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Towards a Social Justice Platform

Margari Hill


There must always be a remedy for wrong and injustice if we only know how to find it.  Ida B. Wells Journalist, suffragette,  and anti-lynching activist   (1862-1931)

Tariq ibn Shihab reported: A man asked the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, “What is the best sacred struggle (jihad)?” The Prophet said, “A word of truth in front of a tyrannical ruler ” (Musnad Aḥmad 18449).

Celebrating Malcolm

We celebrate figures like Malcolm X  who spoke truth to power. Award winning journalist and author, Ta-Nehisi Coates  discusses Malcolm X’s honesty in Between the World and Me (2015). A month before his assassination on New Year’s eve 1964, Malcolm X gave a speech to a delegation of  thirty-seven teenagers from McComb, Mississippi. They had come to New York City on a trip sponsored by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Malcolm X offered these words to the youth who were at the heart of Civil Rights struggle:

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One of the first things I think young people, especially nowadays, should learn is how to see for yourself and listen for yourself and think for yourself.

You’re not supposed to be so blind with patriotism that you can’t face reality. Wrong is wrong, no matter who does it or says it.

I am neither a fanatic nor a dreamer. I am a Black man who loves peace and justice and loves his people.

Power in defense of freedom is greater than power in behalf of tyranny and oppression.

We have to keep in mind at all times that we are not fighting for integration, nor are we fighting for separation. We are fighting for recognition as free humans in this society….

This speech,  now known as the “Advice to the Youth of Mississippi” still speaks to us today. It especially resonates for Muslim Americans who have been marginalized out of civic life.  Muslim American scholars, devotional leaders, and  civil society leaders all wrestle with the question: What is Justice?  When we are speaking about injustice, we must think about what does justice look like. Striving This is important to think about as we are encouraged to enjoin  what is established right in the verse revealed in the Qur’an:

Indeed, Allah orders justice and good conduct and giving to relatives and forbids immorality and bad conduct and oppression. He admonishes you that perhaps you will be reminded. (Qur’an 16:90)

Another verse states:

And let there be [arising] from you a nation inviting to [all that is] good, enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong, and those will be the successful. (Quran 3:104)

In Forbidding the Wrong (2003), Michael Cook highlights how even quietist Abu Hanifa (699 — 767 CE) could not deny the political implications during the Umayyad dynasty of enjoining the right and forbidding the wrong (pg. 10). 1400 years later, faith leader Reverend Dr. William J. Barber III calls for a Moral Revival for justice, social change, and movement building . In multifaith organizing, faith leaders bring their deep moral values to bear as they seek to build a multiracial multifaith community. As a faith community, what do Muslims propose to counter the policies and legislation that cause so much suffering?  Many of us have focused on countering dominant narratives and stereotypes by reclaiming our narratives. We counter the collateral damage of domestic and foreign policy with humanitarian aid. But institutionalized Islamophobia has attempted to undermine our attempts at authentic engagement in civil society.

Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X meet March 26, 1964

Like Ida B. Wells a century ago, Muslims American thought leaders are writing about our most enduring social problems. Before the presidential election the  US Council of Muslim Organizations (USCMO) convened to discuss a Muslim platform, leading to a deep discourse amongst Muslimmatters writers. Another important development is that Muslim Americans are beginning to build power through organizing. Mohammad Khan of MPower Change kickstarted an important conversation in the lead up to the election. A group of us, including  Faatimah Knight, Imam Bilal Ansari, Linda Sarsour, Sheikh Hasib Noor, Layla Abdullah-Poulos, Dr. Su’ad Abdul Khabeer, and Imam Johari Abdul-Malik, continued that conversation through email and a shared document.  To help facilitate the process of consensus, I reached out to prominent scholars and leaders to give feedback on the principles using a survey form. It was a truly a collaborative and exciting experience to bring together our mutually agreed upon ideas about what does justice look like. This was especially important, as Muslim Americans are asserting their political will. We are endorsing legislation, running for office, and backing candidates.Together, we developed the following principles as a starting point for articulating Muslim faith inspired social justice principles in how we vote and what groups we align with, based upon shared vision as a community:

We are a people who vote according to our values and principles and draw the strength of our convictions from an Unlimited Source not determined by party affiliation or partisan politics. We are a people who believe that every resident of the United States of America deserves to be treated with dignity and respect and live in their full humanity and dignity. We stand up for truth in the continuum of the struggle in the spirit and legacy of those who came before us. We strive to empower the powerless through allyship and organizing to establish justice with balance.  Utilizing the tools of civil society and participatory democracy to promote public welfare and the general well being of society, we will advocate legislation and representatives who will advance our society in a moral order.

Our Platform

Our platform is Constitutional, consistent with our values as Muslim Americans, promotes the economic well-being of all residents, and works towards the sustainability of our society for generations to come. Drawing our Faith and Constitutional values, we aim to promote these values:

  •  Establishing Justice and Balance

    Truly establishing justice and equality for all, by addressing the inequalities in the criminal system that disproportionately affect black, brown, indigenous and poor white people. We will advocate for the decriminalization of mental illness, substance disorders, and homelessness. We will advocate for fostering and supporting non-carceral solutions that have shown to be effective, such as restorative justice and other forms of intervention that are lead by community members rather than law enforcement. We will advocate for increased substance abuse and mental health services, gun control to reduce the proliferation of guns and violence, and the overall decriminalization of poor communities and communities of color.

  •  Safeguarding the Sanctity of Life

    We respect the inviolability of life, that healthcare is a fundamental human right,importance of the preserving the quality of life, and uphold:

    • That health is the state of physical, mental, and social well-being, not only absence of illness and disease. That every person has the right to healthcare that is easily accessible, affordable and respects their dignity. All residents have a right to equal access to health care in a universal, transparent, and equitable healthcare system that allows residents to buy into the Affordable Care Act exchanges, regardless of immigration status.  
    • That we must rectify the social, environmental, and economic conditions that lead to health disparities among marginalized groups
    • That we must preserve and promote women’s health and children’s healthcare so that they may reach their full health and fundamental potential
    • That we must address unjust foreign policies that undermine our moral standing as a Nation due to warmongering
    • That we must address domestic issues such as militarization of our police force and use of deadly force against communities of color, poor people, and the mentally ill.
  • Protecting Freedom of Conscience and Religion

    We are committed to freedom religion and conscience for all and the ending of religious bigotry and policies that discriminate against or target people for their perceived religion or ethnic identity. We support drafting legislation that ends racial profiling by federal, state, and local law enforcement officials and the censuring of legislators who build their political platforms on anti-Muslim bigotry, racism, xenophobia, and Islamophobia. We respect voting rights, women’s rights, labor rights, immigrant rights and the fundamental principle of equal protection under the law.

  • Fostering Intellectual Development

    We nurture individual intellectual and cultural development and the acquiring of meaningful trade skills through educational opportunities. We advocate for early childhood education beginning and equal access to quality K-12 public school and removing economic barriers to higher education by securing equitable funding. We advocate for opportunity and affordable college education and are against predatory lending practices that put millions of students in debt. We recognize the importance of diversity and inclusion as well as a culturally-relevant approach to learning that appreciates the multiple perspectives.

  • Promoting Economic Justice and Equity

    We endorse economic initiatives that aim to build an economy that works for all people. We advocate for living wages and value the protection of workers from exploitation and the loss of their rights. We support fair housing and connect homeownership to opportunity; such as mortgage interest to offered by private entities as equity partners and promote economic development in low-income areas. We appreciate the importance of establishing the fair redistribution of wealth with equitable tax codes that do not favor the wealthy over the poor. We encourage fair and equitable international trade agreements that reflect these values outside the US as well.

  • Sustaining the Environment and Maintaining the Rights of Posterity

     We encourage working towards environmental and climate justice at the intersections of environmental degradation and the racial, economic and social inequities it perpetuates. We support community-led solutions led by Indigenous People and the poor who are most adversely affected by environmental crisis. We demand that our government abides by its treaties with sovereign Nations/Native Americans, to protect their land and water rights. We champion the implementation and extension of smart pollution and efficiency standards and investing in clean energy, infrastructure and innovation. We support environmental safety through responsible energy production. With our interconnected world, our environmental justice and climate justice at home and abroad. We advocate for abiding by and establishing international protections for the environment and vulnerable populations

What is our vision for a multifaith multiracial society? In a 2015 training, Rami Nashishibi and Shemar Hemphill of  Inner City Action Muslim Network (IMAN) asked us to envision a world that could be. In many ways, these policy principles try to move us to creating a world we want to see. Some people may feel that these principles are not radical enough. Others, are concerned that the principles may create openings for alignment with communities who do not share Islamic moral values. We have to struggle to articulate who we are as a community, our shared definition of self, our foundational faith values, that we bring to the table in uplifting all people.

We must be part of the remedy to our society’s most enduring problems and we can find it in our collective visioning. I invite others to join in this important conversation and become part of the solution.


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Margari Aziza Hill is co-founder and Programming Director of Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative (MuslimARC), assistant editor at AltM, co-founder of Muslims Make it Plain, and columnist at MuslimMatters. She is on the Advisory Council of Islam, Social Justice & Interreligious Engagement Program at the Union Theological Seminary and winner of the 2015 MPAC Change Maker Award. She has nearly a decade of teaching experiences at all levels from elementary, secondary, college level, to adult education. She earned her master’s in History of the Middle East and Islamic Africa from Stanford University in 2006. Her research includes colonial surveillance in Northern Nigeria, anti-colonial resistance among West Africans in Sudan during the early 20th century, and race in Muslim communities. She is also a freelance writer with articles published in Time, SISTERS, Islamic Monthly, Al Jazeera English, Virtual Mosque (formerly, and Spice Digest. She has given talks and lectures in various universities and Muslim communities.



  1. Avatar


    April 3, 2017 at 1:55 PM

    Well written article, however, I would like to make a few comments.

    While this article mentions how to be principled in seeking social justice, it would also be principled to make it clear on “What not to do when seeking social justice”. Many muslim activists out there have collaborated with many groups that oppose many principles of Islam. We need to understand that fighting for social justice as Muslims is a means to an end, not an end in itself! We are seeking God’s acceptance.

    It was nice that there was a discussion with scholars, however, these discussions need to be available to public. Activists and scholars need to discuss things publicly for other muslims to understand and learn because many youngsters out there DO follow activists blindly in the name of “Fighting for social justice”, without understanding what is right and wrong.

    I might sound a little passive but I think our community needs to invest more teaching in “avoiding wrong” because we have broken many boundaries of Islam in the name of being “activists”.

    These are important points because activists are currently considered the prominent representers of Islam, more than scholars even. Whether they chose so or not, that is what non-muslims see in social media and media in general.

    May Allah accept all our deeds and grant us Jannah.

    Wa Salam

    • Avatar

      Kyle Ismail

      April 3, 2017 at 2:58 PM

      Brilliant job and very well thought out. Some details could be added or changed but generally something that Muslims could be proud to stand on. Perhaps you’ll address this in your third installment, but one thing that Muslims could uniquely bring to public discourse is how activists can invest in themselves to care for themselves and those around them and preserve good character and longevity in the struggle. Jazaks

  2. Margari Hill

    Margari Hill

    April 3, 2017 at 2:45 PM

    Salam Alaikum Amin,

    I respectfully disagree. There has been plenty of articles written on this platform on what we shouldn’t be doing. Can you think of one thing that folks SHOULD be doing? And if folks are inclined to create more forums and write more articles about what we shouldn’t be doing, let them do that. I gotta keep it moving.

    Also, what principles are we against? Do we not work with Christians to feed the hungry and provide for orphans because theologically the Trinity violates towhead? Do we not work to end violence against women with an atheist group because they reject Allah? Do we not work with someone to end gang violence because they imbibe in alcohol and eat chicharrones? For those of us who are trying to be part of the solution, these online musings make it difficult to operate.

    There seems to be conflation of media representation and social media and real work that has impact in local communities. And we know that media is all smoke and mirrors and entertainment. Let’s get to work in our communities and make a difference. And scholars, intellectuals, organizers, and social workers let’s move this conversation forward to real action.

    • Avatar


      April 3, 2017 at 3:53 PM

      We Alekom Alsalam,

      JAK for your reply.
      I apologize for not making it clear. When I said collaborating with other parties that we don’t agree with, I was referring specifically to joining movements that might have un-islamic causes. I agree with collaborating for good purposes, as long as Islamic principles are maintained. I agree in working for good causes of course. I am involved in community work myself.

      My whole point is, it is tricky working in the scope of social justice nowadays, just for the fact that it encompasses now more than just helping those in need. There is fitna in everything that might sound good. That is why I mentioned scholars and social justice activists need to have a public discussion; Just for the sake of understanding what can go wrong while being involved in this sort of work and how to interact with things that might be challenging. Many scholars have wrote on it online, but I think a face-to-face public discussion is warranted.

      • Margari Hill

        Margari Hill

        April 3, 2017 at 7:47 PM

        I live in a world that bridges both worlds, as my husband is an imam and we regularly talk with scholars and community leaders. Following the death of Muhammad Ali, I was on some national calls where prominent scholars called for a principled policy platform. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened. Instead, we still are reactionary in our policy making. I’m inviting those scholars to take the lead in this work. The attempt is to be proactive, rather than focus on what goes wrong. That of course should be teased out. As a convener of difficult discussions, Really, we are lacking in creative visioning for our community. I invite you to vision what does freedom look like. What are the values, if lived out, would bring about the life we are intended to live?

  3. Avatar

    Ahmad B.

    April 3, 2017 at 5:17 PM

    Assalamu ‘alaikum,

    Thank you, sister, for this thoughtful article. I think it is a good sign that scholars and activists are working together to try to forge a platform and a language for us to strive for justice as Muslims in current society. I believe that this is an ongoing process that will take some time to get just right. I think it is important for all sides to be patient with each other and open to hearing others’ perspectives. This goes for scholars, but also for some of the activists, who sometimes seem to have a knee-jerk reaction to anything religious value or principle that goes against a particular leftist/liberal narrative. This in itself is perhaps partly a result of the fact that we have yet to forge a compelling, independent justice narrative of our own, which leaves social justice activists not much of a choice at the current time. This only increases, in my mind, the urgency of the need for us to develop a principled voice that takes Islamic values seriously. Such values often coincide with what typical SJWs fight for in today’s society, but sometimes conflict with it as well.

    Of course we wouldn’t refuse to work with a Christian or even atheist group *for the purpose of* fighting hunger, since their beliefs have no bearing on the action at hand. Their theological dispute with Muslims is a separate issue, while we all happen to converge on the need to fight hunger.

    But as far as potential conflicts, let’s stop beating around the bush. Everyone knows the elephant in the room that we’ve all come to tiptoe around: namely, groups that push radical ideologies and policies with regard to issues surrounding gender, sexuality, family, and related issues. We may work *alongside* an LGBT or a feminist group to fight poverty or racial injustice, but that does not authorize us to violate Islamic principles in fighting *for* any aspect of their own agenda that conflicts with Islamic values. Unfortunately, this happens to be a great deal of the LGBT agenda–like the radical redefinition of family, the separation of sex from reproduction, natural parenting and lineage from family, and a host of other things which directly undermine the overall goals and values of Islam, encapsulated in the maqasid al-shari’a. You quoted in your article verses in which Allah exhorts us to “call to the good and forbid the evil” and to call to uprightness, ihsan, etc. We have no choice but to understand and define these terms according to revelation, not according to the opinions and beliefs of current liberal-leaning or secular groups in our society.

    The principles you quote judiciously avoid including “LGBT equality” and other such loaded rhetoric, and also speak in general terms about “women’s rights” without, for example, tying this to a specifically pro-choice stance (which is again problematic from an Islamic moral and ethical viewpoint). At least one person whom you mention by name, however, has taken a public stance against pro-life groups and identified “justice,” generically understood, as entailing alignment with “pro-choice” movements.

    This is very problematic from an Islamic point of view, and we need to have a discussion about that, and learn to forge a narrative on justice that allows us to throw our weight with full force behind truly just causes (Islamically understood), without seeming hypocritical when we withhold support from causes that violate Islamic principles. Unless we are successful in plunging the depths of our tradition to articulate the real categories and language in terms of which we should conceive of and speak about justice (al-‘adl) as Muslims, it will be very difficult to avoid exchanging our worldview and principles for another not of our own making that comes from sources that are antithetical to religion. Many other religious denominations have fallen into this trap, and we must learn from their mistakes so that the same doesn’t happen to us (though the Prophet, saas, did say that never would the previous communities–Christians and Jews–go down a lizard hole except that some among his umma would follow them right down it).

    Wallahu waliyyu t-tawfiq.

    Ahmad B.

    • Margari Hill

      Margari Hill

      April 3, 2017 at 7:40 PM

      Thank you for your input Ahmad, unfortunately the comments have reified the view that the we’re more concerned with proscribing sexuality and reproduction rather than articulating what does social justice look like. Let us take the issue around Pro-Choice. I named a number of people and I’m not aware of any of their positions around reproductive health. Omar Suleiman wrote a nuanced article on debates around abortion, “Is Islam pro-life, pro-choice, or both depending on the circumstances? And what implications does the answer to this question have for current political discourse? This essay seeks to offer a comprehensive look at how classical and contemporary Muslim jurists have dealt with the subject in accordance with evolving methods, circumstances, and debates surrounding the topics of contraception and abortion.
      I’d love to see more nuanced discussions like this.

      It is still important to articulate what are women’s rights to reproductive health, what are rights over her body as inalienable rights? Depending on what school of law, what can a woman do? Do we shut down funding to organizations that provide services to poor women? Do we use Maslaha in determining to not defund service providers that may provide abortion services? What is our ethical responsibility?

      Ultimately, I do not like certain frameworks such as conservative or progressive, pro choice or pro life, or the crass pragmatism of aligning with a movement that doesn’t speak to our faith values. But also, what happens when we are afraid to discuss and discuss what social justice looks like, one that is faithfully rooted and speaks to realities of our families, neighbors, communities?

      • Avatar

        Ahmad B.

        April 3, 2017 at 8:46 PM

        Assalamu ‘alaikum Sr. Margari,

        Thank you for your considered response. I agree wholeheartedly that we should not use labels like “liberal,” “conservative,” “right,” “left,” etc. to describe ourselves or Islam, as these labels all have specific, yet constantly changing, meanings that the deen should not be boxed into.

        I appreciate the nuance of the article you cite on abortion. If you read carefully, however, it is clear that the overwhelming position of our scholars, while not as categorical in its absolute opposition to all abortion as the current Catholic church, have nevertheless come down far to the “right” on this issue than those who typically consider themselves “pro-choice” in today’s society. There’s no question it’s murder after 120 days, but even *prior to* 40 days, the most liberal views only allow it for very pressing reasons, from which is *explicitly excluded* the fear of poverty or not being able to provide for the child. The article mentions physical or mental inability to raise the child. Does that mean clinical insanity and actual physical incapacity, or something lesser? The article doesn’t say, so further research would be needed. Between 40 and 120 days, the article mentions as the only possible excuses rape or “extreme fetal deformity incompatible with life.”

        I searched for statistics regarding the reasons women in the U.S. give for obtaining abortions. Here is what I found:

        “This report reviews available statistics regarding reasons given for obtaining abortions in the United States, including surveys by the Alan Guttmacher Institute and data from seven state health/statistics agencies that report relevant statistics (Arizona, Florida, Louisiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Utah). The official data imply that AGI claims regarding “hard case” abortions are inflated by roughly a factor of three. Actual percentage of U.S. abortions in “hard cases” are estimated as follows: in cases of rape, 0.3%; in cases of incest, 0.03%; in cases of risk to maternal life, 0.1%; in cases of risk to maternal health, 0.8%; and in cases of fetal health issues, 0.5%. About 98.3% of abortions in the United States are elective, including socio-economic reasons or for birth control. This includes perhaps 30% for primarily economic reasons and possibly 0.1% each for sex selection and selective reduction of multifetal pregnancies.”

        If these statistics are even anywhere near accurate, it is clear that the Islamically justified abortions (if they were carried out prior to 40 days or between 40-120 days, respectively) constitute a tiny fraction of all abortions performed in the United States. Rape, maternal health, maternal life, and fetal life *together* amount to only 1.7% (!) of the cases. The remaining 98.3% are for reasons that even the most “lenient” scholars in our tradition would have considered illegitimate, meaning that almost all of the actual abortions performed in the United States constitute prohibited feticide from an Islamic perspective.

        The Omar Suleiman article mentions that “only 3%” of Planned Parenthood’s services in 2009 were “terminations” (a euphemism) and that PP performed “only” 332,000 (!) abortions in that one year. If the statistics available are accurate, then even if we assume the *best case* scenario (i.e., assuming that the small number of legitimate abortions performed actually fell within the 40- and 120-day time limits), that still leaves 326,356 instances of *illegitimate* (i.e., morally impermissible) pregnancy terminations (with a mere 5,644–1.7%–being Islamically legitimate, *in the best case scenario*).

        So as long as we can agree that the quasi-totality of abortions that occur in this country are, in fact, forbidden by Allah and constitute the unjustified taking of a developing human life, then we can have a conversation about the remaining 1.7%. Being “pro-life” in the current political atmosphere, however, has nothing to do with protecting the 1.7% of legitimate abortions, but protecting the “right” to the other 98%, which we consider to be illegitimate and immoral.

        What does this mean for our public posture on the issue? Well, if we take a posture that actually aligns with our values, principles, and God-given morals, we would certainly have to stand against laws that allow abortions that are morally illegitimate in a whopping 98% of the cases. If we say, “This is not our issue. Lakum dinukum wa liya din,” then perhaps we wouldn’t put anti-abortion activism on the top of our list of moral crusades, but I still would find actual *support* of abortion, as well as open alignment with pro-abortion groups–particularly for the explicit *purpose* of preserving and expanding current liberal abortion laws–very difficult to reconcile with Islam and, by extension, what our position should be as a community if we are actually guided by our Islamic values. Wallahu a’lam.

        In any case, I do appreciate the discussion and agree that we need to have conversations like this much more frequently and much more openly.

        Ahmad B.

        • Margari Hill

          Margari Hill

          April 3, 2017 at 9:08 PM

          Salam alaikum Ahmad,
          While I appreciate your sentiment, something about 722 words writing mostly about prohibition of abortion, rather than engaging in the central argument of my article which was 1839 words in total and just over 1000 of my own writing. I ask for “We must be part of the remedy to our society’s most enduring problems and we can find it in our collective visioning. I invite others to join in this important conversation and become part of the solution.” Only one paragraph was in a creative exercise of what are women’s rights. I’d like to see more engagement in a deeper level. Critiquing is finding the merits and weaknesses of an argument. It can also be building off of it and providing an alternative platform. I invite you to that.

  4. Avatar


    April 3, 2017 at 9:17 PM

    JAK sister. Br. Ahmed actually explained what I was trying to say. The discussion I think that should take place is specifically for these issues that the brother mentioned. I am glad that you mentioned that it is wrong to be pragmatic.

    Social justice, as I was trying to say earlier is not only about helping our communities, it became a wider scope, it is more about marching for reproductive rights, ect. It’s funny we talk about helping others, but in fact, social justice now is more about how to become selfish and protest for personal benefits. This is really the reality of social justice nowadays. So, indeed, we need to actually establish what social justice means for muslims and what exactly are our objectives to attain it. I think many muslims agree that we need to engage in the community to bring about positive change and to help people. However, the sad reality is: Muslims are going through a hard time spiritually, even more with the current climate. Islamic education is extremely important nowadays to understand where to draw the lines, when to collaborate and when to not.

    The issue does not lie only in stances like reproductive health and sexuality. These might be the only issues visible to us, but these stances come from a completely liberal point of view, and liberalism clashes with Islam in its core foundations. There was a new study done that indicated that muslim youth are the most politically liberal community in USA. The endorsement of liberalism has major ramifications for your deen. Unfortunately, when talking about a bigger scale of social justice organizations, politics plays a major role.

    So my personal suggestions would be:

    1-Avoid affiliating with any political parties, and create our own political stance. Being independent will allow us to have the freedom to express what our religion is about, and will make our intentions pure when helping our communities.

    2-Creating a sustainable link between Islamic organizations and social justice work. That would help create a dialogue between activists and Imams, and also will be a motive in making our work prophetic and principled.

    • Margari Hill

      Margari Hill

      April 3, 2017 at 10:30 PM

      While important, I wasn’t the one who centered sexuality and reproductive health. But that has been the crux of the issue that you and Ahmad brought up.

      If you re-read the statement it says that we do not based on political party. There were religious scholars who contributed to the platform. I reached out to many more, but few responded to the call to contribute to this phase of the discussion. I invite Muslims scholars to be more engaged with MuslimARC and any of the organizing spaces I’m part of, as our pedagogy is articulated from Islamic principles. It draws on my research on Islamic education, as well as critical pedagogy. I invite Muslim leaders to enter in Faith Based Organizing spaces and be part of important conversations. I understand that folks are busy, but I’ve been in spaces where I am the only one fighting for them. So, I need for folks to be more open and enter a partnership, as this has been extremely hard.

  5. Avatar

    Ahmad B.

    April 5, 2017 at 2:15 PM

    Assalamu ‘alaikum Sister,

    I appreciate your patient and graceful responses. I did not mean to boil questions of social justice down to sexual morality, but only to show where disagreements and misalignments are likely to come up, especially in social justice spaces dominated by left-wing / liberal groups (since you had asked that one brother).

    Having said that, I think a great deal of what such people are striving for is fully compatible with Islamic values, and we should be at the forefront of such efforts, since Allah has commanded us to establish justice and ihsan. The Prophet (saas) was known to have stood for just causes even before revelation, which means we should follow suit.

    However, the Prophet’s (saas) actual mission went far beyond social justice or “reform” in a normal sense, and was based first and foremost on the religious goal of guiding people to the worship of and submission to Allah alone, for the sake of their individual salvation in the akhira. Social justice is a core Islamic value, but Islam cannot be reduced to it. We should ideally avoid conceptualizing of Islam as *nothing but* a call to social justice or speaking of it in those terms.

    The statement you quoted in your piece does a nice job of laying out a social justice platform for Muslims without crossing the line into un-Islamic territory. I think we should throw our collective efforts behind justice causes, excluding much of the sexuality and gender platform of the Left. For this to be viable, however, we have to have a coherent internal discourse around our own positive values regarding, e.g., sexuality, gender, family, etc., so that it is clear to our own community, as well as to others, that we are not primarily *against* x, y, or z, but primarily *for* a, b, and c, which are the true values that Allah has given us and that we are calling people towards (an ethics of chastity, for example, importance of the family, etc.). Of course, we have to actually live and embody these values, otherwise it’s just empty talk or, worse, hypocrisy.

    May Allah give you tawfiq in your work!

    Ahmad B.

  6. Avatar


    April 30, 2017 at 12:33 PM

    At AERA with Dr. Indigo Esmonde standing in solidarity with Muslim coleagues. Seven-minute silence during her presentation.
    Thank you!

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

Imam Asad Zaman, Guest Contributor


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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Politics In Islam: Muslims Are Called To Pursue Justice

Imam Asad Zaman, Guest Contributor


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

Zeba Khan


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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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

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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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