As we begin another year and we look back at the happenings of 2022, there is much to reflect upon and much to learn from.
Life is of course, a series of choices. When we make the right choices arguably, we move towards some worthy goals we may have set for ourselves. The Quran teaches us that the gift of “choice” was given to all human kind at the beginning of our creation. It is through the exercise of this choice aided by the guidance of our Creator, that we can create just and peaceful societies. That ideal has obviously eluded us for quite some time. Centuries to be precise! Human nature, left to itself, is evidently incapable of making right choices. The burden of self-interest weighs heavily on all of us. The debate between capitalism or socialism continues. The Quran may have its own answer.
Through 2022 we have realized to our dismay, as a result of the choices we have made, how conflicted and polarized we have become domestically and how war torn and terror struck the world has become overseas.
Here for our reflection are some of those significant choices from 2022 which may give us a sense of how troubling these choices have been in creating the world we now live in.
2022 saw our Supreme Court make the choice to undo Roe vs Wade, permitting thirteen states to ban it completely and many others to place restrictions of various degrees on it. Women’s rights groups, clearly unhappy with this decision are now working on the legislative side to redress their grievances.
Was this a good choice or a bad one? As a community of faith, we come back to our religious resources to find the answers. The Quran teaches us that life is sacred and its preservation is obligatory. Science reminds us that life begins at conception. Hence the only exception for abortion’s permissibility comes when the life of the mother is to be saved. Quran also speaks to the reasonableness of providing relief over burdens imposed on individuals which cause extreme hardships. Hence if modern science alerts to the presence of significant fetal abnormalities, it would appear reasonable to permit abortion. Data analysis tells us that less than 10 percent of abortions are for either to save the life of the mother or for significant fetal anomalies. Rest is for the demands of lifestyle choices. Was this decision a good one or a bad one ? You make the choice.
2022 also saw Mr. Putin choose to go to war to annex Ukraine and make it a part of Russia, and in the process made millions leave their homes as refugees and laid their homeland wasted, destroyed and without power.
Was this a good choice? The Quran would say “no” on the grounds that the exercise of military power is only permissible in a defensive position or in relieving the suffering of an oppressed people.
2022 was also the year we saw for the first time in stark detail, the hideous choice a former President made after losing an election, to criminally regain power, through inciting a violent insurgency, against his own government and his own Vice President. The amazing work of the Jan 6 committee in obtaining the damning testimony against Mr. Trump from numerous witnesses and its final recommendation to the Dept of Justice, to pursue legal action against the former president for his criminal behavior, will long be remembered in the dark pages of American political history, alongside the story of Watergate.
The Quran would clearly promote the rule of law, transparency, accountability and the pursuit of evidence-based investigations in the search for truth.
2022 was also the year when we sadly crossed the high mark of one million deaths from COVID 19 to have the dubious distinction of being the country with the largest fatalities worldwide. While there is plenty of blame to be thrown around, we should not ignore the systemic problems within our healthcare delivery system that need to be corrected so this tragedy does not repeat again.
2022 saw a rise in mass shootings to 641 including the one at Uvalde, TX, where 19 elementary school kids and 2 teachers lost their lives because an 18-year-old shooter with a history of academic failings and anger, chose to use an automatic military styled assault weapon to vent his deadly anger. Yet Congress still chooses not to ban the use of assault weapons in the country.
This is a complicated issue and has its tentacles attached to many loose ends. From the Quran’s perspective it is a societal problem and needs to be addressed at all levels of society – political, economic, social and economic.
2022 was also a time we saw the enduring power of a fatwa when Hadi Matar a New Jersey man with Lebanese ancestry, in a state of religious zeal and a passion for blasphemy, chose to attack Salman Rushdie, the author of Satanic Verses, at a lecture meeting in upstate New York.
It has been over thirty years now, since Khomeini gave the fatwa to kill Rushdie, and while several Iranian administrations have tried to disown it, the deadly fatwa continues to inspire acts of terror and violence in the defense of the prophet’s honor (pbuh).
What would the Quran say to Hadi Matar? Honoring the prophet (pbuh) comes from following his example and living a life in accordance of his teachings. The honor and dignity of the prophet (pbuh) were continuously abused by those who disapproved of his message during his lifetime. Yet no Muslim was ever given permission to kill anyone in retaliation. The treaty of Hudaybiya was another example of how the prophet (pbuh) himself dealt with this issue of respect and honor to his person, when he struck out his title underneath his name from the treaty document, on the objection of the Quraish representative.
2022 was also the year when pollster pundits were again proven wrong, when the American voters chose to deny the Red Wave predictions made by them and return the Democrats to power in the Senate, while minimizing their losses in the House.
For Muslim candidates it was a banner year with 82 victories to celebrate nationwide, including our own Nabila Syed and Abdelnasser Rashid who won their races here in Chicago.
Our engagement in politics appears to be a reactionary benefit to the Trump presidency. But our efforts at organizing have improved and bode well for us. Our faith is a faith of engagement and service. We should always be willing to collaborate, network and seek common cause with those who share our concerns to improve our chances to succeed. Politics is all about winning and sometimes timing is important in obtaining winning outcomes.
2022 also saw the Brits choose a person of Indian descent, conservative Rishi Sunak as their new head of state, while Pakistani parliament chose to conspire and remove their duly elected prime minister Imran Khan, from office through a “paid for”, vote of no confidence. Timing was important for Sunak’s success. Commitment to the rule of law is Imran’s insistence, which is a very commendable goal to have in politics for Muslims and an essential practice to follow as a community of faith.
2022 was also the year when the evil and abusive excesses of the Iranian state’s policies, restricting the personal freedoms of women, became public as millions of Iranians chose to rally across the country when 22-year-old Mahsa Amini died in the custody of “morality police” for hijab infractions.
Interestingly, in Hindu majority India the Supreme Court is split over a petition from Muslim girls choosing to wear hijab, as a personal freedom issue, while their schools bar them from entering school wearing a hijab. The case has been referred to the chief justice to decide.
No matter which side of the hijab argument we may be on, this does appear to be a personal freedom issue and should be protected. Time will tell.
In 2022 the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Ales Bialiatski for his work to promote freedom, democracy and human rights in Belarus, a country ruled by Russian puppet dictator, President Alexander Lukashenko.
Bialiatski is currently in a Belarusian jail without trial or conviction.
“I know exactly what kind of Ukraine would suit Russia and Putin “ said Bialiatski — “a dependent dictatorship. The same as today’s Belarus, where the voice of the oppressed people is ignored and disregarded.”
“Russian military bases, huge economic dependence, cultural and linguistic russification — that’s the answer, on whose side is Lukashenka.”
“Martin Luther King paid for his dream with his life, he was shot. My payment for my dream is less, but with harsh consequences I don’t regret a bit.”
“And on December 10, I want to repeat for everyone: “Do not be afraid!” These were the words that Pope John Paul II said in the 1980s when he came to communist Poland. He didn’t say anything else then, but it was enough. I believe because I know that spring always comes after winter.”
The Quran would of course be in support of Bialiatski or anyone fighting for freedom against all forms of oppressive tyrannies. It teaches us to be fearful of none except Allah and speak truth to power. That only when we are in complete submission to His will and guidance, are we really free to establish a society which can be just, compassionate and peaceful.
In the words of Iqbal:
“Ye Aik Sajda Jise Tu Garan Samajhta Hai
Hazar Sajde Se Deta Hai Admi Ko Nijat!”
Submission to the will of God you presume as irksome, and difficult;
But know that , this submission sets you free from the dependence on all other Ill-conceived deities and powers.
“Thee alone do we serve and from thee alone do we seek help”
Quran 1: 4 Al Fatiha
Is the simple and clear reminder that does away with all other obligations and frees us to be the true vicegerents of Allah to fulfill our purpose in life.
The establishment of a just and peaceful society the Quran claims, is not a utopian dream, but a solution to the perpetual conflicts between good and evil that have plagued humankind throughout history. And it can only be achieved through a relentless struggle of people who are bonded together through the power of belief and the commitment for persevering action.
So here we are at the threshold of 2023, living in the richest country that ever was, the most economically dominant, the most scientifically advanced, the most naturally endowed, the most freedom loving, the most democratic in many ways, the most opportunity providing, the most immigrant based, the most educationally driven, the most culturally liberated and yet the most racially segregated, the most politically polarized, the most electorally dysfunctional, the most militant globally, the most violent domestically, the most health expensive, the most tuition gouging and some would say the most unresponsive to the will of the people, especially for the needs of the poor and marginalized.
Welcome to this enchanting land of paradoxes we live in! Some call it a “shining city on a hill;” some think of it as a “beacon of hope” for the aspiring, and oppressed. With all of its imperfections most will agree that there is no other place we would rather be but here.
So, what are our challenges that stall our progress for perfection?
Different people would likely have different answers. There is no right or wrong answer here. So here is how I see it, if you will allow me to indulge.
1. The relief of poverty is a big one for me. This would go a long way to solve the problem of housing, crime, violence and family. To have lingering poverty where kids go hungry and the aged have to choose between food or medicines, in the richest country that we live in, is a disgrace to the sense of dignity and respect for every one of us and should not be acceptable.
2. Next would be some form of health access for everyone regardless of immigration or legal status, that is affordable or free. Disease is not a choice but an occurrence. Healthcare should be a right not a privilege.
To improve health outcomes and reduce costs , preventive care should become a priority. Nutrition education should be a significant component in the curriculum of every medical school.
3. Add to this, tuition free community colleges, (as we used to have few years ago), equalize
in- state and out of state tuition costs, expand merit based and income-based grants not loans that rob the financial freedom of our youth for a lifetime.
Education should be an investment in our youth not a money-making opportunity for our business class to profit from.
4. Next, bring the logic of science to issues of climate change, removing the financial interests of industry that muddy the waters and confuse it.
The impending threats of climate change are existential realities for the survival of our planet. We cannot dance around them anymore, while floods and droughts are ravaging the world.
5. Taxation based on wealth not income, should be an option to consider. Fixing rates as a percentage for all, with graduated tiers for the rich and ultra-rich. (The Quranic concept of Zakat is wealth based not income based)
Universal Basic Income for everyone not eligible for social security. No one should be forced to work if their needs or priorities change as could happen with changing family circumstances or interests and ambitions. This idea was floated by Andrew Yang in 2020.
6. Finally, never ignore the relevance of building community through the power of engagement. Recognizing of course that there can be no community where there is no justice or compassion to build trusting relationships. There is too much loneliness, depression mental health and suicide out there and our love affair with technology is making it worse.
There you have it. A brief perspective based on our faith tradition borrowed from an individual understanding of the teachings of the Quran that I have shared. You may or may not agree with everything here. That of course is a matter of everyone’s choice. But seems to me we must have a vision for our future. A game plan for a better future if we believe one is possible for the sake of our future generations. Without it there will be no action to take, no change to ensue.
All of us have different talents, skill sets, passions and resources. Each one of us can and should pursue some area of our personal vision in which we can get involved and serve our neighbors to make a difference. If the events of our recent past are any indicators of where we are and where we are headed, there is good reason for concern and complacency cannot be the answer.
May Allah guide us with His will and wisdom and inspire us to act and make a difference in the lives of others. Have a happy, healthy, peaceful and prosperous 2023!