By Shabina S. Khatri
It’s a common expression – ah, the impatience of youth. Full of idealism and delusions of grandeur, we young people like to believe that the only change worth fighting for is a dramatic one. Once we identify the problem and agree on a solution, so goes the logic, then that strategy should be aggressively pursued until our plan yields the optimal results.
Alas, real life is never so simple. In many ways, I am a very impatient person. When an important issue catches my attention, I tend to be relentless in my pursuit for the perfect resolution. And once the discovery of that magic cure is made, I like to fight for its implementation right away, so that improvement and relief will reach the ailing masses as soon as possible.
I suppose I could blame this restlessness for change on my age. As a (relatively) young person, I have yet to be completely disenchanted by the harsh realities we Muslims face today. Will time eventually erode my resolve to improve our situation? I fear that it might – especially if the conversation between old and new continues to be filled with disagreements and misunderstandings.
It’s natural for community members to have different perspectives on how to improve things. But it troubles me that the gulf that separates young and old seems to be widening. From my side, I think the problem is that we young people, in our vigor to implement change, often end up offending and alienating many of the elders who have already dedicated their lives to this place.
So how do we balance our passion for change without throwing the baby out with the bathwater? I’ve been asking myself this question for a long time now. And the answer I’ve come up with is, change doesn’t happen overnight, and it’s foolish to think it might. Allah (SWT) has lots to say about the virtues of patience, and He often advises our Messenger (SAW) and his brethren to hang in there when life throws them curveballs. For example:
“You shall certainly be tried and tested in your possessions and in your personal selves; and you shall certainly hear much that will grieve you, from those who received the Book before you and from the polytheists. But if you persevere patiently, and guard against evil, then that will be a determining factor in all affairs (3:186).”
The resistance and oppression endured by the Prophet (SAW) and the early Muslims is absolutely unprecedented, so I can see how comforting such advice would be. On many occasions, the believers had no other choice but to practice sabr – it was either that or hang up the towel.
But does the same thing hold true today? It’s arguable. On the one hand, Muslims who don’t like the way their masjid functions can go to a different masjid, or participate in community-building activities outside of the masjid sphere. On the other hand, a Muslim community can be hard to come by in many states, so quitting the masjid could mean leaving the stronghold, and effectively embarking upon a self-imposed exile. Many Muslim American families have already done this, and it’s fair to say they’ve become quite the worse for it. Given this undesirable outcome, I believe most of us are in the same boat as the Muslims of the past – we can either be patient with our community, or we can give up on it. And by giving up, I don’t mean physically disappearing from the brick-and-mortars establishment. Quitters can also be the people who come and take from what the masjid has to offer but otherwise stay uninvolved and uncaring about community happenings.
So this leaves Muslims like me caught between a rock and a hard place. I want to be patient with my brothers and sisters, but I don’t want to fall into the trap of complacency. I want to help facilitate change, but I’m unsure of how to do that in a politically correct way. In my caution to not step on too many toes, though, I could easily end up being too lax in my attempts, which Allah (SWT) could hold me accountable for on the Day of Judgment. What’s a girl to do?
Imaam Siraj Wahaj once came to IAGD and recounted tales of his youth, when he too was filled with that impatient fervor to fight injustice right where it stood, passionately but without tactics or strategy. As he reflected on those times, he smiled sheepishly, as if to say, how silly I was then, how silly I acted. There’s nothing in the Qur’an that says we have to act impulsively, Imaam Siraj asserted. He cites Surah Yusuf as proof that Allah (SWT) actually advocates the contrary, that we should take care to use wisdom when we fight in His way.
The story goes like this: Prophet Yusuf (S) says to his dad, “Oh my father! I did see eleven stars and the sun and the moon: I saw them bowing to me!” And his father, who knew Yusuf’s siblings would interpret this dream as a threat to their livelihoods, was quick to say, “Oh my son! Do not relate your vision to your brothers, lest they devise a plan against you; surely Satan is an open enemy to man (12:04-05).”
From these verses, Imaam Siraj derives a simple lesson: you don’t have to say everything all of the time. My dad always tells me something similar – even if you’re right, sometimes it’s better not to say anything. In other words, keep your mouth shut if opening it is likely going to make things worse.
We all fight our own personal battles with truth and justice. As a journalist, my arsenal consists of sharp retorts and flowing rhetoric, and inshAllah some of my words have struck chords within you and motivated you to be better than before. But it’s a learning process, and I admit that I don’t have all the answers. I’ve learned that how the message is presented can carry more weight than the message itself. And I’ve learned that writing with wisdom can be more effective than writing with passion. The following ayah reminds me of this lesson:
“And We shall try you until We test those among you who strive their utmost and persevere in patience; and We shall try your reported (determination) (47: 31).”
Still, it’s important not to use waiting for the right time as an excuse to maintain the status quo. Alhumdulillah, we have a burgeoning, robust community here. But for IAGD to remain sustainable, we need more help. And on a broader scale, for the Muslim American community to flourish, we’ll need more contributors than we have now -there are always a million ways to make a difference. And inshAllah, if we’re patient enough, our contributions, however tiny, will have fortified the ummah and guaranteed our future in this country for generations to come.