Commentary: Speeches do not an ummah make

Can I get a takbir?

Go to any Islamic Center or a Masjid and you will find a number of flyers about upcoming events displaying in bold letters the names of the people who will be speaking in the function. Speeches are supposed to be a means to inspire and motivate people to do good work and accomplish things in life, rather than becoming an end in and of themselves. However, in recent times, listening to speeches has become almost an addiction in the Muslim American Community.

Pick up any flyer or an announcement about a function arranged by a Muslim organization, and it will invariably consist of a list of three or four people from a group of two dozen or so eloquent speakers who have appeared on the scene in the Muslim American Community during the past 15 or 20 years. In fact, if somebody mentions a program being organized by such and such organization, the first question asked is, “Who will be speaking?” Some speakers are more popular than others. Some are big crowd getters. People flock to hear them as if they are performing a very important religious duty. Their speeches become a topic of conversation for many days and people express great satisfaction that they had this opportunity to hear them.

The speakers usually talk about our glorious past, the superiority of Islamic philosophy and Islamic values, the ills of a Western materialistic approach to life, the injustices being perpetrated by Western nations – particularly the USA – against Muslims, and various conspiracy theories. The majority of listeners go back home feeling relieved and convinced that the speakers have very effectively analyzed, exposed, and explained the reasons for the Muslim Ummah’s sad state of affairs and that having attended these lectures, they have fulfilled their obligation to the community. Then they go about doing their daily routine of work till another event takes place and another speaker gives them a fresh dose of the same medicine.

Speeches, even when they are very eloquent, do not by themselves contribute much towards making a community strong and valuable. When we look at successful and notable communities and nations, we find that their strength and success is based not on big speakers but on real concrete accomplishments in the fields of science, technology, education, business, politics, and on their strong sense of duty and commitment to the betterment of their communities. Allama Iqbal, the great poet-philosopher, once commented aptly that Western nations are distinguished among all nations by their zeal to accomplish things (Quwatt-e-Amal) and their action oriented approach to life. Another of his insightful statements is that it is character alone that determines the destinies of nations.

Pakistani President Pervaiz Musharraf, in his plea for “enlightened moderation”, has called on Muslims to raise themselves up through individual achievements and socioeconomic emancipation. Muslim Americans are in a unique position to become a model community by concentrating on three essential characteristics of a valuable and distinguished community: character, competence, and commitment. Each of us must exhibit character integrity by becoming truthful, responsible, trustworthy, and diligent in doing our work. Each of us should acquire some sort of competence and skill to earn an honest and decent living and not become a burden on the community. And each of us should make a commitment to share part of our wealth, our skills, and our talents for the betterment of our community. These attributes of a model and successful community are quite well-known.

Character, competence, and commitment – not eloquent speeches – are the ingredients that will make our Ummah valuable and strong.

Dr. Waheed Siddiqee is the Interfaith Committee Chairman of the California-based United Muslims of America.

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