A TIME FOR HEALING
“O mankind! There has come to you a direction from your Lord, and a healing for your hearts and, for those who believe, a Guidance and a Mercy.” (Qur’an 10:51).
Dear Brothers and Sisters: The time has come for us to seriously reflect upon the covenant we have made with Allah, to pause and to take stock of our lives and the Muslim community in America.
Surely this is a time for awakening and a time for healing. Allah has truly favored us in America. We need now to examine our gratitude. He warns us in the Qur’an of those before us who were favored by Him, only to fall from grace because of their ingratitude.
Unlike our counterparts in the so-called Muslim world, we in America have been spared, until now, the kind of tradition-bound and sectarian divisions that have led to violent oppression and fratricidal warfare among various proponents.
We may feel that, because of Allah’s favor, we too can begin to indulge in these excesses. Or we may fall into them out of negligence - because we take Allah for granted. By our omissions and our commissions and our taking of sides unilaterally we may falter as those before us, for “Whoever recommends and aids a good cause becomes a partner therein, and whoever recommends and aids an evil cause shares in its burden, and Allah has power over all things.” (Qur’an 4:85)
Have we now become caught up in the negligence and excesses often seen elsewhere in the worldwide Muslim community, such as following in traditional schisms that range from claims of “sacred” cultural mores to disputes over Qur’anic interpretations and the sunnah of the Prophet? Have we? God forbid.
I fear that we stand in grave danger of going the way of the societies before us unless we pause and take heed of God’s command: “AND HOLD FAST TO THE ROPE OF ALLAH TOGETHER, AND BE NOT DIVIDED.” (Q 3:103)
Let us reflect upon the near violent disputes and the indiscriminate invoking of Allah and the Qur’an and sunnah. It has become an all-too frequent occurrence within the community at large, especially amid recent world events. Think of the ugly charges and counter charges that have come to disrupt relationships among Muslims and Muslim communities in America. Ugliness has been seen everywhere among Muslims. Unbecoming language and even threats have been issued!
Should not Muslims in America reflect upon the relevant examples in the Qur’an? Should Muslims in America take on historic and manifest failures of the ummah, following widespread practices and interpretations allegedly based upon the Qur’an and authentic sunnah? Should Muslims in America become partisans to the conflicts among proponents of the so-called “schools of thought?” Or to the Sunni versus Shi’a disputes over historical renderings? Or to the cloaked racism and nationalism? Should we fall into the trap laid by the seducer of all Muslims sheitan - the one “who whispers, then withdraws,” and who then comes as an arbitrator to “settle” the disputes with cunning might and flowery speech?
How is it that we come to hate one another?
How is it that we render our sympathy and our justice piecemeal over our Muslim brothers and sisters? How is it that our violence is reflected toward one another? Have we forgotten the Qur’an? Have we forgotten Allah’s warning about such hatred, even toward those who have wronged us? (Q 5:2 and 5:8)
Can we not see clearly that if we allow ourselves to be drawn into schisms our power will depart? We cannot afford to lock into age-old conflicts which rear their heads on the surface as the issue. Conflicts of nationalism - where words such as Arab, Persian, Turk, Kurd, Kashmiri, etc. abound; conflicts of sect; conflicts of economic status - and the list continues. They are the antithesis of Islam, yet they have become the religion for the protagonists. Meanwhile, Islam - Islamic equality, Islamic justice, the path to Allah fades in the distance.
And meanwhile, the innocent Muslim is distracted from his covenant with Allah - his commitment to take in the orphan, to feed the poor, to clothe the naked, to aid the homeless, to build a balanced community. His religion too becomes one of criticizing and attacking Muslims with whom he differs, often on issues of insignificance and triviality. Unfortunately, from these individual “differences” grow the seeds of sectarianism.
Surely it is a time for healing. What must be done? Can we start by stopping the name calling? Especially the hasty charges and counter-charges that equate the one who differs with the hypocrites and disbelievers. Despite Allah’s specific warnings against this behavior, it seems that it is becoming more and more of a pastime with Muslims in America. “Say not to anyone who offers you a salutation (assalaamu alaikum) ‘You are not a believer.’”
We may ask then “How do we correct a wrong?” Many of us have overworked the hadith about correcting a wrong with our hand, our tongue, or our heart. It is often used as an excuse for an aggressive and not a reasoned resolution to a mere difference of opinion. Another overworked hadith is that the scholar is worth more than a thousand ignorant worshippers. In most cases it is exalted by those for whom scholarship has become the end, rather than a means. Here, God is no longer the goal, but sophistic scholarship is. Thus, and by tradition, we have fallen into disputes of the so-called “learned” disputes like those previous generations of Christians engaged in, such as “How many angels can sit on the head of a pin?”
But where was the scholarship of our ulema, for example, when the gulf crisis broke out? There they sat, on their intellectual hands, terrified by the great powers. Too weak to speak out, as they have not done in the past against injustice, to weak to call upon Allah in defense. Too weak to give a balanced fatwa (religious edict) which might bring condemnation, even upon themselves. Too weak.
“O you who believe, stand out firmly for justice as witnesses to Allah, even against yourselves or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be against rich or poor, for Allah can best protect both.” (Q 4:135)
How then do we resolve our differences and heal ourselves?
“If there is any difference of opinion, it cannot be on the truth of the Qur’an and its message, which is one and the same for all time. If there is any difference among Muslims, it can only be in their imperfect understanding of the Qur’an and its message. But if this difference of opinion is within limits of accepted interpretations, it is not bad nor evil, nor is it dangerous or injurious to the collective life.” (Encyclopedia of Seerah, vol. 6, p. 428).
“The different opinions of the companions of the Prophet, their followers and the leading jurists (at that time), were of the former type of difference. This type of difference is called a mercy. But if these differences or details are considered as al-din (compulsory) and made the means of dispute among different sections of the people, then even this type of difference becomes condemnable ... Truth is only the Qur’an and people’s opinions are only opinions, and as such may be right or wrong.” (ibid, p. 430-431).
The above quotes should be sufficient for us to contemplate on this subject if we sincerely seek to restore equality and unity within our growing community in this country.
Indeed, it is a time for healing. Let us cast aside the rancor and hatred, the contention over opinions, and that over deeds already done. We need not belabor arguments to the delight of the enemies of Allah and the enemies of our ummah. But as we are obligated to warn, to speak gently - as Musa was ordered to address pharaoh - let us warn and call for justice and true equality, for the release of the slave, for the feeding of the hungry, for the shelter of the homeless, for the sharing of wealth. Let us warn against usury, against arrogance, against miseducation, against discrimination - whether on the basis of color, sex, nationality, school of thought, or other petty distinctions, and let us warn against wasting resources - especially while so many starve. Finally, let us set the example in all these areas, even take the lead. May Allah grant us victory.
Editors note: The Muslim community in the U.S. is different from any Muslim community anywhere else – except for the temporary community created during the hajj - in its wonderful diversity. We are in physical numbers a SIGNIFICANT minority, but until we make the jihad necessary to break down all the artificial barriers separating us we will remain an INSIGNIFICANT minority in terms of our ability to effect change. God will not change the condition of a people until they change their own condition. It is time and past time for all of us to change.
The American Muslim.
Originally published in the Apring 1991 issue of al Basheer, and the Fall 1992 print edition of