Islamic civilisation is not to be credited only to the caliphs, rulers, scholars, and commanders, but to every mother, teacher, thinker, businessman, and donor, who built that civilisation.
Though history might only remember the names of the rulers associated with our golden eras, it was the effort of every Muslim who felt individually responsible. It is for this reason that Prophet Muhammad’s earliest words as a prophet were an invitation to assume individual responsibility (ﷺ).
When the revelation from Allah descended upon the Messenger ﷺ, commanding him:
وَأَنْذِرْ عَشِيرَتَكَ الأَقْرَبِينَ
“And warn your nearest kindred,” 
…he ﷺ stood up and gathered the people of Quraysh — his own kin and tribe — to deliver a powerful proclamation.
Finally, when they had gathered, he ﷺ began his address with a voice resounding with immense urgency:
يَا مَعْشَرَ قُرَيْشٍ اشْتَرُوا أَنْفُسَكُمْ ، لاَ أُغْنِي عَنْكُمْ مِنَ اللَّهِ شَيْئًا ، يَا بَنِي عَبْدِ مَنَافٍ لاَ أُغْنِي عَنْكُمْ مِنَ اللَّهِ شَيْئًا ، يَا عَبَّاسُ بْنَ عَبْدِ الْمُطَّلِبِ لاَ أُغْنِي عَنْكَ مِنَ اللَّهِ شَيْئًا ، وَيَا صَفِيَّةُ عَمَّةَ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ لاَ أُغْنِي عَنْكِ مِنَ اللَّهِ شَيْئًا ، وَيَا فَاطِمَةُ بِنْتَ مُحَمَّدٍ سَلِينِي مَا شِئْتِ مِنْ مَالِي لاَ أُغْنِي عَنْكِ مِنَ اللَّهِ شَيْئًا
“O people of Quraysh, redeem yourselves, for I cannot protect you from the consequences of your deeds before Allah.
“O sons of ‘Abd Manaf, I cannot protect you from the consequences of your deeds before Allah.
“O ‘Abbas ibn ‘Abdul-Muttalib, I cannot protect you from the consequences of your deeds before Allah.
“O Safiyyah, aunt of the Messenger of Allah, I cannot protect you from the consequences of your deeds before Allah.
“And O Fatimah, daughter of Muhammad, ask of my wealth whatever you wish, but know that I cannot protect you from the consequences of your deeds before Allah.” 
This was the inaugural message of the Prophet ﷺ upon receiving his mandate from Allah.
It was a call to every individual to realise that, irrespective of their social standing or relationship with Him, they were individually accountable before their Creator.
It was a call to humanity to rise above complacency and realise that the path of righteousness begins with assuming personal responsibility.
Qur’ānic method of individual responsibility
The sense of responsibility can be cultivated externally by, for example, something new that comes into your life — a child, a tragedy, etc. — and changes your direction, insight, and who you are.
It can also be sourced internally, where something within you, regardless of the world around you, generates energy and propels you towards duty and responsibility.
It seems that the Qur’ānic approach is focused a lot more on the latter.
I will shed light on four such examples.
فَلَنَسْـَٔلَنَّ ٱلَّذِينَ أُرْسِلَ إِلَيْهِمْ وَلَنَسْـَٔلَنَّ ٱلْمُرْسَلِينَ
“We will surely question those who received messengers and We will question the messengers themselves.” 
The messengers are individually responsible for delivering the message; the receivers — you and me — are individually responsible for how they respond, and all shall be questioned individually about this.
كُلُّ نَفْسٍۭ بِمَا كَسَبَتْ رَهِينَةٌ
“Every soul will be held hostage to its own deeds.” 
No-one can escape the consequences of their choices, and since each individual has agency over their decisions, each shall be answerable for them.
وَكُلُّهُمْ ءَاتِيهِ يَوْمَ ٱلْقِيَـٰمَةِ فَرْدًا
“And each of them will return to Him on the Day of Judgment all alone.” 
You shall not meet Allah as groups, families, tribes, or as any collective identity, but as individuals. No-one can carry your load and no-one will represent you but yourself, so assume responsibility.
وَكُلَّ إِنسَـٰنٍ أَلْزَمْنَـٰهُ طَـٰٓئِرَهُۥ فِى عُنُقِهِۦ ۖ وَنُخْرِجُ لَهُۥ يَوْمَ ٱلْقِيَـٰمَةِ كِتَـٰبًۭا يَلْقَىٰهُ مَنشُورًا
“We have tied every man’s fate around his neck; and We shall produce a book for him on Resurrection Day that he will find spread open;
ٱقْرَأْ كِتَـٰبَكَ كَفَىٰ بِنَفْسِكَ ٱلْيَوْمَ عَلَيْكَ حَسِيبًۭا
“Read your book; today, there will be none but yourself to call you to account!” 
The message of the Qur’ān is clear; you are not merely a passive recipient of life’s circumstances, spectating on the side-lines. Rather, Allah has made you an active participant in shaping your own future.
Your home in the Hereafter is nothing but the home that you attend to or neglect today!
Responsibility in action
Bystander effect: the rape and murder of Catherine Genovese
In the heart of New York City in the year 1964, a chilling incident took place that would forever leave a profound impact on society.
28-year-old Catherine Genovese was returning home from work. As she approached her apartment entrance, she was raped and repeatedly stabbed by a man later identified as Winston Moseley. 
In the aftermath of the attack, it came to light that dozens of neighbours, living in the very same apartment complex, had apparently witnessed or at least heard Catherine’s cries for help.
The harrowing reality was that not a single person stepped forward to lend a hand or make that crucial call to the police.
Each one mimicked the same response,
“I didn’t want to get involved,”
“I thought somebody else would do something.”
This event became a subject of many psychological studies, shedding light on a phenomenon now known as the bystander effect, where the presence of other observers creates a diffusion of responsibility, as individuals believe someone else will take action.
This is not merely an abstract theory!
Clearly, therefore, responsibility isn’t an abstract notion that we speak eloquently about or craft catchy infographics about on social media.
Rather, it’s a living, breathing, tangible practice, the authenticity of which is proven or disproven in your everyday decisions.
Unbeknown to many, however, they are just as guilty of the bystander effect on a daily basis.
Allow me to share a few examples.
The person of religious authority who dodges tough questions
He who assumes the title of Imam, Shaykh, Mufti, or any other kind of Islamic scholar while celebrating his ability to evade tricky questions pertaining to contemporary challenges that Muslims need answers to, has demonstrated the bystander effect.
If he only ever tackles topics that are widely accepted, instead preferring to keep his brand alive than to discharge his mandate from Allah, he has behaved irresponsibly.
The young Muslim who wastes food or expects his mother to tidy his mess
A young Muslim who leaves his bedroom untidy, expecting his mother whose ageing back now chronically throbs, to arrange the room on his behalf, has displayed the bystander effect and has also behaved irresponsibly.
The same can be said about he who pummels on his plate more food than he can eat, for the rest to be thrown away at a time of epidemic famine, or he who takes his plate to the sink but expects someone else to do the dishes.
He has behaved irresponsibly.
He who is financially struggling yet squanders money on entertainment
He who, despite struggling financially, refuses to venture out, take courses, relocate for better work opportunities and networking, but prefers to play games for hours on end or pays extortionate monthly subscription fees on extras.
And yet, he then blames inflation for his plight or expects his womenfolk to compensate his failings?
He has not behaved responsibly.
She who doesn’t take care of her home but has time for social media rants
The one who consistently leaves her home in a state of disarray, arguing that she has no time to cook a healthy homemade meal for her family or maintain a welcoming atmosphere, though finds ample time to write out long and carefully crafted WhatsApp statuses about her underappreciated status as a superwoman has reflected, if we may say, a regrettable display of irresponsibility.
The same can be said about she who wakes up at midday, leaving her mother to maintain a large family, or as she lounges in her room for endless hours on makeup tutorials.
She has behaved irresponsibly.
There is individual responsibility in all areas of life
How is it that some of us can walk past that same broken light bulb at home, day after day, as “dad will fix it”, or disappear into our rooms as he serves guests, instead of stepping in to pour their tea and cater to their needs?
How is it that parents head out to the shop without us insisting on our presence and financial contribution, or that we still depend upon them to rouse us for Salah, or that we or our parents only reach out to relatives during major Islamic occasions?
And with the vast reach that some of us have on social media, why choose to share trivial aspects of our lives, rather than using that platform to address the pressing issues of the Ummah or to advocate for the beauty and truth of Islam?
Make the decision now
Responsibility is to choose — when there’s a conflict — religion over worldly pursuit; to choose, when possible, the joy of giving over the shame of receiving; to choose integrity and reputation over money and profit; to choose your household and family over your friends; to choose, my brother, your marriage over your pride; to choose, my sister, harmony with your husband over being right; to choose to lose a battle in order to win the war; to choose personal accountability and recovery over self-pity and stagnation.
So much has been said about what it is that separates animals from humans. Yet it’s simple; what takes one from the status of an animal to a rank with angels is responsibility.
Similarly, so much is being discussed, particularly today, about manhood and masculinity. Yet, again, it’s simple; what takes people from boyhood to manhood is one key trait; responsibility.
- The bystander effect can engulf any one of us, so take proactive individual responsibility whenever you can.
- Review your day-to-day life to identify areas where you can engage in individual responsibility.
- Share this article with family and friends, and keep an eye out for the second segment which will be live shortly.
 al-Qur’ān, 26:214
 al-Bukhāri and Muslim
 al-Qur’ān, 7:6
 al-Qur’ān, 74:38
 al-Qur’ān, 19:95
 al-Qur’ān, 17:13-14