Article in Brief: The author discusses a shift in mindset that can potentially be disastrous to Muslim peoples and nations. The author provides a brief explanation of this shift and 3 possible reversion techniques from Islamic teachings.
“… but do good (all of you); for Allah loveth those who do good.” – The Holy Quran (2:195)
During a recent discussion with some friends, we were comparing behavioral aspects of people from different parts of the world. One of the things I brought up during the discussion was an incident of kindness I remember very distinctly from my childhood. My family and I arrived in Orlando, Florida, on a rainy evening and there were no cars at our disposal to go get some basic groceries. Our neighbor, who had never seen us before, lent us his brand new pickup truck for the evening without asking for anything in return. What surprised me was that I could not remember any such acts of kindness that I had experienced from Muslim strangers albeit our religion constantly encourages it.
With the events in the Islamic world over the last century, there has occurred a tremendous shift. A shift that has taken us away, in my opinion, from caring about communal well-being towards an extreme emphasis on our personal spheres. Although I wouldn’t normally generalize, but from what I see, it is as though we have been tangled up in this struggle for survival in a way that makes us ready to do anything to move up even if it means bringing others down. Even though many claim to be patriotic and support social causes, these days, it has become rare to hear from people unless they need something and rare to find people motivated towards a cause unless there is social or financial benefit in it for themselves.
Furthermore, Muslims have become indifferent towards ethically incorrect behavior such as littering, domestic abuse, as well as injustice towards others. On the contrary, societies such as certain parts of North America or Europe will stand up and self police any ethically incorrect behavior even if it is as small as not throwing a plastic bottle in the recycle bin. Some of the factors that led our society to go in the other direction can include lack of protection of rights, shift in incentives and societal reward/punishment structure, as well as lack of proactive upbringing of young children. (Please refer to previous articles in this column for further insights in these topics.)
Why is this important? Over time (Acemoglu & Robinson 2010), when communal well-being becomes a mindset, it results in stability, peace, advancement of knowledge, and economic growth. Similarly, when individual well-being and exploitation becomes the main mindset, it results in instability, chaos, corruption, and regression. The evidence of this is the numerous accounts of history that tell the tales of empires and dynasties that rose and fell from the Ancient Greeks to the time Muslim ruled Spain to the current North & South Korea. Therefore, the impact of this shift on us is tremendous and requires a proactive correction of thought processes.
Since my article is about Muslims and Islam, I think the best approach is to discuss the context of the religion in a few but simple points. There are three basic principles which I believe will aid us in refocusing the benefits we seek beyond our own personal spheres.
First, we should train ourselves to like for others what we like for ourselves and consequently do acts of kindness towards others as we would like other to do towards us. Similarly, we should learn how to hate for others what we hate for ourselves. Others in this context should include neighbors, colleagues, friends, family, strangers, past and future generations, and all people in general.
“None of you will believe until you love for your brother what you love for yourself.”
” A man walking on a path who finds a thorny branch and pushes it away (to avoid injury or inconvenience to others) Allah will thank him and forgive his sins” – The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) – Sahih Muslim and Sahih Bukhari
Second, we should encourage good behavior and discourage bad behavior up to our utmost capacity whilst maintaining all levels of respect. We should do this especially when there is harm or good being done towards others. We should be the pioneers of encouraging people to be good to others, to the environment, to animals, to encourage education, to protect women’s rights, etc. We should encourage a reversion to a communal mindset and lead this by example.
“When any one of you sees anything that is disapproved (of by Allah), let him change it with his hand. If he is not able to do so, then let him change it with his tongue. And if he is not able to do so, then let him change it with his heart, though that is the weakest (kind of) faith.” – The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) – Sahih Muslim
Finally, we should begin doing more communal activities such as praying in congregation, reconnecting with distant family members, and helping children and orphans. This allows for the creation of social bonds and emotional links which facilitate the mindset of communal well-being.
[… and bow down your heads with those who bow down (in worship)] – The Holy Quran (2:43)
“If you intend to soften your heart, then feed the poor and pat the head of the orphan.” – The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) – [Musnad Ahmad, Classified as Hasan]
In summary, over time, I believe there has been a shift towards an individualistic and exploitative mentality in the Muslim world. This mentality could potentially be our recipe to failure as nations as well as societies. In order to prosper, we need to revive the mind set of communal well being which I believe can be achieved through following the 3 Islamic principles explained above.