The Ummah is a Stalled Car...
Picture yourself piling into a car with your fellow MSA members, about to embark on yet another road trip to an Islamic conference. Everyone is excited about hearing their favorite speakers, meeting old friends, making new connections. But what would happen if this buoyant busload came to a screeching halt?
Think of how your group would behave if suddenly you were stuck on the road, while dozens of cars raced by. Would you be disappointed, disillusioned, dormant, or determined to get your vehicle running again?
I am reminded of a wonderful parable, laden with meaning and smacking with a painful truth, that a wise Muslim once told me.
The Muslim Ummah is a stalled car.
Sadly, this is our current state. At the most, we are idling on the shoulder of the road, and even that is a generous description. It seems we have forgotten the glorious early days of Islam when the proverbial Muslim engine was running at maximum efficiency. Not a single dedicated Muslim remained idle. They used all available means to establish Islam and keep the momentum going.
One brilliant example of Muslim ingenuity involves Sultan Muhammad II, who at a very young age assumed the throne of the Ottoman empire. The Sultan achieved what many considered impossible, including building a fort in just three months when even his closest advisors told him that it would take no less than three years. Perhaps his most notable accomplishment came when he and his Muslim army captured Constantinople in a spectacular victory over the formidable Byzantine empire and its allies. Even after a severe setback in that war, the Muslims came back as an even stronger force when Sultan Muhammad implemented a most unique plan to pull the entire Muslim navy over a mountain on greased wooden planks. Thus, victory for the Muslims was sealed, Alhamdullillah, and Sultan Muhammad earned the title of Al-Fatih, the Conqueror.
But today, we remain in the stalled car that is our Ummah and wonder what can be done. After a while, we notice four very distinct groups of people begin to emerge. The first group is inspecting the car and trying to fix whatever went wrong. The second is asleep inside the car. The third bunch is standing off to the side watching, but doing nothing more. Finally, we have the fourth group which is trying to ensure that the car remains broken. Clearly, these groups each need help if the car is ever to move again.
What can we do?
The members of the first group have the right attitude, but they need better coordination. Progress will not be made if one person is trying to fix the engine while another is attempting to push the car along. Before they can begin to fix the car, they must first determine what is wrong. After discovering the problem, they must agree on a plan of action. Once an agreement is reached, their individual forces can combine positively instead of cancelling each other out.
The second group, the sleepers, are a burden and must be roused. Once awake, they must be informed of the problem and made to realize its gravity. Then they need to be told what they can do to ameliorate the situation.
The fourth group (hindering the effort) cannot be dealt with as easily as the first two. When a group such as this is actively trying to undo the hard work of others or shouting unconstructive criticism, a number of factors need to be taken into consideration. First of all, do not expect to change their minds quickly and easily, or even at all.
Often, it is like arguing with a donkey - you waste your breath and annoy the donkey! Gentle education is preferable and nasiha (advice) is a duty of one Muslim to another, but if they persist in hindering your progress, do not allow them to distract you from your task. Your energies are required elsewhere.
It is also necessary to be cautious with the fourth group. Watch out, they may try to push the car in the opposite direction, setting everyone even further back than initially. But even if they do that, remember to deal with them Islamically, for if they are dealt with harshly, it will only cause fitna and confusion among all the groups and you will go nowhere fast. The overall process is a jihad of sorts.
Ironically, it is the third group (standing and watching) which is the most complex and problematic. You must first determine why they are standing by. Are they lazy? Do they think the car cannot be fixed, or do they not trust those who are trying to fix the car? Maybe they think the car is not necessary to reach their destination. These are all very serious concerns. Unfortunately, it seems the bulk of the Ummah falls into this group. There is no quick remedy for the third group. But bear in mind that a small spark in the engine may be what these people need, either as a warning that if something is not done, their entire journey will go up in smoke (literally) or that there is hope that the vehicle can be fixed.
Others among the group of idlers simply lack confidence in
their ability to contribute. If this is the case, a gentle nudge (occasionally,
an outright shove, done nicely) in the right direction may be the much needed
catalyst. This step must be followed by education and training, which will,
inshaa'Allah give them faith in themselves and others, as well as a solid
foundation on which to operate. They must also learn that they should not waste
time waiting around for a tow truck or a mechanic. Maybe all the car needs is a
good push. If nothing else, they can hand tools to the workers.
We are at a stage where not a single Muslim can be wasted. Every hand must contribute, in its own way, to restarting the Ummah. This may involve small sacrifices of doing what is needed rather than what we want individually. We need to hone our skills, yet be diverse enough in our abilities to perform a variety of functions.
Every once in a while, we need a jump start, a rejuvenation of our iman which will enable us to feel the spirit of Islam coursing through us. We also need spiritual nourishment (filling ourselves with Qur'an, Sunnah, and other Islamic knowledge) on a regular basis, as well as the occasional tune-up to ensure that we are functioning the way a strong Ummah should.
This ongoing metaphor makes me wonder which group each of us falls into. Are we eager to help but lack direction and coordination? Are we in a state of dormancy? Perhaps we are quiet observers who wait, in vain, for a tow truck to lift us into action. I sincerely hope none of us is trying to destroy the hard work of others. Regardless of which group we identify with, we are crippling the Ummah and will continue to be a liability until we get our act together.
May Allah (swt) guide us all to aid in the mobilization of our Ummah.
TEENS' CROSSROADS, Vol. 8 No.2 \'b7 May - Aug 1998