The way forward – part 5

My brothers and sisters, in these series of my 7 – Khutab called, ‘The way forward’, I will try to define for you the problem that we Muslims face globally and to suggest the way forward to a solution. There are two critical things which you must remember as you listen to me. One, that we didn’t reach this state of being overnight. And therefore, neither is the solution going to work overnight. It is not magic. Second, the only way for the solution to work is if all of us commit to working with total sincerity and enthusiasm to create the solution and continue to work even though many of us will not see any change. It is the theory of the tipping point to which I will return in my 7th Khutba. I just want to highlight this now and ask you to make dua that Allahﷻ gives us the Istiqama (perseverance) to succeed.

We are living in a revolution, but it is perhaps not what you may think. Let me explain. We are living today in times that I call, ‘Forks in history’. Forking times in history are characterized by turmoil. Epidemics, wars, economic collapse, political instability, civil war and so on. But it is precisely for that reason that the foundations of the structures of society are shaken, and for a short time, it is given into the hands of ordinary people to change the path of destiny. The Industrial Revolution (1760-1840), the War of Independence in India (1857), the American Civil War (1861-65), the 1st and 2nd World Wars, the Great Depression of 1930 which ended with WW2 in 1939 which shows that endings are not always happy. All these are markers in history of changes in paths of destiny. There were others but this list will suffice for us to see how the decisions of people of the time, leaders, and followers, changed the path of destiny for others. We don’t have the time to do an analysis of each of these events to point out what the decisions were. But we must do it because today as I mentioned, we are living in another revolution and what we choose to do or not to do, will define the path of destiny for coming generations. Believe me, our destiny is in our hands. In the hands of adults. Not in the hands of children or the youth. It is we adults who created this society and we adults who can act to change it. That is why Rasoolullahﷺ focused on teaching adults. Children learn from adults, be those parents, teachers, or others. What they learn, they teach their children. So, be careful about what you teach your children. Children listen with their eyes. They don’t care what you say until they see what you do.

We Muslims globally are like a ship caught in a storm. Battered by winds and ocean currents, striving to drive it onto rocks. As captains of such a ship, we must do two paradoxical things simultaneously. Be aware of the hostile forces that surround us, yet not allow them to distract us from our goal of navigating the ship safely out of the storm. The good news is that all storms end. The bad news is that any storm can sink a ship where the captain has no idea about the destination or how to get there. Navigation, whether it is of ships or of life, must be learnt. This means that in order to learn, we must spend time and effort with teachers who know what to teach and how. It is not instant coffee and won’t happen in your spare time. This is the choice that each one of us must make. Because it is we who will have to live our lives. If you think learning takes too long and is too expensive, try ignorance.

Our biggest problem today is the absence of viable alternatives to leadership. Our challenge is to produce ethical, moral, global leaders. Without that the world is doomed. It is as simple as that. We are fed and most of us believe and have internalized the myth that technology and wealth can solve all our problems. But both are value neutral tools. Neither good nor evil. It is the mind that decides how to use them and so it is the mind that we must work on. The biggest and most important change that has happened is that today, and especially in this country, we live in times when the voice of the ordinary individual is heard. Not every individual, but those who are elected to office. And that process of election is open to everyone, especially at the local level.

The question to ask is how many of us take the trouble to get elected? Election doesn’t happen by magic but by first getting visibility through social work. Through helping people, participating in public projects, working with people across boundaries of race, religion, and culture. It happens by changing our isolationist ways and getting involved in our communities. It happens by thinking of where we live as OUR community. If you want a metric to see where we are on this index, see how many people participate in our Hunger Walk, Town Cleaning Drive, Black Lives Matter protests, and Food Pantries. See how many of us participate in interfaith work. Please add to this list and see what you can say about yourself. Ask yourself how many of us have friends who are not like us. The first documented arrival of Muslims in this land was in the 17th century. The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade was industrialized slavery and the most brutal subjugation of human beings in the history of humanity. One place to visit without which we can’t claim to be educated is the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History. In the mid-18th century came the first wave of immigrants from Asia and the Middle East. That was roughly 200 years ago. Then why is it that there are only 3 – Muslim Members of Congress? We complain that nobody listens to us. How can anyone listen to someone who is not there? If I list the top 10 US corporations by Market Cap the CEOs of all of them are Indian. Not a single one is Muslim. Neither of these examples have anything to do with discrimination. They have everything to do with focus. The truth is that we only get what we pay for. Whether at Walmart or in life, that is the rule.

As I have said before, you are not visitors here. You are citizens. This is your country. So, participate and contribute. On January 20, 1961, John F. Kennedy said in his inaugural address, “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” His historic words emphasized the importance of civic action and challenged every American to contribute in some way to the public good. I was 6 years old when he said this, but these words have remained with me, and I apply them to all constituencies that I am part of. These words apply as much today as they did in 1961. These words are the secret to leadership because leading rides on the shoulders of service. First you win hearts. Then you shape destiny.

If you study the Seerah you will see this reflected clearly. Rasoolullahﷺ was the most beloved man in Makkah. He was hugely popular not because of canvassing for votes but because of his service to his people. He was known for his kindness, manners, and patience in the face of provocation. When he moved to Madina he did three things in this order. He created the Ummah, a brotherhood of faith, he built his masjid, and he created a Constitution. That was the most inclusive, egalitarian document that you can imagine which recognized differences of the most fundamental kind yet brought people together on issues of mutual importance. What do we need to do today? Follow the Sunnah. Treat every Muslim as your brother because Allahﷻ gave them that place. Bring the masjid alive. And learn to live and work with others and become valuable partners to them. Are we ready?

Allahﷻ told us about what must bind us together as one brotherhood.

إِنَّ هَـٰذِهِۦٓ أُمَّتُكُمْ أُمَّةًۭ وَٰحِدَةًۭ وَأَنَا۠ رَبُّكُمْ فَٱعْبُدُونِ

Anbiya 21: 92 ˹O prophets!˺ Indeed, this religion of yours is ˹only˺ one, and I am your Rabb, so worship Me ˹alone˺.

وَإِنَّ هَـٰذِهِۦٓ أُمَّتُكُمْ أُمَّةًۭ وَٰحِدَةًۭ وَأَنَا۠ رَبُّكُمْ فَٱتَّقُونِ

Muminoon 23: 52  Surely this religion of yours is ˹only˺ one, and I am your Rabb, so have Taqwa of Me ˹alone˺ (be concerned only about My Pleasure).

Allahﷻ told us and Rasoolullahﷺ taught us that our job is to worry about our own belief and actions and treat everyone else as our brother. Leave their belief and actions between them and Allahﷻ, except when their actions are negative and harmful to society in which case you correct them. But today we want to sit in judgment on who will go to Jannah and Jahannam as if we own Jannah and Jahannam. Let us worry about where we will go. That is what Islam teaches us, to focus on our Iman and A’amaal. The truth is easy to see but difficult to swallow. But if we want change, we must swallow it.

In 1631 the construction of a building was started in India which was completed in 1652 at a cost of $1 billion in today’s money. The net worth of the man who built it was 25% of Global GDP of the time and he ruled over one of the wealthiest and most powerful empires in the world. His name was Shah Jahan, and the building is called the Taj Mahal.

In 1636, another building was started in America, close to where we are sitting today. The person who instigated that project was a Puritan Minister. He earned his Master’s degree from Cambridge University, England and died at age 31. An amount of £500 was sanctioned for this building. The man bequeathed 50% of his wealth $150K in today’s money to that building. That was a school which went on to become a university in his name. His name was John Harvard. Today both buildings exist. The first has two occupants. Both dead. The second has been producing leaders in all aspects of society since 1636. It is the first college in America and has the wealthiest endowment of $50.7 billion and the largest library on earth. The difference between these two stories is the difference between sight and vision. As they say, ‘Much worse than not having sight is not having vision.’ It shows graphically that it is not resources or power, but vision which has the biggest impact. I have two questions for you: ‘What is your vision? And what are you prepared to do about realizing it?’ The reality is that it is only action that counts. That is why in Islam, the emphasis is on faith and action and not on faith and knowledge. Imaan wa A’amaal us Saleh. Not Imaan wa I’lm us Saleh. Only knowledge practiced has effect.

The biggest challenge today is to understand that Islam makes us winners in this life and the Aakhira. The lives of the Anbiya show that it is a strong connection with Allahﷻ, a clear vision, dedicated effort, and the ability to win hearts that are the secrets of success. It is for us to learn and live by this.