Human Dignity And Freedom
Imam W. Deen Muhammad
(Editor's note: The following is excerpted from American Muslim Mission leader Imam Warithuddin Muhammad's latest book. "Religion on the Line," which can be bought at any American Muslim Mission masjid. This excerpt is from an edited transcript of a lecture he delivered at Compton Community College in Compton, Calif., on March 17, 1982. The subject was Human Freedom and Dignity.)
In the beginning, I would like to talk to what I believe to be the challenging situation affecting the lives of individuals and organized communities. That is something that I understand, and especially the professors. What I hope to address is the rapidly changing life of the individual in the urban centers of the United States and of the world. How it is affecting the individuals, how it is affecting the collective effort of the people to keep life intact or to keep the community progressing and productive in every sense of the word; also how the concept of human life in the international world helps in sustaining the good efforts of individuals and the good efforts of the community.
Recently I have been informed of some problems for this community here in Compton. I think I understand what the real issue or the real factor in the situation is. I think what we have here is what we have in Gary, Indiana, what many African countries and other people of the world experience when a great change in responsibility comes about. A change that turns over responsibility into the hands of people who were just yesterday completely isolated, ostracized or subjected. Then suddenly those people who were oppressed and isolated find themselves responsible for structures, processes, institutions, and economics that took many years, and many generations to erect or to produce.
In Africa when time came for certain countries to get their independence, those Europeans who were there supporting the life and the structure that the people had to sustain themselves by, began to pull out their supports. In taking their supports out they left the new ruler, the new government helpless and desperate seeking aid, crying for assistance. Some of those Europeans looked back at the situation and said, "didn't we tell them that they couldn't manage for themselves?" When actually it was those people who were responsible for them not being in a position to manage for themselves.
We see in our country a design of this sort working against our minority sector. We have colleges and universities that give us a fairly good education. But there is hardly any program that's geared to serve the urgent and immediate recovery needs of the masses of people in the urban centers. Our condition, much like the condition of many third world people, needs special attention. If that special attention is not given, we can't make it. Then we wonder, how come?
In Gary, Indiana when the present Mayor was voted into office, white businesses that were responsible for holding up and maintaining the structure of the city began to pull out. The Mayor was desperate to keep some business going so that the city could be maintained with the help of his people. I think he is still suffering the problem. But, Mayor Hatcher, a strong and courageous Mayor is still there battling, and I think he is winning slowly and gradually.
I believe Compton is a similar situation. Wherever we go, we are likely to face the same situation. With the industrial changes in the urban life, the small businessman is eliminated almost completely. The big franchises come in, and others follow. Urban renewal programs change the whole city. Expressways running where there used to be local arteries of a private neighborhood. New buildings are put up and there is no room any more for the small businessman.
All of these changes in the urban life; this urban renewal that we are seeing recently in the history of our cities is very much responsible for the poor economic situation that most are facing today. It's not because we are inadequate or because we are not getting good training or a good education, it's because we are facing circumstances now that are more challenging and more monumental in terms of the social challenge than those we had to face some years ago.
The new urban life patterns require of us more insight, more vision, more courage, more determination, more fortitude, because you can't change these new situations without new vision. The urban cities have changed, they are so urban, they are monstrous. There is little that can be done to change what has been done. I'm sure science and industry accept that they have made a mistake, and these urban communities are not designed to serve the elevation or excellence of human life, we know they have acknowledged this.
To correct it will take a long, long time. So we are now left with the challenge of how we are going to plan and conduct ourselves. What kind of vision are we going to come up with? What direction will we follow in order to survive and at least make some progress and be somewhat secure, while mistakes in urban planning or recklessness are threatening our security and depriving smaller investors of the ability to be successful? I'm a firm believer in competitive ideas conceived on the battle ground of change. I believe that the world is not built on the concrete of materialism. The world began on an idea in a situation that challenged the spirit of progress. Without an ideology strong enough to support the composite growth of life, you don't have any base.
Human beings are not limited like animals, With animals all that's needed is an environment. If that environment is suitable they can come into that environment with their clocked in behavior.
But the human being is a liberated creature. He's free! In being liberated he ventures out from his own discipline. He ventures out from his own behavioral mold. In venturing out from his own behavioral mold he finds himself caught up in circumstances, caught up in influences with no vision and with no direction. He often cannot understand what's happening. Now this can be overcome, if we do what the early man did.
Early man looked outside of himself, and he saw a challenging situation. Then he reflected upon himself; he looked back upon himself. He looked outside of himself, and he saw the environment challenging him. As he looked back on himself, he began to study...........