“We need to change the direction of Islam in the west, and the way to change it is to bring it from a level of action to a level of intellectualism.”
Thus did Shaykh Muhammad al-Yaqoubi, the eminent scholar from Syria, articulate the scarcity of proper religious knowledge in the activist sphere. He continued to describe the result of such spiritual destitution by identifying the motivating source of modern activism: anger.
Establishing anger or any other fleeting passion as the foundation of activism is problematic because the apparent morality of one’s actions is as transient as the feeling. This is not to suggest that there remain no reasons to exhibit anger. Rather, this is a critique of the unfortunate contingency upon anger that activism has developed. Activism, rather than embodying a noble quest for justice driven by the desire for divine approval and actualization of holy law, has simply transformed into a vector by which woes are verbalized with interlocutors often never taking the time to address the moral and spiritual legitimacy of the concern at hand. The absence of a fundamental, objective foundation justifying one’s engagement in activism makes it inevitable that one’s methodology of activism will eventually fall into incoherent disarray, thus yielding selective morality.
At the risk of sounding reductionist, truth is unchangeable. What is true will always be so, but while adhering to the tenets of Islam will always be true, the truth may manifest in different ways. An action may be permissible in one case and impermissible in another case. Regardless, the Islamic tradition remains the point of reference. Activists must refer back to such an objective moral foundation when caught in a questionable scenario. Without doing so, Muslims would be no different from a timeline of Western history: the understanding of morality in constant flux, with each generation believing their predecessors were simply less enlightened. Islam keeps us rooted in such dynamic times.
To all activists, this is an admonishment to you. Woe to you who believes that by your hand you will bring to the people their rights when you have not yet internalized that all is facilitated and decreed by your Lord (exalted is He). It is but mere fact that your search for unadulterated, objective, universal justice will never be sincere, let alone fulfilled, if your intentions are not in the favor of your Lord (exalted is He). True justice is established by way of adherence to the sacred law imparted to us by The Creator (exalted is He) and we must first humble ourselves into recognizing this prerequisite for proper engagement with activism. Navigate this world in a perpetual state of self-defense, cautious of every action that may threaten your afterlife.
Until you internalize that your primary duty in this life is to prepare for your eternal abode, let not your thoughts become preoccupied. Activism often yields incessant exposure to conflicting, incoherent ethical frameworks (like communism and humanism), all uniquely morally deficient. For the sake of your salvation return to the Sunnah of our Holy Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace). Allow his holy example to guide your direction and fuel your love for facilitating goodness to humanity. Solidify your heart upon the tradition and bury your spiritual roots deep.
Study your creed (‘aqeedah) and learn basic jurisprudence (fiqh), continuing your education as you delve into the realm of justice. What you build, intend, and advocate for in this life is the basis by which you will be sorted on The Day of Resurrection. I write to you as a Muslim who has traveled (and continues to travel) the activist journey intellectually and physically, often having taken wrong turns. Without the favor of your Lord (exalted is he), you will burn out and find yourself lost. One of the most demoralizing feelings is that which results from the realization that the ideology you ascribe to is insufficient in addressing a concern. Invest in your moral foundation now before you find yourself returning to this advice in the future. Below is a recommendation of texts to explore prior to engaging in activism. Most importantly, find a teacher. May Allah be with you.
Step 1: Practicing Islam (Pick 1)
- Al-Maqasid: Nawawi’s Manual of Islam (English, Arabic and Arabic Edition) by Imam al-Nawawi
- Translator: Nuh Ha Mim Keller; Shafi’i creed and jurisprudence
- The Practical Guidebook of Essential Islamic Sciences by Ali Laraki
- Maliki creed and jurisprudence
- Ascent to Felicity Maraqi ‘l-Sa’adat by Imam al-Shurunbulali
- Translator: Faraz Khan; Hanafi creed and jurisprudence
- Hanbali Acts of Worship by Shaykh Ibn Balban
- Translator: Musa Furber; Hanbali jurisprudence
Step 2: Being Muslim in the Modern World
- Agenda to Change our Condition by Hamza Yusuf and Zaid Shakir
- Commentary on the Eleventh Contentions by Abdal Hakim Murad
Step 3: Healing your Heart
- Purification of the Heart: Signs, Symptoms and Cures of the Spiritual Diseases of the Heart by Imam Mawlud
- Translator: Hamza Yusuf
- Reclaim Your Heart by Yasmin Mogahed
- The War Within Our Hearts by Habeeb and Saad Quadri
Step 4: Knowing the Holy Prophet (s.a.a.w.)
- The Sealed Nectar: Biography of the Noble Prophet by Mubarkpuri
- Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources by Martin Lings
- The Content of Character: Ethical Sayings of the Prophet Muhammad by Hamza Yusuf
Step 5: Perfecting your Social Interactions
- The Duties of Brotherhood in Islam by Imam al Ghazali
- Translator: Muhtar Holland
Step 6: Perfecting your Acts of Worship (With a teacher or on SeekersHub with Shaykh Yahya Rhodus)
- The Book of Assistance by Imam al-Haddad
- Translator: Mostafa Badawi
Image Credit: Nikitabuida – Freepik.com
About the author: Wassim is an undergraduate student studying biology, chemistry, religion, and philosophy. In his free time, he studies creed, jurisprudence, and the sciences of the heart. You can follow him on Twitter here.