Some aspirations of the global Muslim community are purely optional; participating in the Olympics, seeing who can build the biggest masjid, and holding star studded fundraisers. Others are crucial responsibilities to which we are perpetually obligated. Assuming the Islamic moral imperative is a responsibility from which Muslims cannot escape. In the scheme of the modern global civilization, the Muslims peoples are obligated to be beacons of morality and guidance for the world. Now before some of you chuckle, sigh, or gasp, let me explain. Allah has unequivocally declared;
“Let there arise out of you a band of people inviting to all that is good, enjoining what is right, and forbidding what is wrong: They are the ones to attain felicity.”3:104
There has to be a least a group of the Muslims who are engaged in the practice of enjoining what is right and forbidding what is evil. Otherwise, we all are at fault. Our net worth as a religious group is connected in part to our enjoying the good and forbidding the wrong “You are the best nation extracted for the people; you enjoin good and forbid evil.” 3:110
Thus we cannot ignore as Muslims there is some obligation for us to provide moral leadership to the world. As we approach the 100 year mark of the post khilafate environment, even though there are over one billion Muslims in the world, spiritual leadership is at a premium, and when present, is frequently divided against itself, and systems of Islamic checks and balances are conspicuously absent. So the challenge of creating a pragmatic, morally principled and purpose driven umma is perhaps greater now than at any time during the 1400 plus years since the epoch of the Prophet (SAWS).
Outside of the masaajid, Muslim schools a few charities and the institution of hajj, there are hardly any faith driven institutions stewarded by the Muslim community. Our sense of spiritual purpose is eroded by the din of hyper-reactionary politics, the ever-present religious sectarianism, a deeply rooted cynicism, and lack of confidence in the restorative powers of our faith in action. In addition, it seems that our pursuit of worldly status has made many of us ingratiating foot stools to the world and blinded us to what made the Muslim peoples great in the first place.
In a world of sexual mania , universal distraction through entertainment and pandemic, narcissistic driven materialism, the voice of our faith is seldom heard unless it’s a call for jihad, an apologetic discourse aimed at spin control or regurgitation of religious principles that are lacking in empirical substantiation. If our religion is based upon peace then we should be the principle authors of it, starting in our own ranks! If we are the champions of justice and goodness, then let us see our own examples of solution based justice in the world. And if Islam preaches good manners and civility, let us make our own global mark upon it.
Every time we point our finger at the world, there are fingers pointed right back at us.
We point to corruption while we fail to see the corruption in our own societies. We point at intolerance and fail to see our own intra-religious intolerance. When we point at unbridled materialism, we don’t need to look very far to see it in our own selves. And when we point to violence against the innocent; we don’t need to look very far to see it happening by us and against our own people.
On the modern global stage which we all share, the Muslims are not the ones to whom the world looks to for guidance, direction or help. More often we are seeking it from others. I refuse to believe that answers for the world’s problems do not exist in what was revealed to our Prophet (SAWS). Indeed the answers are there if we engage the full breadth of what Islamic divine texts have to offer. We can’t rush to apply shariah laws to prayer, hajj and marriage and even argue about it while not applying divine guidance to the way we manage our governments, our societies, or our business and civil codes of ethics.
Dichotomizing our faith has led us to a sort of schizophrenic modality whereas we argue about beards and burqas, yet engage in fratricide. We decry ethnic profiling while being obsessed with status and ethnicity. We construct masaajid in America and call them Afghani Masjids or Arab Masjids. Even as of this writing, calls for jihad against America if she attacks Iran are emanating from the minbars of the world but did calls for the cessation of hostilities between Iran and Iraq have the same resonance during that terrible war which resulted in the loss of over 1,000,000 Muslims? The Turkish government has recently approved making military incursions into Kurdish controlled areas of northern Iraq. Are there calls against Turkey not to attack the Kurds? Are we saying that non-Muslims are not allowed to violate our sanctity while we routinely violate it ourselves?
The subjective application of Islamic principles has its consequence and perhaps that would explain why Muslim life, Muslim societies and Muslim sanctity are undervalued on the world stage. Under application of Islamic principles and the devaluation of Muslim honor and prestige are inextricably connected;
“Then is it only a part of the Book that ye believe in, and do ye reject the rest? but what is the reward for those among you who behave like this but disgrace in this life?- and on the Day of Judgment they shall be consigned to the most grievous penalty. For Allah is not unmindful of what ye do.” 2:85
The truth is that we as Muslims by and large are an ethical people of faith and the inheritors of a great prophetic legacy of faith, justice, goodness, and ethics, we just seem to have lost our moral momentum somewhere along the way. The month of Ramadan has reinvigorated our spiritual engines as it is its nature. Now that Ramadan is over, let’s not go back to business as usual; let us move forward to a saintly revolution of sorts. Maybe what we need now is a reminder, or perhaps a complete spiritual overhaul. At any rate, something has to be done that directs our attention to our need for reform. Not of the faith, but of our practice of it. This, ladies and gentlemen, is the moral imperative.
Asserting morality regaining the moral imperative is not a simply a matter of espousing the virtues of honesty, integrity, fair play and monotheism. Nor is it a matter of political posturing, well choreographed press conferences or heart wrenching photo-ops. Moral leadership is a matter of transferring the moral and ethical principles of Islam from a verbal and textual state to an operative reality. The universal brotherhood of Islam must evolve from being a rosy sounding cliché to a bona-fide and undeniable actuality. The mandate of non-sectarianism, righteousness, fairness, magnanimity must be resuscitated to life from our texts. We are after all, being tested; not just individually but as a collective.
It is entirely imprudent of us to dismiss the importance of our standing with the very Lord whom we worship and revere. Every community has its reckoning; and ours is invariably on the horizon.
“Those are a people who have passed away. Theirs is that which they earned, and yours is that which ye earn. And ye will not be asked of what they used to do.” 2:134
The prophetic message has to be liberated from the myopic prism of the few who only see aggression and oppression as the mantra of the Islamic hubris. The time has come for Muslim peoples to re-arm themselves with the moral imperative of righteousness. Not self righteousness, because self righteousness frequently leads to arrogance, but righteousness pure and simple which has at its core, humility and submission to Allah’s way and reinstatement of principle in our dealings. There are too many moral issues on the table for which we offer no answer, no solution and for which we have no voice. We have to re-apply the principles of ethics, morality, civility and spirituality. The challenge is; first we must apply it to ourselves, our countries, our communities, our masaajid and our own families.
Sooner or later we will have to address the spiritual diseases which decimate our moral fiber. There is no shortage of issues upon which the Muslim umma can disagree and fight over. However, there are many other issues upon which many, if not most us find common ground. Most of the Muslims agree that morality is better than immorality. Most of us agree that there needs to be a presumption of safety from each other. And most can agree that sectarianism is not in the best interest of the Muslims. Most in my humble estimation would agree also that corruption and misappropriation of funds should no longer be the norm in Muslim countries. Most would also agree that more needs to be done to address, the issues relating to the poor, the weak, the homeless and the destitute amongst us whether they be Muslim or non-Muslim.
There has to be a fundamental change in the way we operate. The senseless and counterproductive culture of religious and ethnic based sectarianism needs immediate and complete extermination. Religious arrogance and tunnel-vision nationalism has to take a back seat to principle and Islamic world ethics. If the Muslim peoples ever expect to regain world leadership it will only occur if faith, morality and spiritual vision is reinserted in our constitution.
Islam has always been and will always be our best product. Were we to apply a moral spectrograph to ourselves, we would find that we have been eclipsed on many fronts in maintaining moral standards. I’m not talking about the theology of monotheism or the mantle of divine textual integrity, on that front we are second to none since there is no other religious document that can claim the authenticity of the Quran and there is certainly no religious doctrine which can successfully challenge the notion that there is only one true god. However, Islam is not simply a litany of theological cannons; it is a way of life, a way of doing things and a way of thinking. Islam has tremendous civilizational possibilities in the new world and in my opinion, offers the greatest hope for the worlds ailments. Islam addresses global warming, world hunger, unnecessary wars, materialism, and corruption. The answers are there, however we have to look close and look with purpose. Sometimes we do not even have to look close; sometimes the answers are closer than we think they are.
Islam is no doubt the greatest way of life if practiced and taken to heart and the Muslims have the potential to be a great people again. Greatness and honor with Allah is not a given, it has to be earned. The false sense of divine entitlement has to be replaced with the moral work ethic of Islam which stresses that morality and proximity to God is something earned though action.
Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And Allah has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things). 49:13 It s not the arrogance and the declarations of a people which make them great; it is their humility and total submission to their Lord in every way; even the ways they do not always like.
Luqman Ahmad is a freelance writer and the Imam of Masjid Ibrahim Islamic Center in California. He is also an executive committee member of the North American Imams Federation (NAIF) and a General Council member of the Muslim Alliance of North America (MANA). He can be reached through email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Luqman Ahmad Is the Imam of Masjid Ibrahim Islamic Center in Sacramento, California where he has served since 1996. He recently returned to Sacramento after a two year absence. He comes from a well known religious Muslim family in the Philadelphia area. He is married and the father of five children. Luqman also studied at Umm Al-Quraa University in Saudi Arabia and at the Haram al-Mekki. While in Saudi Arabia, in addition to the teachers at Um al-Qura, the Imam studied with Sheikh Suleiman al-Hazmi, Sheikh Sayyid Sabiq who was his sheikh of fiqh, and tafseer al-Quran, and Sheikh Muhammad al-Ghazaali. Imam Luqman learned usool al-hadith from Sheikh Muhammad bin Humayad a classic era Az’harian trained in the Ottoman period. Imam Luqman also took lessons from the late American Sheikh; Muhammad Ghulaam Al-Haarith, who was one of the first indigenous American Muslims to attend Azhar University.
Note: This article was originally published in 2007, I just thought I’d give it another stroll around the block