by Zafar Bangash (Opinion, Crescent International Vol. 51, No. 8, Rabi' al-Awwal, 1444)
Most Muslims have deep love for the noble Messenger (pbuh). If someone insults his honour, they take great offence. This explains why Muslims were so deeply upset at the insulting Danish cartoons (2005) or Salman Rushdie’s blasphemous book, The Satanic Verses (1988).
In the month of Rabi al-Awwal (this month), Muslims organize Milad (Mawlid) programs to celebrate his birthday. Speeches highlighting his noble personality are delivered and nasheeds recited in his honour. Muslims, however, must develop a better understanding of the Seerah of the noble Messenger (pbuh), beyond mere celebrations.
He (pbuh) was sent not only to inform but also to transform humanity by bringing it “out of darkness into light” (65:11). The Seerah of the noble Messenger should not be reduced to a few anecdotes about his life, or some rituals. That the Seerah is central to the very ethos of Muslim life needs to be properly understood. It must be looked at in its broader context as a process of transformation.
In the Qur’an, Allah (swt) tells us that the Messenger has the most-lofty character (68:04) and that he is a model for us to emulate (33:21). Allah’s love for us is conditional upon our obedience to the noble Messenger (3:31). In another ayah, the Qur’an states: “When you obey the Messenger, it is as if you have obeyed Allah” (4:80). Obedience of the noble Messenger must be understood beyond the aspects of tahara and najasa.
The message of Islam was proclaimed in Makkah in this simple but powerful declaration: La ilaha il-Allah, Muhammadan Rasool-Allah (There is no deity except Allah, and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah). This was an ideological challenge to the idol-ridden society of Makkah. The powerful clan chiefs immediately understood its true import, hence their extreme hostility to it.
An ideological challenge of necessity creates division in society. Islam stands for justice against injustice, and with the oppressed against the oppressors. Those with power and wealth will react negatively, often violently to such a call.
This is precisely what happened in Makkah, resulting first in ridicule and then oppression and torture. Some, like Summaya and Yasir were tortured to death; others were forced into exile in Abyssinia.
Islam also divided the Makkan society straight down the middle. Its message was accepted by the downtrodden but also by the children of the elite. Its call for equality resonated with many of the youth of Makkah including such figures as Um Habiba (daughter of Abu Sufyan) and Musayb ibn Umayr of the powerful Abd ad-Dar clan.
During the Prophet’s time, Arabia was steeped in jahiliyyah (a system based on ignorance and primitive savagery). Idol-worship was the basis of religious, social and cultural life. People believed in Allah, but they also associated partners with Him. Injustice, oppression, tribal arrogance (and tribal warfare borne of such arrogance), female infanticide and slavery were common practices in the Arabian society of the time.
When ridicule, oppression and torture failed to break the Muslims’ attachment to Islam, they came with offers of enticement to the Prophet (pbuh). In one particular episode, the Makkan chiefs told the Prophet’s uncle Abu Talib that they were willing to make a deal. One year, the Makkan chiefs would worship only Allah, and the following year, everyone would worship the idols in the Ka‘aba. Before the Prophet (pbuh) could respond to them, the divine rejection of this offer came from on high (Surah al-Kafirun: ).
There is another point that needs our attention. In Makkah, the Prophet (pbuh) never once asked to be given the opportunity to speak at Dar an-Nadwa, the assembly of Makkan chiefs, to present his case. Instead, he established Dar al-Arqam, a separate meeting place of Muslims to teach Islam to his followers.
Today, unfortunately many Muslims beg for an opportunity to speak at the forums of their oppressors to convince them of their peaceful intentions and to pledge loyalty. These holier-than-the-Prophet Muslims fail to understand the true meaning of Islam.
Since dhulm borne of kufr and shirk has become globalized, distinction between Haqq (truth) and Batil (falsehood) has been muddled. Not surprisingly, such notions as nationalism—a glorified form of tribalism—acquisition of wealth by any means, and exploitation of the weak and poor have become the norm inflicting immense suffering on Muslims.
Far from bringing about the “total transformation” of their societies, Muslims have compromised with dhulm and other forms of oppression. This is a major failure in our understanding of the Prophetic Sunnah and Seerah.
The noble Messenger (pbuh) faced many challenges throughout his life to establish social justice in society. This meant confronting and eliminating oppression and tyranny. This was done within the framework of the Islamic State that he (pbuh) established first in Madinah and then spread to the entire Arabian Peninsula during his lifetime. Muslims must appreciate the larger significance of the Seerah and how the Prophet (pbuh) dealt with issues of state and politics.
The Prophet (pbuh) faced both internal and external enemies. Internally, there were the mushrik chiefs of Makkah and later, the Yahudi tribes in Madinah. Externally, he faced the Roman and Persian empires. How he dealt with them offer important lessons for the struggle to transform Muslim societies today.
With the sole exception of the Islamic Republic of Iran, other Muslim countries are governed by western-imposed systems and laws. Not surprisingly, they remain subservient to kufr. Most Muslim rulers are also munafiqs (hypocrites and dual loyalists) whose aim is not to serve their people but to stay in power. They indulge in theft of state resources on a grand scale and perpetrate every kind of injustice and oppression in society.
When the Prophet (pbuh) established the Islamic state in Madinah, he did not borrow any ideas or laws from the superpowers of his time. Nor did he incorporate the Jahili practices of Makkah into the lives of people in the Islamic State. It was a clean break with the past that was based on injustice and exploitation. There could be no compromise with it.
It is by understanding and applying the Prophetic method that Muslims can reassert these standards. Only then will Islamic social order be re-established as the natural habitat of Muslims, indeed for all humanity.
If Muslims are sincere in their love of the Prophet (pbuh), then they must realize that salvation lies not in chasing such alien notions as the “national interest”, or through fraudulent elections among corrupt elites, all of whom are subservient to the power of kufr. The first task must be to understand and then follow the Seerah of the noble Messenger (pbuh) by overthrowing the jahili system that has taken root in Muslim societies.
Breaking the stranglehold of kufr will also require identifying its agents in Muslim societies. It is time for leaders of Islamic movements to show clarity of thought and demonstrate through their own example that they are aware of their responsibilities. Only then can they be considered faithful followers of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh).