religion and community action
by MAJID IRSAN KILANI
Among Muslims who cling to their Islam, there is a picture of the
real Muslim as one who fasts and prays and gives a few coppers in
charity every Friday. This Muslim is one who knows nothing but his
salat and his fasting. He is not interested in anyone or anything
even if the firmament were to come crashing down. He goes out to the
masjid and returns home and from his home to the masjid again. And
if he needs anything from the shop, he fetches it and comes back home.
Muslims would lose only if this model becomes the highest one which
the followers of Islam look up to and which its workers strive after.
They would lose because this is a lifeless model on which is piled
up all that the Prophet- peace be upon him-sought refuge from- namely,
weakness and laziness, and cowardice and miserliness. This is moreover
a difficult position to uphold because the individual attempting to
do so would be placed " far away from the sheep. Neither could he
defend the sheep from the wolf nor could he give the protection of
a shepherd. "
The believer ... never steps out of line ... and only works within
a group. It is necessary for Muslims to throw off this image and replace
it with one composed of the pristine strength and effectiveness of
the be liever while he strives for control over life's existence under
the banner La ilaaha illa Allah (there is no god but Allah). The believer
never steps out of line and only works within a group. Islam aims
at this ideal, provides working examples and lays down the laws for
achieving it. This is why, for example, prayer in a congregation is
considered better than prayer performed alone: the supplications in
a Mus lim's prayer-Thee do we worship-are community-centred.
The Qur'an tells us about two righteous parties. One party looks on
religion as an individual worship. They despair of reforming the disobedient.
They call for isolation from them and the abandoning of their affairs
to God, themselves preferring safety and comfort even while corruption
spreads over the land. The second party looks on worship as believing
in righteousness and doing righteous acts while standing up to the
disobedient, whatever the injuries and loss that may be incurred.
The two groups often become engaged in conversation which almost invariably
follows the same lines. The first party would shout at the other,
"Why trouble yourself with people who have incurred God's anger and
inevitably will be destroyed?" The second party would reply, "We seek
forgiveness from our Lord, Perhaps they may become righteous and God-
fearing or, the punishment would descend on them."
This then is the second party, righteous acting and calling to the
way of Allah. This is the successful party enjoying Allah's protection
while the first party, concerned about its own righteousness and despairing
of reforming others does not come in for any mention:
"And when a community among them said, Why do you preach to a
folk whom Allah is about to destroy and punish with an awful doom,
they said: In order to be free from guilt before your Lord, and that
perchance they may ward off evil. And when they forgot that of which
they had been reminded, we rescued those who forbade wrong, and visited
those who did wrong with dreadful punishment because they were evil-
livers." (The Qur'an, Al-A'raf 7 : 164-5)
The expression they did wrong (zalarnu) covers the first group of
people since wrong- doing consists of many stages beginning with abandoning
the call to the way of Allah and ending by reaching out for the things
declared unlawful. It is an expression repeated in several places
in the Qur'an. Sometimes the Qur'an mentions it in very clear terms
in dealing with those who abandon the injunction to enjoin the good
and forbid the evil, likening them at the same time to donkeys toting
valuable books. Those who have the slightest sense would never think
of including these "donkeys" among the learned among men, merely because
they also carry books:
The likeness of those who are entrusted with the law of Moses,
yet apply it not, is as the likeness of the ass carrying books. Wretched
is the likeness the likeness of folk who deny the revelation of Allah,
And Allah guideth not wrong-doing folk." (Al-Jum'ah, 62 : 5)
A righteous disposition not enough: And sometimes the Qur'an deals
simultaneously with certain laws governing reward and punishment whereby
a mere righteous disposition does not prevent punishment but it is
righteous doing which wards it off:
"If only there had been among the generations before you men possessing
a remnant of good sense to warn their people from corruption in the
earth, as did a few of those whom We saved from them! The wrong-doers
followed that by which they were made hapless, and were guilty, In
truth thy Lord destroyed not the townships unjustly while their folk
were doing right." (Hud, 11 : 1 1 6-7)
The Qur'an deals with actual accounts which affirm this connotation.
For example, there were the Children of Israel whom God has damned
because the righteous among them withdrew to themselves and flattered
the agents of corruption among them. They were considered transgressors
like these corrupted ones themselves.
"Those of the children of Israel who disbelieved were cursed by
the tongue of David and of Jesus, son of Mary. That was because they
rebelled and used to transgress. They restrained not one another from
the wickedness they did, Verily evil is what they used to do." ((Al-Ma'ida,,
5 : 78-9)
The Qur'an bears down heavily on those who study the religion of Allah,
attain the ranks of knowledgeable folk and thereafter do not exert
themselves to the call of Allah. On the contrary, they take knowledge
as a means to wealth and fame. And so God says:
"Indeed those who hid any part of the Scripture which Allah
has revealed and purchase a small gain therewith, they consume in
their bellies nothing but fire. Allah will not speak to them on the
day of Resurrection, nor will He purify them, Theirs will be a painful
punishment." ((Al-Baqarah,, 2 : 174)
When we ponder on the reason behind the punishing of those who keep
away from eliminating mischief, we can see why in fact they deserve
punishment. It is because isolation and individualism are like guards
whom their master has placed to look after his orchard. Instead of
looking after the crops and the fruits and co-operating with each
other in so doing, each of them retires to the shade of the trees,
eating the fruits while the gates are left open for thieves to do
as they like and for animals to destroy.
Since the birth of the Message: Isolation as far as the Muslim community
is concerned signifies a violation of the divine covenant which has
laid down certain conditions on this community by making it the community
of the Middle Path and setting it up as the guardian of truth, the
standard-bearer against evil and the summoner to the way of Allah.
If the early Muslims had understood Islam as being concerned only
with their own good and with keeping to their homes, they would not
have gone out from the Arabian peninsula to engage in battle the empires
of Persia and Byzantium. Islam would not have reached the people of
Syria and Palestine, Iraq and Egypt, Persia and India, Turkestan,
North Africa and Spain. And if they had understood Islam as a means
towards wealth and fame and veneration and honour, they would not
have embraced it. The Muslim of old gave and did not take. He was
persecuted after having enjoyed security and was despised after having
reached high ranks (in his pre-Muslim days).
Indeed, Islam has laid down the principle of collective action since
the birth of the message and made it an essential condition for entering
the ranks of believers.
It was impressed on the believers in Mecca that without combining
with the group in Yathrib (Medina), there would be no relationship
or friendship despite the faith they had achieved.
"Those who believed and left their homes and strove with their
wealth and their lives for the cause of Allah, and those who took
them in and helped them-these are the protecting friends one of another,
But those who believed and did not leave their homes, you have no
duly to protect them fill they leave their homes." (Al-Anfal, 8:72)
Even the polytheists who have a treaty with the community of believers
who exert themselves are considered worthier of good faith than those
individuals scattered like beads of a necklace which has no linking
",But if they seek help from you in a matter of religion, then
it is your duty to help them except against a folk between whom and
you there is a treaty. Allah is seer of what you do." (Al-Anfal, 8
There is a significant reason which Allah, the All-knowing and All-seeking,
knows and for this reason He does not accept individualistic religion,
nor does He approve of it:
"All those who disbelieve are protectors one of another. If
you do not do this (help those who seek your help), there will be
confusion in the land and great corruption." (AI-Anfal. 8 : 73)
The Prophet, peace be upon him, said
Muslims' understanding of Islam in our times can be expressed in
a few phrases: "Fast and pray and leave the affairs of others alone.
No one will then get in the way of your religion and Allah will
not call you to account for others. He would help everyone who keeps
his religion to himself." Life for such people is summed up thus:
"Leave us alone to live and eat. Jihad is part of this living and
eating. Therein lies the Reward."
"Disbelief is one nation"
This is the reason why the disbelievers do not practise their Kufr
(disbelief) as scattered individuals. Their disbelief unites them
and they attack the believers without any mercy or compassion. And
if there is no other group to confront them, the leadership of humanity
would fall in their hands and they would spread great confusion in
the land and great corruption.
Examples of this are numerous. Did the Crusaders of old commit their
aggression as individuals or did they mobilise their full forces?
The Muslims were only able to rid themselves of this bitter onslaught
when God sent Imaduddin, Nuruddin and Salahuddin, may Allah have mercy
on them, who confronted the Crusaders with a similar united force.
Did the present-day Crusaders and the Jews employ their corruption
as individuals, or did they work together as armed forces, attacking
the lands of Muslims and others to commit their outrages and wreak
havoc on the holy places? Did the communists employ their atheism
as individuals or did they work together and hold the reins of power
in many countries and attack Islam and Muslims in the birthplace of
Bukhari and Tirmidhi and others like them, converting mosques into
stables and Muslim educational institutions into strongholds of kufr
(disbelief) and corruption,
It is not only the Muslims who have suffered by the transfer of leadership
to Kufr. Indeed humanity as a whole-black, white and yellow- suffered
and the earth filled with strife and great corruption. This is what
Allah means when he says,
". . . if you do not act thus, there will be confusion in the
land and great corruption."
Muslims bear the brunt of these disorders and corruption. They are
the ones responsible for the good of humanity and they are the candidates
for its leadership, Allah has provided them with the means and the
requisite spiritual and material assets for assuming it.
"Thus we have created you a middle com munity, that you may be
witnesses against mankind, and that the messenger may be a witness
against you." (Al-Baqarah, 2 : 143)
"You are the best community that has been raised up for mankind.
You enjoin the good and forbid the evil and you believe in Allah."
(Ali 'Imran 3 : 1 1 0)
No wonder then that Allah has described the community of believers
solidly working together as,
"They are the true believers."
This description implies that there is at the other end superficial
believers, in name only.
"Those who believed and left their homes and strove for the cause
of Allah, and those who look them in aid helped them-they are the
true believers. For them is pardon and a bountiful provision." (Al-Anfal,
As Ostriches do: Individualistic religion collapses before the grouping
of the disbelievers. This situation, as I have said above, places
the follower of individualism "far away from the sheep. Neither can
he defend the sheep from the wolf nor can he give the protection of
a shepherd." Suppose that you pray and fast alone and forsake society
regardless of whether people err or are righteous. Is it possible
for your womenfolk to dress according to the teachings of the Sharia'
in a society which neither binds itself by the teaching of the Sharia'
nor in which the women dress according to it? The rest of the women
will laugh at them and they them- selves will return to you with howls
of protest. They throw away the covering dress and instead they wear
the garment of prostitutes.
You send your daughter to school where the school-mistresses are the
ones who set the example in displaying their charms. The headmistress
would reprimand, if not dismiss, any girl who does not wear a dress
in accordance with the group. In the university the boys and girls
are mixed up and the system and the methods approve of, and encourage
this. Can you resist all this? No! Therefore, would you prevent her
from attending school or university and keep her in the thick of illiteracy?
It is a problem!
Your own children go out to the street and see the immoral movies
and the obscene magazines. They read the ugly stories and the bedroom
novels. They become involved with bad-mannered companions. Can you
guarantee their immunity from being smeared? Would all your advices
and instructions be of any use in the face of all this ? The radio
and the television with their loose programmes are the thieves within
the home-stealing religion and morality. Can you prevent your family
from listening to them ? Or, could you force the station to alter
its programmes ?
A friend of yours is ill or circumstances put you in difficult straits
and you have to ask for a loan. Can you force people to give you a
loan without interest? Suppose a criminal kills your brother or your
son, can you bring him before an Islamic court which closes all loopholes
for tricks and rejects the claims of secular judges? Such examples
are many. They may be worse and even more bitter.
What then is left of individualistic religion? All that is left is
the clogging of the ears, the closing of the eyes-as ostriches do
and contentment with humiliation which leads the afflicted one into
hell. When he is asked about what he did he would reply in unison
with the disgraced group:
"We were the oppressed in the land". (An-Nisa', 4 :97)
Love and support only to those who work together It is left for the
guides and the preachers to spend time talking about the things that
invalidate Wudu and spoil the Fast, about the uses of the tooth-stick
and the prayers over food and the marriage ceremony. They would keep
on repeating these manner of things until it becomes one of the best
ways of making worshippers fall asleep and boring listeners. They
would enter knowingly or unknowingly the group whom Allah mentions:
"And (remember) when Allah laid a charge on those who had received
the Scripture He said, You are to expound it to mankind and not hide
it. But they flung it behind their backs and bought thereby a little
gain. Verily evil is that which they have gained thereby." (Ali 'Imran,
3 : 187)
Here lies the danger of individualistic religion and the necessity
for collective, co-ordinated action, inspite of hindrances on the
road and conspiracies against such action. Therefore it is not strange
when we hear Allah giving a special love to those who work collectively:
"Surely Allah loves those who fight in His cause in ranks as if
they were a solid structure". (As-Saff, 61 : 4)
Neither is it strange that Allah should give his bounty and support
only to those who combine and work together in His cause.
-Translated from Al Shihab, Beirut, No. 2,