Muslims have sadly become a people who are focused on the idea of justice, and justice above all, writes Shaykh Hamdi Ben Aissa. Our actions and concerns are governed by the mentality: no justice, no peace. Thus, we have become known to the world as fighters for our rights, demanding justice from all those who would oppress us or challenge our way of life.
Is this how we should be known to this beleaguered and hurting world of ours? Is this the sum total of what Muslims have to offer humanity? And on top of that, not even justice for all, but only that which extends to our own kind?
We have reached this place of valuing justice above all else because we nurture this concern in ourselves and our children above the concern for moral integrity and spiritual refinement (ihsaan) and kindness, magnanimity, and empathy (rahma) in our personal behaviour and interactions with others. An international survey evaluating levels of empathy in children of various religions found Muslim children to have one of the lowest levels of empathy (which is another word for rahma) and the highest sense of justice, ie. swiftness in declaring the actions of another as “unfair” and demanding punishment of the other for perceived wrongdoing.
I visited an Islamic elementary school a short while ago, and when I asked the children what they wanted to do with their lives, those who had some sense of mission were in the minority. Amongst them, those whose mission had something to do with Islam were an even smaller minority. And amongst the latter, their sense of mission revolved around the need to defend Islam and its image.
This is what we have bequeathed to our children – this sense of concern for their rights, and a sense that the rights of all Muslims are under attack. Thus those who feel some sense of awareness among them can think only of how Islam is under constant attack and needs to be defended.
The truly oppressed is he who allows himself to believe that he is oppressed. He believes that other human beings have the ultimate control over his circumstances, have power over him and are able to give him the justice he seeks or withhold it. Such a person will be reacting to the action of injustice like a ping pong ball thrown at the wall, not having any other option but to rebound eternally, getting weaker and weaker each time until it gets crushed.
Re-action is simply the continuation of action. Thus he who reacts is never free because his actions are in reality but a perpetuation of the original action of his oppressor.
Consumed by our victimhood
What made the Muslims of Makkah liberated, even when they were in the midst of severe oppression and persecution, was that they did not believe their human oppressors had any actual power. What made Bilal a freeman even when he was a “slave” is that he only ever acknowledged the One (Ahadun Ahad) as having any power, control or role in his life.
Our obsession with the wrongs others are committing against us as a community gets us nowhere. And takes all our energy. Just today a sister wrote to me to say that seeing all the horrible things happening in the world is disabling. This is exactly right. We allow ourselves to be disabled when we fixate on these things – they get the better of us. And then, we have no time or attention left to seek God and to make an honest evaluation of our own ihsaan (where are we in terms of moral integrity? are we more refined spiritually today than we were yesterday, or less so?). When we become fixated on what is happening in the world, we are no longer able to take on the most important battle that stands before us : that of begging our Lord to guide us toward moral integrity and spiritual refinement, living everyday in search of the opportunities He sends us for this. This is the true and inevitable battlefield – even for those who are out on a battlefield!
One who turns to face the battle for the heart, before attending to the battle for justice, will hold himself to four principles, which will produce in him four qualities.
The four principles before battling for justice:
1. cultivation of compassion and empathy (raḥma) before cultivation of anger (ghaḍab), such that the former controls the latter, establishing correct limits for it
2. cultivation of love for God’s sake (al-ḥubb fi Allah) before cultivation of aversion for God’s sake (al-bughḍ fi Allah), such that the former controls the latter, establishing correct limits for it
3. cultivation of permeability to beauty and goodness and those who uphold the like (athillatan ‘alal mu’mineen), before cultivation of impermeability towards wrongdoing and injustice (a’izzatan ‘alal kaafireen), such that the former controls the latter, establishing correct limits for it
4. cultivation of loyalty to what is pleasing to the Lord (al-walāʿ) before cultivation of the disavowal of what is displeasing to Him (al-barāʿ), such that the former controls the latter, establishing correct limits for it.
The four beneficial qualities that will arise within us
As a result of the believer holding himself to the above four principles, four qualities will arise within him, and these are the missiles of the heart, the fuel of a true Islamic Revival:
1. forgiveness for the one who wrongs him
2. generosity and a giving attitude to the one who denies him
3. a continuous reaching out and connecting to the one who disconnects from him
4. moral integrity and magnanimity towards the one who mistreats him.
With these qualities, a person treads the Earth as a shining guide (dāʿī) and not as an arrogant judge (qāḍī).
He puts aside his own expectations for people’s spiritual improvement according to what he would like for them, in order to submit to God’s Wisdom and Will with respect to the guidance of His Creation. As a result of this surrender to God’s Will, God uses this person as an instrument by which He guides whomsoever He Alone has chosen to receive His Guidance. (Thus this person is truly living and acting for God and by God.)
The four principles that reflect warped priorities
In contrast, one who chooses to face the battle for justice before the battle for the heart, operates by four principles that are the exact opposite of those mentioned above. These four principles are:
1. cultivation of anger (ghaḍab) before cultivation of compassion (raḥma), such that the former blocks and shuts out the latter
2. Cultivation of aversion for God’s sake (al-bughḍ fi Allah) before cultivation of love for God’s sake (al-ḥubb fi Allah), such that the former blocks and shuts out the latter
3. Cultivation of impermeability towards wrongdoing and injustice (a’izzatan ‘alal kaafireen) before cultivation of permeability to beauty and goodness and those who uphold the like (athillatan ‘alal mu’mineen), such that the former blocks and shuts out the latter
4. Cultivation of the disavowal of what is displeasing to the Lord (al-barāʿ) before cultivation of loyalty to what is pleasing to Him (al-walāʿ), such that the former blocks and shuts out the latter.
The four blameworthy qualities that will arise within us
As a result of a person structuring his inner being according to the above four principles, four qualities arise within him, which are the destroyers of the Islamic revival:
1. judgement of others’ faults (tafsīq)
2. pointing out of innovations in the religion (tabdīʿ)
3. excommunication of fellow Muslims (takfīr)
4. exploding with violence and destruction (tafjīr)
Thus, he walks amongst people as an arrogant judge (qādī) and not as a shining guide (dāʿī). Satan misguides through him more people than he himself – out of his apparent concern for the Ummah’s wellbeing – sets out to guide, correct, and reform. He holds fast to his own vision of how people should improve religiously, and seeks to impose this vision on them even if it destroys them.
Because he does not submit to the Will of God, he is not used by God as an instrument of good.