by Shaykh Dr. Mateen Khan (Trenton, New Jersey)
We used to be activists.
The Prophet ﷺ was an activist. He changed a system.A system that in jahiliyyah saw the weak – including women, foreigners, those without rights – oppressed. It saw the leaders do whatever they wanted with impunity. There was no one to stop them from taking another’s wealth, property, and family. The Prophet ﷺ strived against injustice. He enjoined the good and forbade the evil (al-amr bi al-ma`ruf wa an-nahy `an al-munkar). No wonder, those in power hated him and those who were weak loved him. Ask yourself, “Do the weak love us today like they loved him ﷺ yesterday?” Do the weak even know us as they knew him ﷺ?
The four successors to our Prophet ﷺ were also activists. The reign of Sayyiduna `Umar (May Allah be pleased with him) saw him preoccupied with the condition of people. Did the people have food to eat and resources to live? If not, Sayyiduna `Umar went out himself to make a difference. He encouraged his governors to adopt piety and concern for people. He kept them in check. If he noted they were too comfortable in their power, he called them back home. Where is our concern for people? Are we checking our officials? Do we call them back (unelect them) and speak up against them when they become too comfortable in power? Or is this mere dinner-party talk?
The salaf al-saliheen too were activists after the four successors. Sufyan al-Thawri once came across the khalifah of the time during Hajj. He said to Sufyan, “O Sufyan, how can I help you?” “Fear Allah, for you have filled the earth with injustice,” Sufyan boomed. “You have reached your position on the backs of those who fought and died before you. Now, their descendants die of hunger. So fear Allah, and give them their rights,” he continued. “Sayyiduna `Umar performed Hajj, and he spent a little over ten dirhams. I see so much wealth here with you that even a mountain could not hold it!” came the final deafening statement. The khalifah lowered his head in acknowledgement—even rulers at that time had humility. Do our officials hear us as they heard our predecessors? We have become a muted voice. We left the iman of actions and words and adopted the weakest kind.
The great Shafi`i scholar, Imam Nawawi, wrote:
The act of encouraging good and forbidding wrong has mostly been abandoned for a long time. Only small token actions are left from it…When vile people become many, then both righteous and irreligious people will suffer. If they are not taken away at the hands of the oppressor, then perhaps Allah will include them in His Punishment instead
فَلْيَحْذَرِ الَّذِينَ يُخَالِفُونَ عَنْ أَمْرِهِ أَن تُصِيبَهُمْ فِتْنَةٌ أَوْ يُصِيبَهُمْ عَذَابٌ أَلِيمٌ
“So let those beware who dissent from the Prophet’s order of a fitnah striking them or a painful punishment.”
We can be activists. There are too few of us that have taken on this responsibility and followed in the footsteps of those before us. Here are a couple steps to get started:
- Pick a cause. Whether it’s fighting against gun violence or for social equality, pick a cause that excites you and ignites your passion. It’s the collective passion of motivated individuals that leads to success.
- Find an organization. There are numerous organizations, both Muslim and non-Muslim, that act in accordance with Islamic values. Working alongside non-Muslims, leading them or fighting on behalf of them will do far more to change the negative perceptions of Islam than anything else. Ask others who are active in your field of interest. Research organizations online, and then, take it offline. Often times, online activities give us a good feeling and then, don’t translate to any real change.
We need to all get involved in community activism as an Islamic obligation so we aren’t pointing fingers at one another when we are asked about it by Allah. Let the people of every class and background know Muslims stand for the weak, for the oppressed, and for the good. We ask Allah for tawfiq and one another for du`ah.