Broader Dimensions Of the Seerah

Developing Just Leadership

Zafar Bangash

Safar 15, 1445 2023-09-01


by Zafar Bangash (Opinion, Crescent International Vol. 53, No. 7, Safar, 1445)

Image Source - Pixbay Free Content

“You have in the Messenger of Allah the most beautiful example to emulate,” says the noble Qur’an (33:21). There are other moving ayats (21:107; 33:45-46; 68:04) that draw our attention to the lofty and merciful character of the noble Messenger (pbuh).

While the Qur’an is not a biography of the noble Messenger, its message is interwoven into his life’s struggle as he implemented its teachings in society. Every Prophet was tasked with two principal responsibilities: to convey the divine message to the people, and strive to establish it in society.

We learn from Prophetic history that every prophet discharged these responsibilities faithfully but only a handful were successful in implementing divine laws in society. There was nothing wrong with the message they delivered, nor with its method of delivery. It was the people’s rejection who were engrossed in worldly pursuits that prevented the message from being actualized in society. Most Prophets had to abandon their people and migrated to other lands. Some were even killed.

The last and final Messenger of Allah not only conveyed the message to his people but he also successfully implemented it in society. He (pbuh) grew up in a society described as Jahiliyyah (primitive savagery) in the noble Qur’an (48:26). Like societies throughout history, the Makkan society was also hierarchical in nature.

The rich and powerful exploited the poor and weak. Slavery and female infanticide were other common practices that characterized the Makkan society.

It was in this environment that Allah sent His final messenger for humanity (7:158): Muhammad (pbuh). Initially, the message was communicated to close friends and relatives. When the divine command came to proclaim it openly, it immediately aroused the wrath of the Makkan aristocracy. The Makkan chiefs could clearly see that if Islam established a foothold in society, it would drastically curtail their privileges.

Like power-wielders and moneyed classes throughout history, the Makkan chiefs were not prepared to give up their privileges. They resorted to all means, fair or foul, to crush the challenge, at enormous cost to those speaking out against societal injustices.

In every struggle the outcome is determined not by the preponderance of weapons or materiel, but by the commitment of combatants. History has repeatedly demonstrated this, including in contemporary times. Muslims around the Prophet (pbuh) were successful because they were firm in their conviction and prepared to make the requisite sacrifices. These ingredients are essential for the outcome of every struggle.

Let us consider some other ayats from the noble Qur’an. In Surah Al-e Imran, Allah says: “Say, [to the people, O Prophet], ‘If you love Allah, then follow me, [and] Allah will love you and forgive your sins…” (3:31). In another ayat from Surah al-Hashr, Allah says: “Take what the Messenger gives you and refrain from what he forbids…” (59:07).

Let us elaborate on the these ayats.

Muslims demonstrate their love for and follow the noble Messenger (pbuh) in different ways. No single expression of love or method of following his example can be considered to be the sum total of what Allah’s beloved Prophet did. All forms of expression are valid but represent only limited aspects of his blessed personality. As Allah’s Messenger for all humanity (7:158) as well as the last and final messenger (33:40), he encompassed all aspects of life in his mission: moral, social, economic and political.

It would be a misrepresentation of his Seerah (life-history) to limit his responsibilities to issues of tahara, najasa and morality only. True, he (pbuh) guided us in these but his message was much broader.

Since Islam’s message is primarily focused on issues of social justice, this must be understood in its proper context. The Makkan mushriks did not torture the Prophet (pbuh) and his small group of followers because they prayed in a certain way. There were no formal prayers in Makkah for the first 12 years of his mission. Nor did the early Muslims fast. It was the Prophet’s call for justice and its implementation in society that so irked the Makkan chiefs.

Social justice in society is linked to power and authority. Without power, social justice cannot be achieved in society, regardless of how persuasive one’s arguments may be.

The exercise of authority and power automatically leads to the question of politics. Some Muslims assume that power and authority are undesirable goals because they involve politics. And politics is considered to be a field of activity for crooks.

True, one cannot draw any other conclusion by looking at contemporary politics but this need not be the case in all situations. Islam is not against power or authority per se. Allah has not created everybody identical. Some are powerful, others are weak; some are rich while others are poor. What Islam does is to regulate the use of power.

The rich and powerful are not free to exploit the poor, or oppress the weak. Those in positions of power and authority must operate within the clear guidelines Allah has provided for their exercise to ensure justice and equity in society.

This can best be exercised in a formal structure: the Islamic State. At the end of his 23-year prophetic mission, the Prophet (pbuh) had established the Islamic State in Madinah. Before he (pbuh) left this earthly abode, the entire Arabian Peninsula had been brought under its control.

His followers—the committed Muslims— equipped with divine guidance and inspired by the Prophet’s exemplary character, spread the message of Islam to virtually the entire known world in a very short period of time. Islam gave humanity a civilization that lasted nearly 1,000 years.

This phenomenal success at both the ideological and worldly levels cannot be attributed to the preponderance of manpower, weapons or materiel. It was the quality of the message with its emphasis on fairness and justice as well as the upright character of Muslims that inspired others to enter the fold of Islam. The Prophetic Sunnah (life-example) and Seerah (life-history) provided a practical demonstration of the noble Qur’an.

No doubt, Muslims will celebrate the Mawlid (birthday of the noble Messenger (pbuh)) during this Rabi al-Awwal, as they have done in the past. They should, however, keep in mind his upright character, the many challenges he faced and surmounted, to ultimately establish the Islamic State in Madinah. The State’s power and authority are essential for establishing a just social order in society.

It is to this aspect that sincere Muslims must turn their attention as they celebrate Mawlid this year. This would bring their conduct closer to that of the Prophet (pbuh) and would be a true reflection of their obedience to him.

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