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Any Relationship Between Faith and Activism?

Editor’s note: This question about faith and activism is part of Dr. Yasir Qadhi’s video: Avoiding Theological Pitfalls in Political Activism. We made minor editorial changes in the script below to make it suitable for publishing as an article.


Faith without activism is deficient and activism without faith is dangerous. What does this statement mean to you? Do you agree? Do you disagree? And why?



From a theological perspective faith without activity is deficient.

In fact, there’s even a theological question in early Islam which people are still debating: Do you have faith if your faith doesn’t impact your actions?

Is it enough to merely believe without at least impacting yourself, if not others?

That’s a very profound question. The majority of our tradition has said: No, belief entails, at least, activity on yourself.

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In other words, it’s got to show in your own life. something has to change.

Faith and Activism

In our tradition we have the story of Satan himself. Theoretically, Ibless believes. But he is not a believer; he is not a Muslim

Technically, he believes in God; he believes in Judgment. He believes b he doesn’t act upon that belief.

So, essentially every true believer has to absorb the values of his or her faith and then at some level act upon them.

An Active Community

Now what level is that?

It depends on one’s circumstances. Definitely the ideal is that the believer not only is able to practice but also to be a role model; to be an exemplary example to society around him or her.

This goes back to the verse in the Quran:

{You are the best community ever raised for humanity—you encourage good, forbid evil, and believe in Allah.} (Aal-`Imran 3:110)

So notice the levels here. You are the best or the most exemplary, you can also translate this as the role model nation. Why? Not just because you believe. Before even belief, Allah mentioned two characteristics: you command what is good and you forbid what is evil.

Verbally, you are being activists.

3 Levels of Activism

Our Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, famously remarked that whoever amongst you see some type of evil should physically change it. Obviously this is if you have authority over that. So if it’s in your own household for example, then you change it.

If you can’t then at least verbally try to correct it. If you cannot even do that then the bare minimum is to not agree with this in your heart; to know that this is wrong in your heart.

So here we have this tripartite scheme of activism.

Where you’re able to, then, yes, act! In your own household for example: There’s not going be any drugs or alcohol in my household. I have authority in my house and I’m not going to allow any of these vices and sins if I’m able to enforce it.

If I can’t, if I have a cousin, a friend, or a Muslim neighbor of mine and I know that they follow the same faith so they shouldn’t be drinking but they do drink, well I can’t force my friend or my cousin to do something. But I can say, hey you shouldn’t be doing that; it will be harmful for you. That’s the second level.

The third level applies if I don’t have any authority whatsoever. At least in my heart I’m like you know this isn’t good.

So definitely, I agree that faith necessitates a level of activism. What is that activism? It depends on one’s circumstance and standing.

Activism without Faith

As for activism without faith being potentially dangerous, well that too is very true.

We have to understand as a believing, faith-based community we get our values from our tradition. There are times when modernity or society might clash with religious values.

If we’re not aware of what those religious values are, it’s very easy to fall prey to absorbing values outside our tradition.

The Qur’an itself tells us, and that was revealed to a group far more faithful than us, the Quran tells us that it’s possible that you love something and it’s harmful for you. And it’s possible that you hate something and it is good for you.

It’s possible you want something and you don’t know that that thing is actually harmful for you. And that’s why in the Quran tells us that God knows and you do not know.

Obviously, this goes back to the very pre-Socratic philosophers’ question: what is good and what is evil; the very fundamental question upon which Western philosophy begins.

What is good what is evil?

Well, faith-based communities, generally speaking, are going to, primarily if not exclusively, depending on which interpretation you follow, get those values from their religious tradition.

So activism must be based upon an understanding of what truly is beneficial for us and what is harmful.

If we are a faith-based community, then that activism has to be linked with the values that are coming from our faith tradition.

About Dr. Yasir Qadhi
Yasir Qadhi was born in Houston, Texas and completed his primary and secondary education in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. He graduated with a B.Sc. in Chemical Engineering from the University of Houston, after which he was accepted as a student at the Islamic University of Madinah. After completing a diploma in Arabic, he graduated with a B.A. from the College of Hadith and Islamic Sciences. Thereafter, he completed a M.A. in Islamic Theology from the College of Dawah, after which he returned to America and completed his doctorate, in Religious Studies, from Yale University.Currently he is the Dean of al-Maghrib Institute, the Resident Scholar of the Memphis Islamic Center, and a professor at Rhodes College, in Memphis, TN.