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Make Haram Policing Great Again: Time to Bring Back Some Good Ol’ Nahy ‘An Il-Munkar

Zainab (AnonyMouse)

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“Watch out for the Haram Police!”

It’s only half a joke – where even just recently the term “haram policing” applied to over-zealous masjid uncles and aunties, and obnoxious wallah bros, it is now the first thing hurled at anyone who dares remind anyone else that Islam does, in fact, consist of certain rules to follow and that there are indeed such things as ‘sins.’ Whether one is talking about LGBTQ issues, hijab, music, or mixed-gender relationships, it is no longer considered acceptable to bring up the fact that Islam itself is a faith that is very much structured based on what is and is not permissible according to our Creator.

The call to enjoin the good and forbid the evil is repeated throughout the Qur’an, yet the second half of that prescription has been almost completely neglected today. 

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The consequences of not forbidding evil are clear today, most obviously amongst youth, and especially on social media. Islam itself is seen as a cultural identity marker, with even outward symbols such as hijab seen as almost entirely divorced from the concept of obedience to Allah and instead viewed as a form of identity politics, faux-rebellion, and interpreted “personally” in such a way as to make it spiritually meaningless. Salah itself has become the butt of TikTok jokes; calling out foul language, vulgar music, sexualized behaviour, and more is seen as laughable, because who cares anymore? None of that’s a big deal anymore, after all. 

An extremely concerning aspect of all of this is not that those who are engaging in these spiritually damaging behaviour are merely ignorant laypeople; rather, is it that those who exhibit signs of some religious literacy, who have the outward signs of some religiosity, who do, in fact, engage in some level of religious learning or dialogue, are actively participating in these behaviours. It’s a matter of people who should know better – who do know better – and yet have chosen not to do better. For some, it may not be a deliberate choice to disobey Allah, but that the understanding of the limits of Allah’s boundaries has been so downplayed and undermined that it barely registers at all in one’s conscious decision-making. So many sinful actions have been normalized, to the extent that even those who would identify themselves as “religious” and “practising” find it difficult to be cognizant of just how seriously wrong those actions are, and what the deeper spiritual implications of those behaviours are. 

Bad Track Record of Haram Policing

To be fair, haram policing has not had the best of track records. At its height in the late 90s and early 2000s, there was an overwhelming culture of hyper-criticism, of attacking even the most sincere and well-meaning individuals of deliberately sinning, and a complete and utter lack of empathy and compassion for fellow Muslims. There was no wisdom or tact, even in justified cases, and the result was more than one generation of spiritually crippled Muslims on one side, and burnt out, shamefaced former accusers on the other. Men were not the only perpetrators of haram policing either; women were just as harsh, and downright vicious, between themselves, being lightning-quick to judge, gossip, and slander one another in the name of “forbidding the evil.” The consequences were devastating, and resulted in a sense of betrayal and distrust towards “religious people,” who never had a kind word to say and were swift to criticize others’ perceived lack of faith. 

The mid-2000s became a time of resentment and kneejerk reactions against anyone who spoke about prohibited actions in Islam, with more emphasis placed on removing all judgement; those who did speak up in a critical manner about concerning behaviours and trends were automatically dismissed as “haraam police.” While the masjid uncles and aunties and wallah bros continued to embody the worst of the haraam police stereotype, the label came to be applied even to those who sincerely and kindly sought to uphold the rulings and regulations of Islam. As a result, more and more public figures in the da’wah scene fell silent over issues deemed to be unpopular or controversial, and which they feared would push people away from the overall da’wah. Those who did try to talk about those topics were accused of “pushing away the youth” and “turning people away from the Deen.” All too often, we see sheer arrogance in response to warning against any sins.

And when it is said to him, “Fear Allah,” pride in the sin takes hold of him…. (2:206)

The Messenger of Allah said, “Verily among the greatest of sins in the sight of Allah is for a person to be told, ‘Fear Allah,’ to which he responds, ‘Mind your own business!’” (Sunan Nasa’i)

Today, we find ourselves in a place where it is seen as dangerous and damaging to the collective faith of the Ummah if one ever dares to speak about those issues from the perspective of Qur’an and Sunnah, rather than the perspective of the (latest version of) secular leftist values. These topics include, but are not limited to, the Islamic rulings on LGBTQ, sexuality, gender, hijab, makeup, music, and mixed-gender relationships. Additionally, issues specifically related to Muslim women’s spirituality are considered completely out-of-bounds for male scholars to discuss. Certainly, there has been too much emotional and cultural baggage taught as “Islam,” but the subsequent problem is that there has been a dearth of female scholarship to address those topics as necessary. There is an echoing silence on these issues, and the lack of strong female leadership has been just as damaging as the previous decades’ harm. 

In the Qur’an, Allah commands us repeatedly to enjoin the good and forbid the evil – not one without the other, but always in tandem. As Ummatul Wasat, we are meant to follow the middle way, to be just and balanced, and never to veer too strongly towards one extreme or the other. Obviously, as we have seen above, the consequences of falling into either extreme are incredibly detrimental to the spiritual wellbeing of the entire Ummah.

Allah says:

Surah Imran

You are the best nation produced [as an example] for mankind. You enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and believe in Allah. If only the People of the Scripture had believed, it would have been better for them. Among them are believers, but most of them are defiantly disobedient. (3:110)

Surah Imran

The believing men and believing women are allies of one another. They enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and establish prayer and give zakah and obey Allah and His Messenger. Those – Allah will have mercy upon them. Indeed, Allah is Exalted in Might and Wise. (9:71)

O my son, establish prayer, enjoin what is right, forbid what is wrong, and be patient over what befalls you. Indeed, [all] that is of the matters [requiring] determination. (31:17)

Clearly, it is not enough to simply “enjoin the good” and leave it at that – indeed, the Qur’an also warns us of what happens to those who blatantly disregard the Divine prohibitions, and to those who passively allowed these sins to take place without making any attempt to warn against them.

Say, “O People of the Scripture, do not exceed limits in your religion beyond the truth and do not follow the inclinations of a people who had gone astray before and misled many and have strayed from the soundness of the way.” Cursed were those who disbelieved among the Children of Israel by the tongue of David and of Jesus, the son of Mary. That was because they disobeyed and [habitually] transgressed. They used not to prevent one another from wrongdoing that they did. How wretched was that which they were doing. (5:77-79)

The emphasis on forbidding the evil is so great that it is mentioned in the famous story of the Sabbath-breakers:

And ask them about the town that was by the sea – when they transgressed in [the matter of] the sabbath – when their fish came to them openly on their sabbath day, and the day they had no sabbath they did not come to them. Thus did We give them trial because they were defiantly disobedient. And when a community among them said, “Why do you advise [or warn] a people whom Allah is [about] to destroy or to punish with a severe punishment?” they [the advisors] said, “To be absolved before your Lord and perhaps they may fear Him.”

And when they forgot that by which they had been reminded, We saved those who had forbidden evil and seized those who wronged, with a wretched punishment, because they were defiantly disobeying. (7:163-165)

“By the One in Whose hand is my soul, you must certainly command the good and forbid evil, or else a punishment from Him would soon be sent upon you, after which you would call upon Him yet your supplication (dua) would not be answered.” (Tirmidhi)

Without actively maintaining the forbidding of evil in our communities, we may very well end up accountable for the sins of our people, even if we ourselves are not committing those sins directly. Without forbidding evil, we are allowing evil to spread in our communities; without enforcing any religious boundaries, we are in fact passively encouraging the transgression of Allah’s boundaries. 

Neither parents nor du’aat are ready to – or even equipped to – discuss many of the common issues today found on social media and in real life, let alone the even more serious matter of the attitudes driving all of these behaviours. The lack of forbidding evil hasn’t just normalized outward sins, but has allowed the normalization of attitudes and mentalities which poison our fitrah and shred apart our spiritual well-being. This is even worse than just normalizing outward sins – at least if it was just outward sins, while recognizing that they are sinful, there would still be a starting point of understanding Allah’s Laws and acknowledging that one is transgressing them. Instead, we are now in a place where there is complete refusal to accept that Allah’s Prohibitions and Commands have any meaning at all; everything is up to individual interpretation, and anything in the Qur’an can be interpreted away into irrelevance. Sins are, apparently, just another social construct, rather than Divinely punishable actions that have devastating, far-reaching personal and social consequences. 

It is definitely time to make haram policing great again. (Okay, yes, I said that just to rile you up, dear reader. You have to admit, it’s why you clicked on this article in the first place.) In all seriousness, what we need is to bring back nahy ‘an il-munkar – not in the tactless, harsh, and damaging manner of the 90s, but in the compassionate and firm way that our entire Ummah desperately needs today. 

Invite (mankind, O Muhammad) to the way of your Lord (i.e. Islam) with wisdom (i.e. with the Divine Revelation and the Qur’an) and fair preaching, and argue with them in a way that is better. Truly, your Lord knows best who has gone astray from His path, and He is the Best Aware of those who are guided. (al-Nahl 16:125)

The Messenger of Allah said: “Religion is sincerity.” We said, “To whom?” He said, “To Allah and His Book, and His Messenger, and to the leaders of the Muslims and their common folk.” (Narrated by Muslim, 95)

Hold On To The Compassion While Forbidding Evil

The last decade or so has been spent building up compassion and empathy, which is absolutely necessary in da’wah, at every level. There must be an understanding of where people are coming from, what their history and their backgrounds are, and what personal traumas they are struggling with. There should never be a sense of glee in attacking someone personally, or making claims or accusations about someone’s private spiritual state. At the same time, however, the role of those in da’wah is to engage in both general da’wah as well as personal, individualized da’wah – meaning that there is still a requirement to inform and educate the masses about the seriousness of sins, to emphasize the Divine wisdoms behind the prohibitions made clear in Islam, and to push back against the normalization of those sins in the Ummah. It is not enough to have a “feel good” da’wah that turns a blind eye to entire sections of our Deen, nor is it appropriate to have a culture of religious condemnation to the exclusion of all else. Watering down the Deen so that people can feel good about themselves doesn’t help anyone, except Iblis. One can, in fact, be compassionate towards others without encouraging or enabling the transgression of Allah’s limits. 

A new era of haram policing is required, and it must begin in the home. As parents, we are all shepherds of our flocks; we will be accountable on the Day of Judgment and questioned about what we allowed our children to be exposed to, what we passively and actively permitted, and the ignorance we allowed ourselves instead of putting in the effort to prioritize our childrens’ Akhirah over worldly entertainment and pursuits. Certainly, this doesn’t mean shutting everything down with one’s children and being unduly harsh on them – we parents need to have open communication with our kids, especially to help them understand why rules and regulations are in place. It does, however, mean that we cannot allow ourselves to be guilt-tripped by our kids (which is a very common tactic these days), and to remember that we are meant to be our kids’ parents – not their friends. Sometimes we do have to be the bad guy, in order to ultimately be the good guy on the Day of Judgment. 

Our Ummah is in a state of global crisis on every level, not just geopolitically, but within our own homes and in our privileged Western Muslim communities. We are in a state of poisoned spirituality, where Muslims who publicly sin for entertainment is not only acceptable, but shared and encouraged; where even mentioning the concept of sins and punishment of the Hereafter turns someone in the target of vicious attacks; where there is little acknowledgement or respect of Allah’s limits and boundaries. “Feel good” faith has severe consequences in the Akhirah, yet too many parents and du’aat have shied away from forbidding the evil alongside with enjoining the good. As a result, we have ended up with generations of adults and youth alike who do not understand the seriousness of the spiritual implications of these normalized sins.

Allah repeatedly commands us in the Qur’an to enjoin the good and forbid the evil; one cannot be utilized to the exclusion of the other. As individuals, as parents, as religious educators and as leaders in our communities, we must all uphold the obligation of amr bi’l ma’roof and nahy ‘an il-munkar, for the spiritual well-being of our community as a whole.

Make haram policing great again – to make this Ummah great again.

And [recall] when We took the covenant from the Children of Israel, [enjoining upon them], “Do not worship except Allah ; and to parents do good and to relatives, orphans, and the needy. And speak to people good [words] and establish prayer and give zakah.” Then you turned away, except a few of you, and you were refusing. (2:83)

Never a Prophet had been sent before me by Allah towards his nation who had not among his people (his) disciples and companions who followed his ways and obeyed his command. Then there came after them their successors who said whatever they did not practise, and practised whatever they were not commanded to do. He who strove against them with his hand was a believer: he who strove against them with his tongue was a believer, and he who strove against them with his heart was a believer and beyond that there is no faith even to the extent of a mustard seed. (Muslim)

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Zainab bint Younus is a Canadian Muslim woman who writes on Muslim women's issues, gender related injustice in the Muslim community, and Muslim women in Islamic history. She holds a diploma in Islamic Studies from Arees University, a diploma in History of Female Scholarship from Cambridge Islamic College, and has spent the last fifteen years involved in grassroots da'wah. She was also an original founder of MuslimMatters.org.

12 Comments

12 Comments

  1. Avatar

    BintKhalil

    April 22, 2020 at 4:59 AM

    Assalamu alaikum sister Zainab,

    So glad to see you back on MM alhamdulillah! Still miss your Twitter though :(

  2. Avatar

    Tim

    April 22, 2020 at 11:54 PM

    Assalamu alaikum,

    This is an excellent reminder for everyone as those of us concerned about the state of our communities have been horrified at the normalization of fahisha within them, while at the same time feeling at a loss on how to deal with the situation.

    I would advise, however, that in order to do this effectively the author should provide more comprehensive advice. By this I mean educating us, the audience, on what exactly ‘Amr bil ma’roof and nahi’ an al munkar entails (i.e what matters we are responsible for according to the fuqaha) and what are the conditions for one doing this (e.g one must have knowledge of the issue at hand, one must make sure that they do not cause any harm by doing so, etc.). Otherwise the danger is that we will have well-intentioned people command good and forbid evil in a manner that is not sanctioned by the Shariah.

    • Zainab bint Younus (AnonyMouse)

      Zainab bint Younus (AnonyMouse)

      April 26, 2020 at 5:48 PM

      Wa ‘alaikumus-salaam wa rahmatullaahi wa barakaatuh,

      Thank you for your positive feedback!

      With regards to the details of what enjoining the good and forbidding the evil entails, there are many excellent books, articles, and resources on the topic. Ibn Taymiyyah’s book “Enjoining the Good and Forbidding the Evil” is a classical work; a quick Google search of the term will also yield many other beneficial resources.

  3. Avatar

    Abu Ismail

    April 23, 2020 at 5:09 AM

    This is gold! Definitely the best article i have read in Muslimmatters in a long time subhan Allah. Nothing uplifts the heart and gives motivation like the Quran & Sunnah. Though i gotta say, i am very good at “hating evil in my heart” and very bad at “forbidding it with my tongue”, may Allah make it easy for me and all the muslims to speak out against evil.

    Barak Allahu Feeki!

  4. Avatar

    broAhmed

    April 25, 2020 at 7:35 AM

    A well-written and timely essay, especially given my wife and I were speaking to each other recently about this. I like your capturing of the history of the hyper-critical period and the result. Feels like the pendulum has swung to other end now where no one can be criticized. I pray we reach the healthy middle ground. Thank you Shaykha Zainab and jazāk Allāhu khayrā.

    Do you have any general tips on what to do when encountering sinful behavior displayed brazenly on social media from friends and family?

    • Zainab bint Younus (AnonyMouse)

      Zainab bint Younus (AnonyMouse)

      April 26, 2020 at 5:56 PM

      Thank you for your positive feedback!

      Regarding your question – it depends on how strong one’s own relationship with those individuals is (and what that sinful behaviour is). The closer the family (e.g. siblings), the more likely one will be able to positively influence them (hopefully). Connecting with them, reminding them that certain behaviours are displeasing to Allah, subtly/ unsubtly providing links or resources to lectures or articles or even just simple ahadith that encourage growing closer to Allah and repentance… there are a lot of different tactics, and it depends on how well you know the person, and how receptive they are to your approach. Don’t be a jerk, but be firm as well – don’t give up, make du’a for them, and keep reaching out to them, inshaAllah. (Every once in a while, a passive aggressive Facebook post can be surprisingly effective… j/k, this probably isn’t the best advice, even if I’m personally fond of this tactic.)

      P.S. I’m definitely not a shaykha! Just another rando on the Internet.

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    Waseem Iqnaibi

    April 29, 2020 at 3:17 PM

    An absolutely well-written article, lifted by the noblest references, wrapped together to deliver a single, unambiguous message clear message. I haven’t read an essay like this in a while. Jazakellah Khairan and please do write more articles like this.

  7. Avatar

    Greg Carr

    May 13, 2020 at 10:28 AM

    I think it is noteworthy as well that when you see a flaw in someone else, that flaw may very well be present in yourself. How does someone who is dealing with their own flaws going to approach “forbidding the evil?” Most folks still don’t even know basics of their din or its history, to be honest, not even basic personal fiqh. I rarely, *rarely* meet a Muslim who has read a basic fiqh primer on any madhhab for their own personal fiqh. They just ask questions as they come up. Most of us really need to turn inwards and enjoin good and forbid evil in our own lives, and study our din. Research shows one of the fastest ways to bleed out a religion is hypocrisy in the parents’ generation (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BgGjnHmvaVM).

    Another note, is forbidding evil effective in our current American stage of Islam? Has it actually–well–forbade evil and reduced sin? Is the next generation more religious? I agree with you that it needs to begin in the household, with the parents. Research shows that the parents’ level of religiosity is typically the ceiling of the childrens’ level of religiosity over 90% of the time (I recall that only 2% of the time do children become more pious than their parents).

    I think there are different stages in community development, and we may not be at the stage of forbidding evil yet. You have to develop people and build them up. Cue the hadith of Aisha (radi Allahu anha):

    When the people embraced Islam, the Verses regarding legal and illegal things were revealed. If the first thing to be revealed was: ‘Do not drink alcoholic drinks.’ people would have said, ‘We will never leave alcoholic drinks,’ and if there had been revealed, ‘Do not commit illegal sexual intercourse, ‘they would have said, ‘We will never give up illegal sexual intercourse.’

    https://sunnah.com/bukhari/66/15

    These things take time, and we’re still learning our din and figuring out what Orthodoxy is. In those time periods you mentioned – the 2000s etc – most American Muslims were not aware of what Orthodox aqida and fiqh was, though it is now finally coming to the forefront. The average Muslim still doesn’t know what تفويض is, for example, though this knowledge is slowly disseminating. Most Muslims haven’t studied Aqida Tahawiyah (check out Sheikh Hamza Maqbul and Dr. Shadee el-Masry), or at least not properly, yet.

    There’s stages of development and hikma to these things. Though Dr. Shadee is known for being quite outspoken among many other ulema who do plenty of نهي المنكر.

    Barak Allahu feekum! Ramadan mubarak. :)

    • Avatar

      Spirituality

      July 21, 2020 at 11:38 AM

      As Salamu Alaikum,

      Jazak Allahu Khayran Sister Zaynab for your thought provoking post, and also to brother Greg for your thoughful reply.

      I just received an amazing email from Brother Ammar Al Shukry of the Al-Maghrib Institute which speaks to this issue as well: I quote parts of it here:

      ————-
      A sister in university asked me how she can get her brother to stop drinking.

      There is an absolutely amazing quote by our mother Aisha, may Allah be pleased with her, that is reported by Al-Bukhari that describes how the Quran was able to get an entire society to stop drinking.

      And this statement I’m sharing with you was instrumental in shaping my course, His Majesty: Unlocking the Names of Allah.

      She says, “The first thing that was revealed were chapters from Al-Mufassal (the shorter chapters of the Quran) and in it was mentioned Paradise and the Fire. When the people became attached to Islam, the verses regarding halal and haram were revealed.

      If the first thing to be revealed was: ‘Do not drink wine.’ people would have said, ‘We will never leave wine,’ and if it was revealed, “’Do not commit illegal sexual intercourse, ‘they would have said, ‘We will never give up illegal sexual intercourse.”

      And that is the same response that people give us now, when you point out anything that they love; drinking, weed, dating, partying, etc., and you simply say, “Stop doing that, that’s haram.”

      They simply say, “No.”

      The fact that you informed them that something was unlawful did not change their attitude towards it.

      They have to be invested first. The early portions of the Quran that were revealed were not about the details of law, but about the Oneness of God, Jannah, Hellfire, until the hearts became attached to Islam.
      ———————-
      [end quote]

  8. Avatar

    Wael Abdelgawad

    May 13, 2020 at 4:52 PM

    Thank you, this is an important reminder and a comprehensive overview on the subject. Though I have no idea what a “wallah bro” is.

    I also appreciate Greg’s reminder above that in forbidding the evil, we must start with ourselves. Otherwise we become those who the Quran has chastised: “O you who believe, why do you say what you do not do?”

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#Society

Beyond 2020: Grounding Our Politics in Community

Kyle Ismail, Guest Contributor

Published

As tense and agonizing as these unending election days have been, it pales in comparison to the last four years.  I plainly remember how it all began on the night of November 07, 2016. I watched as the political map of the US became increasingly red late into the night. All the social media banter, conspiracy theories and left-wing critiques of candidate Hillary Clinton, formed an amorphous blob of white noise as I heard Trump announced as the next president. Now that Trump has run for re-election, half the country was hoping for a repudiation but will have to settle for the fact that despite a small margin, Donald J. Trump will not have a second chance to erode our democratic institutions and divide us. But we can’t move forward until each of us acknowledges our own pathological role in what we’ve become as a deeply divided country. 

We need to grapple with how we can gradually improve the circus-like reality that has become our ordinary, daily politics. We’ll relive more and perhaps improved “Trumps” if we don’t accept our own responsibility in creating a divided America. This starts with being better members of local communities. Here are a few of Trump-induced realizations that I’ve come to accept:

  1. Caring about our immediate neighbors and listening to their challenges and concerns is the part of political engagement that we all have to embrace above and beyond actually voting if we hope to be more than a 50/50 nation.
  2. Social media and its profit-driven algorithms are actually eroding how we see each other but could also be altered to help better educate us about our local social/political landscape.
  3. Local Politics has direct impact on our lives and is also at the heart our religious obligations to our neighbors. It also sets the tone for where the federal level derives policies that prove to be best practices (some examples are included below).
  4. Agitation and protest are not the same as being politically organized on a local level. Protest is sometimes needed, but it will never replace consistent and patient work. We learned this lesson with the Arab Spring as that movement failed to transform into a movement that was able to govern effectively. And the same appears to be true about the Black Lives Matter movement.

The voting is over for now. But voting is really the smallest part of being committed to bettering our communities. It was Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) who gave the most specific definition of community/neighbor and encouraged his followers to guard the rights of the neighbor:

“Your neighbor is 40 houses ahead of you and 40 houses at your back, 40 houses to your left and 40 houses to your right” Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him)

Support MuslimMatters 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.

Why does this relate to being politically organized?? The need for political organizing comes when any group of people want to create change in accordance with their values. We’ve all watched protest after protest that change little to nothing at the neighborhood level. This will continue to happen without organization, which span school boards, block clubs, nonprofits, and religious community outreach.  How can Muslims enjoin right and discourage wrong in any meaningful way? It comes through having authentic relationships with neighbors and turning that into organized and engaged communities.

Rosa Parks

Nothing illuminates the value of such relationships better than the story of Rosa Parks in her role in the Montgomery Bus Boycott. People often think that she was the first brave soul to defy the custom of allowing whites to sit before African-Americans could be seated on her city’s buses. Nothing could be further from the truth. The difference was that her sets of relationships were so interwoven into her local community that it forced a massive response. Park’s connections spanned socioeconomic circles as she had close friendships from professors to field hands. She held memberships in a dozen local organizations including her church and the local NAACP. She was a volunteer seamstress in poor communities and provided the same for profit in wealthy white circles. When someone with her relational positioning was able to leverage the political organizing ability of MLK and Dr. Ralph Abernathy, the Montgomery Bus Boycott was sparked.

When something happens to Muslims, who can we mobilize to respond? Who becomes angry? Who do we work with in our communities to create policies that reflect our values And what are our internal barriers to such cooperation?

“Whosoever of you sees an evil action, let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so, then with his tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then with his heart—and that is the weakest of faith.” Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him)

Our Predecessors Organized Locally

At some point in time voting became the sum total of political engagement in the minds of many and is now deemed by some as worthless. We quickly forget that the organizations that battled for voting rights were first locally organized to improve communities. SNCC, SNCC, CORE, NAACP, and the Urban League all formed to create change in various ways and the fight for voting rights was a component of these local agendas. So when we’re tempted to believe that voting doesn’t matter, it’s likely due to our lack of engagement in local issues that form the contours of our community life. If you’ve ever heard of Ella Baker or Fannie Lou Hamer (worth researching!), you probably never bought into this type of logic.

One of the many lessons we can pull from this rich history is that we cannot pursue policies, seek alliances, or negotiate a position with political parties (see Ice Cube’s debacle in negotiating with Trump) without first being organized from within. No set of friendships or outside philanthropic support can supplant the need for internal organization. This lack of organized political engagement has weakened Muslims in general but has fatally weakened African-American Muslims as voices within the larger Black community – a voice that gave Islam its first fully accepted and influential place in American society.

Immigrant-based Muslim communities could also benefit from a local approach because despite being several generations in America, their American bonafides are still not set in stone. Concerns about Islamophobia will not change outside of developing authentic relationships with non-Muslims.

This also pushes back against a culture shaped disproportionately by social media algorithms that promote isolation and division for the sake of profit. Our attention to the national news cycle also takes our attention away from local communities where our power is formed. In this type of political malaise, re-engagement in local politics and community relationships can bring us back to important principles that resonate with the values of Islam.

Local politics help shape federal policy

The final word on any law or policy rests with the federal government, but much of what becomes orthodoxy begins with a few concerned citizens in local communities. As with community policing, criminal justice reform, climate sustainability, or any issues that has not caught on, the federal government will often step back to see how a new law plays out at state and local levels. Illinois didn’t wait for Obamacare but has a well-established program to ensure that anyone 18 and younger in Illinois has health insurance through a program called All Kids . Colorado has, in the midst of protests against police brutality, altered their law of Qualified Immunity to make police more accountable. And California has advanced the conversation on reparations  by sanctioning a study to understand how the state could benefit by redressing the descendants of American slavery.

By advancing issues and electing representatives who support the causes we believe in, we insert ourselves into a narrative that would’ve otherwise been forged without us. There’s no shortcut in this process short of rolling up our sleeves to understand our local systems and existing organizations. Moneyed interests are prepare to control the narrative regardless of who the president is and we have to remake this system from the ground up. Our history provides us with a roadmap to do this and it goes far beyond being citizens who only argue over national issues while standing on the sidelines. Remembering our 40 neighbors as advised by the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) is the best place to start.

Some helpful links:

Local Elections

State Legislatures

School Boards

County Prosecutors

Mayors

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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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