On Friday night of Deeper Roots, Shaykh Abdullah Hakim Quick speculated that perhaps a lot of us taking his class did not excel in history while we were in school. Why? “Well,” he said, “if I took a selfie with the class right now and showed it to you, the first person you would look for is yourself.” Similarly, when we studied history growing up, in public schools, we did not see ourselves in the books, thus most likely falling asleep in our classes.
The example may have been a bit cheesy, but nonetheless, its message holds true! Because of our experience with history in the West, we may be disillusioned with its study, or undermine its importance. Learning history, however, can be thought of as a command from God. In ayah 76 of surah A’raf, Allah says to the Prophet Muhammad,
ۚ فَاقْصُصِ الْقَصَصَ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَتَفَكَّرُونَ - 7:176
“...So relate the stories, perhaps they may reflect.”
The “they” in this ayah is in reference to Bani Israel, who had knowledge of the story of Bal’am. God honored Bal’am with certain knowledge which he used to turn on the followers of Moses. By relating this to us in the Quran, we learn that God not only wants that Bani Israel reflect, but also that we reflect and avoid Bal’am's behavior. God honors us through the knowledge of Bal’am’s story, as well as the stories of Bani Israel, and countless other parables in the Quran. As Shaykh Quick pointed out, over one-third of the Quran is historical accounts and divine insights into the past. This includes stories of the prophets and nations, both known and unknown to humanity.
Studying history in general shows us the universal, fixed principles in occurrences, like the rise and fall of nations. From these patterns, we can extract powerful lessons and productive strategies to be implemented in today’s context.
History gives us perspective. As Muslims, we can find our historical identity by learning Islamic history. It is even more important that we learn our history as Muslims living in the West because there has been an incredible amount of erasure of Islam from American history. I remember sitting in my A.P. American History class in high school five years ago, listening to my teacher tell us about how he just found out from a conference that about about one-third of Africans who came to the United States from the Middle Passage were Muslim. I was shocked that this man, who had written the most popular study guides for the American History exam for years, did not know this fact that seemed incredibly basic to me. Forgotten truths like these are being revived however, through a social consciousness that is awakening, especially by the efforts of indigenous groups.
Muslim immigrants today are indebted to the indigenous Muslims like African Americans, and other indigenous groups like Latinxs in the U.S. for their contributions to civil rights. Newly racialized groups have joined indigenous populations as racial minorities in the United States; we would not enjoy the limited civil liberties that we do, were it not for the struggles of these past groups who fought for them, throughout hundreds of years of disenfranchisement and violence. Yet still, there persists a disturbing racism within the overall Muslim American community toward Black Muslims.
African Muslims resisted the Atlantic Slave trade from its inception, and distinguished themselves through piety, literacy, and a stubborn refusal to be assimilated into colonial life. They have left a legacy of tawḥīd (monotheism), ṭahārah (purity), and resistance of injustice so strong that these very traits, even today, are arguably what make Islam the fastest growing religion in the Western Hemisphere.
In order to bring about any change in the world, it is crucial to first fix ourselves. What’s killing our communities is extremism, whether in the form of racist ideologies or exaggerated differences of opinion. As Shaykh Quick said, it is wisdom is that gives us that right balance in our implementation of our faith. It is, “with age, taken from the Quran, and sometimes, just a gift from Allah.”
I pray we as Muslims keep asking God for the gift of wisdom and through it, we find balance in ourselves and bring that into our families and communities. With the wisdoms of our deeper roots of the past as insights for our present, we can go further, together. And with that, I leave you with one of my favorite parts of the seminar - Shaykh’s recommendation of the ten crucial aspects of Islamic revival in the West:
1. Strive to always increase in taqwa for stronger faith and confidence as Muslims.
2.Separate Islam from culture.
3. Emphasis on Islamic character (akhlaq).
4. Aim for wisdom and balance.
5. Foster healthy, strong families.
6. Mutual consultation (shura) in all affairs.
7. Cooperation and unity, as we may learn more from those we differ from.
8. Empower women and see to our involvement in all aspects of life.
9. Youth in leadership, as they are more open-minded.
10. Provide Islamic solutions to all societies’ problems, as the best dawah is to improve the quality of life for others.