Civic Involvement: An Islamic Imperative

Category: Americas, Faith & Spirituality Views: 9567

Muslims have to build social and political networks in order to improve the condition of society, argue two leading American scholars

Improving the world in which we live is an Islamic imperative. God says in the Qur'an, "You are the best of communities brought forth for mankind." (3:110) Abu Su'ud describes this verse in his commentary: This means the best people for others. This is an unambiguous expression which states that the good [mentioned here] lies in benefit provided to the people. This is also understood from the expression, "brought forth for mankind" -namely, brought forth to benefit them and advance their best interests.[1] 

Our Prophet Muhammad, may the peace and blessings of God be upon him, said, "God will continue to assist the servant, as long as the servant is assisting his brother."[2] We can thereby understand that divine aid and succor will accrue to this community as long as we are providing the same to fellow members of the human family.

Historical basis for involvement

In today's socio-political environment, concern and benefit can be understood as civic involvement. The word "civic" is derived from the word "city." Hence, civic involvement refers to the meaningful ways in which a private citizen is best involved in the life of his or her city. Despite its appearance in a largely agrarian context, if we consider the nature of the dominant means of economic production at the time of its emergence, Islam is best associated with the city. Our Prophet, may the peace and blessings of God be upon him, is identified with the city. God mentions in the Qur'an, "I swear by this city, and you are a free man of this city." (90:1-2) 

The Prophet's migration was from Mecca to Medina, from one city to another. Islamic learning and culture is associated with great cities -Damascus, Baghdad, Cairo, Isfahan, Samarqand, Bukhara, Tashkent, Qayrawan, Fez, Cordova, Seville, Granada, Istanbul, Sarajevo, Zabid, Timbuktu, Delhi, and many others.

It was the involvement of Muslims in the lives of these cities, many of which were established before the arrival of Islam, which defined them in their historical contexts. As Muslims, our involvement in the life of our cities should similarly leave a lasting and positive mark on them. Surely we have much to offer in that regard. It is not without purpose that God has placed us in significant numbers in and around the great metropolises of America. Now is the time for our constructive involvement in the lives of these cities to commence.

Such involvement is especially critical in these times of political transformation and the redefinition of both the role and scope of government here in America. As the two major political parties become increasingly responsive to special interest groups, particularly those associated with big business, large unions, and wealthy individuals, their role as facilitators of democratic and civic involvement is being eroded. This shift in responsiveness is leading to what is referred to as a dealignment of those parties. This dealignment causes private citizens to search for new institutions to serve as their primary means of political involvement, which consequently results in the proliferation of smaller, grassroots civic organizations. The collective weight of these organizations and their facilitation of direct citizen involvement in local politics is viewed by some as the reinventing of American democracy.[3] 

Position of Muslims and contributions

The potential contributions of Muslims and the benevolent influence of Islam in this process are tremendous for a number of reasons. In terms of addressing issues associated with poverty, the social welfare policy of both governmental and non-profit organizations has centered on what has been referred to as "a deficit model that focuses on the deficiencies of individuals and communities, rather than building upon the individual, associational, and institutional assets and networks that already exist."[4] This deficit model systematically weakens citizens and communities, as the power of governmental and private agencies ascends. As government retreats from the obligations assumed by the welfare state, the aforementioned organizations are threatened. Hence, the existence of this ineffective model is also threatened. As a result, an opening exists for Muslims to provide an alternative model of civic involvement and activism.

The unique position of Muslims is rooted in the dichotomous nature of our community wherein less affluent, largely minority converts and recent immigrants live in inner-cities, while more affluent and established immigrants reside in suburbs. This dichotomy creates a situation in which the Muslims of inner-cities have a tremendous potential of social capital, or the ability to draw on developed internal communal support systems and networks with other organizations, such as churches, schools, neighborhood associations, local politicians, and small interest groups. On the other hand, Muslims living in the suburbs have tremendous intellectual and financial capital. If we could constructively bring these two reservoirs of capital together, we could develop a demonstrable model that could initiate a revolution in American civic participation. That revolution lies in our potential to reverse one of the most damaging implications of suburban sprawl-the depletion of intellectual and material resources from the inner-city.

Rudimentary efforts undertaken by Muslims to counter this trend have already begun. Organizations such as the Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN) in Chicago combine the material and intellectual resources of suburban Muslims with the organizational expertise and networking potential of inner-city Muslims to create a dynamic synthesis that is having an ever greater impact on the life of both Muslim and non-Muslim communities.

In Los Angeles, the Umma Community Clinic demonstrates how the vision and focused action of suburban university students can create a major center that provides one of the few venues where poor residents of the South Central Los Angeles community can receive free basic medical care and referrals for more advanced treatment. 

In the Washington, DC area, The Zakat Project initiated by the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) builds bridges of goodwill and helps to initiate avenues of communication and coordination between the wealthy Muslims of suburban northern Virginia and the poorer communities of inner-city Washington, DC.

In Richardson, Texas, the Islamic Association of North Texas (IANT) provided the funding to renovate one of the oldest mosques of inner-city Dallas.

In Santa Clara, a suburb in the southern San Francisco Bay Area, the Rahima Foundation works in collaboration with Masjid Warithuddin of inner-city Oakland to help feed three hundred families a month.

If we can expand and develop these efforts, a new and unprecedented model of civic involvement can emerge. This development is in no way limited to the social service sector. Mobilized social capital would inevitably engender deeper models of citizen involvement that involve greater forms of self-governance and enhanced collaboration with other economic, social, and political actors.

However, for these developments to occur, we need a revitalized type of Muslim-one who is instilled with a bold and God-conscious vision. This is why the Agenda to Change Our Condition is so important. If implemented, it will engender Muslims with a healthier relationship with God, and a healthier relationship with God will lead to a healthier relationship with our neighbors. That enhanced relationship will in turn lead to a change in our collective condition, God willing.

May blessings and peace be upon the Messenger of Allah, as long as those who remember him continue to do so... 


1. Abu Su'ud Muhammad b. Muhammad, Irshad al-'uqul al-salam ila mazaya al-Kitab al-Karim (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-'Ilmiyyah, 1999), 2:17.

2. al-Nawawi, al-Minhaj, 9:24, no.2793.

3. See Carmen Sirianni and Lewis Friedland, Civic Innovation in America: Community Empowerment, Public Policy, and the Movement for Civic Renewal (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2001), p.1. 

4. Ibid., p. 11. 

The above excerpt is from a newly published book by HAMZA YUSUF and ZAID SHAKIR, Agenda to Change Our Condition, Zaytuna Institute, Hayward, California, 2007.

  Category: Americas, Faith & Spirituality
Views: 9567
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Older Comments:
Welcome to the half dark ages. Stay out of the twilight unless you can handle snakes without getting struck.

Article does not in any way delineate what borders, boundaries, or rules of civic engagement Muslims are supposedly to use. Secondly, given this author's own u-turn and past actions post 9/11 that makes it all the more dubious. Should we, like you, stand, cheer, clap, sing nationalistic/patriotic American songs while George W. Bush is saying you are "either with us or against us!" and dropping daisy cutter bombs on Afghanistan???
Does "civic engagement" mean placing the interests and wealth of Muslims in America over those of the Muslims overseas? What about this ayah in relation to this:

"Say: If your fathers, your sons, your brother, your wives, your kindred; the wealth that you have gained; the commerce in which you fear a decline; and the dwellings in which you delight, are dearer to you than Allah and His Messenger, and waging Jihad in His Cause, then wait until Allah brings about His Decision (torment). And Allah guides not the people who are Fasiqoon (rebellious, disobedient to Allah).'"
[Surah At-Taubah (9), Ayah 24.]

Does "civic engagement" mean taking money from AIPAC and "supporting our troops" in Afghanistan and Iraq the way Keith Ellison has done recently?

Does "civic engagement" mean that you are free to justify having taken money from the UK govt. to put up conferences (Radical Middle Way) yet condemn others from doing the same thing i.e. taking money from "overseas govts." as (in your words) "creates a cycle of dependency"?

Is the Muslim Ummah one?
Is nationalism/patriotism something from Islam?

If not or if so, how does any of that square with any of your past actions and political you-turns post 9/11?


Allah has sent the Prophet as Rahmah to the whole Universe Wama Arsalnaka illa Rahmatan Lil Alameen. Our Rabb is Rabbil Alameen not Rabbil Muslimeen or Rabbil Arab.Our Kitab is Hudan Lin Nas and we are Khairi Ummatin Ukhrijat Linnas.Therefore our daawah is to the whole humanity. We have to invite the whole humanity towards Islam and the best teachings of the Prophet who was sent to the entire humanity up to the last day..It is a great task it needs Hikmah wisdom as Allah says ud'uh ila sabili Rabbika bil Hikamah.Ovbiously if we don't use hikmah in our Daawah it may lead to negative percection as people may not understand what we are trying to preach of course we definitely know that Innad Dini Indal Lahi AlIslam if you take any other Deen be sure in the Hereafter you will be among the losers.But how can we make people understand this?It needs great wisdom sacrifice patience love courage and great fortitude we should love for people what we love for ourselves.The Prophet said Wallahi Layumin 3 times which means he does not believe.The ompanions asked O Prophet of Allah.He said the one whose neighbours are not safe or immune from his mischief.Remember neighbours may comprise muslims and non muslims threfore our message should be world wide not confined to ourselves and become so narrow minded.A villager started to urinate in the Masjid of the Prophet and the companions wanted to deal with him there and then but the Prophet dissuaded them and allowed him to finish.After finishing the Prohet brought some water and sprinkled then taught the Arabi that this is Masjid House of Allah we only remember Him in His House. Therefore the Arabi repented and asked Allah to forgive him and bless him alone and the Prophet only for the nice advice because he did not understand this is why he prayed Allah to shower the blessing on him and the Prophet but it should be for all. So we should be open minded and wish or others what we wish for ouselves as the Prophet taught us.

I do not agree with brother Saleem's view. We all are the descendents of Adam and the creations of Allah. What's the problem if we are kind to Allah creatures? Of course, Muslims are brothers and sisters among themselves, but it doesn't mean we have to degrade others.

When our beloved prophet (peace be upon him) started to teach Islam, he had only few converts around him. Many of them were so against Islam before they accepted it. One of the righteous caliphs, Umar, is the example that you can study. We were few before to now billions of Muslims in the World. It did not happen automatically. Besides Allah's permission, there were many good Muslims to be admired by their kindness, intellectual, courage and good works. Who will know I will become Muslim 7 years ago? I am not alone, there were many before me, there are more to come in future if we don't make ourselves look mean.

To continue the sentence of Quran 3:110, "You are the best of communities brought forth for mankind. You enjoin good,forbid evil, and believe in Allah." How can we enjoin good and forbid evil when we only confine to ourselves?

It is suggested you should study the Islamic history from our beloved prophet (peace be upon him) to righteous caliphs to Umayyad to Abbasid to Mamluk to Seljuk to many others in between to Ottoman dynasties to now the abolished caliphate system. Then, you may have better input for your questions, "does the direction needs to be changed after 1400 + years".

T.K. FROM U.S. said:
You are the best of communities brought forth for mankind.(3:110)

I got this far, snickered, then stopped reading! This is why Islam is outmoded.

muslims are brothers among themselves, NOT to the whole human family. this is MISLEADING AND INCORRECT. These so called scholars of NEW ISLAMIC DIRECTION are trying to westernize ISLAM.