The holy Quran states, “Verily, Allah does not change the condition of a people until they change their condition.” (Quran 13:11). This verse gives us an essential context of where to start when achieving radical change. Some have appropriated it to encourage passivism. These people will use this verse to argue that our only focus should be ourselves. However, this argument is not only wrong but imprudent. For us, the prophetic tradition gives us a complete view of how to achieve positive radical change.
When we talk about fixing the problems we see within us and around us, people tend to lose motivation. There’s way too much going on wrong for us to make a difference. It’s easy to fall into this mindset and have a pessimistic outlook on problems in the world. But in our religion, God shows us the path to radical change step by step by giving us Personal, Familial, and Communal Obligations to help make the world we live in a better place.
The first step of achieving radical change starts by working on yourself. There is undoubtedly an obligation to improve yourself in all ways in Islam, but there is an emphasis on spiritual and physical improvement.
In the Quran, God tells us what he expects from us. It is described in the Quran that God loves those who are God-Conscious. In the Hadith of Gabriel, in which the angel Gabriel questioned the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ on Islam’s tenets, he asked him about Ihsan or excellence. As defined by the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, excellence in Islam is that you worship Allah as if you see Him. And if you cannot see Him, you understand that God sees you (Sahih Muslim)
God-consciousness also requires action. It requires us to do good to others. Standing for justice, taking care of the poor, and those who request help are all encouraged efforts in our faith. In surat Al Baqara God tells us,
“Righteousness does not consist in turning your faces towards the east or towards the west; true righteousness consists in believing in Allah and the Last Day, the angels, the Book and the Prophets, and in giving away one’s property in love of Him to one’s kinsmen, the orphans, the poor and the wayfarer, and to those who ask for help, and in freeing the necks of slaves, and in establishing Prayer and dispensing the Zakah. True righteousness is attained by those who are faithful to their promise once they have made it and by those who remain steadfast in adversity and affliction and at the time of battle (between Truth and falsehood). Such are the truthful ones; such are the God-fearing.” (2:177).
Furthermore, the Prophet ﷺ said, "By Him in Whose Hand my life is, you either enjoin good and forbid evil or Allah will certainly soon send His punishment to you. Then you will make supplication, and it will not be accepted". This hadith shows us that our “righteousness” requires us to be active in work for good. These are some of the most basic ideals that we have to adhere to Islamically. Through these ideals, we understand that by benefiting ourselves spiritually, we must always work on those around us.
Step two in the path of achieving positive radical change is working on your family. Taking care of your family is an integral part of Islam. The Prophet ﷺ said, “All of you are shepherds, and each one is responsible for his flock. A leader of a people is a shepherd and responsible for them. A man is a shepherd over his family and is responsible for them” (Sahih Bukhari). In fact, this responsibility is so important that our worship can even be tied to our behavior with our families. It was narrated that a man approached the Prophet ﷺ and said, “O Messenger of Allah, I have committed a great sin. Is there any repentance for me?” The Prophet said, “Is your mother with you?” The man said no. The Prophet ﷺ said, “Is your mother’s sister with you?” The man said yes. The Prophet ﷺ said, “Be good to her.” (Sunan al-Tirmidhi).
Working on your family can be manifested in different ways. We all understand that we have obligations to our families. But Islamically, we are also required to benefit our families by educating them. It would not be enough for us to excel spiritually while those who are closest to us are lacking basic needs. As accomplished as we are, we must make sure those closest to us are as well. Achieving radical change requires us to work on our families the way we would work on ourselves.
The third step in achieving radical social change is working on our communities. The Prophet ﷺ said, “The most beloved people to Allah are those who are most beneficial to people.” (al-Muʻjam al-Awsat).” Throughout the Quran and hadith, we see an emphasis on taking care of those around us. We are obligated to take care of the poor, orphans, neighbors, and sisters/brothers in faith” (Quran, 2:177). These obligations range from financial, physical protection, and even just basic kindness.
We are responsible for our community. When we know there are specific problems in our immediate surroundings; we must be willing to fix them. It was narrated that the Prophet ﷺ stated, “While a man was walking by a roadside, he found a tree branch with thorn, he took it (out of the passers’ way), Allah appreciated his deed and forgave him his sins” (Sahih Bukhari). This hadith clearly shows us that benefiting the society we live in is a part of our worship.
Society is like a brick house. It takes the laying of one brick first to start building the house. But no one would ever think that if you put one brick down, you can forget about the rest. As Muslims, we are obligated to benefit ourselves and then benefit those around us. In Surah Raad when it states, “Verily, Allah does not change the condition of a people until they change their condition.” It is not an excuse to stand back; it is an order to work. The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ stated, “Whosoever of you sees an evil, let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so, then [let him change it] with his tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then with his heart — and that is the weakest of faith” (Muslim). This hadith tells us that you are required to work to the best of your abilities. If you are capable of changing something with your hand, you must change it with your hand.
All of us look for some sort of positive radical change in our lives and the lives of those around us. Many would wrongly preach that change starts and ends with you. But throughout the Quran and modeled in the Prophetic tradition, we see that in order to perfect our worship, we must also uphold our personal, familial, and communal obligations. To achieve real change, we must be willing to extend the change we want for ourselves to everyone else.
Islam is not a passive religion. Islam requires us to be active members of our society. And to be able to worship God as best as we can, we must be willing to embody His teachings and guidance and fulfill our responsibility to His creation and His cause on Earth.