This paper was first presented by Imam Muhammad al-Asi at the Kalim Siddiqui Memorial Seminar in London in October 1998. It was then published in: The Seerah: A Power Perspective by Imam Muhammad al-Asi and Zafar Bangash, The Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought, Toronto, London, 2000.
In the contemporary age, it has become undesirable, or even offensive, to speak about religion and power together. How dare any ‘broad-minded’, ‘civilized’ and ‘moral’ person associate religion with power! Religion is the superlative transcendence of mundane and earthly affairs that tarnish the ‘spiritual’ character of a ‘believer’. ‘Power’, on the other hand, is the instrument that despoils otherwise decent and upright individuals. Power is the scourge that overtakes people in positions of responsibility and renders them mean and despotic. A fundamental dictum of politics is that ‘power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.’ There is a mean-spirited approach to power in western civilization because of the inability of those who have power to use it with moral control and discipline. Thus common characterizations of power are almost invariably negative: ‘Power is poison’; ‘[power is] the most constant and the most active of all the causes which degrade and demoralize man’; ‘Accomplishment, aided and abetted by money’; The god of the one who accepts only himself’; and the ‘gradual stealing away from the many to the few, because the few are more vigilant and consistent’.
Major thinkers of the west have been similarly negative: “Political power is… the organized power of one class to oppress another” (Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels); “Power is not a means, it is an end (George Orwell); “Unbridled ambition for domination” (Pope Pius XI); “…a drug, the desire for which increases with the habit” (Bertrand Russell).
This, then, is the mainstream mentality of western civilization that has separated ‘church’ from ‘state’. It would be fair to think of this separation on other levels. The social separation of church from state is one aspect of the psychological separation of conscience from labour. In the political sense it is a separation of truth from the decision-making process. Economically, it is the separation of justice from the distribution of wealth. Militarily it is the separation of morality from power. This whole ‘separation’ mess is usually referred to as secularism or the rejection of ‘mixing religion with politics.’ This is also a muddle peculiar to the history of Europe and the particular schism between ‘religion’ and ‘science’ which ultimately turned the social forces of Europe against the Church and glorified science (man’s idealization of his thoughts) to an extreme that resulted in secularism becoming man’s new religion. This secular religion or the European imperialist establishment eventually conquered the thought-processes of Muslims during the centuries of military and cultural colonialism. Now the Muslim world is plagued with elites whose rituals are Islamic and whose ‘ideologies’ are secular.
This is a process which has to be reversed, but it will take time and effort. The starting point of this reversal, however, is clear: the realization of the central position that power occupies in the divine program for human life on earth; i.e., in the Qur’an, Islam, and the Seerah of the final Messenger of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala.
There are certain words and expressions that are in regular use but their meanings are obfuscated. Let us identify some of them: Power, Authority and Legitimacy. We need to define them based on the western understanding and compare them to the meanings imparted by Islam.
Power: The ability in politics to control or change the behaviour of human beings. Some political analysts link influence and force with power, whereas others regard them as distinct techniques employed alongside or instead of power. Power can be classified as political, economic, social or military. Power can also be viewed as a means, an end, or both; and as actual or potential. As a practical matter, A can be said to exercise power over B if A can get B to do something that B would otherwise not do. Although a number of means exist for exercising power – persuasion, friendship, propaganda, gifts, grants, ideology, moral suasion, and public opinion, for example – ultimately one may have to use force. A resort to aggravated force (violence) may be viewed as resulting from the bankruptcy of political power. In international affairs, actions related to the ‘national interest’ are almost always deeply involved in power politics. Thus, power politics is universally utilized in the foreign policy actions undertaken by states. The exercise of political power typically involves a psychological relationship between the elites who wield it and those who are influenced or controlled by it.
Power is one of the most widely-used organizing concepts in the discipline of political science. Power can be used in the political arena in the allocation of values or to determine who gets what, when, and how. In the field of international relations, power is often used as a central organizing concept to show how and why decisions are made and actions undertaken. From a normative perspective, power is often regarded as a great evil when it is exercised by one’s opponents and as the greatest good when used to achieve the goals of national interest of one’s own state. In government, decision-making is rarely based on a rational process. Most decisions reflect the power and influence of those individuals and groups most directly affected by them. Some scholars and ideologues have regarded political and military power as subservient to the dictates of an economic class or elite. Although vague and elusive, the concept of power remains the key analytical tool for understanding the operations of government and the nature of modern society.
Authority: Closely associated with the instrument of power is the element of authority, which can be defined as power and influence based on legitimacy. Authority involves the acceptance by others of someone’s or some groups’ right to rule, to issue commands, to make rules, and to demand compliance with them. If an individual or group recognizes and accepts another’s control and direction, the latter functions in a legitimate or rightful capacity and exercises authority over the former. The relationship between them is based on psychological factors and moral imperatives, not necessarily on physical coercion or the threat of force. In a ‘democratic’ political system, authority serves to keep the competition for power and influence restrained and peaceful. Those who voted for losing candidates and parties usually accept the verdict of the majority because the election provides legitimacy and bestows authority upon the winners. Scholars who have studied the concept of authority have determined that, historically, its main sources are tradition and custom, law, and the charismatic personalities of leaders.
Authority is the means by which political systems function effectively. This occurs because the ruled accept their rulers, and recognize their right to rule. Some dictatorial leaders, such as Mustafa Kemal, ‘Abd al-Nasir, and Reza Shah, exercised virtually absolute power but at the same time sought to increase their authority in order to reduce the necessity of using force and the threat of force. Typically, myths are constructed to convince the masses of the ‘rightful’ nature of the power exercised over them. Early legitimacy-contests involved the myth of the divine right of kings, which provided authority for the monarchs of Europe, and the contract theory that involved a transfer of authority from the people to their constitutional rulers. Whenever the legitimacy and authority of rulers are widely questioned, the potential for revolution and civil war exists. During the colonial era, the authority of rulers was absolute, but once the colonial peoples rejected this authority, legitimacy and authority were shifted to the independence movements and new rulers.
Legitimacy: Legitimacy is based on the conversion of the exercise of political power or the assumption of a political position into a situation of ‘rightful’ authority. Within the nation-state heritage of Euro-American political systems, legitimacy means that the people accept the government and the role of the rulers in exercising power. Election victories thus assign power and create legitimacy. In foreign policy, legitimacy means that other countries recognize the existence of the state and accept the government in power as the sovereign authority of the nation-state. Although law functions as a legitimating device, social acceptance is needed if law is to reinforce the authority of the law-makers and law-enforcers.
Legitimacy is the sine qua non (indispensable condition or essential element) for effective government and the maintenance of political order. In the new Islamic political order in Iran, popular endorsement of the government as preferable to the previous secular or kafir regime provides legitimacy despite foreign-imposed predicaments – war, economic sanctions, trade barriers, and propaganda campaign. Iran’s success against the imposed war (from its western border), its determination to maintain genuine independence, and the Ummah’s recognition increased the general and popular Muslim sense that the imposed war and machinations against Iran were illegitimate. The refusal of the United States for the past two decades to recognize the Iranian model of Islamic authority as ‘legitimate’ has evolved into a Cold War attitude against ‘political Islam’. Worldwide, US-led and Zionist-instigated efforts to undermine the Islamic political reinstatement in Iran, by declaring all-out sanctions against it, coupled with unconditional support for Zionist ‘illegitimacy’, are provoking hostility against the US in theUmmah.
In the framework established by these definitions, it is now possible to look at the Seerah of the Prophet, upon whom be peace (pbuh), and consider some of his decision, tactics, and strategies. Once his initial Islamic movement is placed in a power perspective, we will have a better understanding of how to go about building and sustaining a contemporary Islamic order, complete with its power elements, in decision-making and policy-formulation. Otherwise the Ummah will remain in intellectual stagnation, firing ideological accusations and counter-accusations at each other without any understanding of the moral, Islamic elements of the Prophet’s pursuit of power. This serious flaw in contemporary Islamic political consciousness has made it impossible so far for a genuine consensus among all the wings and segments of this contemporary Islamic movement.
Overcoming this stagnation, and developing an Islamic political framework which will enable us to exercise legitimate power in the world, requires that we go beyond the simple chronologies and records of events that are found in most if not all of the Seerah books that we have. It is amazing to realize that none of these Seerah books has approached the epic decisions of the Prophet, upon whom be peace, from a power perspective.
Before we reach the power-base of the committed Muslims in Madinah, where they arrived after thirteen arduous years, we should examine the Islamic struggle for authority in Makkah during those thirteen years, during which the Muslims – from the Prophet, upon whom be peace, down to the latest newcomer – had little or no physical or political power.
The initial building block in the movement of Islam is the element of legitimacy. This concept has been scored out of the contemporary political consciousness of current Islamic activists by the flowery language of the fuqaha, who dislocated the concept by misappropriating the word ‘shari‘ah’ for it. We would move closer to the fact if we could activate the Qur’anic word haqq. If we take a fresh look at the ayaat in the Qur’an that bestowed divine legitimacy upon the Prophet, upon whom be peace, we will realize that the first critical step towards the ultimate acquisition of military or physical power is the initial possession of popular legitimacy. Let us reconsider some of the meanings of the Qur’an in light of this.
“Verily, We have sent you [O Prophet] with legitimacy, as a bearer of good news and as a warner.” (2:119)
“How would Allah bestow His guidance upon people who have resolved to deny the truth after having attained to faith, and having borne witness that this Apostle is legitimate?” (3:86)
“O Mankind! The Apostle has now come unto you with legitimacy from your Sustainer…” (4:170)
“Indeed, our Sustainer’s Apostles have come to us with the legitimating truth…” (7:43)
“He it is who has sent forth His Apostle with the [task of spreading] guidance and the deen of legitimacy…” (9:33)
“…and all will be brought back unto Allah, their legitimate Lord supreme, and all their false imagery will have forsaken them.” (10:30)
“And some people ask you… ‘Is all this legitimate?’ Say: ‘Yes, by my Sustainer! It is most certainly legitimate, and you cannot elude [the final reckoning]’.” (10:53)
“…whereas Allah legitimizes the truth with His words, however hateful this may be to those who are villains.”(10:82)
These are just a few of the many ayaat in the Qur’an; there are too many others to cite all of them here. Suffice it to say that the Prophet’s legitimacy was established by Allah, the Sovereign of the universe and the Fashioner of reality. Thus there is no doubt about the legitimacy of the responsibility that was communicated to Muhammad, upon whom be peace, from Allah subhanahu ta‘ala, and from then and there to all of us here and now. In this human-to-divine relationship there is no question about whether or not the Qur’an and Islam are valid concepts and programs for humanity and the human condition. In this initial step, unlike western civilization’s groping around for some form of legitimacy (from the divine right of kings to the popular will), the very fact that the Qur’an and Islam are decidedly and definitely from Allah establishes their legitimacy. No amount of popular sentiment, will, or suffrage can ever diminish or invalidate this legitimacy. The Prophet, upon whom be peace, was convinced of this fact. He knew that this Scripture became his responsibility. But what is that responsibility? Was it enough to listen to Allah’s words and memorize them? O is there another step forward in this process? Was this legitimate message from Allah purely for the purpose of satisfying philosophical inquiries, or was there a more practical imperative in this legitimate message than just listening to revelation and then passing it on to others?
This leads us to the second phase of building an Islamic reality and order on earth: the phase of social authority. The exercise of this authority depends on a population base that is committed to the legitimacy of the Qur’an and the Prophet, upon whom be peace, as the supreme, divinely-guided authority on matters of society and state in this world (beside, of course, in the akhirah). It is at this level – the level of authority – that the Prophet, upon whom be peace, spent most of his years of Qur’anic reception in Makkah trying to consolidate.
The Prophet, upon whom be peace, did not jump from legitimacy to power. He knew that what he had was legitimate; he also knew that what he needed was power. But he also knew that what is required between an unflinching belief in the legitimacy of Scripture and the necessary acquisition of power was a base of committed Muslims who would become the supporters of his authority and the actualisers of power. It was primarily in the arena of power that ideological conflict flared up in Makkah between the partisans of the Prophet, upon whom be peace, and the mushriks, who realized that Allah’s all-encompassing and all-inclusive message could not tolerate rivals to Allah’s dominance. It may be significant to note that the first adherents to the Prophet’s authority, and the founding members of the Islamic world order, were by and large individuals who were powerless in the climate of their materialistic times: Khadijah bint Khuwalid (a woman), ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib (a young boy), Zayd ibn Harithah (a slave). From this point of view, da‘wah is a form of gaining authority as a preliminary to gaining power, not theda‘wah of today’s zealots who go here and there for a week or a few months to speak about Islamic rituals without realizing that this is merely a means of consolidating the authority of the Qur’an and the Prophet in preparation for the assumption of full power, responsible power, and moral power. This element of Islam, which many Muslims today fail to recognize, was clearly understood by the mushrikeen of Makkah; hence their categorical opposition to the Prophet, upon whom be peace.
Under these circumstances – when the Prophet, upon whom be peace, was realigning the allegiance of people and in the process consolidating his authority – social and psychological pressures were brought to bear by the Makkan establishment on Muhammad, upon whom be peace, and his companions. As the Makkan mushriksstepped up their pressure tactics with every conceivable form of persecution and torture, the Prophet was looking for another place where his divine authority would not be challenged, and where he and his companions could lay the foundations for the power they needed for protection, for freedom, and for defying all attempts at injustice. He first sought this out in the land of Habashah where the Najashi (Negus) ruled. He even had some pioneering Muslims leave Makkah and go to Africa in the hope of finding a favorable atmosphere, free of persecution and open to the authoritative word of Allah. But the Makkan autocrats were aware of this probability and they sent a delegation to dissuade the Negus from offering the Muslim asylum-seekers any type of freedom that would make it possible for them to consolidate popular allegiance with Prophetic authority.
The mushriks of Makkah could see it all happen: Muhammad, upon whom be peace, with his impeccable character, had broken the news of a “legitimate Scripture” he had received and was receiving periodically from Allah; then his efforts to win the hearts and minds of people over to this divine authority, and then – the realization of their worst fear – Muhammad, upon whom be peace, gains power, deconstructs the political traditions of the ruling elites, dismantles the corrupt status quo, tears down the barriers of inequality and iniquity, and begins to exercise his power to build a society, a state, and a sphere of influence unlike anything that would serve the vested interests of the Quraysh in Makkah. The Prophet had to resist their attempts to suborn him, not least by using his uncle to influence him, and he and his co-workers had to endure an economic boycott that had them relocate beyond the immediate vicinity of Makkah, to the shi‘ab (ravines) of Abu Talib. They spent three years thus excommunicated by the hierarchy of Makkah. These authority-seeking Muslims endured all, persevered, and finally the Makkan compact against them (the sahifah) was revoked, and the Muslims returned to their original task: seeking the social component of the Prophet’s authority, popular recognition.
The Makkan establishment was vicious in its opposition to the Muslims’ attempts to spread the Prophet’s authority. As the Makkan mushriks stepped up their pressure tactics, and turned the economic screws against the Prophet and his followers about ten years into this Makkan ordeal, the Prophet, upon whom be peace, had to endure what is called in Islamic history ‘the Year of Grief’ (‘am al-huzn). During this year, the Prophet’s wife Khadijah passed away, as did his uncle Abu Talib. These had been the closest supporters and protectors (in their own ways) of the Prophet and – by extension – of his mission.
And still he did not lose sight of his objective. He was clear in his strategy. He looked for another place where he could establish his authority. He had reason to believe that the urban centre of Ta’if might offer him the freedom and protection that he needed to integrate the popular allegiance with Allah’s commands through his authority. But then he was turned down and, perhaps for the first time in his Prophetic career, felt despair and the cumulative effects of those long preceding years. He at this point voiced his famous du‘a:
O Allah! To You I complain of the helplessness of my power and the lack of my resources, and how I have become so openly vulnerable. O Most Merciful of all! You are my Sustainer and You are the Sustainer of the powerless; to whom do you deliver me? To a stranger who shuns me, or to an enemy who is in control of my affairs? If you are not angry with me, I do not mind [these developments]; but Your privilege accommodates me better. I seek the refuge of Your dignity for which this world and the next radiate with amiability and reconciliation: do not burden us with Your wrath or visit us with Your anger. We beseech You until expiation. And there is no ability nor power except that which is Yours.
The next major event after this ‘reversal of fortunes’, as the Prophet was trying to consolidate authority, was his practical insight into the other dominion: ‘the kingdom of God.” When it seemed as if Allah’s legitimacy was being baulked by earthly establishments of authority and power, when there seemed to be no other place to go (the attempts at Habashah and al-Ta’if were ‘power failures’), when there was ‘no light at the end of this long tunnel’, Allah transferred the human Muhammad (saws) from within humanity’s errant authorities and oppressive powers to the heavenly order of divine authority and merciful power. This event is known in Islamic history as al-Isra’ wa al-Mi‘raj (the night journey and ascension). This is the subject of much unnecessary debate in our books ofSeerah, crammed with arguments about whether this journey was taken only by soul or whether it was by both body and soul. It would be more relevant to consider whether this journey was made while the Prophet enjoyed ‘legitimacy’ only or whether it took place when the Prophet had both ‘legitimacy’ and some degree of ‘authority’.
This was a journey from a world lacking Allah’s authority in the sphere of man’s collective decision-making processes to a world glowing with Allah’s authority. After the Prophet’s return to earth, the affairs of men began to open for him. It was after this miraculous transcendence, from unreliable worldly authorities that had polluted human relations, to Allah’s heavenly authority where Muhammad, peace be upon him, was privy to Allah’s order, kingdom, and dispensation in the infinite and eternal meaning of things, that the human condition on earth began to realign in favor of Muhammad’s (saws) authority. After the Prophet’s return from this miraculous journey his message began to find favorable responses throughout the Arabian Peninsula; word of his teachings of Islam’s ideological communiqué spread far and wide.
Tufail ibn ‘Amr came to Makkah, sought out the Prophet, spoke with him, expressed his allegiance, then went back to his power-base (Banu Daus) and enlisted them into the Islamic leadership of Muhammad, peace me upon him. That was followed by Abu Dharr of Banu Ghifar declaring his Islamic allegiance. Then a delegation of Christians came from Najran, in southern Arabia, to have a “high profile” discussion with the Apostle of Allah, peace be upon him. The Prophet also discussed Islamic allegiance and authority with the tribes and power-factions that came to Makkah during the Hajj time of year. Groups of people from different parts of the peninsula began to express their desire to join the Islamic community. Word of Muhammad’s (saws) authoritative and divine message reached the Arabian clans and tribes who were on the frontiers with Persia and Byzantium. At last, significant numbers of people were showing interest in this new, divinely-ordained formula for social order.
It was in this context that Muhammad (saws) met with representatives of al-Aws and al-Khazraj. This developed into further communication between the Prophet and the people of Yathrib (later to become Madinah al-Nabi with the Prophet’s arrival there). The Aws and Khazraj expressed their willingness to support the Prophet’s new order and become loyal Muslims. Then there was Bay‘at al-‘Aqabah al-Ula (the first ‘Aqabah Pledge), referred to in some sources as the First Pledge and in others as the First ‘Aqabah. Mus‘ab ibn ‘Umair was sent by the Prophet to teach these new allies (who were to become known as the Ansar) the essentials of an Islamic life and commitment.
It should be noted here that the first salat al-jumu‘ah (Friday congregational assembly) was held in Madinah when it became the first centre of Islamic authority. When Madinah was finally declared a social entity based on Islamic legitimacy and authority, the legitimacy of Scripture combined with the authority from Allah and His believers; when the Prophet of Allah relocated to Madinah, the Muslims had achieved the first Islamic state, result of the Prophet’s relentless and tireless struggle.
The crucial step – the climax when legitimacy and authority meet – is in the act of bay‘ah (pledge of allegiance). The hopes and fears of many years came to rest at that moment when the public conscience recognized the legitimacy of the Islamic social order, accepted the authority of the Prophet in that order, and expressed all this by their bay‘ah:
“Behold, all who pledge their allegiance to you [O Prophet] pledge their allegiance to Allah: the hand [control] of Allah is over their hands…” (48:10)
“Indeed, well-pleased was Allah with the believers when they pledged their allegiance unto you [O Muhammad] under that tree, for He knew what was in their hearts, and so He bestowed inner peace upon them from on high, and rewarded them with [the good news of] a victory soon to come and [of] many war-gains which they would achieve: for Allah is indeed Almighty, Wise.” (48:18)
As Muhammad (saws) was able to anchor Islamic authority in Madinah, the Qurayshi establishment in Makkah was upset with this breakthrough. Once the Makkan magnates realized that Muhammad (saws) had secured a base in Madinah, they put aside their differences and plotted to assassinate this political and military threat. It was the decision of the power-brokers of Makkah finally to eliminate Muhammad (saws) that led to his own relocation to the new Islamic base in Yathrib, hence the Hijrah.
When Muhammad, upon whom be peace, arrived in Yathrib – henceforth called Madinah al-Nabi, or just Madinah – the elements of a fully-fledged Islamic state had finally merged: legitimacy, authority and power. From this point on, the hitherto dispersed Muslims had a state that could wield the type of power necessary for their survival and protection. No longer were they stateless and defenceless individuals whose political and ideological aspirations, with all their divine origins and inspirations, were susceptible and vulnerable to the host of enemies hell-bent on denying Muslims an expression beyond rituals. It is this process that has to be repeated by the Islamic movement of our time. From the moment an Islamic state comes into existence, the corrupt powers will find every excuse to make war on the newly-acquired Islamic entity. Any divine system that stands for justice will become a target of systems that stand for limited national interests, the freedom of the market to generate concentrated wealth at the expense of millions, and millions in poverty and need. The world-order of kufr knows the meaning of such words of the Qur’an as:
“Behold, Allah bids you to deliver all that you have been entrusted with unto those who are entitled thereto, and whenever you rule between people, to rule with justice. Verily, most excellent is what Allah exhorts you to do; verily, Allah is all-hearing, all-seeing!” (4:58)
“Behold, We have bestowed upon you from on high this divine writ, setting forth the truth, so that you may rule between people in accordance with what Allah has taught you. Hence, do not contend with those who are false to their trust.” (4:105)
“Say: ‘Indeed, I take my stand on a clear-evidence from my Sustainer – and [so] it is to Him that you are giving the lie! Not in my power is that which [in your ignorance] you so hastily demand: discretion rests with none but Allah. He shall declare the truth, since it is He who is the best judge between truth and falsehood.’” (6:57)
“All that you conform to the exclusion of Allah is nothing but [empty] names which you have invented – you and your ancestors – [and] for which Allah has bestowed no warrant from on high. The standard [of what is right and what is wrong] rests with Allah alone – [and] He has ordained that you should conform to none but Him: this is the [one] ever-true deen, but most people know it not.” (12:40)
The facts of life and of history are that once a legitimate Islamic authority comes into being, expressed by the instruments of an Islamic government and statehood (not the nation-state model of ethnic and race origins), hostile powers come out against this development. That is why the Seerah of the Prophet, upon whom be peace, ever since the realization of an Islamic state authority in Madinah, is inspirational with its use of power. From that day on military campaigns became a permanent fixture of the Islamic state.
When power is a fact of Muslim life, many previously unnoticed dimensions of human nature begin to surface. When Muslims were powerless, stateless, and virtually homeless no one cared what type of qibla they had. The Muslims had been turning towards al-Quds (Jerusalem). But when they gained power in Madinah, the people who could not care less about Muslims, particularly the Yahud, began to show their hostility and hatred of Muslims on an unprecedented level; all because Muslims now had the power that follows from legitimacy and authority. So then the true characters of otherwise seemingly benign individuals and groups came to the fore.
After the acquisition of power in Madinah, the Muslims had to endure a decade, a century, and now almost a millennium and a half, of wars and hostilities from all sides. Even now, when Muslims do not have a unified and integrated state central to their collective decision-making, there are more wars in the Muslim world than in any other. Badr and Uhud, al-Yarmuk, Hittin, Ayn Jalut are all the consequences of Muslims having power and exercising that power within divine definitions and with appreciable responsibility. Jihad is an all-out struggle on many fronts in the life of Muslims. But the only public definition of jihad is that aspect that has to do with power. Ask yourself why such a concept as jihad, with all its subtle shades of meaning, is limited in the public mind to the purely military sense?
The Islamic movement in our time and age is required to emulate the example set by the Prophet, may Allah’s peace and blessings me upon him. It needs neither legitimacy nor recognition from institutions, international organizations, nation-states, the United Nations, NATO, nor any other set up that draws on power for its own ‘legitimacy.’ The Islamic movement, with all its wings and branches, should understand that its legitimacy comes from Allah because its purpose comes from Allah. Unlike political parties with their political platforms and agendas who try to draw legitimacy from ‘elections’ and the ‘electoral process’, or others who claim legitimacy as some type of inherited right, the legitimacy of the Islamic movement comes from Allah and there can be no doubt about it; Period!
The legitimacy, however, is not enough in and of itself. It requires and demands authority. And, as we have seen above, the Seerah of Rasul-Allah is one of anchoring into Muslim public life the authority of Allah with the recognition of humans. Most of Muhammad’s (saws) Prophetic years (13 out of 23) were spent on actualizing this authority. And this was not done by half measures, or by working through the prevalent systems by joining the existing political parties and orders; it was done by exposing the corruption of illegitimate systems and expressing the legitimacy and validity of Allah’s system (deen). If we were to look at the Prophet’s political conduct in terms of our language today, we would say that the Prophet was in the political opposition in his day. He worked with the people against the immoral and dishonest system. He opposed it not by working through it; he opposed it by working from outside it. It was not easy; and no one says it will be easy now. But it is the only way for the Islamic movement.
It is pitiful to compare these vibrant meanings of the initial Islamic movement with the concessionary and defensive approach of some ‘well-meaning’ segments of today’s broad and growing Islamic movement. Da‘wahand tabligh nowadays carry no connotation of legitimacy, authority, or power. Key Islamic concepts have been deleted, not from the Muslim vocabulary but from the Muslim mind. Power is not evil: power is neutral. It is the human characters who control or disperse power that make it either good or bad. The committed Islamic movement has to come to terms with this aspect of the Seerah. In this respect, the late Dr Kalim Siddiqui was light-years ahead of many dedicated Muslims who, for all their attempts to rejuvenate the Sunnah and Seerah, still have not come to terms with this core issue.
We will conclude with some of Allah’s words about power as food for thought:
“If they who are bent on offense could but see – as see they will when they are made to suffer [on Resurrection Day] – that all power belongs to Allah alone, and that Allah is severe in [meting out] punishment!” (2:165)
“Say unto them: ‘[You are] like those [hypocrites] who lived before your time. Greater than you were they in power, and richer in wealth and in children; and they enjoyed their share [of happiness]. And you have been enjoying your share – just as those who preceded you enjoyed their share; and you have been indulging in scurrilous talk – just as they indulged in it. It is they whose works have come to naught in this world and in the life to come – and it is they, they who are the lost!” (9:69)
“Hence, O my people, ask your Sustainer to forgive you your sins, and then turn towards Him in repentance – [whereupon] He will shower upon you heavenly blessings abundant and will add power to your power; only do not turn away [from me] as people lost in sin!” (11:52)
“…Alas, if you had but said, on entering your garden, ‘whatever Allah wills [shall come to pass, for] there is no power save with Allah!’…” (18:39)
“Now as for [the society of] ‘Ad, they walked arrogantly on earth, [offending] against all right and saying, ‘Who could have a power greater than ours?’ Were they then not aware that Allah, who created them, has a power greater than theirs?” (41:15)
“And how many a society of greater power than this your society which has driven you out, O Muhammad, have We destroyed, with none to support them!” (47:13)
“For verily, Allah Himself is the Provider of all sustenance, the Lord of all power, the Eternal.” (51:58)
“Behold, this [divine writ] is indeed the [inspired] word of a noble apostle, with power endowed, secure with Him who in almightiness is enthroned, [the word] of one to be heeded, and worthy of trust!” (81:19-21)
“Hence muster against them whatever force [power] and war mounts you are able to summon, so that you might deter thereby the enemies of Allah, who are your enemies as well, and others besides them of whom you may be unaware, [but] of whom Allah is aware…”(8:60)
“And Allah will most certainly support him who supports His cause, for verily Allah is most powerful, almighty.”(22:40).