By Khawaja Ahmed
Leaving the MSA can be a daunting yet inevitable step for many. It’s part of the package of leaving college and entering the post grad world: things aren’t going to be same anymore. Graduation opens doors to a world of unknowns where few things are left as structured as our education system. Once the seal of graduation from the campus is given, so is a seal from the MSA– but this one is a hindrance rather than a boost. The label implies this person has finished their duty to the community and is no longer required to be active in the community. They become tertiary and forgotten, a mentality that is many times internalized and leads to inactivity on the alumni’s end. This is detrimental to the larger community and the individual.
There is no stage in a person’s life where they cannot benefit the community or turn their Islam a private affair. In my previous article I mentioned two trajectories one can take after graduation, and I only explored the first. One point of concern from this last article was establishing the reasons as to why one would give back, so before jumping in how to give back, I want to establish a mindset that would make this possible. There are many reasons for maintaining involvement at some level with the larger community. The ones I will focus on fall under two categories; (1) preserving the practice of communal Islam and (2) investing in the community. As Muslims who have gone through MSA for however many number of years, we should see the impact of both of these categories. Neither of these should be omitted from one’s life at any point. Exiting the MSA does not mean one forgets the building blocks from the last four years, but rather works to integrate those blocks in the new phase of life. Once out of college, we must work to develop the community around ourselves just as we put in effort developing the MSA. The first step to take is creating a mindset of why this work should be carried on outside the college framework, for this there are two main steps; ensuring Islam is practiced as a community and then understanding the various needs of a communal body of Muslims and what role they play in serving it.
One needs to firmly acknowledge that Islam is meant to be practiced as a larger community before identifying the needs of the community in relation to where they fit in. We must examine and understand the reasons as to why it is foundational before jumping into the how to be involved. During our MSA years the communal practices of Islam is many times done as part of the social fabric of the club, allowing one to avoid the spiritual pitfalls of acting as a singular unit. Though this is very beneficial for the college framework, it allows one take for granted that this sort of Islam-centric community.
Upon leaving college, it becomes apparent this is not the norm and the foundations need reevaluating. Islam was never meant to be a religion of solidarity; indeed, among the earliest revelations to Muhammad was Surah Muddathir in which Allah commands “O you who is wrapped. Rise and warn. And proclaim the greatness of your lord” (74:1-3). This is sent in the early Makkan period where followers were still small but it is clear that it is pushing him to spread the message further, beyond the inner circle. Referring to him as the “wrapped one” is a reminder the shock has worn off from the initial interaction and now it is time for him to preach Islam openly. Since preaching Islam came after, as a command, learning and prayer, Islam cannot function without the community. In terms of spirituality and religious ritual the five daily prayers are held in congregation and its highly encouraged to go to the masjid for them. On a daily schedule there is meant to be numerous interactions with other Muslims, making isolation an unwanted experience.
There may be times where isolation is warranted, such as for intense spiritual renewal or study; however, it should not be the norm nor end goal. In regards to being distant from the community, Muhammad (SAW) warns against it by saying, “The wolf only eats the lone sheep” (Imaam Dawood) in referring to his nation. A Muslim is weak by him/herself to the temptations of shaytaan and the nafs, and the proper way to avoid this is to surround oneself with those who keep Allah close. It can be seen that both textual and tradition promote a sense of community is recommended and encouraged.
With the importance of communal Islam established, we move to creating the second pillar of the mindset to develop and sustain the functions of the body. This has more outward effects and will be dealt with as the mechanisms for sustaining the first reason. A common misconception is that MSA provides the bulk work or end all means to social and community work since that is for college students and that age group. This is an issue since it absolves Muslims of giving back to the larger Ummah after a certain age and stunts the growth of Muslims who were active in MSA as they lack a place to take the skills they developed.
What benefit is there in having students take part in this four year process of learning valuable skills for serve a community and then not use them afterwards? The idea of an Ummah expands beyond the four years of college, a setting where it can be convenient and fun to be part of a community of Muslims. There is a world outside of various institutions to tackle the needs of the communities which need people to be active in them. From masajid to third spaces, the need for active Muslims does not diminish, but rather the roles that they play will certainly change after college. It is in answering these needs that our community will grow and give purpose to its members.
Another issue with keeping the mindset of community work for only college students is overlooking personal enrichment. By tying community work to an activist mindset, Muslims fail to acknowledge community exists outside these parameters. The functions of a community are not restricted to what college students prioritize. Just as any community out there, Muslims face a slew of challenges and these change depending on one’s surroundings. Holistic communities deal with issues from domestic violence, to economic woes and cultural identity. It is here, in serving the community, where one finds their speciality of niche in serving the community.
The Sahabah did not stop giving after their youth ended nor did they all give back in the same way. Each person has a different set of talents and skills that can help in bettering the community. Attending rallies for social justice causes are not the end all to all community work. Needs of people stretch far beyond the echoing chants to alter policy, they can range from educational classes and food banks to just having a place to belong. Muslims should strive to set up institutions that fit the needs of their localities, for they were not placed in that area to only benefit themselves. Since giving back is essential, it is compulsory for them to make the Prophetic tradition a reality.
Islam is a communal faith and cannot be practiced in its entirety by oneself, to properly manifest Islam as a way of life one needs to ensure the sense of community is passed from the college scene to other stages of life. The Prophetic tradition cannot be restricted to one’s own relationship with Allah without sacrificing parts of Islam. It is also naive to assume one will be fine without the support of a larger Muslim community. Suggestions outlined above were just that, outlines of ways to be involved. Addressing the issue of how to be involved is a separate topic in itself. Before getting into the how, it is important to have a grasp of why so as to maximize the potency of the involvement.
Edited by Engie Salama
Written with Omar Elsayed