The Self-Interest Sector

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Are we only interested in ourselves?The Facebook generation (including myself) has forgotten how to think, at least of anything other than ourselves.Are we only interested in ourselves?How many of us talk of a good game, but act for our own short-term self-interest at the expense of someone else? Yet of course, we’re Muslim! We don’t do that. Or do we? An intellectual and moral vacuum continues to draw us away from the perception of reality to a world of corruption. This phenomenon does and will not exempt Muslims; we’re just as human as anyone else. The problem arises when our community becomes complacent in greed, and values become something of the past.

People have forgotten how to think, act, and, most importantly, how to change the world. It would be easy to discuss wars, famine, genocide, and the increasing wealth inequality in the world, but the very fact that I don’t have to says enough. The Facebook generation (including myself) has forgotten how to think, at least of anything other than ourselves.

The term of the century: change. We’ve convinced ourselves that if we say it enough, it’ll happen simply due to our chants. We demand change systematically, but at the same time, we perpetually pass the buck to the next man: be it a government, a nonprofit, or other, more altruistic versions of ourselves. Oh, but the people are outraged! Case and point the countless blogs and instant messages that express our utter disgust at world events. Communication has become nothing but staccato statements that do nothing to encourage actual, pragmatic action.

Our community deals with several seemingly complex issues with regards to activism. There are those who break out the Palestinian Keffiyah every few months, but that is about it. The other group avoids any form of awareness like the plague, and when these two groups collide, it becomes a battle of vested interests. Why are there protests for humanitarian violations in Muslims countries, but not elsewhere? Surely the world isn’t limited to the Muslims only, so why do we continue to view it in that lens? Does a starving child in Sudan not deserve the same cry for help as his counterpart in Gaza or Baghdad?

Somewhat cliché, but our community does indeed require change. This change is not merely political, for that would be too simple. We must change our fundamental way of thinking. It’s long past time for us to stop believing that our selfish interest comes before the betterment of us as a family, a community, and lastly, as a people.

We’d all like to believe the rampant apathy that is found among us stems from unawareness and not from the decision that the problems aren’t serious enough to warrant any attention. We are taught in the capitalist world that we should work for our own self-interest; man is to only be concerned with his progress. At the same time, we must acknowledge that the root of all evil isn’t money; it is selfishness and greed. We have decided that we will be referred to not as humans known for their morals, but rather as “teacher”, “doctor”, or “engineer”. Our social standing is determined by the 9-to-5 job we have and how much money we earn.

Some will argue that money isn’t bad, and one should accumulate money. These same individuals have sold their lives to the weekly direct deposits they receive. Anything outside of our sphere of home and work does not concern us. Genocide is not accepted, but we become complacent. In 2006, a study was released about the psychological consequences of money, and the results further emphasized the illness of society with its material quests. Studies showed participants left with more money after a mere monopoly game helped pick up fewer pencils dropped by a passer-by; participants primed with money-related sentences gave less money to charity; and participants sat in front of a money-themed computer screensaver subsequently sat further away from a another participant they were due to chat with.

This is the self-interest sector; it programs us to care about ourselves. Our success, even at the cost of others, is not to be discouraged in this system. The greatest casualty of selfishness is the loss of the human element of society. We become mere robots who care about themselves and themselves alone. The suffering of others does not disturb those better off, and charity in any form is discouraged. As Muslims, we are taught against such a path and life style. Sadly, many of are keen on taking on the teachings of Adam Smith and the capitalist Right rather than those of the Holy Qur’an and the examples of the Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny).

Imam Hussain (peace be upon him) addressed the social need for assisting others: “Verily, the procession of people’s needs towards you is from among the blessings of Allah upon you. Therefore, grieve not because of these blessings.” Within the same theme, the Commander of the Faithful stated to his followers: “The cause of the cessation of (one’s) wealth is leaving the needy heedless.” Imam as-Sadiq also points out to us the reward of selflessness: “Whoever satiates a hungry believer so that the one is satisfied fully, neither a human being among people nor a near-stationed angel nor a Divine Messenger knows how great his reward is in the Hereafter except Allah, the Lord of the Worlds.” Then, he added: “Feeding a hungry Muslim is from among the means of forgiveness.” After that he recited the word of Allah, Almighty and Glorious: “Or the feeding on a day of hunger, of an orphan near of kin, or to the indigent (down) in the dust.” (90-12)

Albert Pike sums it up excellently, “What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal.” Indeed.

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