Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Empowerment through God

So I’m taking this class at my faculty called “Empowerment at the Margins” and we’re always questioning what the term “empowerment” really means. As a social worker, I’ll be expected to be a catalyst in the empowerment of disadvantaged people...but how can I do that if I don’t even know what it means?

Well let’s start with the basics: my good ol’ friend dictionary.com defines power as the “ability to do or act; capability of doing or accomplishing something.” Then it defines empowerment as “to equip or supply with an ability; enable” or “to give power or authority to; authorize, esp. by legal or official means.”

In short, power is an ability to do, and empowerment is giving someone the ability to do.

Common to both of these definitions of empowerment is the act of “giving” power to someone else. There is an assumption that power is some kind of tangible entity that is transferable from one person’s hands to another. If we assume that this is true, who really has the power to give power to others? And is it my place in the field of social work to assume others are completely powerless until I, the obvious heroin in this comic strip, come and give them this thing we call “power.”

Aww, look at me being the noble social worker! It’s kind of cute if you disregard the fact that I look like some kind of creepy missionary...

Okay, paint job is done now. Let’s get serious.

I often feel lost in my class discussions about power - because there is no acknowledgment of the One who is All-Powerful and from Who all power stems. You see, in my eyes, if all power belongs to God, our act of “empowering” is pretty arrogant in that we attribute the abilities to empower to ourselves and not to a greater being.

I was listening to a lecture about du’aa by Yasir Qadhi a few months ago, and he said this brilliantly true statement that really spoke to me: “our honour lies in humbling ourselves before the One who has Honour, Al-Azeez...and our strength lies in admitting our complete weakness in front of the All-Powerful, Al-Qawee.”

I often try to be “empowered” by asserting myself, being confident, being in some ways masculine and tough. To me, being empowered always meant that my voice was heard and respected, but as I learn and grow I’m starting to realize that true empowerment is not something that needs to be validated by anyone else. I made the mistake of defining something internal by external factors. In reality, I need to admit my weakness to the All-Powerful in order to have true strength.

But we are so damn cocky. We assume in our arrogance that power is centered within us. We can’t handle thinking about power as something beyond our control.

In response to humankind’s struggle and thirst for power, a major principle of Islam is “tawakkul” meaning a complete reliance on God. The Qur’an consistently elucidates the concept of tawakkul by first making clear and concise statements about Allah’s Power. For example, the beginning of Surat al-Mulk: ”blessed is He in whose hand is dominion, and He is over all things competent” (67:1).

In Surat al-Ra’d, Allah (swt) says: “Allah is He who raised the heavens without any pillars that ye can see; is firmly established on the throne; He has subjected the sun and the moon (to His law)! Each one runs (its course) for a term appointed. He doth regulate all affairs, explaining the signs in detail, that ye may believe with certainty in the meeting with your Lord” (13:12). In these verses and many others in the Qur’an, Allah’s power is portrayed as beyond our imagination. He says “Be” and it is!

There are scores of verses in the Qur’an that talk about Allah’s ultimate power; so shouldn’t it naturally follow that we turn to the One with power at least in our times of need?

That is the essence of tawakkul; recognizing who it is that has true power and putting your trust in Him. Allah says again in the Qur’an: “and whoever relies upon Allah – then He is sufficient for him” (65:3).

Back to our topic of empowerment: so the believer does not feel the need to rely on people to empower him or her. Instead, there is a comprehensive and beautiful reliance on the One in whose hand is our souls. There’s this amazing du’aa that I like – part of it goes like this “antal-ghaniyu wa nahn-ul-fuqarau ilayk” – You are the rich and we are the poor and weak in need of You. My need for Him transcends my need for anything or anyone else. Basically, the rest of you are chumps.

I’ll stop writing soon, I swear. But there’s one hadith that I want to share:

The prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “strange is the affair of the Mu’min (the believer), verily all his affairs are good for him. If something pleasing befalls him he thanks Allah and it becomes better for him. And if something harmful befalls him he is patient and it becomes better for him...” (Muslim).

So the believer is constantly in a state of thankfulness and acceptance, whether good or evil befalls him or her. True empowerment comes from the mind – it is not my place to give power to someone less advantaged than me in the material sense. Material goods and abilities do not even constitute empowerment; they only constitute a transient worldly power.

So how can I ever claim to empower someone, when true empowerment lies in admitting weakness, being content with what Allah has given you, and attaining a state of patience and certainty?

If that is empowerment, I definitely can’t give that to you, you can only give that to yourself.


Anonymous said...

such a beautiful post! thanks asmaaa

Nauman said...

You've become quite good at drawing things on Paint... good work! :)