There is no doubt that there is oppression against Muslims in the world today, just as there is oppression against third world peoples, indigenous peoples, black people, and free men and women in each and every society the world over: free Americans, free Canadians, free Frenchmen and women. Muslims face attacks and injustice, marginalization and provocation. It’s true. But if we don’t learn moral integrity & spiritual refinement (ihsaan) before learning how to work for justice, we will fail to work for justice with the moral integrity & spiritual refinement (ihsaan) that absolutely must accompany it for it to be acceptable to God Most High.
*Truly it is by meditation upon God that hearts will find serenity and peace.*
When you meditate upon the fact that God is the Greatest – greater than any injustice or problem we have – the heart immediately finds serenity and peace. With a single command, He can completely stop the oppressors. Yet, the way we behave shows that we have forgotten God’s Role.
Let me be clear: feeling empathy for people who are suffering is absolutely necessary, but it’s what we do next that constitutes our reaction or response. How many of us, seeing a bad news story, turn to Him? What does it say about our faith, if our response is not to go to the Almighty and ask His Assistance? How sincere is our concern if it doesn’t prompt us to give up 10 minutes of sleep to petition our Lord, at the hour when He has promised to answer any request?
Instead, we spend hours poring over more news stories about the same event (one article is never enough), sharing links on Facebook, arguing with people on Facebook, feeling angry towards the oppressors as well as anyone who doesn’t agree with us, and then feeling too drained to spare a single supplication for the actual people we are concerned about.
Only God can give Victory from oppression; it’s not of our making or according to our timeline
Five years after the first Revelation, Amr bin Hisham (known as Abu Jahl) tortured to death our Lady Sumayya and her husband our Master Yasir: two shining examples of people who had found peace with God and had turned from this material existence to the spiritual realities of life. Believing he could extinguish the faith they carried, Abu Jahl used the full force of the ugliness of his frustrated ego and the inner torture of his own spirit rejecting salvation and peace. He tortured and raped Lady Sumayya in front of her own husband and son.
It was Abu Jahl who led and mobilized the average people of Quraysh to torment and murder the believers. According to ibn Ishaq, Prophet Muhammad ﷺ was not persecuted in the beginning, but his followers were. The strategy was to turn the followers against their Guide ﷺ or provoke the Guide into open conflict. But the Guide ﷺ was a mature human being, a wise Spiritual Master, and had an order from God.
Those oppressors, who wanted to extinguish the light of new revelation and the fresh opportunity for guidance and salvation God was offering to humanity, believed they could accomplish this by torturing the bodies of those who carried that light in their hearts – because the oppressors didn’t believe in the existence of the spiritual heart to begin with. They had oppressed their own souls and convinced themselves that only the material exists, and thus they dealt with the believers on this level. Yet the believers were on a whole other level, the level of the spirit.
Umar ibn al Khattab – who had not yet become Muslim – was also involved in harming the believers. He did so out of his belief in justice, in fact. He felt that the teachings of the Prophet ﷺ were unhealthy, dividing society, taking children from their parents and husbands from their wives…His sense of justice had not yet been enlightened by spiritual refinement and wider understanding, that only comes from connection to God. His sense of justice was an anger, a reaction, a frustration and a prejudice. He didn’t even know what he was dealing with. He completely misread the reality.
We can say that the noble flame of concern for justice within him was being usurped and used by the dark forces of his ego in order to burn him and burn others. May we be able to recognize ourselves in this description, so that we ask salvation from ego’s colonization, oppression and manipulation of the good (fitra) God has given each one of us.
During this time of persecution, Khabab ibn al Aratt was going through extreme torture at the hands of his own Mother, of all people. She was actually acting out of a sense of loyalty to her people, a noble feeling in its origin, but in this case, hijacked by the ego in order to wreak evil. She was zealous in demonstrating her willingness to sacrifice even her own son for the sake of that loyalty, having Khabab’s flesh seared with burning hot stones such that he would smell the flesh and fat burning off his body. Khabab’s Mother would take a break from this oppression only to give her son time to feel the pain and fear its continuation, so that he would go back on his decision to follow the Apostle of God ﷺ. During one such break, Khabab went to the Apostle of God ﷺ while he was at the Kaaba, and said: “Would you not pray for us, would you not ask God to give us victory? Would you not pray against these oppressors?”
What was the response of the Apostle of God ﷺ? With great concern for his follower, the Guide ﷺ sat up to his full stature. His Blessed Face turned red – which would happen when he would be gravely concerned. He said, “Believers among those who came before us (referring to the followers of Jesus who were persecuted for over four hundred years) would be combed with iron combs that would separate the flesh and nerves from their bones, yet they would not desert the guidance that God had given them. The oppressors would bring one of them in front of the others, and place a saw on top of his or her head and cut his or her body into two halves, and yet not one of them would give up on the guidance coming from their Lord.”
He ﷺ then looked in the eyes of Khabab and, holding his hand, said: “It is not your hastiness and frustration that will expedite God’s granting victory, rather, it is your patience. Be patient. Be patient.”
Then he ﷺ recited:
By Time as it passes
The human is always in loss
Except for those who trust in God,
support each other in the Truth,
and support each other to be patient.
The Apostle of God ﷺ then said with profound certitude, “In the Name of God, God will give victory to this Guidance until there is such peace, liberty and good established on earth that a woman can travel alone from Sanaa all the way to Hadramout (normally a very dangerous route), with no one to fear but God Himself.”
What an beautiful way to reassure Khabab and bring him to a new level of faith. The Apostle of God ﷺ was teaching us all a profound lesson. Victory – it is not something he ﷺ was even intending to ask for or even worry about – he ﷺ knew it was coming, without doubt. God had promised this. What was of concern to the Apostle of God ﷺ was his mission: instilling total faith in his followers. Faith is not just abstract belief, but total trust in God: trust in His timing; trust that He is seeing everything that is going on and not overlooking the slightest pain experienced by a person; full reliance on Him that He will grant relief when the appointed time comes; and finally, the patience to uphold these convictions. The Prophet ﷺ was concerned with making sure that his followers got the full benefit of being in the crucible of that persecution: a more profound relationship with the Divine.
This was the process of purification and preparation Allah chose for the very first Muslims. The oppression and persecution that took place against the very first believers, the most honoured of all humanity, is not some historical tragedy or happenstance. It is a key piece, as important a player in the making of that generation as the Revelation itself.
Just a year after the brutal murder of Sumayya and our Master Yasir, the Apostle of God ﷺ made this prayer: “O God, strengthen the call to Islam through the one You choose of the two men, ‘Umar bin Al-Khattab and Amr ibn Hisham [Abu Jahl].”
Let us be brave enough to ask: If we were transported with our current mentalities to that situation, would we accept that the Prophet ﷺ was praying for these two oppressors, rather than condemning them? Could we accept that there could even be a possibility of God choosing good for either of those notorious perpetrators of mass injustice? Yet we know the result of this prayer.
One of our intentions in speaking of the Prophet’s way of responding to the oppression in Makkah should be to make room in our minds for the possibility that not all is as we perceive it to be. In order to really understand the Sunnah, we need to take time to reflect on its wide range of guidance that spans many situations, including ways of responding that we are no longer familiar with – but must learn about. We must let these Prophetic responses guide our responses to the events around us. If we can just start to accept that there are options for response beyond our typical reactions to injustice (anger, indignation, retaliation), this will be one of the greatest victories for this Ummah.