by Shama Qureshi (Islamic Movement, Crescent International Vol. 32, No. 9, Jumada' al-Ula', 1424)
Last month, Crescent International published the paper presented by Imam Muhammad al-Asi at the ICIT Seerah conference in Toronto on May 10. SHAMA QURESHI, a reader in the UK, is less than entirely convinced by his argument...
A great deal of what Imam Mohammed al-Asi has said in his paper presented at the Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought’s Seerah conference in Toronto in May (‘A straightforward Prophet yet a zigzagging Islamic movement’, Crescent International, June 1, 2003) is no doubt true enough, but his understanding of the Seerah of Rasool-Allah (saw) appears too simplistic in some regards.
It may be true that Rasool-Allah’s foreign policy in Madinah was directed ultimately towards the liberation of Makkah, but it is far from being all he was doing there. In modern terms, Rasool-Allah (saw) had social, familial and inter-tribal policies; he had ‘interfaith dialogues’ with Jews and Christians (in terms and on terms laid down by the Qur’an, and without compromise); and he had economic and financial policies, grounded ultimately on the ethical guidance of the Qur’an. He was doing all this before Makkah was liberated, without knowing when or in what circumstances that would eventually happen. Indeed, he was active in Madinah, doing everything that needed doing to establish Madinah as the first Islamic State, before Makkah even became the qibla of Islam, never mind being "liberated"; Makkah (or, to be precise, the Ka’aba) did not become the qibla ofsalah until about 17 months after the Hijra.
For eight years after the Hijra the Muslims consolidated themselves in Madinah, as individuals, as families and as a community, in accordance with the Qur’an’s hidayah (guidance), despite the fact that Makkah was in the hands of Quraish, and in the strangulation of rules, regulations and superstitions pertaining to idolatry. Likewise in Makkah before the Hijra, the Muslims had established themselves as an ummah and an ikhwah (brotherhood) without any territory at all apart from their own homes and Dar al-Arqam. They did this by freeing their thoughts, ideas, attitudes, feelings, habits, priorities, deeds and abstentions from the domination, colonisation and contamination of kufr, shirk, custom, worries about "what will other people say?" and so on; they did it by shaping their dealings with each other, their families, neighbours and trading-partners, non-Muslim and Muslim alike, according to the word and spirit of the Qur’an and the practical example of Rasool-Allah (saw), even with no territory to call their own except for the ground under their feet. They did it even before they had any inkling of where the future would take them, or of what would happen, or of what Allah would require of them, or of whether or they would ever be "free" or free of persecution.
Imam al-Asi suggests that "it should be clear by now to all observant Muslims that the liberation of occupied territories in all the corners of the earth can only be achieved after the liberation of Makkah." In fact, Yathrib (as Madinah was known before the Hijra) was liberated before Makkah, by Muslims who had liberated themselves of their un-Islamic culture, customs and attitudes. It seems to me that Rasool-Allah (saw) tried to liberate Makkah by liberating its rulers (the heads and other influential men of the clans of Quraish) until it became clear that it was impossible to liberate Makkah in that way. Then he was willing to go wherever Allah ta’ala sent him, and liberate some other land or lands as a preliminary to the liberation of Makkah. Makkah is indeed the centre of Islam and the Ummah, but not in the sense that we have to be tethered to it as a goat is tethered by a rope or a chain to a post in the ground. Islam is a universal deen: in principle it should be possible for us to live it, practise it and enjoin it anywhere, at any time, because "Allah’s are whatsoever is in the heavens and whatsoever is in the earth" (Q. 2:284, 3:109, 4:126 and many other ayaat).
Surely it is not acceptable that we should so particularise the deen that it becomes a geographically bound and limited phenomenon. Yes, Makkah, the Ka’aba and their environs (Safa, Marwa, Arafat, Muzdalifa, the miqats etc.) are the stage of the Hajj and ‘umrah: but they are primarily the qibla from any distance away. The primacy of Makkah’s being the qibla of salah over its being the venue of Hajj is suggested by the fact that salah is for all Muslims, all the time, whereas Hajj is only fard (obligatory) upon those who can afford it. Makkah is the qibla of all Muslims, and it is clear that Makkah can be the qibla of our salah and other sujud regardless of our physical distance from it, and regardless of its own political status; remember, Rasool-Allah (saw) and the Companions (ra) offered salah facing a non-liberated Makkah for about seven years.
So, in fact, Rasool-Allah (saw) and his Companions (ra) were willing and able to live fully Muslim lives anywhere, giving up their homelands and kindred if necessary to go any distance in the wholehearted service of God (Sayyidina Salman ra, for instance, came to Yathrib, several years before the Hijra, all the way from a village near Isfahan, Iran, looking for a truth and a cause to cleave to). Their real victory was that they liberated themselves, their families and their societies from the dhulumat of unIslamic ideas, attitudes, feelings, customs: Makkah, the Hijaz and all the other lands that came into the Muslims’ hands did so as a natural consequence of their winning their fight against themselves, and against the shayatin and the taghut of various sorts by which they were surrounded.
At the same time, the Muslims were willing to go any distance in the service of Allah and the Qur’an, and come back to their homelands if the opportunity offered (and if they could do so without compromise); but they were also willing not to return to Makkah in their lives if that proved necessary, as it did for those muhajiroon who died or were martyred between their hijraand the liberation of Makkah. If Allah (swt) had so willed, their grandchildren or great-grandchildren could have been the first to liberate Makkah physically, though an element of its liberation was achieved when Allah declared it the qibla of salah, and another was achieved at Hudaybiyyah when, for the first time since the Hijra, the state of effective war between Makkah and Madinah ceased.
Although Makkah and the Ka’aba were liberated eight years after the Hijra, and from then on there was free traffic between Makkah and Madinah, Makkah was never again "the base of Islamic authority", as Imam al-Asi put it. After the "liberation" of Makkah, Rasool-Allah (saw) returned to Madinah and remained there. He continued to use it as his permanent base and his home until he died and, following his example, the khulafa’ al-rashideen did likewise: none of them ever used Makkah as the capital of the expanding Islamic state/territory. Even the later khulafa’ of the era ofmulukiyyah, when they moved the capital of Islam from Madinah, did not go to Makkah: they left the Peninsula altogether for more central and more convenient seats of authority because the territories of Islam were expanding steadily. Makkah remained the qibla and the venue of Hajj and ‘umrah, but was never the centre of political power.
As an aside we should note that in fact Makkah’s specialness or sacredness seems not to have saved it or its people from straying or almost straying, even after its liberation. According to Abu ‘Ubaydah bin al-Jarrah (ra) and some other rawis (narrators, ie. sources), after the news of the death of Rasool-Allah (saw) became known in Makkah many of its people were tempted to backslide from Islam, and some actually decided to do so. The situation was so volatile that Attaab bin Asid, governor of Makkah at the time, was in such fear that he went into hiding. It was Suhayl bin ‘Amr (ra), one of the negotiators of Quraish at Hudaybiyyah, who had accepted Islam after the liberation of Makkah, who controlled the situation and saved Makkah from this humiliation.
It may therefore be argued that, instead of the liberation of Makkah being a pre-requisite for that of other occupied territories, the liberation of other territories is necessary in practice, if not in principle, before the liberation of Makkah and its environs is even possible. As the Muslims of Iran liberated US-dominated, SAVAK-strangulated Pahlavi Iran, so Muslims elsewhere should be able to liberate their own societies and territories. Once various areas are controlled by Muslims in the light of the Qur’an and Seerah, the Muslims of those territories will (insha’Allah) be in a much better position to cooperate with each other and with Muslims in other lands for a military or economic (or both) assault on the rest of the "occupied territories" (including the Arabian peninsula), either simultaneously or one by one.
One advantage of this view of the possible future history of the Ummah is that it is very flexible. Iran happened to be the first Muslim country to burst its shackles by bringing about an Islamic Revolution and establishing an Islamic State (to put it in the modern parlance), but it could as well have been any other Muslim people that did so, instead. Similarly, it does not matter whether the next Islamic Revolution is in Malaysia, or in Sudan, or in Nigeria. Another advantage is that no part of the Ummah need be held back by lack of progress elsewhere: each Muslim people can return independently to the Qur’an and the Seerah for guidance and inspiration to deal with their particular local problems and difficulties. So the Muslims in Iran have set up the first Islamic State in the modern world, and made significant progress in developing and refining their model, despite lack of progress in this direction by Islamic movements elsewhere. This lack may have hindered them and made their task more difficult, but it has not prevented them from achieving whatever they are capable of achieving.
However, these are all large-scale plans, to be implemented by societies and Islamic movements. This means that they are also necessarily long-term plans, difficult to organise, initiate and complete in the short scales of individual human lives. The immediate question before us, therefore, especially before Muslims in the West, is what we can be doing as Muslim individuals and Muslim families, before or at the same time as all that is being planned, or is happening slowly, in the Muslim lands.
One factor that we can note is that in some ways the situation of Western Muslims and of Muslims in Muslim countries is alike: territorially in effect we all have only our homes and some of our mosques and community centres (the ones that are not controlled by governments) to work from as Muslims and Islamic activists. The situation of Muslims in Muslim countries is not qualitatively different from that of Muslims in the West in this regard; in all Muslim countries at the moment (except Islamic Iran) all political and military power, and almost all financial and economic power, is effectively in the hands of the enemies of Allah, Rasool-Allah (saw) and the Qur’an. This means that in some ways our situation is comparable to that of the Muslims in Makkah before the Hijra.
However, it must be clearly understood that there are also significant differences between our situation and the pre-Hijra situation of Muslims in Makkah. We have access to all of the Qur’an, and all of the Seerah and ahadith; ie. to all the experiences and history of the prototypical Qur’anic generation, whereas in Makkah before the Hijra the Muslims did not know in advance what the long-terms aims of Islam were, or what Allah and the Qur’an would require of them next year or next decade; they had committed themselves to obedience and submission without any detailed idea of the nature of the commands that would be laid on them, such was their trust in Allah (swt) and His Messenger (saw).
Unfortunately many Muslims (especially in the West) are tempted to take this limited similarity between our modern situation and the pre-Hijra situation as a licence to carry on doing what they are doing now: stand or sit back, get on with their lives, and do as little for Allah (swt), His Messenger (saw), the Qur’an and themselves as they imagine that the Muslims did in Makkah before the Hijra. This extremely naive and simplistic reading of the pre-Hijra Seerah and Sunnahmust be jettisoned if we are ever to get anywhere as an Ummah and an ikhwah; if we are to avoid being merely and only "froth upon the water", in the words of one famous hadith, for the foreseeable future. This ignorant, shortsighted and expedient reading of the Seerah has in the past been used to try to justify worldly, westernised, career-seeking, self-aggrandising lifestyles of Muslims both in the West and in Muslim countries.
This wilful self-deception must cease, whether we practise it as individuals or as families, neighbourhoods or larger communities. It is time for us to admit that, as we are now, we are a shame and disgrace to the Lord we claim to worship, to the Book we pretend to read, to the Messenger we half- or quarter-heartedly imitate and fail to follow truly, to the cause to which we barely pay lip-service; and that we, our families and our societies have been increasingly so for generations or centuries, so that now the situation has assumed crisis proportions.
We must remove the blinkers of complacency and self-satisfaction from our eyes and our ears, and go forward (not back) to the Qur’an, the ahadith, the Seerah and the Sunnah: in particular, we must re-read and re-examine the pre-Hijra Seerah and Sunnah of Rasool-Allah (saw) and his Companions (ra). We must realise and admit the thoroughness with which they took themselves apart, especially the very fibres (so to speak) of their brains, hearts, souls and consciences, and put themselves back together again in the light of the revelation from Allah and the practical example of His Messenger (saw), shedding all extraneous ideas, attitudes, influences, priorities and practices that did not sit easily with the usul (principles) and shari’ah (code of law, roughly) of the deen.
Only when we have done likewise, and acknowledged the totality of their commitment and allegiance to the absolute rightness of the Qur’an and of its bearer, and tried our true and real best to live up to them, will we be in any position to entertain a realistic hope that we or our future generations can produce the kind of leadership that will be capable of understanding issues clearly, of making plans and formulating effective policies, of inspiring our confidence and trust, of dealing firmly with our enemies and detractors, and eventually of leading us to liberate our own homelands and others from the dhulumat (darkness) in which we are at present again shrouded.
All this applies in particular to long-established Muslim societies that have taken on board, and fallen into the pitfall of defending as ‘Islamic’, many or most of the prejudices, attitudes, priorities, habits and customs of other peoples, be they the pre-Islamic Arabs, the Hindus of the Indian subcontinent, or the secular modernists of the West (to name but a few examples). It also applies (to a lesser extent) to Western converts, who occasionally, despite a commitment and singlemindedness that show the rest of us in a very poor light, occasionally bring Western ideas into their perception and practice of Islam.
Nor need this pre-Hijra process (so to speak) be as difficult as it seems at first sight. In a hadith qudsi related on the authority of Abu Hurayrah (ra) and recorded by the two Imams (rahmatu-Allahi alaihima) in the Sahihayn, Rasool-Allah (saw) reports that Allah says: "I am as My servant thinks that I am. [...] if he draws near to Me a hand’s span, I draw near to him an arm’s length; and if he draws near to Me an arm’s length, I draw near to him a fathom’s length. And if he comes to Me walking, I go to him at speed." So all we need to do, in essence, is to ask for and hope for with our whole selves, with all the acts and abstentions of every part of our bodies, not merely our tongues and lips, and insha’Allah we or our future generations must eventually be answered by Allah through the fruits of our deeds.