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August 29, 2004

Slogans

 

Preliminary note: Note that the music for the site has changed, thanks to the web-hosting of Fadi Hussein. Take a minute to check out www.mobilecompnet.com

 

Among the countless blessings that God has given us mere mortals, perhaps the greatest is the ability to speak.  It is, perhaps, what sets us apart from the rest of creation: an ability to convey our thoughts, emotions, and ideas.  The ancient philosophers themselves understood this, referring to human beings as “the speaking animal” (al-haywân al-nâtiq). Moreover, we truly can understand the divine nature of this gift when Allah refers to man’s creation and says, “The Most Gracious! He taught the Qur’an. He created man. (and) He taught him speech (55:1-4). In other words, speech itself is of a divine nature and was something that was taught to us, to be used for meaningful purposes.  It is perhaps no coincidence that Allah then instituted angels to record our every word, as if to further stress the importance of this given faculty.

 

Words, when used properly, have the power to effect great change. It’s perhaps the greatest irony of the modern condition that words are present now in great abundance, but have lost their efficaciousness. Not only have words lost their power to institute change, but words have lost their ability even to serve as mediums of communication between people. Descartes wrote that one of the hallmarks of being a human being was being able to talk to one another. We have a plethora of means of communication that people make use of, yet we’re still unable to properly communicate.

 

To continue on an issue I had alluded to earlier in my khutbah post, this aforementioned inability to communicate certainly affects the Muslim community as well.  While we have these projects and efforts to revitalize and re-awaken the sleeping giant that is the nation of Muhammad, I think that serious progress is being hindered by a failure to properly communicate.  Specifically, we have relegated ourselves (and become content with) to mouthing trite slogans and other feel-good rhetoric that really doesn’t say much. Slogans such as “The Qur’an has the answer”, “We need to get back to the Qur’an and the Sunnah”, “Islam is the solution”, etc. may sound wonderful, but they really don’t say much.  In many cases, they’re perhaps even wrong: the Qur’an doesn’t have all the answers, it defeats the purpose of its challenge to ponder, reflect, and think. But it points one to the right answer, provided one is willing to think and make certain changes/perform necessary actions to bring about that change. Back to the point, however, slogans are nothing more than empty statements that make both the speaker and the listener content with such a statement. They provide no meaningful advice on how to bring about desired change—in many cases, they actually make people content to do nothing but mouth a given slogan, as if the uttering and repeating the slogan—as if it were the Du`a al-Nâsirî—will make things better (the Du`a al-Nâsirî, by the way, is a du`a composed by Imam al-Dârî in the wake of the French invasion of Morocco. It was composed by the Imam to be read by people specifically with the intent of driving the French out. It was so effective that the French began to suffer losses that they banned group reading of the Du`a).

 

Unfortunately, slogans have not been as effective as Du`a Nâsirî in addressing the issues that plague the Muslim community.  Yet we continue to mouth them, as if with enough persistence and effort, we can force a square peg into a round hole.  With the ISNA convention coming up in less than a week, I think this concern of mine will make even more sense. Not to detract anything from ISNA or other conventions, but if one listens closely to most speeches at large gatherings these days, slogans definitely outweigh substance. People get all hyped up after a talk, but after it’s over, they don’t know what to do or where to go from there.  This “ISNA syndrome” is best characterized by someone leaving a session or the convention with an energized, positive, and ready-for-the-long-haul attitude, only to not have an inkling of an idea of what to do after the convention is over. However, the only things they can remember are slogans and catch phrases, often mindlessly parroted when they return to their communities and palmed off as phrases of substance. The slogans were ineffective during the actual session; they certainly will not gain magical powers of amelioration after it.

 

Imam Jamil al-Amin (may Allah free him and declare him innocent) writes that there is no sloganeering in Islam, and that slogans have done a great harm to Islam, particularly in America.  Slogans have been the defining characteristic of “movements”—and the problem with “movements” is that the term makes people believe their actions will cause change, rather than God creating that change due to their actions. Slogans have therefore sterilized the power of words to spark an inner fire within people to make practical changes such that God can validate those efforts. It is perhaps this validation—an establishment—of words that Allah refers to in Sûrah Ibrâhîm, “Have you not considered how Allah sets forth a parable of a good word (being) like a good tree, whose root is firm and whose branches are in heaven. Yielding its fruit in every season by the permission of its Lord? And Allah sets forth parables for men that they may be mindful (14:24-25).”

 

This isn’t to say that slogans are completely useless either. There is truth and usefulness in most slogans; yet, the focus now has become so much on the catch phrase itself that the actual message is lost, and any possible change that could come about is left to wither in the wayside. Unless our discourses are weaned away from catch-phrases and slogans, our words will continue to be like a few raindrops trying to irrigate a parched and cracked land.  I believe our words need to go beyond that, to become the aforementioned goodly word: their power will lie in an ability to relate to people personally; their strength will be an ability to be easily understood; their dignity will be found in the lasting impressions they etch in the hearts of others; their grace will be their gentleness in dealing with people; their might will be in their providing people with realistic changes they can make; and their nobility will be found in making people feel the need for change and giving them the strength to make such changes.

 

The goodly word, a discourse that provides people with practical steps, motivation, and knowledge to effect change, is that tree with firm roots whose branches dance with the clouds, yielding its fruit of benefit to all—these are the types of discussions we need to aspire to and develop within our communities.  These discussions will only come about once we abandon slogans and re-learn how to speak to people as human beings.

 

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3 Comments
  1. Hahah… ahh come come… its not so bad…
    or is that the optimistic gleam that is still left in my eyes from only having gone through a week so far… … ..
    🙂 take care friend.

  2. good post, i hate to see when people with amazing potential to think and work get caught up in slogans and are never able to break out of them,
     
    There is an amazing Tafsir to the verse that you quoted that I have heard from one of the scholars, perhaps you may know but I shall write it anyways and it goes like this(i am paraphrasing from what I’ve listened to, so forgive me for any mistakes”:
     
    “Have you not considered how Allah sets forth a parable of a good word (being) like a good tree, whose root is firm and whose branches are in heaven. Yielding its fruit in every season by the permission of its Lord? And Allah sets forth parables for men that they may be mindful (14:24-25).”
     
    There are three parts to the Muslim Personality, outlined in the first three revelations:
     
    IQRA – Denoting the gaining and proclaiming of KNOWLEDGE
     
    QUM IL LAILA ILLA QALEELA – Denoting the cleansing of the self and TAZKIYYAT-UN-NAFS
     
    QUM FA ANTHIR – Denoting the rising up and warning – OR ACTION
     
    Now the Quran is called a Rahmah in the Quran, and so is rain. The reason is because the Ulama say that just as rain brings life to the dead earth, so does the Quran bring life to a dead heart. So we liken the Quran – or guidance altogether from Allah (TRUE KNOWLEDGE) – to rain.
     
    Now we know that when rain falls upon soil that is pure – it can cause growth, but when it falls upon soil that is impure, it causes no change or perhaps even the growth of disgusting things. Similarily if the soil (akhlaq) of a person is not pure, and his soul has not been cleaned of its diseases, any knowledge the person has will be to little or no avail, and nothing will be able to grow.
     
    However, if the soil (soul, akhlaq, intentions, etc) is pure, and it is fed with rain (guidance, knowledge), on it can grow a tree rooted in truth (firmness of La ilaha il-Allah) whose branches stretch to the heavens and bear fruit (ACTIONS). These fruit are filled with seeds that can lead to a benefit for the people and can lead to even more trees being planted.
     
    Thus – KNOWELDGE, PURIFICATION, and ACTION – three parts without any of which the Muslim cannot fulfill all of his responsibilities to Allah.
     
    There is one point of your post I disagree with, and that is when you write:
     
     “Slogans have been the defining characteristic of “movements”—and the problem with “movements” is that the term makes people believe their actions will cause change, rather than God creating that change due to their actions.”

     
    I think that is true for many movements and organizations, but there are many who call themselves movements, not because they think that change comes entirely as a result of their actions, but because they believe the idea of the “Islamic Movement” is not only a movement of social, economic, political, and intellectual change, but also spiritual – a complete MOVEMENT OF THE HEARTS, MINDS, ACTIONS AND RESOURCES to the service of Allah.
     
    This is why you will find many people referring to the movement, but not out of surety that their own actions will bear fruit, but simply out of the idea that whatever they are doing – they are moving – towards Allah, towards good, and Inshallah towards Jannah. Most of them are well aware that it is Allah who gives success and he who takes it away – they are just striving to “tie their camels” so to speak.
     
    Ibn Qayyim wrote that there is never a point in a servant’s life that he is ever standing stationary in respect to Allah – either he has moved towards Allah that day, or moved away from Allah that day. It is this idea that is echoed by the concept of Movement as it should be properly understood – every day is a constant movement in some way shape or form to the Almighty – spiritually, economically, intellectually, and so on – not only for the individual, but for families, communities, societies, and the Ummah as a whole.
     
    wa salaam
    -Believer2
     

  3. 1. who are you, believer2?
    2. while i respect your disagreeing with my stance on the term movements, i think youre playing with semantics. i was referring to the problem of “movements” is that people believe the movement to be the silver bullet to their problems, rather than understanding that the work (inwardly and outwardly) must be done because it is taking this first step that brings God into the equation to actually create that change. it’s a minor point, but i wanted to make myself clear on what im saying.

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