What direction are we heading toward?
During the early days of the call to Islam, the community struggled to exist and operated in secret for some time. As such, building the community in the Prophetic tradition largely took place following the migration to Madinah. Immediately upon arrival, the Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him) established a place for prayer. This place came to have some of the aspects of a contemporary town hall and community center. During this period of building and establishing a community, there is a common trait in the development: that is ensuring that the needs of others are met. A few examples include the housing of the migrants, feeding of the poor, religious and “worldly” education, agreements between groups to establish law, order and justice, and even helping one another to start businesses. Muslim communities in North America are building communities; they are not struggling to exist nor at the helm of an Empire. It thus seems that in seeking to find guidance, we ought to look to this Prophetic example.
That is not to say that members of our community are not doing that; of course there are great examples of leaders in this regard. It ought to suggest however, that we reflect on our dominant discourse and if that discourse is conducive to a building community. In most of our communities the discourse is dominated by a limited set of issues, largely in the realms of apparel, food, and music. These are important issues, however in examining our collective conversation it would appear these issues are of utmost concern and priority, above all others. There was, of course, a time and a place for discussions of this nature. However, it does not appear to have emerged as dominant during the period of community building within the Prophetic example. Ought that, both for consumers and creators of our discourse, suggest it is time for reflection on what is emphasized in our collective conversation.
During the rapid and vast geographic expansion of the Islamic Empire, the likes of which is not paralleled in history, resistance was little or absent in many places. This is one of the proposed reasons that facilitated the Empire to expand so far so fast. That was not always the case, yet it ought to give pause for reflection. When entering new territory and seeking positions of leadership, what would cause populations to embrace, rather than resist, that change? Many places remained majority non-Muslim following conquest and did so for a relatively long period of time. What facilitated acceptance instead of popular resistance was that lives were improved. One can examine the history of Spain for detailed accounts of this. Reminiscence aside, the take home lesson is Prophetic: meeting the needs of the people.
It is time our discourse shifts to place emphasis where emphasis is due. Our society faces a multitude of challenges. Many of us expect the government, or even a single person, to be a remedy for all the challenges we face. Forgotten is the notion that the group is the sum of its people, not the names of its representatives. It seems appropriate to quote the famous line: ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country. If this is your country as Professor Brown aptly asked, not just a passing-by or a place for a good job and a nice life, then it is time to ask what we can do. To meet the needs of others. To be a part of building a better nation. To be leaders. To stand up for justice. To find solutions to challenges, individual and global. It is not a ‘would be’ or ‘could be’, it is the Prophetic model and it is our calling.