The suburban Muslim community in America has a problem. Our masajid are in shambles because we think money alone can save them. We believe the wealthy and powerful can change our condition. We believe Islamophobia can be fought by impressing the important, the elite and that personal safety comes from fleeing poor neighborhoods and dissociating ourselves socially from their ranks. We could not be further from the truth and the example of our Noble Prophet (saw).
Even benevolent donors may fall into this delusional mind set. Donations may keep walls standing, air conditioning running, and the windows polished but they do not fill the room with Prophetic love, divine guidance, and a people who will carry the message of Islam with integrity and grace. Only the blessings of Allah can do all this. When we change what is inside ourselves, when we put seeking Allah’s blessings and our Prophet’s example first, only then will He change our condition.
In Surah ‘Abasa, the Prophet was redirected by Allah from appealing to an important member of Meccan society while turning away from a humble blind man. In this famous incident recorded in the Quran, we are reminded as an ummah that we should not neglect the poor and downtrodden, nor prefer the influential to them. At a time in America where we hear about tragic hate crimes every few weeks, there is increased temptation to seek safety from the wrong sources. There is nothing wrong with practicing caution or building relationships with decision makers, but there is something very deeply wrong when suburban Muslims choose to dissociate themselves socially from poor Muslims and poor Americans in general, while rubbing elbows with police officials and politicians, in an effort to preserve their safety.
First of all, it is elitist, and secondly, it contradicts the Prophetic formula for success. Consider the following statements from the Prophet (saw):
Mus’ab ibn Sa’d ibn Abi Waqqas said, “Sa’d thought that he had preference over those below him and the Prophet (saw) said, ‘Are you given victory and provision except on account of the weak among you?'” [al-Bukhari]
Abu al-Darda said, “I heard the Messenger of Allah (saw) say, ‘Seek me among the poor and weak. Truly, you are given victory and provided for on account of the poor and weak among you.” [Abu Dawud]
How incredible that an entire ummah seeks the prayer and support of the marginalized among them in order to collectively enjoy success, victory, and even wealth. On a psychological level, the wealthy believer must recognize their blessing in wealth literally comes from the poor. Contrast this with the delusion of Qaarun, an incredibly wealthy tyrant who said, “I was only given it (wealth) because of knowledge I have.” (28:78) Unfortunately, many Muslims, even big donors may live with the myth of Qaarun: that their accumulated wealth is because they were smart, and played the game of money-making correctly and poor people are poor because they are either lazy, unintelligent, or predisposed to crime.
The Prophet (saw) flipped the script on so many social pathologies: sexism, racism, tribalism, and also elitism and classism. The Prophet’s guidance is a shining light in a time of darkness, but will we have the courage to carry his lamp? America today has criminalized poverty. The structural and institutional discrimination that exists against poor people reflect nothing short of a new age of ignorance. If we do not confront this ignorance at least on a spiritual level, we too will become from its people and proponents.
It’s disturbing to see suburban Masajid and their congregants having no meaningful fraternal relationship with the poor and marginalized, and even more so as the poor and marginalized also exist in suburbs and within these congregations. The programming alone usually reflect ticket costs that only the wealthy can afford. If you don’t see them at the event, maybe it’s because they’d rather not have to explain that they can’t afford being there. Donations are not a fraternal relationship. When we recognize that the poor and marginalized are not simply to be tolerated, but honored because they endure what has been lifted from the rest of us, so we can enjoy what we enjoy, we owe them a debt of gratitude, service, and love. They are the truly important people among us as this incident in the Prophet’s life indicates:
Abu’l-‘Abbas Sahl ibn Sa’d as-Sa’idi said, “A man passed by the Prophet (saw) who said to the man who was sitting with him, ‘What do you think of this one?’ He replied, ‘A man who is one of our nobles. This man, by Allah, if he proposes marriage, his proposal is accepted, and if he intercedes his intercession would be granted.’ The Messenger of Allah (saw) was silent. Then another man passed by and the Messenger of Allah asked him, ‘What do you think of this one?’ He answered, ‘O Messenger of Allah, this is just one of the poor Muslims. If he were to propose marriage, his proposal would not be worth accepting, and if he were to intercede, his intercession would not be granted, and if he were to speak, his words would not be listened to.’ The Messenger of Allah (saw) said, ‘This one is better than the whole earth full of the first one.” [Bukhari and Muslim]
The Prophet (saw) didn’t just honor the poor and marginalized, he loved them and he prayed for their love. He used to supplicate: “O Allah! I ask You for the means to do good, to avoid evil, and to love the poor, and I beseech You to forgive me and have mercy on me.” (Tirmidhi) Our beloved Prophet (saw) lived his values. Given the choice to be a Kingly Prophet or a Servant Messenger, he chose very easily to be a Servant Messenger. His wife, Lady Aisha (ra) reported after he made this choice, the Prophet (saw) never ate while reclining, saying: “I eat like a servant eats and I sit like a servant sits.” We know that he could have lived the life of a millionaire, but rather he was more generous than the free blowing wind. He despised the remodeling of homes for the sole purpose of symbolizing wealth and shunned excessiveness in spending and in the hoarding of worldly possessions. He taught us to see the power hidden within the poor, and their ultimate success:
Haritha ibn Wahb said, “I heard the Messenger of Allah (saw) say, “Shall I inform you about the people of the Garden? All who are weak and thought to be weak. If they were to take an oath by Allah, Allah would carry it out. Shall I tell you about the people of the Fire? All those who are coarse, domineering, and arrogant.'” [Bukhari and Muslim]
We can say we believe Allah (swt) and His Prophet (saw) but much of the suburban American Muslim community has behaved like something else. We have behaved like we believe our success, protection, and wealth come from the elite. We have behaved like the ones worthy of our fraternity are the powerful. We live socially disconnected from the poor no matter how much we donate, and consider ourselves morally and intellectually superior because we can donate. We live lifestyles that reflect the very waste, excess, and hoarding that the Prophet (saw) despised. Worse yet, we consider ourselves the Ansaar, and the poor and marginalized are the Muhajiroon. The truth is *they* are the Ansaar, and we are the ones impoverished spiritually, socially, materially, and even politically until we recognize it.
ابغوني في الضعفاء فإنما تنصرون و ترزقون بضعفائكم