Positive or Passive?

Text handwritten with white chalk on a blackboard.

TO HAVE A positive orientation and attitude is to be a constructive member in your society. Social positivity is necessary for a healthy community as it indicates the willingness of its members to take part in guiding and building their communal life, as well as in safeguarding it against wrong practices.

Accordingly, Islam urges its followers to be positive—not passive—members in their community. The Quran, after vowing that humankind is in [a condition of utter] loss [Sûrat Al-¢Aṣr, 103:2], made exception for those who believe and do righteous deeds and exhort one another to [uphold] the truth, and exhort one another to [persevere in faith with] patience [Sûrat Al-¢Asr, 103:3]. Such exhortation to uphold the truth is the manifestation of their positivity.

The Islamic principle of enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong lays the foundation of such social positivity. Allah (exalted is He) said:

So let there be of you one [united] community calling to all that is good and enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong. And it is these who are the [truly] successful. [Sûrat Âl ¢Imrân, 3:104]

This is an injunction to have a positive attitude toward communal events.

Passivity allows wrong to spread and expand. The Messenger of Allah œ said:

He who sees an evil [taking place] let him change it with his hand. If he cannot, let this be with his tongue and if still he cannot, let it be with his heart; and this is the least level of faith.

The adîth teaches how wise a Muslim should be when assessing a situation in order to decide the suitable position he/she should take. In any case, however, the hadith enjoins taking a positive stance. For even the “least level”– which is to renounce the wrong with one’s heart–is actually a positive attitude; because such inner renouncement keeps one’s heart on guard against evil and ever ready to change it when possible. If one does not have such feeling inside, he/she will soon get used to wrong practices and gradually they will appear no longer wrong to him/her.

The Children of Israel were cursed in the Quran for their passive attitude toward wrong practices that took place in their community. Allah, (exalted is He) said:

Cursed by the tongue of David and Jesus, son of Mary, were those who disbelieved of the Children of Israel. That is because they disobeyed [God] and [persistently] transgressed [His covenant]. They used not to forbid one another from any wrongdoing they did. Truly woeful is what they have been doing! [Sûrat Al-Mâ’idah, 5:78-79]

On the other hand, the Quran has provided a variety of exemplary models for taking positive attitudes even when it is dangerous to do so. In Sûrat Yâ Sîn, the Quran recounts the story of a townspeople who belied the messengers sent by Allah to them and even threatened to punish them. Then, in this dismaying scene, there appeared a man from among these people who decided take action. The man, who believed in Allah, felt sorrowful for his people as he knew the disastrous consequences of their disbelief. Hence, he came rushing from the furthest part of the city [Sûrat Yâ Sîn 36:20] and kept admonishing, arguing with and forewarning his people until they killed him. He could have secluded himself in an isolated place and left them to their fatal destiny; but he sacrificed his life for defending the truth and in his attempt to save his people. Even after his death at their hands, the Quran records his amazing attitude:

It was said [to him]: Enter [the bliss of] the Garden [of Paradise]! He said: Oh! If only my people could know of how my Lord has forgiven me and placed me among [the ranks of] the honored! [Sûrat Yâ Sîn, 36:26-27]

Soon after, his people were reduced to ruin.

A similar example can be seen in Sûrat Ghâfir in the account of a believing man from the House of Pharaoh [20:28]. As Pharaoh and his assembly belied Moses and decided to kill him, that man could not bear to stand passive while seeing such unjust treatment to the bearer of truth. Thus, he started to argue logically with them and asked them to be fair with Moses. He also employed different sorts of forewarnings and admonitions in his attempt to uphold the truth and save His people, but they plotted against him. Unlike in the case of the man in Sûrat Yâ Sîn, this one was saved from their evil conspiracy.

The Quran furthermore tells of positive attitudes taken by non-human creatures. A group of jinn came to hear the Messenger of Allah reciting the Quran. The light of the Quran shined in their hearts and they immediately admitted that it is wondrous and that it guides to the truth. But they were not selfish. They returned to their people calling on them to believe in the Quran and to follow the Messenger of Allah.

They were active and positive members among their community, keen to enlighten them about the truth they had come to know. When one knows useful information, he should love to convey it to others–in this way right and good can spread and prevail over wrong and evil.

Even birds are represented in the Quran by a positive member. During the reign of Solomon, who had hosts from the jinn, the human beings, and the birds, a hoopoe of his hosts saw the people of Sheba bowing their faces down to the sun in worship instead of bowing to Allah. This spectacle of associating other gods with Allah provoked the hoopoe and thus he decided to take action. He returned to Solomon and delivered this information to him. The hoopoe himself could not interfere and so he informed Solomon to take action. This gives a lesson to the Muslim to seek the help of authority when the situation is beyond his/her ability to make change.

Insects, too, are represented by a positive-thinking ant. While they were marching, Solomon and his hosts came upon the Valley of Ants. Seeing such a great multitude advancing toward their dwellings, the ant felt worried and acted positively. She shouted: O you ants! Enter [quickly] into your dwellings, [and] let not Solomon and his hosts crush you while they are unaware! [Sûrat Al-Naml, 27:18]. At times of danger, one has to think about others as well and to take social responsibility.

The above Qur’anic examples present positive attitudes that take the initiative toward making changes and differences in their environments. In various circumstances, a Muslim should think not only about himself and his own interests. He has to be an active and positive individual who reacts appropriately to the events that take place in his surroundings. To be passive is to allow evil to thrive.

Sometimes a positive reaction might cause one to endure self-sacrifice for a public interest or for the superiority of the truth–which is not easy for many people to do. But faith in Allah and in His promised reward facilitates such sacrifice and allows it to be endurable and even to be done with pleasure.

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