Tuesday, October 12, 2010

'We are all travelling on the same road towards God'


South African writer and social activist Zubeida Jaffer says that religions are like different vehicles all moving in the same direction

Photo: Zubeida Jaffer (left) with Chinese writer Lijia Zhang at Kovalam

By Shevlin Sebastian

When South African author and social activist Zubeida Jaffer was arrested by white policemen in 1985, during the apartheid era, and taken to jail in Cape Town, she asked for a copy of the Quran. “Initially they told me it was a privilege, and refused,” she says. But, eventually, they relented, and her parents gave her the Quran in English as well as Arabic.

“I had a deep belief that once I finished reading the Quran in both languages, I would be freed,” says Zubeida. So, she read the books from cover to cover and it took six weeks. “I waited to get released, but nothing happened,” says Zubeida. A few days went past.

But one morning Zubeida decided to pack her clothes. “It was a stupid thing to do,” she says. “Because one of the rules of survival is that when you are imprisoned, you must never think about your release. You have to prepare to be there for a long time. But I was so convinced that I would be leaving.”

As she waited in her cell, the door opened suddenly. “In came this policewoman and she was smiling at me,” says Zubeida. “She said, ‘I have good news for you. You are going home. So pack your clothes.’ I told her, ‘I have already packed. I am ready to go.’”

Zubeida pauses and says, “This incident proved to me that God exists, and He had kept me safe.”

But there are times when God does not keep her safe and bad events take place. So, does she get angry with Him? “I don't know whether I get angry or not, but I do say, ‘Why me, God? Why must I go through all this again?'” says Zubeida. “I have been through two spells in jail and two marriages.”

But her brother’s words of advice have been a source of comfort. “He told me, ‘You don't know why God deals you certain cards,’” says Zubeida. “‘The important thing is not to ask for other cards, but to work with the cards you have been given.’”

When Zubeida gets up every morning, she usually says a prayer of gratitude. “I say, ‘Thank you God for the fact that I am here and I am alive,’” she says. “I also thank Him for the wonderful relationship I have with my daughter, Ruschka.”

But at the same time, she is worried about her 24-year old daughter. “Ruschka is in love with a Christian boy and I hope this inter-religious marriage works out well,” says Zubeida. “I say, 'Dear God, guide her properly.’”

Asked whether she is convinced God exists, Zubeida shakes her head. “You can believe in God, but you cannot be sure He exists, since there is no proof,” she says. But Zubeida says that when she visited the Kaaba in Mecca, the holiest site in Islam, a few years ago, she had an incandescent experience. “I felt that I was in the presence of a strong energy, a divine power,” she says.

Nevertheless, Zubeida is a liberal. In her travels all over the world, she has prayed in mosques, temples, churches and synagogues.

“It is the same God, but with different names,” she says. “You can call him Jesus Christ, Allah, or Buddha. There are several vehicles to reach God, but we are all traveling on the same road.”

(The New Indian Express, Kerala)

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