The Prophet (PBUH) demolished the tribal institutions of his time from which social and racial inequalities and human injustice emerged. He knew that treating the symptoms was not the answer, thus he endeavored to establish a new system where every man, woman, and child was respected as an essential member of the community.
But with time, we Muslims erred by reinstating many of the very same social structures that the Prophet (PBUH) intentionally demolished. In fact, we now find remnants of the regressive tribal mentality entrenched, more or less, into every aspect of our collective lives. There is no Muslim society, whether secular or conservative, democratic or dictatorial, that is not free from these large scale societal evils. True justice and equality are absent from the Muslim body politic. The words “brothers” and “sisters” have been left only to address one another. Their true meaning in Muslim life has been lost. Cronyism, nepotism, and corruption seem to have infected every part of Muslim life. Especially in dire straits are Muslim women. They have borne the brunt of these inequalities and injustices to the extent that so-called honor killing, in some ignorant conservative Muslim communities, has become a dishonor and an ugly wound on the face of Islam.
Muslim circles at local, national, or global level, argue endlessly about the aforementioned symptoms. Since the symptoms have pervaded every aspect of life (social, political, economic), no group whether religious or secular is immune to such evils. Once the arguments begin, they ultimately revert to a blame game or patriotic gamesmanship. No Muslim group whether religious or otherwise, seems to be interested in talking about the root causes of these societal inequities and injustices. The questions then must be: Should we not consider age-old institutional systemic barriers that serve to divide Muslims along so many lines of dubious value? Have our religious, sectarian, ethnic, racial, linguistic and tribal differences made us so unable to examine our collective errors? Will we continue to brush aside the hard issues because they stir up emotions and cause friction and disturb our “peace?” Will we continue to fail to reclaim the goodness established within the societal structure founded by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and instead cling to our new and compromised definition of “peace?”
The majority of Muslims do not want to talk about or question the existing religious or secular patterns of racial inequality and injustice in Muslim societies. Any suggestion to talk about the root causes of Muslim societal evils elicits a knee-jerk impulsive response from the defenders of religious or secular “peace.” It seems then premature to engage in interfaith dialogue when there is yet so much intra-faith work to be done. Muslims must first deal with the root causes of inequity within their own societies.
It is not possible to move forward on any question of injustice without holding those responsible for the injustice accountable. This means also holding ourselves, as a whole, accountable. We must not close our eyes and mind when we see or hear of injustice. There is basic moral principle involved here. To recognize the injustice but then demand that we ignore the patterns and institutions at the root of the injustice in order to reach a state of inclusiveness and “peaceful’ coexistence, is counterproductive. That simply allows people in positions of power and privilege and religious leaders and Imams to escape accountability. Failure to address the cause inevitably places the political and psychological burdens on those with less power and privilege and a status no more than sheep in a heard. This is unjust.
Such avoidance simply lets religious and political leaders off the hook and puts the burden on common Muslims to cope with the ongoing manifestations of injustice. Were leaders responsible for rationalizing inequities and injustice not held accountable, there would be no base from which real change could occur. Most religious leaders don’t like to talk about accountability. But the core values of Islam -- dignity, solidarity, and equality -- require that we not avoid that kind of honesty.
If we fail to hold firm to our ideals, many poor and working-class Muslims will point out that they don’t feel being treated with dignity and equality. We must connect the struggle against injustice to the struggle against economic inequality inherent within an establishment powered by capitalism and sectarianism. This is what the Prophet’s (PBUH) Sunnah demands that we do.
To raise questions about injustice in the economic system is not to foment class warfare, rather to recognize that people with a disproportionate share of the wealth tend to pursue policies to protect that state of affairs. The wealthy engage in class warfare on a daily basis, and hope that those on the bottom will acquiesce all the while chanting the praises of the Prophet (PBUH) and Allah.
It is the bottom 99% of common Muslims who suffer the brunt of this economic inequality - the mother of all the inequalities. Both systems are controlled by elites with power and privilege. Islamists use Islam as a cover and secularists use democracy as a cover. The result is the same in both cases. On the other hand, Muslim dictators utilize brute force and terror in collaboration with their appointed religious leaders to silence talk of inequity and injustice.
Many may suggest that such talk perpetuates and even exacerbates the divisiveness that is already so rampant among Muslims. But that is the result of misunderstanding of the nature of the problem. The divisiveness comes from the injustice, not from naming the injustice. Muslims are divided by the inequality inherent in patriarchy and capitalism, not to mention religious sectarianism. Naming those systems and the inequality they produce is not divisive but rather an attempt to understand the systems so that we can change them. Just as we need accountability, we also need analysis to make it possible to move toward justice. How can problems be solved if causes are not identified and critiqued?
This approach is applicable to systems but not to individuals. Identifying patterns in how wealth and power are distributed within a Muslim society and making unsupported claims about individuals are different. Analyzing the unconscious and institutionalized dynamics that lead to inequity and injustice is an important issue relevant to the overall operation of a system and to the well-being of the people living within that system.
Ensuring that our religious and political leaders are accountable also relates to the successful operation of the system. This does not infer that all religious and political leaders are bad. Instead, it relates to the manner in which our Muslim society is unequal in material and ideological terms and how we may bring to our society, greater accord. What we need to work toward is an open, well integrated system with built in measures of accountability. A system that promotes honesty and openness is equitable to all concerned and is not a stereotyping of individuals.
Those who exclaim that to examine issues causes unnecessary emotional turmoil, have missed the point. The work we all want to do should be grounded in love, which leads to a rejection of injustice. Our hearts should not feel less soft when we begin to look honestly at the extent of that injustice and our own complicity in it. To be “part of the solution,” demands that we be honest about injustices. We should challenge all Imams and religious and political leaders to think about this. Those who ignore the patterns of injustice become part of the problem. But, that can be reversed. By looking honestly at issues, we can seek to eliminate injustice, solve problems, and remove the barriers between us.
People should not find satisfaction in stirring things up, as though this were some kind of game played for personal pleasure. One should be actively involved in movements to promote justice in Muslim society whether to correct economic inequality, racial inequality, gender inequality, coercion, or any number of ills that occur when our governing systems fail us. We should all feel a sense of profound grief about the pain that these systems have been causing to more than a billion Muslims on the planet. Professional exceptions or luck of the draw should not be left to decide our position of relative privilege. Even when we escape virtually all of the suffering imposed by those systems, we still have with us the responsibility to try to end the injustice. The satisfaction we find in this world should come from trying to struggle for something better as the Prophet (PBUH) did. In such transformative efforts, things inevitably get stirred up as indeed they did for the Prophet (PBUH). We should all wish that it could have been otherwise. But none of us get to choose the world into which we are born. All we get to choose is how we respond to it.
The position most people advocate is one that is neither constructive nor practical. We cannot just stand by and ignore the systems from which injustice emerges and expect injustice magically to disappear. We should all agree that our goal is universal inclusiveness -- the recognition that we are one human family in which all have exactly the same standing. But the time has come to disagree with the many that hold up a compromised “peace” as they turn away from the painful truths of our broken and unjust Muslim world.
We must not turn away. This is a time to have courage, face the injustices, get involved, let our voices be heard and seek to mend our societies. We were given Guidance for a reason. We should not then be faint-hearted in our efforts to reclaim our Muslim societies and bring them back to the true peace that can prevail when injustices are overcome.