I had the opportunity to attend the ICNA-MAS conference that took place in Baltimore Maryland recently. One of the sessions that resonated the most with me was the keynote session. There were many remarkable individuals that spoke during this session, including a Native American convert named Louis Butcher Jr., ICNA President Javed Siddiqi, Imam Siraj Wahhaj, Shaykh Yasir Qadhi, and Shaykh Omar Suleiman. Even though all of these individuals had many gems to share, it was Shaykh Omar Suleiman’s speech which left the greatest impact on me. His speech focused on the idea of investing in one another — or, rather, our lack of investing in one another.
Sh. Suleiman raised the point that we love to celebrate individuals who have reached various levels of success. However, when it comes to people who are struggling, too often are we quick to dismiss them. As soon as they make it “big”, we want to jump on the bandwagon and celebrate them and their “greatness”. We are not involved in the process of making them great. Instead, we wait for the finished product. He even provided a surprising example in Malcom X: Today, we celebrate him. But if he were actually alive, many would choose not to associate with him. I believe that Sh. Suleiman touched on the surface of something much deeper. He touched on our ummah’s tendency to kill dreams.
I believe this problem is an overarching one. It does not just apply to killing an individual’s academic or career pursuits, but also to hurting his/her identity and character. We have a nasty tendency to undermine those who are already struggling. Often we are quick to pass judgments on others. I am guilty of this myself, whether by dismissing what someone has been going through, or judging them based on their appearance or their choices.
We often think we understand exactly what someone is struggling with. Don’t get me wrong: We should always strive to be empathetic and open-minded individuals, and try to step into someone else’s shoes in order to appreciate who they are and what they have been through. But some take it too far and become condescending, or develop the feeling that they know better of another’s situation — that they know better what the other should or should not do. Again, it is always good to consult with one another when facing problems and adversities. But imagine if you are in the situation where you are trying to share your problem with someone, and you receive negativity? It is simply not helpful to an individual looking for support when, rather than being listened to, he or she is accused of over-thinking, or worrying over trivialities.
How quick would this individual be to share their problems again? Could they be blamed for jading to the idea of reaching out for support when their experiences tell them it will only ever mean being shot down? And nobody wants to talk to someone who is going to constantly shut them down.
In contrast, this problem does not just apply to putting someone down when they are struggling. It also applies to undermining someone’s choices and their identity. We live in a world of various perspectives. Our hearts and our levels of Iman are constantly fluctuating. Some may be at “higher” levels of Iman than others, whereas some may be struggling, and are thus at “lower” levels of Iman. It is easy to want to put someone down because of their level of Iman. However, it is important to remember that despite our specific perspective or view, everyone has the choice to dislike the action rather than the person. You may disagree with an individual’s choices and actions. But being condescending or demeaning towards that individual may not be the best way to show them your disagreement. It will not help an individual’s self-esteem if they feel judgment or resentment towards their identity or their goals and aspirations. Disagreements and differences are inevitable; the key is to be able to communicate effectively and have a healthy dialogue with others regarding the disagreement. If we focus our arguments on trying to understand one another rather than trying to win the argument, we can build each other rather than tearing each other apart.
Sometimes what may seem like a very small matter to us may be a crucial piece of someone else’s life. When someone entrusts you with information, or seeks you out for advice when they are struggling, the first thing to do is simply be a good listener. Listen. Listen to what the other person is saying before you pass judgment or tell them what to do. This is, of course, easier said than done, and is something almost everyone struggles with. But, unfortunately, it is in delicate conversations like these where your words can have the most lasting impact on someone. You could be responsible for killing someone’s dreams, or even their self-esteem. But if we all try to evaluate ourselves and our words, and use our words to benefit someone, we could be responsible for inspiring dreams, and building the leaders of tomorrow.
Photo Credit: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/power-of-holding-hands_us_57435a8be4b00e09e89fc162