This past Friday, I gave the khutbah at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC, a khutbah which is generally attended by Muslim congressional staffers, visitors from Muslim countries, who are guided by the US State Department and members of advocacy organizations, which serve the Muslim community.
I reminded those in attendance of the responsibility that comes with the privilege that they enjoy as having access to elected officials and policy makers as well as acting as spokespeople for the Muslim community to the broader public. Moreover, I mentioned that this access is to be used not to simply amplify the thoughts and the concerns of the privileged, who have access to financial resources and wealth but to uplift the marginalized in our society.
I referenced that while in Al-Madinah, Prophet Muhammad (SAAS) was extremely attentive to the needs of those who were impoverished, most who were not from powerful Arab tribes. In particular, he (SAAS) used to keep company with Ahl As-Suffah (People of the Veranda), who had little material resources and were homeless when they first moved to Al-Madinah. Some of these included Salman Al-Farsi (RA), Bilal Al-Habashi (RA) and Suhayb Ar-Rumi (RA), who were non-Arab ex-slaves. When those within the status quo refused to sit with Prophet Muhammad (SAAS) unless he (SAAS) left them to join their special gatherings, Allah (SWT) revealed in Al-Qur’an (18:25), “Keep yourself content [Oh Muhammad] with those who call upon their Lord in the morning and the evening seeking His face…”
I mentioned two aspects of how Muslims with privilege should work to uplift the marginalized in society, the first of these is an internal process of establishing spiritually authentic empathy with the marginalized. Prophet Muhammad (SAAS) said, “Love the poor and sit with them.” In order to understand the plight of the disenfranchised, people with privilege must have authentic relationships including sitting with people in their environments instead of being aloof from their circumstances. Such aloofness, even with the best intentions, leads those of higher economic backgrounds or those with access to power to impose their ideas on what the marginalized need, which can in fact cause more harm at times.
In regards to the second point, I elaborated that Prophet Muhammad (SAAS) amplified the voices of the marginalized by giving them accolades and giving them positions of influence, which were merited. One example mentioned was when Salman Al-Farsi (RA) provided the defense strategy when the enemies of Islam laid siege on Al-Madinah – Prophet Muhammad (SAAS) implemented Salman’s (RA) strategy and stated that “Salman is from us, the People of the House [Ahl Al-Bayt].” Other example mentioned was when Prophet Muhammad (SAAS) made Bilal Al-Habashi (RA), not only the first caller to prayer, but was also made him the first treasurer of the Muslim community in Al-Madinah.
In breaking down social as well as ethnic barriers within society, I also mentioned how Prophet Muhammad (SAAS) encouraged marriages that crossed social strata, which included the marriage of an Arab young lady from a Makkan area tribe with Bilal Al-Habashi (RA) and the marriage of Fatimah bint Qays (RA) to Usamah bin Zayd (RA), whose father and mother were ex-slaves.
May Allah (SWT) makes us of those who love and empathized with the marginalized, and may He (SWT) grant us wisdom to empower them and push them forward while having the humility to take a step back when appropriate.