By: Tahira Ansari
Sticks in a bundle are unbreakable.
We so often talk about and make efforts to spread the word of Islam to others but if we aren’t practicing it ourselves, how do we think we can teach it to others? If we want to be good role models and show people the real meaning of Islam, we first have to be a walking example of it ourselves.
Historically speaking, unity amongst the Muslims has been a challenge since the Prophet Mohammad first delivered the message of Islam (Islamtimes: Islamic Unity 4/27/10). To add to the problems of disunity, there are always the difficulties caused by the external enemies of Islam. Whether motivated by politics or a desire for power and money these are strong forces that are operating all around us. Fueled by a hatred of Islam and Muslims and a desire to divide and conquer us, the enemy has always been there. We have a right to be concerned about their plots against us. But at the same time we have to remember that the devil can be very deceptive. While our focus is all too often on our external enemies, we are failing to deal effectively with an even more dangerous enemy – the enemy within the Muslim community. Inside our own local and global communities the Muslims are not always as cohesive as they should be. Much to the delight of our external enemies, we are doing exactly what they want us to do – fighting amongst ourselves. If we are weak from the inside because of our own inability to overcome our differences and cooperate towards common objectives, it will be impossible to stand firm against any outside opposition.
The Muslims have always been under difficult circumstances and in spite of the challenges a great deal of progress has been made. Yet it is only by recognizing our shortcomings and dealing with them in an effective manner that we can progress in ways that unite and strengthen us. In order to continue to prosper and build a powerful nation we have to begin to learn to work together to reap the benefits of solidarity.
Our people are highly diversified and depending on the country or the area within that country, communities can be very different. But certain problems seem to keep cropping up everywhere and until we acknowledge them and deal with them effectively they will keep impeding our progress.
The list of problems is long. A recurrent issue is the lack of ability to set reasonable goals and organize a workable means to attain them. Whether the ideas and projects are simple or complex too much time and effort is wasted arguing about what to do and how to get it accomplished. A prime example of this is a large community that raised millions of dollars to build a center, purchased the property and then found out that the zoning laws would not permit a mosque to be built in that location. Too much of their energy had been put into playing politics, arguing and being disorganized so they failed to take care of important details. After quite some time they still have not been able to sell the property to get back their investment. The lack of the ability to plan and organize affects every aspect of what a community does. Without these skills very little can be accomplished.
Politics is always a problem. If one person in a community has more money, or more influence because of their position or who their family is, they often get to run things even if they have very few skills to do it effectively. But no one wants to say anything about it because they fear displeasing the ones who are in power thinking they might need their help later on. One member of a group said: “We have so much potential at this mosque but everything is a disaster because the people in charge are completely incompetent to run it”.
Breaking down into groups is an issue everywhere in the West. Pakistanis, Iraqis, Iranians, Indians, Afro-Americans and other groups each set up their own mosques. They say that everyone is welcome but in reality, others that come usually feel like outsiders. They often try to make excuses saying it is a problem of language differences but in reality those same people get along well enough with the language to live and work in America on a daily basis. Other groups break down according to their different interpretations of Islam. We have to realize that even within each group there are people who are at different levels of understanding and practice of Islam. We do not have to change our beliefs, but we must to learn that our differences do not have to lead to open conflict. We don’t all have to agree on every issue to get along, but we do have to learn how to deal with people from other groups in an intelligent and rational way rather than in an emotional or confrontational one.
To add to our challenges, it seems that the people can always find a reason to fight. Whether it is over something big or something small, there is always disagreement. To complicate the problem, the usual strategy is to bring family members or close friends into the argument. They use their power and refuse to support the community economically if they don’t get their own way. When the fighting reaches its limit, one group gets angry and goes off and starts their own mosque. In one city physical fights became so intense that two Muslim groups were featured on the front page of a major newspaper because of their continual fighting and the difficulties the police were having in dealing with them.
The heads of our communities are not exempt from their own errors. One group had a building that was purchased by the members to be used as a mosque. The title to the property was put in the name of the head of the community and then when fighting broke out, he reportedly closed it as a mosque and kept the building for his personal use. Other heads have been accused of taking advantage of their position in a variety of ways for their own gain.
We have to realize that whenever people work together it is normal to have disagreements and challenges. But we also have to know that it is possible to solve these issues in a productive way. So often our people are ready to sweep the problems under the carpet because they don’t want to deal with them or they don’t want to offend others. As a result the problems only get worse and our communities become dysfunctional and give Islam a bad reputation. As one American convert said “These people are terrible! It’s a good thing I came to Islam by reading Qur’an. If I had seen the people first I would have run in another direction!” His sentiments have been echoed by many other converts.
So what do we have to do to correct these problems? The first thing is to acknowledge their existence and the damage they are doing to us and the image of Islam. Then we have to take responsibility for fixing them. Other people have groups that work together in harmony so we know it is possible. All too often our people do everything to create problems and then when they see their own disasters, they attribute it to God and make no effort to improve the situation.
The next thing that needs to be done is for each individual and every community to make an assessment of their strengths and weaknesses and be certain that they are managing them in an effective way. We also have to master basic unity skills – learning how to put our disputes and power struggles aside and get along for the greater good. It is critical that we stop breaking down by nationalities. We have to know that Islam takes priority over any other culture.
In unity there is strength and power. Our people have so many resources and Islam as the best guide. But when chaos, disagreements and favoritism plague our communities causing schisms among us, we are wasting the blessings God has given us.
Without question the challenge of unity among the Muslims is a long standing and multi-dimensional problem. But that does not mean that positive change is impossible – we just have to put our minds to it and work hard to make it happen. When the intention is there and effort is put forth there is always a way. Perhaps Nelson Mandella expressed it best when he said “Where people of goodwill get together and transcend their differences for the common good, peaceful and just solutions can be found even for those problems which seem most unsolvable”.
© Islam Times