Many Muslims living in the last quarter of the 20th century, often pose the question as to how they can live as good Muslims in a society which is corrupt, immoral and secular, in which persons high in authority and even the ordinary ones have no genuine commitment to the principles of Islam. Having posed the question they hardly wait for an answer. and fling themselves head- long in chasing the good things of life by al means, lawful or unlawful, moral or immoral.

Unfortunately, the effort brings neither freedom nor security, but only adds to the individual’s burdens of both sins and guilt.

A little thought would reveal that neither the question no,, the problem is new. For centuries chained to an oppressive or immoral social order, people in numerous social groups have asked this question. The long chain of prophethood culminating in the mission of Prophet Muhammad, peace be on him, has attempted to provide an answer to this very problem.

About the nature of the mission of the Prophet, Allah says:

“He enjoins on them good, and forbids them evil, and makes lawful for them the good things and forbids them the bad, and removes from them their burden and the shackles that were upon them . . . ” (7:157).

During the span of 23 years of his mission we observe him and his companions living on the one hand under the most adverse conditions without resources, support or power, and subject to most cruel and oppressive behaviour of the people of Mecca; for years they lived confined in a valley tinder the most trying conditions: on the other hand not too long thereafter we see him as the beloved and uncontested ruler of the whole of Arabia with his companions reflecting the same glory, resplendent as bright stars -fruit of a life-long mission of the last Prophet. His conduct in all these situations is an example for the believers; so also of his companions.

About the Prophet, peace be upon him, Allah says:

“Verily you have in the Prophet of Allah an excellent model, for him who pins his hopes in Allah and the Last Day and who remembers Allah much” (33:21 ).

About the companions of the Prophet, Allah says:

“And the foremost (in faith) the first of the Emigrants (Muhajireen) and the Helpers (Ansar) and those who followed them in the best possible manner, Allah is well pleased with them and they are well pleased with Him”. (9:100).

Amongst the foremost ones were many who died before migration; the Muhajireen who had spent a lifetime in Mecca in a society which was corrupt, unjust and oppressive. Yet Allah was pleased with all of them. The fact is, His covenant can be performed under all conditions, because He says:

“0 ye who believe! be heedful of your own selves. He who goes astray cannot harm you when you are rightly guided”. (5:105).

Each one is put to trial within the framework of his abilities and powers (6:165) and the Muslims are repeatedly informed that Allah could, if He had so willed, make mankind a single united community, but He in His wisdom has given Man freedom, which leaves him as capable of choosing good as evil.

Under their covenant with Allah, the Muslims are, without regard to the quantum of success achieved, obliged to do their duty in ease or in adversity. If one were to check the list of the foremost amongst the believers, we do not see in their ranks all the stalwarts of Mecca, but young men like Ali, slaves like Bilal and many others who to start with looked like ordinary people. Yet, after internalising the light of Islam in a long period of training in sacrifice and self-discipline, extending to over a decade, they burst forth on the panorama of the history of mankind as finest examples of human perfection.

The message is clear. Adversity is not necessarily a barrier in the path of a man’s development, but on the contrary develops in men a strength not possible for those brought in ease. And that great achievement demands great sacrifice and persistent effort. The political freedom may not exist, economic well being may not be possible, yet the inner freedom of man cannot be taken from him, for only he is truly a slave who wilfully surrenders his freedom-be it passions for wealth, women or property, or to a political dictator.

The Prophet’s mission commenced in Mecca. Amongst the very first suras that were revealed like sura al-Muddathir, al-Humaza, al-Maun, al-Lail, al-Balad the sinners given the most stringent warnings were the perpetrators of social injustices; the covetous rich who spent naught from their wealth on the needy, and the arrogant ones who had no pity or patience for the orphan or the seeker of help.

The challenge of Islam was on behalf of the down-trodden and the oppressed of every class, colour or creed. In fact the prime cause for the confrontation of Islam with the greatest empires of the day was this concern for the oppressed.

Even after establishment of supremacy over the whole of Arabia, Allah reminded the believers in Sura Al-Nisa, of their mission in these words:

“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 provide for us some friends from Thyself and provide for us from Thyself some helper.” (4:75).

It is possible in light of this verse to understand what Rustam, the commander of the Persian armies, could never understand: why the warriors of Islam spurned all offers of territory, wealth, trade or slaves; when asked what was the purpose of their expeditions if not these good things people aspire for, their answer was simple; it was:

“To make the slaves of men only slaves of Allah” (Ibn Kathir, Badail-Wa-al- Nihaya part VII p. 39-40)

To a world divided by superiority sought on basis of birth and caste and tribe the Prophet brought a code of life which accepted no superiority by reason of accident of birth, colour, or language, but only by virtue of moral excellence. This path of achieving superiority was open to all men or women, free ones or the slaves, the rich ones or the poor, within whatever the limits of their powers and resources. The Prophet is reported to have said:

“On the day of judgement no step of a slave of God shall slip until he has answered about four things, his body and how he used it, his life and how he spent it, his wealth and how he earned it and spent it; and his knowledge and what he did with it.”

The situational position in this behalf is no different for the modern man from that of those who lived during the Prophet’s days.

Even during the period of greatest adversity the effect of the revolution brought about by Islam was apparent in every Muslim. It was a new concern for fellow beings, for their lives, their needs, and for their honour. It could not be otherwise because having such a concern was the prime obligation of a Muslim under his coven- ant with Allah. The idea is beautifully brought out in the following hadith:

“Behold, God will say on the Day of Resurrection; ‘0 son of Adam! I was ill, and you did not succour Me.’ Man will exclaim: “0 Lord, how could I have succoured Thee, the Lord of all the worlds:’ And God will reply: ‘Did you not know that such and such of My servants, was ill, and you did not succour him? Did you not know that if you had done so, you would indeed have found Me with him? 0 son of Adam! I asked you for food, but you did not feed Me.’ ‘0 Lord, how could I have fed Thee, the Lord of all the worlds,’ Whereupon God will say: ‘Did you not know that such and such of My servants asked you for food, and you did not feed him? Did you not know that if you had done so, you would indeed have found it (again) with Me? 0 son of Adam! I asked you for a drink, but you did not give me drink’. Man will say thereupon: ‘How could I have given Thee, the Lord of all the worlds the drink?’ But God will reply: ‘Such and such of my servants asked you for a drink, but you did not give it to him. Did you not know that if you had given him to drink, you would have found it (again) with Me?’ ” (Muslim on the authority of Abu Hurayrah)

How sacred is the life, honour and belongings of a Muslim is clearly reflected in the well known Khutba on Hajjat al Wida. To this very end was aimed the declaration of the Prophet who while circumambulating the Kaaba, as if addressing it, said:

“How good are you, and how attractive is your fragrance. How noble are you and how sacred is your station, but by One in whose hand is the life Mohammad, the status of a believer is higher than yours in regard to his (rights) of property and life; and that we should not think of a Muslim but in good terms.” (ibn Maja 3932).

We often forget while dealing with each other, how often we commit a breach of this command. We often show each other no consideration or respect or fairness. We are all too willing to kiss the cover of the Kaaba and have little regard for those whom Allah and His Prophet has ordered to be honoured.

While confined in the valley of Shaib Abi Talib the believers shared each other’s grief and suffering. Whatever was available to one was available for the dire need of all. The Prophet compared the community of believers to a body so that when the eye suffers all other limbs suffer in sympathy. When injustice or injury was done to one Muslim all were expected to rise to his aid. In fact justice is established only when the on-looker feels as concerned as the one oppressed. It is this concern, which made Abu Bakr say on assuming office of Khalifa:

“The weakest amongst you is strongest in my eyes till I get him his due, and the strongest amongst you is weakest in my eye till I make him surrender that is due from him.”

It was this very same spirit which persuaded Hajjaj to send Muhammad bin Kassim to Sind when some women travelling from Ceylon were captured by Dahir’s men, and sought the governor’s help. Once the Prophet observed that:

“I visualise a time coming when a woman will travel from Hadar-Maut to Mecca alone on a she-camel, and she would have no fear in her heart except of Allah”.

His companions proved true his prophecy, be- cause all power within society was turned to serve only the larger moral commitment of the community. They could do so because they were willing to surrender today’s immediate gratification for a more beautiful tomorrow. And they were convinced that there shall ultimately be a day of reckoning, when they shall meet Allah and His Prophet.

On that day they will offer themselves as proof of fulfilment of his mission. What shall we have to say when we come face to face with the Prophet? That we endlessly chanted what a perfect guide he was without partaking of His guidance, that we called him the light of the world without kindling our souls with that light, that we pro- claimed the Book he brought as the best shariat to live by without making it the rule governing our lives. Did he not order that

“whoever sees a wrong let him right it with his hand, but if he cannot let him protest orally, if even this is not possible then let him abhor it in his heart and this is the weakest state of Iman” (Muslim)

The Qur’an is a book for those interested in good deeds and not magical formulae. This is not all. Often by process of glorification we raise the Prophet so high that he ceases to remain a model to be emulated.

The Muslim
June-July/August-September 1976