Allah(SWT) narrates the story of Bani Isra-eel in Surah Al A-raf (7:163-164) explaining that the Muslims at the time of Musa (AS), the descendants of Ya’qub, also known as Isra-eel, were given a specific ruling about the day of Sabbath (Saturday). Bani Isra-eel were completely prohibited from doing any work or even lighting a fire. For this fishing village, it meant that they were not allowed to fish on Saturdays.
This injunction was particularly difficult to comply with, because by the power of Allah, the seas in which they fished proved to be poor fishing ground for six days of the week, but on every Saturday, all types of fish would appear in the same sea, and were so abundant and prominent that they could even be seen playing at the surface. On all other days, the same fish would vanish and the fishermen would come back empty handed. The appearance of the plentiful fish was a trial from Allah to test the faith, obedience and patience of the community.
This greatly frustrated the fishermen. They could not tolerate the observance of the Sabbath any longer, but at the same time, did not want to outrightly disobey Allah. Therefore, a group of them devised a scheme to circumvent Allah’s order. They would lay out their fishing traps on Fridays, and the fish that visited on Saturdays were caught in the traps. On Sundays, the fishermen would collect the fish. In doing so, they deliberately disobeyed Allah – even if technically they did not fish on Saturdays, the fish in fact were caught because of their trickery and deception. They understood that they were breaching the observance of Sabbath in substance. As time passed they became more daring and flouted Allah’s command openly.
In actual fact, the trial was to be a cleansing for their sins and disobedience, but they were unable to withstand that trial.
Allah the Almighty says: “And ask them (O Muhammad) (SAW) about the town that was by the sea; when they transgressed in the matter of the Sabbath (i.e. Saturday): when their fish came to them openly on the Sabbath day, and did not come to them on the day they had no Sabbath. Thus We made a trial of them, for they used to rebel against Allah’s Command (disobey Allah).” (Al Qur’an 7:163)
The rest of the villagers, who did not participate in such sinful acts, were divided into two groups. The first group were ACTIVE believers who actively disapproved of the actions and warned the wrongdoers to rectify their ways before the punishment and torment of Allah fell upon them.
The second remained silent in the face of all this wrongdoing. They did nothing to reprimand the wrongdoers. They allowed the disobedience to continue, even though they did not actively participate in such wrongdoing. In fact, they went further and also disapproved of the first group’s (the ones that tried to forbid the wrong) actions, asking: “Why do you preach to a people whom Allah is about to destroy or to punish with a severe torment?” meaning, in today’s terms, why bother correcting these people, because Allah will punish them anyway? The response of the active believers and advisors was Ma’dhiratan ilaa rubbikum wa la’allahum yattaqoon “To be absolved before your Lord and perhaps they may fear Him.”
The advising group was aware that if they did not actively try to stop the wrongs that were openly committed, then the torture and punishment of Allah would descend upon the whole community, and not just on the wrongdoers. They wanted to clearly disassociate themselves from the disobedient actions of the others, and realized that standing by passively would not provide them with an adequate defence against Allah.
Week after week, the disobedient fishermen continued to defy Allah’s orders, bringing with them abundant fish from the sea. Fearing the torture of Allah, the first group continued warning them against such actions and continued trying to forbid the wrong and command the good, but these reminders were ignored. Repeatedly, despite the multitude of warnings, the disobedient ones continued to transgress, and exceed their limits with Allah. Eventually, the punishment of Allah(SWT) descended upon them for their wrongdoing.
Today, people are also divided into three categories:
- Those who openly and boldly violate the Divine rules and regulations whether selling drugs, committing fraud, engaging in illegal relations, bullying, backbiting, harming and hoarding.
- Those who do not violate the laws themselves but observe, remaining silent and putting their heads in the sand, assuming that this will not affect them.
- Those who take action, having the courage and concern to advise those who do wrong even if they do not listen and persist. Their motivation is only to seek closeness to Allah(SWT) and have an evidence for themselves when we are all held to account on the Day of Judgement. They enjoined the lawbreakers to practice virtue and refrain from evil. Accordingly, when the scourge of Allah befell that township, the only people who were delivered from it were those who belonged to the third group. According to the Qur’an, they were delivered because they had shown their concern for the eradication of evil.
The other two groups were counted among the workers of evil and punished in proportion to the nature and extent of their crime.
Ask yourself, which group do you fall into?
Thinking about this and discussing this with others, there are a number of reasons why many of us turn a blind eye to wrong that is taking place and I’d like to address these reasons and explain the Islamic position on each of them.
1. “It’s not my problem”
There is a common understanding that if I bury my head into the sand, look after my own family and just focus on my own situation, everything will be OK. We often hear this in statements like:
- It’s not my kids dealing drugs.
- We are not in a warzone and we will be safe so long as we don’t get involved or state an opinion either way about oppression, here or abroad.
- There’s no smoke without fire. Why cant they just take benefits or hold down a job? They need to work hard like the rest of us.
- I don’t want to cause any trouble by raising my voice.
- So long as you don’t affect me, you can do what you want.
In today’s society, individualism and personal benefit are sacrosanct and prime. Unfortunately humans tend to only notice what’s immediate, which makes sense in tribes but creates substantial problems in large societies and nations legislated by one government. It promotes a thrust toward individualism in which the concerns of the few become more important than the welfare of the many. What is lost in a world striving toward individualism is the collective thirst for and subsequent implementation of equality. Without that, the voice of the collective won’t matter much at all, for the individuals who make them up will be gone.
Although there are some upsides to focusing on what is within ones own capability and influence, the selfishness and barreness of individuals fuels isolation and loneliness, which the NHS stated that “lonely heart patients are at ‘increased risk of dying’ after leaving hospital”.
However, Islam is based on recognising our duty to others. The role of all believing sons of Adam(AS) are khulafaa (custodians) on the earth. The Prophets (AS) were all concerned about others and promoted the importance of having a relationship with Allah(SWT) for all of society and for our Prophet Muhammad(SAW), that extended to all creation.
“I just don’t have time”
“I don’t have the time” has become our new catch-all phrase for everything we simply don’t want to do, replacing “I’m so stressed.” Even the unemployed seem to have no time. Children seem to have no time.
Yet, we find the time for what we want to do most. For some of us, that’s working out at the gym. For others, it’s building our business. Maybe it’s binge-watching Netflix, or browsing Facebook for hours every night. And all of those may be acceptable choices. But recognise each choice comes with a price. Every choice we make has an opposing choice that we have to make as well. If browsing social media until 1am each night is a choice, then the flip-side of that choice is rarely getting up at 5am to get to the gym in the morning. It’s not that you don’t have the time to go to the gym, but rather, you made a choice to do something else that to you, is more important.
In fact, you have all the time you need. You always have. You simply have to decide how you want to use it.
“I don’t have the ability”
Tomorrow, we are hosting a CV and interview workshop. And having read countless CVs, its interesting, how much blag and waffle we can all muster up for a job. None of us ever walks into an interview and undervalues their ability. Interestingly, some months ago a Board member at a high profile Public health organisation advised me to apply for a job if I could do just 40% of the job description. That’s why you are applying – to develop the other 60%. Each of us can learn and achieve with the right motivation.
Similarly, when we were looking to get married, none of us ever explained that we were just not worthy of our ideal bride. Rather, we would have the confidence and motivation to make ourselves worthy. Our nature tells us this – as a child, you didn’t ask permission to start walking and look how far you have travelled so far, stumbling, falling and getting back up again. If you wish to achieve worthwhile things in your life, you must become willing to do something worthy and bold.
Allahs prize and pleasure is far more worthy of us volunteering ourselves, developing our skill and raising our game. If we are not worthy today, then actively participating will make us worthy inshaAllah.
It was Muhammad Ali Jinnah who said that “With faith, discipline and selfless devotion to duty, there is nothing worthwhile that you cannot achieve.
“Not worth the effort… although I’d still pay for a bad a meal”
It’s interesting to observe how quickly we give up on our own good deeds and drag others down who are involved in something noble. It doesn’t matter if its Anthony Joshua, halal food or Islamic finance, a part of us revels in others failure and we can find a thousand reasons not to do something good but sometimes struggle to muster a single reason to be proactive and positive.
However, when we go and eat out, we will always pay for our food even if we complain about the meal. We recognise the effort and service even if we disapprove of the outcome. With good deeds, we set an unachievable bar which even the best companies in the world fail – think about famous products like Google+, Google Glasses, Apple iPhone 6 bent under the slightest pressure, Amazon restaurants, Facebook messenger, Elon Musk was fired from Paypal while he was on his honeymoon, exploded 5 rockets at launch and recently smashed his own Tesla Truck window twice during the public launch demonstration.
Get over your own fears and know that Allah(SWT) isn’t going to ask you what job you got, what colour your sofas are, what that last meal you posted was and what your funniest prank or best Netflix show are. He (SWT) will ask you contribution you made to the world with your skills and time here.
Don’t see immediate rewards
This is also the case when we don’t see immediate rewards. Research shows that the ability to put off our immediate desires to pursue long-term goals is a critical part of success. In our case, we know Allah(SWT) is aware of everything we do and our deepest intentions. Surely the reward He(SWT) prepares for every atom of good will go rewarded and the rewards are beyond any measure – 10 rewards for every letter of the Qur’an, 100’s for fasting and countless for every small act of kindness.
Other people are not doing it
In Islam, we dont follow the majority, rather we follow the Truth and Allah(SWT) mentioned the importance of not being swayed by social opinion in aayaat such as:
“And even if We had sent down to them the angels and the dead had spoken to them and We had brought together all things before them, they would not believe unless Allah pleases, but most of them are ignorant.” [Surah An’aam 6:111]
Therefore, for their breaking their covenant and their disbelief in the communications of Allah and their killing the prophets wrongfully and their saying: Our hearts are covered; nay! Allah set a seal upon them owing to their unbelief, so they shall not believe except a few. [Surah Nisa 4:155]
I remember one of my teachers sharing a story about In a forest, there lived three bulls: a red bull, a black bull and a white bull. Among them lived a lion. The lion never felt he was king of the forest. He felt outnumbered by three bulls, which he was.
One day, the lion said to the red bull and the black bull: “That white bull is so large and white and can be spotted easily in through the trees of our forest. My color is similar to yours. Let me eat the white bull, and the three of us will blend in well together. Then we will be safe in the forest.”
The red bull and the black bull said: “Go ahead, eat him.”
So the lion ate the white bull.
A few days later, the lion said to the red bull: “You and I look alike, your color and mine are similar. What do you say I eat the black bull, and the forest will be ours.”
The red bull replied: “Go ahead, eat him.”
And so the lion ate the black bull.
A few days later the lion said to the red bull: “Today I think I will eat you.”
The red bull said: “I know was eaten the day the white bull was eaten.”
Similarly, we need to recognise our strength is in our unity and action. Use your voice, your talents, your connections and capacity to do good. Don’t be apathetic or naive in your judgements. There is a Turkish proverb which states “The forest was shrinking, but the trees kept voting for the Axe, for the Axe was clever and convinced the trees that because his handle was made of wood he was one of them.”