The Ship and the Lifeboats
Although the pen and the sword are arrayed against it, Islam is spreading. But there are also problems within the Muslim reawakening.
Posted: 14 Zul-Hijjah 1423, 16 February 2003
We are living at a time when the daily news about the world, especially about the Muslim world is quite depressing. In Palestine, Kashmir, Afghanistan, Iraq, and many other places Muslim life, property, and honor have been declared fair game by those who wield worldly power. It is not just armies waging this war. A whole gamut of institutions, from sophisticated research centers to slick media, is dedicated to the campaign to sow doubts, to spreads confusion, and to denigrate Islam. In hot spot after hot spot around the world, the sword is busy prosecuting a war on Islam. The pen is busy in both conducting a war on Islam and in trying to foment a war within Islam. While the unprecedented and unexpected momentum gained by the anti-war movement in the middle of February has given some hope that the mad rush to slaughter may be deflected, overall picture remains grim.
And yet these are also the times when people all over the world are coming to Islam in unprecedented numbers. At a time when Muslims have lost control of the sword and the pen, Islam is finding new followers everywhere everyday. (It is quite revealing that even as Islam continues to spread despite the sword, some people should continue to insist that it spread by the sword. As Qur'an repeatedly reminds us, the opponents of Islam are a very closed-minded lot).
Within the Muslim world also there are signs of awakening. Muslims are coming back to Islam after having toyed with one false ideology after another. Colonialism had hit them hard. It subjugated them physically, politically, economically, culturally, and mentally. An education system that they embraced as a ticket out of their miseries during that period of oppression compounded their problems by producing self-doubt and self-hate. It produced generations of perfect strangers within the house of Islam, who were then --- for this 'achievement' --- given leadership roles in all areas of Muslim societies. They hated their languages, their culture, and their religion. It is such people who rule the Muslim world today.
Yet, the scene is changing. More women are choosing hijab and are becoming more assertive about it as a symbol of their Islamic identity. There is a greater interest in Islamic knowledge. Qur'an lectures are attracting crowds that were not seen in the past. The nature of the questions people ask about Islam is also changing. There are more 'how to' and 'what to' questions than 'why' questions coming from the secular educated groups. The last Biswa Ijtima (annual gathering of Tablighi Jamaat in Bangladesh) attracted some two million attendees. What is more, they came from widely varying segments of society. A parallel growth can be seen in Islamic activism. Politics, media, relief and charity, education, and community service are all attracting new workers and new organizations. There is a new enthusiasm, new energy, and new awareness.
Our renewed interest in our religion is great but it is good to remember that Islamic revival will not take place through the blind leading the blind.
But there are also problems within this awakening. The period of colonialism was a big crash in which our ship was destroyed. In the immediate aftermath, survival was the main goal, and people came with whatever lifeboats they could. Now is the time to pick up the pieces and build the ship again. The problem is we have been living in the lifeboats for so long, we are confusing them with the ship. The schools for secular education were one such lifeboat. They imparted some skills necessary for survival in a changed world, although they impoverished Muslim education and society tremendously in so many ways. But today so many well-meaning people who get excited about spreading education in the Muslim world think of nothing more than establishing more of these same schools. Campaigns for 'democracy', whatever it means, were another such lifeboat, aimed at returning control of Muslim affairs to them thereby seeking liberation. Today, democracy or no democracy, nowhere do Muslims have any control over their affairs, but this lifeboat has become a ship and Khilafah, the Islamic system of governance, remains a strange entity. Islamic organizations were such a lifeboat, aimed at gathering like minded people so they could focus their resources and energies on some of the important things. Yet each of them is considered to be the ship by its occupants and captains, thereby creating new lines of cleavage within the Ummah.
There is another issue. Most of our new activism thrives on sincerity, concern and drive but not on knowledge or guidance. There are Islamic relief organizations providing much needed support for the destitute millions. But many do not show a sensitivity to check whether their fund raising methods are Islamic; whether they are distributing the zakat according to Shariah; whether their operation meets the Islamic guidelines. There are organizations focused on media and political activism --- certainly very important fields --- that sometime say things that the media or political establishment they are talking to would like to hear, even if they are totally wrong and un-Islamic. They seem to be doing as much damage as good through ignorance and carelessness.
The same observation can be made about our efforts at spreading Islamic knowledge. It is embarrassing how many of those giving lectures, issuing 'fatwas' (not necessarily calling them so but issuing legal opinions nonetheless), and conducting Qur'an lessons have no qualifications for the job. Yet they find a ready audience among those who confuse eloquence with scholarship.
Our renewed interest in our religion is great but it is good to remember that Islamic revival will not take place through the blind leading the blind. All Islamic work --- whether Dawah, or Jihad, or relief work or political or media activism --- requires guidance from the Shariah, which in turn requires knowledge and understanding. Recognizing the need for such guidance from true scholars is the first step in getting it. The questions we need to ask may not have ready-made answers but that does not justify not asking them or accepting answers from unqualified sources. There is a very good example in the work done in the field of Islamic finance during the last decades. It was the collaboration of religious scholars with experts in economics and finance that produced the body of knowledge today that did not exist before. A similar effort is needed in other fields. Muslim journalists working with scholars can help evolve an Islamic protocol for Journalism. Muslim activists working with scholars can help evolve Islamic protocol for media and political activism. Relief organizations can establish Shariah advisory boards to ensure their operations are within the bounds of Shariah.
Bringing our own house in order is the only response we can and must have to the threats, challenges, and fears we face today.
Allah T'ala says in the Holy Quran:
وَلاَ تَكُونُواْ كَالَّذِينَ خَرَجُواْ مِن دِيَارِهِم بَطَرًا وَرِئَاء النَّاسِ وَيَصُدُّونَ عَن سَبِيلِ اللّهِ وَاللّهُ بِمَا يَعْمَلُونَ مُحِيطٌ
(8:47) And be not like those who came forth from their homes exulting, with a desire to be seen of people, and hindering others from the way of Allah. Allah encompasses all that they do.
This alludes to the army of the disbelieving Qurayash, which, when it proceeded on a military expedition against the Muslims, was accompanied by singing and dancing minstrels. (See Ibn Sa'd. vol. 2, p. 13 ) Whenever the army halted, dancing and drinking parties were held. Also the army arrogantly vaunted its military power and numerical strength before the tribes and localities which fell on the way, and boasted of its invincibility. (See al-Waqidi, vol. 1, p. 39 ) This much is about the moral state of the Quraysh army. What was even worse was the object of their fighting. They were not fighting for any lofty ideal. What they aimed at was merely to defeat the forces of truth and justice, to suppress and obliterate the only group which sought to uphold the truth. They simply did not want any one to champion the cause of truth and justice.
This occasion was considered appropriate to warn the Muslims not to let themselves degenerate into a group like the Quraysh. God had favoured them with faith and devotion to the truth. And gratitude to God for this favour required that they should purify both their conduct and their reason for fighting.
This directive was not meant just for the time in which it was revealed. It is equally applicable today, and will remain applicable in all times to come. The forces of Unbelief today are no different from those in the time of the Prophet (peace he on him) for the moral state of the present-day armies is no better than of armies in the past. Arrangements for prostitution and drinking are as much a part of the present-day armies of unbelievers as ever before. The soldiers in these armies feel no shame in openly demanding the maximum amount of alcoholic drinks and as many call-girls as possible. Without any sense of shame the soldiers virtually ask their compatriots to make available to them their daughters and sisters for the gratification of their lust. That being the case how can one expect that the soldiers of today would not go about committing debauchery and polluting the life of the people in the lands which they happen to conquer?
Apart from moral corruption, the soldiers of the present-day armies are known for their arrogance and affrontery to the conquered peoples. Their gestures and conversation - both of ordinary soldiers and officers - bespeak of their arrogance. Arrogance is also reflected in the statements made by the statesmen of the militarily-strong and triumphant nations who in effect boastfully say to their people, in the words of the Quran: 'No one shall overcome you today' (al-Anfal 8: 48) and challenging the whole world in their vainglory: 'Who is greater than us in strength?' (Fusilat 41: 15).
These powers are evidently wicked, but the purposes for which they wage war are even more so. These powers are keen, out of sheer trickery, to assure the rest of the world that in waging war they are prompted only by the welfare of mankind. In actual fact, they might have either one motive for waging war or another, but it is absolutely certain that the motive is not the welfare of mankind. Their purpose is to establish their exclusive control and to exploit the resources created by God for all mankind. Their goal is to reduce other nations to the position of hewers of wood and drawers of water and to subject them to thraldom and servitude. Here Muslims are being told, in effect, that they should eschew the ways of non-Muslims and desist from devoting their lives, energy, and resources to the evil purposes for which non-Muslims engage in warfare. (Tafheemul Quran)
Allah T'ala sent the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.a.w.) as شَاهِدً
Allah T'ala says in the Holy Quran:
يَا أَيُّهَا النَّبِيُّ إِنَّا أَرْسَلْنَاكَ شَاهِدًا وَمُبَشِّرًا وَنَذِيرًا
O Prophet, We have sent you as a witness, a bearer of good news and a warner. (33:45)Read more...
"Allah's Messenger (s.a.a.w.) used to patch his sandals, sew his garment and conduct himself at home as anyone of you does in his house. He was a human being, searching his garment for lice, milking his sheep, and doing his own chores." (Narrated by al-Tirmathi).
She also said:
"He would patch his garments and sole his sandals" She was once asked: "How was he with his family?", she responded: "He was in the service of his family until it was time for prayer, at which time he would go and pray."
Islam Has Never Taken Anything by the Sword
"They that take the sword shall perish with the sword." If these words of the New Testament are true at all, and truly applied to any nation, they certainly apply today to the nations of Christian Europe more than any other. Islam did not take the sword and therefore will not be taken with the sword. Rather it is Christian Europe which has taken the sword throughout the modern period, and it is Christian Europe which gives itself utmost license in the enjoyment of pleasure and comfort which Irving falsely imputes to Islam and to the Muslims. Today, Christian Europe is playing exactly the same role which the Mongols and Tatars played in the past in relation to Islam. The latter had put on the appearance of Islam and conquered its territories without paying any heed to Islamic teaching at all. Jesus's judgment fell rightly upon them as they brought corruption and disintegration to their Muslim subjects. Indeed, Christian Europe stands today even more guilty than those Tatars and Mongols of the past. The countries which the latter conquered quickly entered into Islam as soon as they were able to see its simplicity and greatness. Europe, however, does not conquer in order to spread a faith, nor in order to spread a civilization. What it wants is to colonize; to this end it has made the Christian faith a tool and instrument. That is why the European missions never succeeded, for they were never sincere and their propaganda served ulterior motives. They did not meet with any success at all in the Muslim countries-and indeed they never will-because the greatness of Islam-its simplicity, its rational and scientific character-leave no room in the minds of its adherents for any alien religious propaganda at all.
"They that take the sword shall perish with the sword." That is true. If this dictum was once true of the late Muslims who conquered for the sake of conquest and colonization, not in self-defense nor in defense of the faith, it is all the more true of this Christian West which conquers and vanquishes the peoples of the earth in order to colonize and to exploit. As for the early Muslims, during the time of the Prophet and of his immediate successors, they did not conquer for the purpose of conquest and colonization but in defense of their faith when it was threatened by Quraysh, Arab tribes, Byzantines, and Persians. Throughout their conquests, they never imposed their religion on anyone, for it was a cardinal principal of their faith that "there shall be no coercion in religion." [Qur'an, 2:256]
Forced by the needs of defense against persistent attack, the Muslims' conquests were never motivated by the will to colonize. The Prophet left the kings of Arabia and her princes on their thrones with their territories, economies, and political structures virtually untouched. In conquering, the Muslims sought the freedom to preach the faith. If the Islamic faith spread, it was simply because it of itself was strong by virtue of the truth which it proclaimed, the universalist nondiscrimination between Arab and non-Arab which it commanded and its adherents practiced, and the strict monotheism by which Islam enabled man to have no master except the one true God. It was because of these innate strengths of the Islamic faith that it spread throughout the earth, just as any genuine truth would spread. When the Tatar latecomers to Islam fought only for the purpose of conquest and took men by the sword, they, too, were soon taken by the sword. But Islam never took anything or anyone by the sword, and no one will take it by the sword. On the contrary, Islam conquered the minds, hearts, and consciences of the people by its innate strength. Consequently, the Muslim people have seen many governments, dictators, and tyrants, none of which has changed their faith and religion in the least. Today, Europe is still the ruler of the Muslim peoples and the tyrannic administrator of their affairs. But her tyranny will not change the Muslims' faith in God. And as she has taken the Muslims by the sword, she cannot and will not escape the destiny of being taken by the sword. Matthew's principle will once more prove true, but this time to mete out to Christian Europe her due.