The Broader Dimensions of the Seerah

Developing Just Leadership

Zafar Bangash

Sha'ban 29, 1443 2022-04-01


by Zafar Bangash (Opinion, Crescent International Vol. 51, No. 2, Sha'ban, 1443)

In the noble Qur’an, Allah (swt) says: “Take what the Messenger [of Allah] gives you, and shun what he forbids you from doing” (59:07). We need to understand the meaning of this ayah properly. When the Qur’an states, take what the Prophet (pbuh) gives you, it should not be viewed in the narrow sense of food or clothes etc. This must be understood more broadly.

Let us ask ourselves what comes to mind when me think of the noble personality the Prophet (pbuh)? How do we perceive his role as Allah’s Prophet and Messenger and what he taught us? Most Muslims would think about such issues as his instructions about salat, zakat, fasting, being of good character, honest, truthful etc. All these are correct and important but how many of us would think of the Prophet (pbuh) as the head of the Islamic State that was established in Madinah?

Was this not an important part of his mission and what he gave us? Why is it that so many Muslims do not think of this aspect of the Prophetic mission, which is perhaps the most important because it impacts in profound ways our life on earth? Some Muslims even go so far as to dismiss the idea of the Islamic State and insist that all that the Prophet (pbuh) did was to establish a community.

Many injunctions of Islam cannot be implemented without the power and authority of the state. Take the example of law and order, security, protection of life, prohibition on usury, Jihad etc. All these are mentioned in the Qur’an and exemplified in the Prophetic Sunnah and Seerah.

But the first condition is to understand these precepts properly. If we read the Qur’an without understanding, we are missing out a great deal, in fact, everything. We can only get guidance if we understand the message.

In many ayats of the noble Qur’an, we read: al-Ladhina amanu, wa ‘amalus Salihat (make a faith commitment to Allah and follow it up with righteous deeds). Imaan is a necessary but not sufficient condition in Islam. It must be accompanied by righteous deeds.

We have a similar attitude toward the Prophet (pbuh). Muslims rightly get upset when someone insults the honour of our beloved Prophet (pbuh). But we may be guilty of the same offence without realizing it.

Here is how.

If we reduce the Prophetic sunnah to issues of najasa, tahara and dress or a few other rituals, then we are missing the point of his being an example for us. Let us consider salat, a fundamental pillar of Islam.

We all make great effort to perform our salat on time, especially Jumuah. Similarly, we make special provisions for Taraweeh prayers in Ramadan. Masha-Allah; that’s great.

But have we ever reflected on the fact that for the first 12 years of the Prophet’s mission in Makkah, there was no formal salat? Salat became compulsory after the m‘iraj of the Prophet (pbuh) which was in the 12th year of his mission in Makkah.

This raises several questions:

1: Were the early Muslims not good Muslims because they did not offer salat for 12 years? We cannot even imagine such a thought.

2: The Makkan chiefs tortured, oppressed and even killed some Muslims. Sumayyah and her husband Yasir were brutally tortured to death. Were they tortured because they were offering salat?

So, what prompted the Makkan mushriks to torture Muslims, of whom there were only a few at the time? In Makkah, there was emphasis on one over-arching principle: Tawhid—the Oneness of Allah (swt) and conformity to Him through obedience.

While the KalimahLa ilaha il-Allah, Muhammadur Rasool Allah—may appear a simple statement, in the mushrik society of Arabia, it signaled an ideological challenge that carried profound implications. The Prophet was proclaiming a new paradigm that challenged the privileged position of the mushriks of Makkah.

The Makkan chiefs understood the significance of the message. They were the beneficiaries of a system of injustice in which the powerful exploited the weak and enslaved the poor as well as oppressed women. They were not going to give up such privileges voluntarily.

To overthrow such an unjust system required great sacrifices. The early Muslims led by the Prophet (pbuh) made such sacrifices. Bilal (ra) was mercilessly tortured until ransomed by Abu Bakr Siddiq (ra). Khabab ibn al-Arat was another member of the oppressed group who also suffered torture.

This has been the case throughout history and is true even today.

When change such as a dramatic upheaval occurs, unfortunately, societies see no substantive change in the way people conduct their individual or communal activities because they are under the authority of largely corrupt, self-serving, and undisciplined human masters. The one breakthrough in this degrading continuum of human subservience and bondage to other men was the one initiated and institutionalized by the noble Messenger of Allah (pbuh).

It was a comprehensive disengagement from the mushrik theater of national exclusivism, religious racism, and racist religion and all they stand for and occupy in the world even today. The change was total for it encompassed the entire spectrum of human existence: individual, social, familial, political and economic.

The Prophet (pbuh) transformed both the individual and society. He did it not by joining the Jahili system in Makkah but by detaching himself from it completely. The Makkan chiefs had an assembly hall called Dar al Nadwa. The Prophet (pbuh) never asked for the opportunity to speak to this assembly.

Instead, Muslims gathered in Dar al-Arqam, a house belonging to one of his companions, where the Prophet (pbuh) taught them the Qur’an and how to implement its teachings in life.

We need to bear in mind some other important facts.

Every Prophet’s mission was to communicate the divine message, and try to implement it in life. Let us look at Prophetic history: how many Prophets succeeded in implementing the divine message in society? A handful out of some 124,000 Prophets.

Even after 13 years of propagating the message of Islam in Makkah, the total number of people that entered the fold of Islam was barely 200 from a total population of some 5,000. After the hijrah to Madinah and in the next 10 years, the number of Muslims increased to more than 100,000.

When the Prophet (pbuh) went for Hajj in the last year of his life, he was accompanied by more than 100,000 people. What brought about this phenomenal transformation between the life in Makkah and Madinah and the concomitant increase in the number of Muslims?

In Madinah, the Prophet (pbuh) established the Islamic State. This point needs to be internalized by Muslims. It is only through the power and authority of the Islamic State that all the injunctions of Islam can be implemented.

For instance, Islam’s social and economic laws can only be implemented in an Islamic State. Similarly, the ban on usury, end to exploitation, unequal treatment of the weak or suppression of the poor by the rich, can only be ended if there is the power of the state behind such moves.

Some Muslims seek refuge behind the fact that they do not take interest from the bank. This is a very simplistic approach; the entire banking system is based on riba (usury). Usurious transactions create money out of thin air and enrich the rich at the expense of the poor. Not taking or giving interest does not even scratch the surface.

Islam’s principles can only be implemented in full under a collective system of governance. It is not merely an individual effort although the rectification of individual conduct is an important component of this effort.

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