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By Selma Cook

We do not need someone to oppress us; we oppress ourselves! We do not need to be enslaved; we have already enslaved ourselves. You might be surprised and ask how? How have we oppressed and enslaved ourselves?' Good question!. It's a question that should have been asked long ago.

People talk about the deterioration of the Muslim mind, but a person is made up of not just a mind, but a body, a mind, and a spirit. Each part is so closely interconnected with the other that it is almost impossible for us to see where one ends and the other begins. If the body is enslaved, the mind and soul can still be relatively free, but if the mind enslaves the body and soul, what can be done?

To gauge how far you are enslaved ask yourself these questions: “How creative are you? How much original thought do you have? Can you make decisions without fearing what the “others” think and feel about you? Are you afraid to step out of the social norm that surrounds you—whether or not that norm is good or bad? How much spiritual insight do you gain from the acts of worship you perform? Has your worship of Allah deteriorated into mechanical movements and flickers of thought that are soon wiped away by worldly concerns?

If you feel you fall short in this basic and essential part of life—worship of Allah Most High—then you are not alone. Losing the comprehensive perception of Islam as a way of life, not just a religion, is now a world-wide phenomenon. We talk about Islam as covering every aspect of life, as being the comprehensive religion, but that's all we do, we talk! Some people get caught up in the laws and rules and regulations, others get caught up in spirituality to the point where reality is hard to find, and yet others get caught up somewhere in between these two extremes. And in the midst of this crisis, the pace of modern-day life sweeps us along in its current, urging us to be educated; to be good, efficient consumers, to be socially acceptable (meaning to look and act “right,” whatever that means), and above all, to be tolerant until you have no opinions left.

We live amidst an onslaught; I mean an onslaught, in the name of freedom and liberty that actually digs and chips away at our identity and essential nature until many people live in a state of confusion and depression—not quite knowing where to turn next. It is difficult to make the balance between Islam as a way of life in a world where religion is despised; and reaping the benefits of modern technology and information. How do we make the balance? How do we avoid being extreme in either part?

Is this the first time in human history that the Muslims have faced such a dilemma? Are we overreacting? Let's look back in history and see how this sorry state of affairs unfolded.

In the time of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) the understanding and application of Islam was vast and wide. There was a general, clear understanding of how to unite Muslims; of how to deal with new Muslims; of how to live in non-Muslim lands—but where is that knowledge today? If we do not use what Allah has given us, He will take it from us. How much Islamic knowledge do we have? How much do we want?

When Islam ceases to be practiced on the individual level in everyday life, there is oppression. It is as simple as the scientific fact that when warmth is absent, there will be cold. Likewise, when goodness is absent, there will be evil. It is as simple as that. And when there is oppression, there will be no creativity. When there is no creativity, ijtihad, or personal reasoning, will be suppressed. Why? Because people are not allowed to think. This phenomenon occurred soon after the demise of the four rightly-guided caliphs. Gradually, the deen (way of life) of Islam was whittled down until it became a host of rituals with the necessity of obedience being continually emphasized. This was very convenient way to keep the powers-that-be in place and the masses silent and apathetic, thinking they are being “pious.”

After generations of the wrong and incomplete concept of Islam being taught time and time again, a new and incorrect concept of Islam emerged. Something very superficial compared to the message of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). As time rolled on, people were not allowed to think and were led to believe that blind obedience was a part of piety. Have we changed? Can the Muslims of today boast of their complete and utter submission to Allah? To His Prophet? Do we take on and accept wholeheartedly every aspect of Islam? Or simply choose that which is convenient for us—like going shopping and choosing the items we want. How many Muslims can't get past the basic tenets of Islam like Prayer, fasting, hijab, inheritance, and so on. So often, when there is a part of Islam we cannot reconcile with, we pray a bit more, read a bit more Qur’an, hoping this will fill in the empty gap. We are indeed, a far cry from the time of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him).

Oppression has always raised its ugly head, and been dealt fatal blows, only to rise again at some other place and time. The urge to misuse power to survive and be the best and strongest is also a part of human nature. It is an evil part though, that must be treated like any physical disease, otherwise it will destroy all the parts of man—the body, the mind and the spirit. It is these essential parts that Islam protects. So people who are hell bent on getting what they want on the individual, economic, social, or government levels have always tried to “force” others to do what they want by acting on one or all of the essential parts of man, body, mind and spirit.

There is nothing new in that. But what we have today is a more subtle kind of duress, an illusion, even though so many millions of people around the world are convinced that it is real—images! Education, the media, and advertisements all present images in the minds of the empty-minded masses, dictated to by the powers-that-be so as to twist and turn people’s thoughts to suit their crafty whims.

Modern man has been enslaved by high-tech images, illusions of thought and perception. They tell us we need all these labor saving devices, we buy them; they tell us that to be “cool” we have to smoke, so we smoke; they tell us that if we don't wear these sort of clothes we'll never be beautiful, so we buy. They tell us this person is the best to lead us, so we elect; they tell us to do what they want or we'll face economic boycotts, so we tremble and obey; they tell us to fear certain groups, so we panic and wreak havoc and injustice on more and more victims.

The powers-that-be think that they themselves, in their puny-minded, sin-riddled souls have power! Indeed, man has no power—it is an illusion. Pharaoh thought he had power, he drowned and met his Maker as an unbeliever. Tyrants throughout history thought they had power, only to meet their end being hated by their people and humiliated in this life and the next. Yes, there are still people who think they have power, people who are still waiting to meet their final destination. People hated and feared—but merely people nonetheless.

To make someone do something they do not want to do requires a physical or mental form of coercion. The powers-that-be seek to coerce the populations of the world to “be” what “they” want, and try to raise a cloud of fear over the hearts of the masses, urging them to stay quiet, to stay in their places, and not “rock the boat.” Yes, if we were to rock the boat it would disquiet those who reap the economic benefits at the top of the social ladder, but it would liberate the masses who sit confused and fearful, playing into the hands of a crafty few.

The psychology of a slave is one of a follower, one who follows blindly. So, if we concede that we have enslaved ourselves into becoming followers instead of reformers—fearing politicians, fearing poverty, fearing death, fearing change—then we have taken the first step to reform.

Like everything else, the Qur’an tells us how to overcome the obstacles we face, even if we put those obstacles in front of ourselves. There was one group of people in history who were in a similar situation to the one we find ourselves in today. The Qur’an tells us about the Banu Isra'il (Children of Israel) who were enslaved (physically and spiritually) by Pharaoh. They lived in misery, being used, (like we're being used as consumers and so on) and living in fear (how safe do you feel?) But Allah in His mercy sent a prophet and a revelation. Moses came along to unite the hearts of the Banu Isra’il and to help them overcome their fear and lack of self-esteem (how is your self-esteem in today's world if you don't look right, act right, have the right kind of car, house, clothes…?) and free them from bondage.

You see, Pharaoh couldn't take on Banu Isra’il as a whole. He could deal horribly with some, but when they acted together, Pharaoh was helpless. But the success in the emancipation of the Banu Isra’il didn't only lie in their being united, it was Allah who divided the sea for them and paved the way for them. But first, before being entitled to Allah's help, they had to make the first step. That one is the most difficult of course, the first step.

They had to leave their homes, even though they had lived in misery, they had become used to it—after all, it was home—follow their prophet, and reach out, beyond themselves and their fear, into the unknown. They did it. They succeeded in taking the first risk—they left Egypt. Pharaoh and his mighty armies were thwarted. But the second risk was another story. Allah invited them to follow their prophet and live in the blessed land, but this time, their fear overcame them and they disobeyed their Lord.

Like everything in life, there are consequences for what we do and don't do. The consequence for them was to wander in the desert for forty years. They used to complain about that (we complain too, don't we? But what do we actually do to overcome the problems?) forgetting that it was their own inactivity and fear that led them to that in the first place! Didn't they remember that Allah promised to help them? Hadn't He, the Most High, shown them so many miracles already? (Haven't we also witnessed many miracles in life? Remember the scientific miracles of the Qur’an that science now acknowledges. This is just one!

But the wandering of the Banu Isra'il was not in vain. As always, Allah in His wisdom turns negative into positive and failure into success. Look at what happened. The consequence of the forty-year wandering was that the new generation was raised in freedom. Nothing more free than the desert, right? No tyranny or oppression, no brainwashing, just pure nature. This generation was able to break the shackles of self-willed slavery and pave the way to a brighter future for their people.

Are we still wandering in the desert my friends, or are we still living in “Pharaoh’s land?” Have we simply got used to oppression so much that we teach our children to fear and make excuses? Do we insist on teaching our children that Islam is simply a lot of rules and regulations and a series of “harams” and rituals?

It is known among the Bedouins that if you are lost in the desert you must be firm, keep moving, and keep on one track—never walk around in circles! What does this mean? It means that we have to take the first step to break out of the cycle of oppression.

To make a change you must take a step forward. If you are in a car and you want it to move to take you somewhere else, just sitting in the driver's seat is not enough. You have to have a key. And having a key in your hand is also not enough, you have to put it in the ignition and start the motor (the key is you and your activity). Once the motor starts, the change will come about automatically.

There is going to be change in the Muslim Ummah, but it will take patience and action. It is like a plane that is moving along the tarmac. It moves slowly, gathering power, and the bystanders do not know when it will actually take off. It will need a number of strong generations, but how can we get those strong generations?

The psychology of slaves is such that they are directly affected by their environment, dictators, and education. They have low self-esteem and feel helpless and hopeless. They obey without thinking. These days, many parents have this psychology and unconsciously transfer it to their children. The question from parents is often, “How can we give our children something (meaning freedom) we do not have?” The answer is simply that you must be convinced of the truth, of yourself, and of your situation, then pass onto them the feeling of being free. Indeed, freedom lies within the self.

This is where the struggle begins, and it begins with education. Instead of simply teaching subjects like math, science, and social studies from an atheistic, secular point of view, we must present these subjects in their Islamic context—for indeed, Islam does encompass every aspect of life. We need a different generation, a generation that is raised to understand the meaning of brotherhood and sisterhood in Islam and the wisdom behind the legislation provided by Allah. A generation which understands the miracles of life, the importance of time, the huge potential of the self, the importance of thinking, analyzing, and understanding what is going on around us, and the courage to reach out and try to make a difference—positive change.

To step out of our learned passiveness, apathy, and fear takes courage. It means we have to take the first step. Forget everything you have ever been told about fear, excuses, and the limitations of the self and society, and know for sure that Allah created the human body, mind, and soul as a marvel of creation; something the angels bowed down to. The potential greatness of each individual is largely ignored in today's world, which is only concerned about money, statistics (which means you and me), and the subjugation of man and nature. To free ourselves we have to take the trusty hand-hold of Allah and depend on Him and know for sure, without any doubt, that no human being has power greater than Allah!

Depression in an Islamic Concept