Alhamdu lillah, in 2020, Muslims went above and beyond to serve and contribute to America and the world. We donated millions to COVID-19 relief; we cared for the sick, hungry, and dying not just as doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel, but also as volunteers and relief workers in our neighborhoods; we were at the forefront of developing the vaccine that is currently being rolled out to end this pandemic.
However, we weren’t as effective as we could be because we remain weak, thanks to Islamophobia, our civic isolation, and lack of effective communication.
- American Muslim doctors, (there are more than 50,000 in the U.S.) who are in a profession that is both high status and high-paying, routinely face discrimination because of their faith, something documented even before the pandemic.
- Outside of the hospital, Islamophobia is very common: in 2020, 60 percent of American Muslims said they experienced discrimination.
- According to the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding’s Islamophobia Index 2020, more than any other group that experiences religious discrimination, Muslims do so on an institutional, not just interpersonal, level.
- Globally, we are even weaker. The Chinese government has thrown Uighurs into the world’s largest concentration camps since Nazi Germany; Rohingya refugees are being forcibly evacuated to a flooding island; Sri Lankan Muslims are being forced to cremate loved ones who have died from COVID; Kashmiris are enduring an ongoing Indian government crackdown, stripping them of their land and their human rights; Indian Muslims in Assam are being denied citizenship.
Islamophobia is not due to ignorance. Rather, it is because of individual and collective Muslim weakness, especially in the realms of public policy and media. In 2021, Muslims must turn this around insha Allah. But we must first evaluate ourselves, plan ahead, and adopt the three “Cs” that were the hallmarks of the Prophet Muhammad’s success. God’s peace and blessings be upon him:
1. Care of people and connection to God.
2. Coalition-building and networking.
1. Care and Connection with Humanity in Service
Serving others makes us better human beings - something we sorely need in a world where genocide, oppression, and tyranny are rising.
In Surah Al-Maun (Quran, chapter 107), God mentions two characteristics of the person who denies faith. The first is selfishness: s/he does not care for the hungry, turns away the orphan, and does not share what s/he has. The second is that s/he is lazy in his or her prayers. Taking care of God’s creation along with worshiping the Creator are, therefore, inextricably linked and twin tests of one’s faith.
God expects us to care for others to please Him, without expecting a thank you or reward in return (Quran 76:9). The Prophet did so not only when he had power in Madinah, but also when he and the Muslims were weak and suffering in Makkah.
For example, a stranger approached him seeking help because Abu Jahl, the tormentor of Muslims, had taken his goods without payment. The Prophet could have turned away, given the desperate state of the Muslims at the time. But he did not. He approached Abu Jahl, who returned the money - despite his ongoing abuse of the Prophet.
Service Items to Include in Your 2021 Plan:
- Can you double your Zakat giving for the poor?
- Can you spend your Zakat in your city versus overseas, as both Islamic Fiqh and the Khalifa Omar ibn al-Khattab used to practice?
- How can you budget to consume less and give more?
- How can you volunteer to serve the hungry and needy in your area?
Collective Action Items:
- Can Muslims start 1,000 new food pantries in America this year? That would mean every third Masjid will have a food pantry. You can work on this as a network of mosques, instead of just focusing on your own Masjid.
- Can Muslims start 100 new health centers next to Masjids, which offer free healthcare to the local community?
- Muslim social services are for all. Islam does not differentiate between Muslim and non-Muslim when it comes to the right of those in need.
2. Coalition-building and Networking
Building coalitions and alliances that crossed religious and tribal lines was essential to the Prophet’s success. He reached out to those were not Muslim for assistance, even as he sought help with Allah for his struggles.
The Prophet negotiated 12 treaties in Madinah that established the religious rights of Jews, Christians, and pagans in the city-state. These emphasized the importance of Muslims treating their non-Muslim co-citizens with liberty, justice, respect, and dignity.
The Prophet began developing alliances and coalitions even in Makkah, when, on his return from his trip from Taif, he was barred from the city by Abu Lahab. This would be like stripping him of citizenship from the land of his birth. He sought help. Only Mutam ibn Adi, a Mushrik who never accepted Islam, stepped forward. He was his sponsor, and ensured that the Prophet returned to Makkah unharmed.
The Prophet recognized and praised Mutam, and the Muslims of Madinah honored him in the best way they could when he died: with Hassan bin Thabit, the poet of the Prophet, reciting poetry in his praise as he stood in the Prophet’s Masjid.
In 2021, we need to build similar coalitions and networks, not just to strengthen our own position in society, but to work together to build a better one for all.
“And do not let the hatred of a people in shutting you out of the Sacred Mosque lead you to transgress. Still cooperate in righteousness and piety, but do not cooperate in sin and aggression. And fear God; indeed, God is severe in penalty” (Quran 5:2).
Items to Incorporate in Your Personal Plan:
Coalitions and networks can be open to participation by individuals, organizations, or both. So consider being a part of one.
- Find out how to be a better networker.
- Survey what human rights networks and coalitions exist which you can be a part of. Then join one.
- I would love to see you start a local network for Justice For All, a Muslim-led human rights organization that I work with.
- Can you volunteer now for the political campaign of someone who is considering running in the 2022 election or beyond?
- Develop a personal relationship with an opinion maker or influencer.
- Join a labor, Black Lives Matter, anti-racism, anti-war or peace network in your city.
Considerations for a collective plan:
- Can you encourage your community to develop coalitions beyond the interfaith into other alliances that work for the good of all? Some examples include groups that work for police reform, anti-war activism, human rights, and civil rights coalitions.
- Get your Masjid to allocate funds for the coalition they are members of. Devote 10 percent of your Masjid’s budget to build and empower civic coalitions and network with like-minded partners.
The Prophet’s mission was to establish Qist: justice, fairness, and equity as God told him to (Quran 57:25). And his successful methodology involved using every means of communication available to him to achieve that mission.
Good communication benefits us collectively and individually. Expressing ourselves in a way that is sincere, truthful, and persuasive strengthens relationships; it opens up opportunities at work and school, as well as networking for the greater good.
In 2021, more of us need to learn how to produce, write, speak, sing, and draw. We need to be able to share our message, “tell our story” as many like to say, effectively. The story of how Muslims have contributed to the fight against COVID-19 is largely unknown. What is known about us is primarily negative news.
This, in turn, affects public policy. For example, it is surprising that President-Elect Joe Biden has not, at this writing, selected even one Muslim to be a health leader, despite the tremendous contributions of Muslim scientists and doctors during the pandemic.
Contrast this with Muslims in the U.K. Generally less educated and wealthy than American Muslims, about 20 years ago, they were a weak community. However, the advent of a number of Muslim television channels there changed the narrative.
By effectively telling the story of Muslim contributions to British life, the community developed power and influence: from only one British Muslim government representative, today there are about 40. Also, the mayor of London, one of the most powerful cities in the world, is Sadiq Khan, a British Muslim.
Seeing this, Sound Vision started Muslim Network Television earlier this year. We have successfully showcased Muslim stories ignored by the mainstream media. Alhamdu lillah. We invite you to support this effort, especially by joining our virtual benefit on December 31. MNTV is free and you can subscribe to the channel on YouTube.
Communication items to incorporate in your 2021 Plan:
- Sign up for writing classes. Writing is the core of good communication.
- Your smartphone today holds a TV studio worth of equipment. That is why everyone is producing something. What can you produce?
- Look up for free or low-cost classes and seminars to learn to produce.
- Write letters to the editor. This is the most read part of the newspapers. And yes, newspapers are not dead!
- If you are a student, no matter your major, take courses in writing, public speaking, journalism, audio/video, multimedia production, etc.
- Consider switching your major to journalism, broadcasting, creative writing or at least make these programs your minor.
- Develop overlapping media skills. A TV reporter today should be able to film and edit her report as well.
- Organize your family to write a book together.
- Have a monthly family circle in which writing is shared or a presentation is made.
- Have your Masjid start classes on interpersonal communication, writing, speech, and accent improvement.
- Collective Action Items:
Muslims have no newspaper or radio outlet that reaches all of America. But now we have Muslim Network TV which reaches all of the U.S., Canada, and Mexico via Satellite, Apple TV, Amazon TV, and is on your phones through its app.
- What skills can you volunteer for Muslim Network TV?
- Can your Masjid donate to develop Muslim Network TV? Many are doing that right now.
- Can you donate to develop Muslim Network TV on a regular basis?
- Can you get your interfaith partners to link to Muslim Network TV to their website?
One of the most certain things about life is its uncertainty.
We came into this world alone and we will leave it alone. Whatever we do, it is only for our benefit. In our graves what will count will not be how well off we were in this world. It will be our good deeds.
Your good deeds demand your time and your money. With your planning and budget, this world can be better while ensuring a good life in the Hereafter.
May He bless our plans and intentions.