Muslims are everywhere! We live in Muslim countries and non-Muslim lands, in small towns, suburbs and sprawling cities. Sometimes our homes are in predominantly Muslim neighborhoods or, we may be the only Muslims on the block. Wherever we reside, it is equally important to be involved and actively engage in the society where we live. And, this is precisely what is meant by adhering to our civic obligations.
As Muslims, just as important as it is to offer salah or the obligatory prayers, and fast in the month of Ramadan, it is also our religious duty to be involved in civic affairs. So much so, that this applies to whether we are temporary guests, visitors, or citizens of the land where we are present, in the moment.
Narrated 'Amr bin 'Awf Al-Muzani, the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
"Reconciliation is allowed among the Muslims, except for reconciliation that makes the lawful unlawful, or the unlawful lawful. And the Muslims will be held to their conditions, except the conditions that make the lawful unlawful, or the unlawful lawful."
Lessons from the Seerah
The Seerah of our beloved Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, is filled with examples of relevance in this regard. And, it is indeed captivating to know that the Messenger of Allah, was actively involved in civic affairs way before he officially attained Prophethood. From an early age, he was accustomed to accompanying his grandfather and uncle in various community gatherings and matters pertaining to integral community affairs. And, this is how he gained exposure and developed a sense of maturity, which in a way was a precursor to his Prophetic life. Indeed, that is how Allah had planned it to be.
Even the non-believers of Makkah at the time, i.e. the people from the tribe of Quraish, knew our Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, as a noble man. And walking through his Seerah or life history, gives us a true glimpse of his virtuous character. As we know, he was good to his family, kind to his neighbors, caring towards the orphans and widows, helpful towards the poor and hungry, and sheltered the way-farer. He was also popularly known as Al- Sadiq (the Truthful) and Al-Ameen (the Trustworthy), and was always seen to be at the forefront, enjoining in any act of goodness or kindness that needed to be done.
The real question thus arises. As people from the Ummah of Allah's beloved Messenger, peace and blessings be upon him, are we playing our role in doing justice and engaging in civic duties as we should be? Have we exemplified the Prophet’s character through our actions?
Doing the Needful
It is not surprising to note that several of the Quranic verses also allude to adopting a similar mindset. Whereby, the believers are urged to give back to their families, the community, and humanity at large, for the sake of attaining Allah's pleasure and mercy in this world and the Hereafter.
And, the significance of such is highlighted in true reverence in one of the earliest revelations, which was sent down way before the commandments to perform Salah, Hajj and Zakat were made obligatory.
"Have you seen the one who denies the ˹final˺ Judgment? That is the one who repulses the orphan, and does not encourage the feeding of the poor. So woe to those ˹hypocrites˺ who pray yet are unmindful of their prayers; those who ˹only˺ show off, and refuse to give ˹even the simplest˺ aid."
(Surah al-Ma'un, 107:1-7)
The word Ma'un in Arabic translates to "small kindness," thus making it clear that our theological beliefs and actions are essentially linked. The Surah goes back and forth between theology, social issues, and rituals and is suggestive of the fact that a true believer (at heart) will make it obvious through his actions, be it the way he treats the poor or performs his prayers.
Taking Assertive Action
Bearing that thought in mind, here are some things that we can try and be more mindful of when it comes to fulfilling our civic responsibilities.
1. Responsibility towards our children and families.
As the saying goes, charity begins from home. Whether it is to do with supporting your family financially, physically or emotionally, the tone has to be set, in accordance. Children are more likely to reciprocate when they see their elders behaving responsibly and respectfully. For parents, the relationship between you as spouses will help testify to the integrity and significance of adopting good manners towards others. The Prophet, may peace and blessings be upon him, said:
"If a man spends on his family (with the intention of having a reward from Allah) sincerely for Allah's sake then it is a (kind of) alms-giving in reward for him."
And spending, does not necessarily mean spending money. It could be in the form of giving your family quality time and the much-needed attention that they deserve.
2. Responsibility towards the community.
As believers, we need to stay abreast of these issues and take complete ownership of fulfilling our duties as world citizens and representatives of Islam. This also necessitates paying attention to the matters at hand, at home and abroad. Regardless of how we are treated, we must not forget that Allah, The Most Merciful, is ever watchful and we need only play our part as the ones maintaining peace in the land where we live. There are also several ways of giving back to the community, which inshaAllah (God-Willing), comes with the added benefit of helping us to be seen as peace-makers rather than overzealous activists. There are two specific activities that are noteworthy:
- Towards our Neighbors: Whether they are Muslims or non-Muslims, treat them with kindness. Pay them their due respect and fulfill obligations towards them.
Narrated Abu Hurairah, May Allah be pleased with him, that the Messenger of Allah, may peace and blessings be upon him, said: "By Allah, he is not a believer! By Allah, he is not a believer! By Allah, he is not a believer." It was asked, "Who is that, O Messenger of Allah?" He said, "One whose neighbor does not feel safe from his evil."
(Bukhari and Muslim)
- Towards the Needy: Often we prioritize giving in charity for fundraising for refugees in a foreign land, and tend to overlook helping the needy, locally. For some odd reason, we do not empathize enough for those who live within our community and think they are worthy enough of receiving our donation for help. This mindset needs to change, because as agreed upon by most scholars this falls under our civic obligation (as responsible citizens) and we must first try and cater to domestic needs. And supporting international fundraisers comes secondary to that.
3. Responsibility towards humanity.
“Nobility is gained in how you treat other people.''
It is essential to keep a check on your niyah or intention when doing good. Do not do it for fame or publicity. Do it with purity of the heart and for the sake of Allah, and ultimately the worldly benefit will come to you as part and parcel of your efforts.
We also have a fundamental responsibility to speak up against injustice. Whether it is racial discrimination or oppression against minorities, or maybe even sheer double standard practices at your workplace or child's school. We must bring them to attention, but always in a respectful manner, because remember we as Muslims, do not want our attitudes to portray any kind of negativity towards Islam.
What should be our ultimate goal?
We are representatives of our beloved Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him.
So, when it comes to enjoining good and extending a helping hand, do not restrict yourselves to helping Muslims only. Feeding the hungry or helping the orphan is not a religious issue, but rather has more to do with humanity. And the worldly benefit that will come out of it will be far greater, inshaAllah, in terms of dawah and Muslim representation.
May Allah guide us and make us among those who follow the Quran and Sunnah to the best of our abilities and may Allah show our neighbors, our friends, our colleagues and all those who we interact with on a daily basis, the beauty of Islam through the virtue of our characteristics. Ameen.
Umm Ahmed is an early childhood educator and mother of three boys. Always on the quest to learn, she is passionate about seeking knowledge and passing it on to others. A writer in the making, she draws inspiration through deep conversations, laws of nature, and her own children. She and her family are currently living in Abu Dhabi, UAE.