I remember my childhood vividly. From the time I was young, my mother taught me stories about the Prophet Abraham and his willingness to sacrifice his son for God. She worked part time but she took the time to teach me to read. One of the stories I remember was “Love You Forever,” which was about a young baby growing up to adulthood with his mother, who loved him very much.
I was born in New Orleans in a lower-class, predominantly black neighborhood. Because of a test that deemed me a “gifted” student, I went to school outside of my district. When I started going to kindergarten, the new trend was to play Pokémon, and my classmates would battle each other in this game or play by themselves on a Game Boy. Sometimes, in the afterschool program, we would watch Pokémon. I really got into the show, and I still remember the theme song: “I want to be the very best, like no one ever was; to catch them is my quest, to train them is my cause. I will travel across the world, searching far and wide each Pokémon to understand the power inside.”
But when I asked my mother to buy me a Game Boy or Pokémon cards, she would always tell me, “I can’t afford it.” The more I went to my friends’ houses, the more I realized that we were not as well-off as them. For example, my family slept on the floor in our apartment, but my friends had their own beds. We simply didn’t have the money for those things.
The people in the school I attended were mostly white, but my neighborhood school had a majority of black kids. It wasn’t long until I realized that there were intense economic inequalities in the world. When I moved to Chicago, I became exposed to this reality even more. I had to choose my clothes carefully so I wouldn’t unintentionally represent myself as a gang member. There were days when there was nothing to eat, when the money on the link card ran out.
There was a student in my class whose three other brothers had been shot and killed. Many of the people I went to middle school with were in prison or dead. This unbalanced reality caused me to research the origins of it all, and I discovered “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa” by Walter Rodney, as well as “How Capitalism Underdeveloped Black America” by Manning Marable. I began to read the theories of George Jackson and Huey Newton. I read Karl Marx and Lenin’s works. I awoke to the oppression that exists in society, with the ghetto made susceptible to various leftist ideas because it stressed economic equality and justice. I started a conversation on what may be called revolutionary politics.
During this stage in my life, I became increasingly angry at the world for the suffering my people faced. This led to my rebellious behavior, as I had no source of inner peace, and I neglected my studies in school. I started to have an “attitude” and I would walk around arrogantly, even treating my own mother with disrespect.
I listened to a lot of Tupac and Dead Prez, a socialist rapper. These lyrics are from one of his songs:
“Why is it that black people and everybody like us live in the kind of
poverty and misery that we live in? Everywhere I look around me are nothing
but poverty and misery, on the one hand. And yet, what I’m seeing is that
everywhere there’s wealth and riches in the world it’s in the white
community somewhere, whether it’s in Europe or whether it’s right ‘cross the
street from where I was born.”
This song really struck me. The leftist theories posited that all crime, violence, and vices in the inner cities was a result of oppression, which had led me to believe that I was merely a product of my environment. The difficulties these theories had in handling the moral aspects of life were due to the fact that none of the ideologies addressed how we should conduct ourselves in this world, nor did they answer the question of what the purpose of life is. Regardless of how eloquently I would talk about any of it, it lacked the power to fundamentally alter human behavior; each ideology simply addressed the economics of a society or focused on the larger bio-political structure we would have to eradicate in order to see change. Meanwhile, my peers continued to focus on materialism, drugs, sex, and other such behavior, which did nothing to benefit them.
Little did I know that the answer would be found in a religion coming from the man who my mom taught me about: Abraham. As the Qu’ran asks, “Who but a fool would forsake the religion of Abraham?” The Qu’ran critiques social and economic justice. One of my favorite Surahs begins by reflecting upon nations of the past:
“Have you noted how your Lord dealt with Aad?
Those whose capital was Iram, the city of towers and lofty mansions.
The like of which (the towers and castles) were never built in other cities.
And with Thamud, who slashed out for dwellings rocks in the valley.
And with the powerful Pharaoh of the great Pyramids.
They all played God in the land, towns and cities.
And increased corruption and crime therein.
And so, your Lord chastised them with a whipping punishment.
Behold, your Lord is ever on the watch!
But as for man, whenever his Lord lets his life take a turn by giving him honor and Bliss, he says, “My Lord has honored me.”
But when He lets his life take a turn by restricting his provision, he says, “My Lord has disgraced me.”
Nay, nay, you honor not the orphan.
And you do not encourage one another to feed the needy.
And you devour the inheritances with greed.
And you love wealth with boundless love.”
The Qu’ran emphasizes that a nation was not to be praised based upon their material wealth or great feats of architecture, but on how they treated the poor. It downplayed the importance of wealth—the differences in levels of wealth were a test: the generosity of the rich was tested, while the patience of the poor was tested. If everyone is equal and classless, as in communist theory, then how can acts of generosity truly exist?
Another verse from the Qu’ran reads, “Know that the life of the world is nothing but a sport and pastime, and superficial beauty, and mutual boasting and self-praise, and ambition to excel in wealth and children over one another. Its similitude is rain whose produce pleases the farmers. Then it dries up. Then you see it turning yellow and then it becomes bits of stubble.” This is a critique of the “keeping up with the Joneses” culture whereby we are always in search for the next fad or toy, usually in the spirit of jealousy of someone else who has more materialistic possessions. Yet when we finally get what we crave, the joy from it quickly fads away. If our neighbor has a fancy car and we envy it until we finally buy one of our own, then rather than appreciate what we have, we then immediately focus on whatever else our neighbor has that we don’t. Even people who have significantly more than their neighbors still fall for this trap; they then compare themselves to celebrities or billionaires, which only makes them feel ashamed for their supposed “lack”—because, of course, they only compare themselves to those who have more, not those who have less. This behavior is a continuous cycle in which people focus almost exclusively on material wealth, and many people accumulate significant debt while trying to “keep up with the Joneses,” as they neglect to live within their means—all for the sake of appearances.
We are supposed to be living for a better purpose that this. The Qu’ran critiques those who do not use their wealth to help the poor; one verse about the day of judgment states:
“‘And that I never knew my account,
I wish the end had been final,
My money cannot help me,
All my power is gone.’
Take him and shackle him.
Then to Hell cast him. …..
For he did not believe in God, the Great.
Nor did he advocate the feeding of the poor.
Consequently, he has no friend here today.”
There is something lacking in leftists’ literature. The Qu’ran demonstrated this with the morality it promotes, which is in contrast to the common practices in my community: “By intoxicants and games of chance Satan only desires to create enmity and hatred between you, and to turn you away from the remembrance of Allah and from Prayer. Will you, then, desist?” Another verse states, “When you marry a woman, you must give them their agreed upon dowries and establish a real marital relationship and not a secret relationship just for sexual pleasures. Anyone who rejects faith has nullified all his good deeds and will find himself among the losers in Hereafter.” It emphasized discipline and avoiding instant gratification. One of the concepts that amazed me was fasting (voluntarily giving up food and drink for a period of time). I asked myself, “What was this purpose of this? How might this affect a society?” The health benefits are merely an added bonus; the purpose of fasting is for people to understand that they are not simply slaves to their desires. It teaches them that they can overcome their base desires which inculcate discipline in a society.
The one thing in the Qu’ran that resonated with me the most was the idea that people are not slaves to their environmental circumstances, but that we can overcome these things. It promoted the internal change within each individual as a prerequisite to complete social change, as stated in the verse, “Never will Allah change the condition of a people until they first change that which is in themselves.” This liberated me from the limiting belief that I am merely a product of my environment, the Western concept of “individual freedom,” and it put me on the straight path. It told me the purpose of hardships and economic inequality, and taught me that we are to overcome these things to achieve our goals. It liberated me from the common liberal beliefs that human beings are merely here to have fun and experience pleasure. The verses below further demonstrate this.
“Indeed We have created the human being into toil and struggle.”
“Did you honestly think that We created you and brought you in the world below purposelessly or just for fun and that you would not be brought back to Us when there is much to answer for!”
Now I realize that what I am supposed to be doing in this life it is not merely to “enjoy myself” or experience various pleasure. I have learned I am not a product of my environment as in Marxism. There is no reason why I can’t go to Harvard or Al-Azhar University if I work hard. So let’s start working towards our goals and thank God every step on our journey of life, realizing that nothing is going to last; this life is a transitory one, as the Qu’ran states, “Enter into Islam whole-heartedly; And follow not the footsteps of the Satan; For he is to you an avowed enemy.” So, people, let’s put down the weed, put down the alcohol, avoid the senseless television shows and frivolous activities. Let’s stop trying to keep up with the Joneses, or live a hedonistic lifestyle. Instead, we can accomplish our purpose in life, which is to worship God and actively follow the straight path. Together, we can get rid of all of the things that do not help us accomplish our purpose in life. If Abraham was willing to give up his son for God, then why can’t you give up the illicit sex(sex outside of marriage), drugs, and rock and roll?