Muslims, Stand Up!
By Wael Abdelgawad
All praise is due to Allah, who has guided us to the religion of truth, and made us Muslims.
Fear and Terror
In the ten days since the World Trade Center attack, Muslims in the U.S. and around the world have fallen over one other in the rush to be the first to condemn the attack and express sympathy for the victims. That's well and good. Such an act deserves condemnation, and as Muslims we should be compassionate by nature. We should love and respect all of Allah's creatures, and we shoud oppose evil in any guise.
The statements of many Islamic organizations and Muslim leaders, however, do not stop at condemnation, but proceed to apology and even shame. As the mad acts of retaliation against Muslims (and Sikhs, and Arab Christians) have begun, another emotion has been added to the mix: fear. Terror, even. Masjids in the U.S. have been abandoned and stand empty during prayer time. A few scholars have exempted Muslim women in the West from wearing hijab in public, and told the men to shave their beards and not to wear distinctive Islamic clothing in public.
And so here we are. We have become a community of frightened sheep. An ummah of assimilationists, stripping ourselves of Islamic emblems and trying to "pass" as non-Muslims so that we will not be subjected to insults, the blows of fists, or yes, even bullets.
Muslims, no matter what the disbelievers may do, this fear cannot continue. Muslims, stand up and be strong men and women! Be glad of our beautiful deen, which is the religion of Allah and the religion of truth.
Allah has said in the Holy Qur'an,
"This day have I perfected your religion for you, completed My favor upon you, and have chosen for you Islám as your religion." (Qur'an 5:3)
And Allah says,
"And believe in what I reveal, confirming the revelation which is with you, and be not the first to reject Faith therein, nor sell My Signs for a small price; and fear Me, and Me alone." (Qur'an 2:41)
I do not wish to insult or hurt anyone. What I want is to encourage all of us in this difficult time to be strong, to remember our priorities as Muslims, and not to be afraid. Do not be discouraged. Let us hold our heads high and our shoulders straight. Let us be happy that Allah has blessed us with Islam. Let us fear Allah more than we fear the people.
A Time of Testing
Brothers and sisters, we've had it easy here in this comfortable environment of the U.S.A. and in the West. Al-Hamdulillah, we have formed our M.S.A.s, opened our Islamic centers and masjids, preached Islam, begun to develop Islamic institutions and begun to gain influence in this society. But we have become complacent and arrogant. We have become soft as kittens.
For years now I have heard some Muslims in the West proclaiming that they represent the new leadership of the Muslim ummah. They claim that the "old-world" Muslims of the East are mired in ancient conflicts and bogged down in cultural habits. This always struck me as presumptuous - the arrogance and ignorance of the young. Don't they know their history? Don't they know that these "old-world" Muslims have survived the khawarij, the crusades, the Huns, the Tatars, the black plague, the collapse of the Khilaafah, colonization, occupation, and the rule of dictators? They have been tested, and yet they have maintained their faith in the face of all opposition. Activists in the Muslim world have been arrested, imprisoned and even executed. And yet the "old-world" ummah continues to produce great Islamic thinkers, scholars and martyrs.
What tests have we suffered in the West? What persecution have we been subjected to? I have always believed that the growth of Islam in this country would be tested, and tested hard. That is Allah's way, and Allah's way does not change:
"If a wound has touched you, be sure a similar wound has touched the others. Such days (of varying fortunes) We give to men and men by turns: that Allah may know those that believe, and that He may take to Himself from your ranks Martyr-witnesses (to Truth). And Allah loves not those that do wrong." (Qur'an 3:140)
Read these verses and take heed! "that Allah may know those that believe..."
And Allah says,
"Be sure we shall test you with something of fear and hunger, some loss in goods or lives or the fruits (of your toil), but give glad tidings to those who patiently persevere." (Qur'an 2:155)
It is no longer a question of whether the test will come. It is here. Maybe it will get better, maybe it will get worse. Only Allah knows. The question is, how will we perform in this test? How will we respond?
Will we, at the first sign of trouble, close our masjids, shut our da'wah booths, cancel our Islamic events and hide like mice? Laa hawla wa laa quwwata illa-billah. Our sisters in Turkey are imprisoned for wearing hijab. Our brothers in Uzbekistan are arrested and tortured for going to the masjid. Our Imams in China are executed for teaching Qur'an. Still they persevere, because to do otherwise would be to abandon their obligations to Allah and to themselves, and to let Islam die like withered fruit on the vine. To do otherwise would be to fear the people more than they fear Allah.
This is not an issue of hijabs or beards. If a Muslim sister has no other options - if she cannot be escorted, or move to a safer place - and her life or safety is in danger, then take off the hijab and be safe. No one wants to see Muslim people being killed or injured.
But as I said, it is not at heart an issue of hijabs and beards. The central issue, rather, is one of steadfastness in Allah's cause. Will we be run in fear at the first sign of danger, or will we stand up tall and strong as Muslims? Will we seek solutions to guarantee our safety, or will we simply hide? Will we reach out to the non-Muslims to educate them, or will we change our colors like chameleons and pretend to be non-Muslims? Maybe this climate of hostility will pass, or maybe not. How will we respond? What kind of people will we be?
Muslims, stand up! Stop cowering. This is not the time to hide. This is the time to reach out to our non-Muslim neighbors and co-workers, not to apologize, but to educate and enlighten them about Islam. This is the time to organize multi-faith events. This is the time to write to the newspapers and magazines. Organize a donation drive for the families of the New York victims, many of whom were Muslim, by the way. Bake some cookies for the neighbors. Send a thoughtful memo at work. This is the time to open our da'wah booths, and if a few people hurl insults at us, then so be it, and if in some rare instances they attack us, then so be it. Let the strongest of us assume the most difficult positions. We defend ourselves as best we can and we deal with it. This is what it is to work for Islam. This is what it is to persevere.
Do we know that this is an opportunity in so many ways?
It is an opportunity to grow as Muslims, because when Allah wants his servants to become better, stronger and wiser believers, He tests them. There is no other way to grow. Spiritual struggle is a gift from Allah to the persevering Muslim.
It is an opportunity to engage the non-Muslims and educate them about Islam. I have seen many news stories in the last week attempting to explain to the public what Islam really is. Muslim leaders are in demand by the press. I myself was interviewed recently by the San Jose Mercury News. Even if it stems from anger and misunderstanding, the fact is that Americans suddenly want to know what Islam is and what it wants from them. Use this opportunity to reach out to them and teach them. But we cannot do that if we are passing, dissimulating, and doing everything we can to avoid being identified as Muslims.
Dr. Harold Bursztajn is co-director of the program in psychiatry and the law at Harvard Medical School. He has profiled terrorists and often testifies as an expert witness in mass-murder trials. He recently gave an interview to abcnews.com in which he says the only way to spot anyone affiliated with the hijackers is to "beware of those who celebrate the mass murderers and those who apologize for them," perhaps indicating some sense of guilt by association.
Beware! You may think you are doing something good by apologizing, but the disbelievers will presume that you are guilty.
I make this statement once because it needs to be said only once:
We have done nothing wrong. We have nothing to apologize for. We have nothing to be ashamed of.
The World Trade Center was not attacked by Islam, it was attacked by individuals. Their religious persuasion is irrelevant. Does Christianity apologize for Timothy McVeigh? Does Christianity apologize for the Reverend Jim Jones, the KKK, Nazism, colonialism, or slavery? Christianity does not apologize for these atrocities because Christianity did not commit them, individuals committed them.
This need to apologize stems from a deep inferiority complex which binds many Muslims. Most of the Muslim world was colonized by the West after the collapse of the Khilaafah, and many Muslims still harbor the inferiority complexes that are typical of colonized peoples. The hallmarks of that inferiority complex are shame of one's own religious background, despite for one's co-religionists, and pure admiration of the colonizer. The inferiority complex expresses itself in a pleading tone of voice: "See Mr. Westerner, I'm not a bad, religious Muslim like those people, I'm a good, westernized Muslim! I'm not a crazy fundamentalist, I'm a secularist like you. Pleaaaase, Mr. Westerner, approve of me..."
They will never truly approve of us, nor will they ever fully accept us. As Allah says, "Never will the Jews or the Christians be satisfied with you unless you follow their form of religion. Say: "The Guidance of Allah,- that is the (only) Guidance." Were you to follow their desires after the knowledge which has reached you, then wouldst you find neither protector nor helper against Allah." (Qur'an 2:120)
However, if we present an image of strength and confidence, and if we express the truth of Islam in our actions, I guarantee that even if they do not approve of us, they will respect us.
So don't apologize. Especially if you are in a da'wah setting, don't be drawn into a discussion of Osama bin Laden or suicide bombers. Control the forum, direct the talk. Steer it into a discussion of the beauty and truth of Islam:
"Invite (all) to the Way of thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious: for thy Lord knows best, who has strayed from His Path, and who receives guidance." (Qur'an 16:125)
Control the Forum
Stop defending Islam, as if Islam is a criminal and needs a defense attorney. I realize that those who are doing this have the best of intentions, but when we continually defend a thing, people come to believe that it is culpable. When we constantly proclaim our innocence, people begin to suspect our guilt. Instead of defending Islam, promote it. Discuss the beauty of Islam, its power, and its truth. Be positive, not negative. Be self-assured, not defensive. Don't allow yourself to be drawn into protracted discussions about Osama bin Laden, or the Taliban, because these issues are irrelevant to our da'wah and our practice of Islam in the U.S..
For example, let's suppose you are staffing an Islamic booth in the free speech area at your university, or maybe you are taking a break in the lounge at your workplace. Someone comes up to you and says,
"Why do you Muslims support terrorism?"
You don't respond with denials and apologies. You bypass all of that and you say,
"Islam is a religion of peace. Everything in Islam centers around submission to God. We practice brotherhood and sisterhood, and we work on our spirituality. We believe Islam is the true religion. It promotes justice and equality for human beings everywhere."
Do you see how this statement is positive rather than negative? It is an expression of strength, not weakness.
If the person allows you to continue, you might go on to give examples of the brotherhood you have experienced in Islam, or of what Islam has done for you personally. You could talk about Salat or Sawm or Hajj, or any of the beautiful aspects of Islam.
But let's suppose the person is persistent, and he won't let the subject go. He interrupts you and says,
"What about the World Trade Center then? If you believe in peace, then why did you kill all those people?"
You say, "Why did you bomb the federal building in Oklahoma City?"
He says, "I didn't do that! Timothy McVeigh did it, everyone knows that."
You say, "But he was a Christian."
He says, "So what, that doesn't mean anything."
You say, "Right. Just like it doesn't mean anything that the individuals who attacked the WTC might have been Muslims. It has nothing to do with the ten million Muslims who live in this country, or the billion Muslims who live around the world. This is what Islam is about..." And then you elaborate on any Islamic subject that you like, such as the Oneness of Allah, the Prophet Muhammad, Salat, brotherhood, or Zakat.
In doing this, you are not avoiding the topic of terrorism or the Taliban or whatever, you are simply making it irrelevant to your presentation of Islam, and thereby severing the mental link between terrorism and Islam. Your da'wah booth is not a forum for a discussion on terrorism. You are there to promote Islam, and one has nothing to do with the other.
Fear Allah, not the People
It's time to come out of our houses. Fill the masjids. Invite our non-Muslim friends to Islamic events. Stop hiding. When we hide, two things happen:
Fear Allah, not the people. The Messsenger of Allah (pbuh) said,
"Be mindful of Allah, you will find Him before you. Get to know Allah in prosperity and He will know you in adversity. Know that what has passed you by was not going to befall you; and that what has befallen you was not going to pass you by. And know that victory comes with patience, relief with affliction, and ease with hardship." (related by Tirmidhi)
Fear Allah, not the people, because we will get only what Allah has prescribed for us and nothing more. Stand up! Be strong and morally upright. "Say: 'I believe in Allah', and thereafter be upright." (related by Muslim).
I am not saying we Muslims should not take precautions. We should have twenty-four-hour security at masjids, Islamic centers and Islamic events. Muslims should not travel alone. Sisters in hijab should be escorted whenever possible. M.S.A.s should form an escort hot line for the Muslim female students. Set up a phone tree in your community. Lock your doors, buy a cell phone, be aware of your surroundings and don't go out at night. If you are harrassed, report it to CAIR and to the police, and to your employer if it happens at work. Yes, we should continue with our lives and take precautions. This is a sign of strength and determination, while hiding in the house or trying to conceal one's Islamic identity is a sign of weakness and spinelessness.
Lastly, do not forget to always make du'aa to Allah subhanahu wa ta'aala. This is the most important security precaution of all. Ask Allah to keep you and your family safe, and to protect all Muslims all over the world.
Present the Beauty of Islam
The apologists and defenders expend all of their energy proclaiming what Islam is not, while never bothering to explain what Islam is.
I don't think I need to elaborate too much in this section because we all know what is beautiful, powerful and wonderful about Islam. Present these aspects of Islam in your talks with the non-Muslims. Talk about such issues as:
Let these issues define Islam in the minds of your listeners. Remember, don't apologize or defend. Rather, control the forum and present a beautiful picture of Islam.
And may Allah guide us to the best of deeds at all times. Ameen.