Yesterday evening I visited with my Islamic teacher, Imam Toure, a sixth-generation Sufi Imam from Senegal. We spoke about Iraq for a while, as well as many other things, and he explained the concept of fikr.
Fikr, he said, is the innate drive for self-expression and justice. If you have two young children, and you give a toy to one of them, the other will ask "Why didn't you give me a toy?" Why? Because of fikr. Fikr is the reason human beings rebel against oppression and degradation. In my work as a chaplain - the Imam said - I often work with prostitutes. There is not one among them who does not experience shame and rage at the violations she is forced to endure. In the traditional culture of Senegal, he went on, there is only one crime punishable by death: it is not murder, but rape, because the woman is seen as a co-creator with G-d and a violation of her is a violation of the Divine process itself. Rape was virtually unknown in Senegal until modern times.
Islamic law (he continued) teaches that humankind has a positive duty to fight injustice and oppression. If a person sees evil being committed, they have an obligation to resist with their own hands if possible; if it is not possible, they must speak out against it; and if even this is not possible (as when a man's life and family are threatened), then at a minimum they have a duty to hate the oppression in their heart.
He cited the Israel Sura of the Koran, which states "We [G-d] have honored the sons of Adam ... and conferred on them special favors, above a great part of Our Creation" (Koran 17:70). As the commentary by 'Abdullah Yusuf 'Ali explains, "The distinction and honour conferred by Allah on man are recounted in order to enforce the corresponding duties and responsibilities of man."
It is neither a sin nor a merit to be born rich or poor, powerful or oppressed; our merit consists solely in how we choose to make use of the resources and power available to us. As Americans, we should not feel guilty for being a part of the wealthiest, most powerful nation in the world; indeed, that is a gift that G-d can take away if we misuse it. Rather, we must remember our calling as human beings, to act in accord with our highest nature.