Shukr and Rida, Reverence, Unconscious Bias
Issue 951 » June 16, 2017 - Ramadan 21, 1438
Shukr and Rida
Ibrahim (Abraham) Sura 14: Verse 7 (partial)
A sense of indebted gratitude (shukr) is the main driving force behind devotion to God. Each of us, if we reflect deeply upon our own situation, can acknowledge countless blessings that we take for granted. Beyond these immense blessings, which we do not deserve, is the generous offer of God: If we do the bare minimum—acknowledge a blessing and feel grateful—it will not simply suffice for that blessing, but will invite others as well. Conversely, ingratitude is one of the lowest states a person can be in towards their Creator, and it invites the removal of other blessings in our lives. The greatest blessing of all is faith and being guided by God to His religion, Islam. All other blessings pale in comparison. The best form of gratitude to God is the kind manifested through obedience to Him.
Alongside gratitude (shukr) is a related spiritual virtue, contentment (rida). As believers, we ask God for certain things, but in the end all matters are for God to decree. To be content with God's decree means not objecting to it, not questioning divine wisdom, and not feeling that what has happened to us should not have happened. An obvious exception to this is our own sinning: we should not be content with it, but rather should feel remorse and be compelled to repentance.
The ego (nafs) tends to constantly desire more when it compares itself to others in worldly matters, while, in spiritual affairs, it is fooled into thinking, "At least I do such-and-such in devotion to God," remembering that there are others who do much less. This is the opposite of the perspective taught in Islam as a way to obtain more gratitude (shukr) and contentment (rida).
"Being Muslim: A Practical Guide" - Asad Tarsin, p. 110, 111
The Prophet's modesty was apparent in the way he treated his followers. He realized that his Companions would be emulated by later generations of Muslims. Hence, he made sure to explain how he should be treated by them and by all Muslims. Umar ibn al-Khattab quotes him as saying: "Do not overpraise me like the Christians overpraise Jesus, son of Mary. I am only a servant of God. [In reference to me] say: God's servant and Messenger." (Bukhari, Ibn Habban.) How did they react to this? Anas ibn Malik says: "No one was dearer to them than God's Messenger. Yet when they saw him coming, they did not stand up because they knew he disliked that." (Ahmad, Tirmidhi.) He wanted to be seen as one of them.
The Prophet also impressed on his Companions that people distinguish themselves only by their manners and behaviour. In his address during his farewell pilgrimage, he said: "People, your Lord is one and your father is one. No Arab has an advantage over a non-Arab, nor a non-Arab over an Arab; nor does a red skinned man over a black one, nor a black one over a red skinned one, except through God-fearing." (Ahmad)
"Muhammad: His Character and Conduct " -Adil Salahi
Here are four steps to begin fighting bias in yourself.
1. Pay attention to how your bias shapes your environment
Eliminating the impact of bias in your life requires you to acknowledge that it exists in the first place. Acknowledging that you have unconscious bias is not admitting a moral failing—this is part of the human condition. Once we acknowledge our bias and begin to pay attention to how it impacts us, we will be ready to do the work to overcome it.
2. Expose yourself to counter-stereotypical images
One of the most powerful ways to combat unconscious bias is to diversify the stories we encounter, so that we can connect with the humanity of people who may look and sound different to us. This means watching movies, reading books, or attending performances that target groups we are less familiar with.
It can also mean purposefully seeking inspiration from moral exemplars of different ethnicities, races, genders, and abilities. Studies have shown that being exposed to counter-stereotypical images and stories of people from other groups leads to less implicit bias.
3. Reach out across difference
We can also seek ways to connect with people who are different from us in our everyday lives, whether at work or in our personal life.
That means keeping your eyes open and looking for opportunities rather than waiting for them to fall into your lap. For example, when you go to a work or social event, don't simply scan the crowd for people you already know; look for people you don't know—who might seem different from you—and see if you can strike up a conversation. Simple contact can be a powerful way to combat bias.
4. Ask, don't assume; listen, don't judge
Research has shown that cross-group friendships can make a big difference in reducing prejudice and bias. But how to create that trust? By learning to ask rather than assume, and to listen rather than judge. In this way, we can stop the disconnection that may arise through misunderstanding.
To authentically connect with people across differences, you must suspend your own judgment long enough to actually hear their experiences. Ask open-ended questions and seek to understand rather than to challenge or convince.
As hard as it can feel to confront your unconscious biases, with motivation and effort these simple steps can set you down that path. And building authentic relationships across differences is an essential part of your journey.
"How to Build Relationships across Difference" - Matthew Freeman