We all see the depressing stories on TV, in magazines, and in the newspapers filled with heart breaking images and stories from Syria, Palestine and even here in the US with unemployment, civil rights abuses, government inefficiency, corruption and other issues. We also see Islamophobes incessantly bashing Islam and Muslims, and the hungry and oppressed harshly mistreated; yet so many of us feel helpless and powerless.
But the fact is we’re not.
On the contrary, we make the conscious decision in our heads to either feel helpless or empower ourselves. That said, before we try to change the world for the better it is incumbent that we empower and change ourselves from within.
With that, I will provide my step-by-step process to self-empowerment and ultimately change.
1) Change Yourself, then Others
Many people believe they can change the world, but forget that changing the world is not simply changing the external. It is also changing yourself. You may have strengths and weaknesses you need to work on, but you cannot advocate for world peace, justice, kindness, or helping others, when you have not established those ideals in your own life or your own home.
It would be hypocritical, for example, of a man who secretly abuses his wife at home taking to the streets to advocate for women’s rights. What good do his deeds do for him if he is not living up to them? Change would start with himself, then with his family, then the community at large.
Internal change is the sunnah (way) of the Prophet Muhammad ?. When he received the message of Islam, he began with those closest to him—his family and close friends. Only after he invited them to Islam did he begin telling the people of his tribe, people in other cities, and eventually the world. The wisdom in this approach is to ensure the purity of your activism and actions for the sake of Allah (subhanahu wa ta`ala – exalted is He). Ask yourself: are you serving the community to show off or boost your ego, or are you truly doing it for the sake of Allah?
That said, you must first change yourself; then your family; then your close friends; then your neighbors; then your neighborhood; then your city; then your nation… and then the world.
2) Find a Cause
The biggest mistake that most activists make is that they volunteer for whatever they are asked to join. Volunteering is great, but can often lead to burn out and feeling the lack of long-term impact on the cause you’re working for. I highly suggest, from my own experience, to choose causes you are passionate about and stick to them.
3) Find an Organization/Institution to Offer your Services To
This one is extremely important. Once you find a cause you are passionate about, volunteer your time, effort, energy and skill set to an organization or institution that you can continue to grow and develop in. The institution can be Muslim or non-Muslim, and I would suggest finding one where you feel you are making an immediate impact and are not just another busy body (although sometimes it is good to do the busy work to keep humble). This way you build up character, leadership skills, and organizational skills.
If however there is no organization that fits your passion or cause, you can create one of your own! Be the change you want to see in the world, right? You may also express your passion or cause via your masjid or MSA. If you see a problem in the world and have an idea of how to solve it, create an organization, project, or campaign. Be creative and think big!
4) Keep it Humble
Far too many Muslim activists let their egos get the best of them: making their own Facebook Fan Pages, Twitter accounts, and websites, and constantly show off their accomplishments and job titles. It is ok to celebrate success, but at the same time it is important to ensure you keep your intentions and work for the sake of Allah. Don’t expect to get a pat on the back every time you do something. Work for the sake of Allah can often go unacknowledged. No one knows but you and Allah (swt), but He will reward you for your service and for your humility. It is a constant struggle to keep your ego in check, but it is important to keep your intentions pure.
5) Keep Up a Spiritual Routine
The biggest mistake that Muslim activists make is neglecting their spirituality while they serve others. Keep up a routine of reading the Qur’an in the morning, reading your prayers on time, and that you are working to improve the quality of your worship. Learn Arabic, read tafsir (exegesis) consistently, do whatever it is to ensure you are spiritually refreshed day by day and do not lose your spirituality while serving others.
The Prophet ?) used to serve others during the day, and serve His Lord at night, thereby rejuvenating his spirituality. We must do the same in our own lives as we serve others.
6) Manage Your Time
Muslim activists, who initially get involved in activism, often become consumed by their activism to the extent that they neglect their friends, family, and health. It is important to manage and balance your time well. Create a daily schedule and keep a calendar to keep yourself on track and in-check. In your schedule, allot time to workout, hang out with friends and family, and have fun.
7) Stay Organized!
Keep your work place, bedroom, and home organized and clean. This will help you avoid unneeded stress and anxiety.
8) Work with a Dedicated and Visionary Team
Make sure you have a team that you are on the same wavelength with. If you feel there is any lack of communication, organization, professionalism, or vision, then you efforts are likely to go to waste. Your time, effort, health, and energy are limited – use them effectively.
That said, make sure you are working with people who are just as motivated as you are to implement change. This also means working with other people, organizations, and institutions that have the same passion and zeal as you for the cause you’ve chosen. The impact of your work will be far better and greater than you may have initially imagined.
9) Succession Planning
When it comes to activism, we may get so consumed by our work that we forget that we’re only one person. Imagine for a minute that you could multiply your efforts, and your reward from Allah (swt), by training others to do what you do. Inspire a new generation of activists and create an organization that benefits people for years to come. We cannot forget the positive impact that succession planning can have in our organizations.
10) Think Globally, Act Locally
We all want to save the world, but we need to realize that we must fix our own communities first. If we can do that, then we can make a bigger impact in the world. For example, if you organize a campaign to educate people in your community about how to vote, how to lobby, and how to write to your local congressperson, then you’re making a huge difference on a national level as well!
Build and strengthen your community, build relationships with your local faith groups, high schools, middle schools, local government officials, etc. and work with them to improve society at a local level. Our society today presents us with many challenges, but do not be disheartened. Take this test as a challenge upon yourself as a responsible community member and as a Muslim responsible to Allah (swt). Do what you can with the resources Allah (swt) has blessed you with. Start from the inside and work your way out towards progress. May Allah (swt) help us all in our efforts. Ameen.