The title of this article is a phrase that every New Yorker who has ever used the city’s public transportation recognizes. It is all over subway stations and train cars, and the goal of this campaign is to have every single person joining the police force in keeping their eyes open for suspicious, dangerous activity. And that is actually a really good thing! I think it is wonderful that people are encouraged to be concerned with the safety of others in addition to their own safety. But I’d like extend this idea and imagine a world where every type of harmful and inappropriate deed, not just leaving strange bags lying around, is called out by anyone who witnesses that act. That’s a little ambitious, but we can surely start to take steps in that direction.
It starts with ourselves. Personally, I’ve had numerous occasions where I’ve witnessed the mistreatment of another person and I’ve kept silent along with everyone else. Tiny stories of oppression unfold in public spaces all the time, where a person cannot rely on other human beings to speak up on his or her behalf. These are terrible moments. One time on a crowded bus, a man kept touching a woman and she repeatedly told him to stop, and it went on for the whole ride – no one saying a word. A Muslim woman got scolded by a decent-looking yet surprisingly racist man on a full subway car for doing tasbeeh, and no one gave a damn. A very old man with crutches boarded a bus, and after requesting a seat from a preteen girl, the girl’s mom scolded him for having no shame. And both the mom and girl were sitting in seats reserved for the old and handicapped! No one told the mother how wrong her behavior was. And on and on. Yet, these are examples from only my personal experience. Day in and day out, people get verbally and physically abused in broad daylight, and they have their rights openly violate, and the bad guys get by without getting even a disapproving wag of a finger. I’m sure they expect someone to say or do something. But very often, no one does, and the more frequently that happens, the more confident they become they whatever wrong they’re doing isn’t a big deal.
Now that’s dangerous, and the danger is two-fold. It becomes easier for evil deeds to be done openly, and people who would normally be concerned about that become more complacent about it. That is not the way of a Muslim, and that is not the way of any decent person. The Blessed Prophet once said, “Whoever sees something evil should change it with his hand. If he cannot, then with his tongue; and if he cannot do even that, then in his heart [which means hating it]. That is the weakest degree of faith.”
When a person fails to step in to “prohibit evil,” as repeatedly commanded in the Qur’an, he or she undoubtedly feels guilty. After many instances of this happening, the person learns to ignore this feeling. But this feeling is the most valuable thing in the world, and ignoring it is extremely troublesome. It is the single hope for humanity–that if people abide strongly by their sense of right and wrong, a blessing bestowed upon us by Allah Almighty, then we have a chance for a decent world where the oppressors fear greatly for their own demise and the oppressed always have a firm hope of rising out of the dust.
There are so many chances for each one of us to “change” evil with our limbs and tongues. Hopefully, we have a strong hatred for it in our hearts in the first place, which the Prophet mentioned as being the minimum standard of faith. But when we see wrong being committed in our houses, on our streets, in our country, and around the world, we should strive our hardest to speak out and actually do something about it. However, here is the fine print: Be smart about it – You don’t necessarily have to put yourself in danger. Nor should you cause more harm than befit by your actions, particularly harm that is done to the image of Muslims. The Blessed Prophet was not rash. He never let his emotions get the best of him. He relied on God for the ultimate, perfect justice, and that understanding kept him firm and calm. Still, he couldn’t let injustice slide when he saw it happen to others. So, what are we going to do?