Islam is a faith of action. From the earliest moments of its revelation, the Quran resonated with the call to stand, move and take initiative. The first verses of Surah Al-Muddathir pulse with momentum:
"O thou wrapped up in your cloak, Arise and warn. And your Lord, magnify! And your garments, purify! And all abomination shun. Nor expect, in giving, any increase for yourself. But, for your Lord's Cause, be patient." (Quran 1-7 )
Our challenge, as members of the American Muslim community, is to shift from a reactionary approach, in which we respond to crises as they come, to proactive Islamic work. The recent cartoon controversy underlined the necessity of a positive stance; awaiting the next media offensive is not a valid mode of operation. Among American Muslim youth, there are immense resources, energy, and potential to creatively and proactively move forward. Perhaps we are only waiting for someone to show us how to do it.
Someone already has.
Between our hands we hold a trove of illustrations and examples in the sunnah, the life and sayings of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. From the sunnah, we find endless encouragement for taking initiative and being proactive. "The time for sleep has ended, Khadijah,"" said the Prophet to his wife as they embarked on a lifelong, proactive and inspired mission to present the world with Islam.
The Prophet and his companions did not wait in their homes for an assault on Islam to speak up. Instead, they actively and collectively worked to communicate their message. The Prophet announced Islam from atop Mount Safa, and prayed publicly at the Kabah. He delegated responsibilities to his companions, training them and entrusting each with a role in the call to Islam. Some of the early Muslims, such as Abu Dhar Al-Ghaffari and Umar ibn Al-Khattab, were so passionate in their mission that they exuberantly announced their new faith in the public square, and met with beatings and ridicule. The words of the Quran that were recited on the streets of Makkah were so compelling and heart-wrenching that the enemies of Islam, in spite of themselves, crept out at night to listen to the Prophet's recitation.
The Prophet and his companions understood the profound significance of Islam. To them, becoming a Muslim was both an immeasurable blessing and a trust. In order adopt the same energy, initiative and proactively, we must revive these dual feelings of blessing and responsibility. Winning the pleasure of Allah takes more than just being blessed with Islam. There is also the aspect of trust, which requires initiative and work:
"Those who do wish for the Hereafter, and strive therefore with all due striving, and have Faith,- they are the ones whose striving is acceptable to Allah." (Quran 17:19 )
Although there are some psychological and identity barriers that we must overcome, American Muslims as a community boast creativity, expertise, and significant resources. There is a sea of untapped Muslim hands on campuses and schools, just waiting to find a place the larger movement of Islamic revival. The necessity of being proactive in our society is clear, but in this crowd of millions trying to form a line, we don't know where it starts or ends.
Leadership. Vision. Strategy. Collective initiative. A plan to ride the wave together, instead of bracing against it by ourselves, waiting for it sweep us off our feet and scatter us along the shoreline. A realization that Islam is a great blessing, but also a solemn trust. We can not keep the message of Prophet Muhammad to ourselves, while the world thirsts for its coolness.
The Prophet, peace be upon him, once said to his companions, "Do not demean yourselves." They asked, "How might someone demean himself?" Prophet Muhammad replied, "He sees a situation in which a stand must be made for Allah, and he does not speak up. Allah The Almighty will ask him on the Day of Judgment, 'What prevented you from speaking?' He will say, 'I feared people.' Allah will answer, 'You should have feared Me, for I am more worthy of being feared.' ( Ibn Majah, Ahmad)
There was no such hesitation in the heart of the Prophet and his companions. When Abu Jahl, the ringleader of the opposition to Islam, refused to return money he owed to a bedouin, the Prophet himself marched up to him and demanded the rights of the aggrieved man. No matter that Abu Jahl lay in wait for a chance to kill the Prophet, and took every opportunity to abuse and insult him. It was time to make a stand for the principles of Islam.
In March 2006, MAS Youth launched an awareness campaign designed to activate students on college campuses, one of several MAS Youth initiatives aiming to empower and streamline the efforts of American Muslim youth. The campaign, according to organizers, will help shift American Muslim youth to a proactive, constructive approach, rather than only responding and defending. Muhammad, the Orphan Who Adopted the World leaves the fine points of the cartoon controversy behind, and instead empowers students to shift the debate to their own terms.
Media attacks on Islam may translate to frustration among youth and lead them to reproach their own community. Shifting to an energized, assertive mode of operation will activate the youth, protect their identity and allow them to vent their frustration in a healthy and productive manner. College campuses and schools are prime locations for this shift to begin, for they pulse with activity, exchange of ideas, and tolerance
A Proactive Campaign
Muhammad, the Orphan Who Adopted the World is both an educational and hands-on initiative, a one-stop toolkit that equips young Muslims with all they need to inform the public about the Prophet (saw). Articles, posters, t-shirts, books, multimedia, display ideas, and other resources are readily accessed on the campaign's website. MAS Youth designed the resource center to support young Muslims in organizing local awareness campaigns in their schools and workplaces.
"Amid misconceptions ... this is a much-needed effort to show the public who Muhammad was through creative public education," said Amr Ahmed, one of the many campaign organizers. Ahmed added that this initiative will be unique because of its grassroots mobilization and training of local youth.
"It trains American Muslim youth to love Muhammad through working to present him," he said.
MAS Youth, a division of the Muslim American Society (MAS), envisioned this campaign as a realistic, practical response to the national discussion of the Danish cartoon controversy. The campaign sidesteps defensiveness, and will move the discussion to a different level wherever youth implement it, said Ayman Khafagi, one of the organizers. Instead of reacting to negativity in the media, the campaign encourages youth to take initiative.
"The Prophet is an amazing role model who influenced so many people for the better, and through his teachings, people will continue to be influenced," said Saja Hindi, a campaign organizer. She emphasized that youth have an obligation to spread his message, and that this campaign can help them do so.
"Don't miss this opportunity," she said.
The campaign's site combines practical suggestions for local campaigns with multimedia by Meem Audio, discounts for film showings, and online discussion forums. Its unique collection of materials and resources target a college audience, say organizers.
"[The campaign] will mobilize the youth in a productive way," he said. "A way to express their emotions toward the Prophet ." By planning, packaging, and providing resources, the MAS Youth campaign extends an invitation to youth implementation, Khafagi said.
Local MSAs and youth groups that take on the challenge will find creative ideas, specially designed posters, discussion boards, a campaign logo, discounted literature, and display ideas for their local programs. The prepackaged, accessible resources will make it simple for youth groups to adopt the project, organizers said. Local MAS Youth chapters across the country will play a critical role in supporting, mobilizing and cooperating with local MSAs and youth groups in their campaigns.
"Consider it a competition, in which the Prophet will judge which MSA put the best effort into this campaign," said Ahmed. "If your MSA is not presenting the true Muhammad to your campus, then who will?"
Muhammad, The Orphan Who Adopted the World is a project of MAS Youth, the division of the Muslim American Society (MAS) serving young professionals and youth in high schools and colleges. The campaign website is http://www.muhammad.masyouth.org
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