Necessity of local Muslim engagement

Matters of broader public concern should draw in more Muslims
Developing Just Leadership

Maksud Djavadov

Jumada' al-Akhirah 02, 1438 2017-03-01

Special Reports

by Maksud Djavadov (Special Reports, Crescent International Vol. 46, No. 1, Jumada' al-Akhirah, 1438)

Muslims living as minorities in the West have an obligation to become engaged in local issues of justice and equality even while struggling for their rights.

When the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) established the Islamic State in Madinah, Muslims were a minority in the oasis town, yet the non-Muslim majority comprising diverse tribes accepted the Prophet’s leadership and program. Why? Part of the reason was that the noble Messenger (pbuh) put forward practical policy solutions that resolved many of the outstanding issues affecting people in the Arabian Peninsula at the time.

During the Prophetic era, the Arabian Peninsula was in desperate need of a governing system based on the rule of law in order to end decades-long tribal feuds. This led to the establishment of societal peace and stability. The final Messenger of Allah (pbuh) to all humanity framed the Covenant of Madinah in such a way that it addressed this crucial aspect. The raison d’être of the Covenant of Madinah was to stabilize the Arabian Peninsula within the monotheistic paradigm and put in action practical solutions to end the feuds and bloodshed.

Applying the raison d’être of the Covenant of Madinah to the contemporary setting means providing similar practical solutions to problems experienced in a Muslims’s locality, be it a living wage, affordable housing, or free healthcare. Unfortunately, Muslims are not actively engaged in public policy formulation in non-Muslim majority societies where so many of them now live. While Muslim migration to non-Muslim majority countries for employment and other economic reasons is a relatively new phenomenon, there is no reason to remain detached from policies that affect their lives as well.

Let us consider the example of the Turks living in Europe. Although the vast majority are now European citizens, they are far better informed about and more engaged in the politics of their ancestral homeland than they are in the affairs of the country they currently reside in. This aspect was pointed out by a local European Muslim politician to this author several years ago who stated that many Turkish Muslims within his electoral constituency had trouble recalling the name of their city’s mayor. Instead, they knew the name of the mayor in their ancestral town quite well.

Of course the EU’s xenophobic, racist, and exclusionary policies toward Muslims are a big part of the reason why many Muslims feel disconnected and alienated from their adopted homelands, withdrawing from public life altogether. Still, this is not a valid reason for non-engagement and to refuse to improve one’s surroundings.

When the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was forced to migrate from Makkah to Madinah, he did not focus his political activities only on his ancestral homeland. Though he kept himself aware of what was going on in Makkah — that is, what the Makkan elites were plotting against the Muslims — he was not involved in its day-to-day affairs. Instead, he concentrated his energies on building the community in Madinah and its surroundings. And his focus of attention was not merely the small Muslim community; rather, he took keen interest in the affairs of all the people — Arabs of the two warring tribes Aws and Khazraj, as well as the Jewish tribes — that resided in Madinah.

Today most Muslim socio-political and economic activism in Western countries is limited primarily to Muslim causes like Palestine, hijab, halal meat and so on. These are definitely causes worth campaigning for, but they are not the only ones. In fact, these causes can be better served if Muslims were to widen their public participation in non-Muslim societies. Being active in local issues will dispel the right-wing labeling of European and North American Muslims as foreigners or outsiders.

Islamic organizations present in non-Muslim societies should adopt a practical approach that would require them to address one local issue for every non-local issue they adopt or promote. For example, if a masjid or a Muslim NGO wants to petition its local government to take a principled position on the latter’s dealings with autocratic and unelected regimes in the Muslim world, it should also join forces with local organizations and campaign for electoral reform in its home country. Sending food and medicine for Myanmar refugees should be accompanied by launching food drives for local homeless shelters as well.

One of the positive points for Muslims living in non-Muslim Western societies is the fact that artificial divisions among Muslims are not cultivated by NATO regimes on the political and security levels in a way it is done in the Muslim world. NATO realizes such a policy would destabilize the host countries as well. Therefore, there is greater harmony and thus a better platform to initiate campaigns rooted in Islamic values of fairness and justice to help solve local public policy issues. This type of local engagement would also serve as a good PR tool against the rising tide of Islamophobia in Europe and North America.

Muslims in the US should be in the forefront to spearhead the campaign for free healthcare. Muslims in Canada should be the ones leading the campaign for banking and electoral reform, along with the fight for poverty reduction.

Islam provides a solid roadmap for practical solutions to all issues and there is the necessary Muslim human capital in Western countries to do so whether it is to address the troubled financial system, transportation, environmental degradation, health, or education. For instance, Muslims of Pakistani origin alone in the US and Canada can bring together a phenomenal cadre of medical, banking, and IT experts. One can imagine the kind of practical solutions these ex-perts can put forward if they organize themselves effectively.

Of course in today’s highly Islamophobic world, Muslims will not be allowed to freely implement solutions rooted in Islamic values in the non-Muslim societies where they live. Their sincere efforts will be looked upon with suspicion and even face sabotage. Nevertheless, solutions need to be put forward; the Islamophobes, the Zionists, and racists and bigots should not hold Muslims back from positively engaging their non-Muslim friends and neighbors.

In 1438ah (corresponding to 2017ce), solutions can be put forward in dozens of creative and often simple ways. For example, popular Islamic podcasts like the Mad Mamluks or the Muslim Vibe could hold a roundtable discussion once a month attended by Islamic experts, on a crucial problem in their locality and put forward Islamic solutions to issues troubling their immediate community, be it obesity or financial reform.

Over the past several months the newly established US-based Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research has produced several practical works addressing very crucial matters affecting Muslims. Why not expand the scope and from time to time provide solutions to problems affecting all US citizens, like unfair pay or the usury-based banking and financial systems?

One does not have to address grand problems like banking or healthcare immediately. It is not a question of ego. Starting small can be equally effective. In Canada for instance, there is a growing movement called “tiny houses,” a social movement that advocates living simply in efficiently built small homes that would be affordable for most people. Muslims in Canada should become the backbone of these types of movements as their ethos is Islamic and does not contradict the Islamic paradigm.

There is a recently developed social network called Symbiotic Economy that works on the principle of people bartering their skills. This is a great way to counter the drive toward excessive materialism, an effort Muslims can easily support through basic minimal activities, like publicizing it on their social media accounts.

It will be a lot more difficult for Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen, and the PEGIDA movement to run their electoral campaigns based mainly on hatred of Muslims if the latter participate in local public policy. An Islamic think-tank, masjid, NGO, or research center participating in improving the healthcare system of a non-Muslim society in which it is based will be harder to demonize than the one solely dedicated to addressing Zionist crimes in Palestine.

One does not have to be an NGO or a masjid to participate in highly challenging projects; Muslim media outlets can play their part as well. Most Muslim media outlets in non-Muslim societies focus primarily on Muslim-related issues. These Islamic media outlets should allocate space to covering one or two pressing socio-political and economic issues not directly related to the Muslim community. This writer recognizes the fact that it is not easy in an environment where Muslims must constantly defend their religion and community from well-funded hate campaigns that are also highly organized. Nevertheless, Muslims should not lose hope or give up. When a person commits a sin or a mistake that does not mean he must give up practising Islam. Instead, one must work harder to purify oneself.

Being in a constant spiritual and mental movement seeking divine pleasure and mercy is a personal and social obligation for all Muslims.

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