Just how introspective are we as Muslims willing to be in honestly addressing our problems? So far, unbridled phobia towards critical self-analysis has stifled real discussion about many deep-seated Muslim ailments. Forty years ago, the Roman Catholic Church sidestepped any qualitative discussion about the presence of pedophiles in the catholic clergy. Though not the only cause of the decline in membership and influence of the catholic diocese over the last forty years, it is certainly a mitigating factor. The point is that in this new age of mega discovery, the disgraceful secret of the church could no longer endure obscurity. It came out and it came out big. Now the church is dealing with it and rhetorically, better of because of it.
Welcome to the modern information age. Today a few keystrokes will get you a name, phone number, address, credit history, criminal background, marital history, or just about anything you want. This information phenomenon has opened up an era of mega discovery, where people's assertions can be checked, verified, analyzed or rebutted in an instant. Years ago, a person could falsify a resume and claim a list of bogus degrees and no one would be the wiser. Now with a few taps on a computer, information can be checked and verified. DNA testing has afforded forensic criminologists the ability to link a person to a crime scene by a single strand of hair. Psychologists have developed the means to resuscitate persons episodic memory in order to detail previously buried atrocities. With a little digging, journalists can render your long lost secrets into succulently scandalous dinner entertainment in time for the six o'clock news.
This new information phenomenon has tasked many people, religious groups included with the daunting and often petrifying assignment of confronting their deepest hidden discretions. For Muslims, the new information age should not be seen so much as an opportunity to explore new age redress to social inadequacies, but as an impetus to retuning to the concept of muhaasabatul nafs (self accounting). The no-nonsense and illustrious companion of the prophet, Umar ibn al-Khattaab said: haasiboo unfusakum qabla un tuhaasaboo (call yourselves into account before you are called into account). Spousal and child abuse, racism, unwarranted Muslim on Muslim violence, inner city landscapes dotted with Muslim owned liquor stores, corruption, religious extremism, green card marriages, and honor killings are among the litany of issues that we have hesitated to grapple. These and similar issues have risen more than an eyebrow as they are surfacing with increased frequency and steadily becoming fodder for Muslim antagonists.
After the September 11th World Trade Center and Pentagon bombings of 2001, sincere Muslim apologists came forward to elucidate how Islam is a peaceful religion and that the meaning of jihad is "inner struggle". No doubt at the time, some spin on the tragedy of 9/11 was necessary in order to diffuse anti-Muslim sentiment. Yet in light of the atrocity of those bombings and the catalytic effect it had on the world, especially the Muslim world, we still have not adequately dealt with the issue of Muslim extremism and violence against the innocent or even Muslim on Muslim violence for that matter. Furthermore, some of us have taken an opposite extreme and totally disavow that Jihad also embodies the connotation of armed struggle to defend one's self and property and uphold the word of God, a principle found in every major religion. Any first year student of classical exegesis would uncover that, as many have, furthering our discredit.
The Muslim body is obliged to stand up for the truth even if it is against our selves. "Oh you who believe be upholders of the truth, and witnesses for God even if it be against your own selves" [Quran 4:135] The early message of Islam not only addressed idol worship, it spoke to personal and social injustices that although not perpetrated by the masses, were sanctioned by them. Furthermore, not only did that message address atrocities committed by outsiders against the Muslim peoples, it also dealt with the self-inflicted injustices that people committed against their own selves. Some of these injustices were of a strictly spiritual nature such as negligence of prayer and others were social injustices that also affected spiritual well being such as indifference to the orphan and to the poor. In either case prophetic teachings necessitate that such issues are not left un-addressed.
Certainly, there are wrongs and atrocities committed against Muslims whether it be those committed by Israel against the Palestinians or those committed by American troops against innocent civilians or supposed civil wrongs committed against Muslims such as the French government's ban of religious symbols in public. However, we should not let our victim status whether perceived or actual distract us from the reality that that the pathetic state of the Muslim world and many of it's people has lot to do with our own infractions. For example, Muslim on Muslim violence and intolerance, a malady that has produced untold casualties from northern Iraq to Tajikistan, still goes on largely un-addressed. When a non-Muslim kills a Muslim, the din of rage is uproarious however when we kill each other whether through suicide killings or pursuant to a political vendetta, or puritan religious agenda, it is business as usual. Another issue is violence and injustices committed against Muslim women by Muslim men. Nobody organizes any demonstrations against that. And what about the thousands of Muslim owned liquor stores in the United States? This certainly affects our civic status in the community notwithstanding the spiritual affect of allowing the widespread purveyance of intoxicants by members of our community. Yet we are curiously silent on the issue.
The prophet never failed to address errant attitudes or practices that he was aware of. There is a principle in usul al-fiqh (jurisprudence foundation) called iqraar of the Prophet , which holds that the prophet's silence on an issue was in fact acquiescence to its legitimacy. Silence on agreed upon religious aberrations is not permissible when one is able to address it because it insinuates legitimacy. Which is why the prophet said: "whomever of you sees that which is detestable, he should change it with his hands, and if he is unable then he should (change it) with his tongue and if he is unable then he should (change it) with his heart, and that is the weakest of faith". Thus, our continued silence regarding some of our more embarrassing un-Islamic practices, and injustices can be interpreted as our collective acceptance of these practices.
Everything that is hidden eventually comes out either in the dunya (this world) or the aakhirah (afterlife) or both. Personal indiscretions that are hidden need to remain secreted and a person has to repent for them as there is no confession in Islam as it is in Catholicism. Collective actions on the other hand, self-manifest and need no publicity. They become distinguishable traits of the group whether or not all individuals in the group are culpable. Consequentially, when people respond to actions from within their group with wholesale silence or acquiescence, the group itself is stigmatized, and becomes the object of wholesale condemnation as in the case of the people of Musa who resorted to worshipping the calf in his absence. Everyone did not worship the calf, however, there was no mass condemnation of the act, so as a group, they were all culpable, which is why God said to them; "Then you took the calf (as an idol) after him (Moosa) and you were transgressors". Likewise, when people as a group condemn an act, it limits culpability to the few who are aberrant from the norm. For example, the collective Muslim condemnation and rejection of homosexuality effectually separates most mainstream Muslims in many people's eyes from the few Muslims who promote it. Even though the organization Queer Jihad estimates that there are about 50 million gay and lesbian Muslims in the world (about 5% of the Muslim population).
On the other hand, Muslim on Muslim violence, whose participants are probably less than those who participate in homosexuality or lesbianism, carries more broad-brush stigmatization than homosexuality because as a group we do not condemn it or raise it as an issue. The same goes for suicide bombings and general Muslim intolerance and extremism. The number of suicide bombers in the Muslim world is exceedingly low when compared with the number of Muslims in the world. Most Muslims would not even consider blowing themselves up, for any cause. However, because Muslims are generally silent about it, and are growing to accept it as permissible practice, suicide bombings are slowly being regarded as part of our overall culture. As for general Muslim on Muslim violence in the Muslim world, even Muslims consider it a normal part of the Muslim modality as disunity amongst Muslims has become a given, not an anomaly.
In the past, professed lofty ideals of Islamic morality and justice have insulated Muslims from public charges of Muslim social dysfunctionality and corruption. People used to say; "I know you don't drink because you are a Muslim" or I know that you don't beat your wife because you are a Muslim", or "I know that you are just because you are a Muslim". We never even used to imagine that in a city like Karachi, or Cairo there would be heroin addicts. However, now that the police incident reports of Muslim spousal abuse have started to stack up, and now that Muslims are starting to show up at Narcotics Anonymous meetings in larger numbers, and now that international headlines glaringly report widespread municipal corruption in the Muslim world from the lowest to the highest levels, the notion of an Islamic high moral ground has been effectively defenestrated. Whatever moral capital the Muslim peoples possessed that would have elevated us as spiritual beacons leading the way to righteousness, has been wasted. In earlier times, we were considered holier than thou, now we are earning the distinction as unholy. It seems that the days of pontificating are over. Even the neutral inquisitor about our faith senses the growing dichotomy between Islam and Muslims.
Thus the task before Muslims now is to clean our own shambled house. Moral excellence is not defined by title it is defined by example. Practicing Muslims have an obligation to address the manifestations of immorality and social-religious disorder in the global as well as local Muslim community. And if we still consider ourselves as the inheritors of the true faith of God, we mustn't forget our obligation to provide religious and spiritual direction to the humanity. What can we say about racism when we ourselves practice it? What can we say about just treatment for women when we ourselves mistreat our women? What can we say about honesty when we practice dishonesty? Sure, many Muslims are honest, fair, righteous and moral. However, are we adequately addressing the lack if these traits in our communities?
The Islamic mandate towards recrimination is to direct it at the self first. Discussions abound about what other people are doing to the Muslims and admittedly there is a lot. However, curiously little is said about what we do, or are doing to ourselves. Historically, the Muslim contribution to civilization has been tremendous in the areas of science, medicine, education, scholarship, and sociology. In these times, the world could use some positive Muslim contribution to the betterment of the human condition. Our greatest asset is Islam in all of its manifestations. However we are so engrossed in performing the role of the perpetual victim and on a governmental level, the ever-willing corrupt lackey, we cannot even fathom for a moment that we have many of the answers right in our own scripture. On the world stage perhaps we are victims. Still a plausible argument can be made that our principle enemy just might be our selves. It was the prophet who said: "We seek refuge in God from the evil of our own selves and the outcome of our misdeeds". Now might be a good time for us to retreat into a temporary introspective hibernation while we set about fixing ourselves. It is ironic that while we rant (we are good at ranting) about how the French government banned the hijab, very little energy is expended in preserving the God given rights of Muslim women in the Muslim world. You can't criticize one without addressing the other. Parenthetically, this is not about hijab, nor an attempt to in anyway trivialize external deprivation of Muslim rights or liberties. It's about changing our hopeless attitudes of victimization and addressing deep-rooted issues of faith and spirituality that have left us aimlessly analyzing the symptoms and not the root causes of our condition.
Theologically, an individual is not always responsible for the actions of the collective, as in the verse: wa laa taziru waaziratun wizre ukhraa (the doer of a sin shall not carry the sin of another) [Quran 6:154]. However when the corruption and abandonment of religious principles becomes widespread, even the individual who exhibits righteousness becomes a casualty of punishment. When only a few stand up for the truth, the whole may be punished, including the few who stood up. as a group, we may suffer the effects of the sins of others: wataqoo fitnatan lan tuseebanna latheena thalamoo minkum khaassa (And be careful of the fitna (affliction and trial), that will affect not only the wrongdoers from amongst you only) [Quran 8:25], especially when we remain conspicuously silent.
As an essentially religious people, we cannot afford to continually shelve our internal problems without attempting to apply practical and viable solutions. Nor should we leave the task of addressing what's wrong with the Muslims to the John Ashcrofts, the Bernard Lewis's or the Irshad Manjis. Religiously grounded Muslim imams, scholars, activists, sociologists and intellectuals need to step up to the task in greater numbers. Muslims living in the west, the United States in particular have become an increasingly affluent and socially stable community. We still enjoy the relative freedoms that allow public introspection and dialogue. Now is the time to use our new found freedom, wealth, and relative security to address some of what's wrong with Muslims. I am not naive enough to assume that we can simply snap our fingers and things will change. However we can increase our adherence to Islamic principles such as remembering God (spirituality), fairness, social justice, steadfastness in worship, service to humanity, and other things that will enhance our standing as people in the sight of Allah subhanahu wa ta'ala. We should discard our trepidation about addressing problems in our communities because we fear we will look bad to the outside world. We already look bad to the outside world. Muslims who have emigrated to the west need to sever the umbilical yoke to the old country that prevents them from critical assessment. The principle of change in Islam is that God does not change the condition of a people until they change their own condition. That principle still applies.
Perhaps our overall condition as Muslims is a testament of our collective inner state. The state of the body often serves as a mirror to the status of the inner being as the prophet said: "Verily in the body is a piece of flesh, if that piece of flesh is whole the body is whole and when it is diseased, the body is diseased, and is not that piece of flesh the heart?" Islam inspires change through truth, it motions us to confront our realities and not ignore them, to turn inward first before outward. Indeed we are entering into a new stage in history where much of what used to be hidden, now is coming to light. Perhaps this is God's way of getting our attention. "Corruption has appeared on land and sea because of what people's hand s have wrought to give them a taste of some of what they have sown, to perhaps they may return (to God)" We need to begin our own healing process by adopting open attitudes about our own illnesses and aptly addressing them. Such a discussion can only be assiduously embarked upon in religious terms because religion is our anchor and serves the very basis for our ethos. This will be difficult and may require Solomon like wisdom and a total behavior modification. Furthermore, Muslims living in the west may be burdened with this task more than others. However now that the proverbial cat has been let out the bag, open and unobtrusive soul-searching and discussion may be an appropriate way for Muslims to take on this new information age. Otherwise we might as well return to the desert. Not just to admire the sand dunes, but to place our collective heads in the sand.
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