I am one of the many people who, on multiple occasions, bemoaned the current status of Muslims around the world for things ranging from anti-shari`ah laws in the U.S. to headscarf bans in Europe to anti-freedom in parts of the “Muslim” world. I used to cry over how we were once a strong, vibrant, intellectual community. How we were once beacons of light in the dark ages and how we led the world in sciences, arts and philosophy. For years, I felt frustrated, helpless and angry at our current status. After all, aren’t we “the best nation produced [as an example] for mankind” (Qur’an 3:110)? Out of my frustration, I started distancing myself from my community, the community whose status disappointed me. I barely maintained my prayers, I fasted during Ramadan begrudgingly, and I tried to identify myself with many things other than Islam. I was in this free fall until I came across a hadeeth (record of the words of the Prophet ﷺ, peace be upon him) that I have read many times before:
قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم المؤمن القوي خير عند الله من المؤمن الضعيف وفي كل خير
Imam Muslim reported that Abu Hurayrah has narrated that the Prophet ﷺ has said: “A strong believer is better and dearer/more loved by Allah than a weak believer and both are good.”
I never paid much attention to this hadeeth but this time it made me stop and think. Why is it that, even among the believers, the stronger one is more beloved to Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He)? Islam, in all of its forms of worship, engrains in us a sense of community. As we all know, it is better to pray in congregation, more blessed to break our fast with others, and our money is purified by sharing it with those in need. So why then does this hadeeth seem to encourage us to compete as individuals? So I started reading and learning more and I came across this other hadeeth:
عن أبي موسى الأشعري رضي الله عنه قال: قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم : “المؤمن للمؤمن كالبنيان يَشُدُّ بعضُه بعضاً – وشبك بين أصابعه” متفق عليه.
Abu Musa Al-Ashaari narrates that the Prophet ﷺ has said, “Believers are like a structure, parts of which support one another.”
That’s it! A strong believer is more beloved to Allah (swt) because every believer is a building block in the structure we call the ummah (community). It is this sense of individual responsibility within the collective community that made me change my course. Instead of lamenting over the past, and not paying any attention to the present, I started to strengthen myself both spiritually and physically. I started maintaining my prayers on time, longing for siyam (fasting), and reading more of and about the Qur’an. I even started paying more attention to my health regarding what I eat and how often I exercise. After all, to continue performing my Islamic duties I must be physically fit as well.
I soon found myself more at peace yet wanting more. So I started praying at the masjid hoping to gain more reward for the congregational prayer. But I found something unexpected. I found others, like me, working on strengthening themselves. Together we created an atmosphere of positive reinforcement and support. If one failed to make it to the masjid a few days in a row, someone would call to make sure all is well. We began to recognize each individual’s strength and encouraged each other to share it with the group. Some knew how to recite the Qur’an well; others knew tafseer (explanation of the Qur’an), hadeeth or seerah (life of the Prophet ﷺ), and still others were passionate about community outreach. Even though we were a few, we drew upon each other’s strengths and created halaqahs (study circles). These halaqahs grew in numbers. Eventually the community became stronger, more aware of itself and its role within society.
Now instead of crying over the status of the ummah I see how seemingly small changes can have a profound, positive effect. I recognize that I as an individual have a responsibility not only towards myself but towards the greater community. I now fully understand what Allah (swt) says,
إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يُغَيِّرُ مَا بِقَوْمٍ حَتَّىٰ يُغَيِّرُوا مَا بِأَنْفُسِهِمْ
“Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.”