|Someone once asked the Prophet,
"Inform me about something that will cause me to go to heaven?
The Prophet replied:
"Be a muhsin/ doer of good."
The man asked,
"O Prophet, how will I know that I am a good person?"
The Prophet replied,
"Ask your neighbor. If your neighbor says you are good, then indeed you must be good."
What do Our Neighbors Think of Us?
Opinion of those around us are very significant indeed. We operate in communities sometimes for years taking our neighbors for granted; often never realizing that the 'people next door' can become our greatest ally, or our most vocal opposition. They have concerns about what we do and how we do it and how it impacts their health and safety. When ignored or kept uninformed, our neighbors can force seemingly minor issues into major problems. On the other hand, neighbors can become our greatest supporters, almost an extension of the family.
Two polls released recently indicate almost half of Americans have a negative perception of Islam, and one in four of those surveyed have extreme anti-Muslim views. An independent survey by the Council on American-Islamic Relations shows 23 to 27 percent of all Americans believe Muslims value life less than other people and that Islam teaches violence and hatred. The survey also showed only 6 percent of Americans have a positive first impression of Islam and Muslims.
A similar poll released by the Washington Post and ABC News found that one in four Americans "admitted to harboring prejudice toward Muslims," and 46 percent had a negative view of Islam.
Forcing a Clash between the Ummah and the larger Human Family? Harvard Professor Samuel Huntington proposed the theory of an imminent 'Clash of Civilizations' in 1993. He demarcated the world into 'civilizational groups' by a simplistic and unrealistic defining of peoples and ideologies as monolithic He suggested that the 'Western World' will eventually have to contend with a 'Sino-Islamic alliance' as conflicting actors on the world stage. The placement of a clash in such deep historical and insurmountable opposition as the root of cultures, implies that there is virtually no possibility of a common ground, specifically between the "Islamic East" and the "Modern West". With two major wars continuing; and with one of the aims being to "westernize the Middle Eastern nations", what happens in the near future will determine whether this clash will be made into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
In America, there exist two schools of thought on the relation between the Islamic world and the US. One of them is in search of a common ground with Muslims; the other is drawing the battle lines. The two schools of thought are in conflict within the American religious culture at this moment in time. The victory of either one will have a far-reaching impact on our world Unfortunately for both America and the Muslim nations, the voice of American peacemakers is not heard enough in their own country, let alone in the Islamic world. That is why most Muslims know a lot about fundamentalist warmongers, because their voices are very loud and their insults against Islam are widely publicized; while Americans know a lot about the extremists among Muslims because they are daily on the headlines; neither represent the majority of either. Variety is meant to reflect diversity and beauty, not conformity, neither clash nor discrimination. "And among His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth and the variations in your languages and colors; surely in these there are signs for those who have knowledge." [Quran 30:22]
The Notion of the "clash" is perpetuated and worsened by ...
External elements ..
Negative media images of Islam & Muslims. The belief is that Muslims and Islam are violent. Muslims are so often portrayed as being militant fanatics, the enemies of Jews and Christians that people in the West are often very surprised to discover that Islam in fact claims to be a continuation and reform of the Judaic and Christian faiths. Islam is not the enemy and Muslims are not responsible for most atrocities perpetrated through history. Neither were we involved in the Holocaust of millions of innocent Jews, nor in the killings in Vietnam, nor in the American slave trade, nor in the dropping of atomic bombs anywhere. In fact, we are victims of state-organized terror in many parts of the world. The fact that more than 60% of the present world refugees are Muslims verifies that.
Suspicion of Muslims and stereotyping. The recent hysteria surrounding the approval of a Dubai firm to manage parts of several American ports demonstrates how fear of Islam, or "Islamaphobia," can overpower rational discourse and harm our nation's true interests. What would normally have been a routine business deal with a stable ally turned into a political fiasco that sent a "no Arabs , no Muslims need apply" message to our partners in the Middle East and beyond.
Influential (negative) evangelists like Frank Graham and Pat Robertson who maintain their sustained barrage against Islam and the Prophet Muhammad. There seems to be an open alliance between Frank Graham ("Islam is evil and wicked religion") and Pat Robertson who have publicly (on national media) insulted Islam and Prophet. This increases Islamophobia among the masses who are already so uninformed and misinformed about Islam.
In America, there exist two schools of thought on the relation between the Islamic world and the US. One of them is in search of a common ground with Muslims; the other is "drawing the battle lines". The two schools of thought are in conflict within the American religious culture at this moment in time. The victory of either one will have a far-reaching impact on our world. Unfortunately for both America and the Muslim nations, the voice of American peacemakers is not heard enough in their own country, let alone in the Islamic world. That is why most Muslims know a lot about fundamentalist warmongers, because their voices are very loud and their insults against Islam are widely publicized; while Americans know a lot about the extremists among Muslims because they are daily on the headlines; neither represent the majority of either.
Non-Muslim unawareness of the positive history of Islam (those polls also showed that the vast majority of people polled admit to having little or no information about Islam.); and ignorance among Muslims about their own history and the teachings of the Prophet .
Some Muslims misrepresenting Islam and creating a barrier between Muslim and non-Muslim. Muslims are living increasingly as minorities, and misrepresentation adds to the confusion where ignorance prevails. According to The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World, "about one third of the estimated 1.2 billion Muslims in the world today are living as religious and political minorities in non-Muslim societies". This statistics is a good illustration of the interdependence of different faiths and cultures in the contemporary world. It also shows the necessity to understand the concept of relationships between Muslims and non-Muslims.
Some assert that Islam has always been at "war" with non-Muslims. In Islam Peace is the standard, Islam itself implies 'peace'. Peace is the principle, and each person of faith has the moral obligation to maintain peace, without compromising on justice and truth. Islam invites [Quran 5:15] to the subul as-salaam (pathway of peace); peace of mind, peace of conscience, peace in the family and society, peace with one's Creator and His creation. The very fact that Islam considers Christians and Jews endearingly as "People of the Book" clearly indicates the ecumenical attitude of Islam. The 'Golden Age' of the Jews was under Muslim rule in Spain.
Some Muslims are themselves ignorant of their history and the positive relationship between Islam and non-Muslims from the very outset. This notion of exclusivity by some Muslims who look down on people of other faith as "the kuffaar" and in the process losing their valued sense of humanity; needs a sincere reflection in light of the Quran, teachings of the Prophet and our history. This approach is one of the misinterpretations of Islam that some Muslims harbor that could expedite an unnecessary "clash".
Following are some examples of non-Muslims who supported Muslims and the Prophet during trying times.
- Waraqah bin Naufal : (the testifying Christian priest) ... who verified the Prophet's mission when Khadijah approached him regarding the Prophet's first revelation and he bore testimony that this was the same experience that Moses had with Gabriel.
- Negus : (the just king) ... when Muslims were severely persecuted in Makkah, the Prophet instructed some of his companions under the leadership of Ja'far bin Abu-Talib to find refuge in north-east Africa under the protection of a just Christian king Negus; who provided Muslims safety and security despite efforts of the Quraish to sabotage their efforts.
- Abu Talib: (the compassionate uncle) ... After Prophet Muhammad began preaching the message of Islam in Makkah, increasingly more members of the ruling Quraish tribe came to feel threatened by his message. In attempts to quiet him, they would lean on Abu Talib to silence his nephew or control him. Despite these pressures, Abu Talib did nothing but support Muhammad and defended him from the other heads of the Quraish. (Though some believe that Abu Talib was secretly Muslim, the fact remains that he defended the Prophet at great risk to his high political position in Makkan society.) Abu Talib died at around the same time as Prophet Muhammad's beloved wife Khadijah, leading to an immensely sad time for him. This year was known as the 'year of sorrow' in the life of the Prophet. After their death the Prophet Muhammad had to emigrate to Yathrib / Medinah.
- Al-Mut'im Ibn 'Adiy: (the valiant protector) ... When the Prophet's message was suppressed in Makkah he went to Tai'if to preach. He returned from Ta'if; where he was abused, insulted and stoned till he bled profusely; and was expecting the Makkans to attack him when he came back. Al-Mut'im Ibn 'Adiy told his sons and relatives: "prepare yourselves fully armed, and stand around the Ka'bah, I offered protection to Muhammad, and I don't want anybody to bother him". And protect the Prophet they did.
- The heroic sanction-busters ... When Muslims were boycotted people like Hisham bin Amr al-Aamiri, Hakim bin Hizam, and Abul Bukhtari, were not Muslims but they did not want to see any child perish from hunger or thirst, and they risked their own lives time and again in carrying food and supplies to the Muslims who were restricted to Shi'b Abu Talib. They paid the bill for such relief operations for three years.
- 'Abdullah Ibn 'Urayqat: (the honorable guide) ... When the Prophet decided to migrate accompanied by Abu Bakr, they hired an expert guide named 'Abdullah Ibn 'Urayqat to show them secret routes so that the Quraish may not track hem down as they intended to kill the Prophet when he left Makkah for Yathrib/Madinah. Despite a big bounty being placed on the life of the Prophet, 'Abdullah was principled enough not to be tempted, and in fact turned out to be brave enough to guide them in hostile territory at a crucial time.
- Mukhayriq: (the principled rabbi) ... Among those killed at Uhud was a Jewish rabbi who was of the tribe of Tha'labah. On that day he addressed the Jews saying: "you know that it is your duty to help Muhammad"; and when they replied that it was the Sabbath day, he said: "you will have no Sabbath". And taking his sword, he said that if was slain his property was to go to Muhammad , who could deal with it as he liked. Then he joined the Prophet and fought with him until he was killed...
We need to learn from all this ...
- That human beings are the honored progeny of Adam; [Quran 17:70] and that we are all part of one family.
- Among all communities there are those who are bad (such do not represent the rest of that community) as there are those who are good.
- Good people are good, irrespective of their background; and a good deed is a good deed, irrespective of who does it.
- Appreciate and value the goodness in people and do not ignore the redemptive dimension of human nature.
- We need to co-operate with whoever on the basis of that which is righteous and leads to piety, and not engage with that which leads evil and resentment. [Quran 5:2]
- Value people and appreciate the positive in people. Do not forget to show gratitude; as the Prophet said; those who are not thankful to people are not thankful to God.
From "Clash" to Principled Co-existence
There is no better way for Muslims to promote the message of Islam than living Islam and not just performing it. Walk the walk, not just talk the talk. Islam should not be preached as much as it should be practiced. Our neighbors will not know we are Muslim by the number of times we pray or fast but by our honesty, truthfulness, compassion, reliability, cleanliness, sense of justice and engagement civic responsibility.
Islam is a divinely revealed faith that commands its adherents to follow the principles of monotheism, justice, equality, and peace in all aspects of their life. As the Quran, Islam's revealed text, states: "O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes so that you may come to know one another. The best of people are those most righteous." [Quran, 49:13]
Complied by Sa'dullah Khan. Director of Islamic Center of Irvine. He has presented lectures on Islamic Civilization at California State University at Dominguez Hills. He is a frequent lecturer for the Academy of Judaic, Christian and Islamic Studies at UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles). He is also an advisor to the Chancellor's Committee on Religion Ethics and Values at UCLA and serves as Director of Muslim Affairs at USC (University of Southern California).
You can watch his lectures on Empowerment and Hadith of the Day at IslamiTV
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