By Mark Crain
When I accepted Islam, two of the most appealing aspects of the religion were the rigor of scholarship and our proximity to the revelation. I was astounded that there were people who could trace their knowledge directly back, in an unbroken chain of transmission, to the man who had actually brought the Qur’an, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). It is an auspicious blessing that we hold as a faith community. I have been inspired by the Qur’an. It has given me direction. It has answered my questions. It has healed old wounds and calmed my heart. The Qur’an continues to inspire me: I offer my reflections on parts of Juz’ 10 (8:41–9:92) that inspire me this Ramadan.
Many of us have heard analogies comparing U.S. Muslim communities to the Ansar and Muhajirun of Madina. We are told that Black folks are the Ansar who embraced Islam and laid the foundation for our immigrant brethren, the Muhajiriun. Or we hear that wealthy immigrant communities are the Ansar who are providing a lesson in American success to Black Muslims. I believe that most of these analogies fail to look beyond the simplistic Black versus immigrant paradigm. In Surah al-Anfal, the lesson of these two groups is explained:
Those who believed and emigrated to Medina and struggled for God’s cause with their possessions and persons, and those who gave refuge and help, are all allies of one another. — 8:72
For many converts to Islam, the entire conversion process is one of hijrah (emigration). People who accept Islam make hijrah from bad habits, bad memories, bad relationships, bad influences, bad homes and bad thoughts. Unfortunately, many of us hold on to our old habits. Too often, life as a new Muslim is one of isolation and persecution. Converts can find themselves quickly reclaimed by the lifestyle they hoped to escape.
When Malcolm X first emerged from prison (a hijrah), he was taken in by the family of his eldest brother Wilfred X. There, he was given an intimate look into the life of a Muslim family. Through this hijrah, Malcolm was given refuge and training that would allow him to thrive in his new community.
The relationship between established Muslims and new converts should be one of allyship and cooperation on things that matter the most in our community.
We can apply these principles to develop communities that are far more invested, trusting and nurturing for new Muslims. The relationship between established Muslims and new converts should be one of allyship and cooperation on things that matter the most in our community.
Allah is the Most Merciful, so it is no surprise that His Book and the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), are full of excuses for His believers. But Allah’s mercy extends to all of humankind, including even the disbelievers and idolaters.
If any of the idolaters should seek your protection, grant it to him so that he may hear the word of God, then take him to a place safe for him, for they are people who do not know. — 9:6
In this ayah, immediately after verse 5, which commands the Prophet (PBUH) to seek retribution against those who betrayed him, Allah reminds the Prophet to be a support to those who do not know. You can almost see your grandmother shaking her head while she takes pity on those kids who just “don’t know no better.” It’s a timeless reminder to act with humility and kindness toward those who haven’t been gifted with the truth of Allah’s oneness.
Also in Surah al-Anfal, we read the ayah in which Allah spells out who is qualified to receive zakat.
Alms are meant only for the poor, the needy, those who administer them, those whose hearts need winning over, to free slaves and help those in debt, for God’s cause, and for travellers in need. This is ordained by God; God is All-knowing and Wise. — 9:60
Here, Allah mentions those “whose hearts need winning over.” They are generally defined as those who have accepted Islam or are on the verge of doing so, but still need some form of reconciliation to allow faith to fully enter their hearts and to reinforce their commitment to the Muslim community.
I would like to offer that in any intentional Muslim community-building effort, we should be so present in public life, so consistent in our service and so thoroughly committed to being loving and lovable neighbors, that we connect heart-to-heart with almost anyone in our vicinity.
I would like to offer that in any intentional Muslim community-building effort, we should be so present in public life, so consistent in our service and so thoroughly committed to being loving and lovable neighbors, that we connect heart-to-heart with almost anyone in our vicinity. Hypocrites and disbelievers exist, but those who are simply uninitiated are far more numerous.
Our job, therefore, in this land of both historic wealth and undignified inequality, is to be generous in spreading our knowledge and our wealth; improving more lives for Allah’s sake; softening more hearts and reconciling more people to Allah’s guidance and warnings. Ultimately, we know that our goal in this life is to attain Allah’s promise of eternal peace in the next life, and that Allah has given us the keys to success through His Book and the example of His Prophet (PBUH). Allah tells us,
God has promised the believers, both men and women, Gardens graced with flowing streams where they will remain; good, peaceful homes in Gardens of lasting bliss; and — greatest of all — God’s good pleasure. That is the supreme triumph. — 9:72
So by providing assistance to the new Muslim (the Muhajir), pardoning and exercising patience for those who don’t yet know and sharing of our wealth with our soft-hearted neighbors are all done with the same intention: to please Allah and achieve the supreme triumph.
It would be unbalanced or even dishonest to reflect on this juz’ without acknowledging Allah’s warnings, His commandment to fight or His naming the consequences for evil deeds. But for better or worse, I’ve always been lost in the sheer mercy of Allah. So as I close, I’m reminded that whenever we lose sight of our real goal — when zakat fails to soften our hearts; when agreements turn to treachery and when alliances crumble under the weight of mistakes, distrust and prejudice — we should take refuge in the words of the Prophet (PBUH) to Abu Bakr in the cave which we also read in Juz’ 10: “Do not worry, God is with us” (9:40).
This reflection is part of Sapelo’s Ramadan 2021 series. To read other reflections in the series click here.
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Mark Crain is a digital strategist and community organizer. After running a web development firm for five years, Mark led communications at Chicago’s Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN), and then ran several digital programs for the Obama 2012 campaign. Mark is a co-founder of MPower Change, a rapid-response campaigning organization mobilizing Muslims and their allies, as well as the executive director of Dream of Detroit, combining community organizing and development on Detroit’s west side. Mark also served as Chief of Member Experience at MoveOn. He has worked on successful campaigns to prevent U.S. military intervention in Syria, expand Medicaid access in GOP-led states and remove the Confederate flag in South Carolina. He is frequently featured in media outlets, including the Detroit Free Press, The Nation, The Guardian and National Public Radio.