Influencing Culture Change: A Call to American Muslims
by Tariq Nelson
On studying History, we see that everywhere Islam spread, it exerted a stimulating influence on the local culture. Islam revitalized life in a dying urban center like Constantinople by providing new civic norms and social relationships enabling people to cope with the urgent problems of city life. In towns and villages battling epidemics, Islam revolutionized care-giving by introducing the concept of a hospital. In regions filled with newcomers and strangers, Islam offered a basis for firm attachments. In places filled with the homeless and impoverished, Islam offered charity as well as hope. In areas teeming with orphans and widows, Islam provided a new and expanded sense of family.
Today, we are living in times in which particular segments of our country are mired in a barrage of moral and social decay: spiraling crime, an onslaught of high-school drop outs, out of wedlock pregnancies, deadbeat dads, single mothers, infidelity, unhealthy eating, obesity, diabetes, and so much more. In 2007, 46.8% of twelfth-graders and 35.6% of tenth-graders admitted to taking illegal drugs. In 2006, 20.9% of eighth-graders admitted to taking an illegal drug in their lifetime.
The perfect cultural custodian to clean up this social mess is the Muslim community.
I believe that our community is the great hope of our country and is positioned like no other to influence and begin to re-shape the American culture – that is, if we decide to step back into the community and do our jobs. This is especially true, since the United States is probably the most change-oriented society in the world.
I believe that the call to the American Muslims is to influence and change the culture of the community around us as past Muslims have done. Part of our challenge is to become a vital part of our neighborhoods by convening and encouraging formation of future culture that serves the common good. We must become connoisseurs of an alternative way, recognizing and celebrating the good, true and beautiful way of Islam in our communities as an example to all others. Nowhere else does this potential for synergy exist except with the Muslims of America.
Sadly, we strayed away from our massive potential influence when large numbers of people (myself including) came into Islam inspired by the Malcolm X cultural craze of the 1990’s. Instead, we have become just another subculture. The result has been that we have stood on the sidelines while have tolerating the destruction the future of a generation of young people in our country. So today, rather than tuning out the important discussions around us and founding our own little Muslim bubbles, we should not be afraid to become mainstream and learn to appeal to the public at large. This does not mean that we should discard our Islamic principles. However it does mean that more of us should stop thinking we’re above getting into the trenches of mainstream culture. Here are some things that I feel that each of us can do to re-establish this initiative.
- Learn your religion
Educate ourselves in Islam and about the world around us. If we are educated in our religion this will insha Allah bring clarity to our responsibility to our communities. We do not need to simply condemn and be suspicious of the world around us.
Inspire the people within our circles to get involved and pursue excellence in all fields. Help them cultivate and create culture that serves the common good. Your interest in serving them will go along way in building their confidence in the Muslim Community’s understanding of their opportunity for influence while reminding them of God’s provision.
- Connect with your local neighborhood
Ask yourself, “If your local masjid were removed from the community today, would anyone even notice?” …Would you, as an individual, be missed if you left today? What are you contributing?
As an integral piece of your local culture, integrate a duty-bound approach to the needs of your community. We should add value to the culture, support local businesses, and schools and serve the community with volunteers for good events that are redemptive in nature. Be an advocate for goodness and beauty throughout your environment.
- Search for Good
Instead of being offended when confronted with deviant behavior and darkness – and there is plenty - be motivated to get involved to make a constructive change. Challenge yourself to find something good in all things and identify the redemptive nature of your neighbors and your place in shaping a healthier world.
Initiate conversations about the values of your community. Host them at your local Islamic Center or any other location and drive the intellectual conversation instead of simply responding to it. Raise issues of concern and propose solutions. Be the first to praise the good culture being created in your community and inspire imagination around opportunities that support the common good, elevate beauty, and align with truth.
Numbers aren’t the important thing, but sustainable commitment, dedication and Iman are. If a few dedicated Muslims throughout our communities embraced a holistic view of Islamic influence, we could see the tide turn on the social ills plaguing the social fabric. If we do these things Islam and the Muslims can once again be the powerful culture-shaping influence they have been in the past. We must recapture the historical Islamic message that calls us to redeem entire cultures, not just individuals. Yes, individuals are important – don’t get me wrong - but those who seek the common good of the social whole, tap the opportunity to vitalize the hearts and minds of individuals in the masses.
We must recapture the historical Islamic message that calls us to redeem and reform entire cultures, not just individuals. Yes, individuals are important – don’t get me wrong - but those who seek the common good of the culture, have an increased opportunity for the hearts and minds of individuals.
I’ve gotten a lot of serious flak for my views on this subject, so I’ll end with two reminders from our Prophet (Peace and Blessing be upon him) that back up my point:
The Messenger of Allah said :
“The believer who mixes with the people and has patience in spite of their annoyances is better that he that doesn’t mix with them and doesn’t have patience in spite of their annoyances.” Narrated by Ahmad and Ibn Majah
He also said:
“The believer is cordial; there is no good in one who is neither cordial nor sociable.” Narrated by Ahmad.
With all of this in mind, some of us have begun to challenge our local community to begin a new conversation that will begin the process of transforming our community in a positive way
Please visit Tariq Nelson’s site at http://tariqnelson.com/