By Kamilah A Pickett
Let there arise out of you a band of people inviting to all that is good, enjoining what is right, and forbidding what is wrong: They are the ones to attain felicity. — 3:104
The fourth juz’ of Qur’an begins with ayah 93 of Surah al-Imran and continues through ayah 42 of Surah al-Nisaa (3:93–4:42). Reading Qur’an is a new experience each time I open its sacred pages. Ayaat that I’ve read over and over penetrate differently depending on my mood. I don’t always know what I’m looking for, but I always find what I need. What I’m searching for now, what it feels like I’ve been searching for for years, is community — my band of people with whom I can maneuver through this life in search of a felicitous hereafter. What I’ve realized is that I need to rethink what community means to me and for me.
What I’m searching for now, what it feels like I’ve been searching for for years, is community — my band of people with whom I can maneuver through this life in search of a felicitous hereafter. What I’ve realized is that I need to rethink what community means to me and for me.
This juz’ relays lessons learned from the Battles of Badr and Uhud: how to forge ahead as a community of Believers after success and advancement and in the face of crushing humiliation and setbacks. The Believers were given the fundamentals of how to govern themselves as a community, and the internal battles they waged centered on how they defined themselves. And, that definition was often rooted in who they were not. The community of Believers is contrasted with those mired in unbelief — those who have rejected faith after having professed belief, those who twist the message of Allah (swt) for their own benefit and gain and those who are duplicitous and bear false witness. Basically, everyone hating from outside the club. That contrast is both instructive and important. The Believers are those who,
…believe in Allah and the Last Day; they enjoin what is right, and forbid what is wrong; and they hasten (in emulation) in (all) good works: They are in the ranks of the righteous — 3:114.
Building community is hard. Being in community can be a trial. If done right, it is an intimate endeavor that requires you to be your most authentic self. Once you as an individual reach that goal of being authentic, you must then actively allow others the space and time to do the same. The Qur’an gives us a framework, but it’s up to us to decide what that looks like in 2019 for Black Muslims in America: to mesh Prophetic examples, lessons learned from our ancestors and an honest look at our current environment to determine how we move forward. How we encourage and admonish each other, how we fight and reconcile, how we agree to disagree — it all matters. It matters that we uphold our duties to each other, that we fight for each other with the same vigor with which we care for ourselves and guard our own hearts. It matters that we establish communities that are grounded in the here and now, with an eye towards the hereafter. It matters…but I’m not sure how we get there.
And hold fast, all together, by the rope which Allah (stretches out for you), and be not divided among yourselves; and remember with gratitude Allah’s favor on you; for ye were enemies and He joined your hearts in love, so that by His Grace, ye became brethren; and ye were on the brink of the pit of Fire, and He saved you from it. Thus doth Allah make His Signs clear to you that ye may be guided. — 3:103
The Qur’an gives us a framework, but it’s up to us to decide what that looks like in 2019 for Black Muslims in America: to mesh Prophetic examples, lessons learned from our ancestors and an honest look at our current environment to determine how we move forward.
I don’t know how we get there, and if I’m being honest with myself, I don’t know what part I’m supposed to play. I thought that at my big age, my community would look different. I envisioned a husband and a bunch of kids, nieces and nephews and a family that would continue to grow and flourish as we aged, a sister circle with their own families that would become a web of support for us all and some purpose or path that I could clearly articulate and tread upon. I didn’t plan on being single. I didn’t foresee the loss of friendships or the strain that growth would place on long held ones. I certainly didn’t go to school forever and a freakin’ day to still be trying to navigate passion and the practicality of paying bills. And it never, ever, occurred to me that I would bury my brother. For years, I’ve been forced to adjust my idea of community, and it just occurred to me that I wasn’t doing that in earnest. Too often I have defined myself by what I don’t have and what I have lost, in ways that are wholly destructive.
Ye shall certainly be tried and tested in your possessions and in your personal selves; and ye shall certainly hear much that will grieve you, from those who received the Book before you and from those who worship many gods. But if ye persevere patiently, and guard against evil, — then that will be a determining factor in all affairs. — 3:186
This Ramadan, I am committing to being mindful of and thankful for the community I do have — my small, but mighty band of friends who have become family. The people who celebrate with me and mourn with me. Who learn with me, teach me and listen to me when they have no idea what I’m talking about. Who hold me accountable in ways that push me to be better. Who tolerate my optimistic cynicism. I will bring my authentic self, pure uncut Kamilah, to every space I occupy. I won’t be the person hating outside of the clubs I don’t belong to. And if that means that my community remains small, I will be fine with that, alhamdulillah.
O ye who believe persevere in patience and constancy: vie in such perseverance; strengthen each other; and fear Allah; that ye may prosper. — 3:200
Maybe the lessons I need to learn are ones that we need to learn. Perhaps the way we move forward as healthy communities of Believers, is to be mindful of how we show up in community as individuals. We spend an inordinate amount of time parsing out who we are not, but that can’t be where the conversation ends. We have to actively work towards being who Allah (swt) has instructed His community of Believers to be. We deserve that for ourselves and we owe it to others.
My aim is to be one of “those whose faces [who] will be lit up with white” basking “in [the light of] Allah’s mercy” in the gardens of Paradise (3:107).
And I want the same for my community, whatever it ultimately looks like. Ameen.
Kamilah A. Pickett is Politics Editor for Sapelo Square and Education Co-Chair for the Believers Bail Out. Ms. Pickett holds a Master of Public Health degree from Morehouse School of Medicine and a juris doctor from Georgetown University Law Center. She has been a passionate advocate operating at the intersections of health and justice for more than a decade.