Muslims obtain their guidance from two primary sources; the Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW). Both sources assert that civic engagement is an obligation. In praising the last ummah, Allah (SWT) declares, “You are the best community (ummah) brought forth for (the good) of mankind” (3:110). It is clear that we have been chosen to be of benefit to humanity i.e. to serve the community at large; Muslims and non-Muslims alike. The Prophet (SAW) did inform, “The best of people are those who are most beneficial to people.”
When the Prophet’s life was in jeopardy after his uncle Abu Talib’s death, he fled to al-Ta’if hoping he could establish a center for dawah. To his dismay, he was rejected and driven out of the town. His only refuge was his home. Muhammad (SAW) sought the protection of Mut’am bin ‘Adi in order to return back home. Mut’am bin ‘Adi, a polytheist, agreed to protect the Prophet (SAW).
The Prophet (SAW) sought the good will of people who didn’t accept his faith. He set the standard for seeking support from non-Muslims when necessary.
The Pact of the Virtuous (hilf al-Fudul) is a great example of cooperating with non-Muslims on matters of justice. The Prophet (SAW), in his youth, was present in the house of Abdullah Ibn Jud’an where tribe leaders met and agreed basically on two main clauses. One, respect the principle of justice, and two, collectively intervene in conflicts to establish justice. Years later, the Prophet (SAW) in his admiration of the pact recalls, “I witnessed in the house of Jud’an the pact of al-Fudul and if I were to be invited today (after the establishment of Islam) I would respond.”
The Qur’an and the Sunnah makes it clear that civic engagement with non-Muslims upholding universal values that include freedom, equality and justice and cooperating with them on matters of goodness is a religious obligation. Allah (SWT) commands, “And cooperate with each other in (matters of) goodness and righteousness, and do not cooperate with one another in sin and hostility. And Fear Allah, indeed Allah is severe in punishment” (5:2).
And we too must respond to any form of alliance with non-Muslims as long as the objectives and the means to achieving the goals do not contravene the basic teachings of Islam.
With the ongoing Islamophobia, Muslims must rise to defend themselves and the faith they claim. Challenges are inevitable. However, they can be overcome if we have the desire to civically engage. The Prophet (SAW) sought the support of non-Muslims. We have no choice but to work with and build alliances with individuals and organizations who are sympathetic to our cause and are willing to stand by our side. We must have a clear agenda that addresses the challenges we face today.
The civic engagement must be fundamentally based on justice. This must be the foundation of the framework. Allah (SWT) commands, “O you who believe! Stand out firmly for justice as witnesses to Allah, even if it is against yourselves, your parents and close relatives …” (al-Nisa’, 4:135). By the same token Allah (SWT) ordains, “O you who believe! Stand up for Allah as witnesses to justice …” (5:8).
We have been granted an opportunity to stand up for justice/Allah as witnesses to Allah/justice. Being the source of justice, Allah (SWT), the Just (al-Adl), wants us to exercise our duty of ordaining good and forbidding evil. Should we fail to fight for and uphold justice, we will fail to be witnesses to Allah. Similarly, should we fail to stand up for Allah and the values/principles He (SWT) imparted and doing His will, we will fail to be witnesses to justice.
Although there is much good in our societies, we can’t ignore the injustice of systematic and institutionalized racism, Islamophobia, racial profiling, police brutality, not to speak of environmental issues, killing and maiming of civilians with drones, occupation and usurpation of land. We simply cannot continue to remain silent. We must get out of our comfort zones and engage in the struggle for justice.
The Prophet (SAW) instructs, “Whoever among you sees an evil, let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able, then with his tongue; and if he is not able, then with his heart, and that is the weakest of faith” (Muslim). The word hand in this context denotes authority. Any injustice taking place in America may be challenged in the courts. Fortunately for us, there are civil/human rights organizations such as CAIR, MLFA, ADC, AHRC, and ACLU among other organizations who challenge injustice and ensure that the rights of people are granted through the judicial system.
As things get better for the Muslim community in terms of action, there are three areas for improvement. They are: volunteerism, voting and simply being good Muslims.
Volunteerism: We must spare some time to serve and invest in the community. Become a volunteer. Government social services is but a small percentage of the social services rendered by non-profit organizations. Programs which include feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, blood drives, caring for the elderly, and free health clinics are but a few areas of much needed work. Without volunteers such endeavors would come to a standstill.
The Prophet (SAW) informs, “A person who strives to take care of the needs of the widow and the poor man is like one who struggles in the way of Allah (a mujahid), or like one who stands during the night to pray and fasts during the day.” We need to cultivate a culture of volunteerism. Our primary motivation for helping others should be for the love and sake of Allah, “We feed you only for the sake of Allah alone…” ( 76:9).
Voting: Another area of interest to us is exercising the right to vote. Scholars domestically and abroad have permitted the participation in the political electoral process. To be effective in this field, we must have a clear political agenda that serves the needs and rights of Muslims.
Muslim immigrants are among the most affluent and most educated anywhere outside Muslim countries. Yet, we have no say in the affairs of our local governments what to speak of the national government. There are only two Muslim US representatives in DC, Keith Ellison and Andre Carson. Unless we become involved in the electoral political process our conditions as Muslims are going to worsen.
With the rise of Islamophobia and the next presidential race, right wing republicans will be rallying their campaigns against Muslims and Islam to score political points just as the Dutch MP from the Netherlands Geert Wilder did and won. As a matter of fact, members of the Republican conference invited him to speak and of course to learn from him how he ran his campaign successfully.
Participating in elections may not yield immediate results. However, with a clear long term strategy and agenda, participating in elections may very well help Muslims overcome their anxiety and possibly defeat Islamophobia in the long run.
Participating in local politics is just as, if not more important than participating in national politics. Challenges such as zoning when building Islamic centers and schools may be eased up when Muslims are familiar and engaged with State and Local governments and politicians. Muslims must consider running for the school board, city council, and a host of other positions.
And finally, simply:
Be a Good Muslim: Being a good Muslim will certainly enhance our image that has been tarnished by Islamophobes, hatemongers and bigots. It is, however, sad and unfortunate that some Muslims are acting repugnantly and contradictory to the teachings of the Qur’an and Sunnah.
Imams involved in illicit relations making national news, and Muslim business owners committing fraud, among other illegal activities are helping Islamophobes and the mainstream media justify their criticisms against Muslims and the faith they claim. Such actions are not helping our cause.
One wonders, what kind of Islam do these people practice? It is only lip service. The Prophet (SAW) categorically said, “There can be no faith (iman) to one who cannot be trusted and no religion (deen) to one who does not fulfill his pledge.”
Muslim immigrants have pledged to uphold the law of the land and be good citizens. We must live our faith as ordained upon us. Civic engagement that stands up for justice while upholding piety and righteousness will surely please our Lord and help us make a positive impression upon people who admire honesty and integrity.
Editor’s note: Mustapha Elturk is the ameer of the Islamic Organization of North America. His views are his own.