Majid Ali, M.D.
The Sufi Way—it seems to me—is the continuity of sensibilities and sensitivities of African women of the Rift Valley of earlier (pre-historic) times. I recognized this during the writing of my article entitled “Africa: the Mother of Medicine”. In African mythology, nearly all deities with destructive portfolios (earth quacks, floods, lightening, and others) were males, while all deities with protective roles (rain, crops, and fertility) were females. For more on the subject, please read the companion article entitled “Sufi Women of Early Africa” at this link:
Text from the Africa: the Mother of Medicine Article
African mythology is considered too large a swath to allow a meaningful synopsis.26 I believe it is possible to do a broad survey of dieties and their assigned roles to draw some conclusions that shed light on the Eastern Track hypothesis. African gods are excitable and love fireworks (lightning and storms) and utterly delinquent in their obligations to mortals. Male deities are not sympathetic to their mortal subjects. They want humans to become independent and stand on their own. The accounts of humans building mythological heavenly ladders for direct audience with gods are revealing. Such ladder always collapse, crushing the limbs of climbers and dashing their hopes. African goddesses, by contrast, are deeply supportive of humans—loving, nurturing, and forever sustaining hope. Specifically, Yemoja is the African “mother of gods.” She is a nurturer and directs the all-important portfolio of water management (as the goddess of rivers). The god Sango is interested in big bangs and huge flames (as the god of thunder and lightning). Yemoja and Sango are the forerunners—essentially prototypes for the planetary evolution of gender-related mythology—for generations of loving and nurturing female deities and mean-spirited and violent male deities ever ready to torture the hapless mortals.27 The essential attributes of male gods are best exemplified by the Greek supergod, Zeus, who was precocious and violent. He made love to everything that moved and incinerated mortals without provocation with his lightning rod. Hades ruled the underworld with other ill-tempered gods.
What might be the primal malignancy of the mind? This question takes form whenever my mind drifts to the murder of 132 boys in a Peshawar school ,or to the estimated one-and-half million people killed during partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947. Or the Armenian genocide. And, of course, holocaust of Europe.
What occupies the mind of Boka Haram when they abduct, rape, and murder teenagers in Nigeria? Or of the “drone-democrizaing” notions of the sages of Washington? Or the framers of the U.S. constitution when they legalized unspeakable horrors of slavery? Such questions, of course, are endless. But each of them bring me to the question in the beginning of this article: What might be the primal malignancy of the mind? What my study of history informs me about the question is the same as my reflections on the current world affairs. The answers to the question is always the same: “Not-Us-Ness.”
When and how might the primal malignancy of the mind have begun. My mind drifts to some earlier time in the history before the birth of healers, the predecessors of doctors today. I see a hunter falling off a cliff and tearing up his thigh. Then I see some other hunter climbing down the cliff, looking at the blood spilling out, looking around, in despair picking up some tree bark, and slamming it on the gaping wound. The wounded hunter lives and looks at the tree bark as the miracle. Seeing this, the hunter who picked the bark begins to engage in a different ideation. I chose the right bark and so it must be within me. I must be gifted. I must be different from others.
Or, there was drought. The land was parched and so were its people. Children were dehydrated and listless. Their mothers were distraught. Everyone seeks help from the chief of the tribe. The chief looks up to sky, then stares at distant hills, then at the sun squinting to escape its scalding light. He looks down at dirt, then back to the comforting distant hills. He is a chief and knows well the dependence of his tribe on hope. How can I bring some hope to my people now? he murmurs to himself. His tribe looks at him and he at them. He knows he has no answer but knows that he can admit it. His has been good at pretense before and recognizes he has to do it.
That night, it happens. The sky pours and pours and pours water. The whole tribe rushes to surround the chief and rain dance celebration begins. The chief engages in the same ideation as the hunter. It must be within me. I must be gifted. I must be different from others. The Not-Me-Ness germinates. This or something like this must have been the beginning of the spirit men, men who know better and know that others are not like them.
The Greeks were ingenious creators of gods, one god for everything—every desire, every rage, every pursuit, every war, and every conquest—under the umbrella of their super-god, Zeus. But the god-making Greeks were not the first people to excel in the craft. Their were Indians before them. And the people of Rift valley long before them? God-making craft had to have been developed. And what was this craft all about? Shapes of Not-Me-Ness, of course.
Africans were not Asians. Asians were not Europeans. Europeans were not Eskimos. Hindus temples were not Buddhist monastries, which were not Jewish synagogues, which were not Christian churches, which were not Muslim mosques, which were not Sikh gurdawaras. It was Not-Me-Ness then and it is Not-Us-Ness now. It will be the same Not-Me-Ness in the future, for ever and ever.
I recognize Not-Me-Ness has been celebrated as diversity. This does not fool me. Those who celebrate Not-Me-Ness as diversity have been its staunchest proponents.
So, I am afraid, Not-Me-Ness has been the human destiny—and will be so forever. So then why should I be like anyone else? Why should I not celebrate my inalienable right of Not-Me -Ness?