Still Working for Allah in the West: Theory and Methodology
A Model of Citizen Participation
What we need to do is prepare for the future and become better citizens – wherever we are. That is common sense and Islam is common sense.
Then we work at becoming not just ordinary citizens, but the very best citizens that we can be. Then, as a part of our civic responsibility, we raise our citizenship to ever higher and wider levels to include more areas. By saying “then,” however, I am not saying that it should be a linear process – one thing after another. This is a parallel process. That means we try to do all these things together – as much as we can. And once again, by talking about citizenship I am not just referring to the documents and formalities of citizenship such as passports, birth certificates or naturalization papers. I am also referring to the spirit and the actual civic and social and moral content of citizenship that goes well beyond paperwork.
Here are some areas of focus that I consider to be important in this respect:
A. SOLID “ISLAMIC” TRAINING.
Let me make one thing clear: To me everything is Islamic if it is done right. That is why I have Islamic in quotation marks. In other words, to me Islam is the right way of doing everything. It is God’s way of doing things. It is the natural way. However, there are certain practices that have been standardized for all times, while there are some other things that need careful thinking through in every age and place.
By Islamic training here I mean, first of all, getting a thorough grounding in Qur’an and Hadith – and in the supplementary material and Islamic literature that we need to facilitate that understanding.
Second, we need to be able to translate the teachings of the Qur’an and Hadith into practical models for our times and circumstances. This to me is the greatest challenge of all. This is an area where we have not been very successful in the past – in the West as well as in some other places in the world.
The third and a critical part of that training also is character training – what people call Tarbiyah and what the Qur’an calls Tazkiyah. Islam is a beautiful system. It is great in theory and that is fine. But for that system to work it needs to produce people who embody it in their life – in both personal as well as social life. This is an area where we have had only mixed success.
For two reasons: One, many of us are simply bad Muslims – that is easy to comprehend. Two, some of us think we are great Muslims and pass as such but we need to take another look at ourselves. Quite a few of us are full of all kinds of (a) internal problems, diseases and shortcomings – Amradul Qalb. (b) Some others among us come up short in our social relations – Mu’amalaat – which to a significant extent could be due to our inside being subject to Amradul Qalb.
As a result, our Islamic training will have to concentrate on all these aspects. This is what I call the theory of the work – figuring out what it is that needs to be done and why. This part is a most important part – the theory part I mean. For the practice comes out of this part. If the theory is bad, chances are the practice also will be bad. If the theory is half-baked and amateurish stuff, so will the practice be.
Once the theory part is clearly focused upon, from that theory we derive the details of our methodology: How to get all this stuff done? How to get the teaching done? How to get the training done? How to get the Tarbiyah and or Tazkiyah done? The final product – individual Muslims; Muslim groups and organizations; as well as Muslim activities and projects – will reflect our understanding of the theory of the work – the theory of Islam.
B. LOCAL FOCUS: THE NEIGHBORHOOD.
Once again, this is common sense. And Islam, as I said earlier, is common sense. Common sense is the compass that Allah has built into human beings to help them find him – to guide them to his path. The compass can be misused or not used at all; it can be tampered with or broken; or the user may be totally unfamiliar with the territory and therefore fail to take advantage of the help and direction offered by the compass. But if used properly it is there to help guide us to Allah.
Given this, it is not rocket science to figure out that we need to pay serious attention to the environment in which we live. We don’t need to go looking for Fatwas to help us resolve this issue. It is clear: We are in place X at time Y. We owe that place our full attention. That is elementary Islam. That means, beyond our own person and our own home, our neighborhood becomes priority #1 in our life.
Once again, I am running out of time – and Muslims often operate without resources. But let me say this: Islam is neighborliness. Now it is up to you to figure out where your neighborhood ends. If we don’t know this, we have perhaps never read the Qur’an. Where does it end? The neighborhood, I mean. One can always run off to the next Fatwa place to get a definitive ruling on whether or not one has any neighborhood obligations across the street.
C. LOCAL FOCUS: THE COMMUNITY.
We have, as Muslims, unshakable obligations to our local communities. That is what Islam is and that is how Islam works. What is a community? Ah, you have me. Not that I don’t know the answer. Allah has given me some understanding of the answer. But I don’t have the time. Therefore, I will have to leave it at that. Again, Muslims are always good at running off to find conducive Fatwas in far off places. But I am afraid you will have to bring some common sense into play here and figure out who are the people in your community whose lives crisscross yours.
If you sort that out, you would know what a community is. Thereafter you wouldn’t need the convenient diet of Fatwas on that particular issue. In saying this I am neither, Ma’adhallah, ridiculing Fatwas nor arguing against them. I am merely pointing the penchant some Muslims have for substituting them for doing their own homework.
D. LOCAL FOCUS: SOCIETY.
Ask yourself this question: While you are busy solving problems all over the world – they are good and deserving Muslim problems undoubtedly, many of them – who is solving the problems under your own bed; in your own neighborhoods and communities; in your own society? To whom are you handing your society over while you – a la King Richard – march off to distant lands to solve their problems? Who is minding your own store?
I am not saying we should not support or advocate Muslim issues and causes around the world. Muslims are and forever will be one indivisible body – when one part is taken ill the whole body feels the pain. But again it is a question of common sense. Where is our sense of priorities and our sense of logic? Fighting in Bosnia or Afghanistan could be a great allure but so should be the obligation to make our own society better. But sometimes, one is seen as a Jihad while the other is seen as messing with the Kaafirs around us. This is a warped understanding of what Islam is all about. Islam is about neighborhoods, communities and societies – wherever you are. So it is hard to tell where Islam tapers into a trip by our Nafs.
Again, I am not discouraging people from having a global perspective. For Islam is global by its very definition. It is a global system by the master of the worlds – not one world but many worlds. There is nothing more global than that. We have to go wherever we can and do whatever we can to help. But what I am asking is where is the concern and the passion among us for making our own regions and societies better, whether it is Glasgow, Scotland, Britain, Europe, America or the West? Who is responsible for those places?
Earlier I talked about theory. From theory comes the method. Part of our concern with the method should be the development of skills. What skills? Ah, again one of those questions, I wish I had a lifetime to write about. But in summary form they are the skills that make a person a successful human being; a citizen; a Muslim. We need them to be good fathers, sons, daughters, wives and husbands. They help us cope with our situation better and to deal with the people around us better. From problem solving to negotiation to organization to management to leadership to planning – Islamic skills are, on top of everything else, human and social and community and political and economic and other similar skills. The expression to me stands for everything that a person needs in order to be the most effective and successful person around.
That includes the skills needed for effective participation in societal processes and institutions; for effective communication with local individuals and groups; and for effective preservation and continuing growth for individuals and their families.
F. SOLID SOCIAL SUPPORT.
I mean for individuals and their families. Without such a network of support structures the ship of working for Allah often crashes against the rocks of reality that fill its path.
Some Islamic organizations have done a good job on this front. But often they suffer from a parochial focus, which seems to say: If you are one of us we will support you; if you are not, well then fend for yourself.
G. REGULAR RETRAINING.
Training is one thing, retraining is another. We are guilty of ignoring this aspect of our work. There needs to be greater focus on this.
H. FAMILY FOCUS.
Human beings don’t grow on trees. Nor do they live by themselves in caves. Muslim families are a serious concern in the West. Often in the West families do not have the kind of extended-family support network that exists elsewhere. Muslims need to provide that support system for one another. It is not enough to pluck out individuals from the context of their families. A concerted effort needs to be made to reach out to families. And this needs to be done not on a tribal basis but on the basis of true Islamic and Muslim fellowship and brotherhood. I remember the days when Muslims – good Muslims – would sit and talk to me for hours about Islam and not say a word to my children.
I. LEADERSHIP TRAINING.
Let me put it this way: While some people may be born with great leadership potential, many others can be taught to be leaders. We need to develop leadership skills that combine the qualities of the head as well as of the heart. Some of these skills include management, analysis, understanding, logic, result orientation, people focus, accessibility, communication, organization, planning, goal setting, resource generation, talent identification, idea development, accountability, transparency, openness, integrity, honesty, trust, determination and vision.
END OF CHAPTER 42
Still Working for Allah in the West: Theory and Methodology
© 2003 Syed Husain Pasha
Dr. Pasha is an educator and scholar of exceptional
talent, training and experience. He can be reached at DrSyedPasha [at]
AOL [dot] com or www.IslamicSolutions.com.