The Qur’an has described the Prophet, peace be upon him, as an excellent model for those who fear Allah and the Last Day, and remember Allah much. His mission has been crucial to the fulfilment of Divine mercy. The breadth of his vision encompassed both the worlds; his moral sensitivity, his concern and his commitment gave new spiritual and moral dimension to every mundane act. In a variety of roles he was and continues to be an example to emulate.

The Prophet, peace be upon him, lived within the searchlight of history. Never in history has a human being been written and spoken about more than him. Every time that we have reverted to his remembrance we have naught but ennobled our minds and en- lightened our souls and found solace when forces of darkness and press us from all sides.

The poor of the world are in revolt. They have rejected in the most positive terms the world of the long and dismal yesterday that for centuries was their lot. No one is willing to accept or reconcile to the inevitability or permanence of deprivation and penury. Display of wealth by others excites not envy but anger. What have we, heirs to the Prophet’s, peace be upon him, commitments-that he was the father for every orphan-done in this behalf?

Have we, as the followers of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, sought or taught ways to make universal as he did the Divine promise:

“And He found you in want and put you beyond need” (g.38)

and carried on a struggle against those about whom Allah says:

“Woe to every backbiter, slanderer, who amasses wealth and counts it time after time and thinks that his wealth will make him immortal” (104. 1-3)

Have we devised any joint plans to give effect to the Qur’anic injunction that:

“In their wealth is the share of those who seek help and those who are deprived” (51.19)

Because we have failed to carry conviction as their champions, the down trodden of the earth are looking in different directions for guidance and are accepting new leadership, however phoney or false its promises or plans.

On the other hand amongst the people of the industrially advanced world, notwithstanding the glitter of greater prosperity and more widespread sharing of means of comfort, health and know- ledge, the individual is suffering acutely, because with all the impressive gains made in the field of science and technology he is acutely confused about his position in the Universe and particularly in society.

Science has given him great power to alter the environment around him and to go forth as he likes, yet he does not know what destination he is heading for; he has acquired power to mould and manipulate the human mind but does not know to what end. He is deeply con- fused about the relationship he must establish with his fellow beings; he knows not what to withdraw from and what to feed the human mind with, and above all what is he for in this world.

If he belongs to someone, then to whom? And if he is here for himself, then for what? These are questions he is hard pressed to answer, and can- not. These questions in a way are eternal, and each one must find an answer at the individual and the communal level. Many of us have found an answer in the glorious message Muhammad, peace be upon him, introduced to us. However, a very large human audience needs and seeks to share our experience, and they judge the validity of our answers to these central questions about the human situation, by the authenticity of our commitment, and the meaningfulness of our solutions for the contemporary problems. It is easy to shower praises on the way the Qur’anic tidings of Allah were implemented in the Prophet’s and his companions’ times; but the more difficult question to answer is as to how in the 20th Century does the Muslim Community propose to rise up to the role of leadership.

The time has come when those who carry the burden of guiding or leading the community must realise that mere panegyrics are no substitute for positive plans.

We know the modern era as one of revolutions, and yet we have failed to meaningfully convey to mankind the message of the greatest revolutionary of history; we know that modern man is sick of phoney guides, yet we have failed to properly introduce him to one who was and remains the best of guides. We also know that ours is an age of science and technology. What explanation do we have for our dismal laggardness in this field even though it was the Muslims who for centuries carried the torch of science and are duty bound to introduce mankind to a Book whose contents appeal as much to mind as to heart-in fact a Book which rejects the dichotomy of Reason and Emotion and addresses man as one undivided unity. All this happens because we have wilfully or unwittingly forgotten part of the Divine guidance and are not fully aware of the factors which hurt or inspire modern man.

Our competence and bonafide are both suspect because we do not, and cannot, offer ourselves as genuine intellectual leaders of mankind and living examples of men with a great commitment. Our language smells of historical mustiness.

The vocal cords seem to vibrate but the message reaches neither the mind nor the heart. We are in fact party to a great treason. We have accepted without demur the categories of con- temporary secular Western thought and even its objectives. Are not many amongst our ranks embarrassed to mention the life hereafter as the sole object of social effort here? Have we not reconciled with the phoney social justice and welfare schemes offered by Western or the Socialist Imperialists. Were we not required by the words of Qur’an:

“And what is the matter with you that you fight not in the cause of Allah and of the weak-men, women and children-who say, our Lord take us out of this town whose people are oppressors, and make for us some friends from Thyself and make for us some helper from Thyself”. (4.75)

to fight against every injustice? Have we denounced, as the Prophet did, the glaring injustices going on around us? And have we, while fighting for the weak, sought to undo the constant belittling of man that goes on unceasingly? Have we not protested strongly against the lesser failings and kept silence against the greater ones?

“Do you hold the giving of drink to the pilgrims, and the maintenance of the sacred Mosque as equal to work of him who believes in Allah and the Last Day and strives in path of Allah. They are not equal in the sight of Allah and Allah guides not the unjust people”.

While a great deal has been written about Seerat, a lot of effort one must regretfully admit, has been self-defeating because of careless or uncritical handling of the source material. Our mother Aisha as-Siddiqa, may Allah be pleased with her, had once been asked about the Seerat of the Prophet, and she referred the inquirer to the Qur’an. It is necessary to study Seerat and to discover its significance primarily from the Qur’an, whose contents the Prophet was commanded to convey by word and by example. After the third century of Islam the biographical writing about the Prophet progressively became dominated by a passionate search for the miraculous, and quest for detail. In some later writing the total effect created about his personality differs sharply from that which is projected in Qur’an.

The Prophet,peace be upon him, was a human being sent to be a model to human beings. Turning him into an angel does him no honour! Time is ripe to reassess in the light of Qur’an what has already been written. But before this is done, we must critically formulate and restate the principles on which our impressive historical heritage in this field is to be read, understood and utilized.

The duty of teaching Islam to mankind remains unfulfilled because we have not yet written adequate material for proper introduction of Islam, to non-Muslims and Muslims alike. What is even a greater failing is the fact that we continue to speak in an idiom which is completely out of date.

We talk about problems which are no more the prime concerns of mankind, and offer solutions which show inadequate mastery of the problems.

No human being has ever caused such radical changes in the social order as the Prophet, peace be upon him. He was for ever conscious not only of the community around him, but of the whole humanity and even of generations to come. He changed the world around him beyond recognition. He had no hesitation in accepting or devising a new solution if it promised a more competent resolution of society’s problems, be it in the field of logistics, or reorganisation of human relationships, or medicine, or dress. In his times numerous changes in every aspect of society came about, but with a difference. He did not reject the past as mere error. On the contrary he characterised his mission as being the culmination of the old prophetic missions. He could look at the past and the future with an equally clear gaze. He retained what was good, and replaced that which could be improved.

His companions of Al-Khilafat al-Rashida continued the mission. So astounding and attractive were the achievements of this era, that the later generations chose to resist change because what had already been achieved was so good. But uncreative conservatism ill suits the community which is designed for leadership of the World.

The community ultimately went to the extent of equating all innovation with disbelief with the consequences which need no recounting. On its way in history it obviously made some wrong choices. It seems necessary, that in an era where no “today” is ever like yesterday, the Muslim community must know how to meet the challenge of change, of that on going “revolution” which threatens to be the only abiding characteristic of the last quarter of the 20th century. It is crucial that we identify with a very clear vision the permanent frame of reference within that which is constantly in a state of flux. Too long the community has sought to carry the back breaking burden of history-laden Islam of fourteen centuries because it has lost its capacity to distinguish between Islam and the history of the Muslim people.

The community is deeply in need of guidance in regard to approach and principles to be acted upon in dealing with this problem. The Qur’an constantly speaks of the duties of Muslims, and the Prophet, peace be upon him, lost no opportunity in developing in the community a consciousness of their obligations, individual as well as collective.

The Qur’an is, however, equally clear that not all obligations are of equal value, and the Prophet, peace be upon him, never failed in sharpening the community’s view in regard to their priorities. Restoration of a correct perspective in this behalf is a matter of paramount importance. We are pleased too easily if even a few of the requirements of Islam are fulfilled even though the Qur’an is quite explicit that commitment shall have to be complete (2.208).

Allah expressly rejects half-hearted commitment (2.85) and promises people with such commitment nothing but disgrace in this world and sever chastisement in the hereafter. If the believers have sold their lives and their wealth in exchange of Paradise, what concrete guidance can we obtain from the life of the Prophet when today the Muslim community as a whole from Sahara to Philippines is locked in a life and death struggle against a variety of evil forces? We need some in-depth investigation of the possibilities in this direction.

The Economic Man of Marx, like the Sexual Man of Freud are on the way to become part of history. The world needs a new vision and a new meaning of human existence. People are watching with a very critical gaze how we, following the Sunnah of the Prophet, peace be upon him, propose to act as men believing in Islam. 

The Muslim
April-May 1976