It’s a weird, if not at times paralyzing, situation to be in – when you find yourself attempting to be cognizant and vocal about the prejudices and dehumanization Muslims face – as a minority in the US and as an oppressed group in world politics – and yet believing in the restorative possibilities of our Fitrah – an Islamic belief – that validates, through belief in the oneness of God, the possibility reforming ourselves and others? – be it through forgiveness, or finding common ground, or maintaining each other’s rights, etc.
The Prophet’s (saws) life bears witness to this possibility. Imam Ali’s life bears witness to this. You must have goals, you must protect your convictions and the divine injunctions, but it is not formulaic or black and white. Extremism happens when you engage with the world in such a shallow way – at the heart of it being ego, not God.
This is a more pressing concern especially in a post-Trump era (not that it started with Trump – it didn’t) where anti-Islamic sentiments have reached a new low – in the court of public opinion as well as high-level administrative politics. On the one hand, the brutal blows Muslims must suffer around the world is overlooked in silence by the media and on the other hand, the political currents of our day (white supremacy, etc) are normalizing, if not legitimizing, this ongoing hostility.
Violence against Muslims are overlooked and accepted as something that’s deemed to be somehow inherent to Islam and the native populations in that region (Arab, Persian, African) etc., or because it has gone on for so long now that it’s just news, or because it is remote and irrelevant to our day to day affairs and identity.
Question is: How can I, as a participant in Islam, in America, remain cognizant and vocal about the injustices I see, and not falter to the kinds of frustration and despair that many of those who are concerned in the community fall into – where they end up only living Islam as an identity-tag and not a transformational engagement with themselves and the world around them? Why do we falter?
Part of it is, I feel, a lack of systematic religious education – communally. We simply don’t have strong intellectual tools or teachers (and less so money to fund it) to translate authentic Islamic teachings. We pick and choose what we want to read, to subscribe to, but we are not put in intellectual spaces that push us to examine these teachings and ourselves in light of them – institutionally or otherwise.
Secondly, we need not only an analytical study of Islam but one that values akhlaq, deeply. By akhlaq I mean individual commitment, conscientiousness, and initiative. It would be highly interesting for me personally to see how this is carried out in the hawzah in Qom, for instance what the mualimeen of akhlaq may ask of their students to do. Not that Qom is the only place where one can get this training, but it could be one place to explore.
(A side note: I find a good amount of discipline in my so-called secular academic training. At the end of it it’s about you seizing opportunities and keeping a heart alive and communicating with God (and the Qur’an) about your needs. These are a Muslims primary sources. but it’s also necessary to learn from and engage with your Muslim community – your roots, your home, where you learned to speak).
Political awareness is necessary. But it’s tough. It is often disheartening. But there’s rejuvenation in reminding ourselves of the humanity of others and in effect our own. The test is not to become a victim of time but to make time.
May we tend our souls with faith. with that positive yearning through which He breathes into us new life… and keeps this insane world, somehow, going.