“We have indeed created man in the best of molds. Then do We abase him (to be) the lowest of the low, except such as believe and do righteous deeds: For they shall have a reward unfailing.”—The Noble Qur’an, 95: 1-8.
On the authority of Abu Abdul Rahmaan Abdullah (r), the son of Umar ibn al-Kattaab (r) who said: I heard the Messenger of Allah (s) say: “Islam is built upon five [pillars]: testifying that there is none worthy of worship except Allah (the Creator of the heavens and the earth) and that Muhammed is the Messenger of Allah, establishing the prayers, giving charity, making pilgrimage to the House and fasting the month of Ramadan.”
“We can’t rise up in the eyes of the world as a civilized Community, and a productive people while carrying chinchilla coats, Super-Fly pimps, sissies, dope peddlers, wine drinkers and vulgar talkers who are just satisfied to stand on the corner and talk nasty for 16 hours, go home and sleep eight hours, get up and get right back on the job again and talk nasty for another 16 hours. Dear beloved people, we can’t get up like that. And I’m telling you, we can’t accept the responsibility to change until we know how we got in this shape…We talk about the cruelty of the slave-master, years ago, and we don’t want our people to forget that cruelty but some of us are meting out cruelty to each other that equals the cruelty that the slave-master was meting out to us in those days of physical bondage. How are we going to rise? We can’t rise until we strip off this kind of self-inflicting ignorance and filth that we have on us that’s maiming us physically, morally and spiritually.”—Imam Dr. W. Deen Mohammed (R)
“When we consider the ten million American Negroes from the standpoint of their daily conduct and personal morality, what sort of folk are they?” —Morals and Manners among Negro Americans by Augustus Dill and W. E. Burghardt Du Bois
Is there more than one way to build a model community? The answer is likely yes, since there is usually more than one acceptable way to accomplish the same desired outcome. This week we examine how model citizenship can be a fundamental strategy and an interim step to building a model community.
For many persons, the model community evokes physical infrastructure like buildings and streets and the bustling activity that characterizes a successful community. Moreover, the vision of the model community extends even to ownership of the physical infrastructure. But for the purpose of this discussion, I’d like us to focus on the more fundamental component of the model community and it is of course the model citizen which I propose is a prerequisite to model community. That is the person who has to live, thrive and help support a model community and in turn be supported by that model community, must first invest in the concept of model citizenship.
To more fully appreciate the idea of model citizenship as a prerequisite, we have to expand the concept of model community.
If we embrace the notion that the “potential” model community extends beyond just our faith community, but in fact is much broader and encompasses our neighborhood and city, then we begin to see the power in the concept of model citizenship as a stepping stone to model communities.
Let me give a practical example. Let’s say as far as your faith is concerned, you are the only person or family in a defined geographical area of a particular community or town. How would you go about building the model community there? And what do you envision by the term “model community?” If it means faith-based, ethnic or other identity-based ownership of the buildings and streets and personal operation of the major centers of productivity are the attributes or tell-tell signs that you have attained the model community, then how would you accomplish that given your available human and material resources? How much time would it take you to reach your goal of establishing the model community?
Now paradigm shift…what if the model community was already there, but just lying dormant in the status quo? In other words, is it possible that by your influence as a productive citizen modeling high standards in:
family life, business and employment relations, educational commitment and achievement, cultural expression, interfaith relations, volunteerism and civic commitment, personal financial management, health and wellness, and
other aspects of an “individual” community life, that you could usher in the model community?
What might “high standards” resemble for the above referenced model citizenship?
Well in family life for example, our commitment to our marriages and parenting would be viewed by others in the broader community as a model of excellence. There is no infidelity and domestic violence. No out of wedlock pregnancy. Our children wouldn’t be in the criminal justice system or involved with drugs, or absent from the academic rigors of school life, and they wouldn’t be teenage single parents with their own at risk children headed for statistical failure and a generational cycle of learned helplessness. We’d look out for our elderly, sick and disabled…that’s just for starters.
In business or employment relations, we would be a productive member of our community, gainfully employed or employing others in an honest day’s work. There would be no criminal activity for the purpose of earning a living. There would be a demonstrated commitment to career development.
In the educational arena, as parents we would be committed to constant and continuous self-improvement in any area of learning including self-help, faith-based curriculum, and enrollment in community college to doctoral programs for educational attainment. As parents we would in turn be modeling to our children the importance of learning and self-improvement. Our children would in turn be striving for excellence in the classroom and developing a life-long commitment to learning.
Our faith would be reflected in our cultural expression in what we say, how we dress, what entertainment venues we frequent. There would obviously be no profanity and ethnic disparagement of our own or another’s ethnic group or gender; we wouldn’t wear our pants below the buttocks or our skirt line nearly to our waist and there would obviously be no loud profane music thumping at the most extreme decibel from our ride or living room window; we wouldn’t be at nightclubs and consuming alcohol or drugs and potentially subjecting ourselves to the legal issues of intoxicated driving or drug use and the consequent system of criminal justice and corrections. Others would view our cultural expression as a model and they would want to see, hear, and read our poems, music, literature, plays, and rap and they’d want to sample our cuisine free of poor food choices and be in our entertainment environment free of cigarettes and other health robbing practices.
Our circle of friends (not wali) would include people of other faiths and ethnicities because we realize that in reality, we’re all part of the model community. And the more we know one another and can empathize with one another, the more special and considerate the model community would be for everyone. We would also have the greater potential benefit of hearing perhaps first hand from someone with beyond-our-national-borders-experience share what it’s really like “over there” as compared to the nightly news broadcast here.
Our civic involvement would be sought from the school board to the Mayor’s office because of the goals and standards we have set and live by in other areas of our life. Others would appreciate our participation and leadership because of how we accept responsibility for our personal and community life.
On the personal financial front, we would be neither niggardly nor ostentatious. We’d live modestly appreciating: homeownership over fancy cars, designer clothes and renting; delayed gratification and saving over instant “have to have now” buying habits with usurious interest; saving for the succeeding generation’s college expenses while they’re teething; and planning for emergency savings and long term goals including our last rites and the welfare of our family in the event of our unexpected loss.
Now remember, standards set the ideal state. If I haven’t reached my ideal, then I shouldn’t lower the standard. I should just admit I have not met my ideal standard and I should keep working for the ideal and improving upon the status quo every day, every week, every month and every year.
Imagine the model citizenship envisioned above in any community setting–that type of citizenship has the power to influence the existing standard. In fact, by the record of history, one model citizen can change an entire village, town, country, nation, and the world.
So I don’t have to own every brick, factory, and store to accomplish building the model community from the ground up. In fact, if I did wind up owning the bricks, factory and the store, but in the process I lose my children and family life to the same negative influences affecting many in the broader society…you know crime, drugs, divorce, domestic violence, teen and out of wedlock pregnancy, and poor education, etc., while I was sharply focused on building the model community, then what good would the model community be?
What’s the trend in your area while you’ve been working on building the model community? Have you been able to establish and sustain model citizenship while you’re trying to bring into existence the model community?
Islam is built on five pillars. The model community is also built on pillars–you and me. Let us be pillars in our existing community first…it’ll then be easier to build that model community. I’m just saying, first things first.
Left open for further thought and research…Peace until next time.
Sincerely & respectfully,
Editor’s Note: This post has been updated from its original posting for accuracy and comprehensiveness.