For better or worse, meritocracy shapes many of our ideals concerning achievement. On the one hand, as the famed Ibn Khaldūn summarized in his Muqaddimah: The work ethic of a people is strongest when the fruits of their labor are safe from the reach of government usurpation. Simply put, when people believe that hard work results in success, they work hard. This is meritocracy at its commendable best. On the other hand, an overemphasis on meritocracy may have the effect of minimizing the role of providence in success. Moreover, when success, and by extension prosperity, are separated from the Divine prerogative they are no longer embraced as tests and responsibilities. Quite the reverse, in the absence of an intentional acknowledgment of God’s favor, achievement—more than even appearance, talent, or status—can become a great source of delusion and ingratitude. If our individual worthiness, dedication, or ability has secured for us what we have, how do we view those who haven’t achieved as much? Are they definitively less worthy, unintelligent, or lazy? The Prophet (upon him be peace) said: “Whoever has an atom’s weight of arrogance in his/her heart will not enter Paradise.” Upon hearing this, one of the companions asked, “God’s Messenger! But a man may take pride in his appearance; this is an expression of arrogance?” The Prophet (upon him be peace) continued, “Indeed, God is beautiful and He loves beauty. Arrogance, however, is expressed in the wanton rejection of truth and looking at people with contempt.” The spiritual consequences of arrogance are indeed grave. Fortunately, God offers us a very expedient and effective way of reducing our susceptibility to it. Thanks and giving or ash-shukr and aṣ-ṣadaqa: Gratitude and charity are universally cited as foundational for a good life. For Americans and our often naïve beliefs around meritocracy; inundated with rags to riches stories and biographies which capture the heroic journeys of our cultural heroes, the need for these is even more immediate. The Islamic tradition is replete with conceptual frameworks which vivify the ideals of thanks and giving. In consonance with the spirit of the season and Giving Tuesday (which must be the most Islamic of all the days on the American social calendar after Mother’s Day!) we at the American Learning Institute for Muslims (ALIM) wanted to offer a few reflections.
Ta’ḍhīm ash-Shari’ah or esteem for the law has always defined the Muslim community. Familiarity with the language of the law and its categories among non-specialists is a unique feature of our community. If truth be told, as a student of Shari’ah, I express a quiet joy each time I encounter Muslims who negotiate the realities of day-to-day life through the use of terms like: ḥarām, halāl, makrūh, obligatory, permissible, recommended, etc. Whether we have training in Islamic law or not; deploy the language of the law with precision and clarity or not; simply invoking the law expresses some of our deepest moral commitments. Namely, that the God we serve is concerned about us and has given us guidelines by which to lead good lives. Additionally, a concern with law articulates a faith that is relevant in the lives of believers.