By: Shahnaz Khan
February 27, 2012
Muslims all over the
world celebrated the Prophet’s birthday during this month by remembering the
details of his life: His birth, childhood, marriages, and struggle to spread
his message, kindness, courage, wisdom, last sermon and finally death. There is
emphasis on how he spoke, loved, washed, worshiped, ate, drank etc. And premium
is put on imitating him in the smallest details. But the questions I keep
asking myself are: What is his real legacy? What is the essence of his message?
Who are the true heirs of his tradition? Is there a higher, more profound
meaning in his life that we should be trying to understand?
This article is mostly
about questions, rather than answers. As someone who is observing a worldwide
meltdown of the current financial systems, destruction of the environment,
population explosion, exploitation of the poor and attempts of the superpowers
to control the world resources, these questions are not just relevant, but of
existential nature. If we do not attempt to look for the solution to these
problems in his teachings and philosophy, then just reciting poems in his
praise and ritualistic imitation of his life is meaningless.
Muslims claim that his
message is eternal. Is that a realistic expectation? How do we reconcile what
he did in the tribal life of the 7th century Arabia with the demands of the
21st century? This will be only possible if we look beyond the superficial
ritualistic aspects of his life. Travel by camels, eating dates as a staple
food, wearing the kind of clothes that he did, methods of war and peace, norms
of inter-tribal relations of his day cannot be simply imposed today. So, what
is his core message that will last for eternity? I believe timelessness of his
message can only be found by going beyond the perfunctory review of his
teachings. Only then we discover his true legacy that is his revolutionary
spirit, his courage to challenge the status quo, his audacity to question the
traditions, which were unjust, inhumane and exploitative of the weak. This is
the essence of his message that will live forever, that will be applicable in
all times to come and will inspire men and women to higher ideals and move the
world towards a better place for all human beings: Men and women, old and
young, weak and strong, rich and poor, white and black, yellow and brown.
He emphasised charity,
but when charity erodes human dignity, makes people and nations to become
subservient to the rich, when it becomes a business for ulterior motives and,
above all, when it fails to alleviate human misery and restore balance of power
among people and nations, is it still the answer? How would he address this
issue? Economic disparity and marginalisation of the poor is the predominant
problem of the modern world. Promise of capitalism has failed. The trickledown
economics does not work for the majority of the people on this planet where
almost three-fourths of them live in poverty, while a few have amassed enormous
wealth; where multinational companies control the world resources. What will be
his stand on feudalism, current trade practices, unlimited private property
holdings, maximisation of profit for shareholders by exploiting the workers?
Will he approve of a system that allows a minority of people to hold large
amounts of land and property enabling them to subjugate the majority?
Karen Armstrong in her
book, Muhammad: A biography of the Prophet, says: Western scholars tell us that
it is mistaken to see Muhammad as a socialist. They point out that he never
criticised capitalism, which had, after all, done great things for the Quraysh,
and that he did not attempt to abolish poverty altogether, which would have
been an impossible task in the seventh-century Arabia. Muhammad may not have
conformed to all the recent concepts of socialism, as it has evolved in the
West, but in a deeper sense he was certainly socialist. I believe there is a
certain truth in this statement.
obedience to the ruler. What would he say about the rulers, who are corrupt and
unjust? Would he want people to follow them blindly? Or would he expect them to
raise their voice against their corrupt practices? What will he expect people
to do when the poor in a country do not have bare minimum food to sustain,
while millions are spent in the kitchens of the rulers? When average person
does not have even meagre means to travel, while the rich are importing
expensive cars and establishing private trains for their luxury? Where poor
children are deprived of even the basic primary education, while the rich
attend elite schools with air-conditioned rooms? Where the workers are paid
minimum wage and no benefits, while the owners of the mills and factories are
minting money? Where the average person is dying of tainted medicines, while
rich are flown in private jets to countries with the state-of-the-art medical
facilities? Where rich have palaces with swimming pools, while the poor are
forced to spend lives in makeshift huts from which they can be evicted anytime?
What will he do and say to the poor and the rich in today’s Pakistan?
Karen Armstrong said:
At the beginning, therefore, Islam was a movement of young men and people, who
felt they were being pushed into a marginal place in the city of Makkah. Why
was this so? I think it was because his message of change, egalitarianism,
economic and social justice resonated with them. From this perspective, his
message is not just for all times, but for people of all ages, all countries,
all ethnicities and all religions. The young and the poor of today have to
think hard. Do they want to mindlessly follow what the preachers are telling
them or are they willing to be the true heirs of his tradition and challenge
the status quo, work for equality and justice for all, according to the needs
of this modern day. Will the young men and women, please rise to the occasion?
The writer is a physician based in the US.
Source: The Nation