Obligation of Civic Engagement
Transcript of the Khutbah delivered by Dr. Munawar Haque on March 10, 2017
Brothers and sisters! We obtain our guidance from two primary sources of Islam: the Qur’an and the Sunnah. Both these sources declare that civic engagement is an obligation. InshaAllah, my khutba today is on the topic: “Obligation of Civic Engagement.” What exactly do we mean by civic engagement? There is no single, widely agreed-upon meaning for the term, but generally it means promoting the quality of life in a community, through both political and non-political processes. It is the individual and collective effort to identify and address community needs and issues of public concern. We should pay heed to what Allah (SWT) says about the last and final ummah,
كُنتُمْ خَيْرَ أُمَّةٍ أُخْرِجَتْ لِلنَّاسِ
“You are the best community (ummah) brought forth for (the good) of mankind” (Aal ‘Imran, 3:110). This clearly means that we have been chosen to be of benefit to humanity or to serve the community at large; Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Also, through a hadith we learn that “the best of people are those that bring most benefit to the rest of mankind."
We learn from a Prophetic tradition that before his prophethood, and in his youth, the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) was once present in the house of Abdullah Ibn Jud’an where tribe leaders met and agreed basically on two main clauses: (1) Respect the principle of Justice and (2) Collectively intervene in conflicts to establish Justice. The pact was written and placed in the Ka’bah believing that Allah will protect the pact. Years later, the Prophet (SAW) in his admiration of the pact recalls, (on the authority of Aisha), “I witnessed in the house of Jud’an the Hilf al-Fudul, meaning the pact of the virtuous, and if I were to be invited today, I would respond.” This pact is a great example of cooperating with non-Muslims in matters of justice. The Qur’an and the Sunnah make it clear that civic engagement with non-Muslims upholding universal values that include freedom, equality and justice and cooperating with them in matters of goodness is a religious obligation. Allah (SWT) commands,
وَتَعَاوَنُوا عَلَى الْبِرِّ وَالتَّقْوَىٰ وَلَا تَعَاوَنُوا عَلَى الْإِثْمِ وَالْعُدْوَانِ
“And cooperate with each other in (matters of) goodness and righteousness, and do not cooperate with one another in sin and hostility” (al-Ma’idah, 5:2).We too must respond to any form of alliance with non-Muslims as long as the objectives and the means to achieving the goals do not contravene the basic teachings of Islam. Challenges are inevitable. However, they can be overcome if we have the desire to engage civically. Muhammad (SAW) himself, sought the support of non-Muslims, notably his own uncle—Abu Talib. Also, when returning back to Makkah after the people of Ta’if had rejected his message, it was a polytheist—a Mushrik by the name of Mut’im ibn ‘Adi who along with his sons, nephews, and other young men of his clan escorted the Prophet (SAW) to his home.
Image and reputation play a key role in how we are perceived. For too long, Muslims have had a PR problem, and it is only getting worse. We have no choice but to work with and build alliances with individuals and organizations that are sympathetic to our cause and are willing to stand by our side. We must have a clear agenda that addresses the challenges we face today. The civic engagement must be fundamentally based on justice. This must be the foundation of the framework. Allah (SWT) commands,
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا كُونُوا قَوَّامِينَ بِالْقِسْطِ شُهَدَاءَ لِلَّهِ
“O you who believe! Stand up firmly for Justice as witnesses to Allah” (al-Nisa’, 4:135). By the same token Allah (SWT) ordains,
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا كُونُوا قَوَّامِينَ لِلَّهِ شُهَدَاءَ بِالْقِسْطِ
“O you who believe! Stand up firmly for Allah as witnesses to Justice”(al-Ma’idah, 5:8). Being the source of justice, Allah (SWT)—‘The Just’ wants us to exercise our duty of ordaining good and forbidding evil. Should we fail to fight for and uphold justice, we will fail to be witnesses to Allah. Similarly, should we fail to stand up for Allah and the values and principles He imparted to us, we will fail to be witnesses to justice. We must personally be firm on justice while striving to see that others too are upholding justice.
Alhamdulillah, there is much good in the society in which we live. Yet, we can’t ignore the injustice of systematic and institutionalized racism, racial profiling, Islamophobia, and more. If we consider ourselves as part and parcel of the society, we then need to act. By doing nothing and remaining silent, nothing is going to be achieved. We must get out of our comfort zones and join hands with people of conscience.
Fortunately for us, there are civil and human rights organizations such as the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), Muslim Legal Fund of America (MLFA), Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), American Human Rights Council (AHRC), and American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) among other organizations that challenge injustice and ensure that the rights of people are granted through the judicial system. Indeed America is a nation ruled by laws.
As things get better for the Muslim community in terms of action, there are three areas for improvement. They are: volunteerism, voting and being good Muslims. May Allah make us among the good Muslims.
Brothers and sisters! We must spare some time to serve the community. Become a volunteer. Government social services constitute but a small percentage of the social services rendered by non-profit organizations. Programs which include feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, blood drives, caring for the elderly, and free health clinics are but a few areas of much needed work. Without volunteers such endeavors would come to a standstill. MashaAllah, there are so many non-profit organizations providing social and humanitarian services to those who are poor, needy or less fortunate. Join one of these organizations as a volunteer, and if for any reason you cannot, then contribute monetarily towards the good work they are doing. Spending in the path of Allah (SWT) is such a meritorious act that Allah (SWT) calls it a trade that will never decline.
إِنَّ الَّذِينَ يَتْلُونَ كِتَابَ اللَّهِ وَأَقَامُوا الصَّلَاةَ وَأَنفَقُوا مِمَّا رَزَقْنَاهُمْ سِرًّا وَعَلَانِيَةً يَرْجُونَ تِجَارَةً لَّن تَبُورَ
“Those who recite Allah’s Book, keep up the prayer, give secretly and openly from what We have provided for them, may hope for a trade that will never decline” (Fatir, 35:29). Brothers and sisters! America thrives on volunteerism and we must be part of that effort. According to a Prophetic tradition, one who strives to take care of the needs of the widow and the poor man is like the one who struggles in the way of Allah, or like one who stands during the night to pray and fasts during the day. We need to cultivate a culture of volunteerism.
However, we must keep in mind that our primary motivation for helping others should be for the sake and love of Allah alone. The Qur’an records charitable and selfless people as saying,
إِنَّمَا نُطْعِمُكُمْ لِوَجْهِ اللَّهِ لَا نُرِيدُ مِنكُمْ جَزَاءً وَلَا شُكُورًا
“We feed you only for the sake of Allah alone. We seek neither recompense nor thanks from you” (al-Insan, 76:9). May Allah (SWT) also include us among such charitable and selfless people. Allahumma Ameen.
أَقُولُ قَوْلِي هَذَا وَأَسْتَغْفِرُ اللَّهَ لِي وَلَكُمْ وَلِسَائِرِ المُسْلِمينَ وَالمُسْلِمَاتْ فَاسْتَغْفِرُوهْ إِنَّهُ هُوَ الْغَفُورُ الرَّحِيمُ
الحمد لله رب العالمين والصلاة والسلام على سيد المرسلين وعلى آله وأصحابه أجمعين.
Brothers and sisters! Another area of civic engagement is exercising the right to vote. Muslim American citizens can participate in the political electoral process and are permitted to vote in the national and local elections. This is the opinion of an overwhelming majority of Muslim scholars, both here and abroad. We must have a clear political agenda that serves the needs and rights of Muslims. Unless we become involved in the electoral political process, our conditions as Muslims are going to worsen. We are a small community as Americans. We are not a huge community, but we are a successful community. We are academics, we are professionals, we are doctors, we are engineers. We are exactly the kind of people that makes this country what it is. However, it is sad but true that we have no say in the affairs of our local governments what to speak of the national government.
As Americans it is our duty to face up to such challenges with wisdom. Participating in elections may not yield immediate results. However, with a clear long term strategy and agenda, participating in elections may very well help Muslims overcome their anxiety and possibly defeat Islamophobia in the long run.
Participating in local politics is just as, if not more important than participating in national politics. Challenges such as zoning when building Islamic centers and schools may be eased up when Muslims are familiar and engaged with the State and local governments and politicians. Muslims must consider running for the school board, city council, and a host of other positions. Claiming our rightful place in American society through political engagement is one of the most effective ways of responding to the increasing hostility towards our communities. If we desire change, then we must listen to what Allah says in the eleventh verse of Surat Ar-Ra’d.
إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يُغَيِّرُ مَا بِقَوْمٍ حَتَّى يُغَيِّرُوا مَا بِأَنْفُسِهِمْ
"Verily never will Allah change the condition of a people until they change it themselves.”And being a good practicing Muslim will certainly enhance our image that racists and bigots keep on tarnishing. I want to conclude with the story of Musa (AS) when he and his people got caught between the Red Sea in front of them and the Pharaoh’s army behind them ready to completely destroy them.
قَالَ أَصْحَابُ مُوسَىٰ إِنَّا لَمُدْرَكُونَ
“The people of Moses said: We are sure to be overtaken" (ash-Shu’ara, 26:61). Hearing this, Musa (AS) said,
كَلَّا إِنَّ مَعِيَ رَبِّي سَيَهْدِينِ
"No, my Lord is with me and He will guide me" (ash-Shu’ara, 26:62).And we know that Musa (AS) was guided by Allah to take action by striking his stick on the sea water. Consequently, he and his people were saved and Pharaoh and his people were drowned in the same sea. This means that while putting in our best efforts, we have to rely on Allah (SWT) for the outcome of our efforts. We must live our faith as ordained upon us. InshaAllah, civic engagement that stands up for justice while upholding piety and righteousness will surely please our Lord and help us make a positive impression upon people who admire honesty and integrity.