What distinguishes people who never experienced subjugation from those with a collective memory of empire and subjugation, is their willingness to speak up, fight for their rights and to pay for what they enjoy, while the others only complain but do nothing to change the situation. This is the ‘learned helplessness’ of people whose bodies are free, but minds remain enslaved. To own responsibility for our destiny, and work and pay for what is important is a sign of a free mind and emotional maturity. The solution to the copout of globalizing is to localize. If you can’t feed a hundred, feed one. Ask, ‘What can I do?’ And then, do it. Because when we meet Allahﷻ, we will not be asked, ‘What happened?’ We will be asked, ‘What did you do?’
The Arabs of the Hijaz in the 7th century were not subjugated to any empire. They had no king. Their millionaires used to meet in a hall called An-Nadwa to decide on emergent issues. They didn’t have a codified law or judicial system. They had no rulers and bowed to no man. That is why it was easy for them to accept responsibility for taking Islam to the ends of the earth.
Abu Sa’id al-Khudri (R) reported that Rasoolullahﷺ ordered us to act to stop injustice. Change it or speak out. The third ‘option’ is a reprimand.
عَنْ أَبِي سَعِيدٍ الْخُدْرِيّ قَالَ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ مَنْ رَأَى مِنْكُمْ مُنْكَرًا فَلْيُغَيِّرْهُ بِيَدِهِ فَإِنْ لَمْ يَسْتَطِعْ فَبِلِسَانِهِ فَإِنْ لَمْ يَسْتَطِعْ فَبِقَلْبِهِ وَذَلِكَ أَضْعَفُ الْإِيمَانِ
“Whoever among you sees evil, let him change it with his hand. If he cannot do so, then with his tongue. If he cannot do so, then with his heart, which is the weakest level of faith.”
This was the speech of a man free in body, mind, and spirit. A man who was subjugated to nobody but Allahﷻ. And he told us to take charge of our lives, stop blaming others, and work to make things better. Today our biggest challenge is to reboot our mindsets and learn to think about the community as one and work together to change our lives and destiny. Each of us must learn to pull his weight and not wait for someone else to bleed for us. Muslims are 1.1% of the population in this country. There is no way that any Muslim can ever get elected to the Congress or Senate unless others vote for them. The only way for that to happen is by winning hearts. Our isolationist way of life is suicide. But what do we do about winning hearts? If we want to be taken seriously, we must stand for elected office at the local, state, and national level. Ask how many Muslims are Mayors, Aldermen, State Senators, and on School Boards? Yet we complain that nobody cares about us. Are you surprised? We must encourage our youngsters to make career choices that are different from what they do today. We don’t need more Muslim doctors and engineers. We need more Muslim Senators and Reps. The two paths are different. We must support our youth by working with them to build credibility. And by setting up an endowment fund to support their choice of career. We must accept that only we can save ourselves.
But sadly, we hate anyone who tries to awaken us from our stupor. We will not invest what is necessary to change our situation and are satisfied with ‘doing at least something’. Sorry to disappoint you. ‘At least something’, is not from the Qur’an. It is not Sunnah. It is not what the Sahaba did. It is not only useless, but worse than useless because it gives a false impression of action and success. It takes the edge off the pain which is necessary to motivate us to do more than usual. It will never take us to the tipping point and so the scale will never tip for us. We must check what is necessary and do that. If you need to clear a 10-foot trench, you must leap 10.5 feet. If you leap 9.5 feet and say, ‘At least I did something,’ you will be speaking from the bottom of the pit. That is the truth, and you know it. Therefore ask, “If not now, then when? If not me, then who?”
There are three major changes that happened after the end of empire and the rise of nation states as we know them. One was the creation of the Middle Class. This was the result of two things: the demise of nobility and class hierarchy and the rise of egalitarianism and free market economies. Much can be said about the defects in all of these, as can be said about any human enterprise. Only the work of Allahﷻ is perfect. But defects and all, these changes gave political significance and opportunity to the common man. That is the single biggest change from the days of empire. And that is what must be leveraged. For the first time you didn’t have to be born into a royal or noble family to have a say in public affairs. You could be from any background but if you managed to get elected to office, you could make laws, and change the path of destiny for populations. Therefore ask, ‘What can I do to get there?’ It is a numbers game. You need critical mass to tip the scale. And so the sooner we start, the better.
Rasoolullahﷺ did three things when he came to Madina from Makkah. He created a nation based on faith and not lineage or tribe. He created a source of funds and a structure of leadership. For example, he said:
Narrated ‘Abdullah bin Umar (R): Rasoolullahﷺ said, “A Muslim is a brother of another Muslim, so he should not oppress him, nor should he hand him over to an oppressor. Whoever fulfilled the needs of his brother, Allah will fulfill his needs; whoever brought his (Muslim) brother out of discomfort, Allah will bring him out of the discomforts of the Day of Resurrection, and whoever screened a Muslim, Allah will screen him on the Day of Resurrection.” (Bukhari)
Narrated Muawiya bin Suwald (R): I heard Al-Bara’ bin ‘Azib saying, “Rasoolullahﷺ orders us to do seven things: (1) To pay a visit to the sick, (2) to follow funeral processions, (3) to say to a sneezer, “May Allah be merciful to you” (if he says, “Praise be to Allah!”), (4) to return greetings, (5) to help the oppressed, (6) to accept invitations, (7) to help others to fulfill their oaths. (Bukhari)
If you reflect on these and many other Ahadith like these, you will see how the emphasis is on being together and not falling into divisions. We must learn to live with differences and disagree without being disagreeable.
وَٱعْتَصِمُوا۟ بِحَبْلِ ٱللَّهِ جَمِيعًا وَلَا تَفَرَّقُوا۟ وَٱذْكُرُوا۟ نِعْمَتَ ٱللَّهِ عَلَيْكُمْ إِذْ كُنتُمْ أَعْدَآءً فَأَلَّفَ بَيْنَ قُلُوبِكُمْ فَأَصْبَحْتُم بِنِعْمَتِهِۦٓ إِخْوَٰنًا وَكُنتُمْ عَلَىٰ شَفَا حُفْرَةٍ مِّنَ ٱلنَّارِ فَأَنقَذَكُم مِّنْهَا كَذَٰلِكَ يُبَيِّنُ ٱللَّهُ لَكُمْ ءَايَـٰتِهِۦ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَهْتَدُونَ
A’al Imraan 3: 103 And hold firmly to the rope of Allah and do not be divided. Remember Allah’s favor upon you when you were enemies, then He united your hearts, so you—by His grace—became brothers. And you were at the brink of a fiery pit, and He saved you from it. This is how Allah makes His revelations clear to you, so that you may be ˹rightly˺ guided.
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).
Al-Nu’man ibn Bashir (R) reported: Rasoolullahﷺ said, “The example of the believers in their affection, mercy, and compassion for each other is that of a body. When any limb aches, the whole body reacts with sleeplessness and fever.” (Bukhari)
Anas ibn Malik (R) reported: Rasoolullahﷺ said, “Whoever prays our prayer, faces our direction of prayer, and eats our slaughtered animals, they are Muslims under the protection of Allah and His Messenger. Thus, do not betray Allah in the matter of His protection.” (Bukhari & Muslim)
Rasoolullahﷺ built an egalitarian society based on the brotherhood and equality of humanity and Islam, with differentiation only in terms of knowledge and piety.
The second thing he did was to create a revenue stream for the nation and that was initially Zakat and later a share in Ghaneema. A reliable ongoing source of funds is essential to plan for sustainable development. Sporadic charity is not good enough.
Finally, he created a structure of society based on pious leaders following the Book of Allahﷻ and the Sunnah of His Messengerﷺ. Allahﷻ revealed:
يَـٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوٓا۟ أَطِيعُوا۟ ٱللَّهَ وَأَطِيعُوا۟ ٱلرَّسُولَ وَأُو۟لِى ٱلْأَمْرِ مِنكُمْ فَإِن تَنَـٰزَعْتُمْ فِى شَىْءٍ فَرُدُّوهُ إِلَى ٱللَّهِ وَٱلرَّسُولِ إِن كُنتُمْ تُؤْمِنُونَ بِٱللَّهِ وَٱلْيَوْمِ ٱلْـَٔاخِرِ ذَٰلِكَ خَيْرٌ وَأَحْسَنُ تَأْوِيلًا
Nisa 4: 59 O believers! Obey Allah and obey the Messenger and those in authority among you. Should you disagree on anything, then refer it to Allah and His Messenger, if you ˹truly˺ believe in Allah and the Last Day. This is the best and fairest resolution.
In the light of all of what I have said, here’s what we need to do.
- Decide to take charge of our lives and understand and accept that it is a long-haul, generational project. We ask Allahﷻ for His help.
- Make Istighfaar & Tawba and seek Allahﷻ’s help in Tahajjud
- Learn to live and let live and agree to disagree but work together towards common goals. Leave what is between the person and Allahﷻ, to Allahﷻ.
- Establish a Think tank for Scenario Planning and Strategic action.
- Create a Common Fund by each Muslim contributing $5 per day.
- Create a leadership structure at local and national levels and focus on:
- a. Establish World-class schools with an Islamic ethos and culture
- b. Support youth to enter Law, Journalism, Politics, Judiciary, Executive and Academia: Law, Media Studies, and Political Science
- c. Entrepreneurship Development – Venture Capital Fund
- d. Strong presence in media of different kinds
I want to close with a poem called I Don’t Wish as my gift to you.
I don’t wish for peace – But for justice
Because without justice – Peace is only a recess between wars
I don’t wish to win land – But to win hearts
I don’t wish for sympathy – But for courage
I don’t wish for plenty – But for generosity
I don’t wish for revenge – But for forgiveness
I don’t wish for wealth – But for contentment
I don’t wish for ease – But for strength and steadfastness
I don’t wish for beauty – But for character
I don’t wish for luck – But for curiosity and imagination
I don’t wish for popularity – But for true friendship
I don’t wish for a long life – But for a legacy of honor
Because what matters is not a good beginning – But a good ending