Saturday, November 1, 2008

Speaking up against Injustice

Khutba 5 Speaking up against Injustice.

I came to the US in 1980. I came not to take advantage of this great country but because my work brought me here. In the years that I have been here, I have benefited from the opportunities and facilities provided by this country and I now call it my own. Although I have paid my taxes and therefore made an economic contribution but I have contributed my time more towards building my own Muslim community than anything else. With the years the US has declined economically and politically specially of late and I now feel that it is becoming more important for me to contribute my time to the larger community as well.

I feel that the US has in many ways lost its way and that the skills and values that I have can help it to restore some of the glory of its past. Wherever I have gone, people have been welcoming and encouraging. I believe that this is a unique opportunity for all of us to become part of and contribute to a larger community.

The upcoming elections on Tuesday are the most important elections in the History of this country since the great depression. This is as good a starting point as any to have an impact by making our wishes known through the power of the vote but November 4 is not and should not be when we take a decision to make our presence felt. We make our presence felt in two ways, firstly by conducting ourselves as good Muslims. Being kind, honest and helpful and the other is to speak up against injustice, intolerance and exploitation.

When we do this we will get resistance, specially, if injustice is being committed by powerful and well connected people. We will face opposition and will have to chose by lining up with people who believe the same as we do. Whether we live in Pakistan, Egypt, Turkey or Europe, we will face exploiters and injustices. The difference may be that in this country it has become a tradition to fight oppression and injustice and to root it out of Society. In this country, you will stand shoulder to shoulder with others who believe in fighting injustice. In this country it is easier for us to do our Islamic duty then from where ever we came from.

If all we do is to enjoy the economic benefits from the opportunities that are here, send our children to good schools and pay our taxes then we will not have begun to contribute to the continued betterment of this society. A fair and just society was not built here because all people did was to work hard. It was also built by people who spoke up against unfairness. It could not have been built, had not the country gone to war against itself in order to make sure that there would be no slavery and no racial discrimination.

As Muslims we must abide by the laws of the land. Patriotism is not prohibited in Islam. In fact, you are encouraged to dedicate your life to serve your nation and its citizens whether or not the country you live in is a Muslim country. But, patriotism too has its limits. Blind patriotism, for example, is not allowed in Islam. Blind patriotism here means that you keep supporting your country at all costs with no consideration whatsoever of right or wrong. A true Muslim citizen loves his country and fellow citizens and residents, and at the same time, whenever he sees that any injustice is being committed, he raises the voice. Not speaking against injustice is not the part of true patriotism according to dictates of Islam.
“Whoever among you sees an evil action, let him change it with his hand [bytaking action]; if he cannot, then with his tongue [by speaking out]; and if hecannot, then with his heart [by hating it and feeling that it is wrong] – andthat is the weakest of faith” (Narrated by Muslim, 49)
Activism is defined as a doctrine or practice that emphasizes direct vigorous action. There should be little doubt in any one's mind that has studied the Quran or the biography (Seera) of the Prophet Muhammad that Islam is a religion that requires activism from its followers. The Quran repeatedly exhorts its readers to be proactive in establishing good and preventing evil (Amr bil maruf wa nahi anal munkar)

Religious Activism. Muslim communities in the US have been vigorous in religious activism. Building Mosques (Masaajids), religious schools, proselytizing (Dawa), organizing rituals and events around the two major festivals are some examples. There has been a fair amount of inter-faith activity as well.

Social Activism.

Social activism is seen in the Muslim community but to lesser extent than religious activism. Muslim community's social activism is concentrated on helping its own with only rare examples of efforts that are designed to help the marginalized non-Muslim in the society. There are two recent efforts of starting food pantries to help the poor. ISNA is teaming up with the temperance society to tackle the issue of alcohol abuse. When compared to religious activism there is a deficit of social activism.

Political activism. Political activism has also been attempted three different areas. Muslims have stood for election as candidates. With rare exception these have been failures. For most part the Muslim candidates appear to have been driven by personal ego and the established political parties have given them seats where no one else is interested to run. The other strategy used is to support a candidate who may have made an overture to the Muslim community by mouthing a Muslim phrase like insha-Allah or making a vague promise on an issue of particular interest to the Muslim community. This strategy hasn't been very successful because politicians calculate a disadvantage to them in identifying with Muslims. Politicians act out of self interest and unless they feel they have a strong constituency to as in the Ann Arbor district of Michigan, the promises do not necessarily translate into action. Muslim communities support to candidates has to be more realistic and selective and should come from the strength of an organized voter base.

Muslims can also influence candidates by joining forces with NGOs on issues of common interest like supporting ACLU in their fight to preserve civil rights. This alternative approach would be the natural corollary of intellectual activism.

Intellectual activism. What is most lacking in the Muslim community is intellectual activism. A thoughtful Friday sermon and I quote is as common as a 'neo-con' critical of the Patriot act. Thoughtful news and views journals in print or on the web struggle to survive. Sales of books other than religious texts like the Quran, Hadith and Fiqh are abysmally low.

The burden and rewards of being an activist. An inevitable price of being an activist is frustration and disappointment. Activists should remember this saying (Hadith) of the Prophet r where he advised: "If the end of the world approaches and one of you has a seedling (or plant) in his hand and if he can plant it before the end comes, let him do it." (Musnad Ahmad, Hadith no. 12512)

Nov 4, is therefore an occasion, not just to cast your vote but to have participated enough in Society to be intimately familiar with the issues that interest you. Today Economic Injustice is going to be an even bigger issue than have been the injustices against Muslims. The Muslims in this country are in a fortunate position to be amongst the more stable, economically and therefore in a position to have a bigger say in the affairs of this society.

I am urging you not only to vote but to become an activist. In order to become an activist, you do not have to reinvent the wheel, there are many organizations around which you can join or support. In fact there are a lot of organizations around peopled by non Muslims that are fighting for Muslim causes. It is true that right now the same objections raised by non Muslims will be more accepted than if they were to be raised by Muslims. There is too much disinformation about Muslims and certain segments of the society are inclined and even urged to believe them. Criticizing Obama by calling him a Muslim is just one example.

It is true that for those reasons Muslims are inclined to keep a low profile but the time has come when the line of low profile has to be redefined. I believe that America needs Islamic values and Islamic ethics and Muslim people more than at any time before. We will be doing Islam ourselves and our country a disservice by not becoming part of the mainstream of America. I know we all believe that but are uncertain as to how to proceed. It is not until we make it a mission that that uncertainty will be overcome. The time I believe is now.

Javeed Akhter executive director of a Muslim think tank the International Strategy and Policy Institute (ISPI) based in Oak Brook, IL. He is the author of several articles published previously in TAM as well as the well-regarded book on the Seera of the Prophet e "The Seven Phases of Prophet Muhammad's Life". His article debunking the myth that the Quran promotes violence is published in high school reference books both in the US and UK.
Paper written by him in 2004.

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