Re-building an Islamic Society

Asad Zaman

1. Introduction

Islam came as a stranger, and has again become a stranger.

The society that came into existence following the spread of Islam had no resemblance to the pre-Islamic Arab society (Jahiliyya), nor any to the Persian and Roman societies which came under Islamic rule. During the Jahiliyya, the  Arabian people had savage and barbaric customs including burying their own daughters alive, and killing each other for trivial matters. The most significant event in human history is the transformation of these people into paradigms of civilized behavior – the Quran praises them as those who feed others while they themselves are hungry. This miraculous effect of the training of the Prophet Muhammad [s.a.w.], the embodiment of God’s mercy to all the worlds, is desperately needed as the current times bear a close resemblance to the Jahiliyya. Counterparts to all evils of the Jahilliya, often exceeding the savagery and barbarism of the ancient Arabs, can easily be found in the modern world[1].

Islam has become a stranger in that modern Muslim societies have no similarity to the ideal society depicted in Islamic teachings and created and demonstrated as a living reality by the Prophet s.a.w. and his followers. In all domains of life, the dominant models are those derived from the West. All over the Muslims world, the vast majority of  political systems, judicial systems, social welfare systems, educational systems, and patterns of culture reflect to varying degrees the influence of the colonial era, during which the West ruled over more than 90% of the Muslims. Even purely Islamic institution like the Madrassahs, the Masajid and the Awqaf, which formed the core institutions of Islamic societies, are but pale shadows of their original Islamic forms.

The first step to a revival and rebuilding of the Islamic forms is to strengthen the faith of the Muslims, and to create a desire for Islam in the hearts of the people. Without this critical step, no effort can succeed. Syed Ahmad Shaheed was heartbroken when his lieutenants appointed to enforce the Shari’ah in the Muslim areas under his control were killed by Muslims who were more attached to their local culture than to Islam. Similar efforts to re-establish Islamic ways all over the Islamic world have floundered because of the lack of preparation of the ground: Muslims resist these efforts and Allah T’aala withdraws his help due to the conflict among Muslims. It is the grace and mercy of Allah T’aala that He has inspired the movement of Tableegh and made it grow to be by far the largest and most universal movement for the revival of the faith in the Ummah. He has made it the cause of the strengthening of faith, which has led to widespread awareness that as Muslims we are living in very un-Islamic ways. The desire to replace the ways of  West with pure Islamic ways has led to many efforts by many people and groups in many different departments of life. Unfortunately, successful efforts have been few and limited, while failures have been many. Our goal in this article is to analyze the causes of failure and to suggest new methods which may lead to more success in the struggle to re-establish Islamic ways.

2. Evolution Versus Revolution

There are two main lines of thought among Muslims regarding methods to be used to move from our current state to the ideal Islamic forms. For convenience, we may label these as the “evolutionary” and the “revolutionary” approach. We will describe the form of these efforts and explain briefly why we do not expect that either of the two will succeed. Then we will describe a third way, from which we hope that the desired outcomes may emerge.

The evolutionary approach is to start with existing social, political and financial structures, and modify them gradually, in a step-by-step way, to bring them into conformity with Islam. The revolutionaries propose to tear down the existing structures completely, and build a new Islamic system from the foundations. Perhaps paradoxically, both groups have sound and strong arguments in their favor and against the other group. We discuss this in greater detail below.

There are many arguments in favor of the evolutionary approach. It is practical and immediate. We do not have to wait for, or organize for, the difficult and uncertain struggle required by a revolution. It is certain that a struggle for power will be opposed, and violence, death, and disruption will result. Especially within Islamic societies, revolutions will pit Muslims against Muslims, and this is extremely repugnant to Islamic principles. Many fuqaha have preferred peace under less than ideal circumstances to putting Muslim lives at risk in an internecine conflict. Instead, we work to transform institutions gradually and peacefully, through cooperation and mutual understanding and tolerance for dissenting points of view. This corresponds to the understanding of Islam as a middle way {Aitdal, which avoids extremism), and as a religion of peace.

Despite the strengths of the evolutionary argument, I find the revolutionary counter-arguments to be persuasive and justified. The existing Western systems are not, despite appearances, ethically neutral. A common confusion among evolutionaries is to mistake ethically neutral Western inventions like the car, telephone, computers etc. with Western social institutions like banks, legal and political systems, insurance, social security etc. The evolutionaries argue that just like Islam does not prevent us from benefiting from Western technology, it places no obstacles to our adoption of Western institutions, suitably modified by removing and replacing un-Islamic elements.

To oppose this idea, it is necessary to understand the historical background in which current Western institutions evolved. Briefly, as Europeans moved away from the religious values of Christianity, they attempted to construct a heaven on Earth, to replace the Paradise they had lost. This required many radical changes in their ways of thinking. Just one illustration is the transition from the Biblical idea that “the love of money is the root of all evil” to Bernard Shaw who said that “the lack of money is the root of all evil.” It was only when greed, avarice and the pursuit of wealth went from being evil and socially disapproved to desirable and virtuous that it became possible for modern financial institutions to come into existence.  Banks promote the pursuit of wealth by the society as a whole, encourage the wealthy to multiply their wealth instead of spending on socially worthwhile causes, and generally promote the pursuit of luxury and indifference to the troubles of others. This was recognized and deplored by Christians (who lost this and many other battles) during the process of the European transition from their older systems to modern ones. The principles of self-interest and competition that underlie Western financial systems are inimical to the development of cooperation and community harmony; see Nelson (1969) The Idea of Usury: From Universal  Brotherhood to Universal Otherhood for a historical study of the European experience. All of these ideas which lie at the heart of banking are in opposition to Islam. While interest is helpful in promoting the prized Western values of competition and greed, Western financial experts who have examined the issue in detail state correctly that banks can function on the basis of Islamic principles of profit sharing without difficulty. That is, just banning interest and replacing it by Musharka will not change the spirit, nature and functionality of Western banking.

Sixteenth century European society was based on Christianity and promoted cooperation, sacrifice of individual pleasure for the social good, and emphasized the afterlife over the pleasures of this world. The transition to secular thought led to the idea that each individual should be free to pursue his own heaven on Earth, in whatever manner suits him best, without regard for others. Social, financial, political, judicial and educational institutions designed to help people achieve these goals came into existence. These institutions form an interlinked system which cooperate and sustain each other to help a secular society pursue secular goals. This system cannot be modified in a gradual way to make it an Islamic system. To understand this, consider a simplified example. Suppose we were to say that since interest is banned, and Banks are based on interest, let us just ban Banks. Since banks form an integral part of the Western system, the whole system would collapse upon removal of a key component. Recognizing this led some Ulema to attempt to create a “substitute”. There is a lot of flexibility in the Western system. By altering the shape of some of the transactions, the bank can be re-shaped into an Islamic form, but the spirit of greed, pursuit of wealth, and indifference to others cannot be be taken out. If somehow we were to succeed in changing the spirit of the banking system, this would be equivalent to actually destroying the utility of the bank to the Western system. A genuinely Islamic bank would not be able to cooperate with the other elements of the Western systems and the system would collapse exactly as it would if banking itself were banned.

Banking has been taken just as an illustration; the same difficulty arises in nearly all fields. As a second example, consider reforming and Islamizing political institutions. Western political institutions are all designed around the fundamental idea of the nation-state. This idea of the nation state is in direct conflict with the idea of the Ummah.

When we accept the idea of working within the framework of the nation-state, we abandon the concept of the Ummah, and no amount of gradual change can fix this problem. It is a Western assertion that their institutions are ethically neutral and universally beneficial. They believe that they have achieved the most advanced civilization and that all others must follow them. Muslims who accept this falsehood see no harm in adopting these institutions, after patching up the un-Islamic elements. In fact, as we have argued, foundations of these Western institutions are based on secular ideas and in opposition to Islamic ideas. Furthermore these are mutually supporting, interlinked in complex ways, and designed to achieve goals which are in opposition to Islamic values. It appears virtually impossible to modify this system to achieve goals in direct opposition to those for these institutions have been designed.

On the basis of this argument, it would seem that we have no choice but to implement a revolutionary approach. We must tear down the entire Western system, and rebuild an Islamic system from the ground up. Nonetheless, there are serious difficulties with a revolutionary approach as well.  The most important difficulty, which will be discussed in greater detail in the next section, is that we do not have functional models for a genuine Islamic system. It is not enough say that we must implement the Quran and Sunnah – concrete details of how this is to be done need to be spelled out. For reasons to be clarified, no one has a clear idea of how this can be done. This can be illustrated by the experience of Afghanistan and Iran, both of whom succeeded in creating an Islamic revolution. A critic of the Islamic system, Sohrab Behdad (1994) writes about Iran that

Similar to other utopias, the Islamic ideal world would be a just and humane society, without the exploitation, domination, alienation, and other social ills that have afflicted the contemporary capitalist and socialist societies. [However, in practice, the Iranian revolution did not succeed in creating such a system.]  Frustrated by conflicts between the Parliament and the Ulema, one of the followers of Khomeini said: “Ten Years after the Islamic Revolution, … [we] ask you … to present to the world the unadulterated Muhammadan Islamic view on economics.” In June 1989 Ayatollah Khomeini died, unable to define his version of Islamic economic order. It has become apparent that an Islamic economic system is not capable of presenting a viable social alternative.

In a similar way, even though they were free to choose whatever system they wanted, there were no functional and practical models for an Islamic financial system which could be implemented by the Taliban. The Islamic government in Sudan is groping towards Islamic models, but there is no clarity on the desired outcome. Thus experience demonstrates that even a revolution would not succeed in getting us to an Islamic system. In the next section, we explain the source of this difficulty and suggest a way around it.

3. The Ideal Islamic System

Because the spirit of the Western institutions is secular, changing their form to achieve conformity with the Islamic law will not serve our purposes. Even more surprisingly, our own past will not provide us with adequate guidance for the difficult task which faces us. Even though we can find a complex of Islamic institutions in our past which are infused with the Islamic spirit, the modern times are so different in terms of their needs and requirements that the concrete shape of the required Islamic institutions will not resemble those which existed in our past. Our problem resembles that which the Jews faced when they decided to use Hebrew as the national language of Israel. The language existed only in books and there were no living speakers of the language. No one knew the correct pronunciations of the words, and there were no words in the ancient language for many of the objects which had assumed importance in contemporary life. The Jews invented the words and the pronunciations and overcame many other problems required to bring a dead language to life. In this section, we spell out the nature of the task facing us, which is similar but substantially more difficult.

The discovery of the “Genizeh documents,” – which is the same as “Janazah” – in a cemetery in Cairo has led to very important insights about the history of the period 300-800 Hijri or 950-1350 A.D. All sorts of papers containing religious terms were buried out of respect for the names of God. These include documents related to trade and commerce over this time period.  These documents show the existence of an extensive network of trade from Spain to China centered around the Muslim empires. The framework and basis of this trade was the Hanafi law and involved Islamic methods of risk sharing finance. Muslim invented methods in conformity with Islamic law which created the possibility of global commerce. Historians who have studied the era have called it the “age of the commercial revolution,” and argued that these Muslim innovations created the basis for the capitalist system which later emerged in Europe. These Islamic methods for international commerce were destroyed by a series of large shocks, which included the crusades, Mongol invasions and destruction of Baghdad, and the bubonic plague. The international Muslim framework of trade never recovered from these shocks. With the rise of European power, Islamic methods and institutions for international commerce were replaced by primitive forms of the current capitalist interest based institutions.

The modern Western institutions for education, trade, politics, commerce, and social interactions evolved out of roots planted on the basis of a secular framework of thought. These started from primitive beginnings and gradually become more complex and developed linkages in response to historical needs. A much more advanced framework of Islamic institutions centered around masajid, awqaf, judicial and political structures was destroyed by various historical events, and went out of existence in the colonial era. Had these institutions remained in existence, they would have evolved to cope with the complexities of the modern era. In many arenas, the Ummah faces situations which have no historical precedent. This is why it would not be sufficient for us to rediscover the Islamic institutions of the past, although it would be helpful in providing a basis on which to build. Just as a language evolves and develops new vocabulary and literature, and acquires depth and complexity to cope with new situations, so our ideal Islamic institutional framework would have developed over the six hundred years that have passed since the Islamic domination of the globe. To compete effectively with modern Western institutions, we need to start from Islamic bases and imaginatively provide the depth and complexity that would have occurred due to developments that would have been required over six hundred years. This accounts for the difficulty of the task which we face.

To summarize, the evolutionaries underestimate the difficulties facing us. The capitalist system as a whole cannot be affected by making small changes in minor areas to some pieces of the system. The task requires changing all systems together in a co-ordinated way. Failure to do this is giving a bad name to the efforts of Islamization. Our elders claimed correctly that an Islamic system would provide justice, and a cure to the many evils of the dominant capitalist systems. However, the small and piecemeal changes we are making have no such effect, and critics argue that, despite our claims, we have nothing to offer. The revolutionaries have the right instinct that we need to build from scratch. However, neither party has a clear idea of what needs to done. The revolutionaries fail to realize that Islam builds on a ground that is currently un-opposed. That is the dimensions on which we need to work are not the ones where we face political resistance from opposing forces. Therefore, there is no need to make a revolution. We need to prepare the ground by changing ourselves. If we bring about the required internal changes, then Allah T’aala will change our conditions in accordance with His promise:

 هِمْ نَّ اللّهَ لاَ يُغَيِّرُ مَا بِقَوْمٍ حَتَّى يُغَيِّرُواْ مَا بِأَنْفُسِ إِ

3:11  Verily, God does not change men’s condition unless they change their inner selves;

4. The Third Way

If Western systems cannot be modified to serve our purpose, and a revolution to put in place ancient Islamic institutions will not work, what can be done to create an Islamic society? As the ayat 3:11 cited above says, the first task is change ourselves by creating the desire to live in a society governed by Islamic values. We have a long list of failures of efforts to impose Islamic structures by force on an unwilling people. This essay is addressed only to those who wish to live in an purely Islamic society and are looking for ways to bring this about. I do not seek to convince those who are doubtful about the value of such efforts that Islam has a lot to offer. Changing the hearts of doubters must be done in the traditional pattern, the Sunnah of all the prophets, which is the invitation to the good. This will eventually lead to creation of a living model of Islam, which will be the most powerful invitation.

In all areas of life, we need to create Islamic alternatives to existing institutions. To begin with we must start with small fledglings, seeds of the future system to come. As these newly planted institutions gain strength and grow, they will begin to support each other. The sequencing of our efforts must be carefully planned. Some of the institutions are robust and can survive and thrive on their own, while others will work only when the environment has become sufficiently favorable. Only after a sufficient amount of growth has occurred will we be able to address the issue of what is to be done with existing Western systems with which we will not interfere in the initial stages. Below I will describe the various types of efforts that we need to make along different dimensions. Before doing so, note that because of the radical novelty of Islamic ideas, we will not be able to offer convincing proof to skeptics that the new ideas we are trying to bring into the world will work. We will rely on Allah and have Tawakkul that he will sufficient for all our needs. Allah T’aala has promised to show us ways out difficulties which we cannot even conceive of or calculate. That is why we cannot describe precisely what will grow out of the seeds that we plant today. We cannot make a timetable or a flowchart or a provide a precise schedule of steps. Rather, in the way similar to the deliverance of the Bani Israel by Musa, when the spiritual preparations have been done than Allah T’aala will part the waters and create a way for us out of slavery.

This does not mean that we do not engage with with world. In fact we engage with the world in the best possible way, but this engagement is a means to seeking our path to Allah. In accordance with his promise that

وَالَّذِينَ جَاهَدُوا فِينَا لَنَهْدِيَنَّهُمْ سُبُلَنَا وَإِنَّ اللَّهَ لَمَعَ الْمُحْسِنِينَ (29:69)

Allah T’aala will guide us if we struggle with this world in the right manner. Below we provide a sketch of some of the important areas of our lives in which we need to struggle to bring about the changes required to put them into conformity with Islamic ideals. The sketch and the forms are tentative, since Islam emphasizes the struggle, and the feelings in the heart with which the struggle is carried out:

قُلْ إِنَّ صَلاَتِي وَنُسُكِي وَمَحْيَايَ وَمَمَاتِي لِلّهِ رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ (6:162)

Q6:162  Say: “Behold, my prayer, and (all] my acts of worship, and my living and my dying are for God [alone], the Sustainer of all the worlds,

In the process of the struggle, Allah T’aala will guide us to the concrete forms of social structures and institutions that are needed to express the spirit of Islam in the modern world. In this sections we discuss four fundamental principles which should guide our efforts at change. The principles are distilled from the teachings of Islam and also from the ways in which the existing institutions differ most from the Islamic teachings.

Equality:  All are equal in the sight Allah, except by the virtue of Taqwa. This radical message needs to implemented in all dimension of our lives. It is a teaching of Islam that slaves are to be housed, clothed and fed on equal terms with the owner of the slaves. This means that servants, employees and subordinates must be treated with utmost respect as equals. Implementation of this message requires restructuring ways of working together for common goals. The standard command and control structures of un-Islamic firms and institutions cannot be used within an institution based on equality. A living example of the type we are seeking occurs within Tableegh, where thousands of people work together to run what is perhaps the biggest organization in the world, serving millions of Muslims worldwide. No one receives a salary,  but all work together in a hierarchical structure. It is sometimes argued that this type of structure can only work within purely religious organizations. In fact it is a duty for Muslims to ensure that all our activities are purely religious; once we learn how to convert our organizations and institutions from profit seeking activities to God seeking activities, we will also learn the structures suitable to such activities.

Cooperation: The Western paradigms are based on the idea that there are no common goals in a secular society. Therefore cooperation is to be purchased. The servant, employee or subordinate sells his labor for money and does not share in the output. In Islamic paradigm, we will only engage in work which is socially beneficial – trade in goods or services which are harmful to society is Haraam. For socially beneficial products, all employees will participate in the reward from the benefits of the work. Thus the sweeper of the masjid or madrassa makes the intention of earning the reward for the activities of the enterprise. The idea of cooperative effort for a joint enterprise to serve society as a means to earn the pleasure of Allah leads to radically different structures for all social institutions. The idea that the “King” is actually a servant of the people [which is even now at least verbally acknowledged in the title “Khadim-ul-Harmain” in Arabia], the ‘boss’ is responsible for the welfare of all the employees, and that the entrepreneur, laborer and provider of funds are all equal partners in a joint enterprise to serve the Ummah changes the nature of the Islamic institutions.

Social Responsibility: As a society, we are collectively responsible for the needs of all those who cannot provide from themselves. It was in recognition of this responsibility that the first hospitals, orphanages, and facilities for travelers came into existence in the Islamic world. Umar r.a. said that if necessary, he would pool the resources of all to ensure that basic needs were met. Western societies put no limits on Israf and Tabzeer, even in presence of unmet basic needs. As a result, 28 million households were reported to have faced hunger and food insecurity in 2006 in the USA. This was not due to lack of resources, since several trillion dollars were spent on the Iraq war at this same time. While the principle of responsibility is widely acknowledged, the practice is very deficient within the Islamic world. We have all been influenced by western teachings which encourage us to spend excess on luxuries, rather than social welfare as recommended by the Quran:

وَيَسْأَلُونَكَ مَاذَا يُنفِقُونَ قُلِ الْعَفْوَ كَذَلِكَ يُبيِّنُ اللّهُ لَكُمُ الآيَاتِ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَتَفَكَّرُونَ

And they will ask thee as to what they should spend [in God’s cause]. Say: “Whatever you can spare.” In this way God makes clear unto you His messages, so that you might reflect

The understanding that money in excess of ones needs should be spent on the hungry and the uneducated, and that this is Farz-e-kifayah, would transform Islamic societies.

Local Action: A major obstacle to change has been implicit acceptance of a western idea regarding collective action. In a secular society, different people are assumed to have different religions and conflicting goals, so all collective action is left up to the government. Many Islamic thinkers have followed suit, and suggest that social change can only come after we capture the government. Historically, in Islamic societies, individuals and small groups have been the agents of change. A vast network of social welfare institutions was organized on a purely voluntary basis by individuals. Islam requires every individual to take care of his neighbors, and the worship of a rich man is not acceptable if his neighbor is hungry.  Similarly the educated and pious are responsible to spread what has been given to them by Allah to their neighbors. For example, the prophet s.a.w. upbraided the Ash’ari tribe for not educating and training neighboring tribes with less knowledge. If every educated man considers it his responsibility to spread his knowledge, and every rich man considers it his responsibility to share his wealth with the needy, local actions by them will cause global change in Islamic society.

Islam is very strongly process-oriented rather than outcome oriented. Misunderstandings regarding this issue have led to many wrongly directed efforts by Muslim groups. The Quran encourages the rich to spend on the poor and to encourage others to spend on the poor – this will develop compassion and generosity, and create an ethos of giving and community feeling within the society. If one mistakes the intention of the command to be ‘helping the poor,’ one might advocate forcibly taking from the rich and giving to the poor if the rich do not give voluntarily – several Muslim authors have fallen into this trap. However, forcible policies will not achieve the desired ends of harmony, mutuality and community feeling between the rich and the poor. In general, the poor will not have the power to enforce such redistribution. In cases that they do (like the French Revolution and the Russian Revolution) class conflict, hatred, and injustice will result. The basic idea that Islam is concerned with what is going in inside the hearts of people, rather than the gross physical outcomes, is expressed clearly in the following Ayah:

لَن يَنَالَ اللَّهَ لُحُومُهَا وَلَا دِمَاؤُهَا وَلَكِن يَنَالُهُ التَّقْوَى مِنكُمْ كَذَلِكَ سَخَّرَهَا لَكُمْ لِتُكَبِّرُوا اللَّهَ عَلَى مَا هَدَاكُمْ وَبَشِّرِ الْمُحْسِنِينَ

(Q22:37) It is not their meat nor their blood, that reaches Allah. it is your piety that reaches Him

Because the goal is to change the hearts of the people, the struggle has to be carried out by individuals locally. Islamic history bears witness to the effectiveness of this strategy for social transformation on many occasions.

5. Need for Fresh Thinking in Secular Domains

At the time of Greek invasion of Turkey, a Turkish soldier went to the grave of a famous Sufi saint who was also known for his skills on the battlefield. He addressed him as follows: “O Shaikh, the Kuffar are invading our lands. Please rise up and help us!” The spirit of the Shaikh rose from the grave and slapped the soldier hard in the face. “You ask for help from the dead to fight the living? You must fight your own battles, as we did ours!”

On many occasions in history, Muslims have faced unique situations which had never arisen before. They rose to the challenges and devised solutions in conformity with the spirit of Islam and adapted to the circumstances. The political, economic and social structures which came into existence with the rise of Islam had no parallels in the Jahiliyya, nor in the un-Islamic societies of the past. Today we face situations which are unique, and have never before been faced by the Ummah. One group wishes to modify Western solutions and make them Islamic. Because the spirit of Kufr is deeply embedded in the western solutions to modern problems, this type of solution cannot work. Another group wishes to destroy western institutions and replace them with Islamic ones by making a revolution. The problem here is that the Islamic solutions that we need to devise require deep analysis and creative efforts at Ijtihad; these solutions cannot be found by turning back the clock. Preliminary analysis shows that the solutions lie in areas which are not contested, so that there is not need to destroy institutions or to seize power in order to implement these solutions. It is obvious to all that there is conflict between Islamic ideals and current western institutions which represent their solutions to modern political, economic and and social problems. A lot of Ijtihad is being undertaken to modify and bend the Shari’ah so as to legitimize existing Western structures, or suitable modifications of these structures. There is no need to modify the Shari’ah; rather, Ijtihad is needed in developing radical alternatives to current Western institutions which will embody the spirit of the Shari’ah. As an illustration, we present some ideas about areas in which creative and out of the box thinking is required to find genuine Islamic solution to problems being faced by Muslims today. Note that the forms to be presented are speculative; the actual forms which emerge may differ drastically from the ones sketched below. If recommended Islamic processes for bringing about change in the hearts, and producing Taqwa are followed, then Allah T’aala has promised to give us solutions from place we cannot foresee, and in ways we cannot calculate.

As a first example, consider the issue of suitable governance structures for Muslims. A lot of Muslim political thinking takes for granted existing Western institutions of the nation-state, parliamentary democracy, etc. etc. In fact, western political institutions and arrangements for governance are built on secular premises, and are in direct conflict with Islamic arrangements. As Iqbal recognized:

In taza khudaon main bara sab say Vatan hay,

Jo pairahan iska hay who mazhab ka kafan hay

Having abandoned religion, Europeans were forced to seek some alternative basis for collective action. They created a basis in the form of a nation. The process by which this idea of an “imagined community” was created, and people were made to believe in it, has been studied by historians. In Islam, the basis for unity is the Ummah, and local allegiances to tribes, languages, geographical entities are strongly discouraged. Those Muslims who take existing nation states and western political structures such as the multi party systems, democracy, voting, parliaments, etc. as given, and seek to build Islamic governance on top of these structures are doomed to disappointment. These western institutions cannot be modified to become Islamic. On the opposite extreme, some Muslims seek to destroy existing political structures, and replace them with Islamic institutions, principally Islamic Law and the Khilafah. While these are laudable goals, these groups have not given enough attention to devising effective strategies appropriate for current conditions. They seek to blindly imitate the past, arguing that these were the structures used by the Khulfae Rashideen, without recognizing the need for changes required for adaptations to current conditions. Many such groups have tried very hard and sacrificed many Muslim lives without achieving the desired results. This is because our ancient political structures were ideally suited to their own circumstances but modern societies differ very substantially from earlier ones.

The key to progress is to realize that the solutions we seek do not exist in any of the western paradigms, which are built on the denial of religion, and elevation of “science and reason” to a sacred status on the pattern of the Mu’tazila. An even bigger difficulty is that these solutions cannot be found in our past; our ancestors did a tremendous job of struggling with their own problems and finding their own solutions – they will get the reward for their efforts and we will not be asked about what they used to do. We must solve our own problems in our own ways. The spirit of Islam will guide us, and if we follow the Islamic processes for change, then appropriate forms will emerge which will not resemble anything in the West, nor will they resemble institutions from our own history. This is exactly what the early Muslims did; they translated the spirit of Islam into concrete forms by creating orphanages, hospitals, postal services, and many other institutions to provide governance and social services which had no parallels in the Arab past, nor in the institutions of Roman and Persian civilizations at the time. We must replicate their achievements: we will struggle to change the world as a means to achieving inner spiritual transformation and closeness to God in the spirit of the Ayah 26:69 cited earlier. If instead, we simply try to imitate without thinking, we will be deserving of the reproach of Iqbal that:

            Thay to aba wo tumhare hi mugar tum kya ho –

hath pur hath dharay muntazir farda ho

6. Recreating the Ummah

How can we structure political institutions in way that is pleasing to Allah? To think about this question is worship, and to struggle to bring about such structures is to be among the “wallazeena jahadoo feena” for whom Allah has promised guidance to his paths. This view permits reconciliation of the “Top Down” and “Bottom Up” approaches to rebuilding Islamic society which have divided Muslims. We engage in the (top down style) struggle to transform all dimensions of our lives (political, economic, social) as a means to the inner spiritual transformation required by the bottom up approach. Thus there is no conflict between the two approaches.

Before thinking about strategies, it is essential to have clarity about Islamic goals for political struggles. The desired outcome is the creation of solidarity within the Ummah as a whole. Our traditions state that the Ummah is like one body, so that hurt to any part is felt by the whole.  Many verses of the Quran testify to the importance of solidarity among the Muslims:

وَاعْتَصِمُواْ بِحَبْلِ اللّهِ جَمِيعًا وَلاَ تَفَرَّقُواْ وَاذْكُرُواْ نِعْمَةَ اللّهِ  عْمَتِهِنِبِ عَلَيْكُمْ إِذْ كُنتُمْ أَعْدَاء فَأَلَّفَ بَيْنَ قُلُوبِكُمْ فَأَصْبَحْتُم إِخْوَانًا وَكُنتُمْ عَلَىَ شَفَا حُفْرَةٍ مِّنَ النَّارِ فَأَنقَذَكُم مِّنْهَا كَذَلِكَ يُبَيِّنُ اللّهُ لَكُمْ آيَاتِهِ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَهْتَدُونَ (3:103)

(Q3:103) And hold fast, all together, by the rope which Allah (stretches out for you), and be not divided among yourselves; and remember with gratitude Allah’s favour on you; for ye were enemies and He joined your hearts in love, so that by His Grace, ye became brethren;

Failure to create this solidarity, and fighting among ourselves, will lead to weaknesses and allow our enemies to triumph over us.

وَأَطِيعُواْ اللّهَ وَرَسُولَ

هُ وَلاَ تَنَازَعُواْ فَتَفْشَلُواْ وَتَذْهَبَ رِيحُكُمْ وَاصْبِرُواْ إِنَّ اللّهَ مَعَ الصَّابِرِينَ

(Q8:46) And obey Allah and His messenger, and dispute not one with another lest ye falter and your strength depart from you; but be steadfast! Lo! Allah is with the steadfast

It is in the light of these commands that we must devise methods to rebuild the Ummah. It is a grievous error to take the existing western structures of nation-states as a given and start from this as a basis for Muslim political action. By creating artificial divisions among men, and creating an ideology which makes it desirable to die for ones nation, this idea has been responsible for a tremendous amount for strife, violence and bloodshed in the world. In addition, Muslims have been specifically and deliberately been divided into nations by enemies, as a part of the strategy to divide and conquer, and to foster conflicts among Muslims. For example, after the Russian conquest of portions of the Usmani Khilafat, the Muslims were divided into many different nations like Circassians, Georgians, Uzbeks, etc. Histories were written and traditions invented to create a feeling of allegiance to ones geographical region and language, to fight against the Muslim concept of Ummah which unites all Muslims. Similar efforts were made to promote nationalism within Islamic countries. The word “Turk” meant villager, and carried the connotation of ignorant, coarse, etc. The Turkish people identified themselves as Muslims and felt themselves to be part of the Ummah. An effective campaign was carried out to popularize the word “Turk” [ne mutlu Turkum diyene] and to replace the pan-Islamic feelings of the people by nationalistic sentiments. European sentiments of nationalism based on racism, language, geography were absorbed by the Turks and eventually resulted in bad blood between Turks and Kurds who had lived in peace and harmony as Islamic brothers for centuries. Nationalistic feelings, and racist or linguistic allegiances (which were non-existent among Muslims) have been created and have led to a substantial number of conflicts among fellow Muslims in the twentieth century.   

Islam teaches us to value the bond of religion over that of blood, geography and language.  

قَالَ يَا نُوحُ إِنَّهُ لَيْسَ مِنْ أَهْلِكَ إِنَّهُ عَمَلٌ غَيْرُ صَالِحٍ فَلاَ تَسْأَلْنِ مَا لَيْسَ لَكَ بِهِ عِلْمٌ إِنِّي أَعِظُكَ أَن تَكُونَ مِنَ الْجَاهِلِينَ (11:46)

Q11:46 He said: O Noah! Lo! he is not of thy household; lo! he is of evil conduct, so ask not of Me that whereof thou hast no knowledge. I admonish thee lest thou be among the ignorant

On many occasions in Islamic history, Muslims have shown that they have valued religious bonds over blood, geography and language. Today our failure to do so is causing tremendous damage to the Ummah. When we start political action at the level of the nation, we have already lost the battle for building genuinely Islamic institutions.

Islam provides us not only with the vision, but with methods and institutions designed to facilitate achieving this vision. How can we work to create the solidarity within the Ummah, and the possibility for collective action by the Ummah, which is the goal our political struggles?  The methodology for collective decision making is “shoora” and the institutions for creating community are the Masajid, the Jum’a namaz, and the Hajj. How we can use these to achieve Islamic political forms is described in greater detail below.

6.1 Distinctive Islamic Methodology for Decision Making

The fundamental political problem is group decision-making in the absence of consensus and in the presence of conflicting interests. The main process of decision- making in an Islamic society is shoora or consultation. This was the practice of the Prophet Mohammad (s.a.w.) and is explicitly mandated in the Quran, which describes believers as being

وَالَّذِينَ اسْتَجَابُوا لِرَبِّهِمْ وَأَقَامُوا الصَّلَاةَ وَأَمْرُهُمْ شُورَى بَيْنَهُمْ وَمِمَّا رَزَقْنَاهُمْ يُنفِقُونَ (42:38)

(Q42:38) Those who hearken to their Lord, and establish regular Prayer; who (conduct) their affairs by mutual Consultation; who spend out of what We bestow on them for Sustenance;

Despite explicit injunctions that Muslims decide their affairs by Shoora, this has been largely forgotten by the Ummah. So much dust has gathered on the books describing the methodology for shoora that some Muslim political thinkers confuse it with democracy. Because it has fallen out of practice, many controversies over how it should be done have arisen. It is a great favour of Allah to have revived the practice of Shoora in the context of the worldwide movement of Tableegh. A detailed understanding of the mechanism can only be understood by experiencing it in action; theoretical discussions are not adequate. The main thing to understand is that the mechanism is designed to create consensus and unity in the hearts of the Muslims. There are many different principles for shoora which help in arriving at this outcome. While dissent, free discussion, and debate on merits of alternative views are encouraged during the process of shoora, the community is urged to unite on the final decision taken:

فَبِمَا رَحْمَةٍ مِّنَ اللّهِ لِنتَ لَهُمْ وَلَوْ كُنتَ فَظًّا غَلِيظَ الْقَلْبِ لاَنفَضُّواْ مِنْ حَوْلِكَ فَاعْفُ عَنْهُمْ وَاسْتَغْفِرْ لَهُمْ وَشَاوِرْهُمْ فِي الأَمْرِ فَإِذَا عَزَمْتَ فَتَوَكَّلْ عَلَى اللّهِ إِنَّ اللّهَ يُحِبُّ الْمُتَوَكِّلِينَ

(Q3:159) It is part of the Mercy of Allah that thou dost deal gently with them Wert thou severe or harsh-hearted, they would have broken away from about thee: so pass over (their faults), and ask for (Allah’s) forgiveness for them; and consult them in affairs (of moment). Then, when thou hast taken a decision put thy trust in Allah. For Allah loves those who put their trust (in Him)

These methods for decision making contrast with European political mechanisms which assume the existence of irreconcilable conflicts in a secular society. Manicas (1989) writes in this context that “the only thing which people have in common is ‘the government’ and, paradoxically, their private interests!” and describes the history of the transition from the traditional polis to the modern societas form of political organisation in Europe. Since consensus cannot be hoped for, struggles and conflicts of interest are to be resolved in the favour of the majority. The European political system is a model of a perpetual battle between different subgroups, where the emphasis is on providing means for resolving these battles within the framework of a legal system perceived to be fair. These models are based on the historical experience of Europe, with perpetual warfare among differing Christian sects. Islam aims much higher than European models can conceive. Unity among Muslims is prized above all the treasures of the world:

وَأَلَّفَ بَيْنَ قُلُوبِهِمْ لَوْ أَنفَقْتَ مَا فِي الأَرْضِ جَمِيعاً مَّا أَلَّفَتْ بَيْنَ قُلُوبِهِمْ وَلَـكِنَّ اللّهَ أَلَّفَ بَيْنَهُمْ إِنَّهُ عَزِيزٌ حَكِيمٌ (8:63)

(Q8:63) And (moreover) He hath put affection between their hearts: not if thou hadst spent all that is in the earth, couldst thou have produced that affection, but Allah hath done it: for He is Exalted in might, Wise.

Furthermore, the previous verse suggests that this unity will also protect us from the treachery and deception of the enemies. In shoora all members are encouraged to think about what is best for the group as a whole, in preference to the interests of individuals or subgroups. Implementing shoora on a large scale in Islamic societies requires training indivduals to put group interests above personal interests. This is what was achieved by the training of the Prophet s.a.w. in the Islamic community, and this was a key to their success. Islam has many mechanisms for achieving this goal, which the Quran exhorts:

إِنَّمَا الْمُؤْمِنُونَ إِخْوَةٌ فَأَصْلِحُوا بَيْنَ أَخَوَيْكُمْ وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ لَعَلَّكُمْ تُرْحَمُونَ

(Q49:10) The Believers are but a single Brotherhood: So make peace and reconciliation between your two (contending) brothers; and fear Allah, that ye may receive Mercy.

وَالَّذِينَ تَبَوَّؤُوا الدَّارَ وَالْإِيمَانَ مِن قَبْلِهِمْ يُحِبُّونَ مَنْ هَاجَرَ إِلَيْهِمْ وَلَا يَجِدُونَ فِي صُدُورِهِمْ حَاجَةً مِّمَّا أُوتُوا وَيُؤْثِرُونَ عَلَى أَنفُسِهِمْ وَلَوْ كَانَ بِهِمْ خَصَاصَةٌ وَمَن يُوقَ شُحَّ نَفْسِهِ فَأُوْلَئِكَ هُمُ الْمُفْلِحُونَ (59:9)

(Q59:9) But those who before them, had homes (in Medina) and had adopted the Faith,- show their affection to such as came to them for refuge, and entertain no desire in their hearts for things given to the (latter), but give them preference over themselves, even though poverty was their (own lot). And those saved from the covetousness of their own souls,- they are the ones that achieve prosperity.

This shows how Muslims are urged to resolve disputes and to give preference to others over themselves. When consultation is done with these sentiments, it creates unity and community feelings which is a priceless treasure, and brings the help of Allah. Existing political institutions which we have copied from the west create divisions among Muslims, encourage struggles and vilification of others, create bad feelings between the victors and vanquished in political struggles. These western methods cannot be adapted for use in Muslim societies. Trying to modify them or adopt them, or working within their frameworks, is harmful to the efforts to bring genuinely Islamic methods for governance into existence.

6.3 The Institutional Structure

Islam has not only provided us with mechanisms to achieve unity, it has also provided a fully functional institutional structure to enable us to realize this in a concrete fashion. At the heart of this structure is the five times daily prayer of the Muslims. Many Ahadeeth show that men must make these prayers in the Masjid. The masjid functions as a community center, where all local problems are resolved by consultation among neighbors.  Many traditions testify to this character of the masajid, as the center of Muslim social activity at the local level. Hazrat Ayesha narrates that she saw soldiers from Abyssinia put on a show of acrobatic skill, and martial arts, at the Medina Masjid. When the Prophet s.a.w. walked into the masjid on one occasion, he saw two Halqa’s, one engaged in Zikr and another engaged in Ta’leem. One of the bitter enemies of Muslims who had done a lot of damage, was captured and chained to one of the pillars in Medina Masjid. After observing the activities in the Masjid for three days, he converted to Islam. Commentators write that this event is reported because three days was an unusually long time. The atmosphere of the masjid was such that most visitors would convert to Islam in a much shorter period.

It was prophesied that “Only the name of Islam, and only the script of the Quran” will remain to the Muslims. Just like our daily prayers have become rituals, instead of the intense engagement with Allah that they are meant to be, so our masajid have become merely buildings of bricks and stones, and not the center of local Muslim action. The potential power of this institution is shown by the Iranian revolution, where the sermons delivered at the masajid mobilized and united the whole nation, and were central to bringing it about. Today, by the grace of Allah, the effort is being made to revive this institution and to turn masjid into living centers of activity for the Deen on a 24 hour basis. In many masajid all over the world, daily mashwera, and activity to motivate the neighbors to spend more time on the Deen is taking place on a regular basis. This is the seed from which an Islamic structure can emerge at the local level, which will be basis of global activity. Binding the hearts of the people together at the local level requires getting neighbors to know each other, to learn to cooperate, and to act collectively in the common interest of Islam, sacrificing personal concerns when needed for the sake of the group. Current conditions are such that the majority of those who pray together regularly for years in the same masjid recognize the faces but do not know the names of their fellow worshippers. This must be changed to re-vitalize the Ummah.

The second level of integration is provided by the Jum’a namaz, which is meant to bring together the whole city.  Current practice is such that virtually all the masajid are also used for Jum’a, contrary to the original intent. Since very large populations and difficulties in travel make it impossible for their to be one Jum’a for a city, we must modify the form of the institution to achieve the spirit. For example, we could gather 5 to 10 or more masajid from a suitable locality at a single Jum’a. If even this seems difficult, we could at least ask key representatives from each masjid to gather at a central location and hold mashwera regarding the locality every Juma’a. Perhaps a monthly meeting could be arranged for representatives from the entire city. This would provide us with the seeds of a distinctly Islamic structure of governance, not to be found in the west. This type of structure is also not easily seen in Islamic history, since the structures which emerged were always a mix of ideal Islamic institutions with practical compromises to historical situations. The Islamic methodology is to keep the ideal vision in mind and work to bring it about. The actual forms which will result cannot be predicted, but will emerge as a result of the level of Ikhlas in our efforts and the decisions of Allah. On the night of the Mairaj, the Prophet s.a.w. saw some threads going up to the Heavens and others coming down. On inquiry, Jibraeel a.s. reported that it was the deeds of the Ummah which were going up and the decisions of Allah which were coming down.     

The third level of integration is provided by the Hajj, which brings representatives of the entire Ummah together on an annual basis. There is a lot of evidence to suggest that when the Ummah was a living entity, there was a lively trade of information and remedies for problems being faced by one segment of the Ummah were solved via united efforts. This aspect of the Hajj has been forgotten. When representatives of the entire Ummah meet, they should get together and discuss how to create better ties, to promote understanding, cooperation, and take united action at the level of Ummah. Once there is an annual meeting of representatives from all segments of the Ummah for the explicit purpose of reviving the concept of the Ummah as a collective body with common interests and needs, Allah T’aala will guide us to the ways of creating cooperative action in ways which we cannot calculate or imagine at this time. In consultation, creative methods for promoting integration like migration, skills and student exchanges, inter-marriages, open borders for Muslims, trade promotion, and many other issues would come under discussion.  Today our thinking is constrained by Western frameworks for this type of activity, and we take action using western style institutions and organizations, following western methodology. This is despite the fact that Islam has furnished us with deeper insights on how to bring about social change, and given us methods and institutions for this purpose, which we are currently ignoring. For those who have been blessed with the knowledge of the Quran to look elsewhere for guidance is an extreme injustice, and is the source of failure for many types of efforts to bring about change.

7. Institutions for Justice

As discussed in the introduction, Islamic societies are far from Islamic ideals in nearly all dimensions of our lives. Coordinated changes on all fronts are needed to bring about the transformation that Islam calls for. It is impossible to discuss all of the work that is needed in the span of a brief article like the present one. Our goal is to provide some illustrations of the style and methodology for a new way to approach the problem of change. A key to the approach is the understanding that we struggle to change the world in accordance with the orders of Allah in order to bring about an inner spiritual transformation. Therefore, we measure the outcomes in terms of our own progress towards Allah, and not in terms of visible impact on the world. We make the choice to travel the path to the Lord, and struggle in Him so that He may guide us to his ways. A second crucial ingredient is to start with work on areas where change is feasible, and possible for us to do as individuals, and then in small groups. We move on to larger changes only after the ground is prepared. When there are large areas of our lives where Muslims voluntarily choose the ways of the Kuffar in preference to the ways of the Prophet s.a.w. then this must be the first target of reform. These general principles may be illustrated by methods to bring Islamic Justice or the law of the Shari’ah into the lives of the Muslims, the topic of this section.

There are aspects of Islamic law for the enforcement of which we need control of the state apparatus. However, there are also aspects for which all that is needed is people who desire to live by Islamic law. Historical examples show numerous failures of attempts to force people to live by Islamic law, when this desire is not present. Instead of following western methods of gathering votes to change the constitution, we could work on implementing the Shari’ah in areas where there is no opposition or restriction by the government. For example, we could try to ask all Muslims who enter into legal contracts with each other to include a clause which states that all disputes will be settled by binding arbitration according to Islamic Law by suitably trained Ulema.

To implement this vision, we will need to work simultaneously on two fronts. There is clear recognition of the need to update the curriculum of the Madrassahs – the subject matter being taught fails to address current social concerns of crucial importance in shaping Islamic societies. However the suggestions for reform, involving teaching sciences and computer skills, are based on western priorities regarding knowledge. If we start courses developing the skills of applying the laws of shari’ah to current trading transactions, and develop the personnel and institutions required to arrive at decisions of Islamic law for settling trade disputes, this will develop the educational curricula of the madrassa in directions which build on our strengths and are in conformity with our heritage. Similarly the madrassahs would be well placed to provide the basis for personnel and institutions which would give Islamic quality certifications, guarantee certain types of transactions and products, and provide similar Islamic services. Cooperative insurance and Islamic methods for investment require a mindset which is the opposite of that developed in modern business schools, which makes it difficult to convert existing western institutions to Islamic models. Providing madrassa students with sufficient training in modern transactions will be necessary to enable them to adjudicate trade disputes, and may also provide the seeds for launch of Islamic style trading institutions which differ radically from western counterparts. This type of preliminary work will develop the capacity to provide for an application of Islamic law on a larger scale. Currently, we simply do not have the capacity to provide this service. If it was announced that from tomorrow, all the laws  of the land will be in conformity with the Shari’ah, we would not have the personnel with the skills required to provide judicial decisions in the volume required.

At the same time, we need to persuade people to resort to these newly created institutions for Islamic Justice within the umbrella of the madrassa. Initially, our target audience will be very small. A small number of committed Muslims trading with each other will agree to participate in this experiment. We will use Quranic exhortations for Muslims to settle their affairs by referring them to the Prophet and Allah. We will impress on the people that it is very reprehensible for Muslims to resort to courts based on Christian or Secular law. Since our initial capacity to handle trade disputes will be small, the fact that only a few will utilize this method will actually be to our benefit. Once an Islamic model for settling trade disputes comes into existence, people will be attracted to this model because they will see the advantages over conventional courts. Islam emphasizes speedy settlements, and also fairness and justice. Western systems of justice which are adversarial in nature, with a winner and loser. Islam seeks to find solutions acceptable to all, or at least those considered fair by all parties. The difference between these two approaches can easily be illustrated by actual practice in conventional western courts and by cases from our history.

In the US legal system, justice is an incidental by-product of a mediated struggle between opposing interests. An excellent discussion of the ethical issues is given by a panel of lawyers in “A case of competing loyalties” in Stanford Magazine (Fall 1983, p38-43). All on the panel agreed that a lawyer defending a male client known to him or her to be guilty of rape nonetheless is obliged to destroy the reputation of the female victim if this is the best possible defence. All agreed that the American criminal defence system is an adversarial process with artificial boundaries, rather than a pure search for truth.

 The siege of Edirne illustrates the extremely high standards of Islamic justice. When supplies ran out, the army proceeded to requisition the necessities from the entire population. However, the Qazi ruled that the Kuffar who had paid Jizya had already paid for their defence and Muslims had no further claim on their properties. Despite life and death consequences, the seized properties were returned to the non-Muslims.

If we can achieve these standards of excellence, then people will flock to the newly found Islamic courts for settling trade disputes initially, and other disputes at a later stage. Once the taste for Shari’ah develops in the people, then a popular move to bring in the Shari’ah at a larger level will attract the popular support necessary for its implementation.  

8. Concluding Remarks

وَيَأْبَى اللّهُ إِلاَّ أَن يُتِمَّ نُورَهُ وَلَوْ كَرِهَ الْكَافِرُونَ

There are many signs that an Islamic revival in underway. Many Muslims are working on many different fronts to bring about the changes which are needed to transform our current societies to genuinely Islamic ones. It would be our good fortune if Allah T’aala includes us among those who worked to bring this about, and makes us among those who are the apparent causes of this change.

Inspired by the powerful vision of Islam, the early Muslims changed the course of history. They derailed two powerful and ancient civilizations, and created a uniquely Islamic civilization the likes of which had never been seen before. This endured for a thousand years, much longer than any other enterprise of its kind.  Among the many unique features of this civilization, one was that the conquests and empire was motivated by the command of God to go and spread the good to the whole world (“Amr bil Maaroof.”)

Thi na kuch taigh zani apni hukumut kay liay

Sar bakaf phirte they kya dahr main daulat kay liay?

This stands in contrast to other empires built for exploitation of foreigners and the search for glory and power. The many contributions that Islam has made to shaping human consciousness and all the world civilizations have been documented in many places; see for example Syed Abul Hassan Ali Nadwi’s book on the The Gifts of Islam to World Civilizations. In the period of dominance of the West, these contributions have been suppressed, but many recent books such as “The Theft of History” are now bringing them out in the open.

All signs point to the impending decline of the West. The most fundamental institution which shapes society is the family, where children receive instruction on what it means to be a human being and their responsibilities towards society. Western worship of wealth, careers, luxury, and greed have destroyed this institution so that large numbers of children growing up in the west  are from broken families. Infidelity has become so commonplace that the leaders admit to having affairs and illegitimate children without provoking any serious censure. Children from broken homes do not experience the love of their mothers or the protective environment necessary for the development of basic social skills and sense of moral responsibility. The results are manifested in a recent large scale survey of high school children in the USA in which 30% admitted to stealing from stores.

The decline and fall of the West will not be of help to us. The rise of Islam can only be accomplished by our efforts to change ourselves and the help of Allah which will accompany such efforts. We must rise to challenge of finding bold and imaginative solutions to the multitude of problems currently facing all of humanity. We must realize that our traditions and Quran offer us wisdom and guidance which is outside the repertoire of the West. As  single example, the framers of the constitution of the USA thought that it was too much to ask for a man to testify against himself, and protected him from this possibility via the 5th Amendment. However Allah T’aala expects us to be just even to our enemies and to provide testimony even if it goes against our personal interests and those of our kinfolk and friends.

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ كُونُواْ قَوَّامِينَ بِالْقِسْطِ شُهَدَاء لِلّهِ وَلَوْ عَلَى أَنفُسِكُمْ أَوِ الْوَالِدَيْنِ وَالأَقْرَبِينَ إِن يَكُنْ غَنِيًّا أَوْ فَقَيرًا فَاللّهُ أَوْلَى بِهِمَا فَلاَ تَتَّبِعُواْ الْهَوَى أَن تَعْدِلُواْ وَإِن تَلْوُواْ أَوْ تُعْرِضُواْ فَإِنَّ اللّهَ كَانَ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ خَبِيرًا (4:135)

4:135  O YOU who have attained to faith! Be ever steadfast in upholding equity, bearing witness to the truth for the sake of God, even though it be against your own selves or your parents and kinsfolk. Whether the person concerned be rich or poor, God’s claim takes precedence over [the claims of] either of them.  Do not, then, follow your own desires, lest you swerve from justice: for if you distort [the truth], behold, God is indeed aware of all that you do!

This standard of excellence is not conceived of in the Western canons. It was the job of the Prophet s.a.w. to demonstrate standards of behavior which exceeded the imagination of men, and this demonstration made it possible for other to follow in his way. For example, the way that the Prophet forgave sworn enemies who had done so much harm and personal torture of Muslims at the conquest of Mecca has been an inspiration and model for Muslim armies through history. No other people can offer similar examples. This time the same demand is being made of the Ummah as a whole. We must rise to present standards of behavior which are a model of excellence for all of humanity to follow. In the past, our forefathers rose to this challenge and created a civilization and culture which, according to Gibb “possesses a magnificent tradition of inter-racial understanding and cooperation.  No other society has such a record of success uniting in an equality of status, of opportunity, and of endeavours so many and so various races of mankind.” The same opportunity awaits us:

Sabaq phir parh Sadaqat ka, Adalat ka , shujat ka

liya jaye ga tuj se kaam Duniya ke Amaamat ka”

May Allah give us the taufeeq to grasp this opportunity, to live and die for His sake, and to utilize this short life to fulfill purpose for which He created us.


Ali Saheb Bijnori, Maulana Riyasat (1997) Shoora ki Shar’i Haysiat,  [The Legal Status of Consultation], Sadiqabad, Pakistan: Ahsan-ul-Mataba

[1] This includes the burying of living children. In context of the confession by Susan Smith that she put her two children in a car and drowned them in John D Long Lake circa 1996, it was reported that more than a 1000 similar cases occur every year – see, for example, “Mothers who kill their children.”

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