The Responsibility of Intellectuals

Imam Yahya Shabazz-OaklandCA

By Imam Yahya Shabazz

“Have We not expanded for you your breast? And We removed from you your burden,
which weighed down your back? And We exalted for you your reputation? Then, surely with hardship comes ease: Surely, with hardship comes ease. So when you have finished (with your immediate task), still strive hard (then toil), and to your Lord turn (all) your attention.” (Holy Qur’an: 94: 1-8)

An intellectual, by definition, is the man or woman who engages in critical study, thought, and reflection about the reality of society, proposes solutions for the normative problems of society, and by such discourse in the public sphere gains authority from public opinion.

Coming from the world of culture, either as a creator or as a mediator, the intellectual participates in politics, either to defend a concrete proposition or to denounce an injustice, usually by producing or by extending an ideology, and by defending one or another system of values.

In an article by the intellectualist Norm Chomsky, where he comments on a series of articles entitled The Responsibility of Peoples, and Specifically, the Responsibility of Intellectuals. The articles were written by Dwight Macdonald, and published in the Politic.

Macdonald is concerned with the question of war guilt. He asks the question: To what extent were the German or Japanese people responsible for the atrocities committed by their governments?

And, quite properly, he turns the question back to us: To what extent are the British or American people responsible for the vicious terror bombings of civilians, perfected as a technique of warfare by the Western democracies and reaching their culmination in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, surely among the most unspeakable crimes in history.

To an undergraduate in 1945-46 – to anyone whose political and moral consciousness had been formed by the horrors of the 1930s, by the war in Ethiopia, the Russian purge, the “China Incident,” the Spanish Civil War, the Nazi atrocities, the Western reaction to these events and, in part, complicity in them – these questions had particular significance and poignancy.

With respect to the responsibility of intellectuals, there are still other, equally disturbing questions. Intellectuals are in a position to expose the lies of governments, to analyze actions according to their causes and motives and often hidden intentions.

In the Western world, at least, they have the power that comes from political liberty, from access to information and freedom of expression.

For a privileged minority, Western democracy provides the leisure, the facilities, and the training to seek the truth lying hidden behind the veil of distortion and misrepresentation, ideology and class interest, through which the events of current history are presented to us.

The responsibilities of intellectuals, then, are much deeper than what Macdonald calls the “responsibility of people,” given the unique privileges that intellectuals enjoy, according to The Responsibility of Intellectuals by Noam Chomsky, Feb. 23, 1967.

According to Edward Said, the real or “true” intellectual is therefore always an outsider, living in self-imposed exile, and on the margins of society. He or she speaks to, as well as for, a public, necessarily in public, and is properly on the side of the dispossessed, the un-represented and the forgotten.

In as much as these great thinkers of modernity felt the urge, and the necessity to raise their voices on the issues of the day, we have only to look back a little further in our own history to hear the thundering voices of great men and women, such as Booker T. Washington, David Walker, Mary McLeod Bethune, Ida B. Wells, etc., as they saw wrong in the society and lifted their voices to correct it.

It should be noted that these great thinkers spoke for the public and in the public at a time when the laws that governed free speech, assembly, etc., were not intended to protect  African Americans, but these courageous servants of God saw themselves equal to other human beings.

Therefore, they could not be silenced.

As we continue to travel through time, we encounter, the Hon. Elijah Muhammad, El Hajj Malik Shabazz, Shirley Chisholm, Fannie Lou Hamer, Dr. Martin L. King Jr., who all stood on the front lines for freedom, justice, and equality for all humanity.

The evils that these great thinkers fought against were in plain sight and could easily be seen, because it was blatant and physical. Racism, the atrocities of the Jim Crow era, all ran rampant across the nation and could be recognized because of the destruction that was left in its wake.

After the passing of Dr. King and the Hon. Elijah Muhammad, and the granting of voting rights, equal employment opportunities, which were already ours by virtue of our human creation, we thought that we, as a people, had finally made it to Freedom Land.

Now that we could sit next to other races without them running for cover, we now are able to attend the schools of our choice, qualify for top paying jobs, more African American politicians in office than any other time in history, and to top it off, they even gave us an African American president, so now, we felt truly free.

As a people collectively, we never stopped to think that with freedom comes responsibility, vision, insight, wisdom, the necessities that one must have if we are to be truly free.

So with the close of the civil rights movement, and the new found freedoms we thought we had, we witnessed an entire race drop their guard of reasoning and responsibility.

We saw many African Americans reach the position of affluence, and influence, so we sat back to enjoy the rights we had fought and died so hard for. We felt we owed it to ourselves, so we took a rest.

When we see the condition of the African American community in today’s world, one would stand in disbelief that we as a people could be in such a sad state of affairs, in light of the sacrifices that was made on our behalf.

We stand in stark disbelief as we ponder the question, “What happened?” What happened is that we didn’t just take a rest, we literally sat down. We thought to ourselves, “we free now, we don’t need to struggle any more.” It was precisely at this time that Satan began his whispers into our minds, and we as a people went to sleep on all that was decent, upright, intelligent, moral and virtuous.

We began to see entertainers, athletes and show folks as our role models. And as a result, our communities became over ridden with not just crime but unspeakable crime. Shooting and killing babies, incest, total breakdown of the Black family.

Brothers have become so obsessed with sex, that the relationship between the Black man and woman have been scarred to the point that sisters don’t trust or respect brothers anymore.

One hundred percent of the music that’s pumped into the African American community deals with having sex, breaking up, loss of trust, trying to get dollar bills or cheating. The language in the music is so vulgar, that it has literally changed the very nature of our human makeup.

Unlike racism, these are ills that are not so plainly seen; we only see the results of them. The entire society seems to be hooked on sex, and it’s killing us off as a nation of strength and stability. We have become so shallow minded following after trends, fads, celebrity worship, and the like.

The beauty of the instructions of Imam W. Deen Mohammed is that he gave them to us in such a way that we have the wisdom, knowledge, and the vision to track satan and warn the people so that we can rid our communities of these deadly influences.

The Imam taught us to think deep, think with the mind’s eye; don’t just look at a thing, look through and around it. We must become critical thinkers. Allah tells us in the above surah, that we should continue to struggle, even after completing the task at hand. This instruction from God is necessary because satan never quits, so we must always be on guard.

In the above surah, we should understand that its entire platform is based on being “public.” The word for expanded in the surah is “Nasara,” and it means to spread out, to announce publicly, to resurrect. The word for breast is “Sadr.” And while it does mean the breast, it also means to be out front, speak with candor, to be broad minded.

The understanding here is that we as Muslims must began to take a position on the critical issues that are burdening the society. It is time for our voices, the voice of intelligence and reasoning to be heard in the public discourse.

As we look around at the world today, we see the whole world at war, the issue of ISIS, same sex marriage, political corruption, a fallen educational system, the gap between the haves/haves not continues to widen, Palestiniens/Isreali conflict, and much more.

Where is the voice of the Muslim Intellectuals? Those we see from the various think tanks are ill equipped to speak to the issues because they’re politically motivated, as opposed to being morally motivated. Therefore, they become tools of satan, and the ills continue.

The righteous servants of God must see these ills as burdens that gall or bother us to the point that they stay on our minds, and so we must speak to the public offering solutions regarding them.

One would have to be either dead in their humanity or just oblivious to the workings of the society for these issues not to bother them. Again I say, where are the Muslims on the university campuses, in the various masajid around the community, and the common believer who has the insight to offer solutions?

“Zahara” is the same word for the “zuhur” prayer, and it means to be or become visible, to show, be distinct, obvious, come to the light make manifest, become public. No longer can we as Muslims afford to not allow our voices to be heard in the public discourse.

What good is it to have degree, and certificates of recognition and the world doesn’t benefit from your insights? Oh ye who believe, let us come together and discuss these important issues and find ways to present them to the media, to the public.

Let us use the wisdom given to us by our Imam and bring the society back from the brink of utter chaos. This is our time, this is our day; we are the ones we’ve been waiting for.

“Up you mighty Muslim! You can accomplish what you will.”


  1. May Allah (SWT) bless and reward you, Imam Yahya Shabazz, for your insightful thoughts, invitation and challenge for us to fulfill our obligations to our families, communities, our nation, and world society in accordance with the great knowledge and wisdom that we have been blessed to receive from the Islamic teachings of Imam W. D. Mohammed. I pray that many right-minded people will accept the invitation and move forward to correct the many illness affecting us. I’m particularly reminded of Imam Mohammed’s “Remake the World ” speech.
    Khaled S. Mujtabaa
    Attorney at Law
    Honolulu, Hawaii


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here