Activism & Civil Rights Community History

No Experience is Worth Wasting

181530352_dc9ef1c5c3_oWhen Salah al-Din was fighting the Crusaders, one of the longest and most difficult battles was the siege of `Akka (Acre). About 3000 of Salah al-Din’s soldiers, under the command of Baha’ al-Din Qaraqush, were under siege from the Crusaders. In defense, Salah al-Din surrounded the Crusaders around the city, forcing them to fight two fronts. The siege, rife with relentless back and forth fighting, lasted two long years.

Whenever we talk of these incidents, we often reflect on the greatness of the leaders and their accomplishments. These leaders, however, were by no means alone. They were surrounded by a generation of people and individuals who contributed to the effort in so many ways, some more critical than others, but all necessary.

In the book, The Rare and Excellent History of Saladin , Yūsuf ibn Rāfiʻ ibn Shaddād recalls the following incident:

The Crusaders had built three monstrous towers of wood and iron so that they could scale the walls of `Akka. They planned to place them against the fort walls, allowing thousands of soldiers to pour into the city. The towers were covered with hides soaked in vinegar, making them impossible to burn; the Muslims were terrified at the sight of these machines. Salah al-Din gathered his scientists and engineers to devise a plan, but numerous fire projectiles proved futile. Try as they might, they could not come up with a solution.

By the qadr (decree) and will of Allah, a young man was looking on. The man offered his help, saying that he could set the towers on fire, as long as the army could equip him with certain materials; and they did. But this was no easy task – they needed to sneak him into the city.

By this time the Crusaders had sent hundreds of thousands of soldiers from Europe to besiege the city; Salah al-Din’s men had to pass through the entire Crusader army, as well as slip through the city walls, unnoticed. Alhamdu lil Lah (all praise is for Allah) they were able to do so successfully. Baha’ al-Din Qaraqush was naturally skeptical about this “kid” coming forth and offering his services. Hadn’t all the professionals given it their best? What could he possibly have to offer?

After some convincing, Baha’ al-Din gave the okay. The young man mixed together the materials he had requested of the army – chemicals – and had the soldiers launch the mixture at towers. The Crusaders found this hilarious; the mixture was clear, so it looked like the Muslims were throwing water at this great wood and iron structures!  Then the young man gave the signal; the soldiers threw fire at the towers and the clear liquid erupted into flames.

The soldiers in the first tower could not make it out in time. When the soldiers in the other towers saw this, they started to jump out preferring the long fall to the burning fire. Alhamdu lil Lah all three towers were burned to the ground.

Allahu akbar (God is Greater)! The Muslims were in shock. Who was this man? Where did he come from? How did he know what to do?

The young man was of humble origins, a pot maker from Damascus. He used to be keen on studying chemistry even though no one was appreciative of his experimentation; nonetheless, he persisted.

Salah al-Din called this young man forth to reward him and praise him for his help, but he declined saying that he only did it for the sake of Allah `azza wa jal (the Mighty and Majestic).

Clearly this young man did not intend on being with Salah al-Din at this particular time nor did he study chemistry to solve this particular problem for the Muslims. Rather he was a deeply sincere individual and a seeker of knowledge. Allah `azza wa jal used him as one of His workers to accomplish one of His tasks; Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (glorious and exaulted is He) put him in the right place, at the right time and gave him the experiences and tools he needed to benefit the Muslims in this situation. Our experiences should never be belittled for we never know which skills will be called forth in the service of Allah.

Let us reflect on a little: how are we benefiting the Muslims and the world with the talents we have, and situations that we have been placed in? How are we using our extensive backgrounds as engineers, scientists, journalists, artists, producers, psychologists, politicians, teachers, activists and so forth to actually create a change (even if that change seems small and goes unnoticed)?

By putting our trust in Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala we find that none of our experiences go unused and none of our deeds are wasted. No action, no matter how large or small, has value until Allah honors it. There are many who passed before us in this legacy, never mentioned or remembered by the world, known only by Allah `azza wa jal; and who better to be remembered by? Is He not the All-Seeing, All-Hearing, the All-Aware and All-Knowing?

May Allah `azza wa jal use us to benefit His deen (way of life) and be instruments of positive social change for His sake. May He use us to be of those who spread good wherever they tread, solely seeking His recognition. May He allow us to use this dunya (the material world) for its intended purposes and to shy away from the superficialities of the glitz and glamour of the world. Ameen.

About the author

Omar Zarka

Omar Zarka

Omar Zarka was born in New Jersey and raised in Southern California. He received his Bachelor’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of California Irvine, where he was involved with the Muslim Student Union. Omar is married and received a Masters in Mechanical Engineering from the University of California Los Angeles.

Add Comment

  • Asalamu alaykum,


    Could you give some relevant examples for youth to follow today? Could they direct such energy towards serving their communities and participating in society? Many times, people use these example to cart our youngsters off to unhealthy situations and justify an isolationist mentality.


    • wa `alyakum assalamu wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh ya Shaykh!

      very good point, and actually interestingly enough the man referenced in the story embodies exactly that if we look at it a little deeper. If I recall correctly, although there was a call for people to join Salah al-Din’s army, many chose not to respond. He was likely voluntarily there, clearly not being isolationist.

      Its also important to note he simply recognized the usefulness of chemistry and pursued it. The objective was to pursue a useful talent–not disconnect–and in end he used it to actually engage with those around him more and help solve the problem. A parallel can be draw to someone investing time and money into computers in the 90s because they were on the rise.

      Also, we should note that the talent he used was something on the side, not his professional skill. So when considering the following ideas, just because we’re not pro doesn’t mean we can, learn train and benefit.

      Some quick examples:

      • UMMA Clinic — Medical Students at UCLA who started a free clinic in LA for the uninsured
      • Sons of Service — A group of young professional brothers who take care of tasks and projects at the Muslim Community Association in Santa Clara
      • InFocus — Southern California Muslim News paper
      • Youth Groups around the country
      • Islamic Center of Irvine Annual Youth Camp — many jobs these days require organizing and project management, why not use the same skills for our communities

      Some other ideas:

      • iPod app for your masjid that could have: prayer times, khateeb schedule, podcasts, video streams, updates
      • Free Seminars
      –car maintenance
      –how to write a resume/get a job
      –public speaking
      • Articles for newspapers/blogs/websites
      • Project managers or web developers can offer consulting services for free
      • Teaching weekend school
      • Outings and projects for the community and/or children
      • After school programs
      • and the list goes on! feel free to add I’m sure I missed a lot

  • the society we find ourselves living in are today modern, free, secular and mostly democratic. the majority of these societal cultures are based on individualism, promoting the right to dissent, revise or reject any particular notion of social good. They value freedom of choice and freedom to denounce. We who normally find this framework of rationality useful for our everyday Islamically oriented lives, insist on some external protections from the dominant culture in terms of our linguistic, legal or religious rights. The cultural liberalists agree that it can be done as long as these exemptions don’t inhibit the dissenters within these cultural minorities who oppose these group rights. Before this argument becomes too cumbersome let me explain a particular situation that has struck the old debate of how much accomodation is necessary in a multi-cultural society, and it may speak to SWD’s concern for the duties of a muslim who do not have to choose between two ends he or she does not agree with.
    Naema, an egyptian Quebecois enrolled in a govt funded french language school to further her ambitions as a Pharmacist. She told her school that her niqab might require certain accomodations which the school relented to with some unease. However her refusal to show her face in a classroom presentation somehow got the immigration minister’s involvement in a school affair and she was finally given two choices, remove the niqab or leave the school. Although it can said that there are online french courses available and it was given her as an alternative. Because she has an illiberal (according to the liberals) demand, the school could refuse to accomodate her based on their curricular designs, but kicking her out has robbed her of another right she has on the state, education. The muslim community is again frustrated that the niqabi with her unreasonable demands have dragged them in the hard light of unnecessary self-justification, where as it has given fodder to the liberals for curbing minority rights.
    The right thing for Naema would be to do what? Be isolated and stick to her gun of exercising her personal autonomy, no matter how irrational that demand may seem to both the muslims and non-muslims? Or take a strategic retreat by going back to Egypt with her children and husband, so the muslim community in general can enjoy their communal rights?

  • Subhan Allah! There are so many ways in which we can apply this lesson to our lives inshaAllah…there are two things which I really benefited from with regards to your analysis walHamdulilah:

    1- No action, no matter how large or small, has value until Allah honors it.
    2- May Allah `azza wa jal use us to benefit His deen (way of life) and be instruments of positive social change for His sake.

    That what we do should be to benefit our societies and that they should be done for Allah, for indeed, if it’s for any other reason, there is no real honor to it …that the real blessing in what we do is when it’s done for His Sake and as a benefit to humanity.

    Jazak Allahu kul khayr

  • MASHA’ALLAH nice article and ameen to your duaa at the end.

    Definitely saving the recogition for Allah alone is much sweeter….


  • To answer brother Suhaib’s question, just a few things off the top of my head:

    1. Doctors. We have no shortage of Muslim doctors, but so many of them seem interested only in building profitable practices. The Muslim world desperately needs unselfish doctors to go into impoverished and war-torn communities and offer their services.

    2. Human Rights. Muslim silence on human rights issues in the Muslim world is deafening. Our governments are the worst torturers, the most corrupt, the least free. We need Muslim voices to speak out against this en masse and start a movement for reform based on progressive Islamic principles.

    3. Media. Obviously there is a massive need for Islamic filmmakers, reporters, photographers, and television producers to produce material that can connect to the Muslim youth and inspire them to improve their societies. We also need honest, unbiased news reporting with an Islamic perspective. Al-Jazeerah is not enough.

    4. Psychologists, therapists, counselors. We need people with training and clinical expertise who also understand Muslim cultures and issues and can help Muslim families and societies deal with their problems. Right now the choices are either stay silent about whatever problems you may have, or go to a non-Muslim. And of course silence rules.

    I could go on and on. Environmental problems in the Muslim world are serious but are largely ignored. Islamic education for youth is either rote memorization or is absent. Animal rights do not exist, and yes even that is an Islamic issue. Hygiene, health, disaster relief, sustainable farming practices, watershed conservation, forest conservation, all of these issues are vital to a society’s health and are lacking in the Mulim world.

    We need trained professionals who are willing to spend time and sweat to work on these issues. Actually, I just had an idea. We need a Muslim Corps, kind of like the Peace Corps, where educated and trained men and women would give two or four years of their life to work on these critical issues.

  • Just an added note regarding my point number two above, human rights. There actually are voices in the Muslim world speaking out, particularly among the youth – for example the Facebook movement in Egypt. But they desperately need acknowledgement and support from Muslims in the West.

    • Salaam Sister,
      I think that a Muslim Corps would be an amazing idea. I don’t know how to start one but if you have any ideas I’d love to help out

Leave a Comment