Breaking the Cycle
By Yahiya Emerick
Teachers are privileged people. No, we are not respected in society, nor do we receive a living wage. Rather, it is the teacher, more than any other person- even more than parents- who is privileged to see the results of a child’s upbringing and values in action. Children over the age of about nine almost always put on an act and a show in front of their parents. They’ve learned what their parents want to see and oblige in order to receive undivided love and material resources: “If mommy thinks I’m an angel then I’ll get the clothes or gadgets that I want.”
Teachers, on the other hand, can see the child for the individual personality that they are. Students do try to put on a cursory act in front of their teachers, but it is not such a weighty or serious matter to them, and they often slip out from their façade, especially when they are interacting with others socially. It is also quite difficult to put up a front of intelligence or diligence with regards to school work, where a student who acts like they are smart will find their weaknesses revealed come exam time (unless they try to cheat).
If there were any way possible, I would recommend that every Islamic activist, male or female, should spend some time in the classroom as a teacher or volunteer in a school. I am quite confident that if that were to happen, then you would see a dramatic change in the priorities and direction of our Ummah in the West. Why would this be so? Because illusions would be shattered and realities would take the place of pipe dreams.
I remember just ten years ago, the big buzz around the community was talk of Khilafah, Islamic states, Islamic revolutions, the Mahdi, the Rise of the Muslim world, getting our self-respect back, etc… A lot of our focus was on such dramatic themes. I can still hear the words echoing in my mind from speaker after speaker: “Islam will become dominant in the Earth. The true Islamic state will arise somewhere soon.”
Well, with these grandiose themes in the offing, is it any wonder that the task of community building and Da’wah and such was completely neglected. This weakness in our focus was exposed after the whole 9-11 thing when Muslims everywhere were suddenly turned into pariahs in their neighborhoods and panicked. Everyone was so focused on “restoring the Khilafah” that they failed to restore the villages that they had immigrated from. They came to America from Muslim countries where everyone was a Muslim, and they settled in non-Muslim neighborhoods with the closest Masjid a half an hour away.
In addition to this, they sent their children to be indoctrinated by non-Muslim public schools, let their children become conversant in the culture and values of non-Muslims and ultimately, by their own example, left their children with the understanding that the only thing that mattered in life was to get rich. And so they have. The so-called second generation of immigrants has produced many wealthy sons and daughters who drive the fanciest cars and live better than most Americans around them. But they don’t do salah, they don’t go to the Masjid and they don’t give any thought to the morals and values of Islam. For most of them, their view of Islam is some bizarre mixture of their parents’ cultural habits and a dread or fear of the odious sounding “Islamic Law” that in their minds mimics the horrible stories of the backward home cultures, evoking such practices as honor killings, suicide bombings, hands and feet and noses being chopped off, forced marriage and harsh, angry men in turbans abusing women. Irshad Manji, Azra Nomani and the like are victims of just such a mal-adjusted upbringing.
Look at the weakness that our improper focus has wrought upon us. If a Muslim child goes to a Muslim school and starts to become a better Muslim, it is the Muslim relatives who are the first to oppose them. The auntie tells the girl, “Why are you wearing that scarf on your head? You’re so pretty. Why don’t you take it off?” The cousin tells the boy, “What’s wrong with eating a Big Mac? Just say ‘Bismillah’ and eat it.” The mother says, “Why are you praying all the time? Allah knows if your heart is good.”
These days a lot of Muslims seem resigned to me, and the big talk is either on when America will complete its transformation to a fascist state or on the Signs of the Last Day, as if that were some sort of an escape hatch for our relief. But there is a third way. I believe it presents the best hope for us all and our children.
Basically, we need to change our focus away from dramatic themes of jihad, revolution, Islamic States, and the like. It’s not that those things are bad as a concept, but the problem is that so many Muslims are ignorant of Islam, or are so impassioned by injustices done to them or others, that they are not able to think straight on these issues. They misapply the concepts and warp them out of all recognition. Can you imagine it? Fifteen years ago there was no such thing as “Suicide Bombings” in the Islamic world view. Suddenly, idiotic so-called “scholars” of a certain extremist trend are saying it’s okay to do. Even further, those people are saying killing women and children is allowed. Where did that come from! Do you think the Prophet of Allah, Muhammad ibn Abdullah (p), would agree with that? Never. He never allowed Muslims to commit suicide, nor did he allow innocents to be harmed. All the weight of the Qur’an and Sunnah proves this. But some Muslims have gone so far off the deep end (thankfully only a tiny minority) that they have turned Islam upside down on its head. They seek to convert the rest of the Ummah to their way of thinking and we must resist, for the sake of our meeting with our Lord on Judgment Day.
What focus would I have us adopt? It’s not some new-fangled doctrine or invented theology. It is the focus that the Qur’an tells us to follow first and foremost. Doesn’t the Qur’an tell us to produce a band from among us who will call to Allah and forbid the wrong while encouraging the right? Doesn’t the Qur’an tell us to speak to people with wisdom and beautiful preaching? Didn’t the Prophet start out doing Da’wah, and not jihad? (By the way, the Prophet never initiated any hostilities with any other political power. Muslims always fought in self-defense either after being attacked or preemptively to prevent a planned attack against them.)
Teachers see it. We are privileged. We see the masses of Muslim children, almost one step out of Islam, for most were never taught Islam by their parents. Therefore, we must set up Da’wah organizations whose activities are directed to youth. We need a national network of youth centers like the YMCA for Muslims and also non-Muslim youth where Islamic values are subtly promoted.
Our adults are, by and large, illiterate in Islam, and are plagued with such an ignorant and backward kind of ‘folk’ Islam as to be almost unbelievable. (Do you know how many Muslim parents there are out there who actually believe that forcing their daughters to marry is allowed in Islam?) Imagine it! When you say establish the Shariah in a “Muslim” country, who are the ones who oppose you? The Muslims! This tells you how far gone so many of our adults are. (Plus it doesn’t help that some proponents of Shariah are not very conversant in the merciful nature and thoughtful trend it seeks to promulgate in reforming society.)
So we need real, first-rate adult outreach programs where a variety of fun, informative and life-affirming experiences can be offered in a Masjid or community center. I’ve often found that Reform and Conservative Jewish centers have great adult program offerings. (They advertise them on the radio in New York City!) Islamic holidays can be made into family affairs, services for adults, family counseling, enrichment classes, book clubs, women’s auxiliaries, etc… Do you get the point?
Our outreach efforts to non-Muslims are better than years ago, but still pretty abysmal. In New York City, if you drive along the BQE expressway, you pass by a complex of six or seven very tall buildings owned by the Jehovah’s Witnesses. That is their national headquarters. It must employ at least 200-300 people. They do everything in there: designing and publishing brochures and books, planning national campaigns, coordinating youth outreach, handling conversion campaigns, crafting TV and radio programs, coordinating their Da’wah workers who patrol the streets telling everyone about their beliefs. Do you know what I’m going to suggest? Then I don’t need to write it down.
I once heard a brother speaking about the establishment of an Islamic State. He said it would be the answer to all our problems. I asked him, after his speech was finished, “Who will make the Islamic State?” He didn’t understand what I meant. I clarified myself saying, “Who are those Muslims who will actually do the work, and will run it? I don’t find any such dedicated people among the Muslims I know.”
He looked at me and said, “Allah will raise up the people who will do this work.” I asked him back, “What are we doing to help in this task?” He thought about it and agreed that we were not doing our job.
Teachers talk among themselves. We mostly agree that a lot of Muslim parents are ineffective, and some are even weird. The lessons and examples they are passing on to their children are a mis-matched hodge-podge of worldly success and obedience to a foreign culture most of them chose to reject. If our activists and community leaders could only be teachers in a full time school, Islamic or Public, then they would be hit with the great realization that there is nothing left for us to do now except Da’wah.
Da’wah, Da’wah, Da’wah. That is all we should do in the West. That is all we must do. If you are not doing da’wah, if you are not supporting da’wah, if you are not giving da’wah to your own children, then you can talk all you want about Shariah, jihad and justice,- there will be no one after you to carry on your dream. Make the bricks today. Leave it for a future generation to build the house.