Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem, Bismillâh, Alhamdulillâh
Allâhumma salli wa sallim alâ sayyidinâ Muhammadin, wa alâ âlihi wa sahbih
Qul Hu-wallaahu ‘Ahad, ‘Allaahus-Samad Lam yalid, wa lam yuulad,
Wa lam yakun la-Hu kufuwan ‘Ahad.
Say: He is Allah the One and Only; Allah the Eternal Absolute;
He begets not nor is He begotten; And there is none like unto Him (112:1-4).
Most discussions about unity in Islam begin with Surah Iklas. Here Allah (Subhannahu wa ta’alaa) summarizes the premise of Islam: that God is One, and that He is only One-there are no partners, no family, no son, no wife.
Many people have written and spoken on the Oneness of Allah (tawhid). But today I would like to focus on the application of the reality of Allah’s (Subhannahu wa ta’alaa)oneness in our day-to-day lives. What must we strive for that will make clear the Truth of Unity? How and why does Islam demand that we strive for unity within our community, that we find common ground among all people through the worship and service of Allah (Subhannahu wa ta’alaa) and His creatures? How conscious are we of Allah (Subhaanahu wa ta’alaa)? And what are the results of forgetting Allah (Subhaanahu wa ta’alaa)?
In the society we live in-both in the Islamic community, with all its disparities, and in the larger community of non-Muslims, with its many social ills-the reality of not remembering Allah (Subhannahu wa ta’alaa) is the reality of not having the right tool to meet the challenges we face.
Islam Can Meet Today’s Challenges
At the very beginning of Islam, the Prophet’s (salla-llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) effort to form a community was based on bay’at: that is, on people taking his hand and making the shahada (profession of faith). That act superseded all tribal attachments and blood bonds. It transformed a culture of warring tribes into a family of believers-believers not only in a new religion, but in a way of life that demanded cooperation and common understanding.
With this new community identity, the Muslims began to conduct business fairly. They ended the practice of killing newborn girls, and declared that women were full human beings-not chattel, but sisters deserving rights and respect. They gave up alcohol, prostitution, gambling, and other vices. Arabs, Africans, Persians, Malaysians and people of other cultures and nationalities began to see each other as one community.
But we also know that from the early days of Islam, the community of Muslims was not fully unified. (Indeed, a unified Muslim community has never come about except among certain smaller groups of Muslims who have kept it alive.) Our task today, in a globalized world, is to pick up the truth of Islam and extend it through the mechanisms we have now: through the technology; the knowledge; and the lessons learned from the horrors of sectarianism, nationalism, and genocide that have been wrought not just in one small part of the world by warring clans, but globally among races, religions, and ethnic groups. We have to understand what Islam has to offer, and embrace the mission to take the next step in transforming the world.
We stand at the threshold, addressing the topic of unity. We have to affirm that it not only can happen, but must happen, as a mandate. Consider the issues of our society. In the United States:
- alcohol causes hundreds of thousands of deaths each year;
- more people have died from non-combat gun violence in the last two decades than were killed in battles since the country was founded (NCHS);
- each year, one out of every ten teenage women (ages 15-19) gets pregnant (National Vital Statistics Report);
- a woman is raped every few minutes (RAINN);
- one in five adults is functionally illiterate (NCES);
- nearly 45 million people lack health insurance (U.S. Census Bureau, Health);
- fourteen percent of the population lives below the poverty line (US Census Bureau, Poverty);
- and in a society that is still tormented by racial strife-where 40 years ago, I walked the streets of Montgomery, Selma, and Atlanta; where the reality of commitment and non-violence became engraved in my mind (and at times on my skull)-I still see the same challenges. Today mosques, synagogues, and black churches are firebombed. Or, they are the targets of fanatics. Or, they have fallen prey to leaders who exploit oppressed peoples-who, in the name of religion or God, spread fear-dominated prejudice and bigotry like viruses among us.
We know Islam can address these failings. Islam can improve, Islam can enhance. Islam can address each of our circumstances, cure peoples’ inner illnesses, and heal the ills of the community. We know that the solutions to violence and crime begin in the home; that Allah (Subhannahu wa ta’alaa) guides us to provide security and guidance to our children starting at the breasts of their mothers; and that Islam makes clear the role of the loving and responsible father, of brothers and sisters and the extended family. We also know that “family” in Islam includes the whole community. Islam has its own, built-in social and economic “safety net.” Allah (Subhannahu wa ta’alaa) tells us in the Holy Qur’an:
Wa-laakin al-birra man…‘aatal- maala calaa hubbihii dhawil-qurbaa wal- yataamaa wal-masaakiina wabnas-sabiili was-saaa-‘iliina wa- fir-riqaab….
Truly pious is the one who…spends his substance-however much he himself may cherish it-upon his near of kin, and the orphans, and the needy, and the wayfarer, and the beggars, and for the freeing of human beings from bondage (2:177).
The Prophet (salla-llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said:
“He is not a person of faith who eats his fill while his neighbor is hungry.”
We know that Islam has no use for idols, be they the stone and metal figures of ancient Mecca, or the modern-day idols of money and possessions. We know that Islam views men and women with mutual respect. And we know that Islam commands us to say “no” not just to alcohol, but to drugs and all other intoxicants.
We have solutions; we have a mandate; but do we have a solid foundation in belief? Do we know the inner workings of the solutions Islam offers? Do we understand the connection between our duty to address social ills, and the statement “He is Allah, the One and Only”? If we do, we understand our role in Allah’s (Subhannahu wa ta’alaa) creation. If we do not, we are alone and we will fail, as others have failed. All success comes from Allah.
The tool to address the challenges around us is the belief solely in Allah (Subhaanahu wa ta’alaa). If we bring that deep belief and faith to issues, we must have success. All Power to Do Good Comes from Allah (Subhaanahu wa ta’alaa)
Behind all of our social-political activism and work for humanity, there must be a petition, a beseeching, a humble plea for assistance, directed to Allah and Allah alone (Subhaanahu wa ta’alaa). “Du’a (supplication/imploring of Allah) is the quintessence of worship,” the Prophet (salla-llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) observed.
Wa qaala Rabbukum-ud-‘uuniii ‘astajib lakum.
And your Lord says, “Call on Me; I will answer you” (Qur’an 40:60).
Allah (Subhannahu wa ta’alaa) is the real Cause, for without His permission, nothing can be accomplished.
Allaahu khaaliqu kulli shay’in, wa Huwal Waahidul Qahhaar.
...God is the Creator of everything, and He is the One, the Dominant (Qur’an 13:16).
Maa ‘asaabaka min hasanatin famin Allaah….
Whatever good happens to you is from Allah…(Qur’an 4:79).
We can seek assistance from others whom Allah (Subhannahu wa ta’alaa) has given the power to help, but we must remember that ultimately, it is Allah (Subhannahu wa ta’alaa)Who has all the power.
When we recount the needs of society, we must keep deep within our hearts and minds the awareness that all efforts and success comes from the One-and that no action can succeed if we only pay lip service to Allah (Subhaanahu wa ta’alaa). Rather, we must have deep faith as mu’minuun (believers).
Overcoming racial, ethnic, and national divisions by bringing our belief solely in Allah (Subhannahu wa ta’alaa) to issues, we are on the track to success. But we must act not as individuals only, but as a community. Allah (Subhannahu wa ta’alaa) tells us in the Holy Qur’an:
Wa’-tasimuu bi-hablillaahi jamii-‘anw-wa laa tafarraquu. Wadh-kuruu ni’-matallaahi ‘alaykum ‘idh kuntum ‘a’-daaa-‘an-fa-‘allafa bayna quluubikum fa-‘asbahtum-bi-ni’-matihiii ‘ikhwaanaa….
And hold fast altogether to the rope of God, and do not be divided among yourselves. He joined your hearts in love, and so by His mercy, you became brothers (3:103).
Wal-takum-minkum ‘Ummatuny-yad-cuuna ‘ilal-khayri wa ya’-muruuna bil-ma’ruufi wa yanhawna ‘anil-munkar….
Let there be one nation of you, calling to good and forbidding dishonor…(3:104).
“Let there be one nation of you” is a very clear command, but it is a command that Muslims seem to have difficulty fulfilling. I know a man who embraced Islam and then attended khutba at a mosque that preached intolerance. He said: “If that had been the first mosque I visited, I would never have embraced Islam!” In the Holy Qur’an, Allah (Subhannahu wa ta’alaa) says:
Yaa ‘ayyuhan-naasu ‘innaa…ja-‘alnaa-kum shu-‘uubanw-wa qabaaa-‘ila lita-‘aarafuu….
O mankind! Lo, we…have made you nations and tribes that you may know one another…(49:13).
The Prophet Muhammad (salla-llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said,
“There is no superiority for an Arab over a non-Arab and for a non-Arab over an Arab, nor for the white over the black nor for the black over the white, except in piety.”
And Mohammed Iqbal, the famous Pakistani poet, said,
“It was Islam and Islam alone which, for the first time, gave the message to mankind that religion was neither national nor racial, ...but purely human.”
Is it possible, really possible, that Islam does not tolerate national and racial divisions-but Muslims do? This is more than a contradiction in terms; it is an oxymoron. There is a saying in the East: “I traveled the Islamic world and found few Muslims” (or, “...I met many ‘Muslims,’ but found little Islam”). How can we promote the beauty of Islam-the beauty of compassion, mercy, forgiveness, tolerance, patience, love, generosity-while we permit such narrow-mindedness, such factionalism, such superficial selfishness?
We are Muslims (no, Mu’minuun) only when the reality that is Islam remains centered in our hearts. There are and have always been individuals who care only for worldly gain, who use Islam to fulfill their selfish ends. Allah (Subhannahu wa ta’alaa) tells us in the Holy Qur’an that the hypocrites (munafiquun) have been among us since the beginning of Islam, and that they are so-called Muslims, not open disbelievers.
Islam is not a means to power, fame, or fortune in this world. Islam is a transforming, life-changing, expanding experience that challenges us in this life, and rewards us in the hereafter. Islam obliges us to stand together in one line, shoulder to shoulder, foot to foot. It says that together, we must prostrate our foreheads to the Divine, so that we can all learn that we are humble servants of Allah (Subhaanahu wa ta’alaa). We all believe in Allah (Subhaanahu wa ta’alaa), the Prophet (salla-llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam), the angels, the Day of Judgment, and the Qur’an. On this basis, our Islam comes first, and everything else-our national, ethnic, linguistic, social, or gender identity-comes second.
We need to put an end to the identification of mosques (masajid) with particular ethnic, racial, or national groups: the Indo-Pakistani masjid, the Malaysian masjid, the Saudi masjid, etc. We need to see white people in ‘African American’ mosques, and African Americans in ‘white’ mosques.
To really unify our community, we have to live up to the cultural diversity that Islam teaches. We have to focus on the basis of Islam, accepting one another, accepting our diversity and understanding that we can agree to differ on certain things and allow Allah (Subhannahu wa ta’alaa) to bring clarity to our hearts and minds through our trust and faith in Him. We must engage in dialogue with the broader American community, and not allow dogma and doctrine of questionable origin to replace what Allah (Subhaanahu wa ta’alaa) has revealed to us clearly in the Qur’an.
Dialogue with the Broader American Community
And what will be the focus of our dialogue? Certainly, we can start with the crisis of values in America-a crisis that is going mainstream. Even politicians in Washington, DC (including the President of the United States, in his State of the Union address) are proposing solutions that sound quite Islamic. There are calls to redistribute wealth by giving tax breaks to the poor, not just to the rich; to improve education; to curb violence by increasing values, awareness of individual rights, and appreciation for diversity. Al’hamdulillah!
Of course, we know the Qur’an and Hadith have addressed these topics for more than 1400 years. We hold the keys to the inner dimensions of these values. But it is up to us to come forward and present them by our actions, our lives, our work, our efforts, and our dialogue.
We have to make efforts within our own community to find real unity based on our Islam, not disunity based on culture, race, and historical differences. Perhaps what will motivate us to find that unity today (where we have not been able to find it in the past) is to engage with each other on the common problems that we face, as Muslims in the United States; problems and issues, however, which are not limited to the Muslim community. For when we look around us, we see that non-Muslims are seeking solutions to the same problems: to bigotry, prejudice, poverty, an inadequate educational system, crime, the excesses of materialism.
There is a story that two rams were fighting “while a wolf looked on from behind a thicket. ‘Fight on, fight on,’ said the wolf to himself. ‘Fight until you are too exhausted to move, then I’ll come and eat you both up’” (al-Jerrahi 677).
It is not the way of Islam to fight fellow believers-for all people of faith share similar concerns (just as all rams must fear wolves). All who believe are one community; and as more people come to believe in Allah (Subhaanahu wa ta’alaa), they come to realize that they, too, are one. The attitude, the way of life, and the example of Muslims call all people to realize and benefit from the unity that is at the basis of Allah’s (Subhannahu wa ta’alaa) creation.
We need to earn the respect of the American people, to offer what we have in ways that are not threatening, to be part of the solution to the problems that face this country. Allah (Subhannahu wa ta’alaa) enjoins us to speak in ways that are heard. He tells us to make the better argument, to represent the beauty of Allah’s (Subhannahu wa ta’alaa) message in how we communicate it:
Wa laa tusa’-‘ir khaddaka linnaasi wa laa tamshi fil-‘ardi marahaa; ‘innallaaha laa yuhibbu kulla mukhtaalin fakhuur.
Do not speak to the people with your face turned away, nor walk proudly on the earth, for Allah does not love any self-conceited boaster (Qur’an 31:18).
Waqsid fii mash-yika waghdud min sawtik; ‘inna ‘ankaral-‘aswaati la-sawtul-hamiir.
Be moderate in your pace and lower your voice; for the harshest of voices is the braying of a donkey (Qur’an 31:19).
Wa qul-li-‘ibaadii yaquu-lullatii hiya ‘ahsan….
And tell My servants that they should speak in the most kindly manner [to those who do not share their beliefs].... (Qur’an 17:53)
‘Ud-‘u ‘ilaa Sabiili Rabika bil-hikmati wal-maw-‘Idhatil-hasanati wa jaadilhum-billatii hiya ‘ahsan: inna Rabbaka Huwa ‘A’-lamu biman-dalla ‘an-Sabiilihii wa Huwa ‘a’-lamu bil-Muhtadiin.
Call unto the way of your Lord with wisdom and good exhortation, and reason with them in the best way. Lo, your Lord best knows those who go astray from this path, and He knows best those who are rightly guided (Qur’an 16:125).
In our society, Islam is feared. It is the target of both the uninformed and those who would purposely subvert the rights of all citizens by scapegoating Muslims. We must not give them the excuse or the tools to do this. We must be seen as people who are servants of God, good citizens, brothers and sisters in faith. We must renounce all extremism (right or left, religious or secular) and join hands with the good people of this country in building a secure and safe future.
This is the meaning of Islam. Normally, we are told it means “submission.” But it also means “established, peaceful, safe, secure.” To be a Muslim is to create an inner and outer attitude: inwardly, an attitude of submission and security in Allah (Subhaanahu wa ta’alaa), and outwardly, an attitude that supports the environment of safety and security that is so lacking in our society today.
It is our unfailing trust in Allah (Subhaanahu wa ta’alaa), the One and Only, combined with our effort as a community, that will address the needs of our country and our world.
All of this takes time. There needs to be time for adjustment, for building cooperation, for creatively implementing value-based solutions. We must plan for generations of change, and pray for the Almighty to shine His light upon us and through His grace transform us and our society. This means each of us must work diligently during our lifetime. It also means we must educate our youth to carry on the work of transforming our society.
Preparing the Next Generation for the Future
Our children need to take pride in their faith, in their community, in their families, and in their role. They must see Islam as being their greatest weapon against crime, injustice, oppression, poverty, arrogance, social and economic inequity, and the fragmentation of society by race or nationality.
For our young people to have a truly Islamic identity, they have to go beyond just covering their heads, or having good manners, or being raised culturally as Muslims, or being educated in mosques. In their souls, they need to be good. We will never be able to shield them from all the issues and vices of our society, so we must train them to deal with these issues as Muslims (those who submit), as mu’minuun (those who believe), as mutaquun (those who are conscious of Allah (Subhaanahu wa ta’alaa)).
We can guide our children to understand the complexities and contradictions of life within the context of faith in One God. We can strive to create a generation of Muslims for whom Islam and its values come first, as a way of life: whose first priority is submission, trust, safety, security for everyone, belief in the community.
Many of us came to Islam by leaving the religions we were brought up in and seeking new paths to Truth or God. I believe this was partially a reaction to the absence of justice, of social responsibility, of universal compassion, and of sensitivity to Allah’s presence in our lives. Certainly, we were responding to our society’s failure to foster an attitude of service, brotherhood and sisterhood.
Today, as Muslims, we have all that and more; and we must pass this on, so that our young people understand the greatness of the bounties of Islam. We must also understand their desire to discover life for themselves, to make decisions and feel empowered to effect change. They cannot just be expected to be extensions of us. Technology and science are handing them a very different set of issues than we have ever dealt with. They are the ones who will have to figure out how to implement Islamic principles in a world that medically, biologically, and technically might make them virtually immortal.
Allah (Subhannahu wa ta’alaa) tells us:
Wa maa jacalnaahum jasadal-laa ya’-kuluunat-ta-caam wa maa kaanuu khaalidiin.
We did not give them bodies which could survive without food, nor were they immortal (Qur’an 21:8).
We are also told:
Fa- waswasa ‘ilayhish-Shaytaanu qaala yaaa ‘Aadamu hal ‘adulluka calaa shajaratil-khuldi wa mulkil-laa yablaa.
...Shaitan seduced [Adam] saying: “O Adam! Should I show you the Tree of Immortality and an everlasting kingdom?” (Qur’an 20:12)
What are the issues of faith, unity, duty, and emotional and spiritual transitions that are raised by greatly extending human life? How will that affect theology, and specifically Islam? These are perhaps the largest questions facing Muslims today, and our children will bear the burden of responding.
Conclusion: New Angles on Well-Known Issues
There are many issues to be addressed in our society. We know what they are, and we know the solutions that Islam offers. But we need to review them, and we need to review them with absolute faith that Allah (Subhannahu wa ta’alaa) is the One we call to for help. We cannot call to ourselves. We are not doing. Allah (Subhannahu wa ta’alaa) is doing, and we are just fulfilling our duties as the viceregents (khalifas) of Allah. We are acting only by His will. We can only act by His will, and He can make us not act. We can succeed by His will, or not succeed. So, we must focus on the Ahad, the One, the unity.
If we focus on our belief and trust in Allah (Subhannahu wa ta’alaa) as the mechanism through which we solve problems such as poverty, women’s safety, racial inequality, alcoholism, and related social ills, then we will look at all these problems with a different point of view. We will have a sense of urgency to solve these problems, but at the same time, we will have an abiding faith that Allah (Subhannahu wa ta’alaa) is giving us His support.
Both we and our new generation have reason to be proud of being Muslim. We have something great to contribute to the social, political, and spiritual dialogue of our times. But there will be no transformation unless there are real Muslims: people who struggle, who love Allah (Subhaanahu wa ta’alaa), who suffer for and enjoy their life for Allah, who remember the way of history and are grateful for the way the future can be. People who are Muslims from the inside out, not from the outside in. People who think as Muslims in theory, and who act as Muslims in practice, privately and publicly-and when they fail, say “Astaghfirullah.” People who strive to present Islam as it truly is: clear, tolerant, patient, loving, and socially-committed.
Not everyone can be of the awliyya (the saintly friends of Allah (Subhaanahu wa ta’alaa)). But we can all strive to be sincere believers.
The road to becoming a Muslim is long, and passes through difficult country: the terrain of conditioning, arrogance, and selfishness. Each of us starts out carrying more baggage than we can handle-cultural baggage, personal baggage, bad habits. But the road is also bathed in the light of compassion, mercy, and love. I have attempted this journey for thirty years, and while I cannot say that I have succeeded, I can say that no other journey could offer the same rewards.
There was an ant with only three legs, who decided to go on Hajj (pilgrimage). On the road from Damascus to Mecca, he came to the Hejaz desert. He had travelled for some distance into the desert when he came across another ant, returning from Mecca. The second ant looked at the three-legged ant and asked, “Where are you going?”
The three-legged ant replied, “I am on the way to Mecca.”
The other ant said, “You’ll never make it! It’s a terribly difficult journey, even for an ant with six legs. You’ll die along the way!”
The three-legged ant looked at him. He thought for a moment. Then he smiled and said, “What does it matter if I die? At least I’ll die on the road to Mecca.”
Jazakallah khair. Thank you very much.
Wa Llahu lahu ul-haqqi wa huwa yahdis-sabil.
Hasbuna Llahu wahdahu wa ni’mal-wakil.
Wa salli ‘ala sayyidina Muhammadin
wa alihi wa sahbihi ajma’in
wal-hamdu li-Llahi rabb il-‘alamin.
Truth belongs to Allah; it is He who shows the way.
Allah, alone, suffices us,
and what a fine guardian is He!
Blessings upon our Master Muhammad
and his family and Companions altogether
and praise is due to Allah, Lord of the Worlds.
al-Jerrahi, Sheikh Muzzafer Ozak. Trnaslated by Muhtar Holland. Amity, NY: Amity House, 1988.
National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), U.S. Department of Education. “The Condition of Education, 1999,” Indicator 8, p. 42 Online. Available at http://www.nces.ed.gov/pubs99/condition99/indicator-8.html Accessed February, 2000.
National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). Statistics posted online. Available at http://www.jointogether.org/gv/ Accessed February, 2000.
National Vital Statistics Reports, Vol. 47, No. 12. “Teen Births.” National Vital Statistics Reports 1997. Online. Available at http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/fastats.htm Accessed 2 February 2000.
Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN). Home page. Available at http://www.feminism.com/rainn.htm Accessed 16 July 2000
U.S. Census Bureau. “Health Insurance Coverage: 1998.” Online. Available at http://www.census.gov/hhes/hltin98/hi98t2.html Accessed 16 July 2000
U.S. Census Bureau. “Poverty in the United States: 1997.” Online. Available at http://www.jcpr.org/faq/faq_measures_frames.html Accessed January, 2000.
Originally published on Shaykh Abdur Rashid’s Circle Group website. Please visit Shaykh Abdur Rashid’s site at http://www.circlegroup.org/ Reprinted in The American Muslim with permission of the author.