Although crucial, individual acts of charity and gentle dealings are only fragments of the multifarious reality of humankind. The question is how do these principles set the stage for greater social reform, and what do these mean for Muslims, collectively and individually?
Establishing Justice: The Responsibility of the Ummah
In an age of relentless discord, it is paramount to ask ourselves what it means to be a believer. Of course, we will stumble upon a myriad of answers. Generations of Muslim scholars, philosophers, and proletariats alike have ruminated upon this question. So what does it mean to be an adherent of this faith of submission to the Most Merciful God and whose greeting is the word of peace?
The inquisitive minds of our community have revealed to me that the bedrock of our faith is rooted in justice and altruism. Justice within ourselves. Justice with our families and companions and the collective justice imparted as a community. They have taught us that faith and charity are inextricable. Islamic history, Quranic injunctions, and hadith literature can all attest that this is a faith that nurtures, encourages, and demands empathy. It instructs us that community and brotherhood are the pillars that sustain equity and peace. Hesitation in the face of other’s adversity is a betrayal of the religion. Throughout the Quran, Allah SWT iterates that true believers are those “who enjoin good and forbid evil.”
Those that turn (to Allah) in repentance; that serve Him, and praise Him; that wander in devotion to the cause of Allah; that bow down and prostrate themselves in prayer; that enjoin good and forbid evil; and observe the limit set by Allah; (these do rejoice). So proclaim the glad tidings to the Believers.”
The Rights Others Have Over Us
To understand what it means to be those who enjoin good in the face of bestiality entails a thoughtful examination of Islamic literature and tradition. Islamic principles are meant to suffuse itself throughout all our deeds, speech, hopes, and dreams. It is a comprehensive faith which outlines for its adherents guidelines in the spiritual and worldly realms of their existence.
Islamic standards of treating others equitably, justly, and compassionately are planted and nourished in our childhoods. The rights of others are a religious duty that is deeply instilled into our cores. As children, our initial lessons include the rights our parents have over us. The following Quranic dua is one I am sure will thrust many of us into an introspective nostalgia.
My Lord, have mercy on them, as they raised me when I was a child.”
From birth we are assigned titles and roles that morph throughout the passage of time. For most of us, our initial role is that of son or daughter. In this role, merciful conduct is infused in us by serving our parents. Imparting grace, gratitude, and compassion towards them is considered a trait of the righteous:
“And your Lord has decreed that you not worship except Him, and to parents, good treatment…” (17:23)
“And We have enjoined upon man, to his parents, good treatment…” (46:15)
Be Just In All Our Roles
Islamic underscoring of justice does not only appear in conspicuous settings, it is a requisite of faith that begins at birth. Forbearance towards our parents is not merely suggested but considered our ticket into jannah. This teaching is meant to inspire within us humility towards those who grant us their services, and a sense of duty towards the rest of mankind.
As we journey through life, transmuting through our various duties, we are almost always a neighbor to someone. Even in this seemingly mundane position, we can find Islamic prescriptions for propriety and compassion. In catastrophic situations, it is our neighbors we often turn to for respite. However, how can such amiability be fostered without perpetual clemency? Irrespective of race or beliefs, by Allah swt and His messenger (PBUH) we are directed to be sources of ease for our neighbors.
It is reported on the authority of Abu Huraira that the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: “He who believes in Allah and the Last Day should treat his neighbor with kindness…”
In an another narration, “By Allah, he does not believe – thrice – the one whose neighbor is not secure from his harm.”
The Mercy of Allah
All our interactions from the transient, familial, spousal to even those riddled with acrimony will be assessed by Allah swt on the basis of our benevolence and our alacrity to act with justice. Our corporeal relationships are echoes of our connection with Allah, thus the emphasis on our dealings with His creation. Hostility, malevolence and avarice are anathema’s to the intrinsic nature of Allah and His religion. To understand justice in the Islamic realms, it is imperative to comprehend our incentives as believers and the divine essence of the One we worship.
Life for the believer is an ephemeral concept, however, this is not to say our material detachment constitutes negligence towards humankind. We are meant to graciously endure the incessant strife of this life all the while seeking the pleasure of Allah SWT. There is no nobler way to do this than by emulating the divine attributes of Allah, and by serving and protecting His creations.
God does not even do an atom’s weight of injustice.”
Abu Dharr reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Allah Almighty said: O my servants, I have forbidden injustice for myself and I have forbidden it among you, so do not oppress one another” (Sahih Muslim).
Elucidating all the ahadith and Quranic ayats that attest to the impenetrable mercy of Allah in a single article would be much too verbose and requires more attention. However, without incertitude, mercy is one of His boundless attributes. It is a trait that is meant to transcend into our actions. If Allah, the Lord of the Universe, can dispense boundless mercy to us, who are we to be any less to His creations? So how can we claim to love Allah if we disparage others, and remain impervious to the afflictions of others?
Individual and Collective Responsibility
The surplus of exegesis of the Quran and hadith eradicates any dubiety that this is a religion of activism. On an individual scale, we can take a look at Quranic mandates for zakat, hajj, and guidelines for our interpersonal relationships. These are all fard upon the sane, mature and able believer. However, the mandate for zakat is an incredibly profound concept replete with emphatic calls to maintain equity.
This essential pillar of Islam accentuates the duty of Muslims to take care of the poor. It ensures a fair distribution of wealth and a sense of protecting others. It is a decisive command that charity is interlaced with one’s faith. Without it, nearness to Allah is but a chimera. In addition to the mandatory zakat, sadaqah or voluntary charity is frequently encouraged as a spiritual necessity.
On the authority of Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him), who said that the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said:
“O son of Adam, I asked you for food and you fed Me not. He will say: O Lord, and how should I feed You when You are the Lord of the worlds? He will say: Did you not know that My servant So-and-so asked you for food and you fed him not? Did you not know that had you fed him you would surely have found that (the reward for doing so) with Me? O son of Adam, I asked you to give Me to drink and you gave Me not to drink. He will say: O Lord, how should I give You to drink when You are the Lord of the worlds? He will say: My servant So-and-so asked you to give him to drink and you gave him not to drink. Had you given him to drink you would have surely found that with Me. It was related by Muslim” (Sahih Muslim).
This hadith affirms that generosity is not merely a laudable deed, but a spiritual prerequisite. Intimacy with our Lord requires a firm stance against justice. It is the duty of every Muslim to establish “good and forbid evil.” Although crucial, individual acts of charity and gentle dealings are only fragments of the multifarious reality of humankind. Such Islamic ideals set the standards for practical ethics in daily conduct. The question is how do these principles set the stage for greater social reform, and what do these mean for Muslims, collectively and individually?
Islamic theology discusses two diverging sets of obligations, fard- al- kifayah and fard- al-ayn. Fard -al-ayn is those mandates one must fulfill in their individual and daily lives such as salat (prayer), zakat or hajj. Versus fard-al-kifayah, which is often delineated as a communal obligation or social responsibility. If the obligation is successfully carried out by some Muslims, then the burden does not fall on everyone else. However, if it remains to be neglected, then the responsibility falls on the whole of the Ummah. Such examples include the burial prayer, and more ominously, protecting the oppressed. If there was ever an exigent need for communal responsibility, for uplifting the oppressed, and silencing the oppressor, it is now. Gluttony and debauchery are pillaging humankind worldwide.
Silence is Violence
The cries of the martyred and persecuted are obstreperous, yet somehow we have managed to obscure their pleas in the background like static. Mutual silence is not only catastrophic, but it is also sometimes haram if three conditions are met. The three conditions include if there is a certainty of evil, certainty it was committed, and that there is a significant likelihood that speaking up will alleviate the suffering:
“From Qays ibn Abi Hazm who said I heard Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him) say, ‘But I heard the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) say, Indeed when people see an oppressor but do not prevent him from (doing evil), it is likely that Allah will punish them all'” (Abu Dawud and AtTirmidhi).
Reservation in the face of tyrants can be equated to complicitness. It is incumbent upon the Ummah, average Muslims, and leaders alike to utilize their voices and resources. Not only is it being complicit, silence is violence. Plunder begins with the stripping of peoples voices, their dignity are the first spoils of war. Why is this? Why is it that journalists and writers are often the first to be imprisoned and censored by dictators?
Our voices, our words, our conviction to defend humanity are kryptonite for the bestial. Raising our voices paves the way for substantial reform. Without it the macabre, crimson cloud of despair will envelope mankind. Allah’s Messenger PBUH has cautioned us of the danger of not regarding our words as actions. In various ahadith he has mentioned that the vast majority of good or harm we will commit involves our tongues.
There is an urgent need to revitalize these essential teachings of justice. The Ummah is in a crisis. The Rohingyas, Uyhgurs, Palestinians, and Indian- Muslims are being pilfered with the world as witnesses. Yet witnesses are futile if they remain impassive and mute. Our Prophet (PBUH) is the one who said:
The best form of jihad (striving) is to speak a word of truth (haqq) in the face of an oppressor.”
We can immerse ourselves in Islamic literature and reiterate Quranic injunctions and hadiths of justice. But the fact of the matter is, they must be incentives for us to produce tangible reform. Without exertion, we have surely forsaken our humanity. They need to remind us that our shared humanity is our determining catalyst. Yet I understand that in a world where Muslim- minority Uyghurs are being held in Chinese run detention centers, Palestinians are being ethnically cleansed, Rohingyas are facing genocide, and Indian-Muslim’s endure periodic pogroms, it seems achieving justice is the phantasmagoric ideals of dreamers and writers.
But Islam has not only offered us the spiritual inspiration to protect one another, it has taught us the tools we require to push forward. Whoever we are in this world, a humble teacher or a journalist at the frontlines covering the worst crimes against humanity or a mother raising a family, we all have a part to play. Some of us will educate the next generation while others will stand in court and say “no more”.
As a community, we will participate first in the boycott of products, and then in the boycott of tyrants. In our idiosyncratic roles as sons and daughters, lawyers and writers, we are connected as believers and members of humanity. In this ambiguous existence, few things are clear. However, I can unequivocally say that the bond of shared human existence is wonderfully resilient, and that our religion is a religion that does not permit its adherents to be bystanders to injustice.
The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said, “Whoever witnesses something evil, let him change it with his hand, and if he is unable then with his tongue, and if he is unable then with his heart, but that is the weakest form of faith.”