How to be a confident Muslim in a changing society

Maintaining Identity in an Ever Shifting Moral Environment

managing dual cultural identity as Muslims

Natural parental concern

The common concern all parents have is the future of their children. I myself share this concern and indeed Ibrahim (peace be on him) was no different. This comes across loud and clear when we read the ayah in surah Baqarah:

…when Abraham was tried by his Lord with commands and he fulfilled them. [Allah] said, ‘Indeed, I will make you a leader of humanity.’

[Abraham] said, ‘And of my descendants?’

[Allah] said, ‘My covenant does not include the wrongdoers.’ (2:124)

This is typical of parents. Parents worry about their children. When parents have something good they don’t just consume it themselves, they save it for their children. If a mother cooks something, and a child is not there, she saves their share for them to have later. It is innate and in our fitrah to care about our children. Ibrahim (peace be on him) as a parent, not just as a prophet, is wondering here what will become of his descendants.

Nepotism

Allah Almighty replies, ‘My promise is not extended to the wrong doers.’ This is an antidote against nepotism and passing on leadership to children, merely because they are descended from leaders. In Islam, we don’t have the privilege of passing on the throne to heirs of the family. If they are qualified and have the right qualities they will rise and shine. If they don’t, regardless if they are from the royal family, they are not entitled to this position.

Bridging the generation gap

In the very same surah, we learn about the time when Ibrahim and his son Ismail (peace be on them) were building the Kaaba.

 And (remember) when Ibrahim and Isma’il were raising the foundations of the House: ‘Our Lord! accept from us; surely You are the All Hearing and All Knowing.’ (2:127)

Interestingly we all know that Ibrahim (peace be on him) was very old when he had his first child. So when he was building the foundation of the Kaaba, he was in his 90s, yet his son was only about 18. Yet they bridged the gap between the old generation and new generation. We don’t always bridge this gap, or have a common language. These days social media is the new language. And many from older generations do not feel up to speed with the language, social media and technology of today, so how do we connect the generations?

Allah Almighty shows the importance of bridging the gap and introduces the way we can create synergy between the wisdom of elders with the energy of youth. When we have a common goal and common direction, then we can execute it together. We see in this scene, the youngster Ismail (peace be on him) is so excited and obedient and helpful and works side by side with his father on this project.

Guiding youngsters and leading by example

The combination of wisdom and energy we see from Ibrahim (peace be on him) and Ismail (peace on him) we see replicated in the interaction of the Prophet (peace be on him) and Ibn Abbas, who was a young boy. He said he remembered when he was riding behind the Prophet (peace be on him) on a mule, and the Prophet (peace be on him) said,

‘O young man, I am going to teach you some words. Be mindful of Allah and Allah protect. Be mindful of Allah and Allah will be with you. (Tirmidhi).

It is the almost the same scene, the wisdom is being imparted to youngsters.

In the ayah, from Surah Baqarah, Allah Almighty mentions the du’a of Ibrahim (peace be on him) ‘Our Lord accept from us. You are the All Hearing and All Knowing.’ He is instilling the seeds of sincerity and connectivity to Allah Almighty to his son. Giving him direction and guiding him. He makes the du’a and his son says ‘Ameen’.

Imparting the importance of the sincerity of actions, and the acceptance of actions.

Amongst the wisdom Ibrahim (peace be on him) imparted to his son is the importance of acting with sincerity and purity, of having the right intention. He is leading his son by example. Ibrahim (peace be on him) is a positive role model for his child. He is modelling behaviour through his actions not just his words or instructions.

When he makes his du’a Ibrahim (peace be on him) demonstrates to his son the importance of the actions being accepted by Allah Almighty.  Yes, he is concerned about the actions, but more importantly he is concerned about their acceptance. This is something we all need to ask ourselves: Are our deeds really performed with the right intention? Or is there any contamination in our intention? We need to have purity in our intention and deeds.

The bottom line is the quality not the quantity of the deeds. As we know from the hadith, the Prophet (peace be on him) said that despite the vast number of Muslims on the towards the end of time they will be ineffective:

‘You will be great in number on that day, but you will be like the scum on top of the flood water. Allah will remove the fear from the hearts of your enemies and cast a weakness into your hearts.’ (Abu Dawood)

Despite their quantity, their quality will be poor. They will be powerless because they will be paralysed by fear (wahn). When asked to explain wahn, he said it is their love of dunya and fear of death which will control them.

Vision for the future and compassion for future generations

In the very same du’a, Ibrahim (peace be on him) says:

Our Lord! and make us both submissive to Thee and (raise) from our offspring a group submitting to Thee, and show us our ways of devotion and turn to us (merci­fully), surely Thou art the Oft-returning (with mercy), the Merciful (2:128).

Ibrahim (peace be on him) is showing the same concern again for his offspring. He is not concerned about me, myself and I. Instead, he is forward thinking. A great leader is the one who thinks about the generations to come. No wonder Allah Almighty appointed Ibrahim (peace be on him) as a leader, he is exemplary; he shows all the right qualities – the qualities of a messenger and father and compassionate leader. He is not concerned about his personal success or his own party, but genuinely interested in the welfare of his people.

If there is a great decision that will change the course of the whole country, in our time, it is the curse of Brexit, very sadly, youngsters, whose futures are at stake, have no say. It will not affect our future as much as it will affect theirs.

Identity

How do we define identity? We have two definitions: the linguistic and technical. The linguistic definition of identity is who or what a person is. I.e who are you? From the social sciences it is the quality or the beliefs of a person or a group which defines their identity.

What was the identity of Ismail (peace be on him)? In that context he was a migrant because he was not born in Makkah. We also had muhajiroon, the migrants who left Makkah and moved to Madinah, as well as the migrants who had moved to Abyssinia earlier. Therefore, the arrival of Muslims in the UK in the 60s, it’s nothing new. The migration of Muslims is historical. How do Muslims deal with this?

How does a migrant community face challenges? The answer is by having strong belief.

Strong Belief

We can see from the example of the prophets that they were focused on nurturing imaan in their younger generation. This is why the Quran focused on offspring, the quality of offspring and the purity of intention because we need all these qualities to face the challenges we have. One of these challenges is of course, migration.

Appreciating the value of your belief

Many of our children were born in this country but nevertheless they still face challenges. In order to equip them to face these challenges, the first thing is to acknowledge that your belief is the best. If you have a diamond but you do not realise it is a diamond, you won’t appreciate it or treat it the way it should be. Unless we value the blessings Allah Almighty bestowed on us, we will not protect them or nurture them or keep them. So we need to improve the way we communicate imaan (belief) to our children.

Protect and nurture belief

Allah Almighty keeps reminding us about the connection between imaan and good deeds. We need to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.

We see from the seerah, that the Prophet (peace be on him) paid special attention to the young and those who would be the future leaders. There is long list of the young companions e.g. Ali, Ibn Omar, Ibn Abbas and Al Arqam (may Allah be pleased with them). They were very young leaders in the community and they had the prophet’s attention and wisdom to prepare them for the future. In order to get there we need to understand our priorities.

Understanding our values

In order to preserve our values, we need to understand what is negotiable and what is not negotiable. What we can compromise and what we can’t compromise. The Prophet (peace be on him) taught us that there are certain principles we can’t budge on and other details that are not as important. We see this in the episode of the Treaty of Hudaibiyah how the Prophet (peace be on him) was prepared to compromise where there was room to do so.

When the Quraysh and the Muslims finally agreed to sign a peace treaty, the Prophet (peace be on him) dictated the peace treaty to Ali (may Allah be pleased with him) who wrote ‘In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.’ Suhayl ibn `Amr, representing the Quraysh, protested and said: ‘This is your slogan, with which we are not familiar. Write: In your name, O Allah!’ The Prophet (peace be on him) agreed and ordered Ali (may Allah be pleased with him) to write accordingly.

Then, the Prophet (peace be on him) ordered him to write: ‘This is a contract being concluded between Muhammad, Allah’s Messenger and the Quraysh’. The representative for the Quraysh objected saying: ‘We do not regard you as Allah’s messenger.’ Only your followers regard you likewise. If we had regarded you as Allah’s messenger, we would not have fought against you, nor had barred your entry to Makkah. Write your and your father’s name.’ The Prophet (peace be on him) said: ‘Whether or not you regard me as Allah’s messenger, I am Allah’s messenger.’ And he instructed Ali (may Allah be pleased with him) to write: ‘This is a treaty being concluded between Muhammad ibn `Abdillah and the people of Quraysh.’ However, Ali refused to to delete the words, so the Prophet (peace be on him) asked him to show where it said .Messenger of Allah’ and crossed it out with his own hands.

By contrast, in another episode, we see how the Prophet (peace be on him) stood his ground where there was no room to concede. Before he left Makkah, Quraysh offered him a deal where they would worship Allah one year and then worship their gods the following year. The Prophet (peace be on him) said ‘No’. He went to his uncle and said that if they were to put the sun in his right hand and the moon in his left, to leave this call , I will rather die than do that. (Though there is some discussion on the authority of this narration, it has been mentioned in the seerah and illustrates that he would rather die with tawheed, than compromise on issues of aqeedah.

Therefore we need to know what matters are important and what issues are minor.

Pride through knowledge

How can we be proud of what you have if we know very little about it? The more know the more we know, the more we appreciate what we have. If I ask how many companions were classified as scholars, or how many of them memorised the Quran fully, most people would not have a clue. If I ask who is the best footballer, even parents will know the answer.

There is no coincidence that the first word revealed was ‘iqra’ (read). We need to learn more in order to understand what we have, and in order to have a strong identity.

We do not want a parrot education, which is the common education. Islam is not about memorising without understanding. Understanding is more valuable than memorising. This is why in many verses Allah Almighty mentions afala ya’qiloon, ‘why don’t they understand?’ And ‘Whomsoever Allah wishes good for, He gives them a deep understanding of religion.’ (Bukhari and Muslim)

If we have a shaky understanding or limited or wrong understanding it is disastrous. Take ISIS for example, they have the completely wrong understanding, and this has lead to destruction in the community and has disastrous consequences for the akhirah. Therefore the Prophet (peace be on him) emphasised the importance of understanding.

Easy and Practical

When teaching, it is important to make knowledge easy to apply. The Prophet (peace be on him) always made knowledge accessible and practically applicable. Bedouins would come and learn the main principles of Islam from him in a few days so that they could return and teach their tribe. This is prophetic style. Simple yet comprehensive.

Nurture the love of Allah Almighty rather than autopilot Islam

The principles of Islam can only be deeply embedded in us and our children when we deeply love Allah Almighty and the Prophet (peace be on him). We need to nurture this love.

So often, I have noticed that we shun away from talking about love. Our colonial baggage, means that we are in continuous battles against occupiers and have shifted our attention away from love to focus on military struggles. This historical background goes across the board from South Asia to the Middle East. As a community, we need to nurture love of Allah, rather than the robotic programming which is so common. Islam is reduced to fasting and praying. It loses its value when it is on autopilot. Many of us pray on autopilot. We even drive on autopilot.  We need to improve our connection with Allah through love. When we are connected to Allah, this will transfer to our children.

Nutshell: 5 steps to form a strong identity

In a nutshell, in order to survive the challenges, we need a strong identity. A strong identity is forged through five elements:

  1. Learning
  2. Understanding
  3. Loving Islam
  4. Living Islam
  5. Knowing the limits

The more we learn, the more we understand and the more we love. There is a logic in the sequence. You need to understand before you can love. You love Allah when you acknowledge the blessings He has bestowed on us. If we take our blessings for granted we do not value them and do not grow the love.

Once we love, we can apply the theory in practice. However we won’t practice fully it til we truly love it. We can’t teach our children to go to step 4, without taking the first 3 steps. Even if it appears they are practicing Islam, in front of your eyes, without the first 3, there is no reason for them to apply behind your back, or for them to abandon them at the first sign of difficulty. You need to build the foundations and make them firm. You can’t build a house on one pillar.

Lastly, we cannot ignore the limits. The environment we are living in has no limits. The floodgates have been broken and we are expected not to sink. This is why we have so much knife-crime, and social problems. They are the consequence of many factors, but mainly breaking the boundaries. Allah Almighty has set limits. Do not overstep them. They are for our benefit, whether we understand them or not.  Allah Almighty has told us that whoever sins, is committing a crime against himself and against humanity around him.

Muslim identity is based on mercy

The first thing we recite in the Quran is always bismillah. Therefore Allah who could have introduced Himself foremost as the Most Powerful and Most Mighty, chose to introduce Himself in every single surah as Ar Rahman and Ar Raheem. He wants us to reflect on this. Both are derived from rahma, from the same root – rahm. Allah Almighty says in hadith Qudsi:

My mercy prevails my anger. (Bukhari and Muslim)

Arahimoona yarhamohum ar-Rahman 

Allah said:

The merciful are shown mercy by Ar-Rahman. Be merciful on the earth, and you will be shown mercy from Who is above the heavens. (Tirmidhi)

We need to exemplify Allah’s mercy. This is how we identify ourselves. The Prophet (peace be on him) identified the identity of the Muslim 1400 years in the hadith:

The Muslim is the one from whose tongue and hand the people are safe. (Nasa’i)

Thus a true believer is the one who never harms others by his words or actions. We are peaceful beings reflecting Allah Almighty’s mercy. If we want to summarise the whole message of Muhammad peace be upon him this ayah is the summary. Allah Almighty said about the Prophet (peace be on him):

And We have not sent you, [O Muhammad], except as a mercy to the worlds. (21:107)

The Prophet (peace be on him) said:

I am not but mercy gifted to you. (Sunan Darimi)

This encapsulates his purpose and mission. This mercy which Allah Almighty sent us has to be shared. We need to know about it and live it. When we do that, it is reflected in our plans, actions and communication.

Having good character

The second revelation taught us that we have to have the best character. Part of surah Qalam was the second revelation after ‘iqra’ which is highly significant. We establish our identity through our character. As they say, ‘Show me what you do and I’ll tell you who you are’, your character speaks louder than your words. The Prophet (peace be on him) in the hadith, told us:

I have only been sent to perfect good moral character. (Musnad Ahmed)

In another narration he said:

He had come to complete good character and good practices. (Tabarani)

Is our identity Islamic or cultural?

Finally we need to draw the line between what is Islamic and what is cultural. Many of us mix the two together. Sometimes we wrap Islam up in cultural practices which contradict it. So many weird and wonderful practices have been adopted and passed down generations that have no place in Islam like forced marriages. We need to draw the line. We need to know what we can and can’t compromise.

We have cultural practices like the insistence of Big Fat Weddings, which take couples into crippling debt before they’ve even embarked on their lives together. They are broken before they start their married life, with debt and haram interest to pay on top of that. Who told them this is Islamic?

Dealing with a dual identity is not an issue if you have a strong belief and know where to draw the line between what can and can’t be compromised. If we are to live successfully in society with a strong sense of our identity, we need knowledge of our deen, our principles, and our purpose. Equipped with these, we can navigate the challenges as values keep shifting around us, and remain focused on our ultimate destination. May Allah Almighty enable us to be the people of sincerity, goodness and mercy that He intended us to be. Ameen.

Talk delivered by Shaykh Haytham Tamim at Harrow Central Mosque and Masood Islamic Centre on 13th April 2019.

Hosted by Mr Ghulam Sarwar, and the Islamic Cultural Society of Harrow.

Transcribed by A Khan

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Shaykh Haytham Tamim is the founder and main teacher of the Utrujj Foundation. He has provided a leading vision for Islamic learning in the UK, which has influenced the way Islamic knowledge is disseminated. He has orchestrated the design and delivery of over 200 unique courses since Utrujj started in 2001.His extensive expertise spans over 30 years across the main Islamic jurisprudence schools of thought. He has studied with some of the foremost scholars in their expertise; he holds some of the highest Ijazahs (certificates) in Quran, Hadith (the Prophetic traditions) and Fiqh (Islamic rulings). His own gift for teaching was evident when he gave his first sermon to a large audience at the age of 17 and went on to serve as a senior lecturer of Islamic transactions and comparative jurisprudence at the Islamic University of Beirut (Shariah College).He has continued to teach; travelling around the UK, Europe and wider afield, and won the 2015 BISCA award (British Imams & Scholars Contributions & Achievements Awards) for Outstanding Contribution to Education and Teaching.

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