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Methuselah lived 986 years and all they said about him was that he died.
~ Francis Behymer
One of the classic stances of today is to talk about the ‘sanctity of human life’. I put that phrase in inverted commas because if we look about ourselves at all the millions dying due to deprivation or war or oppression, we can see that human life is about the cheapest commodity that we have today. However since hypocrisy is the universal virtue of today, it is only appropriate that we at least talk about the sanctity of human life. Never mind that sanctity really depends not on whether the life is human or not, but on which human it is. Some humans are more expendable than others. When we kill them we call it ‘collateral damage’. But when the killers are killed, it is called ‘murder most foul’. And yet they were both human and they both died.
The question therefore is not about life itself but about its real value. I ask myself, “What is the value of my life?”
In my view my life can be as valuable as I want to make it. It is not how long I live, but how I live which is more important. It is not what I do but the intention behind that action which determines whether that action is worthy of appreciation and emulation or an illustration of something to avoid at all costs. A life that is lived creating value is a valuable life. One that is lived indulging oneself and one’s desires or worse, creating negative effects is a life wasted. After all animals also live and do whatever pleases them. But they leave no mark of their passing. They live, they reproduce, they die. Most humans do the same, with as much effect on their environment, society and time such that when it is mentioned that they once lived, one is tempted to ask, “So what?”
We only live once. During the course of that life, a large part of it is spent in growing up and growing old. Between the two is a brief period where a window opens. A window of opportunity where we have the chance to make a difference. Whether we are able to take advantage of this window depends on whether we anticipated it and prepared for it. Every one of us has this window in our lives. But some of us, when opportunity knocks, we complain about the noise.
Now, if the value we add to our lives determines how valuable our lives are, then we need to be clear about what the most valuable thing for us to do is.
There are many things that add value to life. But the individual’s decision about what to do depends on two factors:
1. The talents we have been gifted with
2. The most important thing that needs to be done at the time we walk the earth
What we do or choose not to do, determines whether we are remembered and how.
“In the final analysis:
It all matters…
Everything that you do or choose not to do,
Communicate brand value and character.”
In my view there is one thing that takes precedence over all else when we look at the things that add value to human life. That is the establishment of justice. It is the rule of law that distinguishes human life from animal existence. It is the practice of the concepts of justice, that none must be discriminated against, that oppression is not legal and that crime attracts punishment which determine the maturity of a civilization. Barbarism is defined as a state where such rules are not apparent in practice, though in some societies they may well be spoken of, even with reverence. When Islam came into the world, these were the issues that attracted the worst opposition from the entrenched establishment because it is the establishment of justice that shakes the foundation of despotic rule. So therefore in my view, the most valuable thing in life is to establish justice.
At all places and in all times, it is the establishment of justice that is the most critical underpinning to all other activity. A mother who brings up her children with a focus on establishing justice creates harmony in the home and brings up good citizens. A teacher who focuses on the establishment of justice in his or her teaching creates a society that is free from discrimination and which encourages merit. A manager who focuses on the establishment of justice creates a work atmosphere that rewards genuine effort and enables employees to find fulfillment in their work. A government that focuses on the establishment of justice ensures that the talents of all citizens are allowed to flower for the benefit of the nation and that strong groups support the weak instead of oppressing them. So the establishment of justice is the single most valuable goal that anyone can work for.
However as I mentioned, establishing justice is not easy. It never was:
“Cowardice asks the question – is it safe?
Expediency asks the question – is it politic?
Vanity asks the question – is it popular?
But conscience asks the question – is it right?
And there comes a time when one
must take a position that is neither safe,
nor politic, nor popular;
But one must take it because it is right.”
~ Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
And that is the key; one must do what is right, no matter what the cost. But then who said it was easy? I only said that it was the most valuable thing to do. Not the easiest.
There is one key ingredient that is needed if one wants to establish justice and that is courage. Nobody is born with courage. Courage is not the absence of fear. It is the willingness to go on. Courage is an acquired virtue. And how is it to be acquired? By practicing it. Courage comes when we take a stand for justice. It is the result of taking a stand for justice. We don’t take the stand because we have courage. We get courage when we decide to take the stand. When we first stand up our knees are weak with fear, our breath is short, our eyes mist over, there are cramps in our bellies and our voice is choked. But when we stand, it is as if a door opens and a cool breeze blows in our face that takes away our fear. We suddenly find steel being inserted into our spinal cord. Our legs become firm and strong, our voice powerful. And all because we decided to take the stand. Because we had faith.
“When you come to the end of the light of all that you know and are about to step off into the darkness of the unknown, faith is knowing that one of two things will happen. There will be something firm to stand on or you will be taught how to fly.”
~ Barbara Winters
A young boy came up to me during a gathering that I was addressing in Chennai at the Crescent School masjid, soon after the Gujarat genocide and asked me, “If I am surrounded by a mob which threatens to kill me unless I say that I am not a Muslim, is it okay if I say that to save my life?”
I said to him, “My son, it is not important whether you die or not, because one day we all die. What is important is how you die. Even more important is how you live. For so shall you be remembered.”
But you know, I was not talking to him at all. I was talking to myself.