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Heroes to Inspire

Heroes to Inspire

Issue 17 February 2006

Heroes, role models and mentors. The focus of this issue, Muhammad Ali, has fulfilled these roles for millions of people and has done so for decades. He was the fast talking, hard hitting man of the 60s. He fought the notion of white supremacy that pervaded American society with his fighting in the ring and his principles out of it.
We all need role models, people to aspire to, people to inspire us, people that can make us feel �I can achieve; I can do more; I can be better.� Finding such people is not easy though.
Many of today�s celebrities do little by way of inspiration, offering us small deeds on big screens. However, maybe we should not expect too much from actors, models, pop stars and the like. Their jobs surely are to act, pose and sing, and as long as they do that we can�t complain. Maybe we have to reduce our expectations of them, and certainly reduce the time we contemplate the intricacies of their marital proclivities, their fashion choices, their home styling and all the other tittle tattle of modern celebrity-dom.
Should we then look to people whose job it is to lead? The problem with that is whilst that maybe their job, it is not necessarily their vocation. I can think of very few political leaders who inspire. Perhaps that is to do with the nature of modern politics.
So maybe we have to look to the future in the hope that someone will arise from the people to lead. This is the narrative of many an epic story. It is certainly the narrative of many religious tales which contemplate the coming of the Messiah, the Christ, the Mahdi.
I find myself split on this. Part of me has the patience of one waiting for something that will happen in its own good time. Another part of me finds resonance in the couplet of the Pakistani poet Muhammad Iqbal, �Why do you ask �when will the Mahdi come?/Go and create him.� Whether this idea can be applied to the Mahdi is not something I would want to tackle, but it is something which can be applied to the notion of leadership more generally. The saying that we get the leaders we deserve is not without foundation. Leadership needs nurturing, it needs vision from people within a community, it needs people to carefully step forward and others to help them grow in strength and character. It requires us to see our children as leaders and to help them respect themselves.
Lonnie Ali says of her husband, �Muhammad always had a sense of self worth and this was imparted to him from his father who supported this in his children.� This reminds me of what the Prophet�s grandfather, Abdul Muttalib, said of him. The old man used to take the young Muhammad to meetings of the tribal leaders. They would complain that the young boy shouldn�t be there. Covering Muhammad with his great cloak, Abdul Muttalib would retort, �Let him be. Great things await my grandson.� Can you just imagine the confidence this must have inspired in the young boy?
Which brings me to the government�s current action plan calling on us to �give respect, get respect� My grandmother used to tell me that you have to love yourself in order to love others. I think the same applies to respect. I am not sure that a government action plan can make us respect others if people do not know how to respect themselves. But how does one learn to respect oneself unless you have been taught? It is one of the hardest things to do, though not impossible.
Faith in God can lead to self respect. When you feel that you are a creation of the Most High, when you feel His love giving you the blessing of life, it allows you to acknowledge the inner beauty of your soul and to have respect. Such respect will not allow you to let others trample on God�s creation. You will not allow yourself to be treated unjustly, you will stand up for your dignity. In turn, you recognise others as God�s creation respecting them not just for themselves but as creations of the Creator.
Faith also gives you great role models to inspire you and aspire to. The Prophets stand as archetypal heroes, showing you ways to engage with the world in a whole variety of situations.
The world desperately needs enlightened leaders with a vision for all humanity. However, if we want individuals to be able to inspire us, then we are at the stage when collectively we must inspire individuals, giving them the confidence and the capacity to lead. The great individuals of tomorrow require the collective inspiration of today. However, all the heroes in the world are worth nothing unless we allow their inspiration to effect change within ourselves. And whilst we may dream and even plan that tomorrow there will be others to lead and heroes to inspire, today it is up to us.

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