The lesson of humility in the Seerah

Developing Just Leadership


Rabi' al-Awwal 17, 1420 1999-07-01


by Editor (Editorials, Crescent International Vol. 28, No. 9, Rabi' al-Awwal, 1420)

The Prophet’s Seerah (peace be upon him) is a model for Muslims in their individual as well as collective lives. Within his lifetime, the noble Messenger of Allah not only delivered the message of Islam to all parts of the Arabian Peninsula and beyond, but he also established the Islamic State with its power-base in Madinah. The Islamic State, therefore, forms part of the model to be emulated. “Islam is incomplete without the Islamic State,” the late Dr Kalim Siddiqui often said.

However, the Muslim world today is dominated by Muslim nation-States yet to emerge fully from the dark period of colonialism. But there are a number of Islamic movements struggling to emulate the example of Islamic Iran and re-order their societies on Islamic principles. All profess to follow the Prophetic example, and aim to get as close to that ideal and the period of the Khulafa ar-Rashidoon (successors to the Prophet) as possible. And yet different parts of the Islamic movement have adopted very different approaches towards the same goal. The question which arises is how, this being the case, the Seerah of the Prophet can contribute to our methodology today.

Dr Kalim Siddiqui believed that the Seerah of the Prophet needs to be re-interpreted in the modern period in order to extract lessons for the contemporary Islamic movement. This is undoubtedly true. The traditional scholars of the Seerah extracted numerous lessons about the Prophet’s personal conduct because those were the questions they asked, so to speak. However, contemporary scholars must approach the same sources with new questions, designed to extract lessons relevant to the situation the Ummah and the Islamic movement are facing today. This is a massive task which remains to be done.

However, in broad terms, numerous lessons for the contemporary Islamic movement from the Prophet’s Seerah can already be drawn. Two merit particular emphasis. Firstly, the Prophet never accepted any position within the jahili system of Makkah, even as their chief. When the Quraish came to the noble Messenger of Allah and offered to make him their leader, provided only that he tone down his attacks on their ‘gods’, the Prophet absolutely refused. Some Muslims today would have advised him to accept, saying that he would be in an excellent position to try to reform the jahili system ‘from within’. But the Prophet clearly knew that the total transformation of the jahili society required the total rejection of its structures. Today, there can be no justification for Islamic movements to join the existing systems to ‘bring about change from within’.

Secondly, he was a man of great humility and respect for his fellow Muslims, despite his unique position. This is in marked contrast to the behaviour and attitude of numerous Islamic leaders (and their followers) today. Too many are convinced that they alone have understood Islam, and all those whose understandings differ from theirs are inferior in iman and taqwa. This is unspeakably arrogant and wholly unacceptable. Different parts of the Islamic movement must learn to tolerate other parts of the movement. The global Islamic movement, like the Ummah, is very broad; it encompasses a wide range of opinions and activities, from such radical and jihadi movements as the Hizbullah in Lebanon and the mujahideen in Chechenya and Mindanao, to the Islamic political parties in Pakistan, Turkey and the Arab world. Within this movement, there can be differences of opinion as well as vigorous debate. Differences of opinion have never hurt the Muslims; it is when some group claims absolute monopoly on Islamic understanding and methodology that problems emerge. The key is to understand that the things we have in common, and which distinguish us from the kuffar, are far greater than any differences among us. In Madinah, the Prophet did not punish even the munafiqeen until he was instructed to do so by Divine Revelation. And yet Muslims today are so quick to condemn each other.

On the occasion of the Prophet’s birthday this hijri month (and the ‘Week of Unity’ proclaimed by Imam Khomeini following the Islamic Revolution), Muslims should learn to tolerate each other’s point of view without necessarily having to agree with it. As Allah says in the noble Qur’an, “Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah and those who are with him are harsh towards the kuffar but kind and compassionate towards each other” (47:29).

Muslimedia: July 1-15, 1999

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