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.”

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 thread.

“,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 : 72)

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

“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, 8 :74)

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,

The Muslim
May 1969