A few weeks into a graduate course on Electrodynamics, I contemplated dropping the course. I would spend hours upon hours trying to master the material, with little success. I went to see the professor and told him that no matter how hard I worked, I could not keep up with him. He replied: "If you were able to keep up with me, I wouldn't be doing my job."
At the time, the answer seemed harsh. Yet in retrospect, it implied respect for the untapped potential of a student. The professor knew that his role was not to foster complacency, but to encourage individuals to strive, explore, and reach levels that they once thought were impossible. The "weeding out" process separates the committed from the pretenders.
Contrast the above to an incident that occurred with the Muslim Student Association of the same university. At that time, the beginning of Ramadan took place toward the end of the school year. Undergraduate Muslim students who fasted were unable to obtain any of the meals they had already paid for, since it was part of their required tuition and board. Furthermore, the dining halls closed well before the onset of maghrib, meaning that students would have to make arrangements for iftar on their own. This issue was brought up during an MSA meeting.
The majority of the students took a defeatist attitude and said: "don't make waves", "the administration would never understand", "we'll look like extremists", "why bother?" However, a few students took it upon themselves to contact university personnel, who it turned out, had never heard of Ramadan. After being informed of the situation, the university reimbursed students for meals missed during Ramadan and instructed the dining halls to prepare "bag iftars" for students to eat in their rooms. This is now standard policy at the university.
While these incidents seem trivial, they serve as a microcosm of the current issues facing Muslims in North America. The community has a vast reservoir of untapped potential to fulfill its duty as the best community. Yet that requires moral courage to stand up for what is right, and forbid what is wrong. Many believe that we should not have to struggle for what we believe; that we should not have to face criticism of our religious practice; that life should be easy. Such a complacent, defeatist attitude, combined with conspiracy theories, serve one convenient purpose: to alleviate personal responsibility required by each Muslim to stand up for his/her beliefs.
Complacency is condemned strongly in the Qur'an for it reminds the believers that their mettle will be tested: "Do men imagine that they will be left (at ease) because they say, We believe, and will not be tested with affliction? Lo! We tested those who were before you. Thus Allah Knoweth those who are sincere, and those who feign." (29:2-3)
Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) also told Muslims not to belittle themselves by fearing people, and thus staying silent in matters concerning their faith. It is Allah who should be more properly feared.
While there are challenges facing Muslims on several fronts here in North America, these should not be viewed with dismay. Tests are part and parcel of the faith, and they distinguish the sincere from the pretenders. Which are you?
Sheema Khan, Ph.D. is a research scientist living in Ottawa.