It was Ramadan in Jerusalem just after salah. The stone-walls and pathways spoke of deep, long histories of nations past; simply walking through the city brought to mind ancient conquests and childhood stories. As we passed through the crowds of people, a man yelled out to one of the vendors. The vendor was selling BBQ meat and the smoke irritated the man. The vendor, needlessly, retorted.
Within seconds, the first man, standing at 6 feet tall and 200 lbs, was lunging at the vendor over a flimsy table, covered with BBQ, hot coal and sharp skewers. A couple of men from the crowd intervened, pushing the giant back against the opposite wall, but they were no match for his size and strength. He snatched a small blade used to open bread from the table and started swinging at the vendor in rage. This time, many more men stepped in and were finally able to drag him away as he yelled over his shoulder for vengeance.
I stood in utter shock. All this over what? BBQ smoke? For the attacker, nothing mattered more at the time than his pride in front of the audience. How dare the vendor humiliate him in front of everybody, not only by ignoring his request, but by talking back? The man allowed his rage and pride to consume him in a brief moment, to the point where he was willing to hurt (or even kill?) somebody to defend his honor.
The rage this man embodied is likely rooted in years of frustration, repression, shame and resentment. The manifestation of his rage was probably only outlet for his condition. This is exactly the kind of behavior that the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ came to change. He ﷺ was sent as a mercy to show society how to manifest itself in its best form. Most of us can see that, but rarely do we understand or truly implement his methodology (i.e. sunnah). The Prophet ﷺ developed in the sahabah (his companions) a God-centric worldview that extended beyond their speech and into their actions. The Prophet ﷺ changed them from members of tribal factions into a united ummah. This truth was not only iterated through their verbal commitment, but through hard lessons and sacrifices. He ﷺ was able to show them the beauty of his sunnah by exemplifying it. It was through this example that he was granted the ability to transform the world – by the will of God – in 23 years.
Some say that in light of the Park 51 Islamic Center, the Qur’an burning, the vandalism, the hate-mail and so many other reported incidents, that “times are getting tougher for American Muslims.” It seems that an increasing number of people, especially in the media, are trying to define us, for us.
Having a God-centric worldview defines an individual as independent of their environment. An individual that is not contingent on societal relationships, but on a Divine relationship. An individual that trusts in the divine wisdom and divine decree.
American Muslims, and surely Muslims throughout the world, are in dire need of leaders willing to make the statement that our lives are not defined by shame, power, resentment or pride. A statement not given at the podium, but through our relationships at work with co-workers, in the classroom with our classmates, in salah with our brothers and sisters, in the dining hall with our dorm-mates and at home with our families. More profound than any news broadcast or YouTube video are the simple acts of kindness and strong bonds of friendship. This is one of the many reasons why the Prophet ﷺ was so respected and trusted, even by his enemies. It was not because he did what everyone wanted or expected him to do, or reacted the way everyone else did, but rather because he always did the right thing.
This is a reminder, to myself first, to remember our identity as American Muslims, and to live by the example of the Prophet ﷺ.