Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Abandoning our community, at least mentally

My criticism for many Muslims and how they perceived Islam is not new. And moreover, it will not stop for as long as I see a chance to change something or someone.

I consider that my responsibility and my religious duty. There is no point in being part of a community if one does not regularly critically appraise the state of health and future trajectory of that community. And if things are not to your liking, do something about it.

This is not just an activist's stance. It is actually the creed of Muslim as succinctly verbalized in the Quran. God describes the nation or community ( Arabic, أُمَّةٍ) that he blesses with the Prophet Muhammad, and the Revelation of the Quran, as
'the best of communities: enjoining what is right and proscribing what is known to be wrong and believing in God' (3:110).
(كُنتُمْ خَيْرَ أُمَّةٍ أُخْرِجَتْ لِلنَّاسِ تَأْمُرُونَ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَتَنْهَوْنَ عَنِ الْمُنكَرِ وَتُؤْمِنُونَ بِاللّهِ)
Looking at the order in which this verse is structured yields a profound insight into the significance of the qualities listed: the activist stance came before describing the community as 'believing in God'. Prophet Muhammad pbuh has also stressed that numerous time. especially in one of the most recited quotations of the prophet:
"If you see a wrong-doing change it with your hand.
If you cannot, then with your tongue.
If you cannot, then wish in your heart that it would change, but that is the weakest exercise of faith."

Interestingly, most Muslims in Muslim majority countries as well as in local American Muslim communities, are totally passive when it comes to running their mosques. You can hardly talk to anyone in any mosque-going community that is remotely happy with the state of affairs in their mosque. Social private events for Muslims end up frequently being a rant about how much change is needed at mosques, and how ineffective community leadership is.

And regardless of whether those claims are legitimate of not, the most likely scenario is that the rant stops their. Most of these 'ranting' people attend Friday prayers because God told them to so so. One would imagine that obedience to God should also expand to include other commandments such as the one mentioned above endorsing activism and in verses 7:157, 9:71, 9:112 as well as in explicit commandment form in verse 3:103.

Why would not then they speak up in the mosques against all the flaws and faults they find with how the community is run. Why would not they send letters to those in charge, demand to speak in public gatherings and start their own websites, blogs and public campaigns against what they think is wrong?

The several but few incidents when such public criticism was made strongly enough, it resulted in positive change. The more outspoken the opposition to wrong policies is, the better the outcome - hence the praise from God to communities that adopts that as a common practice.

Yet again, many of us Muslims, would rather whine in private, fail to constructively criticize in public, and are content with just going to the Friday prayer.

I am not saying it is easy to face your community with criticism. And there is public and peer pressure to avoid doing that under the fake interest in community unity, and for fear of 'causing Fitna' - that is Arabic for major communal confusion that can lead to societal break down and war - a threat that shuts people up very quickly.

Most of them do not realize that democracy, self criticism, and critical appraisal of the performance of leadership is NOT fitna. It is what God wants. And the more they ignore the need to do that, the farther they are from being good Muslims.

The prophet's companions did not hold their tongues when he did something they thought was not in the practical interest of the community. After the Prophet's death, they continued to live by the same principles that God and his Prophet taught them. And the stories fill our memory with public objection and criticism by early Muslims against things that the Prophet did in his capacity as a civil and military leader. Similar stories also exist during the rein of the early civil successors to the Prophet.

Objections and protests were not counted as Fitna those day. Why, in God's name, do we count it as Fitna today in tiny places like our cities or our mosques?

In fact, that passive existence in a community is abandonment of the community in an intellectual way, especially at times when we know that things are not working very well. It is more damaging to the community than physical and financial abandonment which put more pressure on the faulty community to wake up and smarten up.

Silence when the ship is sinking is as bad as drilling the hole in the ship yourself.



  1. I wholeheartedly agree Khaled,but this is not something that is new by any means. This is the once thing that we are at least consistent with...complain but do absolutely nothing. My suggestion...take a clipboard with sheets of petition paper. The minute you hear a complaint and agreement and discussion agreeing with that complaint, stand up and say "since everyone agrees I will note the complaint on this paper and ask for everyone to sign." Then make several copies, keep the original for yourself and turn the rest in to the Shura and whoever else. This would be my suggestion and what I would do if I were at such gatherings.

  2. Khaled, you work too hard. What I mean is that you do not abandon the community mentally at all. It is quite relaxing to do so. Try it out for once!

  3. What You say is true, to the point that those who feel the same way as you do and speak up, become so noticable -like a sore thumb- and they will be labelled as "unhappy all the time", frequent complainers" etc.
    Antoher point though, is equally important. Those of us who feel that it is their obligation, or religious duty dictates that they should speak up, should also have some ideas about possible resolutions, and remedies. They should also be ready to intiate, participate, -or just praise the efforts- to solve problems, or improve the situation, whatever it is.

  4. I am happy for you Anonymous. I may need to take some classes on how to do that as will (just to take a break every now and then), but I doubt it will work for me.
    Unfortunately -for me- I see it as part of my religious responsibility, so I cannot let go of it without feeling that I am doing something that is against my belief. That obviously does not have to be how anyone else feels about it, but it is how I feel.

  5. Abandoning the community mentally temporarily can help in understanding its problems as it allows for slightly greater objectivity. These are the main problems based on my limited experience:

    1. Ego-driven mindset of "leaders" and those who desire to be "important leaders." (As compared to goals-driven or objectives-driven mindset).
    2. Lack of management skill and knowledge of our "leaders" and those who desire to be "important leaders." Management skills are based on or identical to those found in effectively failed muslim states. Most of our "leaders" are doctors or others who at the most manage 2 people at work. Almost none have managed even just 10 or more people in their lives let alone 1000 or more.
    3. Lack of leadership skills and knowledge.
    4. Lack of anger-management skills.

    Notice that I have not mentioned deficiency of iman [Arabic for religious Faith]. While people have read the quran, they have never ever thought about the above or read any of the numerous business best-sellers addressing the above. They have never ever gone to any seminars or workshops related to management or leadership. Why is it the US and a few other nations lead the world (not in test scores or academics necessarily but diplomatically and in corporate regards)? I can't help but think it has something to do with the above.

  6. I do disagree with the way anonymous's view of resolving issues within the community and the mosque. There are multiple problems that we all see @ the mosque but our passivity is to blame. We do not have time, or the inclination to actually stand up and make a difference and I include myself as part of that problem. Instead of hiding behind an elitist attitude, if we only took responsibilty for this community as our identity, would we not be a more evolved community?

  7. There is an etiquette when you disagree or have a different opinion. You present your ideas or views to responsible people in constructive way. We all also know from our life and work place that there are always those who are insensitive, harsh, negative and create problem. Rather than being part of the solution, they become problem.

    Therefore the best way to express a better way, show a righteous path or present a better solution is the way our Prophet (SAW) did in his life. If we read, know and understand Mohammed (Peace be upon him) life and dealings, it will make us a better person.

    In Summary, get involved (not abandonment), be polite (not harsh), be reasonable (not angry), be helpful (not difficult), be tactful (not disruptive), just like our prophet (SAW) did. After all, we are all one family and we are all brothers and sisters.