These days, it is not very difficult to turn on the news or newsfeed and get the feeling that this ummah is just so weak, so behind, so oppressed, so victimized, so disadvantaged. Sometimes, it just feels like this ummah of ours has become like a feather in the wind; totally inconsequential, with no will of its own, no determination, no competence. And if you keep watching, or scrolling, this feeling could certainly destroy your state of mind and heart, leaving you totally jaded from the endless negativity. However, there is a very Quranic and Prophetic concept that shatters these shackles, namely, that “it is your attitude, not aptitude, that determines your altitude.” In other words, your success is not primarily about your resources, your talent, your skill, or your ability. Rather, it is more about your fiery ambitions, your unwavering resolve, your positive thoughts about Allah, and your firm trust in Him that will effect positive change in this ummah.
When the Companions came complaining to the Prophet (pbuh) about the state of the ummah, he said, “People before you were split in half, and their skin was ripped from their bones, and that did not cause them to abandon their religion. Allah will fulfill His promise to this ummah, but you are being impatient.” This impatience is natural and expected, because as Allah tells us in the Quran, “Indeed, man has been created hasty…” (70:19). It is part of our nature to be unsettled and impatient, too often fixated on the end goal. We want to fast-forward to the last chapter in the book, to a better time, to the destination. But if we do not control that feeling, it could compromise our psyches and leave us emotionally paralyzed.
Realizing There Is a Bridge
I recently heard a Muslim psychologist say, “If I had to diagnose the Muslim ummah, I would diagnose them with collective depression.” She continued, “Because in existential psychology, clinically speaking, depression is described as ‘the gap between where you are and where you think you should be.’” It is like being on top of a mountain that you do not want to be on, while seeing another mountain in the distance you think you should be on, and you cannot help but just lock your gaze on the bottomless pit between those two mountains. At that point, you are just like, “What’s the point?” You freeze in despair, becoming faithless and fatalistic. Little do you realize, your inability to look up causes you not to realize that there is a bridge right there. That is the dilemma of our ummah. Allah (SWT) protects us from this Achilles heel of human nature by teaching us an attitude towards ourselves, and then an attitude – more importantly – towards Him, that can actually start getting the wheel to turn in the right direction.
An Attitude Towards Ourselves
Allah says, “Do not be weak, do not grieve” (Quran 3:139). Someone might ask, “What do you mean, ’Do not be weak’? How is He (SWT) asking me something not in my capacity?” The truth is, however, Allah is not asking you something outside of your ability. Think a little deeper when Allah tells you, “Do not be weak.” There is an aspect of weakness that is in your ability to put behind you, to bury, to stomp out— it is the attitude of weakness; the feeling of being powerless or defeated. Similarly, our Prophet (pbuh) said to us, “…Strive to do that which will benefit you and seek the help of Allah, and do not feel helpless…” There are some Muslims who might sit in the masjid, saying, “Allah will provide for us. We have put our trust in God.” These individuals, however, are void of true understanding. The Quran tells us the story of Maryam, in the throes of childbirth. The verse says, “And shake towards yourself the trunk of the palm-tree. It will let fall fresh ripe dates upon you” (19:25). This is addressed to Maryam who is enduring great pain, and yet she is told to engage with her environment to find some relief. A more general meaning, applicable to all of us, is that we must engage reality, not just watch from the sidelines.
What Are We Neglecting?
Some of us, many of us, give up our duties towards ourselves and the ummah because we think that flipping through the news, and even shedding a few tears, is enough, as if the affairs of this ummah are like a soccer game or a movie. Do we not sometimes drop a few tears when this team wins and that team loses, or a movie character dies or reunites with a loved one? Allah (SWT) instructs us that we are not allowed to treat the affairs of the ummah this way. One must refuse to be a bystander, marginalized on the sidelines of the real world.
Our issue as an ummah is not the “impossible” things that we wish we could have right now. Our real issue as an ummah is about the very possible things that we are distracted from, that we are neglecting. Syria will not come back overnight. Burma will not be safe tomorrow. Masjid Al-Aqsa will not be liberated in a day. Oppression and discrimination against the Uyghur Muslims in Eastern China will not end overnight. Stephon Clark will not be the last unarmed black man shot by trigger-happy police officers, and targeted by systematic racism in the inner cities. But our contribution, our striving to bring about incremental changes, our work in support of these causes, cannot wait another night. That is what our religion teaches us. We must be busy serving people, protecting the lives of the innocent and the vulnerable, buoying the faith of the Muslims who are doubting, caring for the widow and the needy and the orphan, educating the masses, developing the generations of tomorrow— that is our duty. As some psychologists say, the key to a person’s happiness, and the key to escaping life’s endless disappointments, and the key to actually being productive, not just settling for slogans and hashtags, is to bring about small but regular accomplishments that most people overlook, but mean everything to those that they are done for. Just go find your niche. Go find your circle of influence. Go find the countless opportunities to effect positive change. You do not need to change the world, but you can totally change someone’s world.
Always Focus on Bringing Benefit to Others
There was a Jewish boy who used to serve the Prophet (pbuh). The boy became sick and the Prophet went to visit him. As that Jewish boy was dying, the Prophet called him to Islam. The boy looked at his father who told him to obey the Prophet (pbuh). And so, the boy died upon Islam. The Prophet (pbuh) walked out of the house with his face beaming. He said, “Praise be to Allah who saved him from the fire.” Think about that. This boy was visited by the head of state. Why? The boy was not going to pay taxes or join the Muslim army and defend Islam. But the Prophet (pbuh) seized every opportunity, big or small, to benefit other people and serve the cause of Allah (SWT).
For 800 years, Muslims dreamed and tried, beginning with some of the sahaba, to be the fulfillment of the prophecy of our Prophet that Constantinople—now Istanbul — would be liberated. Who did it? It was Muhammad al-Fatih, Allah have mercy on him. Do you know what his mother said about him? She said, “I used to feed him the wounds of his ummah, along with the milk. I used to, when he was an infant, bring him to the shore and tell him the struggles of his ummah, as I was nursing him.” Bedtime stories— do not underestimate them. If that is your capacity, then that is your duty. There are so many examples of this kind of striving, and how fruitful it is, until this present day. Dr. Abd Al-Rahman Al-Sumait, who died in 2013, was a Kuwaiti physician who spent the last 29 years of his life in Africa, in the villages in downtrodden Africa, trying to help people. Eleven million people are said to have become Muslim because of his humanitarian effort, his dawah. The society he founded built 5,700 masjids and 200 Islamic centers, and distributed 51 million copies of the Quran. It built hospitals, schools, and training centers, and dug 9,500 wells. You can do more than you think.
Last year, I heard about a young woman who went to visit the Syrian refugees and came back determined to expend her energies to the fullest after seeing the camps and the suffering they were enduring. The brothers from Helping Hand were telling me she collected $500,000 in relief aid on her own. You can do that and more! Too often people sell themselves short. Our problem is that we let Shaytan tell us, “What can you possibly do? What is the point? No matter what you do, it is just a drop in the ocean.” But our attitude is supposed to be, “And what else is an ocean but a collection of drops?” Our attitude should be, “Even if it is just a drop in the ocean, that is all Allah will hold me accountable for.” Our Prophet (pbuh) gave us endless hope to work when he said, “If the Day of Judgment is starting and you have a sapling in your hands, then plant it.” Think about that— the sapling is going to vanish in all the uproar of the end of the world, but its vanishing does not prevent it from showing up on your scale of good deeds, and that is what matters most. So remember the sapling.
Your Attitude Towards Allah
Our attitude towards Allah is the greatest factor in determining your altitude, meaning how high you reach, and how much you accomplish. If we look around too much, we can get consumed by the challenges, the negativity, and the feeling that we are all alone in facing this. This is why Muslims, way too often, are busy talking about conspiracy this, and conspiracy that. If we were just to look into the Quran, we would find a God that is Most Capable, a God that can change the world overnight, and we are certain of that. We find a God that is also the Most Wise, and the Best of Planners. We believe in Him and that is our greatest asset. When the Prophet (pbuh) said, “Tie your camel and put your trust in Allah,” do you know what that mindset does for you? It liberates you from feeling everything is dependent on you. It gives you so much tranquility and confidence to work since the stress of results is removed from the equation. Many people say, “If you just put your mind to it, you can get it done.” We do not believe that as Muslims. We believe that “if you put your mind to it, you will get it done, insha’Allah (if God wills it).” One person said, “I used to believe in destiny, but now I believe in hard work.” That is foolish; our Prophet (pbuh) said, “Everything is destined by God, even your ability and your inability.” So, you work hard as if everything is in your hands, while fully certain that you and all others are in Allah’s hands. And remember the migration of our Prophet (pbuh). He did everything he could, planning how to escape the enemies, and taking routes and using tactics to throw them off. Still, they got to the cave where the Prophet was hiding out! But then Allah blinded their hearts from simply looking into the cave. That is what we believe as Muslims.
I read recently that Albert Einstein said, “Life is like riding a bicycle; the only way to keep your balance is to just keep moving.” There is certainly some truth and beauty to this, but what if you keep going in the wrong direction? Thus, I found to be more beautiful is the duaa of our Prophet (pbuh): “O Allah, I ask you for stability in affairs, and to be determined in doing the right things.” Add that duaa to your toolbox and get busy each day building good things for yourself and your ummah.