Activism. Imagine a man who’s done more for the spread of Islam than any Muslim activist alive today. A man who didn’t just help Muslims but helped the Muslim. A man who protected the Prophet ﷺ with his wealth and influence. A man who faced persecution for his activism, who was exiled into a valley, and rejected by his own tribesman. A man who died because of his activism.
Yet a man who the Prophet ﷺ said is in the fire of hell.
“Activism” has become a buzzword so commonly used that it has become meaningless. The number of Muslim “activists” has increased exponentially over the last decade and encompasses all types of activity. From conference organizers to social media commentators to march protesters to congressmen phone callers to Facebook image sharers to meme creators, we have more “activist Muslims” than any other type of Muslim.
While being “active” is certainly better than being “passive”, a key trait in an Ideal Muslim Man is to separate emotions and rhetoric from reality. Focus is crucial to success. To do well in this world and the next, you must identify your goals, identify what brings you closer to them, and identify the distractions which deviate you from your course.
Before we can talk about “activism” and it’s role in the life of a man striving to emulate the Prophet, we have to identify what our goals are. Different people will have different goals but if you’re reading a blog entitled “The Ideal Muslim Man”, you probably have three primary goals: enter Jannah, avoid Jahannum, and earn the pleasure of Allah ﷻ. Everything else is secondary. If you can keep your focus on your goals, you can properly place activism in the role that it deserves.
Without the slightest exaggeration, Abu Talib was more instrumental in the spread of Islam and did more to protect Muslims than any conference organizer, any social media commentator, any lobbyist, and any politician. When the Quraysh wanted to attack the Prophet ﷺ, he gave him ﷺ his protection. When the Quraysh boycotted the Muslims, Abu Talib was also boycotted. He spent whatever remaining wealth he had protecting the Prophet ﷺ and providing food for the Muslims. Eventually, it was the boycott that he endured for protecting the Prophet ﷺ which led to his death.
In the end though, the Prophet ﷺ said that he will be in the fire of hell. Abu Talib, according to the Prophet ﷺ, will be in Jahannum, wearing slippers so hot that his brain will melt. At the same time, the lowliest believer who had true iman and worshiped Allah ﷻ properly will be in Jannah.
Let that sink in.
Abu Talib was an activist par excellence. He devoted sweat, blood, and tears to the cause and paid the ultimate price for that activism. Yet that activism did not enable him to enter Jannah.
Know what can’t be sacrificed
This is not a criticism of the various activities which are labeled “activism”. Instead, it is a reminder to stay focused. If your goal is the pleasure of Allahﷻ, entrance into Jannah, and protection from Jahannum, then your time and energy should be aimed towards that goal. At the very least, they should not be aimed against the goal.
One of the problems that happens when people don’t have the right goal in mind is that they don’t know what can be compromised and what must remain rigid. If the pleasure of Allah ﷻ is your goal, you can not earn it through the displeasure of Allah ﷻ. Put more simply, the ends can not justify the means. The Prophet ﷺ showed us that through his own example. When he was in a position of political weakness, when Muslims were being persecuted, the Quraysh approached him. They offered him wealth and power in exchange for being silent about Islam. His response was “If they put the sun in my right hand and the moon in my left, I would not abandon this matter.”
An even more striking example occurred in the seerah. The Prophet ﷺ was approached by the Quraysh with an enticing proposition. They offered to follow Islam for one year if the Prophet ﷺ would agree to worship their idols for one year. The Prophet ﷺ could have argued, “By introducing Islam to the Quraysh, they will eventually find its beauty and then start practicing it every day rather than half the time.” Instead, he firmly rejected the offer and Allah ﷻ revealed Surah Kafirun.
Activism for Islam can not occur when you sacrifice the principles of Islam.
Be active with knowledge
Not everyone needs to be a scholar of Islam. However, everyone does need to know the basic fundamentals of Islam. Before someone becomes an “activist”, they absolutely need to know what parts of Islam will never be open to reinterpretation or debate. It speaks volumes about an activist’s stunning ignorance of Islam if they think that someone who rejects the shahadah is a Muslim. If you don’t know what is negotiable and what is not, you will end up becoming rigid where you can be flexible and flexible where you must be rigid.
On our blog, we’ve compiled a list of books and lectures to help you form some foundation of Islamic knowledge. If you’re an activist, you need to have both a knowledge of the fundamentals and a knowledge of the issues which intersect with your own work. Seek out the advice of scholars before delving into gray matters.
Activism is not an excuse to neglect or minimize parts of the deen. Just like a Muslim physician who saves lives does not have a license to skip salah at night because he’s helping people during the day, an activist can not neglect the obligations of Islam because he is involved in an important project which may long term help the image of Islam.
Be active with humility
If you’re an activist, however you define that term, don’t aggrandize yourself. If you’re organizing conferences, coordinating volunteer events, or handing out pamphlets, remember that you are certainly not doing Islam a favor. The favor is on you that Allah ﷻ has allowed you to earn His pleasure through this particular way. With or without you, Islam would be successful. Tamim ad-Dari reported that the Prophet ﷺ said: This matter will certainly reach every place touched by the night and day. Allah will not leave a house or residence except that Allah will cause this religion to enter it, by which the honorable will be honored and the disgraceful will be disgraced. Allah will honor the honorable with Islam and he will disgrace the disgraceful with unbelief.
Also remember that no matter what work you do, the help and provision that is coming is not through your effort but through the command of Allah ﷻ. By the words of the Prophet ﷺ, we are helped not by activists or kings or politicians but by the du’as of the weak and downtrodden. The Prophet ﷺ said: “You are given help and provision because of your weak ones”.
Do not let activism delude you from your shortcomings
If you are an activist in your community, do not think that this is, it and of itself, a sign of Allah ﷻ’s pleasure. Are you fulfilling the obligations of Islam? Praying five times a day? Respecting your parents? These “basic” actions are far more important than activism. And if you have shortcomings in these obligations, don’t let your activism fool you into think that Allah ﷻ is showering you with grace. The Prophet ﷺ said:
“Verily, Allah may support this religion at the hands of a wicked person.”
Some people misunderstand this hadith and think it means that a wicket person is blessed by Allah ﷻ when they support the religion. In reality, this hadith was referring to a man who apparently fought bravely for Islam at the Battle of Khaibar but who the Prophet ﷺ labeled as being from the people of hell. You may actually be a person who Allah ﷻ brings benefit to Islam with but still be a person who is removed from the mercy of Allah ﷻ. That’s not a position you want to be in.
Don’t take activism as your label
You must have something to define yourself other than being an “activist”. Your order of obligations begin with doing the bare minimum acts of worship and then expand to providing halal rizq for yourself and your family before engaging in extra acts. If you’re in college, your priority is to get your degree, not to attend marches. That’s not to say you can’t be both a good student and a good activist. Read here for our college guide on how to maximize what you get out of college. At the end of the day, though, you have to be more than just “an activist”.
Remember that activists are not scholars
Most scholars won’t say this because it sounds arrogant, but the reality is that ‘ulema are given a higher status in Islam. An activist, on the other hand, is not. Activists are normal people. ‘Ulema are the inheritors of the Prophet ﷺ and should receive respect accordingly. This doesn’t mean all scholars are perfect. When I was in college, I had the chance to drive around many speakers who came to my campus. Some were amazing people. Others were not. But even those who are not still merit respect by virtue of the fact that they have sat and studied Islamic knowledge, connecting themselves with a spiritual tradition that goes back directly to the Prophet ﷺ.
It’s important to keep track of your goal and to not let the means become the ends. Don’t live to be an activist, but rather be an activist as a means to attain Jannah and the pleasure of Allah ﷻ. When that goal is clear, everything else will fall into its proper role insha’Allah.