Fundamental Importance of the Islamic State
Turning to the Prophets sira, it is necessary to justify the statement that I have just made about his objective of an Islamic state. The Prophet’s aim as a messenger of God was to convey His message to His servants. This is true, but it is also true that the attempt to create such an Islamic state is an important part of that message. It has been said that had it been one of his aims to create such a state the Prophet would not have turned down the Makkan offer of kingship. The Prophet did reject that offer, but he did so because its acceptance would not have made him the head of a Muslim state. He would have become king of a people who did not even believe in his Message, and who in fact offered him status as a bribe to abstain from propagating it. A man, who accepted such an offer would not be a genuine Prophet but a man possessed by lust for power, who would be using the claim to prophethood only as a means to gratify that desire.
The fact that the Prophet was desirous of creating a Muslim state comes out clearly in the fact that besides his attempt to convert individuals to the new faith he was doing his best to win over the power of an organized and independent community to be the stronghold of this faith. To that end, he used to contact the chiefs of different tribes, especially at the annual Makkan fairs, and ask them to accept him as Prophet and be the protectors of the new faith. Finally two tribes of Madinah, al-Aws and al-Khazraj, did so, and made possible the first Muslim state to be in their land.
Let us now assume that a number of Muslims have decided to work towards that end. In what way can they benefit from the Sira of the Prophet at its Makkan stage?
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Two extreme positions have been adopted by various people. The first one is that since the Prophet’s message was finally brought to completion in the form of the Qur’an and the collections of authentic Hadith that are now at our disposal, the earlier stages through which this message passed are now irrelevant to the kind of method that we should follow in propagating or practicing it. Our religion is complete and must be practiced in its totality. No part of it can be, for any reason, suspended or deferred in application.
The other position is that people have now relapsed to the kind of Makkan jahiliyya (ignorance) which prevailed at the time of the Prophet’s mission. We have, therefore, to start at the point from which the Prophet started and pass through all the stages through which he passed until we finally create our Muslim State.
Both of these are untenable positions. The first because it ignores the important fact, mentioned above, that Islam is both a message and a method. The way the message is to be conveyed or practiced is an inseparable part of that message and as such cannot be ignored. If this is accepted then we can always find guidance in the methods the Prophet adopted at any period of his life.
The second position is untenable because it is impossible to transfer an entire historical situation from one period and superimpose it on a later one. But this is exactly what the second position demands. The consequences of such an attempt can be seen in the living example of some young men I know who tried to follow this method as a result of a literalist understanding of the words of some writers. They started by forming a group and electing a leader. This group was supposed to be like that of the early Muslims. But it ignored the fact that those who gathered around the Prophet were the only Muslims on earth. To match their group exactly to that of the Prophet’s they called it Jamaat-al Muslimin, an expression which suggests that they are the only Muslims, and they did believe that one who did not belong to their group was not a Muslim, or as the more moderate among them would say, majhul-al-hal i.e., his case is doubtful. When I once asked some of them what right they had to deny Islam to a person who professes the shahada, who performs his prayers, and whom they know to be morally upright. The reply was, “But to be a Muslim you have to belong to the Muslim community and these people are living in the jahiliyya community.” “If by a Muslim community you mean a society like yours” I said, “then there are many other Islamic societies.” “They are not Islamic,” they said, “because they accept as Muslims those who live in the jahiliyya community and anyone who considers such people to be Muslims is himself a non-Muslim.”
They believed that being at the Makkan stage they should follow the example of the Prophet in inviting people only to the principles of belief and tell them nothing about things like economics, politics, social justice, etc. The question arose that should they themselves practice that part of the Shari’ah which was revealed at Madinah. On this issue the group split into two, at least one of which considered the other to be non-Muslim.
The group who believed that they should not practice the Madinan part of the Shari’ah went to the extreme of neglecting the study of the Qur’anic Madinan verses.
That part of the group which believed in the practice of Shari’ah in its entirety went to the extent of whipping a member who confessed to have committed adultery.
I think that the example of these enthusiastic and in many ways sincere young men serves as a good warning against this kind of extremism.
Similarities and Differences
The correct standpoint, I think, is that one should look for similarities but also acknowledge the differences between a contemporary Muslim group in a particular country and the Prophet and his companions at the Makkan as well as the Madinan periods. Whenever such a group finds itself in a situation similar to that of the early Muslims, it should follow the exemplary behavior of the Prophet in that situation.
A few examples will illustrate this point.
- The people who accepted Islam in Makkah were not left to live as isolated individuals. They formed an organized group. I think the wisdom behind this is:
Firstly, that Muslims according to the Qur’an are an ummah, they are brothers and as such cannot be proper Muslims if they live separately. It may seem paradoxical, but it is true that when we live as isolated individuals, our individuality will not be realized and will not be complete because there is a vacuum inside each of us that cannot be filled except by other Muslim brothers.
Secondly, that if our ultimate aim is to form a community of our own, then the embryo of that community has to be formed in the womb of the community that we desire to change. Only in this way can we face the challenges of the community to which we are opposed. Thus, we can experience something of the blessings of living in a Muslim society and give others a living example of that society.
The lesson from this for any people who want to work for a proper Muslim community, which could develop into a Muslim state, is that:
a. They must organize themselves into a group and have a leader
The proper thing is that there should be only one such group of Muslims working in a particular community of jahiliyya or semi-jahiliyya. The more groups we have, the further we go from the example of the Prophet, and thus the more we delay the process of Islamization.
If for some reason or the other many more than one group exists then the second-best attitude is that these groups should be friendly and should cooperate in working towards common ends and coordinate this work. They have to remember that the bond that ties them together, la ilaha il-la Allah is more important than the petty differences that divide them.
b. They must remember that their leader is not a Prophet whose every word is to be believed and followed. He is himself a follower of the Prophet and is therefore to be followed only so far as he follows the Prophet. An enlightened follower of such a leader must do his best to have direct access to the criterion by which he judges his leader i.e., the Qur’an and the Sunna. Such a leader is not only not a Prophet, he is not even an Amir of the Faithful in the sense that Abu Bakr, Umar or any of the Muslim khalifs were. To be an Amir in this sense one must be the actual ruler of the Muslims, i.e., the person who actually holds the reins of power and who can therefore implement the Islamic law. Our leaders are indeed amirs, but they are amirs in a much more limited sense. It would therefore be wrong on their part to claim the powers which the Prophet gave to rulers, and wrong on our part to invest them with such powers.
c. They should do their best to preserve their brotherhood which is the lifeblood of their unity, and remember that Satan will do its best to corrupt that unity by what the Qur’an calls nazgh, and be sure that quarrel and conflict bring nothing but frustration and disintegration.
d. In accordance with the same ideal, there should also be cooperation between Muslim organizations and present Muslim state that is willing to help and aid. One hopes that there will come a time when a Muslim state will consider its land the abode of all genuine Muslims, and open its doors for them. It would accept them as full citizens, and accelerate the process of Islamization all over the world as part of its duty, and thus give it all the moral and material support and backing that it needs.
- At Makkah, the Prophet, following the guidance of the Qur’an started by inviting people to the basic principles of the faith. I think that he did that because Islam is not a mere collection of orders and prohibitions. It is a system that is both rationally and psychologically ordered. So unless you strengthen the internal foundations, you cannot have any strong external building i.e. unless some Iman is firmly established in the hearts of men, it is futile to ask them to do what God enjoins or avoid what He forbids. This comes out clearly in the words of Aisha who, according to al Bukhari, said that when the Prophet came, he started by telling the people about God and the hereafter and only after they believed in this, did he tell them not to drink and not to commit adultery. Had he started by the latter, they would have adamantly refused to comply with his orders and abstain from these sins.