Still Working for Allah in the West: Theory and Methodology
A Note to the Reader – Another
One and the Need for Literature
These are some ideas I have strung together for the purposes of our seminar on Still Working for Allah! Beyond that, I have used the occasion as an excuse to talk to Muslims on issues of mutual concern. These occasions also trigger thought and provide incentive to write.
In the following pages I share with you some of my thoughts on the various topics and questions that are somehow germane to the broad area of Still Working for Allah! I have put these thoughts down on paper as Allah, Subhanahu wa Ta’ala, put them in my mind.
It is my written equivalent of a fireside chat with Muslims – albeit an extended one.
I want you to realize that this is an original document prepared for the purposes of this seminar – an original book specially written for it. My main purpose is to talk to you on these issues – even if it means claiming a bit of your time and bringing up some topics more than once as the context of the discussion changes. Sometimes I bring up the topic a second or a third time for the sake of emphasis and additional clarification.
Needless to say these pages reflect decades of research and thinking relating to a wide range of subjects – some you would perhaps call Islamic and some that you may feel the temptation to brand un-Islamic or non-Islamic. To me, it is all Islam.
I once taught in a city where there was an “Islamic” university. When people asked me what I did for a living, I told them I taught in the “Un-Islamic” university – not the Islamic one, but the other one. Why? Because to my simple mind, if A is Islamic, not-A (or un-A) must be not-Islamic or un-Islamic.
No, I am not asking you to extend this model to your own life, at least not right now. But wouldn’t it be a nice exercise to make a list of all the partly or wholly un-Islamic places we frequent and all the un-Islamic things we do in places like London, Manchester, New York and San Francisco every day of our life – like colleges, schools, restaurants, hospitals, businesses, offices, public buildings and other similar places? What do you think?
This book is also part of a modest effort to create in the native English language, for native speakers of the English tongue, a little bit of quality literature on some serious issues of Muslim and Islamic concern – especially in the West – for use by what I call the Western Wing of the Muslim Ummah.
Needless to say, this is not an exhaustive treatment of the issues raised. It could not possibly be, given the severe constraints of time and other resources with which one must work.
Issues raised as well as their treatment are more by way of being samplers at this time. Some of the ideas presented here may be given a more in-depth treatment in the seminar, while some others, once again due to time and resource constraints, may have to await a more opportune moment in the future – which automatically sets the stage for a sequel, Inshallah.
If you have a problem with any of what I say in this book, raise it with me. If you find yourself saying as you read the book, “No, that doesn’t quite sound right!” then I am the man to see. Talk to me and let us sit down and discuss things that are important to you. Within limitations of time and space – we should try to make both available as much as we can – I would like nothing better than to entertain your questions and address your concerns.
If on the other hand there are things in my book that you happen to like, and as you read the book you find yourself saying “Yes, that is right!” and “Exactly, you took the words out of my mouth!” feel free to share with me those feelings too. It is all part of Islam – one of those little lessons of basic Islam that many of us good Muslims need to relearn, sometimes from scratch.
The buzzword in the media and political circles these days – November-December, 2002 – is regime change (reference being to removing Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq). I don’t know anything about regime change. But I want to introduce you to a different expression about which I know a thing or two: culture change.
That is what my effort is all about – to change the somewhat questionable cultural and subcultural thought and behavior patterns that we have inherited, and that we cling to for dear life, and replace them, if we can and if Allah wants, with a culture that is truly Islamic and therefore forward looking and truly workable in today’s world – including the Western world and especially the Western world – for those of us who are of the Western Wing of the Muslim Ummah.
Don’t panic – at least not yet. By saying we need to be forward looking as Muslims, I am not calling on us to turn our back on Islam – Ma’adhallah! – or even on all our cultural roots and traditions. To me Islam is a nonstop movement into the future. It is what lies ahead. It is an endless state of becoming, not a static way of being.
So, my Qur’an is in front of me. Can you tell me where else it will have to be if I have to open it to read? So is my Rasul, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam. I hear his footsteps ahead of me; and I see his footprints in front of me. Allah told me to follow in his footsteps. Can you tell me how someone follows someone who is behind someone?
Common sense, Muslims, common sense! That is what Islam is – fit for a Bedouin; fit for a city dweller; fit for the rich and fit for the poor; fit for East and fit for West; fit for the past, fit for the present and the future; fit for a person with a university degree; and fit for someone without much formal education – taught, explained and modeled by a man himself without any formal education of any kind at all. Think about that.
I am convinced – not just as a matter of faith, because I am after all a Muslim, but as an empirical fact, as a matter of observation and analysis – that Islam, when truly understood and properly practiced, is the highest and most successful form of human culture anywhere and at any time. It is an amazing system of thought, values, beliefs and behavior – culture as you may call it – that builds on everything good and decent and noble that it encounters around it, no matter where or when.
If I had the time and resources required for the job, I would show you in considerable detail how Islam has no real competition in this regard. I would show you, if I had the time and the resources, how instead of stealing from others or co-opting them, Islam brings all sorts of others, including some of the most serious actual or potential adversaries and threats, under its universal plan of inclusion and accommodation with great respect and due recognition for each.
No, Islam does not have a competition worth the name in this regard. In Islam, inclusion is us; and in Islam accommodation, peacemaking, negotiation and compromise is us. We literally have a book on that subject. No we did not write that book. If we had done the writing we may have made mistakes or cheated. But God wrote that book for us. All we need to do is to lift that book high and work to teach the world – one more time – the lessons of equality, fairness, justice, tolerance, accommodation, negotiation and peace as we did so often in the past. We need to still work for Allah.
I am sorry, but I have to say this: No other cultural system even approaches Islam in this respect. Nor, to be fair, can it be expected to. For other systems, being mostly systems of human creation, are prevented from doing this by a rather legitimate sense of their own security and survival. Islam, on the other hand, being from God is above such fear and insecurity. All Islam wants to do is to light up people’s path – in whatever way it can. It does not fear for itself.
And if I had the time and resources, I would show you how that is quite an accurate summary of Islam’s role in the past – how Islam over the past 1400 years has helped to light up humanity’s path in every conceivable manner. Allahu Akbar! What covers have we mounted over our eyes that we do not seem to be able to see this? How would we ever be able to explain to our creator that we lived with this magnificent light for so long and yet we allowed its rays to penetrate our retinas only so little? Nor did we allow it to burst out into the open to light up humanity’s dark days on earth.
It is that true and genuine culture of Islam – that positive, winning, masterful, liberating and all-empowering culture of Islam; that true teachings and Sunnah of our beloved Rasul, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam – that a benighted humanity today awaits so urgently, even desperately. And it is that glorious culture that lies ahead of us, whether you can see it or not. It is that light that beckons to you from the other side of this deep, dark tunnel in which you find yourself today. All you need to do to reach that light is to work for Allah. No matter how dark or deep the tunnel, still work for Allah.
THE NEED FOR LITERATURE
Many Muslims are like lost sheep. Their powers of observation were never too highly developed to begin with. And their skills of reasoning and analysis are at an all-time low, especially when it comes to Islam and to things Islamic.
On top of that they are in the grip of extreme emotions much of the time – fear, anxiety, insecurity, confusion, anger, frustration, paranoia, panic.
As a result, they tend to stampede toward whoever calls out to them – provided this person has, to their long-starved minds, the right accent, the right personal appearance, sometimes even the right color of skin, the right robes and clothes, and not infrequently even the right nationality. Often what clinches the deal is the right organizational affiliation and sponsorship.
Sadly, often Muslims seem to pay little serious attention to the content of the message that is presented to them. They never were seriously trained into the skills of being able to tell the right message from the wrong one. Falling prey to the charm of the moment comes easy to them.
This leads to a proliferation of messages and messengers tugging at the hearts and minds of Muslims in the West – each claiming to know their pain and each claiming to own the remedy for their many aches and maladies.
My fear is that not all of these voices are authentic; not all of these messages are right; and not all of the methods suggested by them meet the true needs and purposes of the Muslims in the West. Not all of them give any serious evidence of knowing where they are; what they are doing or talking about; or where they are headed.
Is it any wonder then that part of what the Muslims in the West need today is a solid body of written and spoken knowledge on the most important questions of what it means to be a Muslim in the West – and what it means to work for Allah in the West? That means part of what Muslims of the West – Western Wing of the Muslim Ummah – need today is first-rate literature on Islam in the West.
The question is who is supposed to do it? Who are the individuals that are best suited to produce such literature? Let me be somewhat guileless and frank at this point: Those in Karachi, Cairo, Bombay, Baghdad, Riyadh, Jakarta, Khartoum and Kuala Lumpur, while their Islam may be impeccable and their knowledge may be profound – and they deserve all the respect they get from Muslims and more – would most probably lack one of the two most critical requirements of being able to speak with authority and relevance on these issues. In all likelihood, they would lack a thorough and sound knowledge of the society about which they must talk or write – the various societies and cultures of the West or of the West in general.
In some ways, where the West is concerned, their expertise is limited to a test-tube view of the world. In many instances, their knowledge of the West is derived second and third hand from books, the mass media and opinions of others. Or it comes from their occasional personal encounters from parts and aspects of the West. Often, their understanding of the social scene in the West – something about which they are called upon to pass judgment – is mediated through several steps of hearsay and, as a result, quite sketchy, episodic, incoherent, incomplete and not a little lacking in validity.
In most instances, these are people who have grown up and chosen to stay in the East; who have been in most cases educated and socialized in the East; whose knowledge, experience and understanding are largely centered around the East; whose mindset and temperament are mostly shaped and cast in the mold of the East; and – consider this carefully – who are emotionally bonded to the people, societies, cultures and climates of the East.
To expect such people to be the final arbiters of Islamic theory and methodology – and therefore of the fate of the Muslims – in the West is neither fair to them nor to the Muslims of the West – the Western Wing of the Muslim Ummah. To many of these Muslims in the West, the West is the only home, culture, society and people they know. Many of them have grown up without much first-hand knowledge of traditional Muslim societies of the East.
Nor is this – this business of putting the fate of Islam and Muslims in the West in the hands of Islamic and Muslim experts and organizations and groups from the East – fair to the Deen of Islam whose fundamental universality and immutability always requires the next most important step of translating it into the language and culture of the local people – the natives, if you will pardon the expression – in every age and place.
These one-sided experts and authorities will always be wonderful sources to tell us what their understanding of Islam is in an abstract and timeless manner. But to ask or expect them to outline clear operational alternatives that are centered in Islam but that are applicable to what I call the Western Wing of the Muslim Ummah is putting an unrealistic and unfair burden on them – a burden that they are not equipped to carry. As the Arabic saying has it, they simply cannot give what they do not have. Faqidush Shay-I La Yu’teehi.
To some degree, failure of Western Muslims to understand and appreciate some of these elementary premises of their life in the West in a timely manner was a contributory factor to the disaster leading up to the horrible events of September 11, 2001. This is a terrible thing to say to or about Muslims, especially when the rest of the world is bludgeoning them with blame day and night.
But facts are facts and Allah’s law – Sunnatullah – is Allah’s law. It does not change for you, me or anyone else. And Allah’s law clearly states that if you and I didn’t perform, in our respective environments, our appointed duty to take the message of Allah to his people, then he would let us go and hire someone else to do his work for him. In that event, there will also be some terrible things happening to us.
Frankly, if Muslims of the West – those I call the Western Wing of the Muslim Ummah – had paid serious attention to some of these issues, they would have put themselves ahead of the deadly situation of September 11 – and its deadlier aftermath. They may still not have been able to anticipate, predict or prevent it, but they would have had fears and premonitions of its occurrence and taken steps if not to prevent it at least to deal with it effectively when it did arrive.
Those who attended my earlier Working for Allah camp and convention in Miami in 2001 – some months before September 11 – or read the fairly extensive write up that I had put together for that purpose, would have noticed the unambiguous and strong warning I voiced, not about September 11 in particular – for, who could have anticipated a horror of that kind? – but about the general nature of the terrible things that may happen to the Muslims in the West if they failed to come to grips with the realities and requirements of their life in the West.
So, what I am trying to say here is that the Western Wing of the Muslim Ummah is in urgent – I would say desperate – need of authentic, clear and powerful new literature in English and European languages on Islam in the West – covering both theory and methodology – prepared by people who are experts on Islam as well as on local cultures and languages – to the extent anyone can ever be considered an expert on Allah’s Deen. To me, however, all of this – expertise in Islam as well as expertise in local languages and cultures – is simply part of knowing and understanding Islam.
Of course, thereafter, it becomes a question of resources – all kinds of resources from time to money to technical, secretarial, research and all other sorts of help without which work of this kind can never get off the ground – resources that are made accessible to right people with a view to facilitate right outcomes and products.
My own Golden Triangle of Islam concept and some of the material – audio, video and written – put out under its umbrella is a modest attempt to meet that need in the English language in the Golden Triangle of Islam societies of the West – U.K., U.S. and Trinidad in the West Indies – the stable English-speaking democracies of the West. These efforts have been undertaken at enormous investment of time, energy and personal resources.
So, who is supposed to be able to produce this kind of literature and this kind of material in the West for use by the Western Wing of the Muslim Ummah? That is the big question we all need to answer
END OF CHAPTER 7
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.