What can you do to save Palestine? The holy Aqsa Mosque? The question by itself is problematic. It would very similar to asking: how can I build a high rise building while starting from the 20th floor.
I understand that people have the best of intentions and they really want to do something.
However, the question suggests that one should expect immediate results and demand immediate change.
The building analogy may be ridiculous, but I see it in every Muslim and every activist who are looking for quick fixes to deeper problems.
And the same question applies to all social justice issues (racism, refugee crises, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Burma, etc…) with Palestine being the pinnacle example of blunt international injustice and hypocrisy.
The answer: Start from the foundations!
This may sound trivial for buildings, no-so-trivial for social justice issues.
And you might start mumbling:
- But this can’t wait, it is so urgent
- But I have been praying to God in the holiest of places, during the holiest of times, by the most righteous of people
Still, prayer and supplication cannot cause a building to be built without the right foundations
Ok; where to start?
While I don’t claim to be an expert or to give a comprehensive list, here are some pointers that can serve as building blocks towards a sturdy and long-lasting social justice building.
The Muslim psyche has been plagued with over-interpretation of events through conspiracy theory. Accordingly, the countries on the international scene are nothing but pawns on a chess board that is controlled remotely. Clearly, this has served as a coping mechanism to remove any individual responsibility and focus solely on the evil forces that are plotting against us. A very naive view on the other hand is to assume no-conspiracy, with the countries and corporates being nonprofit organizations who are working together to end the world hunger.
So, what is the action item here?
Change your conviction, and realize that you own your destiny! As an individual and as a community and collectively as a whole Muslim Umma.
Stop watching things from the spectator scene and start examining what are the knobs that you can turn and how they affect the bigger picture.
إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يُغَيِّرُ مَا بِقَوْمٍ حَتَّىٰ يُغَيِّرُوا مَا بِأَنفُسِهِمْ ۗ – 13:11
“God Does not change the situation of people until they change themselves” [13:11]
This leads us to the second point: understand your circle of influence
2. Work within your circle of influence
Dr. Stephen Covey puts it nicely: there are two circles that describe what we care about (the circle of concern) and what we can really achieve (the circle of influence).
What’s inside the circle of concern? all the causes that you care about. Occupation, Corruption of governments and corporates, civil wars, poverty, racism, etc.
What about the circle of influence? your immediate contacts, your direct family members, your local community and events and groups. Your own education and knowledge and skills. Your family and kids and relatives!
I suggest reading the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People to get the full picture, but the gest of this habit is:
The more you spend time within your circle of influence, you will be more PROACTIVE, you will work on achieving solid results; slowly but steadily you will notice how your circle of influence will increase and start reaching out to your circle of concern and causing real change.
In the Quran, Allah summarizes this concept by a straight forward concept:
وَأَعِدُّوا لَهُم مَّا اسْتَطَعْتُم مِّن قُوَّةٍ – 8:60
“And prepare against them whatever you are able of power” [8:60]
The Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement (BDS) is a great example of peaceful resistance that is causing real damage to the institution of occupation.
3. Read! Read! Read
The first command given to prophet Muhammad Peace and Blessings upon Him was “Read”! if we reflect on it for a second, there were many “urgent” challenges within his community, and God could’ve sent other obligations and commands:
- They had the multiple layers of racism, and the first command could’ve been: Establish equality
- They had civil wars and inner conflicts within Arabian tribes, and the first command could’ve been: Unite the Arabs
- They had idol worshipping, polytheism, and very backward myths and belief systems, and the first command could’ve been: Worship the one God Alone!
The list can go on forever, but Allah chose to set the foundation for all that change and reform through a basic cornerstone: reading and knowledge!
4. Spirituality, Meditation, & Self Development
It is a marathon not a race. Activists may easily burnout or lose interest if they do not sustain themselves on the road. Therefore, the second command revealed in the Quran dealt with the night prayer:
يَا أَيُّهَا الْمُزَّمِّلُ – قُمِ اللَّيْلَ إِلَّا قَلِيلًا – نِّصْفَهُ أَوِ انقُصْ مِنْهُ قَلِيلًا – أَوْ زِدْ عَلَيْهِ وَرَتِّلِ الْقُرْآنَ تَرْتِيلًا
“O you who wraps himself [in clothing], Arise [to pray] the night, except for a little – Half of it – or subtract from it a little. Or add to it, and recite the Qur’an with measured recitation.” [73:1-4]
A believer should not underestimate the power of prayer and supplication, as a complimentary to the human effort in working towards change. After all, it is God alone who can cause that change to happen,
Here’s a Friday speech I gave at the American Muslim Center in Dearborn concerning the Trump announcement and recognition of Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel
Unfortunately, most of our challenges stem from internal conflicts and politics, more than external ones. So if we assume responsibility (step 1) and would like to start from your circle of influence (step 2), then this step serves well as an action item: Work for unity on different levels and on all layers. Team dynamics and ethics are for some reason missing for many of us, and we need to treat this issue as a priority.
The golden rule in this regard is the following verse from Surat Al Anfal:
وَأَطِيعُوا اللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ وَلَا تَنَازَعُوا فَتَفْشَلُوا وَتَذْهَبَ رِيحُكُمْ ۖ وَاصْبِرُوا ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ مَعَ الصَّابِرِينَ – 8:46
And obey Allah and His Messenger, and do not dispute and [thus] lose courage and [then] your strength would depart; and be patient. Indeed, Allah is with the patient.
6. Look for allies
One of the ironic benefits of oppression is that its damage is multifaceted and does not stop at a community or ethnic group. Consequently, activists should invest in genuinely helping other causes and groups for the greater good, without being opportunistic or transactional in their collaboration.
7. Invest Your Donations in Smart Sadaqa (i-Sadaqa)
Our community is still very emotional when it comes to donations. Projects such as sponsoring orphans, food baskets, and building masjids always get the spotlight and the funds. Of course, relief efforts should not stop (here’s a list of very cool projects related to Palestine), but we must raise the awareness towards addressing our causes from a more holistic perspective. Going back to the social justice building analogy, you need to diversify your efforts to include:
- Research institutes (such as ISPU or Yaqeen Institute) that will help us diagnose our situation and create a blueprint for other individuals and institutions.
- Advocacy groups (such as CAIR) that influence policy making and the public opinion.
- Muslim candidates running for office (such as my good friend Dr. Abdul El-Sayed)
- Educational Institutes that provide the Islamic knowledge (such as Almaghrib, Qalam institute) or activism and team work (MAS), or local youth group (such as MY-ICD for the Michigan community).
- Particularly for Palestine: the AMP (American Muslims for Palestine) is a specialized organization with a holistic approach towards helping this great cause (through education, lobbying, media work, and research)!
This is not meant to be an exhaustive list, and maybe a good action item is to create an infographic that shows how these organizations intersect and complement each other’s work.
CALL FOR ACTION
- The American Muslims for Palestine compiled a list of action-items, supported with facts, historic context, and talking points. Visit their website for more actionable items and steps.
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