Tag Archives: Hadith

The Case for Expanding Shuraa Practically as a Mercy to the Office of Imam, the Majlis Ash Shura, and the General Body of a Masjid

The following suggestions are provided to enhance the cohesiveness, structural integrity, operational effectiveness and efficiency in the ability of a masjid’s group intellect to plan, direct, manage, and execute actions and allocate its resources for the benefit of the General Body while striving under the Qur’anic prescription of Shuraa Baynahum―the deliberative process of mutual consultation that Allah (SWT) has revealed to us in Qur’an and in the Life Example of Prophet Muhammed (SAW).

The exact structural composition of Shura can be as varied as the structural composition of fresh water that Allah (SWT) causes to rise to the Heavens for purification and then descend to the earth for cleanliness and life. Allah (SWT) gives us a sign in the structural composition of water as part of weather phenomena. At times, the same element water is structurally different as a mist or fog, as light or heavy rain, as snow, as hail, and as humidity. While the element remains the same, the distinguishing feature that changes the structural (not molecular) composition is the environment. Likewise, Allah (SWT) has given us the freedom to design the best form of mutual consultation that respects the environment in which it is to be implemented. The point is, Shuraa must be implemented and although its structure may change, its core elements do not change, such as:

A. Respecting and valuing the –

1. individual intelligence (moral, creative, intellectual, emotional, etc.) components inherent in a group intellect.

2. power of mutual consultation that fundamentally leverages the group’s problem solving ability and enlarges its capacity to a level greater than any one individual’s.

B. Recognizing that –

1. Allah (SWT) has given us His promise that He shall guide the group in their deliberations just as he rewards the group in their prayers . . . in fact, He promises an even greater reward to the group prayer.

2. The personage of Muhammed, the Prophet (SAW) who was specially connected to Allah’s (SWT) Guidance by way of Revelation and special inspiration, is not physically with the group and He is the Seal of Prophethood. Thus no one person will ever again be in such a position and that access to Allah’s Mercy and Guidance at the group level must fundamentally be different than dependence upon one person to decide the whole state of affairs. The guidance for the group’s affairs must now come from the leadership of Muhammed (SAW) present in “each” of our hearts and minds, and each person’s ability to read and understand Qur’an, and seek Allah’s Guidance. The group mutually benefits from each member’s personal exertion.

3. Allah (SWT) by His Grace changes both the numerical composition of a group, and the group’s knowledge, talents and abilities and only through Shuraa can the group tap into such reservoir.

4. Shuraa promotes identification of intellectual strengths present and prevents underutilization of intellectual resources as a result of gender, ethnic, familial allegiance or other unjust discriminatory practices that limits the organization. Abu Lahab leads to Abu Jahl and vice versa.

5. Shuraa is a mercy to the group and the organization in that it removes undue burden on any single person to resolve issues. Shuraa more efficiently allocates qualified resources to problem solving.

6. Shura is a superior problem solving technology that provides the group a superior path to identifying organizational strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

7. Logically it is better to lean towards inclusivity rather than exclusivity in decision-making so long as pragmatism is dutifully considered . . . pragmatism here meaning the organization’s processes of decision-making, that is Shuraa, cannot become inefficient in its practical implementation such that the Shuraa process (itself) prevents problem solving because of bureaucracy or inability to reach concensus. Just look at the present political stalemate in Washington, DC.  Shuraa must be intelligently designed, efficient, and sufficiently inclusive. One man rule is certainly quicker for deliberating. And everyone-rule is certainly inclusive. However Shuraa should lie in the middle course between these two extremes.

8. Shuraa allows the group intellect to apply the same sources of decision making that Allah (SWT) has prescribed at the individual level; that is the application of Qur’an, Hadith and the enlightenment of the soul to know what is wrong for it and what is right for it. The difference is the composition of the individual soul vis-a-vis the group intellect or soul. The group intellect or soul also has the right to determine what is right for it and wrong for it.

9. Shuraa promotes leadership training and development, succession planning, and an environment that builds a “learning organization” while reducing the risks associated with overdependence on any single person.

10. Contemporary institutions require the Shuraa process to manage the complexity of and the rate of change modern institutions and administrations face in their operating environments.

11. The fundamental attribute of trust in the ability of the believer to manage his life. Allah (SWT) trusts us.

Allah (SWT) in Qur’an and through his Messenger has given us practical guidance in implementing Shuraa, and He has entrusted the human intellect with the responsibility of applying Shuraa with the full and complete knowledge that the human intellect will continue to advance and expand with time and the evolution of human civilization. That is why, I believe it is a mistake to look for an exact structure from the past to superimpose over the present or future. Leaders commit such error to their organization’s peril.

The very nature of Shuraa is that is it organic changing with the circumstances and the times, and the human intellectual and other resources present. An analogy that serves to demonstrate the organic nature of Shuraa might be a family who begins with just a husband and one wife (and their respective families). Then Allah (SWT) blesses the couple with children, and then those children mature. Whereas the parents once managed the children very closely and controlled them tightly, the leadership of the parents must change over time to accommodate the changing maturation of its family unit.

The group intellect over time is changing in the family and it would be foolhardy, even negligent for the parents to fail to modify the level of Shuraa in that family unit. Now different families with more children or multiple wives will have a different Shuraa structure and process, but have the same goals… the successful efficient and effective management of that family unit while balancing the rights of each member accorded to them by Allah (SWT).

By analogy, an organization also changes over time. Our global Muslim Community has changed significantly. The very elements of literacy, and learning of the Religion and other knowledge by Muslims under a specific government eases the burden of leadership on governors. During the time of the four rightly guided Caliphs (RA), Islam was under siege and at the same time growing in leaps and bounds. The Qur’an had to be protected and published. Systems and states were developing. More people under Muslim statehood had to be taught the basics of the religion and the communication of that period as compared to now took longer and was less reliable. Such circumstances made governing the Muslim Community’s welfare more difficult and necessarily more centralized. The more religiously informed a population is, the more worldly educated and literate they are–the more politically stable the system of governance, the easier it is on the Masjlis Ash Shuraa. The resulting ease moves the organization towards a tendency to decentralize authority rather than centralize authority.

Now back to the present. The best administrators recognize that with time, organizations generally become more complex, membership expands, budgets increase, more areas of opportunity and community service present, and the administrative burden increases. Operating policies and documents should also change accordingly over time. Likewise, with changing organizational complexity and the ability to determine what works or is most effective, the process of Shuraa should change as the organization evolves. Hence, By-laws and other governing documents are not in the long-term, static.

Now what are some of the distinguishing characteristic of Shuraa that should be present in any Islamic organization including from the basic level of the family unit to the most complex level of state government? There are many practical distinguishing characteristics, but for brevity sake, I will highlight the five I believe most significant.

First and foremost, Shuraa does not distinguish between secular or temporal spheres (material matters of administration) and spiritual (religious matters). The Prophet (SAW) came to reunite what was once separated under Christian theology, that is the spiritual and the material world. Under Christendom (namely Catholicism), the masses, the common people were denied their rights, both spiritual and material, by the leaders who wanted to enrich themselves at the expense of the common man. The common man was pointed only in the direction of the next world, while the religious leaders enjoyed Allah’s (SWT) bounties in the present material world. The result was institutional corruption, material denial and an overdependence of the laity upon its clergy for spiritual guidance.

Many Christians quote a saying in the Bible allegedly attributed to Prophet Isa (AS) in this respect: Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to G-d the things that are G-d’s.” Some Muslims have bought into this same thinking, believing the material world is to be disregarded in favor of the spiritual world, but Allah (SWT) says: “Say, ‘who has forbidden the adornment of Allah which He has produced for His servants, and the good things of His providing?’ Say, ‘They are for the believers in the present life and exclusively for them on the Day of Resurrection.’ Thus do We explain the Signs for a people who have knowledge.”(Suratu-A’raaf,7:32). “And seek by means of what Allah has given you the future abode, and do not neglect your portion of this world,…” Holy Qur’an (28:77). So Islam has come to bring us to balance in our life and in our decision making. However, non-separation of spheres does not mean non-separation of span of control (please see posts in the Category of Leadership).

Second, Islam does not promote a priestly class system. Every believer is equal with his brother and sister before their Lord and also in their right to be heard (sounding clay), to participate and hence his or her voice should be valued in its governmental affairs. Yet again, our religion is logical and practical in that voice and opinion are two separate matters. A particular issue under discussion, whether strictly religious or secular, may require specific opinion that is more relevant to the task, issue, or matter at hand. If there is one among the Shuraa who has greater life experience, knowledge, training, etc. that bears directly on the matter, then his or her opinion may be of greater import at that moment. It does not however mean that other voices should not be heard. For it can be the case, that a solution to a matter is solved quite by human accident (Allah’s Merciful Inspiration) through mutual consultation between the acknowledged expert and a layman who suddenly mentions in ignorance something outside the normal paradigm of expert thinking. Then the expert exclaims eureka!…or in this case Allahu-Akbar! The expert exclaims, “you have said something I would not have thought about and I believe this will work!”

Third, the role of Imam or Amir or Sheikh (or other terms applied to the Religious Leader/Director) should be a special role in the Majlis Ashuraa, not that his personal voice is more important, no his voice is equal, but his opinion as the Religious Leader should be especially welcomed and present in any deliberation, for he represents the Office of Imam for the people and he is appointed by them in that special role. A special office held by no one else.

And the Imam, by his training, his devotion, his scholarship and life experience in Qur’anic-based problem solving, and in the fact that he is first to answer before Allah (SWT) for the moral and spiritual direction of the Community, has the duty to assist all leaders and the General Body in understanding and applying the Qur’an, the Life Example of Muhammed the Prophet (SAW), Islamic history, and law and practically applying it such a way that no words issued by the Community and no action taken by the Community is ever haram, unethical, immoral, or illegal according to Islam. That is the organizational leadership role of the Imam as a leader and advisor to the Majlis Ashuraa. That duty does not begin in the Musella and end at the entrance to the Board of Directors, Executive Committee’s, or Advisory Board’s deliberations. All of those bodies should warmly welcome the Imam’s presence and value his opinion.

At the same time, the one occupying the Office of Imam is a human being, not infallible and he is not Allah’s (SWT) personal representative on earth (or in the masjid) as the highest leader in Catholicism is identified by its adherents. Nor is the Imam, the Prophet’s (SAW) equivalent representative before the people.

The Imam represents an aspect of the legacy of leadership established by Prophet Muhammed (SAW). Indeed when the Qur’an refers to Prophet Ibrahim (AS) as the Imam for the nations, it is a different and prophetic global role for all of humanity, for all time and not the same context as the usage of Imam of a masjid or Islamic Center.

Yet another usage of the word Imam occurs when used to describe the husband’s role in the home, which is another contextual usage. Again, how decisions are made and the processes for the final decision are based on the environment. In practical terms, the voice of the Imam already carries a special weight inside the Community. If the Imam alerts a group to consider a factor or factors in the resolution, then it is expected that all participants will take to heart such advice. “Remind men, for of use is the reminder. Thou are not a warder over them.” Sura 88:21-22. It is thus undesirable to administratively give the Imam authority (voting procedure) to overrule the entire Majlis Ash Shuraa. That would essentially nullify the process of mutual consultation.

Remember that even the Prophet said of himself, in matters outside the Revelation of Qur’an, I am not infallible and he engaged in Shuraa. Returning to specific governance within the masjid, it is with the advice of the Imam that we have a complete Majlis Ash Shuraa. In a sense the Masjlis Ash Shuraa (together) is THE IMAM; it is the governor, but we cannot get there without inviting the Imam to be present at the table of discussion. He should be encouraging us to the prayer of istikhara and sharing other strategies for reaching excellent consensus. We must always remember that the best help for the Community comes from Allah (SWT) Himself.

In practical terms, because of the responsibilities of the Office of Imam, the person occupying that office of leadership, is often performing under a schedule that does not permit him to be at the deliberations of every meeting of every leadership body in the masjid. The Imam is engaged in responsibilities often time when all other leaders are at home or engaged in personal family time, whereas the Imam may be with a bereaved family; at the hospital; at a university; at an interfaith gathering; at a believer’s home; in a counseling session with a married or engaged couple; performing a janazah or wedding; teaching a class; taking a class; or participating in any number of other obligations. Thus as a permanent member of the Majlis Ash Shuraa, he should be freely and liberally given the leeway to attend as his schedule permits and notified in advance particularly when his presence is especially requested at a deliberation.

In the manner of governance suggested, there develops endearing relationships between offices of leadership and the mutual respect accorded between all leaders. When the institution respects the Office of Imam and the fact that there is no separation of secular and religious matters, while practically proceeding with deliberations in lieu of having to wait for the Imam to be present, the Believers will maintain greater confidence in all its leaders and in the Imam and the governing process.

The institution must be able to carry on its daily and routine obligations in the absence of the Imam. Note that minutes should be taken and available for the Imam’s review if so desired and he should be briefed by the President of the Board, Leaders of the Executive Committee, or Advisory Body, etc. as appropriate. The detailed provisions of some of the interactions discussed herein are better published in (strictly internal) Operating Guidelines rather than in By-laws.

A practical matter arises with respect to adoption of the final decision and the Imam’s role. Governance within the Masjlis Ash Shuraa can be simplified by adopting a majority or similar mathematical standard. Obviously, the Board of Directors and other leadership bodies must consist of an odd number of members to sustain a majority vote standard. Consequently, the Imam should freely express his position, but need not participate in the actual voting. If we consider the true role of the Office of Imam, then we will acknowledge that after he has provided his voice and opinion at his discretion, then he has fulfilled his duties as Religious Leader/Director. The Imam (in the context of a local masjid) advises and counsels individuals and the Community. He is not a military commander forcing his will upon the Believers either as individuals or as a group. That brings us to the last distinguishing characteristic about the process of Shuraa.

Shuraa is a process based in faith. That is why we have Shuraa. We have faith that Allah (SWT) will bless our deliberations and the group effort. We have Shuraa for the same reason we have congregational Salat―because Allah (SWT) instructed us to do so and we have faith in our Lord that he will bless our efforts, even if our prayer is not perfected. That faith in Allah (SWT) is why each of us at the table of deliberation should never been so adamant in our position which may be a reflection of how fearful we are of an incorrect outcome, so much so, that we disrespect the process of Shuraa.

The work of the Community is bigger than the work of any one person. Once persons, once we as leaders come to trust in Allah (SWT) and fear displeasing Him more and learn to trust the Shuraa process, we will lose our fear about the outcome or what the future may bring. The final or eventual outcome or result of a course of action is not within our purview. We cannot see the future that is within Allah’s (SWT) Vision only.

Only by the passage of time will leaders determine if the final decision was most meritorious. Once leaders understand their true role as leaders in working together for the good of the General Body, they will achieve the highest level of Shuraa. And that is what Allah (SWT) holds us to account, for even when the Majlis makes a mistake, it is Allah (SWT) Who is always present in all our deliberations and Who has the greater authority and power to guide that mistake and its effect to be of benefit to the Community. Because of this guarantee of Allah’s (SWT) grace over the Community, the last distinguishing characteristic for this discussion emerges.

Genuine Support for the Final Decisions Emerging from the Majlis Ash Shuraa…Once deliberations have ceased and a course of action has been agreed upon, all, even those formerly opposed, are obligated to support wholeheartedly the decision. A major cause of the political stalemate in our “balanced” system of government in Washington, D.C. and in many state legislatures is an imbalance in the inherent duty to provide genuine support for a final decision following a period of debate or discussion and eventual resolution via a method that all parties have agreed upon ahead of time.

I pray that the suggestions herein will be of benefit. As Believers, we should continue the search for the best design in our governmental affairs realizing that as the individual intellect develops, so develops the group intellect, and if we are sincere and faithful, Allah (SWT) will bless that group intellect to develop the best models for governance the world over. Verily Allah (SWT) knows best.

Left open for further thought and research…Peace until next time.

Sincerely & respectfully,

Mukhtar
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Some of the citations and references relied upon to reach the above conclusions and organizational design suggestions are available under References. Please contact moderator. Thank you to Imam Faheem Shuaibe for his continued research on shuraa and the application of decision making in the modern era.

Respecting and Trusting the Group Intellect: Essential Foundations in Islamic and American Democracy – Part 1

The following comments were delivered in April 2004 before visiting dignitaries and leaders from Afghanistan as part of an official U.S. State Department visit. The presentation’s purpose was to compare the elements of democracy established in Islam with the compatible values of representative democracy established in modern American society.  The issues of diversity, tolerance, and pluralism are pragmatic characteristics of a more fundamental issue for all: How society values, respects and utilizes its group intellect.  The remarks include how our U.S. Constitution and other founding documents reflect Qur’anic principles of leadership and responsible government.

Dear Believers, leaders, Muslim brothers, As-Salaamu-Alaikum. With Allah’s Name, The Gracious, The Compassionate, Beneficent and Merciful Benefactor, Merciful Redeemer. We witness that He is One, The Creator of the Heavens and the Earth. That there is no partner with Him in the rule of the Heavens and Earth.  He is G-d Alone. And we witness that Muhammad is His Servant and Messenger (SAW), and what follows of that traditional salutation to the Last Prophet, The Seal of the Prophets.

I thank Allah (SWT) for granting what is a great honor to share in dialogue with you, our brothers and leaders from Afghanistan, particularly such distinguished group of leaders and scholars.  We are aware of your struggles and are witnesses to the resilience of the believers (the people) there and their desire to be free to control their destiny and contribute to the best of the global intellect.  It is our prayer that Allah (SWT) grant you the strength and wisdom to succeed under your new constitution, and with the leadership of President Karzai, his administration, the leadership of you who are visiting with us here and your fellow representatives, and finally with the constructive help of the world community.  I want to thank Habjiax and the International Resource Center for planning and supporting this wonderful opportunity.

I have prepared just a few comments to share with you and I pray that Allah (SWT) will allow me to say only what is helpful and best for us and I plan to leave as much time as possible for an exchange of questions or observations.

I have read the objectives for your visit and reviewed your national itinerary, and wish to address my comments on the recurring themes of diversity, pluralism, and tolerance and to address these elements within the larger discussion of Respect and Trust for the Group Intellect. I believe such a discussion is important to begin appreciating how important this element is in the ethos of American democracy and how it prepares the path to a great future for Islam in America.  Consequently, American Muslims are obligated as others are to contribute as citizens and leaders in promoting the best of this democratic tradition that forms a major part of the “American Dream.”

Let me preface my comments in this area with the acknowledgment that I am honored to be a student of Imam Warithudeen Mlohammed, a Muslim American leader who through his love for Allah (SWT) and His Messenger (S) has dedicated his life and has worked for many decades to help bring millions of Americans to Al-Islam. He is a leader for international interfaith cooperation, economic development and human rights.  It is through his leadership and tafsir that I and millions of others have learned Al-Islam, the Miracle of the Qur’an and the Life Example of Muhammad (S) and the practical application and wisdom of these sources in the management of our affairs and lives.  I have some gifts for you that include introductions to Imam Mohammed and his work in bringing Al-Islam into the mainstream of American religious practice.

In 2001 (prior to 9/11) I was on Hajj and while at the Prophet’s (S) Mosque in Medina, I was approached by many Muslims from several countries who once they learned I was from the U.S., eagerly asked me about being a Muslim in America.  Specifically, they were  curious as to whether I was able to practice Islam freely.  My response was perhaps as surprising to them as their question was to me.   I told them that certainly I can practice my religion, that there are perhaps as many as 8 million Muslims or more in the U.S. and that we have masajid, schools all over the country.  That Muslims were in the military, government, business, indeed all sectors of American life.. That we have Muslim lawyers, judges, a mayor at that time and now we have 2 or 3 mayors I believe now and that we not only practiced Islam, but that Islam is the fastest growing faith in America and predicted to be the 2nd largest religion early in this century.  And that because of these facts, Islam shall play a greater role in shaping the future of America.

They were astounded….they had no idea of the diverse presence of Islam in America. And it is one example of the misconceptions most Muslims probably have about America, just as many Americans have misconceptions about Islam and what its presence means here.

On the one hand, there I was performing the Hajj and seeking to dispel false notions among fellow Muslims about what it means to be American when only a few months later (post 9/11), I would be addressing fellow Americans about what it means to be Muslim.  Such a position inherently means to me that American Muslims may be in the best position to bridge divisions separating East and West. And that this bridge is perhaps the best hope for the peace that G-d wants for us all. And it may be a greater burden even upon the descendants of America’s ex-slaves who are now Muslims and who have seen two sides of America. That is my belief.

How will Muslims play a greater role in shaping the future of America?

The answer is in the same way that others have in the past based on our society’s respect and trust in its group intellect as given is such documents as the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, the Pledge of Allegiance, and our Constitution. What is this concept of a group intellect I refer to and why is it important?

In our personal lives, we use 3 sources of authority to manage our affairs: The Qur’an, the life example of Muhammed (S), and our intellect (Fiqh, Ijmah-ul Ummah, Shuraiyat, Mushwara, Ilm ul Kalam, ijtihad). In Al-Islam, human intellect is the third source for decision-making which we use to understand and apply the first two sources. And G-d has given man this intellect as a gift according our Prophet. From Al-Hadith: G-d has not created anything better than reason, or anything more perfect or more beautiful than reason.  The benefits which G-d gives are on its account and understanding is by it; and G-d’s displeasure is caused by it. And by it are rewards and punishments. Verily a man has performed the pillars and all good deeds; but he will not be rewarded but in proportion to the sense he employs.”

And we all know G-d says to us many times to us in Sura Ar Rahman: And which of the favors of your lord will ye deny?. It is important then for leadership not to deny a gift of G-d and that is the right of the individual expression and the voice of the people. And G-d trusts Man.  He believes in man, His khalifah. Gd says in Al-Shams: “By the Soul, and the proportion and order given to it and its enlightenment as to its wrong and its right; truly he succeeds that purifies it, and he fails that corrupts it.”

When we make decisions as a group, we use the same 3 sources (2 remain constant). the third changes due to composition of the intellect. The affairs of the state or the community no longer rest solely upon my opinion, but rather with the consensus of the group opinion. A political structure is not given in Qur’an. Because the political structure evolves through the group intellect. G-d commands us to use the process of consultation to establish the politic.

How did America’s political structure and emphasis on Democracy develop?

Well it grew first out of their experience with an oppressive Church which stifled intellectual development and debate, reinforced class differences, and denied general education for the masses. However, dissatisfaction while serving as a motivator cannot suffice as a blueprint for changing one’s circumstances.

Some claim our country’s commitment to democracy is based exclusively on Judeo-Christian and Greco-Roman models or principles, but more properly and by the evidence, the founding fathers were influenced by the global group intellect which includes the known historical group intellect influenced by Al-Islam.

Islam and Muslim countries were understood by the American population from the point of view of the “Other,” some Founding Fathers made serious efforts to educate themselves about Islam and its civilizations. Many of the Founding Fathers were not as uninformed about Islam as are the rest of us, even today. Indeed, some made a special effort to read about Islam and related ancient civilizations.[29] Thomas Jefferson’s library contained at least one copy of the Qur’an and was rich with books about ancient civilizations, including Islamic ones. [30] Jefferson appeared to consider his knowledge of these matters important for the development of the American model of political governance. In that approach, he was not alone.

Another of our early presidents, Madison, for example, read about ancient confederacies before formulating his own proposal for a federal system in the United States.

– To be continued.

Left open for further thought and research…Peace until next time.

Sincerely & respectfully,

Mukhtar
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Model Communities Are Built First Upon Model Citizenship

“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 (ra)

“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,

Mukhtar
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