Victimhood Culture is on the rise throughout the world and Muslims need to resist its temptation. Victimhood, also known as victim mentality or victim identity, is a troubled state of mind when a person irrationally feels oppressed or less fortunate than others. The people who suffer from this disorder tend to become obsessed with blame and this leads them into a downward spiral. They blame racism, bigotry, society, President Trump, their parents, their boss, God, everyone and anything except themselves whenever they experience any difficulty in life. Even in the cases when the blame is completely warranted, there is no better way to shut off your brain and inhibit personal growth than adopting this mentality.
Islam teaches us that there’s a better way to react when we experience a calamity or when we’re a victim of a crime. An Islamic scholar I know and love once told his classroom a story about a Muslim man who was mugged. The victim of the mugging indeed pursued justice but at the same time he asked himself some very important questions: How could this have been prevented? Could I have taken a safer route at a safer time? If I had martial arts training could I have protected myself? He didn’t question the Qadr of Allah — he learned from it. Even when we are victims of crimes, we should always look at ourselves and think about what we can control, learn, and improve. In other words, we shouldn’t dwell solely on the calamity or the oppressor — we should engage in self-reflection as well. The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم said it best, “The believer does not allow himself to be stung twice from the same hole.”
Another story comes from the biography of Imam Ghazali, may Allah be pleased with him. He was once robbed by highwaymen and all of his possessions, including his most prized books, were stolen from him. He pleaded with the robbers to leave the books because he thought he would be lost without them. One of the robbers famously replied, “What kind of ‘alim could be robbed of his knowledge if deprived of his books?” Imam Ghazali was a clear victim of a crime but he learned from it. From then on he memorized all of his own writings, including his notes, as well as the works of scholars that came before him. What an amazing story of personal responsibility, patient perseverance, and strong Islamic character we can learn from today!
Victim mentality can also be manifested from far reaching historical calamities and tribulations such as imperialism. Have you ever noticed that some Muslims love to talk about the Golden Age of Islam but are quick to blame all our of current problems on the imperialists or the West in general? There is no doubt that the imperialists did wreak havoc throughout the Muslim world, and there is no denying the long-term negative ramifications of imperialism that continue to this day.
But we have to think productively about the past. We have to engage in serious introspection and strategic thinking. How did the Caliphate break apart slowly but surely, leading to many fragmented and divided Muslim nations that were easy to divide and conquer by our enemies, both from abroad and from the hypocrites within? How did some of the Muslim leaders of the past fail? How did some Muslims become so attached to the world and so weak in faith and courage? How can we learn from the mistakes of others so that we can be wiser and more prepared? The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم beautifully summarized how the faith and mentality of many Muslims would become many years ago:
“Nations are about to unite (and call) each other to set upon you, just as diners are invited to a plate of food.” It was said: “Will it be because of our lack of numbers that day (i.e. will be be small in number)?” He صلى الله عليه وسلم said: “Rather, you will be many on that day, but you will be like scum foam (that floats) on the river. Allah will remove the fear of you from the hearts of your enemies and put Wahn into your hearts.” It was said: “O Messenger of Allaah, what is Wahn?” He صلى الله عليه وسلم said: “Love for the dunya and hatred of death.” [Related by Abu Dawud and others]
We should all ask ourselves: was the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم referring to someone like me in this hadith? Is my love for this world and fear of death stronger than it should be? Am I part of the foam on the river that is making the Umma weaker instead of stronger? What can I learn from both my personal experiences of facing oppression as well as the historical calamities that struck the nation I grew up in or the Muslim world in general?
Each Muslim contributes to the Umma and makes it better or worse. We need to stop taking character lessons from the degenerate hoards that surround us and instead go back to our Islamic Tradition. We need to be wary about taking lessons from Muslims who suffer from an inferiority complex or who have a serious victim mentality. We have to go back to the foundations of Islam for role models and build our love and fear of Allah by reading the stories of the Qur’an, the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم, his companions, and the scholars of our tradition. This way we can properly learn how to deal with life’s tribulations and fitna, how to patiently persevere in the most difficult of circumstances, and how to take personal responsibility and accountability for whatever is within our control. This is how we can do our part to make the Umma stronger and be strong examples of character to our children.