It took a while for this tragic murder to hit the news outlets, however, it has become mainstream. Unless you live under a rock, most American Muslims are still reeling from the three American Muslim youth who were shot to death execution style in their apartment. A quick glance at social media outlets reflect these reactions: (1) sympathy, (2) anger and disbelief in the killer’s motive as a dispute over a parking spot, and, (3) stewing, whining and moaning about the media’s double standards. Arguably, generating buzz and dialogue through social media does help change public perception. But all three of these reactions are passive methods of change that have no lasting effects. What should we as communities do?
(1) Our Actions Must Speak Louder Than Our Words – Looking back into the biography of Muhammad (pbuh), we find a very long narration, or, hadith, detailing a dialogue between Byzantine Emperor Heraclius and Qurayshite leader Abu Sufyan, who at the time was not Muslim. Emperor Heraclius received a letter of invitation to Islam from Muhammad (pbuh). Desiring more information, he invited Arab traders and leaders to his court for further dialogue. Coincidentally, Abu Sufyan, was on a business tour and happened to be in that region. He was brought to the royal court and Heraclius began a lengthy dialogue with him. Abu Sufyan was not a Muslim yet. In fact, he was a staunch enemy of Islam. Yet, every answer he gave to the emperor regarding Muhammad’s message, moral teachings and supporters prove one aspect: Muslims’ actions speak louder than words. Abu Sufyan could have besmeared the image of Muhammad. Instead, he spoke truthfully. He spoke of Muhammad’s moral code, teachings, social justice and vision. This teaches us that we must be in firm control of our narrative. The Muslims of that time did not simply preach. Their actions spoke louder. Their actions were so loud that Abu Sufyan could not gloss over their achievements. The problem with us is that our actions are largely absent, and our narrative is dictated by others. For example, not a single large hospital in this country is owned and operated by Muslims. We have thousands of Muslim doctors, yet not a single hospital in this country is found. We have Presbyterian, Catholic, Jewish, Methodist and many faith based hospitals, not clinics. Where are we? Imagine the effects of dawah if there was an endowment fund for cancer patients to receive treatment free of charge.
(2) Meaningful Community Education – We must encourage our youth to tap into their passions. There is this overemphasis on medicine, law, engineering and business. These careers are commendable. However, what about education, social work, non-profit management, arts, fashion, music, film and other categories? Because so many people who control masjids, schools and communities are controlled by the aforementioned demographics, we are only perpetuating an intellectual disconnect between our masjids/schools and the society at large. The overwhelming majority of our Islamic centers are for prayers and fail to develop lasting communal relations with the society at large. Many gyms, camps, and halaqahs, if any, are glorified babysitting venues. Masjids have shifted from serving as supplemental Islamic development centers to that of primary development, which it also fails miserably at. Meaningful education begins with families.
(3) Reaction vs. Transformative Growth – There must be a healthy outlet for our communities to move forward from tragedy. Muslim communities tend to excel at expressing their outrage in healthy as well as less healthy methods. While the former is always important, the latter, without proper direction towards sustained learning and application pushes our youth to desensitization or extremism. In other words, many youth become disillusioned with our communities’ silence. As a result they develop spiritual calluses resulting in crises of faith, or, worse, create a dangerous “us” vs. “them” mentality. Thus, this is the epitome of “flight vs. fight.” Our communities should not stop at protests. But more importantly, our centers should become centers of learning where we engage real issues that affect the society at large. We must move forward from reaction to that of sustained transformative growth.