Friday, January 6, 2012

The Foundation of Community: Reflections on the Theme of the 2011 Reviving the Islamic Spirit Convention

This year’s Reviving the Islamic Spirit convention, which is held annually in Toronto, was dedicated to the theme, ‘Control, Chaos, or Community:  Three Ways, One World, Our Choice.’ Although the theme is quite complex and can be approached from an assortment of perspectives – as was demonstrated by the different presentations at the convention, there is one element underlying the three scenarios of control, chaos, and community that deserves particular attention.

This element is trust.

Trust flows through the most basic aspects of our lives. We put our trust in other drivers who share the same road that we drive on. We trust that the vendor has not poisoned food when purchasing food from them. We trust that the elevator won’t snap and collapse when using them. Without trust, we would exist in a state of paralysis.

Moreover, trust is the bedrock of healthy relationships. Whether the relationship is parent-child, husband-wife, manager-employee, or leader-public, it cannot be sustained without the backdrop of trust.

But when the authority in the relationship does not trust his subordinates, he/she will exercise heightened control over his/her subordinate(s), causing the subordinate(s) to feel oppressed, resentful, and unmotivated.  Consequently, the subordinate(s) may not realize the potential within him/her to contribute and succeed, and the relationship will be filled with fear, hate, and suspicion, and devoid of love, respect, mercy.

Conversely, when the subordinate(s) lack(s) trust in the authority and the laws put in place, the subordinate(s) may attempt to abandon the jurisdiction of the authority, break the laws, or rebel against the authority, all of which may lead to chaos.

A certain degree of control and chaos is necessary in the preservation and development of relationships. But moving beyond the spectrum of control and chaos, how does one establish a paradigm of community? In other words, how does one establish trust in a relationship?

Stephen Covey contends, in his Principle-Centred Leadership, that one prerequisite to establishing trust in a relationship is to be trustworthy.

Trustworthiness leads to trust.

Stephen Covey’s contention is in complete harmony with Allah’s divine wisdom to endow his beloved Prophet (peace and blessings be upon Him) with the attribute of trustworthiness first, before establishing his prophethood. Allah mentions Him as such in the Quran, “(One) to be obeyed, and trustworthy” (81:21). Known in Makkah as al-Ameen (the Trustworthy) for his honesty in transactions, in fulfilling his promises, and in fairly resolving disputes, the seeds of trustworthiness were sown in the hearts of the people, which made it easy for many of them to harvest the message of Islam. One can imagine how difficult it would have been to convince people to change their beliefs without first demonstrating trustworthiness.

The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon Him) purposefully used his trustworthiness as leverage to invite Makkans to Islam. It is related in Bukhari that when the verse: "And warn your tribe of near kindred.”  (26:214) was revealed, Allah’s Messenger (peace and blessings be upon Him) went out, ascended the mountain As-Safa, and called out, "O Sabahah!" The people then gathered around him, whereupon he said, "If I inform you that cavalrymen are proceeding up the side of this mountain, will you believe me?” They said, “We have never heard you telling a lie.”  Then (after establishing his trustworthiness) he said, "I am a plain warner to you of a coming severe punishment.” 

The Prophet’s trustworthiness was so well recognized that even his enemies refrained from challenging his trustworthiness. The arch-enemy of Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon Him), Abu Jahl, said, “We do not call you a liar. We say that what you bring is a lie” (ash-Shifa).  And in another narration, Abu Jahl said, “By Allah, Mohammed is a truthful person, and never lies” (ash-Shifa). When Heraclius, the Emperor of Rome examined Abu Sufyan, who had yet to embrace Islam, about the veracity of the Prophet (peace and blessing be upon him) he asked, "Did you ever suspect him of being a liar before he said what he says?" Abu Sufyan replied, "No." (Bukhari)

Even Allah (most High) mentions in the Quran, “We know what they say saddens you. It is not you that they belie; but the harm-doers deny the verses or Allah.” (6:33)

It is through trustworthiness then, that trust is developed. And it is through trust that healthy relationships are established. Healthy relationships reap success, because we all need each other.

As a final point, for Muslims living in the west (or not), the Prophetic way indicates that Muslims must impress upon our non-Muslim acquaintances the attribute of trustworthiness before impressing upon them Islamic beliefs. Muslims must demonstrate that they can be trusted, and are principle-centred people, even to the Abu Jahls of today. Developing relationships of trust with non-Muslims is becoming increasingly critical as we become a global village. It is only then that non-Muslims will cultivate an appreciation for Islam.

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