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Let there be among you a group that calls towards excellence, enjoins right, and forbids wrong; those who do this are the successful. (Surah Aali ‘Imran 3:104)
Numerous Islamic scholars have stated that spreading goodness and preventing evil in whatever societies Muslims reside are both an individual obligation (fard al-‘ayn) as well as community obligation (fard al-kifyah). Planning and working to add to existing goodness and transforming our societies away from vileness are activities that draw us nearer to Divine love, for the Prophet (prayers & peace be upon him and his family) stated, “The most beloved of people to Allah benefits them” (at-Tabarani). Within this framework of seeking to bring benefit to people, all of the prophets were activists in the sense of striving towards social justice.
As seeking to change societies for the better is a noble endeavor especially when done with the intention of pleasing Allah (Mighty & Sublime), the form in which activism is undertaken is also extremely important, not just the substance of issues being worked on. This holds true not only for the demeanor which Muslim activists should hold with other community members and allies who are not Muslims but also with those who are adversarial.
Populism is the current socio-political wave in America. Many people are scared that the America which they imagined is disappearing while others are tired of the entrenched status quo. The surge in populism which has been fueled in part by emotional appeals has led to shut downs of oppositions’ political events, shouting matches, name calling and personal attacks to even physical violence. Progressive and conservative activists and acolytes of political candidates continue to exhibit such tactics in the name of how each defines the greater good.
American Muslims activists must be extremely careful not to get swept away in the current sea of populism which has produced unsavory actions. Constant re-anchoring in what is and what is not Prophetic character is a means of safety from being washed away.
Most certainly you have in the Messenger of Allah a beautiful example for whoever believes in Allah, the Last Day and remembers Allah often. (Surah al-Ahzab 33:21)
When the Prophet’s (prayers & peace be upon him & his family) views were in opposition to others’ on a number of fronts, he never shouted at people, slurred opponents, attempted to shut down gatherings whether in a position of political weakness in Makkah or in al-Madinah while having political strength, nor assaulted people for mere political disputes. To the contrary, he taught his family, wives and companions not to do so. In a widely narrated tradition for instance, he openly corrected the Mother of the Believers A’ishah for replying back harshly to some of his political opponents in al-Madinah who told him “Death be upon you, Oh Father of al-Qasim.”
Do not be people without minds saying if people do good, we will do good, and if people do wrong, we will wrong. But accustom yourselves that if people do good to you, you do good to them, but if people do evil to you, you do not return with wrong. (at-Tirmidhi)
The Prophetic model of activism is to address issues that bring positive change and to avoid uncivil behavior when doing so. Cultivating sustainable goodness cannot be achieved through improper means. As organizing and joining others around issues such as greater police accountability, immigration reform, environmental justice, Palestinian rights to the upcoming elections are highly important, the form and etiquettes which are used in these endeavors are also important as these are matters that have the potential to change hearts, bring sustainable change in societies and bring us honor in front of our Prophet (prayers & peace be upon him and his family).