Khutbah – Civic Engagement by Yaser Birjas

Khutbah by Yaser Birjas | Transcribed by Sameera

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Assalamu ‘alaykum wa rahmatullah wa barakatuh.  This is Yasir Qadhi welcoming you to the muslimmatters.org podcast.  For more quality media, be sure to subscribe to our podcast wa jazakum Allahu khayran wassalamu ‘alaykum wa rahmatullah.

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[The following is transcript of Shaykh Yaser Birjas’s khutbah on Civic Engagement, which includes slight modifications for the sake of readability and clarity, from the muslimmatters.org podcast.]

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My dear brothers and sisters in Islam, the hearing that took place yesterday in the capital, Thursday, March 10, 2011, was a historic event for the Muslim community in America regardless of the purpose of it and regardless of the outcome that is going to come out of it.  And sometimes, w’Allahi, I wonder how many Muslims in America are even aware of the hearing and if they even heard about it or what was the whole purpose of it to begin with.  Talking to so many Muslims around in different communities, many of them are unaware of the surroundings, let alone to even pay attention to what is going on in the local news.  Most of their focus goes internationally.  They focus on other things; they do not even know what is going on and what is being actually planned for them in their own neighborhoods.

You see, for those who didn’t pay attention, the committee on Homeland Security was holding a hearing yesterday, one of maybe many to come.   When holding that hearing titled ‘The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and that Community’s Response’, they are basically talking about you.  Whether you like it or not and whether it is your business or not, they are talking about you.  They now base this on an assumption as if the Muslim community is responsible for every single radical who walks on earth that happened to be a Muslim.  Based on this, the hearing is asking what this Muslim community living in America did to counter that kind of radicalization in the community and what is the response, as if we are responsible for it to begin with.

Regardless of the outcome of it and the purpose of it, which was attended by so many representatives and many of them were also against it and even criticized it and others were supportive of this, if you were listening and if you have been watching it and even read the texts of all these testimonies and witnesses and what they said, you should as a Muslim be concerned.  You should pay attention to that.  You should focus on what is really more important to you, which is the welfare and well-being of your community that is being part of this whole fabric of the society.

It is very crucial for you as a Muslim to see and hear and learn what exactly is going on around you.  Now, again, regardless of all this criticism, which unfortunately we believe has been going on because of the fear-mongers and hate groups and those who always try to just find an excuse to criticize and attack the Muslim community, regardless of whether we accept this or not, it just happened and took place.  Many people went out and expressed their concerns, and they tried to reason with the head of these committees and others, but unfortunately it just kept going on and it happened just yesterday.

It is so sad, w’Allahi, that in the ten years from the tragic day of September 11th, the Muslims have tried their best, and being a very young community compared to the other communities that have arrived to this country – the Muslim community is a very young community – it is a heavily immigrant based community, particularly in the leadership positions, and other aspects of the community are still heavily based on first generation of Muslims, which means regardless of what you do and how you try to do it, in the eyes of the average American citizen, you still look and even sound foreign to them.  Unfortunately because of that, many people were hearing and paying attention to all of these fear-mongers and hate groups because they definitely believe that these people must be foreigners because they speak differently and have an accent or they look different.  It is unfortunate that they were targeting one group, basically a faith-based community.  In this society, this hasn’t happened since back in 1941 in the Second World War with the Japanese community.  Since then, it never happened again to a single community whether based on ethnicity, background or faith until this age and time, and we are now going back into that same circle.

Alhamdulillah, many people actually stood against these kinds of approaches and trends in our society, but when you think about it and when you check the Muslim community from within – being an imam for many years in this society and visiting so many Muslim communities, I honestly sometimes cannot really put the blame on anyone but the Muslim community.  Why is that?  Because the Muslim community up to this day is not yet up to the level where you expect them to be engaged in the civil society in the best way possible.

How is that?  I go and do so many open houses in so many Muslim communities and Islamic centers, and I remember after the many years I spent in West Texas, I then moved to the Midwest for one year.   In my first open house in the new center I used to serve in the Midwest after giving a presentation about Islam and Muslims in general, one of the attendees asked the question:  “This is all beautiful [which means amazing information].  This looks so nice and so beautiful.  But what does this community [talking about the exact Islamic center itself and the community that built that magnificent building and center] doing for the local community and area that they live in?  What activities do you guys do?”  I just stood there and honestly I didn’t have an answer, first of all because I was new and had just been there for a few weeks in the community.  My answer was, “I am still new in the area, but I’m sure our community has their own records on their participation in their own local communities.”  Checking afterward, there were not so many, even though there were, but not so many.

I’m asking you the question:  Check for yourself and your own record.  Forget about the Muslim community or the Islamic centers.  Look at your individual and personal records.  How many times do you volunteer in the community whether in the library or public event or something that is beneficial for the community and society?  How many rallies have the Muslims been doing in this community?  I have been here for just about seven or eight months now, and I have heard of maybe four or five or more rallies happening in this community.  Almost every weekend there is a rally going on downtown.  But for what?  For a legitimate cause:  for Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, for Gaza, and so on.  But then I asked the Muslim community:  How many times have you walked in a rally in order to help promote things very, very close to you such as health reform in your own community?  How about the public school system, the schools and education of your own children?  What about other things very important to your own community?  How many of us have done that?  I’m asking around, and unfortunately I cannot really find many people who are doing these things.  So because of that, we have always been looked at as foreigners or a strange community until this day.

The reason I’m saying that is because I believe that if the Muslims want to have a future for themselves in this society, then it is in their hands to make these kinds of hearings look ridiculous in the eyes of the average American citizen because they know who the Muslims are.  When things like this happen and they already have so many encounters with beautiful people masha’Allah from the Muslim community on almost every level:  schools, education, and the city, and when they see this kind of engagement everywhere and then they hear about these kinds of hearings happening, they would laugh at it.  Why?  Because they know that it is all wrong.  How can you do that when we know these people and they are always around us?  I know we have, alhamdulillahi rabbi’l-‘alameen, amazing individual success stories in the Muslim community.  We have successful doctors, successful engineers, successful teachers, alhamdulillah, and are successful in almost every aspect and walk of life.  We have so many successful business people in this society, but they are all individual success stories, and you cannot put them together in order to serve as a Muslim community except for a few, and may Allah reward them for everything they are doing.  We have so many success stories, but they cannot be put together as a collective success story for the Muslim community.  So when tomorrow someone talks about what the Muslim community contributed to the local community, you will say we have a wonderful record that we can bring to you.

I’m not talking about PR records just to do some activities here and there to show that we have done something.  I’m talking about sincere, genuine participation to bring benefit to this society.  And again, the reason I’m saying that is because we believe as Muslims that it is our responsibility, not just because we live here as a minority, but because it is our duty in life as Muslims to bring this civil life to the world, and that was the Sunnah of the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam).  In these few minutes, I would like to share with you some of the examples of the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) in civil engagement in society, and we shall see how amazing that involvement was in all aspects of life.  Some of the engagements of Rasulullah (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) in civil society were even before the establishment of the community of Madinah.

Here is Rasulullah (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam):  First of all, before he (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) went to Madinah, he met a group of people who came from Madinah itself, and he had that deal with them we call Bayah Al-Aqaba Al-Kubra and Bayah Al-Aqaba Al-Sughra.  The minor Aqaba was a meeting at a bridge during the Hajj season where the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) met with the people and made a contract with them that he would move to their area, and in return, they would support that cause and society and establish with them based on the principles that he brought to them.  They gave him their pledge even before the establishment of the state.  To have a civil engagement and a civil society, you don’t have to have a state to begin with.  People can do that even in times of crisis.  Look at Egypt.  Look at Libya.  Look at a country like Tunisia.  During the time of crisis, many people establish their own civil communities and institutes to serve their local people.  Look at Afghanistan and Iraq and other places.  Everyday when there is a crisis, there are people stepping up to serve others.  That is a sign of a healthy civil community.  Rasulullah (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) established that way even before the establishment of the state of Madinah.

When he went to Madinah, the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) started organizing the efforts.  He made it obligatory upon every Muslim to leave the state of badawa, which means to leave being a bedouin in the desert and come and live in that civil society in Madinah and make hijrah until the conquest of Makkah.  The society was expanding out instead of just being introverted into one local city like Madinah or Yathrib.

The Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) was calling people together to establish a society.   Come together so we can build a community all together.  Even Allah (subhanahu wata’ala) speaks about the bedouins and those who do not live in these kinds of organized, civilized societies.  “The bedouins / desert people / nomads are more prone to kufr (disbelief) and hypocrisy.”  Why is that?  Because they don’t believe in an organized system.  Many people, not just Muslims, today even though they live in cities and urban areas, they live like bedouins and nomads and don’t believe in organization and believe in anarchy as a society.  The Qur’an and Sunnah of the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) promote civil society and civil engagement.

Rasulullah (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) once he arrived in Madinah established a very important principle that they had never heard before the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam):  shurah.  It is the principle of counseling one another.  Based on what?  Based on the validity of the opinion and not the power and strength of the lobby promoting the cause.  Here is Rasulullah (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) giving that command even when he was in Makkah.

In Surah Al-Shurah, Allah (subhanahu wata’ala) says describing the people of Islam, the followers of Muhammad (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam):  “Their affair amongst themselves is based on shurah (counseling one another, advising one another).”  Even though they were still in Madinah and there were no traces of society whatsoever and they were oppressed and chased, still Allah made it obligatory upon them that no one was allowed to make an individual decision that would affect the livelihood of the entire community and society.  When they went to Madinah, Allah (subhanahu wata’ala) revealed the ayah in Surah Ale-‘Imran: “And always consult them in these affairs.”  Even Muhammad (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) who had divine guidance from Allah ‘azza wa jall, and if anyone can be a talent in terms of making decision, it would be him because he had that power from Allah ‘azza wa jall, but he was instructed to be the person who consulted and counseled with others to show the superiority of that principle that you always ask and always take opinions from the people around you.

When the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) came to Madinah, one of the principles of civil society is the establishment of institutions and things that people can be proud of that serve the community.  The moment he (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) arrived, he stayed in a house as a guest for some time with Abu Ayyub Al-Ansari (radhiyAllahu ‘anhu) and then ordered the establishment of the first institution in the history of Islam:  Masjid An-Nabi (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam),  the masjid of Rasulullah (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam).

For us, the masajid is serve only for salah unfortunately in many Muslim societies, but  here in America, it is closer to be like the masjid of Rasulullah (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) in terms of role and function than being a masjid in any other Muslim community because in these masajid, there are so many things happening.  It is a place for education and a place for service and like a second home for people.  People always find comfort when they come to these places because there is always something going on all the time for them.  Even if they have disputes, they will come and ask our opinion and for our vocational help.  That was the role of the institution at the time of Rasulullah (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam).  Today, living in a society like ours, all of these institutions become independent right now, but still, at least, you as a Muslim believe in the role of these institutions.

Now Rep. Peter King, the head of the Senate committee, in 2007 was complaining that there are too many masjids in America.  He is bothered by that, subhanAllah, thinking that this is another source of radicalization.  But me and you, we know the what the purpose of the masajid are; it is to bring the principle of civilization and civil life to the community.  How many masajid have you visited in your life outside of your city and they all have the same beautiful function of reaching out to the community, helping out, becoming like a home for other people?  It is an amazing thing how they misinterpret the growth of these Islamic institutions.

The Messenger (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) made also part of these individual roles of every Muslim that you make sure that you follow the rules.  You follow the rules and make everybody else also follow the rules.  The Nabiyy (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) said, “The deen is sincerity.”  It is not just giving advice, but it is to be sincere when it comes to interaction with people.  They said, “To whom, ya Rasulullah?”  “First of all to Allah (subhanahu wata’ala).”  This means that when you believe in Allah ‘azza wa jall, sincerely believe in Allah (subhanahu wata’ala).  “For His Messenger.”  When you are sincere about following the example of Muhammad (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) and you believe in him.  “…and the leaders of your own community and the average person.”  We recommend as individuals to make sure that you have that sincerity when you deal with people.

The Nabiyy (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) taught one man who was complaining to people that they always deceived him because they think of him as easy going and they can get away with things with him.  The Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) told him whenever he deals with people to tell them, “There may be no deceit.”  Remind them to fear Allah (subhanahu wata’ala) and deal with him honestly and sincerely.  As Muslims, this is our responsibility not just with the Muslim community but also with everybody.  When you know something is wrong, you stand up and relieve and alleviate the suffering of others.  Whenever something is good, you go and you thank and promote that which is good.  This is one of the base principles of Islam:  enjoin good and forbid evil.  What is that other than always engaging in civil society?  When there is a grievance or complaint, you go and be the first person to stand up for your rights in the proper way.  It is not just only complaining about that which is bad.  Where are you when there are many good things to be praised and recommended for your local community?  When you have this ‘enjoin the good and forbid the evil’, don’t think of it only as an Islamic principle among the Muslims but even outside you can be the person who can promote something that is good for the whole community and society.

You know, one of the reasons I came to this community here in Irving is that I was told that this whole area is a dry area that does not sell alcohol.  When I arrived, they said that unfortunately they started last year.  I was shocked.  I said, “Why is that?”  It seems that when they passed the bill, the Muslims were minding their own business as usual and didn’t even care about it.  When I was in the Midwest, they were about to bring gambling machines in the area and entire faith groups of the community – the Muslims, the Christians, and the Jews – were going and recruiting the faith-based groups to go and sign a petition to not allow this to happen in our community, and we won, all of us.  Had it only been just a group from the community and the Muslims were just spectators watching, perhaps maybe one-third or one-fourth and only Allah knows best how many would have actually participated in the actual petition.  But you will never make a big difference in the proper way.  You could have done something about it as a Muslim community.

Allah says about enjoining the good and forbidding the evil that it is a part of the rule of law.  We believe in it.  That is why the society at the time of Rasulullah (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) was based on that and the whole principle of enjoining the good and forbidding the evil is to make sure that there are always people who are monitoring and watching the fulfillment of these obligations.  It is a rule of law.  You organize the system and whole society.  Allah (subhanahu wata’ala) preferred this ummah because of that quality.

Allah (subhanahu wata’ala) said, “Let there be an ummah, a group of you among yourselves that call people to goodness.  They will enjoin good and forbid evil.”  This is one of the qualities of the muslimeen and the Muslim ummah.  It is wherever you are.  You are responsible as an individual and as a community to promote what is good and forbid evil in the best way possible.  Dealing with a diverse community like ours here is one of the greatest principles in Islam.  You know, one of the beautiful principles of this deen is when the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) came to the ummah, he brought them this beautiful principle of accepting diversity, meaning tolerating colors, ethnicities, tribal differences, and all of these issues and overlooking all of these issues for the bigger principle.

The strength of the Muslim ummah was through its diversity.  It was a very dynamic community.  SubhanAllah America is closer to the early Muslim community of Madinah than perhaps many Muslim communities today.  It is very diverse.  You as a Muslim community can play a major role in strengthening the society and this community as well.

Volunteerism:  When the sahabah (radhiyAllahu ‘anhum) embraced Islam, they became the first volunteers in the history of Islam and Muslims.  They sacrificed their time, their wealth, their money and everything even in dire necessities when they needed the money the most, they gave it fisabilillah.  Allah (subhanahu wata’ala) says about them:  “They prefer others over their needs even though they themselves are in dire need for it.”  Why?   Because they volunteer.  They could get this insha’Allah ta’ala later, but for now, they needed it more, so they give, and that is a beautiful principle.

They volunteered their time, their efforts, and many things they can afford.  If they can afford volunteering, how many of you are volunteers first of all for your own Muslim community and center.  How much do you volunteer for your center let alone for the public library, hospital, or anywhere else that needs volunteers in this community?  If we don’t do that, then we are lacking so much in proving that this community can really be one of the most civilized, one of the most beautiful, organized communities in this entire society.  You see, alhamdulillahi rabbi’l-‘alameen, the Muslim community doesn’t really lack any kind of energy, resources, enthusiasm, principles, loyalties, …you name it, they don’t lack that.  But they unfortunately lack direction.  You have it, you know where to go, and all that you need to do is just come and ask.  Ask and we will help and assist insha’Allah tabaraka wa ta’ala to prove it to the world that the Muslim community is definitely a great asset to every civilization and every area where they land.

SubhanAllah things happen w’Allahi for a reason.  I mean, if this hearing didn’t happen, perhaps you would never hear about this khutbah.  And if a hearing like that didn’t happen in the community or in this society, perhaps you would just continue in the same way that you were doing things.  But Allah (subhanahu wata’ala) chose people to stir some dust for you to go and see through and make sure you do the right thing bi’idhnillahi ‘azza wa jall.  From this minbar, as an imam and as a member of this community, I advise every individual, man or woman, to take their part in this society, first of all within your own community and own Islamic center, your own family, and then the entire society.

I encourage people to go and try to volunteer their time, and when I say ‘volunteer’, it doesn’t have to compromise your deen just in order to make sure that they see some Muslims around.  You can be who you are, but you can still volunteer and help and assist others.  You don’t have to change the way you look in order to be accepted.  You can be the same person and who you are, but with your spirit, akhlaq and manners they can see a big difference between what they hear about and what they see in your akhlaq and your practice.

So I encourage all of you to find ways of volunteering.  Let’s begin with something very simple.  If your children go to a school (and I’m sure if you have children, they go to school), volunteer at their school as a parent.  If you have time, and I’m sure you can make time and you can give time, you go and you volunteer.  For what?  Go and ask them.  Tell them, “I know you guys need volunteers so what do I need to do?  I can come one hour a week, two hours a week, or more or less.”  Just go, and if you feel embarrassed that you are alone, ask other parents you know who send their kids to the same school and volunteer there.  Slowly and gradually you may become part of the board and the council.  Bi’idhnillah you bring khayr and good policies to the community.

And if you have some time, there is a public place like the public library where many people from the whole neighborhood will go and attend there.  Every now and again on the weekend, it would be good and healthy if some Muslims went and participate and go and volunteer.  Hospitals also need volunteers.  Eventually every aspect of your community may need volunteers.  Even the city, if you go and ask, you will find some specifically if you have spare time alhamdulillahi rabbil-‘alameen that you can help with, go to your Muslim community and go to the local community.  Go there and be proud of who you are as a Muslim.

WAllahi if you do that, I guarantee you will not hear anything about hearings on the radicalization of Muslims and the community’s response to it because people know that it is not the responsibility of the Muslims; it is the responsibility of the whole society.  But targeting one particular group for that is definitely a preposterous and unacceptable suggestion.  So as a Muslim community through your action you can make a big difference bi’idhnillahi tabaraka wa ta’ala.

7 / View Comments

7 responses to “Khutbah – Civic Engagement by Yaser Birjas”

  1. Siraaj says:

    Great statement over here from the khutbah:

    I’m not talking about PR records just to do some activities here and there to show that we have done something. I’m talking about sincere, genuine participation to bring benefit to this society.

    We need less, “Let’s show others who were are,” and instead just be that, and let the side effect of that be that people recognize us – we shouldn’t work for the community to gain recognition.

    Siraaj

  2. chuck hird says:

    What a good article. I have so wished we would see more Muslim interaction and vice versa -Christian, Jew, etc interact with one another to be as one community. In my daughters neighborhood there is one Muslim family, a very conservative family. They are always included in the invitation to neighborhood gatherings., however they never respond. I am sure this also happens in the reverse. But the lack of interacting with one another is a great obstacle to assimilation.

  3. Muslim says:

    *civic not civil – to the best of my knowledge!

  4. Olivia says:

    AWESOME.

    I was just having this very discussion with my cousin and some Muslim sisters on my FB, about how nowadays, with secular humanism really becoming a new “religion” for Americans, there is no better time for us as Muslims to realign ourselves with the humanistic principles that the Shariah upholds and the duties it calls us to. And I truly believe that by uniting with Americans on these principles and allying with them, we can stand as a force together to demand a change in foreign policy, Allahu Alim. But we really need to get the guts to take the first step, even if we feel nervous about how some people will react.

    Jzk shaykh Yasir.

    • Olivia says:

      And of course, that is in addition to our higher calling as Muslims to make a positive contribution to society, because that is part of our duty as being the nation that is a witness over the rest of humanity.

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