A recent incident was all over the media, featuring anti-Islam ads that were posted all over the NY city subway system (trains and stations). How did Muslims counter it? One Muslim spray painted over ONE ad, which caused considerable publicity and awareness. A consortium of rabbis and priests paid for ‘love Muslims’ ads, which caused controversy and awareness. But, there was no collective move to inform, educate, and enlighten the masses that originated from Muslims themselves – inaction was our consensus and resulted in unaware masses.
Writes Ziauddin Sardar in The Blackwell Companion to Contemporary Islamic Thought: “At the dawn of the twenty-first century, the Muslim world finds itself in a state of total helplessness and uncertainty, marginalized, suppressed, angry, and frustrated. While a great deal has changed in the last hundred years, little has changed in terms of power politics. …the condition of the Muslim people – the ummah – its subjugation by the West, poverty and dependence, engendered a mood of despondency… most Muslim countries had gained their independence only to discover, after a couple of decades of development and Westernization, that economically and politically they were still the subjects of the West.”
Herein lies our problem, when we feel anger that is misdirected and helplessness. Surah Anfal tells us:
“That is so because Allah (swt) will never change a grace which He has bestowed on a people until they change what is in their ownselves. And verily, Allah (swt) is All-Hearer, All-Knower.” (Al-Anfal 8:53)
We need to primarily accept Islam as our Deen (our way of life), not just our religion.
Learned Helplessness occurs when someone is repeatedly subjected to an aversive stimulus and cannot escape. Eventually, the person will stop trying to avoid the stimulus and behave as if she is utterly helpless to change the situation. Even when opportunities to escape are presented, this learned helplessness will prevent any action. The anger we feel is due to the injustice we see around us. We feel it isn’t fair. How to deal with it successfully? To be those who Allah (swt) says will be among the Muflihoon (those who achieve success).
- Accept that only Allah (swt) can change people. We should put our energy into praying for the victims and asking Allah (swt) to guide the offender toward Islam. Surah Nur says: “Say: Obey Allah and obey the Messenger, but if you turn away, he (Messenger Muhammad) is only responsible for the duty placed on him (i.e. to convey Allah’s message) and you for that placed on you. If you obey him, you shall be on the right guidance. The Messenger’s duty is only to convey (the message) in a clear way (i.e. to preach in a plain way).” (An-Nur 24:54) Our duty is to convey the message, and enjoin good and forbid evil. We cannot and should not strive to do anything beyond what Allah (swt) has ordained for us. It is only when we mistakenly feel we can change the world, that we feel anger and helplessness.
- Misdirected self-sympathy causes us to feel we are helpless. The attitude, “what can one person do/how long will this take?” is not acceptable. Remember, little drops make the mighty ocean. Take charge! Do what you can to make people aware of the situation. Write and blog; speak on the radio; hold gatherings in your house; change your Facebook status, or compose a tweet. Whatever it takes, get others aware and care. “Let there arise out of you a group of people inviting to all that is good (Islam), enjoining Al-Maruf (i.e. Islamic monotheism and all that Islam orders one to do) and forbidding Al-Munkar (polytheism and disbelief and all that Islam has forbidden). And it is they who are the successful.” (Ale-Imran 3:104)
- Enlighten and educate yourself and others. Understand the situation. How does it affect Islam and what appropriate action needs to be taken? The Prophet (sa) has guided us in the following Hadeeth: On the authority of Abu Saeed (ra) that the Prophet (sa) said: “Whoever sees something evil should change it with his hand. If he cannot, then (he should do so) with his tongue. If he cannot do even that, then (he should do so) in his heart. That is the weakest degree of faith.” (Muslim) Decide if you can only inform other people (write to the newspaper/blog, get it on the electronic media, etc…), get a group together and take action (organize a protest, give a Dars, etc…) or change policies (get the law revised, appeal to the court etc…). Do not just say what is wrong but offer a solution based on Islamic Fiqh (jurisprudence).
- Lay the blame where it is due: Do not confuse blame and responsibility. For example when the infamous cartoons were published, Muslims blamed the West. Focus on who is really to blame, the newspaper for publishing it, the Danish government, the press in Denmark? Who? Narrow it down, pinpoint and then concentrate your efforts toward that direction.
- Angry Muslims! Abu Hurayrah relates that a man said to the Prophet (sa): “Counsel me.” The Prophet (sa) said: “Do not get angry.” The man repeated his request many times, but the Prophet (sa) kept saying: “Do not get angry.” (Bukhari) If you’ve played Angry Birds on your smart phone you know exactly what anger does. According to muslimmedicine.net: “How painfully ironic, that after the Danish cartoon controversy we once again chose to answer the ignorance, anger and hatred of others with even greater bouts of our own hatred and anger.” In the process we destroyed private property, laid waste the country’s economy for days and proved that we truly are the ignorant backward people we are painted as being. Islam tells us to be patient, calm and use logic to prove our point. Blind rage will get you nowhere; it will only serve to amuse the enemy. Exercise forbearance, follow Sunnah – the Prophet (sa) never reacted as he was always proactive.
- Learn from the past, and work in the present for the future. Past Muslim glory 500 years ago means nothing to the present superpowers. We need to study it to learn lessons where we went wrong and not make the same mistakes again. Do not use it as nostalgia and live in the past. “And make ready against them all you can of power, including steeds of war (tanks, planes, missiles, artillery, etc.) to threaten the enemy of Allah and your enemy, and others besides whom, you may not know but whom Allah does know. And whatever you shall spend in the Cause of Allah shall be repaid unto you, and you shall not be treated unjustly.” (Al-Anfal 8:60) Be ready, and also be educated, enlightened, persuasive, technologically capable and effective.
Anger and helplessness are two emotions that we must bring under our control, not vice versa. Be smart and live well. Ameen.