New Islamic Directions

By Imam Zaid Shakir

The Challenge of Madina

Posted in notes by Imam Zaid Shakir on 2007-07-28

It is related from the Prophet, peace upon him, that he said: “O God! Bless us in the months of Rajab and Sha’ban, and bless us to reach Ramadan.” (Imam Ahmad, Musnad 1/259)

I have been truly blessed during this month of Rajab by being able to spend a good part of it in one of the most blessed places on Earth, the city of Madina. The reason for the blessings that accrue to the city is the fact that God has chosen it as the resting place of His final messenger, Muhammad, peace upon him. Although it is related that on the day the Prophet, peace upon him, passed away, darkness descended over the city—that darkness is relative to the light that existed during his blessed lifetime. In our increasingly dark world his physical presence, peace upon him, even in death, is a source of a light that is reflected in everything in the city and in the faces and hearts of all the sincere believers who come to visit him and to pray in his mosque.

That light translates into an atmosphere of overwhelming peace. The reality of that peace is difficult to convey in words. However, its effects are seen everywhere, in the streets and shops, in the hills and valleys, in the parched fields and verdant date groves. Perhaps its greatest manifestation is in the Mosque of the Prophet, peace upon him. For it is in his mosque that one finds Sunni and Shiite Iraqis, folks whose land is being torn by the sectarian strife imposed on them by an illegal, rapacious war, sitting and praying next to each other with no hint of animosity. It is his mosque that you find Americans and the Iranians discussing the looming conflict between their two countries with no bitterness or ill-will, praying that the peace they share in the Mosque of the Prophet, can extend itself to the world they will both return to.

Speaking of Americans and Iranians, both myself and others who spoke to Iranians, both their scholars and laity, are struck by the contrast between their reaction to the very real possibility of a reckless American bombardment of their land and the reaction of Americans to the remote if not negligible possibility of some Iranian-inspired act of terrorism disrupting their lives. Not a single Iranian that I know of, nor anyone I spoke to, expressed the slightest fear from an American attack. Their attitude can be summed up with the following calmly uttered phrase: “If it happens so be it, God will help us.”

This attitude stands in stark contrast to the fear that our media and political leaders cultivate among Americans. Although we are 10,000 miles away from Iran, we have been conditioned to see that country as an implacable enemy that we should destroy or at least cripple before we are somehow harmed by non-existent weapons. The reality of the situation is that Iran, Saddam’s Iraq, Sudan or any other middling Muslim nation poses no meaningful threat to the security of the American people, they pose a threat to the unchallenged attainment of American corporate and strategic interests in the Middle East, and to garnish public support for the policies defined by those interests our leaders play the fear card.

Fear is one of the surest bases of war. Security is the basis of peace. The throngs who peacefully gather in the Mosque of the Prophet, peace upon him, do so because they are secure. The relationship between these two realities is boldly highlighted in a Qur’anic verse etched in stone above every door of the mosque, Enter into her in peace, enjoying security. (15:46) 

The entrance described in this verse is into Paradise. This world will never be Paradise; our all too clear imperfections insure that. However, it does not have to be Hell. Each and every one of us shares the responsibility to work to make this world a little less hellish. As Muslims, we have no excuse because we see in Madina the peace humans are capable of achieving, and we see in Mecca, during the Hajj and ‘Umrah, the brotherhood we can achieve. That being so we have to commit ourselves to working for humanity’s collective security.

Will we be wise enough to struggle to find the ways to extend the peace of Madina to our respective corners of the globe, or will we facilitate the expansion of corporate-driven militarism and consumerism until they engulf all of our societies, and more tragically, our hearts? Whatever the answer, and history will demand an answer, not a single one of us should through wanton or irresponsible words or deeds contribute to the insecurity that undermines the peace. Doing so will not always be easy, but that is the challenge of Madina.


By ayesha on August 9, 2007 at 1:43am

'Salaam Alaikum, Thank you for this enlightening article. It is important to see beyond what we are subjected by the media. People have lived together in peace in Muslims lands for centuries. Those who are advantaged by causing rifts are doing everything possible to ensure that instability looms larger. The media meanwhile portrays and perpetuates this rift as the truth and inevitable. The radiant cities of Medina and Mecca are true example of Muslim unity and also examples of how the gender rift is not as wide as some would have us believe. Muslim men and women are not segregated in the Holy Mosque in Mecca, yet men treat women with utmost dignity and courtesy. There is no rampant misuse of this shared space and this should also be carried to our mosques at home.

By Imam Zaid Shakir on August 16, 2007 at 6:46pm

As-Salaam 'Alaikum Sister Ayesha, You are absolutely right. The media greatly exaggerates many issues that challenge the Muslim world. May Allah bless us all with the strength to do our part to both demonstrate the virtue and beauty of our religion through our own lives and examples, and may He bestow on us the wisdom and courage to intelligently and productively address the problems that do exist.

By Matthew on August 21, 2007 at 1:50pm

Although I have never visited Madinah, your description fits what I feel in my heart every time I think of the place. At the same time I cannot explain to any of my friends the love for a city where I have never been, I still feel secure thinking about it's radiance. I have never previously heard this opinion from the Iranian people, which only serves to reenforce your point. If there was any real movement by the major media outlets to display this opinion, surely I would have at least heard of its existence.

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