Activism & Civil Rights International Affairs Reflections With the Divine

Part II: 8 Reflections from an American Student in Cairo

Part I | Part II

5. Speaking a word of truth to a tyrant under the threat of death can be easier to accept than the daily struggle of working for this deen.

I hope this statement is in no way misunderstood as belittling the struggle that is going on in Egypt. Just as Musa (as) was told by Allah (swt) to remind his people to “Remember the Days of Allah” (Qur’an, 14:5) which Ibn Kathir describes as the days in which Allah (swt) saved the people from Pharoah, we hope that these events in Egypt once again are from “The Days of Allah” in our times and another Pharoah is removed by His permission. Yet at the same time, the verse shows that despite the ummah of Musa (as) being given such a blessing, they struggled in upholding the way of Allah (swt) afterwards. Experiencing the situation there, I realized that joining the protests was not as difficult as I would have imagined. Because of the blessing of iman (faith), once a person knows the cause is just, and they have come to terms with facing death or injury, as  the reward with the Almighty is incredible and the next life is better than this one, the desire to participate is innate and even overwhelming. Your whole being wants to go. As seen in the seerah (stories) of the Prophet ﷺ, it was easier for people to struggle physically in the economic boycott in Mecca than it was for them to struggle mentally and spiritually after the Quraysh ridiculed them for the Prophet’s ﷺ account of Israa and Mi’raj. Luxury and freedom can be a greater test of faith than fighting oppression. For example, Muslims around the world might be thinking, “I wish I could be there and protest with them,” while they recognize that doing so would be risking their lives. Yet how hard is it for those same Muslims to write a letter to their congressman when asked to for the exact same cause? How hard is it for them to get active locally in positive efforts and be patient with their brothers and sisters when shurah (advice) is made against their opinion? Subhan’Allah, awhile back I had a chance to speak to a community leader who had been imprisoned and tortured in Egypt and he had fought in the Afghan-soviet war. When I asked him what the hardest thing he ever had faced as a Muslim serving the deen was, he said it was being president of a Muslim organization—the challenges for that organizational role were much more difficult than facing death. I never could fully appreciate what he meant until I witnessed what happened in Egypt. At the same time, I realized if you can genuinely face the threat of death in the real world because of participating in a good cause, you have the strength to do a lot more than what you have been used to doing, and every fear you used to harbor seems miniscule in the face of the cause that you seek to serve, and the One you seek to please.

6. The significance of organized and structured teamwork at times like these.

One of the things that occurred on a nearby street with the neighborhood watch guards was a degree of confusion on how to work. They didn’t appoint an Amir (leader) initially so things were a bit unorganized. Different men would argue over how to guard the area, and shoot each-other’s ideas down quickly. They didn’t organize shifts so some young men were out there much longer and running on considerably less sleep than others. When a false alarm would happen, everyone would leave their posts and run in the direction of the noise, leaving their area unguarded. It soon became clear that a neighborhood cannot be protected properly by a group of individuals. It is protected by a team; a team whose members are disciplined enough to know the time for shurah and the time for just taking commands. In areas where people knew how to work as a team, the neighborhood watch ran like clockwork. At a time when cell phones and internet are blocked and people are in need of a host of services, teamwork and leadership training counted most. Subhan’Allah, people do not realize how much nafs, or ego, has to be fought in order to produce effective teamwork for the sake of Allah. The Islamic ethics of teamwork is something we must all seek to be trained in, as it is very much tied to having depth to our understanding of the deen on a practical level, as well as a spiritual level.

I realized that the people on that street never had the chance to experience the discipline and ethics of teamwork, organization, and shura-based leadership. It was against the law to organize grass-roots civic activities and assemble under the Mubarak regime. They simply didn’t have the tools and were doing the best they could with what they knew. It was here I felt deeply an old lesson that I previously knew, as if it was the first time I had realized it: the significance of our ummah being organized and structured in the way we approach Islamic work. If the country was left to only those who were confused with teamwork and barely able to organize, they would never have been able to meet the needs of an entire population, especially if they were struggling to just meet the needs of a single street. May Allah help them to “learn on the job” and allow us to benefit from the lessons of these experiences. Again, in order to work efficiently and as a team, we must train our souls to maintain love for each-other, even when we disagree, and still do our part when the team adopts an Islamically permissible decision which we dissagree with. This brings us to the next lesson…

7. Fight the Mubarak within!

I remember once reading something by Imam Abu Hamid al-Ghazzali where he encouraged the Muslims that when they see something ugly in someone else, to use that as an opportunity to reflect on the ugliness of that quality, then to interrogate one’s own nafs in harboring it, and finally to purify oneself from it with repentance. I reiterate the law of Allah (swt) that He will not change our condition as a people, until we change that which is within ourselves. So let us take a moment to go through this exercise. Mubarak is a symbol of arrogance, greed, and blindness to his own transgressions against others. How many people has he hurt, but he feels too important to apologize and admit it? How many of those whom he has harmed does he even remember? How obvious is it to the entire world that he is a horrible leader, and yet he refuses to step down? He worked only with those who would increase his status, and bulldozed over everyone who challenged or questioned his ideas. Subhan Allah, people even comment on how his evil even shows up in his facial expression and in the way he looks. Now let us look within. The Prophet ﷺ taught us that all of us are shephards and all of us will be questioned about our herds, and that we are not to transgress one another in either thought or action. Do we abuse our positions of power in life as dictators? Have we hurt and transgressed the rights of others and not apologized? Have we hurt people on a deep level and not even realized it? Do we harbor transgressions of ill-thoughts towards our brothers and sisters, and manipulate circumstances to make them look bad and limit their opportunities? Are we too arrogant to settle issues directly and in a civil manner or instead choose passive-aggressive means? Do we participate in “propaganda” to defame good people? Take a moment right now for tawbah (repentance), and seek forgiveness from your brothers and sisters. Let us help our brothers and sisters in Egypt, and the condition of our ummah at large by seeking to change ourselves! This is the time for sincere tawbah and reform! These are the “Days of Allah” in removing the Pharoah from our own souls!

Now lets take this reflection from the individual level, to the community level. Are we giving new people a chance?

One of the days right before we left, the “official adhan (call to prayer)” was not working in the nearby masajid or so it seemed. Instead I heard the harmony of young boys making the adhan from various masajid. Their voices were beautiful and innocent. I suspect someone had planned it in order to send a message to the neighborhood, that it’s a new day, a new era, and a new generation. I appreciated how much the older people on our street were encouraging the young people, calling the teenagers on watch ‘rijaal’ (men) and telling them how proud they are of them, and what an honor they are to their country. A lot of the leg-work in the protests was done by the younger people, and they were given the space to lead and direct. Yet the encouragement, wisdom, and mentorship came from the elderly. This combination is very beautiful. Young people are trained “on the job” and elderly people are honored for the wisdom that their life experiences can offer. It made me think about how our Islamic institutions in America need a similar spirit.

In the Mubarak regime, he was criticized for his version of reform simply being that the same people in office play musical chairs. I thought about how many masjid boards are criticized for having a similar dynamic. People who were on board when they were in their 30s are still there in their 60s. If a young 30 year old comes and wants to volunteer, they ask him to take care of the younger youth program. Sometimes they even say what Mubarak said, “I want to leave but am afraid of what will happen to the place if I do.” The delusion of grandeur is not exclusive to Mubarak. We need to take this moment to reflect on dictatorial issues in our own communities. Do we make space for those younger than us? Do we actually make real shurah in the efforts we lead? Do we tolerate those that we differ with and can we work with them on areas of agreement or do we shun each-other? Do we think everything depends on us or are we humble enough to realize that we are not only replaceable in our positions, but also replaceable with those who are better than us? When we haven’t fulfilled the amanah of our position, do we offer to step down in order to save the effort or do we cling to our titles and positions regardless of knowing there are those who are better suited to do the job who are available. Or is it that we can’t see them because we are blind to the good that others can offer and over-confident in our own abilities? Let us identify the “Mubarak” in our own nafs and dethrone him, and let us empower the new generations, investing in the future instead of our own egos.

8. Everyone has a role.

We should all make du`a’ (prayer) for the people there, and fast as well. But we can also get active from organizing a community Qiyam (prayer) to pray for the people, to participating in local protests. Du`a’ and tawakul (dependence on Allah) in Allah come with the responsibility of trying to “tie the camel” or “taking asbab” (using the reasons/means). Imagine for a moment if you saw an Imam praying in front of a table that he wants moved saying “Allahuma Harrik al-Tawilah, Allahuma alayka bi al-Tawilah, Allahuma laka al-Tawilah wa lana al-du`a’.” (Oh Allah move the table, Oh Allah upon You is the table, Oh Allah for you is the table and for us is du`a’). Wouldn’t it seem strange for someone to do that without trying to move the table with their hand? It wouldn’t make any sense. Now imagine the table is bolted into the ground and he is making the same du`a’. It still wouldn’t make sense for him to make that du`a’ while not even touching the table or trying to move it, or unbolt it from the ground. The du`a’ and tawakul must be coupled with our human effort.

Sometimes the effort might appear as seemingly ineffective as shaking the trunk of a palm tree —but we have no choice but to have faith and try. No matter what country we are in, we need to call our Muslim political organizations and ask them how we can volunteer for this cause. We might get asked to write a letter or make a phone call. That should not be belittled—because it is not the function itself that allows victory to come, but Allah (swt) who allows it. We need to prove in our efforts that we are a people who will sacrifice for His sake, and participate in the efforts available while believing in His promises. Either we will have our success in this life and the next, or we will have it in the next—but the point is, we will have it. He can and will replace us with a people better than us if we stop trying. And again, du`a’ and tawakul are efforts that must be coupled with action and each of us has a role—we simply have to be brave enough to seek it.

About the author

Muslema Purmul

Muslema Purmul

Shaykha Muslema Purmul was born in Raleigh, North Carolina and raised in San Diego, California. She received a Bachelor’s Degree in the Study of Religion and a Bachelor’s in Middle Eastern Studies from the University of California at San Diego. She was a scholarship student with the Islamic American University and participated in the International Union of Muslim Scholars “Future Scholars Program” in 2008/2009. She has completed the Bachelor’s degree program in the College of Shari`ah at al-Azhar University in Cairo. Currently, she is a busy new mom and gives weekly classes at the Islamic Center of Irvine.

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  • Masha’Allah!!! It isn’t sufficient to like the article–I LOVE it! May Allah reward you with the best in dunya and aakhirah- Indeed the decision to leave Cairo must have been difficult but already you have benefitted many of us with such great advice –I look forward to reading more from you and am definitely sharing these past two articles far and wide. Barak’Allahu feek sister.

  • Ma sha Allah Muslema, I like this part even better than the first! It addresses our hardest jihad – the one against our own nafs. May Allah give us all the strength we need to overcome ourselves and serve Him the best we can in the way He wishes to be served! Jazaakillahu khairan wassalaamu `alaikum

  • Once again, ma’sha’allah Sis, I have to agree with Sr.Ummyusuf (there needs to be a “loved” button!)as I too LOVED this article and how you took the current situation and applied it to ourselves and how we can transform ourselves from within, using the themes that are present in the conflict. The current situation serves as a reminder for the bigger picture for the Ummah (as you reiterated that well-known ayah) and then in this second part, the reminder is focused on our own souls and it’s weaknesses. Super great post dear Sister.

    Again, Jazak’Allahu Khairan for your insight and for giving us a great reminder through what is happening the in the world around us, thus making it that much more clear to us what needs to be done, both externally and internally.

  • AA,

    JZK–Your words of support are very very touching.

    @Br. Ahmed– you are too generous as usual mA!

    May Allah increase you all in the khair you see in others.

    Subhan Allah, on a personal level this is much easier to write than actually do. May Allah help us to practice the lessons we learn and share.

    Your duas are wholeheartedly appreciated as well 🙂

  • Salam alaikum Muslima,
    Thank you for your inspiring views on the Egyptian uprising and the ways it relates to us in very personal ways.
    You are so right about the ‘Mubarak within’!
    Du’as are very important, let’s pray for these events to change the country, the region and the world for the better as well as ourselves.
    I am sorry you experienced disorganisation and lack of discipline among Egyptians in this situation… Wouldn’t you say, though, that the ways the protesters have managed to organise themselves in Tahrir square, providing food, medical care for the injured and room for political discussions and debates while at the same time avoiding violence despite the threats and intimidation is immensively impressive and contains lessons for us all?

    Greetings from Cairo,let us know when you are coming back.


  • Masha’Allah la hawla wa la quwwata illaa billaah

    Okay it’s easy to see (at least partially) why Allah SWT wanted you back in America-so you could benefit us with your beautifully worded advice.

    Allah chose you to move many a hard heart with your article, I’m proud of you ukhti. May Allah protect your Iman and the Iman of all the believers and forgive us all.

    The signs of the day of Qiyamah are so so clear, it’s almost unreal. May Allah keep this Ummah steadfast.

    Jazakillah khairan

  • Masya ALLAH.
    Allahhuyahdeena wayahdeehum.

    Ya Rabb, please give us extra strength to move forward for your SAKE,

    Ya Rabb,please give us extra perseverance to persevere on YOUR path.


    Kuala Lumpur, MALAYSIA

  • @ Emanuelle: I agree with you– what the people in Tahrir have accomplished organizationally is nothing short of heroic and amazing. My point was the people in Tahrir and in the streets and elsewhere who had some knowledge/skills/experience of how to work in a team, really contributed to that organizational strength. Those who didn’t have the same skills in teamwork naturally were more limited in what they could contribute. During times of crisis, team-players and good leaders really shine and facilitate great things. May Allah accept from them and increase them in steadfastness.

  • First, I would like to thank you for this great article, I simply loved it. I am an Egyptian medical student and researcher who has lived in Egypt throughout those events after my return from USA..
    I joined the protests and the makeshift hospitals and did whatever I thought I should do except that many times I felt great confusion as to what was best to do. sometimes, I didn’t know if we should stop protesting and accept the changes or continue…
    There is a favor I would like to ask you and every Muslim out there: ” we are re-building Egypt after overthrowing the immense corruption that had been going on and teamwork as you mentioned is not well practiced here; thus, we actually need your help. We need your advice in whatever field you are. And if it’s possible that we make a group here or somewhere for anyone to respond to the questions of the youth, this would be greatly appreciated.” Thank you.

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