by Zafar Bangash
Every book is written for a purpose and with a specific audience in mind. Most books are also sponsored by some organization or benefactor, usually an endowment or institution. The author gets a hefty sum to seclude himself/herself from regular work and devote full time to research and writing. This book, however, has not been sponsored by anyone — endowment, university, organization, or individual. It has been compiled in the late hours of the night or whenever time has permitted after taking care of other responsibilities — Crescent International, coordinating work on the monumental tafsir, The Ascendant Qur’an, by Imam Muhammad al-'Asi, and other related activities. That is also the reason why this book has taken much longer than I had hoped. If the theme of this book focuses on the power manifestations of the Sirah, then the various acts are the noble Messenger’s (SWT) letters and treaties and how they enhanced the power of Islam. Barring a few notable exceptions, this aspect of the Sirah has received scant attention from Muslim scholars. We will consider why it is important to direct awareness to this aspect among the multiple dimensions of the Sirah but first let us address the question of the target audience.
This book is intended primarily for Muslims, especially the youth. It is hoped that they will get a glimpse into a hitherto neglected dimension of the Sirah. While almost all Sirah books provide a chronological description of the blessed life of the noble Messenger (SAW), they seldom analyze why certain events took place, what decisions were made by the noble Messenger (SAW), and what were the consequences of such decisions. There is also another aspect this book is intended to dispel: that Islam is only about rituals and a personal relationship with Allah (SWT). While the ritualistic argument has been deliberately promoted by those who refuse to live by the pristine principles of Islam — the corrupt, so-called Muslim rulers and their courtiers and hangers-on — ordinary Muslims too have fallen for this limited engagement with Allah (SWT), and are thereby almost insignificant when it comes to a global ambiance of institutionalized oppression and human degradation. If Islam were only about rituals, there would have been no need for the noble Messenger (SAW) to leave the Cave of Hira after receiving the first revelations. He could have invited the people to join him in his retreat atop Jabal al-Nur, away from the hustle and bustle of life, and not issued to the Makkan jahili system the prophetic challenge that resulted in so much suffering for Muslims. But we know that he did not organize sessions of meditation or dhikr without addressing the burning issues confronting people at the social, economic, and political levels.
The divine revelation clearly stated, “When you have completed your daily chores [O Prophet], then turn to your Lord [in earnest ‘ibadah]” (94:7 –8). There is not a single ayah in the Qur’an that calls upon Muslims to detach themselves from the affairs of the world although there are many ayat that enjoin Muslims not to become consumed by materialism. There is a difference between being engaged with the world and being totally consumed by it or a lifestyle of extravagant consumption. It is important to understand this difference well. Let us return to the aspect of the power dimension in the Sirah. At a social gathering with some Muslim scholars a few years ago, this writer brought up the subject of the need to study and highlight the power dimension in the Sirah. One of the Muslim scholars, a professor at an American university, who has written several books on the Qur’an and philosophy, immediately asked, “What is so privileged about the power dimension in the Sirah?” The question reflects one of the reasons for this book. If even highly educated Muslims are not attuned to this aspect of the Sirah, how can average Muslims be blamed for clinging to rituals, thinking that this is all Islam requires them to do? In the preparation of this book, I have had the advice and guidance of many individuals, both scholars and non-scholars. The inspiration came from the pioneering paper of the late Dr. Kalim Siddiqui, Political Dimensions of the Sirah (1419 AH/1998 CE), which was published after he had left this earthly abode in Dhu al-Qa‘dah 1416 AH (April 1996). His untimely death has left a huge void in the Muslim world. He sincerely believed that studying the Sirah from “a power perspective” was the key to an intellectual revolution in Muslim thought. This was also consistently reflected in his writings.
I have greatly benefited from my discussions with such scholars as Ayatullah Ja‘far Subhani, Ayatullah Akhtari, Ayatullah Qawmi, Agha Muhammad Baqir Ansari, Imam Muhammad al-‘Asi, Iqbal Siddiqui, and Afeef Khan. Both Imam al-‘Asi and Afeef Khan have also helped with providing accurate translation of Arabic texts in order to get a clearer understanding of certain words and expressions used by the noble Messenger (SAW) in his letters and treaties. Afeef Khan has also ably helped with editing this volume. To them all I am greatly indebted for their advice and guidance. I have also benefited immensely from comments made by Zainab Cheema, Bilal Choksi, and Naved Ansari, who read the introduction to this book. As they are all students or have just completed studies, nonetheless their profound understanding of key issues is truly inspiring. It gives us great hope for the future of the Ummah.
This book is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Kalim Siddiqui (1349–1416 AH/1931–1996 CE) who was a scholar — the likes of which there are only a few duplicates — a teacher, and a guide but above all a very dear friend.
Any errors or omissions are entirely mine for which I seek the forgiveness of Allah (SWT) and the indulgence of readers. I would be grateful for any advice, guidance, or corrections on a subject that is still not fully explored by Muslim scholars.
Director, Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Jumada al-Akhirah 5, 1432 AH (5-6-2011 CE)