بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
All praise is due to The Sovereign Lord, Allah. May the best benedictions and peace be upon the most perfect of leaders and guides, the chosen one, Muhammad. To proceed:
Found in the voices of early American essayists is an undercurrent of revolution. Often times this is looked at in either a literary light or a historic one, but seldom is this topic looked at in terms of practical applications for our day and time. The aim of this blog is to serve as a spark for change and so often the change, like every revolution, is more internal than external and so requires shifts in perspectives more than outward acts. In this post, the essay “Civil Disobedience” by Henry David Thoreau will be abridged and commented upon. It is entitled:
Being A Revolutionary
Wm. Halim Breiannis
Henry David Thoreau said, “Government is at best but an expedient; but most governments are usually, and all governments are sometimes, inexpedient. … Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience then? I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward. It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right. … The mass of men serve the state thus, not as men mainly, but as machines, with their bodies. … Such command no more respect than men of straw or a lump of dirt. They have the same sort of worth only as horses and dogs. Yet such as these even are commonly esteemed good citizens. … A very few, as heroes, patriots, martyrs, reformers in the great sense, and men, serve the state with their consciences also, and so necessarily resist it for the most part; and they are commonly treated as enemies by it.
“…How does it become a man to behave toward this American government today? I answer that he cannot without disgrace be associated with it. … All men recognize the right to revolution; that is, the right to refuse allegiance to, and to resist, the government, when its tyranny or its inefficiency are great and unendurable. But almost all say that such is not the case now. But such was the case, they think, in the revolution of ’75. … a people, as well as an individual, must do justice, cost what it may. … There are thousands who are in opinion opposed to slavery and to the war, who yet in effect do nothing to put an end to them; who, esteeming themselves children of Washington and Franklin, sit down with their hands in their pockets, and say they know not what to do, and do nothing; who even postpone the question of freedom to the question of free-trade. … They will wait, well disposed, for others to remedy the evil, that they may no longer have to regret.
“…Even voting for the right is doing nothing for it. It is only expressing to men feebly your desire that it should prevail. A wise man will not leave the right to the mercy of chance, nor wish it to prevail through the power of the majority. There is but little virtue in the action of the masses of men. … under the name of Order and Civil Government, we are all made at last to pay homage to and support our own meanness. After the first blush of sin comes its indifference….Those who, while they disapprove of the character and measures of a government, yield to it their allegiance and support and are undoubtedly its most conscientious supporters, and so frequently the most serious obstacles to reform.
“…How can a man be satisfied to entertain an opinion merely, and enjoy it? Is there any enjoyment in it, if his opinion is that he is aggrieved? … Men generally, under such a government as this, think that they ought to wait until they have persuaded the majority to alter them. They think that, if they should resist, the remedy would be worse than the evil. But it is the fault of the government itself that the remedy is worse than the evil. It makes it worse.
“…If it is such a nature that it requires you to be an agent of injustice to another, then, I say, break the law. Let your life be a counter friction to stop the machine. What I have to do is to see, at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn. … I came into this world, not chiefly to make it a good place to live in, but to live in it, be it good or bad. A man has not everything to do, but something; and because he cannot do everything it is not necessary that he should do something wrong. … For it matters not how small the beginning may seem to be: what is once well done is done forever. But we love better to talk about it: that we say is our mission. Reform keeps many scores of newspapers in its service, but not one man.
“…Under a government which imprisons any unjustly! the true place for a man is also a prison. … A minority is powerless as long as it conforms to the majority; it is not even a minority then; but it is irresistible when it clogs by its whole weight. If the alternative is to keep all just men in prison, or give up war and slavery, the State will not hesitate which to choose. If a thousand men were not to pay their tax-bills this year, that would not be a violent and bloody measure, as it would be to pay them, and enable the State to commit violence and shed innocent blood. This is, in fact, the definition of a peaceful revolution, if any such is possible. … but even suppose blood should flow, is there not a sort of blood shed when the conscience is wounded? Through this wound a man’s real manhood and immortality flow out, and he bleeds to an everlasting death. I see this blood flowing now.
“…They who assert the purest right, and consequently are most dangerous to a corrupt State, commonly have not spent much time in accumulating property. … But the rich man…is always sold to the institution which makes him rich. Absolutely speaking, the more money, the less virtue…thus his moral ground is taken from under his feet. The opportunities of living are diminished in proportion as what are called the “means” are increased. The best thing a man can do for his culture when he is rich is to endeavor to carry out those schemes which he entertained when he was poor….It costs me less in every sense to incur the penalty of disobedience to the State than it would to obey. I should feel as if I were worth less in that case.
“…At the request of some selectmen, I condescended to make some such statement as this in writing: – ‘Know all men by these presents, that I, Henry Thoreau, do not wish to be regarded as a member of any incorporated society which I have not joined.’ This I gave to the town clerk; and he has it. … as they could not reach me, they resolved to punish my body; just as boys, if they cannot come at some person against whom they have no spite, will abuse his dog. I saw that the State was half-witted, that it was timid as a lone woman with her silver spoons, and that it did not know its friends from its foes, and I lost all my remaining respect for it, and pitied it.
“…Thus the State never intentionally confront’s a man’s sense, intellectual or moral, but only his body, his senses. It is not armed with superior wit or honesty, but with superior physical strength. I was not born to be forced. I will breathe after my own fashion. Let us see who is the strongest. What force has a multitude? … They force me to become like themselves…What sort of life were that to live? … I am not responsible for the successful working of the machinery of society. … I simply wish to refuse allegiance to the a State, to withdraw and stand aloof from ineffectually…In fact, I quietly declare war with the state, after my fashion, though I still make what use and get what advantage of her I can, as is usual in such cases.
“…I do not wish to quarrel with any man or nation. I do not wish to split hairs , to make fine distinctions, or set myself up as better than my neighbors. I seek rather, I may say, even an excuse for conforming to the laws of the land. … However, the government does not concern me much, and I shall bestow the fewest possible thoughts on it. It is not many moments that I live under the government, even in this world. …
“…Truth is always in harmony with herself, and is not concerned chiefly to reveal the justice that may consist with wrong-doing. … There are orators, politicians and eloquent men by the thousands, but the speaker has not yet opened his mouth to speak who is capable of settling the much-vexed questions of the day. We love eloquence for its own sake and not for any truth which it may utter, or any heroism it may inspire. …
“…The authority of government…to be strictly just, it must have the sanction and consent of the governed. It can have no pure right over my person and property but what I concede to it. … there will never be a really free and enlightened State until the State comes to recognize the individual as a higher and independent power, from which all it’s own power and authority are derived, and treats him accordingly.”
It is tempting enough to leave the post with only these words by Thoreau. What has been said by him here is really sufficient for one who contemplates. What is more, it is all the better because it is a classic American voice, an essay written in the mid 19th century. It shows that it is not un-American or un-patriotic to speak like this but rather it is at the heart of what it means to be American. To say there is no need to agree with the government, that participation itself is aiding injustice and serves as the main obstacle to reform, that it is only fear that makes people conform to their standards (fear of labels, fear of being targeted, fear of retaliation, fear of physical violence visited upon one by their own government); to point out that so many people are willing to talk about the wrongs of society, the injustice, the corruption – but so few are doing anything about it; to say that the minority must not be silent but interrupt the machinery of government – don’t pay taxes, don’t even vote when it only serves to grease the wheels of corruption, injustice and violence – this is the voice of a true American…a principled American. This Classic American essayist understood that it was slavery to one’s career and fear of debt that drove so many to remain silent in the face of evil and so he firmly stood out, withholding his allegiance to the government, since, after all, it was not a government that respected him as a man unto himself, nor did he ever “join” it to begin with. Yet this separation was a separation from state, not from society, he neither looked down upon his people nor left them, rather he lived a life of calling to what he understood as good – in word and by living as an example. Too many were already talking, he instead chose to act. That is patriotic; that is American.
That is sufficient as a message. It is not my aim however, to just present these American voices. It is to use these voices to call to a message relevant to the indigenous Muslim community specifically. What I want to remind the reader of is the second half of the Hadith of intentions wherein the messenger of Allah (May the best benedictions and peace be upon him) said, “Indeed actions are but by intentions and every person will attain that which they intend. Whoever migrates for Allah and His messenger, his migration is for Allah and His messenger. While whoever migrates to attain some benefit in the excesses of this worldly life or for a woman, in order to marry, then his migration is for that which he migrated for.” The second half of this narration speaks about migrating and it is this point that will be discussed.
The indigenous community of believers are obliged to create an Islamic environment in their lands to which others may come. It is not for others to come from afar and do it for them nor should they look for aid from the disbelievers in this task. The indigenous Muslim population should not be pleased with the status quo, they should be working towards a level of semi-autonomy. There should be work to designate a community (place/space) that is designated as a Muslim area, where the Muslims seek to live. The masjid should be established within that designated area and the Muslims should seek to move closer to the masjid. Along with this, businesses should be established to make the community economically viable. Not only halal stores, book stores, or stands for oils and incense – also general stores -American food style diners, clothes, shoes, electronics, a pharmacy, grocers, hardware stores, etc.. These stores should be Muslim owned and the community needs to frequent them because that keeps the money in the community, strengthening it as an economic force. With this must come schools. Not just K-12 and not priced to exclude the impoverished. There should be classes held for new Muslims, for Muslims seeking to marry, and higher education so that the community is producing a level of learning within its ranks from which scholars and imams will emerge, bringing forth its own leadership. Along with this comes the need for a judge. Civil matters should be handled by an Islamic arbiter, not the disbelievers. Marriage, divorce, law suites, etc. are all matters that can be handled in an Islamic court, within the community…this can be done today! Other faith based communities have their own civil courts for such matters, there is no excuse why we do not work towards this. Criminal court is another matter, that is from the differences between full autonomy and semi-autonomy, but with the civil court, it is enforceable within the legal system of the land instead of simply hoping the litigants have Taqwa. When these elements come together there is an autonomy where that area is now a legitimate place of Hijra. It is the duty of the indigenous Muslims to work towards this and it is the role of the immigrant to aid them in that.
Unfortunately what is seen is immigrant Muslims undermining the efforts of the indigenous Muslims by refusing to mix with them, let alone assist them. Due to various reasons -classism and racism being the two major obstacles – the immigrants go and form their own communities, their own masjids, their own schools and then become assimilated into the system and state of the disbelievers. The indigenous Muslims on the other hand make “perfect” the enemy of “good” – instead of taking things step by step and building, acknowledging each success along the way, they look at how far the road is and how difficult the struggle and pronounce swiftly that it can not be done…so they give up. This then leaves them remaining in the system and state of the disbelievers.
Voting, paying taxes, shopping at the great centers of mass consumerism – all of this just continues to feed a system so many complain about, feed the system every believer recognizes as unjust and wrong. People debate and argue, write blogs such as this one and spend hours in discussion – but which individual, which family, which community will act? Where will we have the first semi-autonomous Islamic community here in the U.S.? Which of our Amirs, our Imams, will be the first to receive legitimate muhajirs from across the continent? Who will work so that the Muslims can migrate to a place for the sake of Allah and not some worldly reason?
Do not think, however, that it is as simple as a declaration, as many have made and continue to make such claims. Rather, it takes hard work, commitment and most of all, sincerity, to become a reality. It is not about inviting to a dream, it is about building first and that requires the efforts and dedication of the community. As Thoreau mentioned, an Amir or an Imam only has real authority if it sanctioned and consented by those governed by him. What this means is that any legitimate authority in our communities is not those who receive a salary from the board but rather the one the community cedes authority to…and then follows.
Our communities are more to blame than the leadership because no one wants to follow, everyone has the western mindset of complete independence. This is not Islam. We are commanded to be obedient to Allah, His messenger (May the best benedictions and peace be upon him) and those placed in authority over us. The community needs to recognize and respect legitimate authority within our communities and cede that authority to them. In turn, the leaders have an obligation to lead. They must have a vision, share that vision and work towards it with their community – and that vision should be making لا اله إلّا الله مُحَمَّدٍ رسول الله (there is no true God other than Allah and Muhammad is His messenger) foremost in our land.
We are American, that is our heritage, but we are Muslim first and foremost and so we need to recognize ourselves as a people with our own distinctions. We are not Arabs, nor are we Indian or Pakistani. We were not asked to change who we are as a people But rather to govern ourselves by the Qur’an and Sunnah, we must use this as the criterion by which we purify our culture. At the same time, we do not want some watered down Islam that is mixed with popular American culture or political correctness. We must come to a mature understanding of ourselves and strive to establish a place of Islamic hegemony.
In this way, we must raise, from amongst our own ranks, our leaders. We must establish communities which then confederate and ally themselves together. This is the way of non-violent revolution, it begins internally first – within the individual, then our families and then within our communities. It happens through the choices we make and the intentions for which we make those choices. True revolution comes when you live firmly according to your principles, refusing to sell yourself and your ideals for a share of this fleeting world and its adornments. A thousand people can not equal one principled person.
This will not only benefit the community itself, it will also offer a place of Hijra for others. But perhaps most importantly, it will be a means by which our fellow Americans will see the beauty of Islam and enter into it.
But be warned, as Thoreau mentioned, the government does not have the ability to respond to this kind of movement except with violence. They do not understand the desire of a people to be loosened from their system and see it as an attack – and in some ways it is, but from our side it is a peaceful, non-violent revolution – but it will be met with violence as has always been the sunnah of the disbelievers. And for that reason the believers must prepare themselves – for spiritual warfare. This is reminiscent of Sheikh Ahmadu Bamba’s poem to the French Imperialists in which he informed them that his sword was divine oneness, his canons and guns were the verses of the Qur’an, his spear was the Hadith, his arrows were the sunnah, and his spies were his Tasawwuf (Islamic purification of the heart and rectification of character). This is how we too must be preparing, as individuals, as families and as communities.
Society need not be an agent of change in the life of the individual but individuals must be agents of change for the society. We must realize that we are not only free to be like everyone else and to share their opinions – we are free to think, feel, speak, believe and act as strong individuals. We need to face ourselves and ask, how can we be great? Voting, taxes, relying upon the government for education, etc. -all of this is due to our own state of affairs. When I was younger we had a saying, “don’t talk about it, be about it.” When we are real, for The Real, we will become realized. When we want to establish life, humanity and Truth more than we want to be entertained we will become real men and women, we will become heroes…we will become revivers.
And all success is with Allah alone.