Towards the end of my undergraduate degree in International Development, I met with a representative of a development agency working overseas. To enquiries as to how we could help, she bluntly replied: we don’t need people with degrees in development; we need doctors, teachers, engineers, technicians…
Two decades on, I realise much the same is true of the religious realm. We do not need an abundance of theoreticians of religion who pontificate on religion all over — myself included — but rather practicians, who bring our teachings to life in practical ways.
So yes, doctors and nurses, who devote their lives to healing others. Teachers who inspire generations with learning. Engineers and architects capable of building infrastructure for the benefit of all. Scientists and researchers who can find new ways of treating cancers and viruses. Agriculturalists who can feed communities and nations. Social workers who care for the most vulnerable members of society. Even lowly workers, engaged in mundane jobs, who give of their time in the service of others, or spend of their wealth for those without.
We do not really need theoreticians of religion to build yet another institute to teach yet another generation of theoreticians, to take to up new roles pontificating on all that is wrong with the ummah on Twitter and Facebook. Not more leaders of men, incapable of leading even their own ego. No, we need men and women who give their lives in the service of others, who build a better society for all, founded on all that is good and virtuous.
It turns out that a friendly vicar may have tried to convince me of this a quarter of a century ago when he heard of my plans to study development. I vaguely recall his advice during a church youth group one Sunday night; it was much the same as that representative of the development agency a few years later. In turn, here I am, thinking aloud for any young soul who might stumble upon my words, as they weigh up decisions that will affect the rest of their lives.
One thing to be certain of: do not become the bitter commentator, who flails around on social media, spouting conspiracy theories, unaware of the damage you do, whose only interface with faith is in the theoretical realm, in bringing to life ancient texts with which to vanquish your opponents. No, become that humble soul, who lives a life in the service of others, always striving to remove harm, to preserve both life and the quality of life.
Let it be enough for you to know that your Lord loves the equitable and just, the doers of good, the steadfast and patient, the trusting and reliant, the oft-repentant, the self-purifiers, and those that strive their utmost to remove all harm — the Mutaqqin. Let it be enough for you that your Lord loves not those who cause corruption, nor tyrants and oppressors, nor the boastful, the arrogant, those puffed up with pride.
Be inspired by the doctors and nurses who have passed away in the line of duty. Read of their lives in the service of others. Many of them could be said to be of those who strived their utmost to witness for God. Not with platitudes that earned them a thousand likes and retweets, but in their whole being, going above and beyond in the service of others, removing harm, volunteering when they did not have to, putting others first, always.
May our Lord make us of such people, and reform those of us still wanting, still standing on the sidelines, waiting to be called. May our Lord grant us a practical faith which imbibes every sinew of our being with goodness. Today’s crisis reveals us. It holds up a mirror before us, and shows us what kind of people we are. It reveals those around us too: in our company, we find humble men who turn out to have greatness, and we discover others who seemed great suddenly like the dry stalks of corn in the autumn, just stubble.
May our Lord make us of those who serve others, in whatever way we are able, according to our temperament and abilities, witnesses to all that is good, being equitable and just, being patient and steadfast, purifying our own selves and repenting often. May our Lord grant us a practical faith.