Build bridges

In this life you can be one of two things. You can be a wall builder or a bridge builder. I am a bridge builder. That is because walls keep people apart while bridges give them a way to meet. Building bridges is not about bringing someone from one side of the canyon to the other. But to create a way where they can visit the world on the other side. Sometimes the first meetings happen on the bridge itself. That is the benefit of a bridge. You can meet on it, suspended high about the abyss, but safe from falling. Islam came to build bridges. Allahﷻ told us about our role in the world:

قُلْ يَـٰٓأَهْلَ ٱلْكِتَـٰبِ تَعَالَوْا۟ إِلَىٰ كَلِمَةٍ سَوَآءٍۭ بَيْنَنَا وَبَيْنَكُمْ أَلَّا نَعْبُدَ إِلَّا ٱللَّهَ وَلَا نُشْرِكَ بِهِۦ شَيْـًٔا وَلَا يَتَّخِذَ بَعْضُنَا بَعْضًا أَرْبَابًا مِّن دُونِ ٱللَّهِ فَإِن تَوَلَّوْا۟ فَقُولُوا۟ ٱشْهَدُوا۟ بِأَنَّا مُسْلِمُونَ

A’al Imraan 3: 64   Say (O Muhammad): O people of the Scripture, Come to a word that is just (fair & just) between us and you, that we worship none but Allah, and that we associate no partners with Him, and that none of us shall take others as lords besides Allah. Then, if they turn away, say: Bear witness that we are Muslims.

Building bridges is about focusing on commonalities, not differences. It is about inviting. Not forcing. It is also not about compromising our principles to become ‘acceptable’ to others. It is not about being apologetic about Islam. It is not about bending rules or glossing over them. It is about speaking about Islam with confidence that comes from knowledge but doing that with a smile. It is about presenting Islam as a bridge between Allahﷻ and His creatures. Allahﷻ taught us how to do it and said:

ٱدْعُ إِلَىٰ سَبِيلِ رَبِّكَ بِٱلْحِكْمَةِ وَٱلْمَوْعِظَةِ ٱلْحَسَنَةِ وَجَـٰدِلْهُم بِٱلَّتِى هِىَ أَحْسَنُ إِنَّ رَبَّكَ هُوَ أَعْلَمُ بِمَن ضَلَّ عَن سَبِيلِهِۦ وَهُوَ أَعْلَمُ بِٱلْمُهْتَدِينَ

Nahl 16: 125   Invite (mankind, O Muhammad) to the Way of your Rabb (Islam) with wisdom (build relationships) and fair preaching and argue with them in a way that is better. Truly, your Rabb knows best who has gone astray from His Path, and He is the Best Aware of those who are guided.

First wisdom, then preaching. First build a relationship, then preach in the best way and answer questions. That is the first principle of salesmanship – you can only sell to friends. So, first we make friends. Then we invite them to something which will benefit them.

How do you build a bridge? By making 4 – Critical Changes within yourself. Change Attitude, Change Perspective, Change Language, Change Behavior.

  1. Change Attitude

Attitude is how we define ourselves. That depends on what we believe about ourselves. This is partly what we have been told, growing up. Conditioning. Partly what we choose to tell ourselves all through life. So, ask, ‘How do I define myself?’ Values drive Behavior. Behavior drives Results. Ask, ‘What are my values, beliefs, attitudes, stances?’ Who I AM determines what I DO which decides what I GET. We are focused on GET. Get rich, get popular, get elected, get an education, get married get, get, get. To get something, we must do something and that depends on who we are. If we want to change what we get, we must change who we are. It is that simple. Focus on your actions and you will be amazed at what you get in return. Focus on getting and you will always be disappointed. Happiness lies not in what you have but in what you do. Possessions add cost, not value. Use things, not people. Value people, not things. The things to collect are not things, but memories. Because things perish, while memories remain, long after their makers.

  • Change Perspective

Perspective defines what we see. It determines our worldview which defines our responses to those who share the world with us. Allahﷻ told us:

يَـٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلنَّاسُ إِنَّا خَلَقْنَـٰكُم مِّن ذَكَرٍ وَأُنثَىٰ وَجَعَلْنَـٰكُمْ شُعُوبًا وَقَبَآئِلَ لِتَعَارَفُوٓا۟ إِنَّ أَكْرَمَكُمْ عِندَ ٱللَّهِ أَتْقَىٰكُمْ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ عَلِيمٌ خَبِيرٌ

Hujuraat 49: 13    O mankind! We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know one another. Verily, the most honorable of you with Allah is the one who is the most pious. Verily, Allah is All-Knowing, All-Aware.

Islam tells us that we all have the same origin but are different and that this difference is a cause for celebration, for honoring one another, to recognize each other and to appreciate the different flavor we bring to the table. The difference is not a cause for discrimination or racism. Superiority in the sight of Allahﷻ is only based on piety. It is the purity of our hearts, that brings us close to Allahﷻ. And only He knows what is in our hearts.

Change your perspective and you will see another world. One that was always there, but which you perhaps couldn’t see because of where you were standing. So, ask, ‘How do I define others?’ We are raised bipolar. Everyone like us is good. Everyone unlike us is bad. We learn derogatory names for them. We learn to fear them, hate them, and to see ourselves as superior and them as inferior. This ‘othering’ is a default setting in all cultures. Only the identity of the ‘other’ differs. But there is always an ‘other’. To change this perspective, we must move from Right and Wrong to Different. Because not everything is right or wrong. Many things are just different. All prejudice is based on subjective perceptions of right and wrong. All stereotyping is based on prejudice. To cure ourselves of the cancer of prejudice, we must change our perspective.

  • Change Language

Ask, ‘How do I speak about others when they are not present? Respectfully, inclusively, appreciatively, or otherwise?’ Change language because language shapes attitude and reflects it. True it is that only knowledge can set us free. We must learn about others. By doing that, we learn about ourselves. So, let’s ask ourselves, ‘How much effort do I make to initiate and maintain relationships? How many friends do I have who are different from me?’ Different color, race, religion? Because it is not the color of your hair but the color of your dreams that determines success and happiness in life. From tolerance to hatred is one step. But appreciation is the opposite of hatred.  So, let’s replace tolerance in our hearts and minds with appreciation. Interfaith work is one of the most important things that we can do today. Sadly, I see very little participation in it from our community. This is a big loss. We live in a country where people are open, curious, accepting and for the most part, neutral. We must capitalize on this and showcase Islam to the world by our words and deeds. Teach them Islam by living Islam. People listen with their eyes. They don’t care what we say until they see what we do. Let people see the smile, demeanor, manners, and actions of Rasoolullahﷺ. Let us try to become walking talking models of his Seerah. Remember that Islam spread by winning hearts. Not by winning arguments.

  • Change Behavior

Behavior drives results. Collaboration is the door. Communication is the key. Ask, ‘How do I speak to myself about those who are different from me? What does my language reflect?’ Remember, not everything is spoken aloud. The most powerful messages are heard only by you because it is what you say to yourself. It is critical to reflect on this because our internal talk guides our attitude and actions. As we think, so we speak, so we act and so we get responses. Only we can change this cycle and make it a journey of discovery and friendship. For many of us, this is an unconscious process. People are shocked when they reflect and realize what they are saying to themselves. And even more when they realize that this sets in motion a spiral that is negative or positive. The power lies in accepting that we decide what we want it to be. The solution to this is knowledge. Ask, ‘What effort do I make to learn about others?’ Remember that learning about human beings is only done by experience. Not on TV or social media but by meeting the walking, talking, breathing, warm body called _______ fill in the blank. Do that respectfully, sensitively, in a spirit of enquiry. For that, learn something about their culture, taboos, preferences, and beliefs, non-judgmentally. Judging builds walls. Walls keep people apart. Bridges draw us closer. We must be bridge builders, if we want to leave behind a world defined by love. The willingness to transcend boundaries, share uniqueness, without criticism and discrimination must be taught young, but can be learnt at any stage in life. Only one requirement…. are you willing to learn?

To do all of this, I remind myself and you, that we must build and constantly replenish our resources. You can only give what you have. That is why the first thing that Allahﷻ prescribed for His Beloved Messengerﷺ was to connect with Him, every single day in the depth of the night. That is the most powerful resource. Ta’alluq Ma’Allahﷻ begins with Tahajjud. Allahﷻ said:

يَـٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلْمُزَّمِّلُ  قُمِ ٱلَّيْلَ إِلَّا قَلِيلًا نِّصْفَهُۥٓ أَوِ ٱنقُصْ مِنْهُ قَلِيلًا أَوْ زِدْ عَلَيْهِ وَرَتِّلِ ٱلْقُرْءَانَ تَرْتِيلًا إِنَّا سَنُلْقِى عَلَيْكَ قَوْلًا ثَقِيلًا إِنَّ نَاشِئَةَ ٱلَّيْلِ هِىَ أَشَدُّ وَطْـًٔا وَأَقْوَمُ قِيلًا

Muzzammil 73: 1-6    O you wrapped in garments (Muhammad)! Stand (to pray) all night, except a little. Half of it, or a little less than that. Or a little more; and recite the Qur’an (aloud) in a slow, (pleasant tone) style. Verily, We shall send down to you a weighty Word. Verily, the rising by night (Tahajjud) is very hard and most potent and good for governing (the soul), and most suitable for (understanding) the Word (of Allah).

And for the one who prays Tahajjud, Allahﷻ said:

تَتَجَافَىٰ جُنُوبُهُمْ عَنِ ٱلْمَضَاجِعِ يَدْعُونَ رَبَّهُمْ خَوْفًا وَطَمَعًا وَمِمَّا رَزَقْنَـٰهُمْ يُنفِقُونَ

فَلَا تَعْلَمُ نَفْسٌ مَّآ أُخْفِىَ لَهُم مِّن قُرَّةِ أَعْيُنٍ جَزَآءًۢ بِمَا كَانُوا۟ يَعْمَلُونَ

Sajda 32: 16-17    Their sides forsake their beds, to invoke their Rabb in fear and hope, and they spend (charity) out of what We have bestowed on them. No person knows what is kept hidden for them of joy as a reward for what they used to do.

Hadith: Abu Huraira (R) reported that Rasoolullah said, “Our Rabb descends to the lowest heaven in the last third of every night, saying: Who is calling upon Me that I may answer him? Who is asking from Me that I may give him? Who is seeking My forgiveness that I may forgive him?” [Bukhari & Muslim]

Abdullah ibn as-Salam (R) reports, “When Rasoolullah came to Madinah, the people gathered around him and I was one of them. I looked at his face and understood that it was not the face of a liar. The first words I heard him say were: ‘O people, spread Salaam (salutations), feed the people, keep the ties of kinship, and pray during the night while the others sleep, and you will enter Jannah in peace.” [al-Hakim, Ibn Majah, Tirmidhi].

Salman al-Farsi (R) relates that Rasoolullah said: “Pray the night prayer (Tahajjud), it was the practice of the righteous before you and it brings you closer to your Rabb and it is penance for evil deeds and erases sins and repels disease from the body.”

Sahl ibn Sa’d (R) reports, “Jibreel (AS) came to Rasoolullah and said: ‘O Muhammad, live as long as you like, for you are to die. Do whatever deed you wish, for you are to be rewarded. Love whomever you wish, for you are to be parted. And know that the honor of the believer is in the night prayer and his glory is being free from want from the people.”‘

Abu Hurairah (R) reports that Rasoolullah said: “May Allah  bless the man who gets up during the night to pray and wakes up his wife and who, if she refuses to get up, sprinkles water on her face. And may Allah bless the woman who gets up during the night to pray and wakes up her husband and who, if he refuses to get up sprinkles water on his face.” Rasoolullah also said: “If a man wakes his wife and prays during the night or they pray two Raka’at together, they will be recorded among those (men and women) who (constantly) remember Allah.” [Abi Dawud]

We ask Allahﷻ to keep us obedient to Him and to take us in that state.