We are all tangled in the vicious cycle of oppression, one way or another. We are all oppressed and oppressor on different levels. Unless we understand this complex cycle of oppression, we can never free ourselves or our society from this tangled web. We will InshaAllah break down the concept of oppression on personal and social level and will suggest the cure from this sickness, by the will of Allah.
Sometimes, the reality is painful and it takes a lot of humbleness and humility to accurately analyze one's situation in life. Truth is usually bitter but it is better to deal with the truth than to mask it and pretend otherwise because pretension will not benefit anyone, neither will it change the situation.
We are living in post colonial era; all the Muslim countries were under colonial rule for three to four hundred years and have only been free for approximately seventy years. During colonialism, there was a systematic destruction of structured religion to prevent masses from collecting under any powerful emotional and ideological flag in order to avoid rebellion against the ruling power. Muslims growing up under colonial powers had misconstrued understanding of their religion and they were ideologically defeated to the point they lost Islam. This understanding and hesitance of religion was transferred to the succeeding generations and its product is the cultural Islam that we encounter today.
Our biggest challenge now is to free Islam from cultural customs and ideologies and bring back the original teachings and practices of Prophet Muhammad SAW and his companions. This will never be accomplished until we deny ourselves and critically analyze and fix our situation, no matter how pathetic and dirty it may be.
When we, as cultural Muslims look at our lives, we will discover that we have been deprived from our basic individual freedom and self expression. We are taught religion as an external force that we need to follow because it will protect us from the social harms prevalent in the society such as alcoholism, pre-marital sex etc. There is never any internal connection established with the source of this guidance-our Lord and Owner Allah SWT. We grow up alienated from and ready to rebel against this structure, but continue to follow it in order to satisfy the status quo.
We have questions and problems in ourselves that we cannot solve because there is external pressure on us to conform and satisfy the demands of our society. This causes us to oppress ourselves and we, instead of correcting our faults and problems, pretend they don't exist and mask our eyes from it. We will give the example of marital relationship as this is one of the most important yet neglected topics of our lives. In order to have a pragmatic solution we need to analyze it in depth and fit all the misplaced pieces of the puzzle in their respective places.
People in most Muslim cultures usually stress marriages with the understanding that it fulfills a part of our deen (Islamic way of life.) But this understanding is missing basic knowledge about every other element such as, who to marry, how to choose this person, the goal of marriage and what are each person's expectations from the other. If all this is neglected, after the early marriage bliss, spouses begin to realize the extent of the failure of the relationship. In some cases they seek council and resolve their issues, but in most cases they lose the true meaning of relationship deep down inside. There is no more bond or spark left between them but they get on with their lives trying to satisfy the society-whatever that may require.
suppress their feelings just to prevent backlash or opposition from the society. This can be seen from the choices people make such as dressing, haircut, the kind and amount of food they eat, to the school and career they choose. Everything is dictated by others and the person loses himself in the whole process and learns to oppress himself.
This inability to express their true feelings then generates a vicious cycle. A husband, if not satisfied from his wife-sexually or otherwise, starts to abuse her verbally, emotionally, and/or physically. Wife, oppressed by husband or in-laws, in turn oppresses her husband and children in whatever way she can. This can range from screaming, yelling, burning food, to beating the children. This cycle of oppression continues through these children who grow up knowing no other outlet of expression than what they see at home.
All this is due to the oppression of external forces which prevent people from even discovering their own identity and they
This snatches the identity away from a person and as he grows older, he feels like a loser who has never accomplished anything. How many times have we heard parents say, 'I don't have a life, I am living for my children' or ‘I don't even have time for myself?' How does a person reach this level? It is self-oppression which our society teaches us.
The challenge is to come out of this reprehensible cycle and define for ourselves what we really want to accomplish from any act that we are involved in. We have to force ourselves not to ignore the situation, rather accept it and put it in the right perspective so at least we will know what is going on. If you know something, you will eventually learn how to deal with it. But what happens if you don't even know what is going on? You remain ignorant and surrendered to the status quo and accept defeat in all your decisions.
When you have figured out deep down inside what you really want, you take steps in that direction. There are only three things that can happen from that point on:
- Either you make the right decision and feel happy for accomplishing what you wanted;
- You get what you wanted and realize that you were wrong in assuming that was good for you; or
- The last thing that can happen is that you realize that you can't get what you want so you alter your plans.
The most important thing is to know what you want because it brings peace of mind and emotional stability.
Remember, you will never be oppressed unless you oppress yourself first. You will never be just to others unless you are just to yourself first. And you will never be able to change any condition or situation, unless you change what is within you first.
The one who doesn't have it, cannot give it!
Upon analyzing our lives closely, honest people will come to the conclusion that it is embedded in us to accept oppression as the norm to the point we do not even want to change it. All of us are oppressed and oppressors in turns-whether as individuals, family, society, or nation. This cycle of oppression seems to have no end; a husband oppresses his wife, wife oppresses in-laws or children, boss in the office oppresses his subordinates, his subordinates in turn oppress janitors or others subservient to them, and the list continues.
Larger, more powerful nations oppress poorer needy nations by usurping their wealth and resources. Government employees oppress ordinary citizens of the nation, and the higher government officials oppress anyone and everyone they need to in order to win the power struggle.
Is this really what Allah intended from us when He sent us down to the earth as His vicegerent? Why have we sunk so low? Why can't we apply the simple hadith of Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him)?
"None of you is a believer until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself." (Muslim)
In the Qur'an, Allah SWT has given us the story of a little ant that supplicated to Allah to divert the army of Suleiman so it won't crush the ant colony. Allah SWT glorified this ant by mentioning it in His magnificent book and it will be glorified till the end of time. Think! How did this little creature enter the book of Allah SWT?
How did an insignificant little ant receive this honor and status? It neither had any material status, nor high degrees. It was a considerate creature that was simply trying to save her fellow ants from the marching army of Prophet Suleiman, lest they in their ignorance trample upon the colony. This tiny creature wanted to save the life of its fellow creatures. It was probably thinking that its life is not worth living if it doesn't save its fellows from a certain misery. This ant was above what we humans have sunk down to.
It was neither an oppressor nor oppressed. It cared for others before it cared about its own self; and this caring and consideration should be the most basic quality of a human being!
It is vital that we break this cycle of oppression in our personal lives and societies in order to receive victory from Allah SWT. We have to fix the problem rather than hide it. We have to discontinue this pretentious behavior and have to be just to ourselves, our feelings, emotions, and knowledge. Unless we remove this self inflicted oppression and start seeing things transparently and with justice, we can't ever hope to eradicate this problem from our society.
So how do we establish this justice in ourselves and our societies?
Justice is guidance from Allah SWT. It is the ability to put everything in the right perspective. Allah SWT has called Qur'an Al-Furqan, the Criteria. The more we implement Qur'an in our lives, the more we will have clear criteria to judge things; and the farther we are from Allah, the more unjust we will be. Allah SWT gave us advices in the Qur'an which are a constitution for our lives as well as a relief during hardships. Allah SWT reminds us that we are in this world for a short period of time during which we are going to be trialed with things that we like and dislike. If we keep this point in mind than when situations arise instead of oppressing ourselves and others, we will be able to give it the right perspective.
Every soul will taste death. And We test you with evil and with good as trial; and to Us you will be returned. (21:35)
Allah SWT knows our weakness and impatience that is why He is reminding us in the Qur'an:
He is not questioned about what He does, but they will be questioned. (21:23)
It is very important to remember at this point that Allah SWT has a sunnah or way of doing things that never changes. Since we know that we will face trials in our lives, it becomes very important for us to prepare ourselves and our Iman for this inevitability.
The sunnah of Allah never changes though time, place, and people may change. We will discuss this issue here in order to deepen the understanding of our topic, InshaAllah.
Allah SWT says:
Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves. And when Allah intends for a people ill, there is no repelling it. And there is not for them besides Him any patron. (13:11)
That is because Allah would not change a favor which He had bestowed upon a people until they change what is within themselves. And indeed, Allah is Hearing and Knowing. (8:53)
Almost all of us are aware of the great Muslim history of Al-Andalusia (Spain). Eight hundred years of Muslim supremacy was eventually plundered and annihilated. We have heard talk about this in great length in mosques and sermons as well as complains about the situation and condition prevalent at the time. "Why did Allah SWT allow it to happen?"
We hear about the atrocities perpetrated against Muslims and innocent human beings all across the globe. The situation in Bosnia and Chechnya is not such distant history and Palestine is part of our daily news. We hear Muslims lament and say that the opposing forces perpetrated this against us, and the conditions were too destructive etc. Or if we had done this or that, this would not have happened.
But the real question should be "Why did Allah SWT allow it to happen?"
This Ummah (nation) has a duty. We are not simply a nation; we are the representatives of the deen of Allah SWT. We are left in charge of spreading the message of Islam to the world. When we left our duty as Muslims, Allah changed our condition; when we changed the inner status of our hearts from being a slave to Allah SWT to a slave for duniya, Allah SWT allowed us to be weak, humiliated, and disgraced.
We were supposed to be a mercy for mankind, but we are engaged in oppressing ourselves and others. We are supposed to be just and honest, yet we have become the most unjust and dishonest people in earth. We were supposed to sacrifice this duniya over the love of Allah and His message, yet we are engrossed in accumulating the riches of duniya.
Once we realize our faults and weaknesses and resolve to correct them, Allah SWT will be with us and allow us to engage in the honest struggle of self purification-a struggle which is supposed to last till the end of our lives.
We also need to have a person in our lives with more knowledge and superior spiritual status-someone who can guide us and advice us in decision making.
Following analogy will help drive our point home, InshaAllah:
The pencil-maker took the pencils aside, just before putting them into the box. "There are 5 things you need to know before I send you out into the world," he told the pencils. "Always remember them and never forget, and you will become the best pencils you can be.
- You will be able to do many great things, but only if you allow yourself to be held in someone's hand.
- You will experience a painful sharpening from time to time, but you'll need it in order to become a better pencil.
- You will always be able to correct any mistakes you might make.
- The most important part of you will always be what's inside. And
- On every surface you are used, you must leave your mark; no matter what the condition, you must continue to write."
If we implement these advices in our lives, we will be just to ourselves and others. Allah SWT reminds us who the owner of all conditions is in these words:
Say, "O Allah , Owner of Sovereignty, You give sovereignty to whom You will and You take sovereignty away from whom You will. You honor whom You will and You humble whom You will. In Your hand is [all] good. Indeed, You are over all things competent." (3:26)
The practice of referring to Qur'an and sunnah for guidance, consultation with learned people and obedience to them keeps our nafs (self) in check and allows us to be humble; this brings guidance and wisdom from Allah. So the more we have humility to others and Allah, the more we will be just and have the ability to alleviate oppression from ourselves and our societies.
May Allah SWT grant us the ability to break this vicious cycle of oppression and grant us wisdom to deal with every situation with justice. May we be able to attain internal freedom which in turn will help us attain external freedom and dignity InshaAllah. Ameen.
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