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Emine Yeniterzi
OPINION ON PREJUDICE
19 Şubat 2008 Salı

MEVLÂNA"S OPINION ON PREJUDICE

A beloved intellectual who provided solutions to the problems of his era and his community, Mevlana gave countless advice how to be a peaceful and happy person, at peace with himself and his environment. The validity of his solutions, his messages, and his persistent advice (which was all proposed eight centuries ago) can be explained by his being a real guide/educator and his resources" (The Holy Qur"an and Hadiths) eternal legitimacy. On the other hand, this perspective also indicates an exceptional aspect in our mindsets that Hz. Mevlâna is unique, universal, and up-to-date.

Interestingly, for a question like, “What does Mevlana say about it?, a satisfactory answer has always been found in his books. With the same questioning, when Mevlana"s warnings are studied we come across with his guiding advice about one of the contemporary problems: “Prejudice”.

The dictionary definition for prejudice is “a premature (either unfavorable or a favorable) opinion or feeling formed beforehand regarding a person or an object”. As mentioned by the following quotation from Einstein, “It is harder to crack a prejudice than an atom”, prejudice generally comes into prominence as “a bad judgment” that is very common in the society, and which people complain about it due to its negative effects.

Hz. Mevlâna considers prejudice as a product of haste and ignorance. Shaitan (Satan) was the first with a prejudice, and he suffered because of it. The following Turkish sayings “Acele ise seytan karisir” (meaning “haste makes waste”, or directly translated as “If you hurry, the devil intervenes”), or “Acele şeytandan, teennî Rahman'dandır” (Haste is from Shaitan, prudence is from the God), literally mean that throwing caution to the wind and acting hastily are characteristics of Shaitan and are an invitation to blunder. One of Shaitan"s attributes, hastiness, made him respond unwisely and incompletely (and without thinking about the consequences) towards Allah"s command. As a result, he refused to obey the command and did not prostrate to Hz. Âdem (Adam). Hz. Mevlânâ points out the virtues of prudence (especially of patience) and the detriments of haste through numerous examples in the Mesnevi (Mathnawî):


Boil your pot by degrees and in a masterly way;

Food boiled in mad haste is spoiled.
Doubtless God could have created the universe
By the fiat "Be"; in one moment of time;
Why, then, did He protract His work over six days,
Each of which equaled a thousand years, O disciple?
Why does the formation of an infant take nine months?
Because God's method is to work by slow degrees,
Why did the formation of Adam take forty days?
Because his clay was kneaded by slow degrees.


Reference: Masnavi/Book VI, 1232-1237, available at

http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Masnavi_I_Ma%27navi/Book_VI


A writer and lecturer on self-improvement, Dale Carnegie authenticates Hz. Mevlâna"s diagnoses by the following quote, “God Himself does not propose to judge mankind until the end of days. Why should you and I?...” (and the author adds the following statements to the end of the original words) “…Why should you and I exercise a judgment about somebody based on only two or three articles about this person, somebody else"s words, or a quick conservation with this person?”.

In addition to the warnings against hastiness that lead people to prejudice, Hz. Mevlâna also points out the other unstable foundation of prejudice: ignorance and its detriments. A great scholar, Hz. Mevlâna places great importance on the value of knowledge. Allah taught Hz. Âdem, the first person and prophet, “the names of all things” (Bakara/Cow 2:31); in other words, this education, in the form of a Holy gift, made Hz. Âdem superior to angels. In order for this superiority to become obvious, Hz. Âdem and the angels made a formal debate before Allah, and Hz. Âdem was victorious. Later, the angels admitted their weakness compared to Hz. Âdem and prostrated before him, whereas Shaitan would not admit the insufficiency of his limited and poor knowledge, and would not prostrate before him. This is (historically) the first demonstration of the detrimental effect of the lack of knowledge. Here, the angles admitted their lack of knowledge and obeyed the command to bow before Hz. Âdem; however, Shaitan, in a way, protested Allah"s all encompassing knowledge by considering his creation from fire to be enough to make him superior to Hz. Âdem, thus, without enough knowledge, he refused to obey the command due to his prejudice. Shaitan considered Hz. Âdem only as a creation from mud, and despised him. (Mesnevî, I:3502-3509)

Hz. Mevlâna illustrates the grave and ridiculous situation induced from lack of knowledge through the following story: Somebody tells a deaf man, “Your neighbor is ill”. The deaf man replies to himself, “How can I understand my neighbor with my hardness of hearing? Besides, his voice will be weak because he is ill. However, I have to go, so as he moves his lips, I"ll guess his answers. I"ll first ask, “how are you?”, and he will answer, “Praise be to Allah, quite well”, and I"ll say “Thank God for that”. Then I"ll ask, “What did you eat or drink?”, and he will answer, “a lentil soup” or a “sherbet”. Then I"ll say “Good health” and ask the name of the doctor taking care of him, and he will respond with whatever doctor, and I"ll tell him that “he (the doctor) is a blessed person, when he comes in, the illness goes away (his “mubarak” feet take the illness away)…we also had a similar experience with him, and everything goes well with him.” Studying the sequence of questions and answers, the deaf man visits his sick neighbor and asks how he is. The patient responds, “I"m dying!”. The deaf man"s response “Thank God” makes the patient upset. When then asked what he had to eat, the patient says, “Snake poison!”. The deaf man"s response of “good health” makes the patient angrier. Lastly, in response to the name of the doctor taking care of him, the patient responds, “Azrael, the angel of death!”. The deaf man speaks out the answer he already had in his mind, “he is a blessed person”, and then leaves his neighbor"s house as happily as he “kindly” visited his sick friend. On the other hand, the patient thinks that the deaf man was the enemy of his life and a bad neighbor with bad intensions”, and he gets angry, and his illness gets worse. (Mesnevî, I:3466-3500). This story illustrates the fact that acting by assumptions or personal judgments without sufficient knowledge leads us to mistakes.

In summary, we have to remember Hz. Mevlana"s warnings regarding prejudices that are built upon haste and ignorance. Additionally, we also have to remember that prejudices made before learning the essence or knowing the person will mislead us. In agreement with the following statement, “Never ask of others what you would not ask of yourself”, we need to at least show the sensitivity that we would expect when confronted with the prejudices of other people. Finally, we need to keep in our minds that centuries ago Hz. Mevlana addressed the contemporary needs (including today"s popular topics such as the self-development and healthy communication) and his messages have not only religious, Tasawwufi (Sufi), and moral tones, but also have profound insight and richness on day-to-day affairs.


Glossary


Mathnawî (A [lit., "couplets"]; pronunciation in Iran: Masnavi,
Mathnavi; spellings in T, Mesnevî, Mesnevi, Mesnavi, Masnevi;
other spellings: Masnawi, MaSnawi, MaSnavi, Mathnawi,
Matnawi): the name of the poetic masterpiece of Mawlânâ's last
years, composed in six books, consisting of 25,700 rhymed
couplets. It is a compendium of sufi and ethical teachings, and is
deeply permeated with Qur'ânic meanings and references, and
many sayings [aHâdîth] of the Prophet Muhammad are mentioned
and referred to as well. See the article,
"About the Masnavi," in
the "Masnavi" section of this website.

HadîS (A; pronounced in A, Hadîth [derived from HaDDaTHa, to
narrate (about)]; spelling in T, hadis; plural in A, aHâdîS): a saying
or doing of the Prophet Muhammad as related by his companions
down though a "chain" of narrators until written down.

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