar, political and military leader and a successful merchant in the 19th century, Abdul Qadir fought the French colonialism when they invaded Algeria in 1830. He led a phenomenal life evolving from a Sufi to becoming one of world’s leading icons, with his legacy stretching across four continents. He is renowned to have released his French captives because he had insufficient food to feed them as he felt he could not give them the justice they deserved in his captivity.

The French, as well as Abraham Lincoln, honoured him for saving the lives of many Christians in his own home in 1860 when the Druze attacked Christians in Syria. Amongst the people he defended was the French counsel; the people who colonised his country. There were also renowned stories of prison guards in France becoming Muslims just witnessing the nobility of his character. In 1865, he was invited to Paris by Napoleon III and was greeted with respect. His green and white standard became the flag of independent Algeria. The town of Elkader, US, was named after him, and it is said that there are a total of three cities named after him in the US. When you read his biography, Al-Jaiziri’s struggles were founded on sound ethics that brought forgiveness and justice to the fore even in the face of betrayal and persecution.

Many writers quote Al-Jaiziri as one of the many true faces of the Muslim faith. Some have even called him “the last Muslim”. His life story is worth reading, a legacy worth emulating – of a class of men of few, and far between especially in current times.

Emir Abdul Qadir Al-Jazairi

As the world tap dances between public health issues, economic doldrums and political stasis, with our own wellbeing hanging on balance whilst having immense difficulty in deciphering who is actually fighting for our rights – the civil societies, the government, the regulators or are we left to fend for ourselves – the people on the street are searching for stories of real hope. In these times where the lines between the real heroes and pseudos, the unfeigned trailblazers and the opportunist, the bona fide light bearers and those who would do a double take on their words is so indistinct, someone like Emir Abdul Qadir reminds mere mortals like me that we are in desperate need of those few good men and women, now in all countries, Muslim and non-Muslim alike. 

We live in paradoxical times mired in religious and racial brandishing and pigeonholing, dominated by right wing nationalism and extremism, as well as sectarian politics dipped in unclear economic plans, never mind a lucid rescue plan and exit plan out of this crisis, a leader who is selfless in his or her commitments, void of agenda and bartered returns is an invaluable proposition for any civilisation never mind healing notion to those suffering untelling pains due to this pandemic.

That being said, in this seeming grim endless tunnel which we today call life, I personally see a shade of hope. And that isn’t from the current generation but from the future. The youth, and especially teenagers of today have begun questioning the whole ethos of institutions, leadership and government. I have had at least eight teenagers – their ages between 15 and 18 years – asking me in the last two weeks alone, why are jobs of chairmen and CEOs being handed out like Russian roulette, and whether these people are truly capable and if they know exactly what they are doing? Who holds them to account? Who holds the person appointing these people to account, if those selected turn out to be a disaster which we have sadly seen in reels of recent past? These questions were unsolicited, I might add.

Arundhati Roy

That segments of our teenagers are asking probing and innocuous questions I never knew existed when I was 18, never mind 15, is a sign of true hope for those of us who feel we are stuck in this deserted island, in some backwaters with no near help. Not only is this a reflection of their own vast understanding of what is happening, rather we are seeing an emerging trend of a new generation not having the kinds of faith we probably had  and wish to still have in formal institutions and governments. As the writer Arundhati Roy recently wrote in one of her beautiful essays, Covid-19 is seamlessly moving societies through a portal of what was to what will be. And we need to now make sense of what will be in all fronts of our being as humanity.

The forms of institutions and the acrylic statures of top management don’t move this young generation anymore. Formal institutions with decked business cards, corner and leathered offices and titles mean nothing to them, in fact they question its purpose for human prosperity. The cabal of traditions and norms expected for people of these stratospheres makes no sense to this younger generation anymore. As we board the train of despair, constantly derailing in stations of planning and failing as many have recently said, it is questions from the next generation which will turn a corner to rebuilding a society grounded on values and not status, on character and integrity, and not connections, on performance and not in godfathers, on accountability and not in escape clauses. 

As I write this piece on a Friday, the Chapter of the Cave in the Holy Quran, a recommended chapter for Muslims to read that tells the story of the cave sleepers, seems so poignant to me. The sleepers were the young in a society who self-extradited themselves into a cave completely disillusioned by the state of society then.  To escape the injustices and not be a party of it, they were said to have slept in the cave for over 300 years. It is the young then, and now who will no longer tolerate what most of us have grinned and borne. The young then and now who will call to question the norms that we adopted as sacred. It was the young Prophet Ibrahim (PBUH) who called out traditions of his forefathers which led to changing of a generation as told in the Abrahamic scriptures of Islam, Christianity and Judaism. It was the young David who took on Goliath (Prophet Daud [PBUH] and Jalut in the Muslim tradition) when no one else would, and won. It is therefore the young which our focus must very quickly focus on. The sleepers cave is situated outside the village of Al-Raqim ten kilometres east of Amman, Jordan for those interested in visiting.

In this context, the roles of governments and the private sector, its structure and forms of governance as we know it today, I dare say will not hold in the next decade. In the next two to five years, governments, markets and the private sector will look different, and need to look different. These institutions are imposing their structures on reality, and net result has been nothing but disaster and this is what we are witnessing as I write this piece in the form of face masks, contact tracing, testing, personal protective equipment and response plans in the heart of “civilised” nations. All of which is culminating into numbers of mortality the mind is sagged at computing.

Othello with Iago, the manipulating villain

Turning of tables will happen – reality will impose its veracity upon the unviability of the structures of our institutions. Those who stubbornly remain and cuddle on to status quo are doomed to self-extinction. Institutions as we know it today around the world are challenged from all fronts. The way forward is to forensically review all institutions, the government, as well as statutory bodies. Start with what matters most and work backwards to boldly redesign systems required to honour what matters most. Life itself matters most, followed by livelihood of these lives, and justice, security and peace. When this is mapped out on a blank drawing board, our institutions – public and private sector – will look different. And I would argue if and when these models are implemented, they will serve the needs of the decades to come. This needs to be done with honest discourse with the true intent of change, and not a box ticking exercise of just developing plans that will be shelved to gather dust.

At the heart of this change lies the will of a few good men and women who will challenge the status quo. At the heart of this transformation lies the tenacity of the few good men and women which we so desperately need who will say no to just another plush appointment. At the heart of this lies the sincere will of a few good men and women in the private sector who will no longer hide behind share buy backs and dividends to justify a company is doing well and start investing in true societal transformation. At the heart of this, thus, lies our own conscience in what we choose, who we choose and what we tolerate as right and wrong in our societies. This is more often than not reflected and translated into who we elect to represent us in the corridors of democracy.

Politics globally, and locally, is fast turning Shakespearian, with unimaginable twists and turns. In the play The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice, the character Iago plays the role of the archetypal villain where he would manipulate all other characters, controlling their “wills” by ensnaring them into an intricate web of lies. He does this by getting into the fold of confidence of all characters and playing on their weaknesses while they see him as “honest” Iago. We have become increasingly oblivious of the “Iagos” in our midst; sacrificing the very thing we may have worked to build within moments. Perhaps our civilisation as we know it today stands at the junction of the integrity of Abdul Qadir Al-Jaiziri and the whispers of Iago.

And so the fictional story of The Mayor of Casterbridge comes to mind as I conclude this. It tells the story of one Michael Henchard, who would sell his wife and daughter when in a state of total intoxication. Realising what he had done, Henchard would take an oath to remain sober for 21 years. He would rise to become the Mayor of Casterbridge (a town in Dorchester, Dorset, UK) in the ensuing years.

Unbeknown to him, his past would haunt him at the pinnacle of his success. An inevitable fall from grace follows and he ultimately dies alone. Poignant in this tale is that, beneath all the success, perhaps the same man was there all along and only cloaked by his exterior achievements. His character was not refined even as his outward achievements were. At the heart of this tale is, as Thomas Hardy would so eloquently present, “character is destiny”.  

That destiny can be that of our countries, our organisations and businesses and our own. As we witness the rise and fall of once formidable world leaders – in politics and business –, one wonders if behind the mirage of charisma and sound bites lie many such Mayors of Casterbridge in our own institutions and organisations causing a permanent damage to our country, our society and to lives of our next generation. It is therefore now more than ever, we need to start the rigorous, forensic and urgent search for the few good men and women who will not succumb to being another Mayor of Casterbridge, but rather live by the character of Emir Abdul Qadir Al-Jazairi, notwithstanding the sleight of hand of the Iagos in our midst.



Support ASEAN news

Investvine has been a consistent voice in ASEAN news for more than a decade. From breaking news to exclusive interviews with key ASEAN leaders, we have brought you factual and engaging reports – the stories that matter, free of charge.

Like many news organisations, we are striving to survive in an age of reduced advertising and biased journalism. Our mission is to rise above today’s challenges and chart tomorrow’s world with clear, dependable reporting.

Support us now with a donation of your choosing. Your contribution will help us shine a light on important ASEAN stories, reach more people and lift the manifold voices of this dynamic, influential region.

$
Personal Info

Donation Total: $10.00

2 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you Aishah for your comments. Thank you indeed for making time to read my piece. Truly appreciate it.

  2. InshaAllah we need the will to take action and make change happen. The people who stripped the supermarkets must not hold sway but rather those moved by humanitarian motives. We need a national care service to replace privatisation with the zero hour contracts. We must work for a more egalitarian and equal society and indeed world.

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