Think long term. It is not about winning one conflict. It is about becoming influential and creating a situation where there are no more conflicts. It is about becoming influential where you can initiate and direct local and national policy. It is about being in positions where the decisions you take will positively impact people across the globe and become Sadaqa Jaariya for you. Let me mention for you just two such decisions the effects of which the world is feeling to this day. One was the Sykes–Picot Agreement, of 1916 (Nov 23, 1915 – Jan 3, 1916); a secret treaty between the United Kingdom and France, with assent from the Russian Empire and the Kingdom of Italy, to define their mutually agreed spheres of influence and control in an eventual carving up of the Ottoman Empire. The British and French diplomats, Mark Sykes and François Georges-Picot drafted the agreement which was ratified by their respective governments on 9 and 16 May 1916. The second was theBalfour Declaration (1917) which was a letter from the United Kingdom’s Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour to Lord Rothschild, a leader of the British Jewish community, for transmission to the Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland. The Balfour Declaration was a public statement issued by the British Government in 1917 during the First World War announcing its support for the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine, which was an Ottoman region with a small Jewish population.
The big lesson to learn is that what matters even more than who you are, is where you are. Environment dictates effectiveness. A fish can’t even breathe on land but in the water, it is the epitome of speed and grace. Today we have as many capable people as anyone else, but they are not in the right places. That must be our goal, right person in the right place. To change anything, you must own it first. You can’t change what you don’t own. Your country is America. Not Syria or Pakistan or Iraq or Lebanon. It is America. You are a citizen. Not a visitor waiting to go home. The truth is that this is already the case with your children. Not one of them is capable of returning to your country of origin and living there. This is critical because only when you think of America as your own country can you work to make it beneficial for the world. If you read history, you will see that in every age there has always been some empire or nation which dominated. In this post WW2 age, it is America. Given that China or Russia are the other options, I am thankful for this. The citizens of this country have the opportunity to make that a blessing for the world. Only you can do this. Not outsiders. Therefore, you have two choices: to complain about what’s happening or to change it.
Allahﷻ encourages us to become powerful and establish justice on earth.
إِنَّا لَنَنصُرُ رُسُلَنَا وَٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوا۟ فِى ٱلْحَيَوٰةِ ٱلدُّنْيَا وَيَوْمَ يَقُومُ ٱلْأَشْهَـٰدُ
Ghafir 40: 51 We certainly help Our messengers and the believers, ˹both˺ in this worldly life and on the Day the witnesses will stand forth
وَأُخْرَىٰ تُحِبُّونَهَا نَصْرٌ مِّنَ ٱللَّهِ وَفَتْحٌ قَرِيبٌ وَبَشِّرِ ٱلْمُؤْمِنِينَ
Saff 61: 13 ˹He will also give you˺ another favor that you long for – help from Allah and imminent victory. ˹So˺ give good news ˹O Prophet˺ to the believers.
To create change we need people in four critical areas. Legislature, Judiciary, Executive, and Media. Lawmaking, interpreting the law, administration, and mind-steering. That means we need attorneys, judges, politicians, administrators, journalists and media specialists, professors of political science and sociology, and financial experts. We have enough doctors, engineers, MBAs, and Mom & Pop shops. We need ethical, moral power brokers with a sense of accountability to Allahﷻ.
Think of all those people in this community who you think are wealthy. Ask how many of them are in positions of power? How many are on School Boards? How many are City Councilors, Aldermen, Selectmen, Mayors? Ask why not? How many of you are hearing these terms for the first time? So, when you meet someone, don’t ask, ‘What car do you drive?’ Ask, ‘What decisions do you take?’ Personal wealth makes you comfortable but keeps you vulnerable. Power changes that equation. The road to power is totally different from the road to personal wealth. You need to decide what you want for your children. By minding your shop and inheriting it after you or studying medicine, pharmacy, MBA and so on, 20-30 years after they graduate, they may own their house and have a couple of nice cars and be able to take annual holidays. But someone with power can take that away from them with one stroke of a pen. By pursuing influence and power, after 20-30 years they will be in positions where their decisions can change the destinies of entire populations. But the paths are totally different, and they must start on the path they choose, now.
Let us consider four episodes from the Seerah to see how Rasoolullahﷺ transformed his powerless state and used that power for good. When he was forced to make Hijra to Madina he was virtually powerless with his life in danger and had to hide in a cave to escape enemy death squads. But eight years later, he conquered Makkah at the head of an army of 10,000. The tribal chiefs who had driven him out of Makkah saw that it was futile to resist and lined up to pledge allegiance.
First was the Pledge of Al-Aqaba where the chiefs of Madina pledged allegiance to him and vowed to defend him and his mission with their wealth and lives if he migrated to Madina. The migration was a blessing because Madina was far enough from Makkah to provide him with a relatively safe base of operations to propagate his message. Also, Madina was on the trade route to Shaam from Makkah and so was strategically important and a leverage against the Makkan elites because their trade caravans could be raided and captured. If on the other hand, had he been successful in his mission to At-Taif, because of its proximity to Makkah, perhaps the Quraysh could have killed him and destroyed his work. This is a good example of how something that looks negative is positive in the long term. Allahﷻ’s plan is always the best.
The second was the formation of the Ummah with the brotherhood between the Muhajiroon and the Ansar. This is unique because the Muhajiroon who were really refugees, were not put into camps but were taken into the homes of the Ansar like their own family. This brought together the two groups as one community in a unique way with Islam being the reason for the bond instead of tribe or lineage. The migrants from Makkah, most of whom came with nothing, immediately had relief and a sense of belonging and that formed one united community. Allahﷻ revealed Qur’an about this and called them Ummatan Waahida and honored them by declaring that He was the reason for the brotherhood.
إِنَّ هَـٰذِهِۦٓ أُمَّتُكُمْ أُمَّةً وَٰحِدَةً وَأَنَا۠ رَبُّكُمْ فَٱعْبُدُونِ
Anbiya 21: 92 Indeed, this religion (brotherhood) of yours is one brotherhood, and I am your Rabb, so worship Me ˹alone˺.
وَإِنَّ هَـٰذِهِۦٓ أُمَّتُكُمْ أُمَّةً وَٰحِدَةً وَأَنَا۠ رَبُّكُمْ فَٱتَّقُونِ
Mu’minoon 23: 52 Surely this religion of yours is ˹only˺ one, and I am your Rabb, so fear Me (my Displeasure i.e., have Taqwa of Me) ˹alone˺.
The third was the Covenant of Madina which brought all the people in Madina, Muslims, Jews, and Polytheists together on a common pact of mutual assistance and security. There was freedom for each group to continue to worship their gods and to live their lives according to their personal laws but to unite if there was any external threat. The most significant thing about the 53-article document was that everyone accepted the leadership of Rasoolullahﷺ and he became the ruler and arbitrator in all matters.
Finally, we have the Treaty of Hudaybiyya (Suleh Hudaybiyya) which on the face of it appeared to be one-sided and humiliating for the Muslims but which Allahﷻ called, Manifest Victory (Fathum Mubeen). This was a victory for three reasons. One, because it was the first time that the Quraysh recognized Rasoolullahﷺ as a head of state and the treaty was between him and the Quraysh of Makkah. Second, it was the final test of obedience for the Sahaba to see if they would obey Rasoolullahﷺ without question in a matter where many didn’t agree with him and were unhappy about what he was planning to do. They passed this very difficult test and Allahﷻ forgave them and said that He was pleased with them. Third, it was that thanks to Suleh Hudaybiyya, there was peace, and this enabled the spread of Islam like never before. That is what enabled Rasoolullahﷺ to acquire the power to challenge the Quraysh on their home territory.
All these incidents show that to seek power and influence in society is very important if we want to change our situation. There are things that can only be done if you have power and that is what we must focus on. Talking about power, we live in a country where an ordinary person can aspire to local and national leadership, unlike the countries where most of us come from. But do we know what to do to get there? Are we thinking about this? Today is my questions day, so let me ask you some more questions: What is the connection between the House of Representatives, Congress, and Senate? What happens if the House of Representatives and Senate pass a law, but the President vetoes it? What is the career path for someone who wants to become a Senator? What is the relationship between the Congress, the Supreme Court, and the President of America?
My message to our youth is, plan your careers with power in mind, not just money. Power to do good, to change the rules of the corrupt, merciless society that you have inherited. You didn’t make it, but you can unmake it. But only if you want to and are willing to dedicate your life to it. Your life will be immensely satisfying, very interesting, great fun and will leave a legacy of honor and be a Sadaqa Jaariya, but it will not be comfortable or easy. This is a generational project but if you don’t step forward today, you will live to regret it for the rest of your lives. It’s your life and your choice.