Opiates and Muslims

by Mahmoud Andrade Ibrahim

Karl Marx said that ‘Religion is the opiate of the masses’.  What he was saying is that when people cannot make sense of the ‘real world forces’ that impact on their lives, they turn to religion as an ‘alternate reality’ (which is exactly what opiates function as) that buffers the pain of their harsh existence by ignoring and not confronting those realities and keeps the minds of the people focused on 'other worldly' or metaphysical explanations for their plight thereby making it impossible to blame, criticize and even identify the true 'culprits' of their exploitation.

But Allah commands,  “Be Just and true to all mankind !”  Qur’an 16:90.  In order to be just and establish justice, one has to make an accurate assessment of what the real conditions are, who the players are, the context in which those conditions occur and the best of the many possible solutions to remedy a given situation with the understanding that the solution that may be good in that one circumstance may not be applicable in another. This requires serious work, both on an intellectual and a ‘nuts and bolts’ level.  This is what ‘justice’ is in Islam.

 NYU students Bayan Abubakr, Fadumo Osman, Isatou Daffeh, and Mariyamou Drammeh share a laugh in a train station in New York City. Photo by Emilio Madrid-Kuser

NYU students Bayan Abubakr, Fadumo Osman, Isatou Daffeh, and Mariyamou Drammeh share a laugh in a train station in New York City. Photo by Emilio Madrid-Kuser

Not to approach justice in this way, and to rely only on those remedies that were determined in the seventh or twelfth centuries cannot be considered justice at all, but is the opiate that social scientists like Marx and others warned about.  These ‘altered states of reality’ are induced by the reliance on outdated opinions, rulings and slogans that have very little relevance in today’s technologically advanced societal formations. Consider for example the fact that we have a plethora  women judges, lawyers, engineers, scholars and social scientists that was unheard of during all the classical time periods referenced and the idea that the testimony of these women, in a Muslim court, is half as good as a man's, is simply absurd. 

The command to be just, is an active, on going enterprise, ever refreshing itself as circumstances change and evolve. It is a continuous venture.  If the forces of injustice were static or fixed then so would be the ‘just’ response. But that is not how it works.  As with everything in human life, the only constant is change. 

We must, as is required by our deen, be prepared to support just causes as they arise particularly in such areas as; decent wages and trade unionism, health care, women’s rights, black suffrage, anti-racism efforts, immigrant's rights, affordable decent housing and education.  This is what Allah means when He says that we should ‘establish justice’ and be ‘just to all mankind’.