By Maulana Wahiduddin Khan for New Age Islam
March 20 2015
1. Criterion of God’s Acceptance
The Quran (5:18) says:
The Jews and the Christians say, “We are the children of God and His beloved ones.” Say, “Then why does He punish you for your sins? Indeed, you are but human beings among those He has created. He forgives whom He pleases and punishes whom He pleases. The kingdom of the heavens and the earth and all that is between them, belong to God and all shall return to Him.”
The punishment referred to in this Quranic verse is not in the sense of a punishment from above. Rather, it refers to the ‘oppression’ faced by Jews at the hands of non-Jewish peoples. Two examples from Jewish history of this oppression have been mentioned in the Quran (See 17:4-7).
The above-quoted Quranic verse (5:18) announces a Divine law. This law applied in the same way to the Jewish people as it does to later communities. No community is an exception to this rule.
Now apply this Divine law to present-day Muslims. For around the last 200 years, Muslims have been engaged in what can be called ‘agitational politics’. They complain that other communities are oppressing them. Muslims are involved in a continuous what they claim to be ‘jihad’ against these ‘oppressors’.
In terms of its results, this negative so-called jihad of Muslims has been a complete failure. The curses they have heaped on others have all gone in vain. Their weapons have proven to be completely ineffective. The lives and wealth that they have sacrificed have all come to nothing.
In the light of the criterion mentioned in the above-quoted Quranic verse, this is no ordinary matter. It is an indication that present-day Muslims have not received God’s help. And without God’s help no person or community can achieve success.
2. A Practice of the Jews
A practice of the Jews has been mentioned in the Quran in these words:
Say, ‘Who revealed the Book which Moses brought, a light and guidance for the people, which you made into separate sheets, showing some but hiding many?...’ (6:91)
In this verse, the word “Qirtas” refers to something tangible, that is, paper. However, what the Jews had really ‘shown’ and ‘hidden’ was something intangible. Although the verse speaks of a material phenomenon, that is, the Book of God being fragmented into separate sheets, what is actually meant is that the meaning of the Book was distorted.
This incident happened in the period of the degeneration of the Jews. The separation into sheets that this Quranic verse speaks of was the Jews’ separating the spirit of the divine religion from its form. Their religious scholars and monks gave great stress to the form of the Divine religion, but did not talk about its spirit. As a result, the Divine religion, which was actually based on the spirit, was practically transformed into a form-based religion.
All this was not a phenomenon of the Jewish community. Rather, it was a phenomenon of the period of degeneration of a community. In the period of degeneration of every community, this is what happens—even in the case of the Muslim community.
If you want to understand the occasion for revelation of the above-quoted Quranic verse, study the Bible. The Bible shows, in great detail, that the Jews had made this sort of separation in the Divine teachings. They ignored the meaning or inner spirit of the Divine religion and gave enormous stress to the external form of the religion, as if this itself was the real religion.
Referring to this, Jesus said:
Blind guides! You strain your water so you won’t accidentally swallow a gnat, but you swallow a camel!
3. Continuous Search
Someone very rightly mentioned, “Life is full of commas. There is no full-stop in life.”
This saying is more appropriate in the context of intellectual development. Our minds have unlimited potential. These abilities keep unfolding, and this is an unending process. If your mind does not get stuck somewhere, the process continues on its own.
One ought to be a life-long seeker, to be open-minded, to study things freely, to relate and interact with people without any prejudice, and to regard oneself always as a student. One’s search must always continue. There must be no full-stop to it.
This keenness to learn continuously is found in its complete sense in a believer. For the believer, only God’s word has the status of the final word. No one else but God has this status.
This means that a believer thinks in just the opposite way of one who thinks that whatever has to be said has already been said and that now there is no room for critique or addition. This closed-mindedness puts an end to creativity and leads to intellectual stagnation.
A believer is completely free from this biased thinking. That is why his process of intellectual development never stops. It continues throughout his life, till his last breath.
4. I Don’t Know!
Abdullah ibn Wahb Misri (d. 197 AH) was a jurist of the Maliki school and a scholar of Hadith. He spent 20 years in the company of Imam Malik. Once, he remarked, “Malik ibn Anas says ‘I don’t know’ so many times that I can fill my writing tablet with this phrase: ‘I don’t know’.”
To admit ‘I don’t know’ is no simple matter. It actually indicates deep wisdom. To admit that you do not know is an indication of a profound psychological reality. It indicates that you are a person who thinks, who is engaged in continuously pondering and reflecting on things. Someone who remains silent thinks. Someone who does not reply to a question is thinking about the question.
Nature’s greatest gift to us is our mind. The greatest action that we can do is to keep our thinking process continuously active. The thinking process leads to creative thinking and to continuous intellectual development.
Intellectual development is behind all forms of human progress. It makes us human. If your intellectual development stops, you become like an animal.
To speak less means to think more. To admit, ‘I don’t know’ means to engage in deeper reflection. Keeping silence is an indication of sincerity.
These attributes transform an ordinary person into a great person.
5. Past and Present
In the context of ‘Muslim revival’, what most Muslims imagine is that in order to make present-day Muslims a ‘living community’ once again, they must be reminded of their past. It is said that history proves that a community that is cut off from its history can never achieve success. According to this view, Muslims were unable to undergo a revival because their leaders did not link them up with their past.
This argument is not true to the facts, however. The truth is precisely the opposite.
In the last 200 years, leaders who emerged across the entire Muslim world engaged, without exception, in this very task—of reminding Muslims of their history, and that too in a very exaggerated way, so that they could be urged to take action to revive their past history. In practice, however, this policy completely failed. All the many efforts that Muslim leaders made in this regard proved to be pointless. Yet, almost all present-day Muslim ‘leaders’ are doing exactly the same as their predecessors over the last 200 years.
Why is this so?
There is just one reason for this—and it is to regard the lack of results as being due to want of action. Because the efforts made in the last 200 years failed to deliver the expected results, these leaders, displaying their lack of awareness, claim that this happened because Muslims did not engage in the required action needed for their revival.
In this regard, the actual blunder of Muslim leaders is that their diagnosis of the problem facing Muslims was not right. The secret of success of any community is that it should be aware of the present. There is no use relating stories of the past. It only further stokes false pride. In contrast, awareness of the present motivates people to engage in appropriate action, to understand present challenges and to plan appropriate responses.
6. Muslim Biographers of the Prophet
Maulana Syed Sulaiman Nadvi (d. 1953) was a famous Muslim scholar and writer. In a speech, his son once mentioned that he wrote a letter to his mentor Maulana Ashraf Ali Thanvi, saying, “I am very keen on serving Islam in regard to Europe’s religious and intellectual attacks; twenty-five years of my life have been spent in this endeavour.”
The mentality that these words reveal is the very same mentality of all present-day Muslim Ulema across the world. These Ulema have known the West only as a perpetrator of aggression and atrocities against Islam. However, this was entirely a result of the negative thinking of the Muslim scholars, and not of enmity towards Islam of the West.
An important aspect of which the Muslim Ulema are completely unaware is that even if, for the sake of argument, it be supposed that Westerners do have some prejudices about Muslims and Islam, they are madus, people who are to be invited to God. It is our duty to ignore their inimical attitudes, and, in a positive manner, to convey to them the invitation to God and to be genuinely concerned about their wellbeing.
But instead of doing this, Muslim Ulema have viewed Westerners as synonymous with imperialists. They fail to appreciate the great discoveries that Westerners made in the field of the natural sciences, which are signs of God and which are a powerful support in inviting people to God.
After the invention of the printing press, many biographies of the Prophet written by Muslim scholars have been published. But among them there is hardly any in which the Dawah- (conveying the message of God) responsibility of the Prophet is highlighted as the fundamental duty of his Prophethood. No biography presents the life of the Prophet in a manner that shows the task of Dawah as the real and primary aspect of his mission.
This lack is found in the writings of all contemporary Muslim scholars who have written biographies of the Prophet. The reason for this appears to be that these biographers have not studied the Prophet’s life from a perspective that gives prominence to his Dawah responsibility.
In the mid 1960s, I was in Lucknow. Every evening, I would go to the Acharya Narendra Dev Library, which was located on the banks of the river Gomti. Many young men would sit in the library, spending hours reading English and Hindi newspapers. One day, I tried chatting with some of them, wanting to find out their views about the country’s political situation. I discovered, however, that these men were unaware of political and other national issues. They could not offer any opinion on these subjects. After probing further, I found that they did not come to the library to read newspapers. Instead, they were interested only in scanning job advertisements in the papers. The only section of the newspapers they were interested in reading was the employment column.
The case of Muslim biographers of the Prophet is similar. The mindset with which they read books about the Prophet’s life is not one that is really geared to dawah, inviting people to God. That is why, in line with their particular mindset, they find other things and highlight those in their writings. For instance, the Egyptian Husain Haykal was interested in the views of the Orientalists about the Prophet, and so almost half of his biography of the Prophet is devoted to providing a response to the views held by the Orientalists.
Almost the same thing is the case with other Muslim biographers of the Prophet. Those who took great pride in the history of Islam wrote biographies of the Prophet under the influence of their particular mindset. Writers with a political bent of mind shaped their biographies of the Prophet on the pattern of politics and government. Writers who gave great importance to matters of jurisprudence wrote a sort of jurisprudential account of the Prophet’s life. In the case of writers who believed that the Prophet performed miraculous feats, their accounts of the Prophet’s life became like a collection of miracles.
As far as the question of Dawah, inviting people to God, is concerned, it was present in all these biographies, but only partially, and was not given much importance. These writings were definitely not written in such a way that once someone had finished reading them he would think that following the Prophet of Islam in terms of discharging his responsibility toward others was that he should convey the Prophet’s message to the whole of humankind, that he should consider other communities as madus, and that, ignoring all complaints against them, he should convey to them this message, with full and genuine concern for their welfare.
The Prophet was a bearer of good tidings and a warner for the whole of humanity. Love for the Prophet demands that we must revive his practice of Dawah. But this point about the importance of Dawah is generally missing, or is given only passing mention, in the writings of many Muslim scholars who have written accounts of the life of the Prophet.
7. A Story about Harun al-Rashid
Harun al-Rashid (766-809) was the fifth Abbasid Caliph. It is said that a Jew had to once ask something of Harun al-Rashid. For an entire year, he would go to the Caliph’s door but the Caliph did not fulfil his request. Then, one day, when Harun al-Rashid came out, the man rushed to him and said, “O Commander of the Faithful! Fear God!”
On hearing this, the Caliph dismounted from his horse and prostrated on the ground. After a while, he lifted his head and instructed that the Jew’s request be fulfilled. When the Caliph returned, he was asked if he had dismounted from his horse at what the Jew had said. He replied that this was not so, but, rather, that he had remembered these words of God:
When he is told, “Have fear of God,” he is seized by pride which drives him to wrongdoing. Hell shall be enough for him. A dreadful resting place. (Quran 2:206)
8. In Times of Crisis
On May 16, 2011 a Cathay Pacific flight took off from Singapore, heading towards Jakarta, with 136 passengers on board. On the way, one of its engines caught fire. The pilot managed to steer the plane back to Singapore. Panic-stricken passengers, a newspaper reported, began crying out to God for His protection.
Experience tells us that when people face a crisis situation, when they feel that they are simply helpless to handle such a predicament, they cry out to God. That is what happened on board the plane that day.
All of us face such crisis situations in our lives. This proves that the concept of God is interwoven in human nature. Every human being is potentially aware of God’s existence.
The purpose of Dawah, inviting people to God, is to turn this potentiality into a reality. Dawah is not something separate from the human personality. When one is called toward God, one is actually being called toward something that is part of one’s own nature. When a person discovers this nature of his, he responds to the call and accepts it as though he were being called toward something that belonged to him.