One of the most common replies that anyone who expresses a call to Islamic morality receives is “you can’t impose your beliefs on others!” This accusation is way off base for a number of reasons.
Firstly, we need to understand the definition of ‘imposing.’ To make a statement about something is not an imposition. If that were the case, we would consider talking to our friends, reading news articles, watching shows, or any opinion we hear as an imposition. Yet for some reason this claim only comes forward when Islam is referenced. If I were to say, “the consumption of alcohol is immoral,” this is nowhere near an imposition. Imposing would be to vandalize a bar, threaten people who drink, or confine drinkers to a space where I bombard them with constant messaging about the dangers of alcohol consumption. To simply state a fact or opinion is not to force. As Allah ﷻ tells us, “there is no compulsion in religion” (Qur’an, al-Baqarah 2:256).
The reality is that our society has a low tolerance for disagreement. To call out a societal ill that is popularly enjoyed is to brand yourself as a cultural outcast. The fundamental doctrine of Liberalism is “do whatever you wish as long as you aren’t harming others,” and unfortunately many in the Ummah of Muhammad ﷺ have subscribed to this flawed idea. Even if we were to follow the premise, many of the communal grievances that conscientious Muslims bring to light do not fall into the category of not harming others. If we go back to the alcohol example, we are well aware that the action which is often referred to as a private sin is the cause of thousands of deaths in the United States alone, not to mention thousands of cases of domestic abuse. If we were to follow our own framework as Muslims, we must acknowledge the deep metaphysical harms even the most isolated sins inflict. Everything we do carries a consequence, whether it be tangible or unseen, and just because an individual does not utter the Islamic testimony of faith, it does not exempt him or her from this consequence.
The overall sentiment generally stems from discomfort. Whether it is discomfort with one’s own faith, being unable to reconcile Islam with the sensibilities of postmodern Liberalism, or due to a culture that has made salvific exclusivity seem wrong and immoral. Whatever it is, the idea that simply stating a reality of our religion is wrong is something we need to tackle within our communities. Whether that means starting initiatives to teach people about the religion so their faith is strengthened, or fostering serious interfaith work outside of the perennialist lovefest that passes for most interfaith work, we have work to do.
As we ponder about the roots of this discomfort, we should also ask: what is so wrong about pushing our narrative? People throughout the entirety of society constantly broadcast their message both within their own circles and to society at large; social justice causes, medical controversies, questions of public policy, etc.
If we adhere to the basic tenets of Islam, then we acknowledge the firm reality that Allah ﷻ is the creator of the universe and He sent Muhammad ﷺ as a Messenger for all of mankind. The morality which we adhere to is universal, meaning if it’s good for us then it’s good for everyone, and shying away from sharing that is only going to hurt us and them in the long run. We proclaim the message and advise; there’s no imposition in that. If our goal as citizens of a society is to bring benefit, we must recognize that the message revealed to our Prophet ﷺ is the greatest formula in accomplishing that, and it is not something we should shy away from.
We must also realize that cringing at such messaging could very well be the work of Shaytān as well as our own ego. To hear advice which contradicts our desires in the moment will always be met with a mental adversity. This is something to keep in mind as we continue our lives in an environment filled with sin and where our hearts have become desensitized with the dystopian standards of modern morality.
Often, the analysis or alleviations we offer are shunned away simply for having a religious connotation or background. We as an entire community must remember that the Muslim’s lifestyle is supposed to be informed by the Qur’an and Sunnah. Our Dīn is a holistic way of life. Every aspect of our daily functions has a prophetic standard which we try to reach.
Even if we falter in our own personal practice, which we all do, we should not be tearing down people who call to a higher standard. This of course does not preclude the manner in which the message should be delivered, which should always be modeled after the Prophet ﷺ and the pious predecessors, but any kind of belief in truth entails the duty to share it with others.
About the Author: Zain Siddiqi is President of Traversing Tradition. He is a political science graduate and is currently studying business management. He serves as the youth director at his local mosque and operates a coffee shop. His interests include Islamic sciences, mental health, politics, and history. You can follow him on Twitter here.