New Islamic Directions

By Imam Zaid Shakir

What I Believe

Posted in articles by Imam Zaid Shakir on 2020-10-05 Thumb

Faith

I believe that there is no God except Allah; the living, self-sustaining, pre-eternal creator of all that exists; the one whose existence is a necessary condition for all other existence. Allah has sent Prophets and Messengers (peace upon them) for the guidance of humanity. The last of those Messengers is Muhammad the son of Abdullah (peace and blessings of Allah upon him). The Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah upon him) was born in the Arabian city of Mecca in 570 AD and passed away in Medina in 632 AD. The essence of his mission, and that of all the Messengers who preceded him (peace upon them), was to instruct people as to the existence of Allah and His exclusive right to worship while enjoining them to avoid the worship of idols and other false deities. We read in the Qur’an, “We have sent unto every nation a Messenger, that they worship Allah and shun the false deity…” (16:36). Among the most insidious idols worshipped today is the self. The Qur’an informs us, “Have you not seen one who takes as his god his whims, and Allah leads him astray despite his possessing knowledge. He seals his hearing as well as his heart and places a veil over his sight. Therefore, who is there who can guide him after Allah [has led him astray]. Will you not be reminded?” (45:23) Islam leads us to smash the idol of the self. One who smashes the idol of the self knows himself and one who knows himself knows his Lord.

Acceptance of the Divine Decree

I believe that everything that occurs in this creation only occurs according to the knowledge, will, ordainment and power of Allah. Based on that I know that nothing can benefit or afflict us other than what Allah has willed. For this reason, we should not complain about our worldly condition to other human beings for we know that a complaint about anything in the world is a complaint against something Allah has ordained. It is therefore a complaint to the creation against the Creator. If we do choose to complain we direct our complaints to Allah, who is ultimately the only one capable of changing our condition.

This does not mean that we refrain from identifying and trying to correct worldly wrongs and injustices. It does mean that we work for positive change without complaining. Consider the words of Jacob, related by our Lord in the Qur’an, “Rather, I complain of my anguish and sadness to Allah, and I know from Allah what you know not” (12:86). Similarly, “Allah has heard the speech of the woman who was discussing the affair of her husband with you, while complaining to Allah. Allah heard the conversation transpiring between the two of you. Verily Allah sees and hears all” (58:1). One of the greatest consequences of complaining is that it blinds one to the blessings of our Lord, which we should be thanking Him for. It is a disease of the heart that shuts the doors of Divine blessings, for Allah states in the Qur’an, “…if you give thanks [for the blessings] I will increase you [in them], and if you are an ingrate you should know that my punishment is severe” (14:7)

The Purpose of Existence

I believe that we have been created to worship Allah. This is the fundamental purpose for our existence, unequivocally stated in the Qur’an, “I have not created the Jinn and Humans except that they worship Me” (51:56). Worship is predicated on submission to the ordainments of Allah. Satan was damned because he refused to submit to the command of our Lord to prostrate to Adam (peace upon him). Anyone who knowingly refuses to implement the commandment of our Lord, refuses to hold lawful what He has declared to be lawful and to hold forbidden what He has declared to be forbidden is following in the footsteps of Satan and will never know true and lasting contentment in this world. Such a person will inevitably worship something or someone other than Allah, and even if they find some temporary satisfaction in that misdirected worship, they will eventually be deserted and destroyed by their false god. “Whoever rejects the false god and believes in Allah has grasped a firm handhold that will never loosen…” (2:256).

Life is a Test

I believe that life has a purpose, which, as stated above, is to worship Allah. Worship in turn orients us towards Paradise, the original home of our earliest progenitors, Adam and Eve. When we return to Paradise (Jannah) we are returning home. Our life in this world is but a test and this is how we see our worldly existence. This theme is stated repeatedly in the Qur’an. We read, for example, “Blessed is the One in whose hand is the Dominion and He over all things has power. The one who created death and life to test you, which of you is best in deed, and He is the Mighty, the Forgiving” (67:1-2). Also, “Do people think they will be left alone merely saying we believe and not be tested? We tested those who preceded them; in order that Allah shows which of them are truthful and which of them are liars” (29:2-3). Similarly, “We will surely test you with something of fear, hunger and a loss of wealth, lives and fruits; give glad tidings to those who are patient” (2:155). Likewise, “Do you think you will enter Paradise when there has not yet come to you the likes of what afflicted those who preceded you? They were visited with disease and calamities, and were so shaken that the Messenger [at that earlier time] and the believers with him were led to ask, ‘When is the help of Allah coming?’ Verily, the help of Allah is near” (2:214). Hence, it is folly to expect worldly perfection. Such an expectation can lead one to neglect steeling oneself for the trials of life.

Imperfections of The World

I believe that the tests of the world necessitate imperfections. Worldly perfection would negate the foundation for our tests, as there would be no basis for conflict, hence, no reason for patience. The Qur’an states unequivocally in this regard, “We have made some of you trials for others, will you not be patient” (25:20)? In acknowledging the imperfections of the world, we reject utopian visions, utopian ideologies and utopian political programs. The pursuit of utopian visions has led to the deaths of hundreds of millions of innocent humans during the Twentieth Century alone. It has brought us Stalin’s purges, Hitler’s genocidal madness, the excesses and abuses of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, the genocidal campaign of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, Western liberalism with its accompanying colonization and imperialism, as well as the likes of ISIS. Again, we are not saying that we should not work for more justice, racial harmony, economic equity, global peace, etc. We recognize, however, that such pursuits are governed by the limits established by Allah, which we are enjoined not to transgress. Furthermore, there will never be perfect justice, complete racial harmony, absolute economic equity, nor lasting peace in this world, although we can move closer to the ideal in all of these areas, if Allah wills. We are judged by our intentions and the efforts we make to help bring about improvements in these and other spheres of human interactions. We understand, however, that we will only know perfection in Paradise.

Whose Wealth?

I believe that everything in the heavens and on earth belongs to Allah. We have been given temporary custodianship over any wealth we possess. We read repeatedly in the Qur’an, “Unto Allah belongs all in the heavens and on earth…” (2:284, 3:129, 4:126, 4:132, 10:55, 10:66, 20:6, 20:6, 22:64, 24:64, 31:26, 34:1, 53:31). Hence, in terms of our fiscal responsibilities, we are instructed, “Give them from the wealth of Allah that He has given you” (24:33). Based on this, our economic philosophy differs from versions of capitalism that advocate absolute individual ownership of wealth, and versions of communism that advocate absolute state or communal ownership. All wealth ultimately belongs to Allah, and as we mentioned, we are given custodianship over a limited amount of it while we are in this world. As Allah owns all wealth, He has the right to determine how we are to dispose of it. The rights established by Allah in the wealth we temporarily possess include the right of the poor to assistance towards the alleviation of poverty. We are reminded in the Qur’an, “Those in whose wealth is a well-known right, for those forced [by difficult circumstance] to ask and those prevented [by other circumstances] from asking” (70:24-25).

Hence, while affirming private ownership as one of its great objectives, and upholding the virtue of free enterprise and socially responsible markets, Islam rejects many features of capitalism as we know it, such as absolute and unqualified ownership, rejection of any inherent rights of the poor and needy in one’s wealth, the commodification of humans and nature, interest and usury, private ownership of natural resources, corporate personhood and many other features of what we know contemporarily as capitalism.

Basis of Society

I believe the family is the most important social unit. The family, in turn, is predicated on the institution of marriage. Marriage itself is a union between a male and a female, consecrated in the Name of Allah. This union is not only the most important foundation for a viable and stable society, it is also absolutely necessary for the spiritual reproduction of humanity. Preservation of the family, as defined by the teachings of Islam, is one of the great objectives of religion. In other words, Islam, as is the case with the other Abrahamic religions, has been instituted to preserve the family. We read in the Qur’an, “O humankind, reverence your Lord who has created you from a single soul, and from that soul its mate, and from them twain sent forth multitudes of men and women…” (4:1). Likewise, “And among His signs is that He has made for you spouses, in order that you live together with them in peace and tranquility, and He has made between you love and mercy. Surely in this are signs for people who reflect” (30:21). Additionally, “How could you take anything [from the women’s dowry if you divorce] while you have been intimate with each other, and they have taken from you a weighty covenant” (4:21).

Our Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah upon him) stated, “Four things are from the Tradition of the Prophets: Shyness; using perfume (good bodily hygiene); using the tooth stick (good oral hygiene) and marriage” (Tirmidhi, 1080). When a group of his companions came to the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah upon him) boasting respectively that one of them spent the entire night in prayer and never slept; the second that he fasted continuously, never missing a day; the third that he forswore marriage, the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah upon him) responded, “Are you the ones who said such-and-such? As for me, I am the most reverent and Allah-conscious among you, however, I fast some days and refrain from fasting some days; I pray part of the night and I sleep part of the night; and I marry women. Whosoever rejects my Sunnah is not from me” (Bukhari, 5063). We believe that during these times when marriage, as our community has known it, is under attack on numerous fronts, it is our duty to do everything in our power to preserve this divinely-sanctioned institution.

Service to Humanity

I believe that service to humanity is a function of our submission to Allah. We read in the Qur’an, “You are the best community raised up for humanity…” (3:110). Many exegetes comment that this means the best community raised up to serve humanity. Many of the services relevant in this regard could be categorized as social services. Thus, Muslims are social servants. This claim is predicated on the above-mentioned verse, as well as many others. For example, when the people of Hell are asked, “What has led you to Hell? They reply, ‘We were not among those who prayed, nor did we feed the impoverished…’” (74:42-44). This verse is important because it combines the failure to convey the right of worship owed to Allah with the right of service owed to humanity. We can also reference the saying of our Lord, through the wording of our Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah upon him), “Allah will announce on the Day of Resurrection, ‘O Child of Adam! I was sick yet you did not visit me.’ He will say, ‘Our Lord, how could we visit you while you are the Lord of the Worlds?’ He will say, ‘Do you not know that my servant so-and-so fell ill and you did not visit him? Do you not know that had you visited him you would have found Me with him? O Child of Adam! I sought food and you fed me not.’ He will say, ‘My Lord, how could we feed you while you are the Lord of the Worlds?’ He will say, ‘Do you not know that my servant so-and-so was hungry and you did not feed him. Do you not know that had you fed him you would have found the reward [of that action] with Me? O Child of Adam! I was thirsty and you did not provide me drink. He will say, ‘My Lord, how could I give you drink while you are the Lord of the Worlds? He will say, ‘My servant so-and-so sought water from you and you did not provide it. Had you provided him drink you would have found the reward [of that action] with Me’” (Muslim, 6556).

When asked which manifestation of Islam is best, the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah upon him) replied, “That you feed and greet people, those you know and those you know not” (Bukhari, 12). We cannot fail to translate the words of scripture into tangible benefits for our fellow humans and remain a “prophetic” Muslim community in the full sense of the word.

Caretakers of the Earth

I believe that life on this earth is dependent on a delicate ecological balance established by our Lord, who says, “As for the sky We have raised it aloft and established the balance, that you not disrupt the balance…” (55:7-8). As a species, our disruption of the balance has become so thorough that we have entered, in the view of many, the Anthropocene, an era where we have the ability to destroy all life on earth including all of humanity. The two most evident manifestations of that ability involve both a swift destruction and a prolonged destruction. Our swift destruction would come via a nuclear conflagration. A nuclear war would not only result in massive destruction from the sheer force and radiation released by the explosion of a plethora of nuclear weapons, it would also send so much fallout into the atmosphere that the ensuing combination of a nuclear winter, a nuclear summer and damage to the ozone layer would destroy all vegetation on earth, hence the possibility of life, within ten years.

The slow destruction lies in the continued assault on the planet’s environment and the ecosystems sustaining life as we know it. Toxic gases and liquids are destroying our air and waters. Plastic waste, and the growing amount of micro-plastic pollutants it creates, are likewise fouling our land, water and air. This combination is already having a deleterious effect on African American as well as other poorer communities in this country. These communities are more likely to be breathing foul air, drinking polluted water and living near or on EPA Superfund clean-up sites. As the preservation of life is one of the great overarching objectives of our religion, Muslims must be in the forefront in addressing these and other potential sources of our demise. We are given a strong reminder by Allah to alter our destructive ways before it is too late when He says, “Corruption has appeared on land and sea based on what the hands of humans have wrought. Thus, do We give them a taste of what they have done that perhaps they will return [to the path of Divine guidance]” (30:41). If we fail to heed this warning, we will continue our headlong rush towards self-destruction.

Racism’s Satanic Nature

I believe that racism is a Satanic phenomenon, in that Satan was the first racial supremacist and therefore it was he who introduced racism into the world. When he was asked, rhetorically, by Allah, “What prevented you from prostrating unto Adam when I ordered you to do so?” He replied, “I am better than him. You created me from fire while and you created him from clay” (7:12). In this verse, Satan claimed superiority over Adam (I am better than him…) based on a physical characteristic that involves color (You created me from fire while you created him from clay). Fire can vary in color based on what is burning, but generally, it is blue, orange, yellow, sometimes red or may even have patches of white. The clay Adam was created from, based on the dominant opinion, was black.

Unfortunately, our country was built, in large part, upon a racial caste system, and that system, despite progress towards its eradication, continues to plague our republic today. The effects of that system are painfully visible in disparities in allocation of educational resources, access to business loans, incarceration rates, employment opportunities, quality of health care, rates of police killings, access to quality food, household wealth, the distribution of voting booths, and other areas that are critical in determining the life chances of those most severely deprived and underserved. Those working to perpetuate these caste-based inequalities in our society are not only oppressors, they are the dupes of Satan who we as Muslims have been enjoined to oppose. Allah reminds us repeatedly in the Qur’an that Satan is our enemy. We read, “Do not follow the footsteps of Satan. Verily, he is unto you a clear enemy” (2:168, 2:208, 6:142, 12:5, 28:15, 35:6, 36:60, 43:62). The most effective way for Muslims to contribute to the fight against the pernicious and enduring scourge of racism, as pointed out by Malcolm X in his, “Letter from Mecca,” Arnold Toynbee in his essay, “Islam, The West, and the Future,” and many other astute observers, is by introducing the teachings of Islam to the masses of the Western world. Toynbee rightly identifies the race issue as a spiritual crisis. Who better to address the crisis from a spiritual perspective than the Muslims?

Justice is Faith

I believe that justice is an integral part of Islamic teachings and it constitutes one of the foundations for a prosperous and stable polity. As Muslims, we believe that justice and equity are manifestations of true Allah-consciousness, as we are commanded in the Qur’an, “O you who believe! Be upright for Allah, witnesses to equity. Do not allow your hatred of a people lead you to be unjust. Be just for doing so is closer to God-consciousness, and be mindful of Allah. Verily, Allah is well-informed of all that you do” (5:8). The “Just” (al-‘Adl) is one of the Names of Allah, however, the justice of Allah is absolute while ours is restricted by our circumstances, piety, knowledge, God-consciousness, biases, etc. Despite that, we should know that it is incumbent upon us to do everything in our power to avoid oppression, which involves the denial, negation, or distortion of justice.

Oppression is a characteristic that Allah forbids for Himself and has made forbidden for us. Our Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah upon him) relates directly from our Lord, “O my servants! I have forbidden oppression for Myself and have made it forbidden for you. Therefore, do not oppress one another” (Muslim, 2577). However, justice in human relations, contemporarily termed social justice, cannot be viewed in isolation, divorced from a wider spiritual context. In other words, social justice is subordinate to justice in our relationship with Allah and in our relationship with our soul. These three realms for the application of justice are summarized in the Hadith of Abi Dharr and Mu’adh bin Jabal (may Allah be pleased with them). They relate that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah upon him) said, “Be mindful of Allah wherever you are; follow up a misdeed with a [far weighty] good deed, which will wipe it out; and deal with people on the basis of good character” (Tirmidhi, 1987). The first realm involves justice in our relationship with Allah. The quality of this relationship is based on our consciousness of His commands and prohibitions, which is the essence of Taqwa. The greatest violation in this regard is idolatry. Hence, idolatry is described as the greatest form of oppression, as we read in the Qur’an, “Verily, idolatry is the greatest oppression” (31:13). The next realm of justice involves being just in our dealing with our soul by not burdening it with a mountain of sin, thereby exposing it to the torment of Hell. Justice in this realm is predicated on repentance, as the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah upon him) orders us in this Hadith. Allah states in the Qur’an, “Those who fail to repent, they are the oppressors” (49:11). The final realm, described in the Hadith, “…and deal with people on the basis of good character,” is the realm of social justice. This realm, however, is subordinate to the first two. If what might be deemed just in the social realm involves rebellion against Allah, or sinful activity, then it cannot be described as socially just.

For example, advocating for economically marginalized communities to have easier access to low interest business loans is not socially just, even though many would see it as such. The injustice in such a policy lies in the fact that engaging in interest is an extremely grave sin in Islam. It is one of only three sins explicitly stated to involve a threat of war from Allah. One dealing in interest is also described in the vilest of ways by the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah upon him) when he said, “Interest involves seventy levels of sin the least of which is a man having intercourse with his mother” (Ibn Majah, 2274). The socially just policy to be advanced in this case would be the abolishment of interest, which was one of the primary motivations behind the founding of the Catholic Workers Movement. The abolition of interest has to be one of the pillars of any Muslim social justice programs.

Migration: A God-given Right

I believe that migration is not only a fundamental human right, it is a God-given right. Human populations have always moved freely through the earth. Such movements have sometimes been voluntary. Unfortunately, in far too many instances migration has been forced by the desire to escape war, famine or persecution. The Qur’an relates in this regard, “Surely, concerning those whose souls the angels take while they were oppressing themselves, they (the angels) say to them, ‘What was your condition?’ They say, ‘We were oppressed in the earth.’ They respond, ‘Was not the earth of Allah spacious enough for you to migrate therein?’ They are those whose final abode will be Hell. What a vile destination” (4:97). As our country of “immigrants” sinks ever deeper into the fascistic cesspool of xenophobia, exclusion and division, we Muslims must proclaim that this world is made for all of us and we have a God-given right to migrate herein. This is especially true for those fleeing conditions that we as a nation have directly or indirectly helped to create –such as the disaster that is Yemen.

Many people in this country seem to forget that the Bible portrays Abraham, the Children of Israel, Moses, Jesus and other prophets (peace upon them) as migrants. When a nation of immigrants refuses to accept even those justifiably seeking asylum something has gone drastically wrong and those of us who follow another migrant Prophet, Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah upon him), must do everything in our power to correct it.

We Are One Community

I believe that our Muslim community is a single, unified social entity. Allah states clearly in the Qur’an, “Verily, this community of yours is one community and I am your Lord, therefore worship Me” (21:92). Our unity is predicated on our faith. Faith is what unites us. The Prophet (peace and blessing of Allah upon him), however, affirmed various distinctions for different people. He said, for example, “Faith and wisdom are Yemeni” (Bukhari, 4388). Likewise, “The Adhan is for the Ethiopians” (Tirmidhi, 3936). He also stated that the Europeans are “the best people in terms of their treatment of their poor and downtrodden” (Muslim, 7279). There are many other Divinely and prophetically conferred distinctions that allow us to come to know and appreciate the beauty and uniqueness in all people. This is in accordance with a Divine plan, expressed by our Lord, “O humankind! We have created you from a male and female, and made you into distinct peoples and tribes that you may recognize each other. Verily, the most noble of you with Allah is the most pious of you. Indeed, Allah is All-Knowing, All-Informed” (49:13). The differences among us, within both our Muslim and wider communities, are a display of the magnificent scope of Allah’s creative power. We should celebrate these differences and not use them as the basis for empty claims of superiority.

Distinctions of the African American Muslim Community

I believe that the African American Muslim community has unique distinctions. Among those distinctions is that it is the only community existing since the founding of this country that has a trans-generational communal engagement with Islam. This is critical in terms of the legitimacy this reality affords to all Muslims in this country. It is a community that has a documented history unmatched by any other segment of the enslaved African community. Consider that the majority of the slave narratives written by or about Africans enslaved in the Americas involve Muslims. For example, the oldest extant work of African American literature is, The Fortunate Slave, which documents part of the life of Ayyub bin Sulayman (Job Ben Soloman). He was an African Muslim scholar who was rescued from bondage in the then British colonies and returned to Africa a free man. It is a community whose members were the largest single identity group among the country’s enslaved population. Hence, Muslim slaves contributed their uncompensated blood, sweat and tears in building this country. It is a community that produced two of the three iconic male figures (there were several iconic females) of the Civil Rights Struggle of the 1960s, Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali, the third being Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It is a community whose members have contributed to the formation of a significant portion of American “soft-power,” be that the blues, jazz, athletic icons, or more recently hip hop. It is a community that I feel is destined to lead a moral revolution of values in this country, despite the challenges it has yet to overcome.

While the distinctions mentioned here and above, are real and respected by Islam, it is only piety that advances us in the sight of Allah. Our Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah upon him) clearly stated, “Verily, Allah does not consider your physical forms or your wealth. Rather He considers your hearts and deeds” (Muslim, 6543). Also, “…whoever is kept back by their actions, will never be advanced by their lineage” (Muslim, 6853).

Rejection of Political Violence

Finally, I believe that political violence, especially in the context of a pluralistic society that is comprised of many different races, ethnicities, national origins and creeds, is not only destructive and counterproductive, it is antithetical to Islamic teachings governing the peaceful coexistence of Muslims with other groups. Hence, we reject all forms of political violence in our national political context and view the US Constitution as the primary delineator of our political participation. Globally, rejection of political violence directly calls for the rejection of modern warfare, which in the case of our country is being increasingly reduced to facilitating mechanized slaughter of innocent civilians for the sake of jobs. While there are legitimate security threats in our world, meeting them does not require massive amounts of weapons of mass destruction increasingly being sold for the sake of keeping weapon manufacturers in business. It likewise does not require the destruction of entire societies as we have seen in Vietnam, Yemen, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and elsewhere.

Were this rejection being made in isolation we could see some validity in the accusation that such a call is unrealistic, however, it is made in the context of a growing global movement. Collectively, humankind can and must come together to end the scourge of war by rejecting its premises, by calling for a ban on nuclear weapons, banning the sale of all weapons of mass destruction to foreign countries, and by refusing to work for companies involved in the manufacture of such weapons. While affirming the right to self-defense, politically it is time to pursue another path of conflict resolution. The positive potential offered by a nonviolent path is suggested by the following prophetic saying, “O ‘Aisha! Surely Allah is gentle and loves gentleness. He gives through gentleness what He does not give through violence; what He does not give through anything else” (Muslim, 6601).

Conclusion

These are my beliefs on a number of critical issues facing both our Muslim community, our country, and humanity at large. The list of issues addressed here is not exhaustive. God-willing we can address them more thoroughly and expansively in a future work. It is absolutely essential that we Muslims work to pass our religion on to those coming after us as we have received it. There is no liberal, progressive, reactionary, moderate, militant, radical, or any other kind of Islam. There is only the Islam of our Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah upon him). He instructs us, “Surely, I have left you on a clear [path], its night is like its day. No one deviates from it after me except that he is ruined” (Ibn Majah, 43).

Note: The views expressed above are my personal beliefs. They do not express the positions of Zaytuna College, the Muslim Alliance in North America (MANA) or any other organization I am affiliated with.

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