I just finished another book – Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell that contains a lot of important lessons we can learn from. The book essentially focuses on some case studies detailing how certain events or phenomenon went from something limited to something of ‘epidemic’ proportions.
The need for Muslims to learn this is quite obvious. How do we take our dawah, and make it reach those levels? Are we missing out on the big things, or little things, or both? What types of elements are needed to create a tipping point in seeking knowledge, and community activism?
A tipping point is when something becomes a real epidemic. Some examples include the sudden decrease of crime in New York, or the spread of teen smoking.
The first main point to cover is the social connectiveness of people. Society is run on social networks. Gladwell splits people up into connectors, mavens (accumulators of knowledge), and salespeople. Connectors are basically those people that always have the ‘hook up’ and know influential people in different arenas. Or they have enough contacts to be able to tap into people in different social networks. When you think of connectors you can think of the concept of 6 degrees of separation to put it in perspective.
The concept of connectors is one of the main ones I want to focus on for this post. We run into many strategic problems when we make dawah – namely who to focus on and where to spend our time. This problem is nothing new, and we even have this example in our own history where we see that many entire tribes accepted Islam based upona few of their leaders accepting it. There also seems to be a ‘tipping point’ in the dawah of our Prophet (sal-Allahu ‘alayhi was-Sallam) after Hudaybiyah and up to the conquest of Makkah where the Muslim population exploded and people came into Islam in droves. *That* is a tipping point. What made the Muslims go from a handful, to a few hundred, then all of a sudden to 100,000+?
There can be lots of factors, so I will focus on a few highlights from the book, namely that little things can often be the ‘tipping point’ that makes something boil over.
One example given in the book is that of John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement. The movement experienced a tipping point in the 1780’s seeing its followers rise from 20,000 to 90,000 in the US in a span of 5-6 years. His genius was not in special academic or oratory skill, but it was in organization. He would go to towns and preach, and then stay and help them form their own religious organizations. After travelling from city to city he did not become a person with ties to many people, but a person with ties to many groups. He realized that to create change in people’s belief, a community would need to be created around them where those beliefs are practiced and nurtured.
The Muslim community is sorely lacking these types of connectors. We don’t have a national organization that can do this, nor do we (in general) see it on the city or state level either. Instead of groups working together, they’re usually competing with each other.
The social networks of people also contribute to the success of the group in general. Consider the following tipping point: Imam ash-Sha’bi (most have never heard of him) created a tipping point in the Muslim ummah. One day he saw a young man in the market place conducting business, and he asked him who do you sit with? In those times, this was a way of asking which scholars he was studying under, and he replied that he does not sit with anyone. So Imam ash-Sha’bi told him that he saw signs of intelligence in him, and suggested that he go and sit with the scholars. This young man turned out to be Imam Abu Hanifah (rh).
In another point, Gladwell gives a case study of Gore&Associates (makers of Gore-Tex). They found that the company runs smoothly when there are independent groups of up to 150 people operating autonomously. It is somewhat of a paradox, but a striking point nonetheless, to create one contagious movement, you often have to create many small movements first.
If we have multiple organizations working towards similar goals, it would be easier for them to identify and integrate in the end. But if these small groups cannot even succeed, then what hope do we have for one autonomous body?
This was perhaps one of the more interesting points. Messages need to be contagious, and ‘sticky‘. The contagiousness of an idea is largely a function of the messenger and the stickiness a property of the message itself.
Gladwell provides two detailed case studies here, one on suicide and one on teen smoking. I won’t rehash all the details here, but he quotes some interesting studies showing how things like suicides will actually increase when someone percieved to be ‘cool’ commits it.
In many communities I have seen a lot of resentment and jealousy towards people who are more influential. This is often because most of us look down at them and think they are not deserving of such a status. Even if that is the case, this attitude is not the solution. The solution is instead to engage these influential people.
The last point I want to mention is how little things, can make a big difference. In one study based on human behaviors and emotions, they put people in different situations, around sad people, happy people, to see how it would affect their mood. They found in the end that it was only the charismatic person who could infect the other people in the room with his or her emotions.
Emotions can also be contagious. If I hit my thumb with a hammer, most people would grimace out of pain – we imitate each other’s emotions to express support and caring, and as a way of communication with each other. In the book Emotional Contagion it was found that mimicry is one of the means by which we infect others with our emotions. If i smile and you see me and smile in response, it is a way of me passing happiness on to you, or a way of sharing happiness.
So the answer really, is simply, follow the Sunnah :) “To smile in the face of your brother is charity.”
We need to be careful at all times of how we carry ourselves, and the message that we give out, and how we interact with others. As we start taking these small steps insha’Allah it will help create an effect.
Many times people take issue with following the ‘externalities’ of the Sunnah such as beards and hijabs, but if you think about it, if 70,000 Muslims in one city, all of a sudden started looking like Muslims, don’t you think that it would have an effect and cause them all as a whole to act like better Muslims as well?
Societal change seems an insurmountable task, but there is proof that if we just do the small things, insha’Allah it can make a big difference.