Five short years following the migration of the Prophet Muhammad and his refugee community to Madinah — a community still reeling from persecution and sanctions — the young community of Muslims would be presented with their most unnerving political action to date. An army over 10,000 strong, the likes of which the Arabian Peninsula had never before seen, would converge upon the sanctuary city in the name of national(ist) security, intent on massacring its 3,000 resisters and all of the Muslim inhabitants. They would presciently come to be known as the Confederates.
Out-resourced and underequipped, the young community of refugees resolved to dig a trench in an effort to insulate themselves from forced removal — this was at the suggestion of one of its members, Salman, an undocumented immigrant from the land now known as Iran. They dug for six days. They tied stones to their stomachs to distract from their hunger. What food they did have they shared. What capacity they did have they shared. Every single able-bodied individual dug and every single individual who did not dig supported to the extent that their ability allowed. As if their prospects were not grim enough, a physical manifestation of the impossible endeavor being undertaken would emerge—a boulder that refused to be broken. As the Prophet (peace be upon him) struck the rock, he saw a future of freedom from Syria to Persia to Yemen. (Read the full story from the hadith here.)
It is in these past moments that our current apprehension concerning the recent and coming days should offer us pause. There was no logical scenario in which this all turned out okay, no self-respecting expert opinion forecasting a desirable outcome. If there was ever a time to crumble under the pressure of fear, anxiety, helplessness, it would be now. But my Prophet (PBUH) — the man who knew the name of loss all too well — announced in those moments that along with that seemingly impenetrable boulder, the ominous clouds that enshrouded them would disintegrate, and this seemingly hopeless reality would be replaced by something greater. Not a dream, a vision.
Something More Than Just Survival
Fear is necessary. It is fear that activates the brain’s fight-or-flight response to danger, ensuring that every available avenue for survival is explored, every resource allocated, every effort exhausted. Fear is functional. It is fear that brings to fore what we truly care about, or at the very least care about losing. It is fear that compels a new mother to fit open outlets with plastic barriers. It is fear that compels a new leader to fit open spaces with plastic barriers. Fear is natural. We are born with it, and as we grow we find ways to cope with it, for better or for worse. Coping, however, is not a word that is ever used to describe how one wishes to engage with a future they wish to see. Fear is unsustainable. Left alone, unevolved, unpaired, fear will die a slow death only to be survived by resentment, apathy, and lethargy.
Fear has never sustained us before, and we cannot allow ourselves to believe that it will sustain us now.
Any idea, movement, or cause worth marveling at was sustained by an unrelenting fascination and conviction in the notion of what could be. And if the events that have overwhelmed our thoughts, conversations, and news feeds the last few weeks have painted in our hearts and minds a bleak and precise illustration of what it is that we fear will happen, then they too should have at least stained the canvas of hope, even if not as exactingly. Fear is a reaction, hope is a response. So, let us respond.
Our current political climate has categorically solicited the ire of principally every identity categorization that represents a departure from the established power structure; this presents us with a unique opportunity. Think of all those who resist — and reject as false — the egregious racism, misogyny, xenophobia, and bigotry that form the building blocks of our society. More specifically, consider all those who are its targets. Women marched, Muslims marched, refugees marched, immigrants marched, indigenous communities marched, other faith communities marched, allies marched, the black community has never stopped marching, the list goes on. With regard to our engagement with each of these groups, what is the ultimate end of a course of action galvanized by fear, and what is the ultimate end of a course of action inspired by hope?
What is the ultimate end of marching with women whose voices we do not amplify within our spheres of influence? What is the ultimate end of fighting against the unlawful surveillance of mosques we do not attend? What is the ultimate end of opening doors for refugees whose names we do not know? What is the ultimate end of protecting immigrants whose cultures we mock? What is the ultimate end of protecting the water of those whose heritage we commodify? What is the ultimate end of consecrating the names of black men and women for a month, while the streets that bear their names have never known our presence? What is the ultimate end of celebrating legacies while neglecting lives?
I pray that I am not misunderstood; the struggle against indignity must always rage on. But so too must the struggle for prosperity and excellence. We will never know progress until the prospect of what we run to is as clear as the prospect of what we run from. My Prophet saw Rome in the trenches, even though he would never set foot in its palaces. This is our faith, and if we are ever going to be a community worth the skin on our back, it is going to be because we have actively decided to make the truest form of this faith the central component that binds us to one another and to the world at large.
“I am the sacrificial lamb for y’all, my life is what I’m willing to give for it. I challenge you to find something that you’re really willing to die for, and then live for it.” – Black Ice