Among the most beautiful, intrinsic elements of our Islamic tradition is the commitment to social justice. Islam came at a time where deep societal injustices were prominent, and our beloved messenger Muhammad (pbuh) challenged these ills and spread the goodness of God’s message to rectify and transform society. Social justice is inseparable from Islam, and striving toward it is embedded into our purpose as trustees and servants to God the Most Just.
Along with social justice, there is an element that is not as often put into practice, and that is social mercy. There is a difference between social justice and social mercy, and the latter requires a personal rectification; a turning to the state of one’s heart. As activists, we need to ask ourselves: how truly merciful are we, and how much room do we have in our hearts?
It is easy to dedicate statuses and tweets for those oppressed, but will we make space for those oppressed when they actually enter our lives? Do we have room in our hearts for our converts, our elderly, our marginalized, and even those who wrong us?
Our uncles and aunties can grow angry at police brutality on black lives, but when it comes to marrying their daughters, rarely is consideration given for a black brother.
The community will speak against widespread incarceration, but sparse time and effort are truly put in to nurture those who are incarcerated within our own cities.
We scoff at individuals who send their parents to nursing homes, but we hardly thinking about organizing visits to the nursing homes that surround us.
The concept of justice has a focus on power–on securing one’s rights. True activism in Islam is so much more than seeking justice. Imam Zaid (may Allah swt increase him) insightfully explains that true activism is making space in one’s heart, and oftentimes that entails forgoing justice for one’s self in favor of showing mercy. Let us look to our dear prophet Muhammad (pbuh), the ultimate example of mercy.The prophet’s heart had room for everyone; the oppressed and the oppressor. ‘Amr ibn al ‘Aas, Abu Sufyan, and Khalid ibn Al-Walid (among others) went from being the most bitter enemies of Islam to some of the closest and most devoted companions of the prophet. This is because our beautiful messenger gave to those who took from him, forgave those who wronged him, and prayed for those who hurt him. As believers, we are part of an extinguished movement of social mercy.
When hardships befall us, and when our demands for justice are not met, Islam does not propose a reactionary demand for control, it proposes an introspection into one’s heart. Imam Zaid put it beautifully, “..because it is the state of our hearts that will determine whether we are successful in our efforts; whether we will be the recipients of tawfeeq, or divine providence.”
Let us move beyond surface level activism to personal rectification and hold ourselves to a higher ground. Allah swt tells us in 23:96,
“Repel, by [means of] what is best, [their] evil. We are most knowing of what they describe.”
As activists striving toward our spiritual mission, we respond with that which is better. Let us work on the following:
- Reminding ourselves that the foundations of our activism must be love and mercy. If we cannot make space in our hearts to love, then there is no foundation for us to be with our Prophet (pbuh).
- Joining relations with those who break them with us. Indeed, it is our right to maintain those severed relations, but there is a higher ground. We must forego our rights and mend relations.
- Forgiving those who oppressed us. It is our right to seek retribution, but our higher ground promotes otherwise.
- Giving to those who take from us. Again, it is better to forego our rights and seek a higher outcome with He who is the Most Fair and Most Merciful.
May Allah swt allow us to rectify our hearts and grow to be activists who always embody prophetic love and mercy. Ameen.
Note: Article inspired by conversations with Shaykha Muslema Purmul surrounding the name for MaHabba, UCLA MSA’s Convert Care program. “MaHabba” means love, and is drawn from the verse from surat al- Insan (76:8), where the believers are described as those who feed and serve the poor, orphan, and captive out of love for the sake of God.