The Poverty of the Intellect
One of the Suras of the Quran reminds believers of a known reality: “Grievously odious is it in the sight of Allah that you say that which you do not.” (61:3) And in our masajid and Islamic centers, most of our speakers and religious scholars remind us “You are the best of peoples, evolved for mankind, enjoining what is right, forbidding what is wrong, and believing in Allah…” (3:110) Or: “Let there arise out of you a group of people inviting to all that is good, enjoining what is right, and forbidding what is wrong: They are the ones to attain felicity.” (3:104)
Yet when they are invited to get involved in the affairs of the country or the community they live in, some of them say, “we are either concerned about the life in heaven or underneath the ground.” Or they explain, “We do not want to get involved in worldly affairs.” Or, “how can we get involved in these issues when we are under attack.”
But: Enjoining good would obviously mean; getting involved in issues that are grappling the society; issues such as, prostitution, child pornography, unemployment, underemployment, spousal abuse, drugs abuse, sexual perversion, child abuse, violence, valueless education, school dropouts, and broken families, etc., even though they may not be the issues, the community might be facing.
In the earlier days of Islam, the companions of the Prophet were involved in every sphere of their society’s life. Freeing of slaves was one of their passions. Other issues that drew their interest and resources included: protecting the rights of unborn babies, taking a stand against innocent victims of exploitation and oppression, gender inequality, protecting peaceful people from violence and so on so forth.
They were least concerned about what was being said about the Prophet of Allah or themselves. They did not create a task force to deal with Islamophobes of their time, even though there were many. They did not organize protests against the opponents who were abusive towards Islam and the Prophet.
The negative feelings, promoted by the power elite did not prevent them from getting involved in the society and their involvement in efforts to find solutions to people’s problem offered the best introduction of Islam.
It was a manifestation of the Quranic message: “To each is a goal to which Allah turns him; then strive together (as in a race) Towards all that is good. Wheresoever ye are, Allah will bring you Together. For Allah Hath power over all things (2:148)
He sends down water from the skies, and the channels flow, each according to its measure: But the torrent bears away to foam that mounts up to the surface. Even so, from that (ore) which they heat in the fire, to make ornaments or utensils therewith, there is a scum likewise. Thus doth Allah (by parables) shows forth Truth and Vanity. For the scum disappears like froth cast out; while that which is for the good of mankind remains on the earth. Thus doth Allah set forth parables? (13:17)
In the United States much of our Islamic work revolves around Islamophobes. A content analysis of the press releases of the last 10 years on behalf of the Islamic Society of North America, (ISNA), Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), Council of Islamic-American Relations (CAIR), or Muslim Public Affairs Council, (MPAC) reveal that an overwhelming majority of them focused on concerns raised by Islamophobes or issues pertaining to the foreign policy of the US administration or issues related with hijab or beard or discrimination in places of work or vandalism against Islamic centers. Only a handful of them focused on issues faced by society at large. Only a few of them identified with people at the grassroots levels with their struggles in everyday life.
Obviously, the society at large knows us through these statements that we put where we appear to be complaining or criticizing or condemning most of the time. We are not seen as people trying to identify with issues and problems of society.
At an individual level, probably, many of our community members are involved in social work at the grassroots level. But at organizational levels, that involvement is very limited. Yet, in almost every sermon we are reminded of our role in bringing about positive changes in society. How can we do that when we are not there?
How can we explain this dichotomy? We have become a reactionary community and many times our actions have contradicted our own claims about religion. We need to examine our role and resources in this country and see how best we can use them to ensure that our community becomes a positive force in bringing about constructive changes to enhance the dignity of each and every human being. This will happen when we get involved in the real issues of our society throwing away the shell of isolation and apathy that we often justify in the name of our religion.