Imam A. Rashied Omar
Since Donald J. Trump’s inauguration on 20 January as the 45th president of the United States, the sense of discrimination felt by the Muslim community has dramatically heightened as acts of violence targeting Muslims have increased. Islamophobia and hate crimes are at an all-time high. This has been empirically and independently confirmed by studies commissioned by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) as well as the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). Emblematic of this spike in Islamophobia is that since the beginning of 2017 over two-dozen Islamic Centers across the US have received bomb threats or have been vandalized. In the early hours of Saturday morning January 28 2017, the Islamic Center of Victoria in Texas, was burnt to the ground by unknown attackers. A day later, on Sunday 29 January 2017, six worshippers were killed and eight others injured by a lone gunman at the Grand Mosque in Québec, Canada.
How do we make sense of and sustain ourselves during these trying times?
The current plight of Muslims and other minorities in the United States of America could be regarded as a kairos moment; a felicitous moment to reflect on the crisis that we are faced with, and also an opportune moment in which supplication and prayer can be a central means for individuals and communities to find hope and solace. Challenging times such as these are ideal for seeking corrective action and healing through intensified supplication and prayer.
Supplication and prayer holds great value in Islam and other religions and is an integral part of the life of the conscientious believer. It is a means of communication and dialogue with God and it is something that conscientious believers constantly pursue. The Muslim sacred scripture, the Glorious Qur’an, proclaims that the raison de etre of the mission of all God’s Messengers and Prophets is the establishment of justice among humankind (Q57:25). In pursuit of their challenging mission of a justpeace one of their major sources of strength and inspiration was that of supplication and prayer. It is no small wonder that all of our sacred scriptures are replete with supplications ofearlier Messengers and Prophets as they continuously prayed to God during their missions and struggles for a justpeace.
The Prophet Muhammadstarted his social justice activism in his youth –long before prophethood. As a teenager he joined a social justice coalition known as hilf al-fudul (literally the pact of the virtuous). Throughout his life he strived for both individual and social reform and consistently turned to God in supplication and prayer. In a hadith(prophetic tradition) foundin the collection of Imamal-Tirmidhi, he is reported to have identifiedpeople who feel oppressed or discriminated against, as one of three groups of people whose supplications are precious and recognized by God.
The Power of Supplication
In the secular age we live in, supplication and prayer seems to have lost its efficacy and charm. Yet the impulse to pray is one of the most innate of human behaviors- especially during times of crisis – albeit in different ways depending on one’s tradition. Prayer keeps us real and humble by making us realize that even though our human agency is important, there are factors in our lives that are beyond our control. This is not to say that we simply pray and wait for miracles to fall from heaven – because prayer without action is imprudent, for human beings shall have that for which they strive (Q53:39).
Prayer is the consciousness of spirit and it is a powerful tool that can be used to influence social change. In fact, I believe that our efforts as social justice activists become more meaningful if it emerges from a spiritually purified and a non-avaricious heart. Without a solid spiritual foundation, social justice activism can unwittingly become a self-fulfilling quest for egomania, self-enrichment, and the feeding of the base desires of the carnal self. In Islam we see this challenge expressed in the notion of jihad al-nafs, which is, in mystical traditions of Islam, the greatest form of jihad. It is the spiritual struggle to purify the soul and refine the disposition. The enduring challenge facing the person of faith who is committed to social justice struggles is how to maintain the mizan i.e. a healthy balance between individual spiritual growth and purification and more traditional methods of frontline social justice activism.
The prayer I offered at the Islamic Society of Michiana in the state of Indiana on the day of the inauguration reflects the desire to achieve this balance between the interior and exterior dimensions of faith and public life, especially in light of the concern that has been growing since Islamophobic remarks surfaced during the presidential campaign:
(Ya Rahman Ya Rahim) O Allah, Lord of Mercy and Compassion
At this challenging time in the history of the US, we pray for greater commitment to active citizenship,We pray for hope to illuminate each moment of our lives,Hope for a better future,Hope for love and kindness,Hope for peace, justice, and a better life for all.
(Ya Rabb al-Qist) O Allah, the Generous and Utterly Just,
Guide the leadership of America to use their power to serve the good of all and to fashion a more just and caring world. And guide the Muslims of the United States to bear witness to the noble teachings of Islam with wisdom and compassion. We implore You to guide us all to the ways of peace with justice.Allahuma Amin.
I see the current charged political atmosphere in America as a kairos moment – a moment of truth and of opportunity – an opportunity that if seized upon, may transform the world into a more vibrant democracy and a more just and caring society. At this time of crisissocial activism sustained and supported by sincere supplication should adorn the lives of the conscientious believer.