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Teach Your Kids About Black Lives Matter Now

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by Sana H. Aaser

[dropcap size=small]W[/dropcap]hile Muslims were celebrating the final days of Ramadan and Eid, two unarmed black men – Philando Castile and Alton Sterling – were shot and killed by police officers in separate events in Minneapolis and Baton Rouge. These recent events underscore a disheartening trend: young black men in America are nine times more likely to be killed by police officers than any other demographic.

Race relations have become all the more tense as self-proclaimed, “freedom fighters,” have killed six police officers in Dallas and three police officers in Baton Rouge. Although the news and social media have been filled with updates and opinions, few articles have been geared toward kids. Even those articles that make a case for why we should talk to our kids about it, don’t explain how.

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So, what do we tell our kids?

In the following sections, we will discuss: (a) a rationale for discussing race relations in America with kids, (b) a historical narrative to teach, (c) key topics to discuss, and (d) action items.

Why Muslims Must Tell Their Kids

As a parent, you might be asking yourself, “Why should I tell my child about race relations in America?” Here are three important reasons:

Instilling Justice

The cases of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling are each examples of a grave injustice in which police officers used their positions of power and authority to make a judgment and exert force unfairly. Islam teaches us to stand up against injustice wherever we see it. The Qur’an states “…do not let the hatred of a people prevent you from being just. Be just; that is nearer to righteousness. And fear Allah; indeed, Allah is acquainted with what you do” (5:8).

Standing for Equity

The events that transpired in Minneapolis and Baton Rouge are part of a larger narrative of the persistent unequal treatment of people of color. This is not only morally reprehensible, but also against the teachings of Islam. Allah says “Oh mankind, indeed We have created you from a male and a female and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you” (49:13).

Creating Consciousness

Reflecting on the stories of the police officers who shot and killed these Black men, a discussion on our own awareness of biases and stereotypes is required. While the police officers might deny being racist, their actions say otherwise. Their hasty judgment led to the death of young men. In the same way, our own assumptions and prejudices can have terrible consequences.

This isn’t just an American problem, it is an American-Muslim problem as well. The Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative released a study in 2015, documenting serious forms of racism within the American-Muslim community. If you don’t have time to read through the study, a summary (in pop-culture form) is available here.

Why Parents Don’t Tell Their Kids

These are tough conversations. Parents may not want to have these conversations because they are personally uncomfortable. The American Psychology Association, believes that it is integral for parents to keep talking anyway, and that the discussions get easier over time. However, there are two common hesitations that parents have.

My Kids are Color Blind

One common hesitation that parents cite when discussing topics related to race is that “my children [and I] don’t see color; we treat all people equally.” This argument, often referred to as “color blindness,” lacks merit because even if a parent allegedly does not see race, it still does not account for institutional racism. Secondly, studies show that our brains naturally discriminate and therefore, it is irresponsible to claim that one, “does not see color.”

My Kids are Too Young

Another common contention is that, “my children are too young to speak to about race,” or that “my children aren’t affected by racism.” This is simply not true. An in-depth investigation by CNN, titled “Kids on Race,” in 2012 showcases that children as young as six years old have varying attitudes on race.

We recommend the following discussion for parents of children age six and above.

The Story to Share with Kids

Our goal is to share a historical narrative to help children understand the concept of institutional racism, as it pertains to Black people in America. This narrative follows advice provided from the journal, Multicultural Education.

What Monopoly Can Teach Us About Racism

Let’s begin with a story. Imagine everyone in the family except for you (the child) are playing a game of Monopoly (or pick another game that may be more appropriate for your family, e.g. Pokemon, Chutes & Ladders, LIFE). We play for one hour, and now, each of us owns properties and has earned lots of money. Now imagine, after all of this, we let you (the child) join the game. You start with nothing. If each of us does the same amount of work, do you think you could win? No, there is very little chance, because you are starting so far behind.

This game is similar to the experience of Black people in America. Nearly 400 years ago, White European settlers in America went to Africa. There, the settlers kidnapped Black Africans and brought them to America. These Africans were enslaved. This means that they forced the Africans to work for them. From the time the Africans were children, they had to work all day and were not able to go to school either.

For more than 200 years, this is how Black people lived in America. Finally, a lot of people – some White and some Black – gained the courage to stand up against this. They said that enslaving people was bad, and that it needed to stop. And, they succeeded. Slavery was abolished, meaning that it ended. Black people were freed so that they could begin leading normal lives. Meaning, they could buy homes, go to school, and get normal jobs!

But, remember that game of Monopoly we played? Just because somebody is playing the game, that doesn’t mean it was fair. Today, because they were treated unfairly from the beginning, Black people have to work harder than others for the same results. Not only that, when slavery was abolished, some people still had bad feelings towards Black people just because they looked different. Because of that, they treated Black people very badly. For example, Black people weren’t able to eat at the same restaurants or even use the same bathrooms. These actions are called, “discrimination,” and some still treat Black people unfairly today.

For a more detailed history of slavery in America, this website is a good source. Additionally, “If You Lived When There Was Slavery in America,” published by Scholastic, paints a picture of slavery in America for children age five and above.

Key Watch Outs

Important notes: (1) Do not refer to the Africans as “slaves,” but rather say that they were “enslaved.” This slight difference underscores the initial act of injustice, instead of labeling a group of people with a term of disempowerment. (2) Clarify that over time, enslaved Africans were called African Americans, who are also called Black people, or people of color. (3) This narrative is a very simplified version of the history, and can be modified depending on the age of your children.

Given this history, below is a set of questions and activities that parents can engage in with children to help foster an understanding of fairness and discrimination.

inequity

Activity #1 – The Sweet Taste of Fairness

What does it mean if something is fair? Have Black people been treated fairly in the history of our country? We seek to answer these questions through this activity. You will need 12 pieces of candy. Follow the instructions and questions below.

Imagine President Obama gave me five pieces of candy and only gave you one. How would you feel? The goal of this discussion is to help children understand the meaning of “fairness.” It is in our fitra, or human nature, to be opposed to injustice and attracted to justice.

Now what if the roles were switched, and you received five pieces of candy and I only had one. How would you feel? The goal of this discussion is for children to understand that when we are in situations of privilege (e.g. when we have the candy), we must give to those who do not have it.

So let’s say President Obama gave me five pieces and only gave you one. Now, President Obama comes back. He has four pieces of candy. Who should he give the pieces of candy to?  The goal here is to foster a desire for equity instead of equality. By the standards of equality, each individual should be given two. But, this isn’t fair because the child will only have three pieces total and the parent will now have seven! However, by the standards of equity, the child should be given all four pieces to make up for the prior deficit. That way, each individual has five pieces of candy.

In the American context, this goes against our beliefs about hard work paying off (the Protestant work ethic, the land of opportunity, etc). We like to believe that the good that comes to us is a product of our own efforts, not a privilege handed to us by a rigged system.

Final question: Now that we know about fairness and equity, do you think Black people have been treated fairly in the history of the United States? The goal here is to bring the conversation together. Black people in America have not been treated fairly. The over 200-year history of slavery (and lack of equity) means there isn’t a level playing field.

In the Holy Qur’an, “Allah orders for justice and fairness, (16:90). Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) continues saying, “O you who believe! Stand firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even if it be against yourselves, your parents, and your relatives, or whether it is against the rich or the poor…” (4:135). Not only with your family and relatives, but even with others, Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) commands us to be fair and just.

Activity #2 – Tart Discrimination

Is it okay to treat people differently based on how they look? We seek to answer this question through the following activity. You will need at least four people and four lemons. This activity was originally created by the Anti-Defamation League.

Assign each person a lemon and ask the individual to become an expert on the lemon – how it looks, smells, and feels. Next, collect the lemons in one basket and move them around such that their order is not easily discovered. Finally, ask the participants to locate their lemon from the basket. Remarkably, most will be able to find their lemon.

Ask the individuals how they were able to spot their lemon. Some may reference the size, others may talk about color, etc. This is a precursor to a discussion on how people are like that – different sizes, shapes, and colors.

Now, collect the lemons again. This time, peel the lemons, and ask the kids to find their own lemon. Presented with this, the children will respond saying, “All of the lemons look the same!” This comment opens the door to the realization that people, similar to lemons, look different on the outside but are all essentially the same on the inside.

Final Question: If we, like the lemons, are all similar on the inside, is it okay to treat people differently based on how they look on the outside?The goal here is to bring the conversation together. Black people in America are still being treated unfairly because of the way they look.

The Holy Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) says, “If one of you sees something evil, he should change it with his hand. If he cannot, he should speak out against it, and if he cannot do even that, he should at least detest it in his heart, this being the weakest form of faith.” We describe this notion of justice in our book, “Noor Kids Stand Up to Bullying.”

As parents, we recommend the following three actions to help alleviate the inequity associated with race in our communities. Some activities involve children, others do not.

Step One – Reflect on Our Biases

Where do biases stem from? According to Dr. Derald Wing Sue at Columbia University, it starts at home. She says, “Many parents talk to their children about embracing difference, but in subtle, covert ways, they communicate something very different. For example, when approaching a group of black youngsters, a mother may unconsciously pull the child nearer to her.” As parents, it is our responsibility, firstly, to reflect on our biases. If unchecked, these biases may manifest themselves in our children.

Step Two – Role Model Behavior

How can we protect ourselves from negative biases? The answer is simple: people. Dr. Wing Sue explains, “many [non-Black] parents often talk to kids about the evils of prejudice and discrimination, yet in their own lives they have few friends or neighbors of color with whom they regularly socialize. These implicit communications are more powerful than any intentional efforts on the part of parents.”

As parents, if we expect our children to grow up with an appreciation for humanity, we too must reflect such diversity in our daily lives through our friends and neighbors.

imamomar

Step Three – Participate

As the Holy Prophet’s ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) saying goes, if we cannot solve this issue with our hands, we should at least speak out against it. Many scholars of note, including Shaykh Omar Suleiman and Imam Suhaib Webb, have taken to the streets and participated in locally-organized protests. Participating in such events sends a strong message to children that we, as Muslims, have a responsibility to stand up with the oppressed.

If it is not possible to attend a protest, it is valuable to either call or write a letter to your local state representative. In your phone call or letter, you and your children should each discuss why you are troubled about recent violence towards Black people in America and express a need to hold responsible parties accountable. This too sends a strong message to children to participate in their local government.

This work has been created by Sana H. Aaser, Educational Director at Noor Kids. Sana has a Master’s degree in education with a focus on equity and social justice. Her research on American-Muslim youth identity earned her San Francisco State University’s highest honors as a graduate hood recipient.  

Noor Kids is a Harvard-supported monthly, at-home Islamic education program designed by creative and scholarly experts to help 4- to- 8 year-olds learn and love Islam. To see a free sample, click here.

 

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12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Umm Jehan

    July 21, 2016 at 3:49 PM

    Teach your children deen and the Seerah of RasoolAllah (pbuh). They will learn how to spend their lives as Allah wants us to lead.

  2. Avatar

    GregAbdul

    July 23, 2016 at 2:32 AM

    There is a pattern here I want to address. It seems there are certain Muslims who can only speak about racism and oppression when they are doing a sort of stealth government bashing. As if, the biggest problem American Muslims face is the FBI. There has always been a strong conservative strain among Western Muslims. After all, we don’t drink or smoke and we are constantly reminded to dedicate ourselves to our families. None of this is wrong, but what is wrong is that the backbone of American racism does not lie at your local police department, but with American culture and custom and usually how we are mistreated and not given equal opportunity in the workplace. In other words, it’s the business world that really maintains prejudice and unequal treatment of blacks and Muslims and too often we go along. Haven’t you ever heard? “You’ll never get anywhere dressed like that? You don’t see the costume changes in the masjid parking lot? They are not for fear of the police. I am African American and this black struggle thing is very emotional for me. So emotional I can’t even directly address this right now. I am waiting and trying to cool down. All the dead black people before me…I can’t talk now, but if Muslims want to join black people, don’t play this slick game where the only pointing out you do always happens to be some arm of government official while you smile and go along with the rampant white racism that takes place in America’s businesses. Money is the coin of the realm. The police act under instruction. Muslims have less and less of a choice everyday and this nonsense where you always warn me about the FBI, I am not even hearing. Said this before: if you are stupid enough to let a stranger walk up to you and convince you to go kill Jews or whoever, I want them to remove you from my masjid and they can’t remove you soon enough.

  3. Avatar

    Rene

    July 24, 2016 at 12:29 AM

    ” Teach your kids about Black Lives Matters now “.

    I don’t have any kids, nor do I plan to have any as I’m too old to birth any,but if I did.. as with my parents did with siblings and me as children..I would teach them about African- American history, the civil rights era of the past and present.

    I would also definitely teach them about BLM and the truth behind their movement.. to teach them how they are making some life altering sacrifices to improve the lives of African-Americans/Black people and for all people in terms of quelling police brutality. I admire anybody who are willing to stand their ground against a giant obstacle like David and Goliath.

  4. Avatar

    Nadia

    July 24, 2016 at 3:03 AM

    I find it strange that any kid wouldn’t know what racism is unless very young. The majority of muslims are non-white themselves and have felt ot heard or seen racism in their lives. No one ever needed to explain it to me.
    Even the article itself says kids know themselves what race is its natural. Its nothing to do with slavery, its hatred of people due to the colour of their skin plain and simple.

  5. Avatar

    Omer Riaz

    July 29, 2016 at 3:07 AM

    “Respect and honor all human beings irrespective of their religion, color, race, sex, language, birth, property and so on” – Quran [17-70]
    Learn Quran with Tajweed

    • Avatar

      M

      July 30, 2016 at 3:56 PM

      Brother, which surah is this from? I checked both Surah Al-Isra and Al-Ma’arij

  6. Avatar

    noble peace

    August 9, 2016 at 2:25 AM

    Bism Allah

    if there’s any xtians that happen to visit this page and happen to read this; first welcome and peace………. with out insult to the current day bible or the jews……because we love jews..contrary to what is being promoted..etc. what I wanted to bring to attention is the curse of ham promoted by the bible…please to refer to what al-hujjarat (Quran 49:13) states about as alluded to above, about God making us into different peoples, so that we know one another and that we also know that the best of us in His eyes are those whom are most God conscious.

    As to add insult, and hopefully it is not taken as such, but personally I believe, like most of the biblical stories, satan’s hand is involved, as to help wave the wand….

    by any means necessary and white supremacy-spoken word-I sincere. and please do remember that there is nothing more anti-Semitic than zionism

    in the end human lives matter…..just as a reminder to muslims and the non-muslims-please read Muhammed’s final sermon- if you wish.

    peace unto you

  7. Avatar

    noble peace

    August 9, 2016 at 2:31 AM

    anti-semitic quote was a lyric in a song. wonder if any of you know/knew it?!

    peace

  8. Avatar

    noble peace

    August 9, 2016 at 2:33 AM

    subhan Allah…now that is scarey……HEEELLLLLLLLPPPPPPP!

    • Avatar

      unnoble in-sha-Allah peace

      August 10, 2016 at 5:45 PM

      * correction…..or mostly an error……should be…..
      Subhan Allah…helllllpppp…now that was scarey…..

      continuation.and an explanation ….. that was…..part of the spooky……..does one have to spell it out?..albeit time is most definitely running out……round and round,,,do not mind me….I’m singing in the rain….as I know not…so let me make it worse not just for me……everybody is a wave whether we like it or not…lets just pray we do not end up as foam……just to confuse a bit more…go ahead satan and tell them what they know not…..

      peace.

  9. Avatar

    Sarah

    September 16, 2016 at 12:43 PM

    Hello,
    I’m a white parent with a very young child and googled how to talk to my kid about BLM. I fell uncomfortable asking my black friends to talk to my child about it. She’s too young for monopoly yet, but the candy thing she’ll get.

  10. Avatar

    Ameerah

    February 11, 2017 at 1:37 PM

    I dont see the point to tell my kids about something that is long over with. Alot of races have had to fight to get to the place they are at in life today as well. Wed have to teach out kids about their background and struggles too. Lets focus on teaching out kids about the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and about the deen and less on racism. There is no place for it in islam.

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#Society

Politics In Islam: On Muslims Partaking In Political Engagement In Non-Muslim Countries

Imam Asad Zaman, Guest Contributor

Published

Some Muslims are convinced that participation in the elections is forbidden. Some even worry that engaging in politics might cause someone to become a kāfir, because it is a matter of walāʾ. Their argument is that participation necessitates approval of and allegiance to unbelief, and thus this makes participants unbelievers. The main verse cited to reach such a position is that Allah, the Exalted, says: “Let not the believers take the disbelievers as awliyāʾ against other believers.” The claim that this verse prohibits Muslims from partaking in political engagement in non-Muslim countries is immensely consequential to our communities, and so we should take care to understand this ayah in detail.

We must first consider the meaning of the word ‘awliyāʾ. It is the plural of the Arabic word waliy. Many English translations of the Qur’an translate this word as “friend,” causing us to understand the ayah above as prohibiting us from taking the disbelievers as friends. But this meaning would directly contradict multiple verses of the Quran and the well-established practice of our noble Messenger .

Clearly we need to examine this verse more carefully. Most dictionaries variously translate the Arabic word waliy to mean custodian, protector, helper, or authority. Typically a waliy is someone who has responsibility, allegiance, or authority over somebody else. For example, in Islamic law, a father is titled the waliy of his children. The word wāli, which is a derivative of the same root, is also used as an administrative title such as governor or magistrate of a place or region.

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My preferred English word for the Arabic word waliy is “ally.” The word is used in English to describe two separate individuals or parties who participate in favor of each other. This word best fits the Quranic context for the word waliy.

According to the Quran, Allah is the waliy of the believers, and the believers are the waliy of Allah. Allah being the waliy of the believers is consistent with the meanings of “custodian,” “protector,” “helper,” or “authority.” Because clearly Allah is all these things to the believers. But these meanings are not consistent with us, the believers, in our relationship with Allah, the Exalted and Mighty.

But the word “ally” can apply to both the superior party and the inferior. Consider two countries who are allies in defense and military matters. While one might be stronger, more powerful, and even dictate its demands to the other, they are still allies with one another. And Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) is far greater than any such comparison.

So when Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) describes Himself as the waliy of the believers, it means that we seek His continual guidance, help, and protection. Our role and responsibility in this alliance is not the same, as nothing we do can ever benefit or harm Allah. Allah makes it clear that He is not in need of our protection or assistance, as He is All-Powerful and free from any weakness. We express our allegiance to him through our worship, obedience, reverence, and love. The awliyāʿ of Allah are those who dedicate themselves to perfecting these duties.

Clearly the alliance the believers have with Allah is completely unequal since there is no similarity between the Creator and the creation. While we take Allah as our ally out of our incompetence and dependence, He chooses us as allies purely out of mercy and kindness. And we desperately beg Allah to remain our ally, and to permit us to be allies of Him.

With this understanding of the word waliy, we can now better analyze the verse in question. Notice how the verse’s prohibition against taking unbelievers as allies is not unqualified; it specifies that we must not do so against other believers. We understand from this that it is permitted to make a treaty with unbelievers as long as it does not harm our fellow believers. Our beloved Messenger himself did this when he entered Madinah and made a treaty with the two major tribes of Aws and Khazraj, and with more than a dozen minor tribes pagan and Jewish tribes. The Muslims were expecting major attacks from the idolaters of Quraysh, and so their alliance with neighboring tribes was in the interest of the Muslim community as a whole.

This immediately forces us to question the validity of the military alliance between Israel and Egypt that deprives the people of Gaza of basic necessities. It is this sort of arrangement that the verse seems to warn so starkly against. Let those who partook take heed, as the verse ends with a stark threat: “And Allah warns you of Himself.”

Muslims can be friends with non-Muslims. Muslims can ally with non-Muslims. But a Muslim may never harm another Muslim. “It is enough of an evil for a person to belittle his Muslim brother. The entirety of one Muslim is sacred to another—his blood, his wealth, and his honor.”

And to Allah belongs all good.

Politics In Islam: Muslims Are Called To Pursue Justice

 


Quran 3:28ْ وَِريَنأَكافُِْمْؤِمنُوَنالِْخِذالَنتَتَّقُواِمْنُهْمتُقََّاليَتََّّالأَِسِمَنََّّللاِفِيَشْيٍءإْيِلَكفَلَْٰلذَُمْؤِمنِيَنَۖوَمنيَفْعََْمِليَاِصيُرَءِمندُوِنالْلَىََّّللاِالَِوإَسهُُِۗرُكُمََّّللاُنَفَْويَُحذاةًۗ

Let not believers take disbelievers as allies rather than believers. And whoever does that has nothing withAllah, except when taking precaution against them in prudence. And Allah warns you of Himself, and to Allah is the destination.

Quran 2: 25  7ِماِتإُُّظلْخِرُجُهمِمَنالَمنُوايُِذيَنآَُّّيالََّّللاُئَِكَوِلٰولََُماِتۗأُُّظللَىالُِهمِمَنالنُّوِرإْخِرُجونََّطاُغوُتيُْوِليَاُؤُهُمالَُرواأِذيَنَكفَََّهلاَىالنُّوِرَۖوالِرُۖهْمِفيْصَحاُبالنَّاَأَخاِلدُوَنAllah is the ally of those who believe. He brings them out from darknesses into thelight. And those who disbelieve-their allies are Taghut. They take them out of the light into darknesses. Those are the companions of the Fire; they will abide eternally therein.10Quran 10:62-64َوَالُهْمَيْحَزنُوَنِهْمْيَالَخْوٌفَعلََءََّّللاِْوِليَاََّنأَِالإأ-وَنََوَكانُوايَتَّقَُمنُواِذيَنآْوُزَّال-فَِْلَكُهَوالَٰماِتََّّللاِۚذَْْلِخَرةَِۚالتَْبِديَلِلَكِلَوفِياَحيَاةِالدُّْنيَاْبُْشَرٰىفِيالُْهُماللَُمعَِظيال-ْ

Unquestionably, [for] the allies of Allah there will be no fear concerning them, nor will they grieve. Those who believed and were fearing Allah. For them are good tidings in the worldly life and in the Hereafter. No change is there in the words of Allah. That is what is the great attainment

Quran 17:111ٌّيِمَوِلهَُُّكنلْميَِكَولَُْملْهَُشِريٌكفِيالَُّكنلْميََولََولَدًاِخذْْميَتَِّذيلََِّالَحْمدُِلِلَِّْلالَوقُِيًراِْرهُتَْكبلَِۖوَكبَنالذُّAnd say, “Praise to Allah, who hasnot taken a son and has had no partner in [His] dominion and has no [needof a] protector out of weakness; and glorify Him with [great] glorification.”12Forty Hadith, Imam al-Nawawi, #35َ،ُكُمْسِلمَْخاهُالََرأْنيَْحِقََِحْسِباْمِرٍئِمْنالَّشِرأٌمبِمَحَراُمْسِلِْمَعلَىالُمْسِلَْوِعْرُضُّلال:

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#Current Affairs

Politics In Islam: Muslims Are Called To Pursue Justice

Imam Asad Zaman, Guest Contributor

Published

The pursuit of justice is a core Islamic value. One of the important roles Allah, the Exalted, assigned to His messengers is the task of establishing justice among the people. Allah, the Almighty, emphasized the importance of justice when He prohibited Himself from oppression and declared it forbidden among us humans. Allah is the Lord of all justice and fairness. In His fairness, He commands us to not allow our anger or hatred towards any group lead us to injustice against them. “Be just,” He commands, “it is closer to righteousness.”

Allah, the Most High, commands us to be witnesses for justice, even against ourselves. The concept of “even against ourselves,” is an open call to all people of faith to rise to the occasion, especially where we see systemic or structural oppression. In most such cases, the oppression is carried out in our name, usually by our elected government.

Allah’s emphasis on justice leads many Muslims to worry that if they vote for a president who transgresses against another country, the fault falls on everyone who voted for him. This fear paralyzes Muslim engagement in the American political system. Let us examine the circumstances of responsibility in such cases.

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To be clear, the present governments of almost all countries on Earth, including the so-called Muslim countries operate with corruption and oppression. Taking Egypt as an example, the government’s domestic policies have led to the unjust death and imprisonment of thousands of Egyptian citizens, and their foreign policy enables the perpetuation of Gaza’s destruction. This, however, does not require the average Egyptian Muslim citizen to reject all relationship to the nation of Egypt. The question then arises: how responsible is the Muslim for the actions of his government? Likewise, when the American government acts with injustice at home and abroad, how responsible is the American Muslim for the actions of his government? When the average citizen is not consulted before the execution of military operations, to what degree are we held responsible?

Allah’s Messenger provided for us a balanced approach to engaging with the injustice around us. Abu Saʿīd al-Khudri narrates that he heard the Prophet say,

“Whoever sees evil should change it with his hand; and if he is unable to do so, then he should change it with his tongue; and if he is unable to do so, then he should hate it with his heart—that is the least of faith.”

Let us take a practical example:

In 2001, President George W. Bush decided to invade Iraq. To justify his action, he invented a series of lies that Iraq possessed nuclear capabilities. It took him more than a year to align the power brokers in America and Europe to enable this evil action to occur. Neither the opinions nor the interests of the American population were taken into consideration.

Before the invasion, the public had two concerns: that the justification presented for the war was speculative and unfounded, and the war would result in countless unnecessary deaths. These worries quickly materialized into realities as time proved them to be true. However before the war, various politicians, pundits and opinion makers helped sell this unjust action to the people in order to gain their consent. They are undoubtedly guilty of murder and should be remembered as peddlers of death.

But what was the duty of an average American Muslim? The hadith mentioned above lists three levels of engagement:

Level One:

Someone who was part of the military or legislative authority had a duty in front of Allah to attempt to stop the invasion with action. If he was a congressman, he had a moral duty to vote against the war. If he was a member of the military, any intelligence agency, or government policy group, he had a moral duty to challenge the claims of the war’s proponent’s and provide information to the public so that they can know the truth. This duty applied to the person despite the likelihood that such a course of action would have probably jeopardized their career or their life.

Level Two:

Most Americans were not in the position described in level one. In their case, their duty was to speak out against this act of injustice. They could have written letters to their legislators, participated in protest rallies, held events in congress, and even spoken to their neighbors, classmates and colleagues about how wrong this action was. Any American Muslim who was not under threat of arrest for speaking out, but chose to remain silent still, failed to fulfill his duty to protest the evil.

Level Three:

There is little likelihood that the approach of silence would be justified for most American Muslims. There are countries (such as Saudi Arabia), where people can be arrested, tortured, even murdered if they speak out against the government. A Muslim living in one of these societies has a duty to at least engage with the injustices around them on an internal level, detesting the action from the core of their heart. As for the Muslim who does not detest that millions of innocent people are killed, they should check their heart; they would be missing what the Allah’s Messenger described as, “the least of faith.”

What faith is left in the heart of the Muslim who is not bothered by the death of more than a million Muslims?! Even if his mind is polluted with patriotism, tribalism, nationalism, or an inclination towards military culture, there is no excuse for the lack of humanity that is required for this level of apathy.

Considering the hadith above, our minimum duty is to stand and speak against the use of our tax dollars for such acts of injustice. There were indeed many Muslim and non-Muslim voices of dissent that protested the American invasion of Iraq. In addition to the spiritual duty of speaking out against injustice, it was clear to many what was later proven to be true: the invasion was not good for America. The financial and human loss incurred by this war has not made neither America, nor the world safer.

Many propose that Muslims should react to the injustices in their countries by leaving them. But this evasive approach fails to actually address the injustice. There is a greater, though more challenging, expectation of addressing the injustices from within, especially in a country like America where criticisms are tolerated and protest can lead to policy that is felt around the world. A large amount of the pain, and suffering that is happening to the Muslims today can be stopped from inside America. Our brothers and sisters in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Syria, Jordan, Somalia, Kenya, Yemen, Iraq, and Sudan are hoping that we will do something from our positions that will alleviate their suffering. They need our help.

Exonerating ourselves because our government acts without our consent may appease our consciences, but is of no benefit to our global Muslim community.

Such an approach is contradictory to the teaching of the Prophet as made clear by the hadith above. We have the opportunity and ability to speak out against evil, so passive dissent is not an option.

Allah tells us the story of Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) and al-Khadir 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him)  in Surah al-Kahf (peace be upon them both). When they boarded a ship of some men who agreed to give them a ride to their destination, Khadir pierced the boat’s basin, damaging their source of livelihood. Confused, Musa criticized this action, as it seemed like an injustice towards people who readily did a favor for them. What Musa didn’t know was that the men would encounter a tyrant king who had sent his men to seize all boats that were sound and intact. And as these men had helped Musa and al-Khadir, he wished to help them evade this king’s oppressive policy; the minor damage saved them from losing their boat!

The king was an oppressive tyrant. Musa and al-Khadir (peace be upon both of them) did not possess the power to remove the king or prevent the king from his evil action, and so they took action according to their ability. They knew that though they could not save everyone from the injustice, it was still their duty to act within their capacity to reduce the king’s injustice.

The Story of The Secret Believer

Allah also tells us the beautiful story of the secret believer in the Quran, who worked in the unjust government of the Pharaoh at the time of Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him). We know he had a fairly high status in the government because he was part of their most confidential meetings. This secret believer did not exit the government after he saw the many evil deeds of the Pharaoh’s government. During the discussion in the Pharaoh’s cabinet where they decided that Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) was to be killed, this believer rose up and voiced his objections to the injustice, citing historical, logical, and emotional appeals. The meeting, however, concluded with the decision to execute Musa. Having been unable to stop this royal decree, he still made the effort to warn Musa so as to give him the chance to flee.

Allah tells us the beautiful story of the secret believer in the Quran, who worked in the unjust government of the Pharaoh at the time of Musa Click To Tweet

Instead of condemning him for participating in a government founded upon unbelief, Allah exalts his mention in His glorious book. He is our example of speaking truth to power, and the reason for Musa’s 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him)safety from Pharaoh’s plot. This man used his position to obstruct oppression, not perpetuate it.

As Muslim Americans, we live in a non-Muslim country. The decisions and actions of our government impacts all of us living in this country. Disengagement will allow selfish people to make decisions that will result in harm to our communities.

Participation will allow us to follow the examples of proactive engagement so as to prevent harm and ultimately change corrupt systems from within. An all-or-nothing approach will almost always lead to nothing.

Allah, the Exalted, provides these examples so that we can understand the practical role of Muslim in an overwhelmingly hostile society. Even though our environments have not reached that degree, we can still relate to the feelings of being oppressed and ostracized for our faith. Allah’s lesson to us in these stories is that our faith shouldn’t prevent us from trying to change these circumstances.

And to Allah is the end of all matters.

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#Current Affairs

Podcast: Muslims and The Fenty Fitnah | With Omar Usman and Khaled Nurhssein

Zeba Khan

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American Pop Star Rihanna, who owns luxury fashion line Fenty, featured a song with the voice of Mishary Rashid Al Afasi reciting a hadith from the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) about the end of times at recent lingerie fashion show.

Many are offended, but what’s the best way to respond to the situation?

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MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

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Join Zeba Khan as she discusses this with Omar Usman, executive director of MuslimMatters, and Khaled Nurhssein, a community organizer, a local khateeb, and an intermittent student of knowledge.

Many Muslims are offended by pop-star Rihanna's use of a hadith in the music for a lingerie fashion show. What is the right way to respond?Click To Tweet

Support Our Dawah for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

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