My son Khalid was born with autism, a neurological disorder with complex genetic causes and no known cure. He woke up crying every two hours from the day he was born until he was almost three.
He learned how to talk just last year and he occasionally freaks out if you laugh loudly in his vicinity. He used to bang his head against windows and walls and cry until he threw up. He’s made wonderful progress, Alhamdulillah, but at the end of the day, he still has autism, and we still have our daily challenges.
It’s hard to understand autism from the outside, and to be fair, no two people are affected in the same way. On the severe end of the scale, there’s our friend Dan, who does not talk, cannot walk properly and was in diapers until 13. His parents put him in leather gloves to prevent him from biting his hands to the bone when he is frustrated.
On the other end of the spectrum is our friend Zaina, who has Asperger’s Syndrome, which is a form of autism that Hollywood likes – she’s extremely intelligent, is physically normal, but so socially impaired that she barely talks, cannot make eye contact, and cannot even begin to understand the complexities of interacting with other people. My son Khalid is somewhere in the middle. He has his funny quirks, but he can pass for physically normal unless he’s spinning in circles or flapping his hands. He’s no genius, and his mental age may be behind his physical age, but he’s slowly learned his ABC’s and even attempts to play with other children. Alhamdulillah, his autism is moderate.
In the two years since his diagnosis, I’ve learned more about patience and trust in Allah than I had in my entire life before that.
Having a child with autism has been a blessing that I cannot imagine living without. I’m sure there’s more to learn still, but I know that once upon a time, I thought waiting for an hour was a long wait.
Until a few months ago, putting Khalid to bed took an average of an hour and a half every night – sometimes less, often more. I would sit next to him, or lie down next to him, and wait for the screaming, bouncing, kicking, pinching and crying to fade into silence. And I had to sit quietly, and not move or talk, and do my best to imitate some sort of maternal rock as the storm of Khalid battered against it.
I didn’t do a very good job at first, I would yell at him to lay down, and he would become scared and cry. So I would yell more, and he would scream, and I would yell more, and it would escalate until he would be shaking with fear and I with rage and at some point it occurred to me that my own son was genuinely terrified and couldn’t understand why he was being yelled out. And then, Allah gave me sabr, and then a diagnosis, and then the understanding that Khalid wasn’t disobeying, he just had no idea what was going on.
Even today, when Khalid is having a weird night and half an hour turns into an hour and a half, I just sit in the dark and do dhikr, or plan the next day, or think, and if he’s still not tired after about two hours, we just get up and go play for a bit. I’ll have a glass of water and maybe even a cookie. Khalid will get on the computer (yes, he uses the computer) and play games for as long as is takes for him to start looking tired, after which we’ll go back to bed again.
And I’ll sit next to him in the dark, and he’ll roll around and count his toes, or sing quietly to himself, and occasionally he’ll sit up to make sure I’m still there, but eventually he will doze off and I can finally get to bed, sometimes three or four hours after we “went to bed.” And before you accuse me of being exceptional, Aal’s mother spends three hours just feeding him, three times a day. And he still hits himself.
Yes, I have a lot of stories. We autism moms tend to gravitate towards one another, not because we have a manifesto or a secret handshake, but because at the end of the day when your child took off their dirty diaper in the mall and got lost in the parking lot and wouldn’t eat their lunch because some of the carrots were too orange, no one else will understand you except for another autism mom.
Another mother, Noura, called me a few weeks ago, and she had that quiver in her voice that we all get from time to time when we need to break down a bit so that we can put ourselves back together. She had been trying to get her daughter into a school, and no school would take her. She had been trying to get her daughter into a swimming class, but when she went for her first trial, the instructor refused to accept a child with “such behaviors.”
Noura had been running desperately from one place to another to get her daughter accepted into social and educational programs of any sort, because her daughter will be turning eight and has never been to school. She told me these things crying over the phone, frustrated and burnt out and just needing to hear something to keep her going. “I just don’t know,” she kept saying, “I don’t know what else I can do.”
I didn’t know what else she could do either, except for what I do, which is to ask Allah for help. We have been told that a child’s Jannah is beneath his or her mother’s feet, but in some cases, a mother’s Jannah may be beneath the feet of her special needs child. And perhaps the father’s too, Allahu Aalim. The tables get turned on both parents, and those who were relying on their grown children for care in their old age are instead preparing to care for grown children who cannot feed, bathe, or even clothe themselves. Instead of looking forward to retirement, parents dread the time when they can no longer earn an income to support their children.
We have been told that a child’s Jannah is beneath his or her mother’s feet, but in some cases, a mother’s Jannah may be beneath the feet of her special needs child.
If you want to see an adult cry, ask a father or mother what will happen to their special needs daughter or son after they die. If you could see inside of their head, you would see an exploding matrix of questions, fears, worries, and desperate plans. You would re-read every news story you’ve ever read of neglect or abuse, or even rape, of special needs adults by paid caretakers who take advantage of individuals who do not know how to defend themselves or even speak.
You would hear the point and counterpoint of a mind divided between wanting more children who could potentially care for the child, versus not wanting to risk having another child with the same genetically linked condition. You would see mental excel sheets tallying savings and money spent on current treatments versus saved for future life-long care, and money not saved for the education of the other children, and you would see a lot of figures in red.
Special needs parenting is expensive and scary. But here’s something unexpected – it’s also beautiful, and humbling, and when undertaken with trust in Allah and faith in His decisions, it is the catalyst for spiritual evolution.
Recognizing that our special-needs children are a trial as well as an opportunity to earn blessings, we are able to change the stories we tell ourselves. When we look at our children, and Shaitaan whispers “Why you? Why your child? How could God do this to you? It’s not fair,” we can bravely answer back. Allah chose me for this because He knew I could handle it, and He never gives anyone more than they can bear.
I am not Khalid’s Rabb, Allah is, and when I die, He will look after Khalid with a love seventy times greater than my own. I can only save so much money and teach his sister to look out for him only so much. Khalid’s care is with Allah. His rizq is with his Lord. And he may never learn how to work and he may never get married or hold a job, and he may die alone, or he may die before I do, but he will be raised as an innocent – one who will be exempt from the fear of judgment because he never knew what sin was.
If he never had a job, then he will never be asked about his wealth. If he never speaks, he will not be asked about lying. And these things are terrifying for me to think of, to type even, but I know that Allah has given my son autism for a reason, and all of Allah’s reasons are good reasons.
The Messenger of Allah (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam) said,
“The greatest reward comes with the greatest trial. When Allaah loves a people He tests them. Whoever accepts that wins His pleasure but whoever is discontent with that earns His wrath.” Narrated by al-Tirmidhi (2396) and Ibn Maajah (4031); classed as hasan by al-Albaani in Saheeh al-Tirmidhi.
“How wonderful is the affair of the believer, for his affairs are all good, and this applies to no one but the believer. If something good happens to him, he is thankful for it and that is good for him. If something bad happens to him, he bears it with patience and that is good for him.” (Narrated by Muslim, 2999).
Sometimes, when I look at Khalid I wonder what life would be like if he were ‘normal.’ He has the most enormous, beautiful brown eyes. He skin is a light olive, he has silky dark hair and a smile that could melt the polar ice caps. Perhaps normalcy would be too dangerous for Khalid. Or maybe he would be fine, maybe the autism is for me. I know with absolute certainty that if my son did not have autism, I would not have been a dedicated parent and a desperate Muslim. If I had not been pushed through fear for his future and hardship through the present, I would never have understood what it really meant to pray. My trust in Allah and acknowledgement of his Rububiyya (Lordship) would never have moved beyond the superficial. Can you dread for your child’s future without losing hope in Allah’s mercy? Is your taqwa greater than your fear?
It has taken me some time, but I can finally thank Allah for Khalid’s autism. It may save him from accountability , and it has definitely saved me from living in the unreal world – one where I care more about my child’s postgraduate degree than his iman. And while I have an entire lifetime of challenges to look forward to, I am keeping faith that Allah intends nothing but good for Khalid and I. If that means waiting until the resurrection to see my son as a normal young man, then so be it. Khalid and I will meet again at Al-Kauthar, and sit in Jannah with an eternity of ease to make up for one small lifetime of hardship.
May Allah have mercy on all Muslims, and ease whatever difficulties they are facing, and strengthen their iman and increase them in sabr, and reunite them with their loved ones in the company of the righteous. Ameen.
Mindful or Mind-full? Going From AutoPilot to Aware
“Remember that God knows what is in your souls, so be mindful of Him.”
[Sūrat al-Baqarah 2:235]
Mindful or Mind-full?
Ever felt frustrated when you were trying to talk to your spouse, your children, your students, or your youth group and they would just not pay attention? This is a prime example of being on autopilot and getting carried away without actually being aware of what is most important in the present moment.
A recent Harvard study shows that our minds are not present in the moment and wander about 47% of the time1. In a world of technology and continuous sensory overload, the lines between work and home, friends and family, necessity vs. purpose, world-centric vs. Allah-centric have become blurred. We are either living in the past or ruminating about the future, and in the process, we are forgetting to live, enjoy, cherish, and make the most of our present moments.
For parents, teachers, youth leaders, and anyone in the beautiful role of guiding, teaching, coaching, or mentoring others, we can make a huge difference by modeling Mindfulness ourselves. But where do we start? The answer is to go from autopilot to becoming aware.
Autopilot to Aware
Being on autopilot is when you are distracted in the present moment, where your mind is wandering into the past or the future, and you are less aware of yourself, surroundings, or others. Autopilot can actually be pretty helpful for your regular habits. Waking up, brushing your teeth, getting ready for your day, going to school or work – many of the things we do habitually every day can be done more seamlessly without having to think, and that is a good thing. But there are times when you have to learn to turn off your autopilot to become aware. But how?
Here is a Mindfulness tool that can be done in just a minute or two for you to become more aware.
Step 1: Breath as a Tool. Say Bismillah. Focus on your breath. See where you experience the breath – the breathing in and breathing out of your body. Is your breath stemming from your nostrils, your chest, or your stomach? Just bring your attention to your breath and relax and stay with it there for a few moments.
Step 2: Body as a Tool. Relax your body. We carry so many emotions in our bodies2. Our stress from the past or anticipation for the future sometimes finds its way into our necks, other times in our chest muscles or our backs. Pay attention to what emotions and sensations do you feel, and try to relax all parts of your body.
Step 3: Intention as a Tool. As you have centered your thoughts to the present moment through your breath and your body, ask yourself: “What is most important now? In this present moment?”
Just simply being aware makes us more mindful parents, teachers, youth and professionals – being aware makes us more Mindful of Allah SWT. Mindfulness is the ability to be aware of your mind and body and bring your attention to the present moment.
Real Life in the Present Moment
You are an on-the-go parent: It has been a long day and you have to pick up the kids from school, but work is still pending. You’re picking up the kids from school, feeding them, and then shuffling everyone to their afterschool activities, be it Qur’an, softball, soccer, swimming, or the million other things that kids seem to have these days. You squeeze pending work in between drop-offs and pick-ups, and you function by living from one task to the next.
The Autopilot Impact: You’re getting a lot done, but are so engrossed in quickly moving your children along from one thing to another that you are unable to really cherish your time together.
The Mindfulness Suggestion: You can try to go from autopilot to awareness by focusing on your breath, paying attention to your emotions, and relaxing your body. As you do so, ask yourself: “What is most important now?” Make the intention to slow down, listen to the children more mindfully, and cherish and enjoy your time together.
You are a busy teacher: Last night you had to take all the grading home and spent two hours poring over students’ work. This morning, you woke up early to pick up some classroom supplies after dropping off your own kids to school. You’ve already had two cups of coffee and are trying to think through everything you have to do today. You like the idea of Mindfulness, living life in the present moment, and enjoying every day to its fullest, but your mind is not free to even enjoy the beautiful morning sunrise as you drive to school.
The Autopilot Impact: You want to listen and pay attention to every child’s needs, and enjoy the rewards of their growth, but you can’t. What’s more, you judge yourself for just trying to get through your activities for the day. You wish you could connect with your students better.
The Mindfulness Suggestion: Whenever you are stressed with an unpleasant parent or student interaction, think about breathing, relaxing your body, and asking what you need to focus on now. Try to do one thing at a time, and relax into what you’re doing.
You are an overstretched youth director: You are a role model. You have this major weekend event you are planning with the youth. Your budget is still pending from the board, you have to call all these people, have to get the graphics and remind everyone about the event, you have to visit all these masjids and MSAs to announce and remind people about the weekend.
This weekend’s theme is Living a Life of Purpose and you are super passionate about it. However, the whole week you have had a hard time remembering to even pray one Salah with focus. Instead, your mind has been preoccupied with all the endless planning for this weekend. You love what you do but you wonder how to also be mindful in your everyday worship while you are always prepping and planning engaging activities for the youth.
The Autopilot Impact: You enjoy shaping the youth but you are losing steam. You are always planning the next program and unable to focus on your own personal and spiritual development. It is difficult for you to pray even one salah without thinking about all the events and activities planned for that week.
The Mindfulness Suggestion: Get serious about taking some time for yourself. Know that becoming more mindful about your own prayers and self-development will also make you a better role model. Take a minute or two before every Salah to practice the simple, 3-Step Mindfulness Tool. You say Bismillah and breathe, focus your mind, and then relax your body. Empty your mind from everything else – what has past and what’s to come – and ask “What’s most important now?” to develop better focus in your Salah.
In Conclusion: Practice Simple but Solid Steps towards becoming more Mindful Muslims
Mindfulness is to open a window to let the Divine light in.
[Imam Al Ghazali]
Mindfulness gives us the ability to be aware. We can use Mindfulness tools to remember Allah , refocus, renew our intentions, and engage with the present moment in a more effective and enjoyable way. Mindfulness also invites awareness of our potential negligence in being our best selves with both Allah and His creation. To put it simply, being more aware of our selves can help us be better versions of our selves.
Mindfulness is both an art and a science, with brain and behavioral science research validating the importance of Mindfulness in improving our health, managing our stress, navigating our emotions, and positively impacting our lives3. In today’s modern and distracted world, let us treasure every tool that helps us center our attention on what matters the most.
- Bradt, Steve (2010). Wandering mind not a happy mind. Harvard Gazette. https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2010/11/wandering-mind-not-a-happy-mind/
- Lauri Nummenmaa, Enrico Glerean, Riitta Hari, Jari K. Hietanen (2013). Bodily maps of emotions. National Academy of Sciences. https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2013/12/26/1321664111
- “What are the benefits of mindfulness,” American Psychological Association: http://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/07-08/ce-corner.aspx
To learn more about how to become mindful take the Define Course on Mindfulness and Emotional Intelligence.
A Code of Conduct To Protect Against Spiritual Abuse
When there is a claim of spiritual abuse, the initial reaction of concerned Muslims is often to go to another Muslim leader and expect that leader to take care of it. Most of the time, however, religious leaders in the community have no authority over other religious leaders who are found abusing their position. Many of these leaders feel a foreboding sense of powerlessness to exert change, leaving those who abuse, to do so freely and with impunity.
There have been attempts by some leaders to take action against abusive religious figures. However, when this happens, it is usually followed by a public or ‘in-group’ campaign against the abusive figure, and the abusive figure and his supporters return in kind. This becomes messy, quickly. There is name-calling, mud-slinging, and threats, but in the end, it amounts to nothing, in the end, leaving everyone involved to make their own decision as to whether or not to continue support for the alleged perpetrator. Other religious leaders may know the accused is guilty, but due to friendships or programs they wish to continue doing with the accused, they will cover for them, especially when there is only a perceived low level of evidence that the public could ever discover it.
There are several methods and excuses through which abuse is covered up.
The Wall of Silence
In cases of tightly knit groups, whether Sufi tariqas, super Salafi cliques, activist groups, or preachers who have formed a team, the abuser will be protected by a wall of silence, while the victim is targeted, maligned, and ostracized for speaking out against the leader. They, not the abuser, are held accountable, liable, and blamed. While the abuser is expected to be ‘forgiven,’ the victim is socially shamed for a crime committed against him or her. More often than not, the victim is intimidated into silence, while the perpetrator is left free to continue abusing.
The Kafir Court Rationale
There have been countless situations when there have been legal claims made against a transgressing spiritual leader, but through coercion and pressure, the shaykh (or those close to him) will be able to convince his victim that they are not allowed to go to kafir court systems to solve issues between Muslims. Ironically, these same shaykhs see no difficulty signing legally binding contracts with other Muslims they do business with, or when they give classes, which stands to reason, they are perfectly fine accepting the same ‘kafir court’ as a source of protection when it is for themselves.
Stop Hurting the Dawah Plea
In other cases, when the disputes are between fellow students, or representatives of the shaykh and those lower ranking students, the shaykh himself is able to get on the phone with the disgruntled victim, give him or her special attention, and convince the person to drop it and not pursue justice, as that may ‘hurt the dawah.’ Sometimes, the shaykhs will ostensibly push for Islamic mechanisms of justice and call for arbitration by other religious figures who they know will decide in his favor. It is critical not to fall victim to these arguments.
Your Vile Nafs Culpe
Far too often in these groups, particularly the more spiritually inclined ones, everyone will acknowledge the abuse, whether illicit sexual behavior, groping, financial fraud, secret temporary marriages, or bullying by a Shaykh, but steadfastly invoke the ‘only prophets are perfect, and our Shaykh is a wali–– but he can make mistakes’ refrain. Then, when those seeking recourse dare disclose these issues, even when there is no dispute about the factuality of their claims, they are browbeaten into compliance; told their focus on the negative is a sign that they are ‘veiled from the more important, positive efforts of the group, and it is they who should overcome their vile nafs.’ With such groups, leaving may be the only solution.
Pray it Away Pretext
Sometimes, a target of abuse may go to other teachers or other people in the community to seek help, guidance, or direction. The victims hold these teachers in high regard and believe that they can trust them. However, instead of these teachers acting to protect the victims, the victims are often placated, told to pray it away. They are left with empty platitudes, but nothing concrete is ever done to protect them, nor is there any follow-up.
The Forgive and Forget Pardon
They are told to forgive…
Forgiveness has its place and time, but at that critical moment, when a victim is in crisis and requires guidance and help, their wellbeing should remain paramount. To counsel victims that their primary job and focus at that pivotal juncture is to forgive their abuser is highly objectionable. Forgiveness is not the obligation of the victim and for any teacher or religious leader to invalidate the wrong that took place is not only counterproductive but dangerous––even if the intention behind the advice came from a wholesome place.
The Dire Need For A Code of Conduct
It is very easy to feel let down when nothing is done about teachers who abuse, but we have to understand that without a Code of Conduct, there really isn’t much that can be done when the spiritual abuse is not considered illegal. It is the duty of Islamic institutions to protect employees, attendees, and religious leaders. We also must demand that.
Justice is a process. It is not a net result. This means that sometimes we will follow the process of justice and still come up short. The best thing we can do to hold abusers accountable for our institutions is to set up a process of accountability. A code of conduct will not eliminate spiritual abuse. Institutions that adopt this code may still cover up abuse, in which case victims will need to take action against the institution for violating the code. This code of conduct will also protect teachers who can be targetted and falsely accused.
As members of the community, we should expect more. Here is how:
- Demand your Islamic institutions to have and instill a code of conduct.
- If you are in a group outside of an institution, get clarity on the limits of the Shaykh.
- Understand that anyone, no matter their social status, is capable of doing horrible things, even the religious figures who talk about the importance of justice, accountability, and transparency.
- When it comes to money, expect more from your leadership than emotional appeals. Fundraising causes follow trends, and while supporting good causes is a positive thing, doing so without a proper audit or accountability is not. It lends itself to financial abuse, mistrust, and misappropriation.
Establish a Protocol
A lot of hurt can be saved and distrust salvaged if victims are provided with honest non-judgment. Even in the event that there is a lack of concrete evidence, a protocol to handle these kinds of sensitive situations can provide a victim with a safe space to go to where they know they won’t be ignored or treated callously. We may not be able to guarantee an outcome, but we can ensure that we’ll try.
Using Contract Law to Hold Abusers Accountable – Danya Shakfeh
In cases of spiritual abuse, legal recourse (or any recourse for that matter) has been rare due to there being no standard of conduct and no legal means to hold abusers accountable. In order to solve this problem, our Code of Conduct creates a legal mechanism of enforcement through contract law.
The reason why contract law is important and applicable is that the law does not always address unethical behavior. You have heard the refrain “Just because it is legal, it does not mean it is ethical.” The law, for varying reasons, has its limits. Although we associate the law with justice and morality, the law and justice and morality are not always interchangeable and can even be at odds with each other.
Ultimately, specifically in a secular society, the law is a set man-made rules and sometimes those rules are arbitrary and actually unfair. For example, there is a class of laws called ‘strict liability’ laws. These laws make a defendant liable even if the person committed the offense by accident. One example of strict liability law is selling alcohol to a minor. In some states, even if the person tried to confirm the minor’s legal age, the seller could still be held liable for the offense. On the flip-side, there are is a lack of anti-bullying laws on the books in the United States. This allows employers to cause serious emotional damage to employees, yet the employer can get away with such offensive behavior. Accordingly, the law does not always protect nor is it always ‘just.’
This is one of the reasons that victims of spiritual abuse have had little success in having their claims addressed at a legal level. Because abuses are not legally recognized as such, there is often no associated remedy. For example, when a woman enters into a secret second marriage only to find that the husband is not giving her all her Islamic legal rights, that woman’s recourse is very limited because the law does not recognize this as abuse and does not even recognize the marriage.
Further, if a victim of spiritual abuse is abused due to religious manipulation unless the abuser engaged in a stand-alone crime or civil claim, the victim also has no legal recourse. For example, if a religious scholar exploits a congregant’s vulnerabilities in order to convince the congregant to turn over large amounts of money and the congregant later learns that the Islamic scholar did not really need the money, he or she may have no legal recourse. This is because manipulation (as long as there is no fraud) is not illegal and depending on how clever the religious scholar was, the congregant would have no legal recourse. Our way of solving this problem is by using contract law to set and enforce the standard for ethical behavior.
Use of Institutional Handbooks
Whether people realize it or not, institutional handbooks are a type of contract. Though an attorney should be consulted in order to ensure that they these documents are binding, policies do not necessarily need to be signed by every party nor do they need to be called a “contract” in order to be legally binding. By creating institutional handbooks and employment policies that relate to common issues of spiritual abuse, we can finally provide guidelines and remedies.
When an employee at an institution violates the institution’s policies, this is a “breach of contract” that can result in firing or even monetary damages. In other words, the policy is that document which victims and institutions can use to back their cases when there are allegations involving abuse. Policies can also hold institutions themselves liable for not enforcing the policy and remedies as to victims’ abuse. Policies also serve the purpose of putting the community and their beneficiaries and patrons on notice as to what is expected of them.
Our Code of Conduct is the most comprehensive of created ethical guidelines for Muslims leaders and institutions for making spiritual abuse remedies actionable. We believe it will provide remedies to victims that would otherwise not be available through other legal means. By binding the parties to a contract, victims and institutions can take these contracts, along with the abusers, to court and use the contract to fill in the gap for appropriate behavior that the law otherwise does not fill.
Ya Qawmi: Strengthen Civic Roots In Society To Be A Force For Good
For believers the traditions and teachings of the Prophets (blessings on them), particularly Muhammad , are paramount. Each Prophet of God belonged to a community which is termed as their Qawm in the Qur’an. Prophet Lut (Lot) was born in Iraq, but settled in Trans-Jordan and then became part of the people, Qawm of Lut, in his new-found home. All the Prophets addressed those around them as ‘Ya Qawmi’ (O, my people) while inviting them to the religion of submission, Islam. Those who accepted the Prophets’ message became part of their Ummah. So, individuals from any ethnicity or community could become part of the Ummah – such as the Ummah of Prophet Muhammad.
Believers thus have dual obligations: a) towards their own Qawm (country), and b) towards their Ummah (religious companions). As God’s grateful servants, Muslims should strive to give their best to both their Qawm and Ummah with their ability, time and skillset. It is imperative for practising and active Muslims to carry out Islah (improvement of character, etc) of people in their Ummah and be a witness of Islam to non-Muslims in their Qawm and beyond. This in effect is their service to humanity and to please their Creator. With this basic understanding of the concept, every Muslim should prioritise his or her activities and try their utmost to serve human beings with honesty, integrity and competence. Finding excuses or adopting escapism can bring harm in this world and a penalty in the Hereafter.
Like many other parts of the world, Britain is going through a phase lacking in ethical and competent leadership. People are confused, frustrated and worried; some are angry. Nativist (White) nationalism in many western countries, with a dislike or even hatred of minority immigrant people (particularly Muslims and Jews), is on the rise. This is exacerbated through lowering religious literacy, widespread mistrust and an increase in hateful rhetoric being spread on social media. As people’s patience and tolerance levels continue to erode, this can bring unknown adverse consequences.
The positive side is that civil society groups with a sense of justice are still robust in most developed countries. While there seem to be many Muslims who love to remain in the comfort zone of their bubbles, a growing number of Muslims, particularly the youth, are also effectively contributing towards the common good of all.
As social divisions are widening, a battle for common sense and sanity continues. The choice of Muslims (particularly those that are socially active), as to whether they would proactively engage in grass-roots civic works or social justice issues along with others, has never been more acute. Genuine steps should be taken to understand the dynamics of mainstream society and improve their social engagement skills.
From history, we learn that during better times, Muslims proactively endeavoured to be a force for good wherever they went. Their urge for interaction with their neighbours and exemplary personal characters sowed the seeds of bridge building between people of all backgrounds. No material barrier could divert their urge for service to their Qawm and their Ummah. This must be replicated and amplified.
Although Muslims are some way away from these ideals, focusing on two key areas can and should strengthen their activities in the towns and cities they have chosen as their home. This is vital to promote a tolerant society and establish civic roots. Indifference and frustration are not a solution.
Muslim individuals and families
- Muslims must develop a reading and thinking habit in order to prioritise their tasks in life, including the focus of their activism. They should, according to their ability and available opportunities, endeavour to contribute to the Qawm and Ummah. This should start in their neighbourhoods and workplaces. There are many sayings of the Prophet Muhammad on one’s obligations to their neighbour; one that stands out – Gabriel kept advising me to be good to my neighbour so much that I thought he would ask that he (neighbour) should inherit me) – Sahih Al-Bukhari.
- They must invest in their new generation and build a future leadership based on ethics and professionalism to confidently interact and engage with the mainstream society, whilst holding firm to Islamic roots and core practices.
- Their Islah and dawah should be professionalised, effective and amplified; their outreach should be beyond their tribal/ethnic/sectarian boundaries.
- They should jettison any doubts, avoid escapism and focus where and how they can contribute. If they think they can best serve the Ummah’s cause abroad, they should do this by all means. But if they focus on contributing to Britain:
- They must develop their mindset and learn how to work with the mainstream society to normalise the Muslim presence in an often hostile environment.
- They should work with indigenous/European Muslims or those who have already gained valuable experience here.
- They should be better equipped with knowledge and skills, especially in political and media literacy, to address the mainstream media where needed.
Muslim bodies and institutions
- Muslim bodies and institutions such as mosques have unique responsibilities to bring communities together, provide a positive environment for young Muslims to flourish and help the community to link, liaise and interact with the wider society.
- By trying to replicate the Prophet’s mosque in Madinah, they should try to make mosques real hubs of social and spiritual life and not just beautiful buildings. They should invest more in young people, particularly those with professional backgrounds. They should not forget what happened to many places where the Muslim presence was thought to be deep-rooted such as Spain.
- It is appreciated that the first generation Muslims had to establish organisations with people of their own ethnic/geographical backgrounds. While there may still be a need for this for some sections of the community, in a post-7/7 Britain Muslim institutions must open up for others qualitatively and their workers should be able to work with all. History tells that living in your own comfort zone will lead to isolation.
- Muslim bodies, in their current situation, must have a practical 5-10 year plan, This will bring new blood and change organisational dynamics. Younger, talented, dedicated and confident leadership with deep-rooted Islamic ideals is now desperately needed.
- Muslim bodies must also have a 5-10 year plan to encourage young Muslims within their spheres to choose careers that can take the community to the next level. Our community needs nationally recognised leaders from practising Muslims in areas such as university academia, policy making, politics, print and electronic journalism, etc.