The foremost challenges our community faces are (1) charting a new course toward real empowerment, integration, and relevance and (2) determining how to effect the necessary changes. This will require a committed group of trailblazers who possess an extraordinary ability to confront brutal reality, to articulate a compelling message calling for change, and to model that change.
Bridging the gap between where we are and where we could and should be requires a sweeping change in our community that spans our identity, thought process, mission, Islamic construct, culture, approach, discourse, priorities, and structure. This change represents a major mental shift that must start with rediscovering our religion.
We are calling for actively striving to seek God’s pleasure through fulfilling His purpose, not just passively worshipping Him, abiding by His commandments, and performing good deeds. This understanding is what prompted our renaissance movement, and it will always drive, guide, and sustain it.
An essential part of the change that we seek is to reintroduce Islam as a life mission for the individual and a rallying cause for the community.
Our community is in urgent need of fundamental change to become relevant so that we can make a significant and sustained contribution to the changes needed in society. Ultimately, though, a meaningful change starts within the individual. This requires individuals to embark on a journey of self-development and civic engagement to realize their full potential.
The key to the success of our movement project is the civically aware, concerned, and engaged citizen who cares for this country and its people and who constantly challenges himself/herself to contribute more to the greater good.
For Muslims—especially devout ones—in addition to citizenship, our emphasis is on Islam in general and the divine mission in particular. We define the divine mission as uplifting people and serving the greater good.
In all cases, when someone buys into the concept of concerned and active citizenship on religious or civic grounds, we want such a person to embark on the three processes of self-development and mentorship, social outreach, and civic engagement. That’s how we may uplift ourselves and our people; and thus we can all serve our people and our country, and therefore fulfill the divine purpose. That is also how our project of Islamic revival and renewal, community renaissance, and societal reform can be carried out by Muslim Americans and others in a grassroots empowered manner.
Even though the three tracks run in parallel, the self-development component is the key to the success of the other two. Yet without the other two processes (social outreach and civic engagement), self-development may lose a lot of steam. In that event, self-development could become a futile and inefficient exercise with limited impact or no impact. Indeed, all three processes are very interconnected, and they are closely related to our commitment to the divine mission. Together they constitute the practical manifestation of that commitment, and they provide the tools to fulfill it. The entire construct constitutes the backbone of the Islamic paradigm, which we are trying to reconstruct through this project.
Because our project is individual and family centered, self-development and mentorship are critical to its success, as these uplifting processes will largely determine the fruitfulness of our social interaction and the effectiveness of our civic engagement.
Even though self-development is a universal concept that we will promote to all fellow citizens, we will present the Islamic perspective on self-development. That is simply because this book is primarily geared toward Muslim Americans. However, most if not all nonreligious aspects of self-development apply equally to everybody.
Self-development is a mission-driven process that stems from the belief that God created us with a tremendous potential, which must be cultivated and realized. He assigned us a humongous mission that we must live up to and fulfill to the best of our abilities. Plus, God gave us divine guidance, and we must strive to fully and wholeheartedly embody that guidance.
Self-development is a comprehensive, continuous, balanced, and integrated process. It involves self-purification, self-improvement, and self-empowerment. Self-development makes a person ever stronger and more distinguished; and it is an individual responsibility. As you embark on this journey, your goals should be to (a) realize your God-given potential (be all you can be); (b) model your message (be the change, turn yourself into a role model); and (c) maximize your impact through social outreach and civic engagement. Indeed, self-development is about striving to become the best embodiment and instrument of God’s will.
However, as has been the case with civic engagement, self-development has been functionally reduced in scope and depth to some sporadic, superficial/shallow, and purposeless activities with questionable effects. Some approaches taken toward personal development may have even produced negative effects, such as suppressing creativity, limiting aspirations, and producing an unbalanced and/or non-coherent personality. This defeats the whole purpose of personal development, which is meant to help people. Personal development should help us aspire highly and realize our full potential and prepare us to effectively engage in and impact on society.
Family development, which is an extension of self-development, simply means creating a conducive and empowering family atmosphere in which family members cooperate to realize the same objectives that personal development promotes: high aspirations, realization of our full potential, and preparation for effective engagement in (and impact on) society. This empowers family members, both individually and collectively (as a harmonious entity). This is the main duty of spouses and the main function of the family.
Mentorship is the extrapolation of the concept of family development to the community level. It is the process by which members of the community uplift one another and the community and help one another fulfill the individual and collective objectives of self-development. Mentorship is also the main duty of every generation toward the next one(s). Like family development, mentorship requires a favorable communal environment. Thus, everyone should strive to establish and maintain a safe, inclusive, and healthy communal environment.
Restoring the tradition of mentorship will help to make our interactions more fruitful and meaningful as learning opportunities, which in turn should help to draw us closer to one another. This will also enhance our relationships, our cohesion, and the quality of our social life.
Restoring the process of self-development, family development, and mentorship is a critical element of our project. As we try to commit people in general to America as a homeland and commit Muslims to Islam as a life mission, we will invite everyone to develop their families, find a mentor, and mentor others.
Self-development, family development, and mentorship feed into one another. Together, these activities constitute a synergetic cycle that turns individuals, families, and communities into role models of the message and the change and effective champions of the mission.
Finally, it is crucial to emphasize that while the family should enable the process of self-development, and the community should enable both self-development and family development, self-development is essentially an individual responsibility. Individuals should own up to their responsibility for their own development and for the development of their families. Plus, they should contribute their share to and take an active role in the mentorship process among the people around them.