By Youssef Kromah
Qāl al-Malā (or The Leadership Said) is the title of Juz’ 9 of the Holy Qur’an, which begins with verse 88 of Surah al-A’raf and concludes with verse 40 of Surah al-Anfaal (7:88–8:40). The chapter takes its name from its very focal point, a fiery dispute that takes place between the Prophet Shuʿayb (Peace and Blessings Upon Him) and the malā (or leadership) of his people and their followers. The Qur’an informs us that Prophet Shuʿayb was chosen by Allah to be a prophet and minister to the people of Madyan, also known as Ashabul Aykah (or The Companions of Wood) because of a tree that they used to worship. The people of Madyan were known to be particularly notorious for double dealing, idolatry and imposing tariffs. Many scholars, cite the people of Madyan as the first society to ever enforce customs fees, if you will, on any travelers who crossed their territory.
And to the people of Madyan, We sent their brother Shu’ayb. He said, O my people, worship Allah; you have no deity other than Him. There has come to you clear evidence from your Lord. So fulfill the measure and weight and do not deprive people of their due and cause not corruption upon the earth after it is set in order. –Qur’an 7:85
As we can infer, the main task of Prophet Shuʿayb was to call his people to the oneness of Allah, to adhere to His commandments and refrain from His prohibitions. For the people of Madyan, this meant refraining from their daily cheating and extortion. Although he preached and prophesied for a sustained period of time, the majority of the people refused to listen to him. Shuʿayb, however, remained steadfast. He consistently preached powerfully against the wicked, telling them of the punishment that had befallen the sinful before. Shuʿayb warned his people that their ignorance would ultimately lead to the destruction of Madyan, giving historical examples of earlier prophets, such as Nuh, Hud, Saleh and Lut all of whose people had been destroyed by God.
The people mocked Shuʿayb and threatened that were it not for his powerful family, he would surely have been stoned to death. Shuʿayb replied, “Is my family of more consideration with you than God?” When the people of Madyan refused to believe and continued to display brazen haughtiness, they were destroyed entirely, leaving behind only the Prophet Shuʿayb and his noble followers.
As African American Muslims living in the United States of America, what crucial lessons are we to take from the story of Prophet Shuʿayb and the people of Madyan? One lesson is the importance of selecting and following the correct leadership and social figures. As noted in the first portion of this reflection, the title of the Juz’ 9 is entitled Qāl Al-Malā (or The Leadership Said), which suggests that it was the leadership of Madyan who mainly opposed Prophet Shuʿayb and justified their hideous crimes while the vast majority of the people were like sheep blindly following wolves and being led to the slaughter. This interpretation would also stand as factual as many of the scholars translate “al-Malā” to mean the “eminent” or “noble” ones, suggesting that they were the leaders and role models of society. I reflect today and think on who would be considered the “Malā” of our time.
Who do we collectively look to as a community for guidance, direction and leadership? Furthermore, do the Malā that we follow resemble Prophet Shuʿayb and his followers or the leaders of Madyan and their cronies? Long gone are the days of African American Muslim leaders such as El-Hajj Malik Shabazz, Imam W.D. Muhammad, Imam Luqman Abdullah and others of their ilk; and, even if they were still alive, a majority of Muslim millennials would not have the slightest clue who they were and their contributions to improving the state of Black people in America.
Kevin Powell writes in his article “Black Leadership Is Dead” that:
Black America has been pining for a national savior since the Civil Rights Movement came to a screeching halt in the 1970s. Apart from our flirtations with Rev. Jesse Jackson and Minister Louis Farrakhan, we’ve been stuck in the wilderness without any sort of national Black leadership model for forty long and difficult years. Look at the incredible lack of vision and imagination of our Black leaders—be they elected officials, ministers and imams, public intellectuals, heads of social service organizations, educators, entrepreneurs, or grassroots activists.
It is no exaggeration that African American Muslim leadership has been in a state of arrested development for a long while and is in dire need of a reformation. A colleague of mine said in jest that “the closest thing we had to African American Muslim leadership was Barack Obama and now that he’s gone, what are we going to do?” Although what he said was in jest, I believe for some Black Muslims, this was very much a sad reality and it speaks to the desperation encompassing our lack of leadership.
As Allah states in verse 11 of Surah al-Ra’ad (13:11):
Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.
African American Muslim leadership will continue to suffer if we waste our time waiting for a savior to solve all of our problems. We ourselves must rise to meet the challenge. The question is, what are you doing, in your local community and at a national level, to establish social, educational and economical institutions that help our people do for self? We cannot spend another 40 years waiting for a Moses who may never come. We must be and become the Malā of this nation and, unlike the people of Madyan, follow in the footsteps of our Prophet (Peace and Blessings Upon Him) and reform our society with his perfected example and the miracle of the glorious Qur’an.
Youssef Kromah is an award-winning poet, best-selling author, dynamic speaker, community activist and international television host at Huda TV in Cairo, Egypt. He was first featured as a spoken-word poet on Russel Simmon’s HBO series Brave New Voices and later as a featured guest speaker on CNN’s Who’s Black in America, hosted by Soledad O’Brien. Youssef’s ability to captivate and enthrall audiences with his poignant words and power-packed performances has taken him all over the United States and abroad, including Cuba, Hong Kong, Palestine, Ireland, Thailand, Morocco, London, Egypt and many other countries.