The concept of an “Ummah” has slightly deteriorated in the political and economic sphere in the past 100 years due to lack of leadership in the Muslim world. However, at the grassroot level, it’s still there.
Over a month ago I came back from a ProductiveMuslim Tour in Malaysia and was overwhelmed by the kindness of the brothers and sisters there. Here I was, a total stranger in their land, but I honestly felt they were my family and I was one of their family members.
This universal brotherhood/sisterhood is a blessing from Allah upon the followers of Prophet Muhammad and is our strongest source of strength that we need to nurture it if we are to truly to be successful as a bloc of nations.
Although we still need strong leadership in the Muslim world to establish the ‘Ummah’ concept more concretely, that doesn’t stop us from developing it on our own on an individual level.
I want us to be practical and hence I’ve put together 6 practical ways for you to get to develop, and nurture the concept of “Ummah” in your life:
1. Get an ‘Ummah-pal
Simply get in touch with a Muslim brother/sister in any part of the world and get to know them as a Muslim brother/sister—no strings attached! (needless to say, brothers get in touch with brothers, sisters get in touch with sisters!) This person would be your ‘Ummah-pal’, someone you’d write to perhaps once a year, whom you’d share experiences of how you’re living Islam in your part of the world.
Someone might argue that with Facebook/Twitter these days, a proper e-mail/letter wouldn’t be practical but that’s exactly what I’m recommending. Instead of a ‘quick share’ or ‘quick tweet’ with hundreds of friends/followers online, try to focus on a genuine deep one-to-one friendship with a Muslim brother/sister from another part of the world and understand their culture and perspective.
The reason for this exercise is to get you to feel closer to one part of the Ummah. When that person e-mails you and tells you about their hopes, their dreams, their fears and their faith, you’d realise how close you are to them and that they are not that different from you, especially since you share the same identity with them as a Muslim. Suddenly, you’d care a lot about people from that part of the world because you have a ‘pal’ there! And if you hear a calamity befall that area (earthquake, war, tsunami) you’d be more concerned about the people there because your pal is there & would find ways to help.
2. Travel to Volunteer
Every year, most people arrange trips for vacations. They book their flights, nice hotels, nice tour guides and hope they have a good time. What if I can tell you a guaranteed way to have a great vacation? Simply: Make volunteering part of your vacation!
This could be an organised effort where you join an NGO or relief organisation and volunteer to help in one part of the Ummah OR it could be a self-organised trip. I know a brother who collects donations from his neighbours every year and buys clothes and school books for children in Zanzibar villages – an island off the coast of Tanzania with a majority Muslim population.
Travel for volunteering adds an entire layer of meaning to your travels and enriches your experience and skills in ways you can never attain simply taking photos like all the other tourists!
3. Learn a local language
Why does everyone have to learn the major colloquial language – French/German/Spanish (and nowadays Chinese) – and spend thousands of dollars in that pursuit? Why shouldn’t we attempt to learn the many other languages in our Ummah? Urdu, Malay, Swahili, Arabic..etc.
Pick a language that interests you and travel to the country that speaks it. Enroll in classes and perhaps live as a guest with a host family to learn the language faster.
4. Learn a local art
Again, similar to the local language idea above, you could travel to learn Arabic calligraphy from Egypt, or Islamic handcrafts from Morocco, or Muslim self-defense techniques from Philippines. Pick a local art you’d enjoy to learn, find a teacher, agree on a price and go for it! It’s not hard.
Before I continue, I must pause and tackle what’s going on in your mind; “Yes brother, but what’s the point? Can’t I just be ‘normal’ and have the same stupid vacations I’ve been having every year and not develop or learn a new skill/language or not get to know my Ummah..” I rest my case.
5. Share Professional Experiences
This is HUGE and can be extremely beneficial for the Ummah’s development. How many of us work in organisations that have implemented a technique or idea that immensely improves productivity or that can help other members of the Ummah? Why can’t we create platforms to share these experiences in practical ways. This could range from LinkedIn groups, to international associations such as Islamic Experiences to conferences.
It’s important to get involved in this Ummah-level sharing of experiences and, by the way, this doesn’t only apply to professional level work, it can also apply to schools where students can exchange experiences with other students. And with today’s video conferencing technology, the opportunities are endless. Take a look at this TED talk “Let’s Use Video to Reinvent Education” .
This is a bit more specific than the ‘share experience’ above since it involves actually spending quality time with students from different parts of the Ummah and teaching them the knowledge Allah has given you. This could either be through a professional teaching career at international schools, for example, OR simply through developing a unique expertise in a particular area and offering to teach that expertise worldwide. (This is what we at ProductiveMuslim.com developed with our seminars/workshops, and you can find out more about our International seminars here: Speaking)
I hope some of the above ideas have stirred your interest to get to know your Ummah a bit more closely than simply through watching the news. Moreover, I pray that by simply knowing more about your Ummah, you’d regain and develop your identity as a Muslim among this beautiful worldwide community.