I’ve been thinking more and more about the difference between extremely locally-based, grass-roots Islamic activism vs. a larger, almost institution-like system (such as al-Maghrib)… these thoughts have been buzzing around in my head even more since I’ve had a few short discussions with my dad about it, comparing our work (grassroots) to al-Maghrib’s kind of work.
My father thinks that al-Maghrib is doing some great work (may Allah grant them tawfeeq), but he thinks that the greater need is for more grassroots activism. Consider me biased because of my parentage and history, but I also tend to lean more towards the grass-roots, local approach over the systemized one. To have a sheikh or two in one city/town, working with the community by providing such services as khutbahs, weekly halaqas, counselling, and much more – this I feel really brings the knowledge home and does an immense amount of good. Instead of just teaching, it’s a form of growing… the longer the sheikh is with the community, the closer they become to him, the more they trust him, the more benefit they gain. Rather than impersonal questions and answers, they get interaction. It’s not just a sheikh whom they look up to, it’s a sheikh whom they know and love because of their familiarity with him. It’s like family.
Y’know how in the other thread we were discussing reaching out to those Muslims who are really weak or lax, who don’t even pray most of the time, who are suffering from such issues as drug abuse and alcoholism (and much more)? Well, this kind of arrangement helps a lot with those kinds of situations. To have the sheikh(s) available practically on-call, who can guide and coach step-by-step… truly, it works wonders.
I used to be dazzled by the thought of travelling the world and speaking out on relevant issues such as politics and unity amongst the Muslims and whatnot. I still respect those who do. They are the superstars of the Ummah, and may Allah bless them and reward them and grant them every type of success!
But for myself, I see now that what is really needed is work of the less glamorous type. Not the superstars, but the schoolteachers who spend year after year teaching the same material, believing in it nonetheless and striving despite their weariness to get the message out, hoping and praying that when their students leave them for the wider world, that they will remember at least some of what they’ve been taught, even if they don’t remember the teachers themselves.
I’m a small-city girl, so I suppose that I’m really just addressing the small-city situation. I don’t live in major Muslim hotspots such as Toronto or Ottawa or Montreal, or even Edmonton and Calgary. I’ve spent the entirety of my (semi) mature life in exactly two cities – both of them relatively small compared to the rest of Canada and with a much smaller Muslim community. The socio-economic situation of the Muslim communities I’ve lived in is that of lower- to middle/working-class: families struggling to pull in a steady income, families who have a modest income and have to carefully budget to make ends meet, families who live in relative comfort but who can’t exactly be called rich. These are the people who need the “grounded” sheikh, who works and lives amongst them, shares their joys and their sorrows, their times of comfort and their times of hardship, who sees their children born, grow up, get married.
There’s a huge demand – or, if not an actual demand, then certainly a need – for those shuyookh and a’immah who are really and truly qualified, who have studied at and graduated from Islamic universities. In addition, they need not only Islamic knowledge but the experience of having grown up and lived in the West, so that they know first-hand the difficulty in living here as a Muslim and the challenges we face. Unfortunately, there are far too few of them. Yes, we have those such as Sheikh Muhammad al-Shareef, Yasir Qadhi, Yahya Ibrahim, and several more – but definitely not enough to go around. When we were younger, my brothers and I would wish that we could clone my dad so that he could spend more time with us while his clones would do the rest of his work (which we viewed as boring, tiresome, and an unwelcome distraction from family time); now I wish that we could clone my father and all those other shuyookh so that the needs of the Muslim community, on every level, can be better addressed and fulfilled.
If there are any students of knowledge reading this post, if there are any of you who are currently studying at an Islamic university and thinking about what you’re going to do when you graduate, or even those who just thinking of studying at an Islamic university – then here’s my suggestion: find yourself a community that lacks a good teacher, a good leader, that lacks so many services that it desperately needs. It doesn’t matter if the community is tiny and way-out-there and is guaranteed to freeze your socks to your feet, like Fort McMurray (actually, Fort Mac isn’t that bad – there are quite a few Muslims there). The point is, people need you. It’s grueling, tiresome work and rarely involves a lot of glory, but we’re not supposed to go for the glory – as long as it’s fee sabilillaah, we should be content. So please, please think about it! You have no idea how much we need you.
In closing, I would like to bring our attention and appreciation to the “small-time” du’aat that are out there, who are working so hard yet receive relatively little acknowledgement for what they’ve done and continue to do.
And so, for my father, who is one of those du’aat: Baba, I’m proud of you. I’m in awe of what you’ve accomplished, and no matter how much I disagree with you on various subjects, I still pray that at the very least, I may reach your level of knowledge, wisdom, and understanding. You’ve sacrificed so much for the Muslims, and yet it never seems to be enough… but insha’Allah, on the Day of Judgement it will be enough. I am proud to be your daughter, and ashamed that I’ve never put as much effort into being a better daughter and more worthy of a father such as you. May Allah ease your many burdens, and grant you the greatest of rewards.
Disclaimer: This is in no way belittling the efforts of al-Maghrib or other similar institutions; it’s simply my observation of the needs of the Muslim community.