Rather than being silent about issues going on around us, risking that our children may be getting incorrect or biased information elsewhere, we should have those conversations with them ourselves, as a family.
It is easy to become overwhelmed by all the negative things going on, not only in our own lives but in the world at large. For those of us who have more positives than negatives in our own lives, it is especially easy to turn away from the suffering of others. Often we don’t intend to be callous – we are merely unable to think of a way that we can create change or impact the larger issues going on in the world.
There is a disturbing trend of becoming apathetic to what is going on, even immune to images of suffering, because we have become desensitised to the media constantly showing so much violence and brutality. Numerous studies have come out over the years showing evidence that continual exposure to violence in the media leads to people becoming less aware and sympathetic to real violence or suffering when they see it. It is probable the oversaturation of imagery shared over and over again on social media platforms intensifies the numbness many of us grow to experience.
Contributing to explanations of apathy are studies that suggest we are less likely to be empathetic towards people who do not look like ourselves. We are quicker to care about people we directly relate to, which is one reason Muslims are more deeply invested in causes around the world for Muslims but may turn a blind eye to the needs of our own neighbourhoods. It is especially interesting when those studies compared the concern subjects showed for animals versus people who they didn’t consider part of their own community. Animals, who look nothing like us, often garner more concern than people we don’t consider “one of us,” even when those people live and suffer right in our own city.
At the other end of the spectrum is constant outrage that can lead us to become cynical and remain angry instead of feeling fuelled to create change. It is painful to see things going wrong and feel helpless, and it is also unhealthy to remain full of negative emotions. But we are never truly helpless, and there are always ways we can do something. Don’t get numbed or overwhelmed, get active!
The power of du’a should not be minimised. Through Allah (SWT), all things are possible, and we know Allah I holds everyone and everything in His care. The value of du’a is actually two-fold in this case: it provides us peace and comfort, and it takes the world’s problems to the best Source of solution. Through du’a, we are also asking for an answer, and that answer may come in the form of inspiration that helps us develop a plan of action. When we feel the issues of the world are too big for us to understand or bear, it is a reminder to turn to Allah (SWT) for comfort and guidance.
As parents, we don’t have all the answers we wish we had, but that shouldn’t stop us from having important conversations with our children about issues in our world and community. Part of raising our children is preparing them for the realities of this world. Rather than being silent about issues going on around us, risking that our children may be getting incorrect or biased information elsewhere, we should have those conversations with them ourselves, as a family. An additional benefit of talking with family, our children or fellow adults, is the proposal of ideas and ways to help. Sometimes we just need to put our heads together to figure out what we can do about something. Other times, it is valuable to have a radically different perspective. Children see the world through a different lens than adults. Not only is their perspective different because of their place in the world, but they also do not have the experiences of “failure” or cynicism that we may have from a lifetime of seeing things not improve to our liking. Children still believe anything is possible and are very creative in how they problem solve.
Encourage leaders to talk about issues at the mosque
Mosques should address local community issues where they can have positive influence. We should remember that the Prophet (SAW) taught us about an integrated life, in which all aspects of our lives were within the scope of our religion and any action can have spiritual benefits. For those of us in Western countries, the mosque serves a dual purpose not only for congregational prayer but as a community centre. Many of us do not have significant access to other Muslims outside of the mosque. For this reason, the mosque needs to be proactive in how they approach issues that pertain to Muslims and how they guide our collective responses.
Get involved in local/small governance and policy
Whether it is neighbourhood organisations, city or municipal government public meetings or just making sure you vote in elections means your voice can be heard. Becoming actively engaged in what is going on in your neighbourhood, town or city helps you be a part of change on the ground.
Write to more distant lawmakers and the media
You do not have to be a professional writer to use the written word to make an impact. While there are dissenting opinions about the value of petitions, they have long been a way to show hard numbers of people agreeing on a matter. Personal letters directed to lawmakers you don’t have access to, help to put a human face to the names on petitions. Lawmakers and the media are more interested in seeing the impact on real people than just opinion. Remember too, lawmakers work for you and your feedback on how they are doing their job is needed.
Take it out to the community
Get involved in making change side-by-side with existing organisations and efforts in your own community. Join the board of a non-profit whose work you believe in or volunteer at a soup kitchen, food pantry or domestic violence shelter. Get training in conflict resolution and become involved with community policing and accountability efforts. Actively support good work others are doing. Get to know your neighbours and seek out ways to work together.
Start your own campaign
From starting a community garden to passing out sandwiches to the homeless, designing a mentoring program to organising an anti-police brutality march, there are many ways you can create your own movement to fill a gap in your community and encourage others to get involved. Be thoughtful of not co-opting a struggle and trying to lead in an area where you are not the affected party. Also, do your research to make sure you are filling a real need and that you are not competing with someone else you would do better to partner with.
As Muslims we are told “Whoever of you sees an evil must then change it with his hand. If he is not able to do so, then [he must change it ] with his tongue. And if he is not able to do so, then [he must change it] with his heart. And that is the slightest [effect of] faith.” (Muslim)
In fact, we are charged not only with changing evil but also with doing good deeds. We are also told to give charity, that smiling and removing stones from the path of others are acts of charity. We are not told to be complacent but rather to be active in addressing oppression and in being helpful to others. Don’t be overwhelmed, but don’t be inactive either. Before you hit ‘share’ and contribute to the chaos, consider if that is the best course for your action.
Aaminah Shakur is an artist, poet and a doula, and can be found on aaminahshakur.com