Most of us are historically illiterate and our cherry-picking approach to history ensures illiteracy. However, our lives won’t change until we learn lessons from history and break out of the vicious cycles that we are caught up in. We don’t learn the lessons because we can’t differentiate between critiquing and critical analysis and criticizing. We have no capacity to objectively analyze incidents in history without either hero-worshiping those involved or trashing them. People who don’t learn from history are condemned to repeat it. That is what we are doing today, both globally and locally in our organizations. We do the same with each other and have this insane, unspoken rule – For me to love you and be your friend, you must agree with everything I say. We must develop the capacity to not only accept dissent but to encourage it and learn to disagree without being disagreeable. We must not only accept those who disagree with us, but value them, because they help us to look at another side of our pet theory. Without that it is very easy to blind ourselves to reality until we meet it face to face and realize that it is the face of Malakul Mawth.
Here’s a short history lesson. Since the late 7th century, Muslims have lived in empires and have imbibed the culture of feudal subjugation. First the Banu Umayya (661-750). Then the Banu Abbas (750-1258). After that arose three great Muslim empires, the Safavid (1736), the Mughals (1857), and the Ottomans (1927). Today most Muslims live in democratic non-Muslim countries. The dynamics of society, opportunities for development, citizen’s rights, and obligations, have all changed. If we still want to live in the fantasy of empire, we will be discarded. It is time to wake up and face the reality of our existence today that we are far better off than we were under empires.
Let me share my perception through the lenses of political science, and psychology. Emotional maturity is the process of changing our mindset from – Others are responsible for me – to – I am responsible for myself and others. So, are we adults or still children? In (Transactional Analysis) Eric Berne calls it the Parent-Child Ego State. The Parent is ‘authority’, and the Child feels powerless and blames authority for whatever happens to him. It is always someone else’s fault. To mature emotionally is to break out of this cycle and become Adults. Most people are physically adults but emotionally still Children looking to the Parent, to solve their problems. Let’s do a self-check. What is your greatest, most urgent desire? Job? Car? House? Marriage? Holiday? Umrah? What is it? Things for ourselves or for the Ummah? That’s why they say, ‘The difference between men and boys is the price of their toys.’ The sign of emotional maturity is to think of others. The finest examples of this were the Anbiya. At the end of his life when Rasoolullahﷺ was passing away, Jibreel (AS) came to inform him that Allahﷻ wanted to meet him. Rasoolullahﷺ didn’t ask about the future of his family. He asked Jibreel (AS), ‘What will happen to my Ummah?’ Concern for others is the sign that we have matured. Concern means action. Without action it is only words; useless, powerless, and worthless.
So, the next question is, ‘If you claim to be concerned about the Ummah, what are you doing about it?’ We had a self-test last week, the 25-mile march for Ceasefire in Palestine. It was an opportunity to see our faces in the mirror. You know if you participated or not. You know why and why not. However, let me remind you that the march was organized by Jewish Voices for Peace under the leadership of a college student, Molly Aronson. Ask why? In material terms what happens in Palestine makes no difference to her. And doing this resulted in paying a very heavy price. Yet she did it knowingly. So, on the Day of Judgment when she and we will be asked, ‘What did you do?’ she will have an answer. What will the answer be for those who didn’t participate? That is what growing up means. That is what true freedom and dignity means. To step out of our comfort zone and do something for someone when we are not personally affected by the hardship.
Our parenting, oppressive governments, our schooling system, all contribute to delaying maturity and prolonging childish thinking and behavior. To change our future, we must grow up. This means to simply ask one question, ‘What can I do?’ It means that every one of us must donate time, energy, thought, prayer, and money to things that help us all as a community and not expect some authority figure, government, philanthropic people, or institutions to do it for us. Empire and slavery ingrain the Child into us. Globally, that is the state of Muslims today. We must break our mental shackles and take charge of our destiny.
Allahﷻ told us that He blessed us so much that we can’t count his blessings.
وَءَاتَىٰكُم مِّن كُلِّ مَا سَأَلْتُمُوهُ وَإِن تَعُدُّوا۟ نِعْمَتَ ٱللَّهِ لَا تُحْصُوهَآ إِنَّ ٱلْإِنسَـٰنَ لَظَلُومٌ كَفَّارٌ
Ibrahim 14: 34 And He has granted you all that you asked Him for. If you tried to count Allah’s blessings, you would never be able to number them. Indeed, humankind is truly unfair, ˹totally˺ ungrateful.
Ask yourself, ‘If we reflect on our thoughts about ourselves, are they mostly negative or positive? Individually or collectively, do we consider ourselves blessed or deprived? Powerful or helpless? In control of our destiny or not? The truth is that we are the architects of our own destiny. That is an amazingly powerful realization because it means that we have the power to change our situation any time we choose to. But that will happen only if we act. Not just talk about acting. Allahﷻ created us and gave us intelligence and taught us through His Books and His Prophets and Messengers, that we are free to choose but that no choice is free. Every choice has a consequence. This is not even theology. This is observation, logic, and reason which we see every day of our lives. And so, if anyone thinks that a society that is based on the single-minded pursuit of profit at any cost can be free from the consequences of this philosophy, then surprise, surprise, we can only live surrounded by crime, misery, fear and pain. It is only when we live by a law that was made by the One who is unaffected by our actions and who has no personal stake in it, but made the law for our benefit, can we be assured that the results will be positive. That law is Al-Islam.
That is what the Sahabi Rabe’ea bin A’amir (R) said to the Persian general Rustam before the Battle of Qadasiyyah (Nov. 636 CE). Rustam asked him why the Arabs had come to challenge the Sassanian Empire. Ask what gave Rabe’ea bin A’amir (R) the confidence to reply the way he did?
لإخراج العباد من عبادة العباد إلى عبادة رب العباد. من جور الأديان إلى عدالة الإسلام. ومن ضيق الحياة الدنيا إلى سعة الدنيا والآخرة
(To extract the slaves from the worship of slaves to the worship of the Rabb of the slaves. To extract them from the confusion of different religions into the justice of Islam. To extract them from the constriction of the life of this world into the expanse of the life of this world and the Hereafter).
To justify inaction and blaming, we indulge in a psychological copout which I call, ‘Globalizing problems’. For example, Muslims complain that media is hostile to us, that we don’t have a robust Halaal Islamic financial system, we have no political power. But if you ask, ‘What can you do to change this?’ the answer is, ‘What can I do? I am only one person.’ We forget that everything begins with one person. Allahﷻ didn’t send armies of Anbiya or even teams. He sent one man for an entire nation. And in the case of the last of them, Muhammadﷺ, Allahﷻ sent one man for the whole world. The individual is the most powerful unit because that is the only one on which you have power. You on yourself. Me, on myself. If we focus on it and correct and empower it, we empower the whole Ummah.
On that topic, let me tell you about what the Ismailis (12 million) and the Dawoodi Bohra (1 million) communities do. They donate 10% of their monthly earnings to the community every month to fund education, healthcare, and entrepreneurship. That is why all beggars in our countries are either Shia or Sunni. No Ismailis or Bohris. In the US there are 3.5 million Muslims. If each Muslim donated $5/day to a central fund, price of a coffee, we would have $6,387.5 billion/year. Now ask, ‘What can we do with $6,387.5 billion/year?’ We have maybe 5000 Muslims in Hamden County. If each Muslim donated $5/day to a Common Fund, we would have $9,125,000 per year. No need to do any fundraising for anything. We could establish a worldclass Islamic school and set up a VC fund for startups, and support anyone who wants to enter politics. That is the choice which shows whether we are grown-up or still children with beards. Do you want to spend more time moaning about how bad the public school system is? Or do you want to create a world-class school?’ It costs just $ 5/day. So, ‘Put up or shut up.’
It is this sense of personal commitment to the collective that distinguished the Sahaba. We have heard the story of Rasoolullahﷺ’s raising funds for the Ghazwa of Tabuk. He asked people to donate. Uthman bin Affan, Abdur Rahman bin Awf, Omar ibn Al Khattab, Al Abbas, Talha, Sa’ad bin Ubadah, Muhammad bin Maslamah (RA) and others gave as much as they could. Abu Bakr (R) brought all that he owned. Rasoolullahﷺ asked him, ‘What have you left for your family?” He said, “Allahﷻ and His Messengerﷺ are enough for them.” Then there was a Sahabi whose action is mentioned but not his name. He was not one of the leaders. He was a daily wage-earning laborer. He came with a handful of dates and said, ‘Ya Rasoolullahﷺ I worked all day today and this is my earning. I have nothing else, but I would like to donate this to your fund.” Rasoolullahﷺ received the dates in both is hands and scattered them on top of all the material that was gathered there and said, “Allahﷻ accepted all your charity because of this.”
Imagine what that Sahabi must have felt at the huge honor that Rasoolullahﷺ gave him. This happened because the Sahabi didn’t say to himself, “Uthman, Al Abbas, Abdur Rahman Ibn Awf, Omar ibn Al Khattab, are wealthy people. They have given so much. What difference will my handful of dates make?” Instead, he would have said, “They did what they wanted to do. I must do what I see as my duty. What others do or don’t do, doesn’t affect my duty.” And when he did that, Allahﷻ honored him through the words of Rasoolullahﷺ in a way that he could never have imagined. That is what I mean by personal commitment. That is the meaning of being free. That is what we need today if we are serious about impacting our destiny. We need moral, ethical, principled Muslims, focused on the good of the nation and the world in positions of power. That takes tears before Allahﷻ in the night. And working together and money. It will happen if we grow up and decide to take charge of our destiny. The alternative is slavery. The choice is ours because it is our future that is at stake.