Monday, April 11, 2011

More Than Two Cents Worth

Though startling at first, unsolicited advice from a stranger can sometimes be a lifelong guiding post.

I vividly remember when I was 12 and at a week-long summer camp outside Chicago. It was lecture-time and a boy sitting in the grass nearby flicked a nickel at me. Annoyed, I flicked it back and an impromptu game of carrom ensued.

Unbeknown to me, his mother was sitting behind me and I got a one-sentence counsel afterwards: "Girls do not take gifts from stranger boys."

As wise as she was (I got the fuller meaning of her statement as I matured.), that God-conscious woman was fulfilling an important duty that is generally ignored: enjoining the good and forbidding the wrong (amr bil maruf wa nahi anil munkar in Arabic).

Throughout history God has stressed the utmost importance of this obligation. For example, God revealed to Prophet Shoaib that He was unfurling punishment on his nation of 100,000, 40,000 of whom were sinners. When Shoaib asked why the 60,000 good-doers were also included in the retribution, God said it's because they witnessed the wrongs taking place but did not oppose them, according to scholar Abbas Ayleya.

Prophet Muhammad (S) picturized the devastating affects of shirking this duty:

"The world is like a ship and mankind its passengers. The welfare of all depends upon the safe conduct of each. If anyone is found making a hole on the side of a ship, he must be stopped."

In another saying the Prophet (S) warned that if people stop encouraging good and opposing evil eventually a time will come when evil is being encouraged and good opposed!

Taking on this responsibility requires thick skin and a commitment to public welfare over personal feelings (when you're told to MYOB), relationships (The "cool" crowd may not want you hanging around as much.) and perhaps material comforts.

"When you see something wrong, you correct it and in the process of correcting it you may suffer, you may lose something. But that loss is regained because that loss is what makes the fundamental basis for change in society," says religious expert Dr. Ahmed Hanif.

Scholars say the trick to skirting resistance is to present your advise as if you were giving a gift.

"It doesn't have to be in your face. It has to be something based on love, loving your fellow human being and wanting for him or her what you want for yourself," says Hanif.

The sons of Fatima (one of our four perfect women) demonstrated this skill beautifully when encountering an elderly man improperly performing his ablution. To avoid offending him, young Hasan and Hussain pretended they were competing to see who does his ablution better and asked him to be the judge. The man understood and was overwhelmed by their gentle ways.

It was again Fatima's children (sons and daughters) who showed us that we must also stop the evil of the oppressive and corrupt power structures. In a sermon given before his departure to Kerbala, where he was killed opposing the rule of Yazid, Hussain said his mission was to revive amr bil maruf wa nahi anil munkar as required by God.

"There should always be among you some people who invite to what is good and enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong. They alone will attain true success." (Quran 3:104)

Women's role in the socio-polical dimensions of exhorting good/protesting evil is central, according to Imam Khomeini. Hundreds of women fainted when coming to meet the Imam after the overthrow of the Shah and someone suggested banning them.

Here was Imam Khomeini's reply:

"Do you think that my announcements or your speeches have removed the Shah?! It is these very women that have removed the Shah. Treat them with honor."


Anonymous said...

Very inspiring! May God give us all the strength and courage to practice this pillar of Islam.

Sr. Tasneem said...

Great piece, MashaAllah.
The wisdom that is necessary for this concept to succeed is the right choice of words and true concern for fellow human beings.
Perhaps we should all reflect upon the wise words of Ali RA: " Advice given in public is an insult."