Coalition and Alliance building:
The golden rule of organizing meaningfully is to build broad coalitions around bold platforms. This means having as many partners possible around as specific a platform as possible.
The Sunnah precedent of this model is found as alluded to above in the Prophet’s example of participating in Hilf Al Fudool; i.e., the pact of justice.
The Messenger ﷺ said: Certainly, I had witnessed a pact of justice in the house of Abdullah ibn Jud’an that was more beloved to me than a herd of red camels. If I were called to it now in the time of Islam, I would answer it. Before the prophet ﷺ received revelation, a man from the tribe of Zubaid came to do business in Makkah. On his journey, he encountered a man who was from the Quraysh. The Qurayshi man asked him to hand over his merchandise and told him that he would give his payment for the merchandise the next day. There was no doubt in the Zubaidi man’s heart that he would receive his payment as people from outside Makkah respected and trusted the Quraysh. The next day he went to collect the money from the Qurayshi man who denied any knowledge of such payment. The Zubaidi man was distraught at the situation and went to all of the leaders complaining of the Qurayshi man who took his belongings. They ignored and dismissed him. The next morning he went to the Ka’aba, stood at the door, and took his shirt off as a sign of desperation. He cried out and read some verses of poetry, addressing the Makkans as a people of dignity and honor, asking how theft and oppression could occur in the city of Makkah. Embarrassed about the whole ordeal, the Quraysh called a meeting to address the situation and the youngest attendees were the Prophet ﷺ and Abu Bakr (ra). They came to the agreement that they would stand with the oppressed regardless of what tribe they were from. There were five tribes who made this pact and they were Banu Hashim, Banu Muttalib, Banu Zuhrah, Banu Asad, and Banu Taym. There was a notable tribe that was missing from this gathering, Banu Umayyah, which would go on to reject Islam initially and fiercely oppose the Prophet ﷺ and his message.
This pact was also called Hilf Al-Mutayyabeen, the pledge of the perfumed. They dipped their hands in henna and imprinted onto the Kaaba an oath that they would stand together in support of those that are oppressed. This was a turning point in the history of Makkah as historically Makkans were known to take petty conflicts and turn them into full-blown wars that would span several decades.
The Prophet ﷺ said after Islam: “I witnessed a treaty at the home of Abdullah bin Jud’aan. If I was asked to attend such a meeting now, I would answer.” [Sunan Al-Bayhaqi Al- Kubra: 12859] The Prophet ﷺ mentioning that he would continue to uphold the pact indicates that it was still in place when the Prophet said this statement despite the fact that many of the original members of the agreement never accepted Islam. The Prophet ﷺ also made it clear that he wasn’t abiding by it because he felt compelled to but because it was noble before and after Islam. He said, “I was present with my uncles at the alliance of the perfumed (Hilf al-Mutayyabin). I would not wish to break it, even for red camels.” [Al-Adab al-Mufrad 567] This took place when the Prophet was well situated in power after the Conquest of Makkah. The Muslims were confused about what should be retained from theology and seemingly good things done before Islam (i.e., certain rituals of Hajj) and so the Prophet ﷺ clarified to the community that Hilf al-Fudul would be amongst that which would be upheld. This makes this statement all the more powerful because it’s easier to call upon the pact when you are one of the oppressed. However, he ﷺ was at the height of his power and maintained the integrity of this pact to make sure accountability is still in order. This pact gives Muslims a precedent for the moral responsibility of all citizens to protect the weak, speak for them, critique the rulers and the powerful, and establish citizens’ groups that advocate for the downtrodden. The Prophet ﷺ acknowledged that Muslims and non-Muslims could work together in such pacts and coalitions even if there were bigger issues that they disagreed on. The Makkans at this time maintained all sorts of idolatry, lewdness, and oppressive practices, but that didn’t stop the Prophet from joining them in achieving this specific good. He wasn’t normalizing their practices, he was addressing the specific harm of one of those practices that had tainted them collectively. The pact also teaches Muslims to embrace anything that is for the betterment of humanity in this life or the next. Allah (swt) says وتعاونوا على البر والتقوى “and cooperate with one another in Al-Birr (righteousness) and Taqwa (piety)” [5:2] Some scholars commented that Al-Birr means well being in this world and Taqwa means well being in the next. The purpose of any pact should be to achieve one or both of these goals. The pact doesn’t only apply when the Muslims are a minority, but also when Muslims are in a state of power. The Prophet ﷺ was not an opportunist, but instead genuinely committed to achieving a more equitable society no matter what the benefits or implications were to him.
As for the nature of such pacts in our times, Imam Dawud Walid proposes the model of specific coalitions as opposed to general alliances as well in his book Towards Sacred Activism
. He lists the following reasons for doing so:
- Coalition is a collaboration which is usually temporary in nature and is based upon a narrow focus of issues
- Coalition partners do not have to share the same belief systems and methodologies in order to cooperate upon limited common goals
- Coalition partners can be in partnership on some issues while simultaneously be in opposition to each other on other matters
As Imam Dawud points out, this usually comes up specifically regarding coalitions that involve groups that also support LGBT causes that orthodox Muslims find objectionable. While some may distinguish the political from the religious, to ask Muslims to champion any right or cause politically that is in direct violation of divine revelation is unfair, unnecessary, and spiritually detrimental. Instead, Muslims should champion just causes that are of benefit to all people, rather than specific causes that may compromise their faith. This model proposed by Imam Dawud also gives room for Muslims to not be put in the position of being expected to support every cause of groups that support us and in fact find room to express opposition when necessary.
What follows is a proposed model for Muslims to work in for different purposes.
Commitments to genuine condemnations of hate, dehumanizing rhetoric, bullying. Condemn violence and precursors to violence.
This starts with affirming the basic sanctity and dignity of every human being. Allah says, “And verily we have honored the child of Adam.” When a Jewish funeral passed by the Prophet ﷺ, he stood up and said, “Is it not a human soul?”
We then need to consider both the language we use, and the language we tolerate about other human beings. The Prophet ﷺ said:
At-Tirmidhi also related on the authority of Ibn Mas'ud (RAA) that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said:
“The believer is not a slanderer, nor does he curse others, and nor is he immoral or shameless.”
لَيْسَ اَلْمُؤْمِنُ بِالطَّعَّانِ, وَلَا اَللَّعَّانُ, وَلَا اَلْفَاحِشَ, وَلَا اَلْبَذِيءَ }... }
We speak with language that is courteous, even when we challenge those whom we disagree, and we don’t let the bad character of anyone else drag us into such a realm. Instead, we teach with our insistence upon good character no matter what we face. This doesn’t always mean turning the other cheek, but it does mean never getting into the gutter.
We reject bullying in schools, workplaces, and media spaces. We reject violence against anyone in our society, and vigilantism in all of its forms. We remain reflective on our own language and challenge others to do better as well. We check hate against us or anyone in our presence when we see it, and elevate the discourse.
I repeat, none of this means veering away from what is authentic and consistent as mentioned prior to this section. I’m also not referring to hate speech in the legal sense since that differs greatly from country to country and is sometimes used to unfairly stifle Muslims and others.
Broadest coalitions possible to advance social change of benefit to everyone or that remove an imminent harm or advance an obvious good: poverty, homelessness, public education, etc.
Some would say broad coalitions don’t work because they don't get to the heart of the issues. But these are the most important issues of our day and they cut across identities. Not only that, but you help people no matter who they are if they’re in the condition you’re seeking to eradicate, and don’t discriminate in that process. Political tribes seek the welfare only of their particular tribes, and we have to transcend that. That doesn’t mean ignoring systemic elements of these issues, but immersing yourself in them primarily as a member of the shared human family enables a perspective beyond politics or tribalism. This is, in fact, the purest form of khidma and where the majority of the community should be involved. It doesn’t require much political sophistication at all, just a high level of sincerity and dedication.
Joining or engaging coalitions that are for the sake of social cohesion, unity, general welfare, harmony, civil discourse, and coexistence.
Muslims should lead the way, not just in reconciliation between Muslims and other groups, but in pulling society together as a whole. Wherever an opportunity presents itself to remind people to see each other as human beings first instead of political opponents, Muslims should play a constructive role. We need to teach people how to talk to each other again, and we have to start with ourselves.
Examples of this include Dr. Cornel West and Dr. Robert George, who hold opposing political views on practically every divisive issue in American politics today, doing a joint series of lectures on civil discourse and the importance of protecting both the right to disagree and maintain friendship despite those disagreements.
It’s imperative we bring this out of the political realm and engage welcoming cities committees and diversity and inclusion groups in schools and corporations to be more balanced, and help define both healthier parameters for public debate, and better opportunities for social harmony.
Joining or engaging coalitions that address specific issues that are about harm reduction: criminal justice reform, police brutality, militarism, healthcare, ecological justice, environmentalism.
This is where things mentioned in Level 2 are addressed at their systemic roots. This requires a deeper understanding of these issues, and a willingness to engage them alongside other organizers and groups.
Engaging these issues should be done in the following 2 ways:
- Charitable endeavors within these areas: An example of this is the Muslims for Migrants campaign Imam Zaid Shakir and I launched through Celebrate Mercy in which we raised funds to actually reunite families by paying bail bonds. A group that does this in the broader sense is the Believers Bail Out campaign.
- Justice-oriented Prophetic paradigms: Be very clear that you are engaged in the issue both because there is precedent in the Sunnah to be engaged in that issue, and to the extent that the Sunnah teaches you to be engaged in that issue.
Coalitions with Faith Groups that share concerns, commitments, or plights.
Muslims have to move away from operating within the forced confines of a political identity, and reclaim our space as a faith community.
As a faith community, we have religious concerns. And we share the dual burden of being racialized which at times puts at odds with the right and being religiously committed which at times puts at odds with the left.
We’re not the only group that operates within this conundrum, but certainly the most visible. 68% of Latinos, who are at the center of the immigration debate, identify as Roman Catholic. The A.M.E Church, which is a historic church of black liberation with members like Rosa Parks and James Cone, is a socially conservative church that was attacked in the horrific Charleston massacre in 2015. Orthodox Jews are visible targets as antisemitism is surging across the nation. We need to do a better job of broadening our multifaith engagement to include communities that share some, or all, of our plights.
As the figure below indicates, coalition-building is possible across partners as unexpected as Democrats and Republicans, Black Protestants and White Evangelicals, on issues such as the public safety net and policy frameworks that would speak to spiritual life.
As for the subjects of religious freedom and religious liberty, we need to engage with religious conservatives to ensure that we are not erased from that discussion. Typically, Muslims only think of conservatives in the sense of neo-fundamentalists and far-right Christian nationalists, but it is unfair to define conservatives in such a narrow sense. There are, even in the evangelical community, those who are faithful believers who are genuinely worried about losing their ability to practice their religion without government interference. Expanding religious freedom advocacy to include Muslims and some of the other groups above would move it away from either being used as, or perceived as, merely a tool of political dominance.
Muslims actually do have genuine religious liberty concerns. We’re not a powerful religious group trying to dominate others, but a vulnerable minority trying to maintain our faith without any legal ramifications. And there are other groups like us who feel the same way and with whom we need to work. When Beto O'Rourke as a Presidential candidate threatened to take away the tax-exempt status of religious institutions that don’t perform marriages outside of their established guidelines, it was the collective pressure of minority religious groups that met with him privately that played a role in his walking back that statement. We need to use that example when dealing with any candidate that flirts with that type of legislation to say that it is unconstitutional and disqualifying with our communities.
A great initiative furthering ties between Muslims and Evangelicals is Neighborly Faith
which recently organized a panel
with J. D. Greear, the President of the Southern Baptist Convention, and myself at NC State.
Engaging forums that discuss the advancement of family values, wholesome morality, etc. also with authentic paradigms.
The politics of White nationalism are as secularizing as anything on the left, and often cause religious groups to veer into overt hypocrisy. We have an opportunity to bring forth Prophetic paradigms that are far more consistent.
Beyond just ushering in our own ideas of marriage, sexuality, etc, intelligently, I think Muslims can uniquely address the harms of the over-sexualization of the public space from our TV screens to our children's school books. We can address an age in which mobile apps exist where people shop through humans like products, and/or consume pornographic content that destroys the human psyche and dehumanizes both those in the films and those watching, not to mention its connection to human trafficking. We can call for a restoration of decency alongside others through things like the Family Movie Act
. We can also address issues like poverty and desperation that lead people to prostitution, without sanitizing the institution of it. See: https://muslimmatters.org/2020/08/22/fighting-back-against-porn-the-idea-the-industry/