Every Muslim, barring a few exceptions, expresses deep attachment to the Qur’an and love for the Prophet (pbuh). There is also an ayah in the Qur’an where Allah (swt) promises, “O you who have made a firm commitment to Allah, if you support the cause of Allah, He will help you and make firm your steps” (47:07). Given the Muslims’ stated attachment to Islam and love for the Prophet, why has Allah’s promised help not manifested in the lives of Muslims? Tens of millions of Muslims have been slaughtered only in the last 20 years.
The above Qur’anic ayah needs better understanding. Allah is addressing a very special category of Muslims referred to as al-ladhina amanu. These are not the average Muslims that verbalize the shahadah but do not act upon it. This special category comprises those who are fully committed to the covenant of Allah and strive to actualize it by living the injunctions of the Qur’an. Their love for the noble Messenger (pbuh) is not confined to merely reciting na‘ats or distributing halwa on his birthday. They endeavor to follow his noble example in all its multifaceted dimensions.
Allah (swt) describes the noble Messenger (pbuh) as “the best of exemplars” (33:21). This means he is the model that we must follow both in our personal as well as collective conduct. In another ayah Allah says, “[O Prophet], tell the people, if you love Allah, follow me, [and] Allah will love you and forgive you your sins…” (3:31). Thus, Allah’s love for us is contingent upon our obeying the noble Messenger because he is the embodiment of the Qur’an. And his example is not confined to any specific time period. As the last and final messenger of Allah to humanity (9:40), his example is valid till eternity.
The Qur’an also says that the noble Messenger (pbuh) was sent with clear signs in order to bring those who are committed to Allah (swt) and perform righteous deeds out of darkness and into light (65:11). “Darkness” is any action that runs counter to Allah’s commands. That is why the Arabian mushriks’ stubborn refusal to accept the divine message was condemned as a feature of jahiliyah (ignocracy – 48:26). “Light,” on the other hand, means that state in which one is mentally, physically, emotionally, and intellectually attuned to Allah’s commands and consciously striving to abide by them.
Throughout history many societies have experienced dramatic upheavals but no change except the one brought by the noble Messenger (pbuh) was comprehensive and encompassed the entire spectrum of human endeavor. He transformed both the individual and society but he neither promised wealth nor power to attract people. He also did not instigate class warfare despite great disparities in wealth in society. Nor did he merely rectify people’s morals even though the Arabian society was steeped in immorality. For 13 years in Makkah, he emphasized only one point: the Oneness of Allah (swt). It may appear a simple statement but in the idol-ridden society of Arabia, it was an ideological challenge that carried profound implications.
From hopelessly divided warring tribes, the Prophet organized the people into an Islamic state that not only overwhelmed the Arabian Peninsula but also defeated the two superpowers of the time (Byzantium and Persia). The Islamic civilization then went on to dominate the world for nearly 1,000 years. The processes the Prophet (pbuh) employed to bring about such profound change at the individual as well as collective (societal) levels need proper understanding.
The process of transformation requires, a priori, a clear understanding of the nature of society in which we live. During the Prophet’s time, injustice, oppression, tribal warfare, female infanticide, and slavery characterized Arabian society. And people associated partners with Allah, hence their designation as mushriks in the Qur’an. Today Muslims are afflicted by many of the same problems. Idols of nationalism, money, and class interests have replaced idols made of stone. Exploitation is as rampant and widespread in the world today including the Muslim world as it was in the jahili society of Arabia. It is, therefore, imperative for Muslims to recognize and understand the nature of Zulm and darkness that surrounds them as they embark on the process of transforming their societies.
Never in history has any ruling class voluntarily relinquished power or acknowledged the inherent injustices of the system. When its inequities are exposed, the system reacts violently to suppress such attempts. The struggle to transform a society based on man-made laws into the Islamic state will not be without human or material costs. It demands great sacrifices because those who have a vested interest in the established order will use all means at their disposal to crush any challenge but the Sirah also shows that through sustained effort, change can be achieved. That is why Muhammad (pbuh) has been called the “best of exemplars”!
Zafar Bangash is Director of the Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought (ICIT).