By Sohaib Baig
February 23, 2018
THE Muslim community anywhere is not immune to world’s cultural influences. Few, who actually are passionate for the Ummah (Muslim community), started their efforts to promote and practice Islam as their children were born. Now, as they themselves begin to recede back into old age and return slowly to their Creator, it is their children who are starting to assume responsibility and control the affairs of their communities. Though older generation still retains a key grip, it should not be long before that too subsides, and leaves the world to their children. Yet for Ummah to progress forward, these children will also have to move past the thinking that has plagued most of elder generation, as well as overcome new challenges presented by western culture.
Social networking sites including Facebook and Twitter serve as another example of this phenomenon. The ideas of fun, frivolity, redundancy, and sheer narcissism promoted by these sites completely redefine our attitudes towards our lives. Before Facebook, one could feel perfectly content to have a sum total of dozen or more friends–but now, 12 looks likes a terrifyingly tiny number, and can become a cause for losing self-esteem. Yet if a person has a thousand friends, they will feel like an accomplished person of great importance and relevance, even if they are doing nothing on the grander scale of contributing to humanity or serving God.
The “like” feature also ties into the same concept, serving as nothing more than fuel for narcissists on their personal pages. What is the purpose and ultimate consequence in liking the fact a friend went shopping that day? Equally disturbing is the practice of frequently updating profile pictures, of showcasing the same person in different poses and settings – a practice completely unnecessary for facilitating communication, yet needed for the purposes of communicating self-obsession and glory.
Also, prior to Facebook, individuals with a less than normal social aptitude would be inevitably forced to learn the dynamics of building personalities and interacting with people at some stage in their life. With Facebook, the person will perhaps never learn, having finally found a venue to voice the sounds of their soul without hesitation. Some also have experienced that using Twitter extensively damages one’s ability to expound upon reflections and thoughts – one will simply send out 140 character messages and feel the urge is gone. In essence, Muslims need to be aware of the inherent orientations of the tools they use, and realize that technology, just like “culture,” is not as neutral as it may sometimes seem to be – and to embrace everything in the zeal to “integrate” may not be in the best interests of the Ummah.
Many will be inclined to think the previous narrative as slightly exaggerated, perhaps more applicable to the youth than the adults. But even the most fundamental concept of American culture, the American Dream, – which concerns all Americans – reeks of such individuality. From their early years, Americans are taught that this Dream lies chiefly in attaining affluence and pleasure (with their different manifestations), which in turn mostly hinge on education and assimilation.
Thus, the entire effort of their lives, from education to love to business to travel, becomes a part and parcel of living that sacred Dream. Those who do not possess the prerequisites of this Dream are left alone to find refuge in drugs and gangs – but for those who do, the world is clear and straightforward. Sadly, this does not leave much room for building altruistic goals, of nurturing a true “Ummah consciousness” – although one can certainly develop a caring or generous character whilst living the Dream, one cannot experience altruism at its most powerful level, because the Dream inevitably revolves around oneself, and does not make much room for the dreams of others.
If one truly believes in Islam as a whole, one must believe that the needs of the Ummah supersede his or her own needs. Our enormous energies and talents deserve not to be wasted away in corporate offices, but rather in the service of the greater good of humanity. Becoming doctors, engineers, or accountants is certainly not inherently wrong- but we must realize that building the character of a nation, that curing them of spiritual diseases, is much harder and requires ten times more resources than building the infrastructure of a nation.
Obviously, as long as the bulk of all individual energies are being used to secure personal careers, American Muslims on a whole will never tap into their potential to bring reform and prosperity. Often, being an Islamic activist is only tolerated as a hobby – but if it is accorded its proper station as one’s true calling in life, it will be feared greatly, almost as if it surely portends poverty and ruin. Islam, though, is not meant to be taken up as a hobby, but as a life calling – and until we forgo our individualistic dreams and build grander dreams for the Ummah, one cannot have high expectations for the future. This is the fundamental mistake made by Muslims today, and in reality, it is this mistake which threatens ruin and destruction on the Muslim community.
If one believes the state of affairs of the Ummah to be pathetic today, we must believe ourselves individually to be pathetic as well. We have become desensitized to the plight of the world – how else can one describe our historically unprecedented ability to hear tragedy after tragedy, yet go back to spend hours watching TV shows and games? Television claims to serve our powers of seeing and hearing, but in reality, it has taken control of our faculties of thinking, by controlling what we see and how we see.
We must find a way to collectively fight back against these sterilizing forces, of creating new forces and institutions that are free from these dangers, and learn to orient our lives and ambitions toward the service of Allah and all of His creation – and if we can accomplish that, undoubtedly our future descendants will surely come upon a time, God-Willing, where decent men and women all over the world from Haiti to China will smile freely, and feel relieved at having found out that the forces of good have not been vanquished, that goodness and altruism still shine throughout Allah’s earth, like the morning glow rejuvenates us after the lethargy of the night.