By Ahmad Ibrahim Zakaria
31 January 2015
In the early verses of the Quran, of the Juz Amma, the Surahs mention the variety of creation, and Allah implores the Prophet to view the realities around him in a new light. He told the prophet to look at the stars, the sun and the moon, the changing of tides and to the mountains. Muslims are told to ponder the meaning of creation and to seek to understand the meaning of nature.
A civilisation was born from the primitive societies of the oasis because they had a paradigm shift. A people constrained by the deficiencies of the desert and a severe lack of technology and culture were suddenly told to question the science of the camels that they ride, and the high clouds that they pass under in peace. The Ulul Albab is the one who is conscious and aware of God in every action that he does, and he thinks about the creation of the skies and the earth. He says, “God, you did not create all this for the lulz”.
Islam introduces us to its concept of nature: they are not foreign, alien objects. The trees are not gods, and the mountains aren’t animistic deities; they are creatures just like we are. The quest to understand the stars and the hills implies that there is a relation between us and other creatures, a relation of understanding and respect. Nature around us is also Aayat, proof, as mentioned in the Quran. Creatures around us are the second Kitab after the Quran and Sunnah, and we read them like an open book.
This relationship in Islam with nature means that a man who claims to be Muslim cannot be someone who separates himself from nature and others around him. In fact it is fundamentally impossible. Tariq Ramadan wrote in his quest for meaning that humans are beings that are constantly in need. We require nutrients, physical and psychological sustenance, which is achievable only through interaction with nature. The fact is that we are not self-sufficient; we need to eat, drink, procreate and all other kinds of desires which are impossible without others, without nature.
Therefore it is wrong for an organisation which moves in the name of reform and islah, to concentrate totally upon Tazkiyatun Nafs, contemplation of the self, while separating itself from the realities of society and of nature. It is ironic that a movement which seeks to change the people secludes itself from those very people and makes themselves blind to their predicaments.
If the word “Islah” is defined by returning to the roots of Islam, then surely we need to reform our relationship with nature, with ourselves, our families and society. And these reforms must have the same aim, that is to achieve happiness, felicity, or salaam, which is peace. We press forward with the slogan that Islam is a religion of peace, but at the end, what the heck is it? We ourselves need to define what “peace” in Islam offers, what are the criteria and circumstances.
What does peace mean for the animals and the forests under Islamic governance? Is it limited simply to the way we slaughter animals and that we read Bismillah before cutting down trees? Is that Islamic enough for you? Is it Islamic that capitalistic logging companies build a surau on the forest that they cleared? Islamic reform means that we need to define the term “peace” in this new context. Of course it’s a new thing; there were no tropical forests in the desert. What is our stand regarding the pollution of rivers and the extinction of animals? In order to achieve this “peace”, Rahmatal Lil Alameen we have spoken about for hundreds of years, what solutions do we provide?
A religion which preaches salvation, happiness and peace is a failure if it ignores the realities of its surrounding. An organisation which fails to prioritise their relation with nature, all the while claiming that their religion has a better solution, is probably schizophrenic, delusional.
We ourselves need to define the terms we are using, because the context of time and space, and the location and culture of each Muslim community is so different and colourful. A reformist must not drown himself in the glories of the past, mesmerised with the achievement of his predecessors, but must move forward himself and carry on the tradition. Isn’t it puzzling that we marvel at the fact that Al-Ghazali and Ibnu Rushd were juggling philosophical tirades between them hundreds of years ago, at the brilliance of Ibnu Sina and Ibn Khalid, then we find ourselves loathe to pick up a book and read?
The Quran told us to feed the poor and the needy, in bright daylight or in secrecy. People who hoard mountains of treasures yet refuse to give alms are forever condemned. We are told to care for the orphans and the oppressed. A reformist movement must include these agendas in their manifestos and aims because there are countless verses regarding these acts of kindness and charity, and because the religion of peace teaches us to be in solidarity with the Mustadh’afiin, the poor and the oppressed.
If we truly seek Islah and a return to the roots of Islam, then surely it isn’t enough to merely preach during after Subuh Tazkiras regarding the benefits of giving alms and donating. It surely isn’t enough to say how the Sahabah donates most of their property for the cause of Islam. And it is not enough to call for donations during every frikkin flood and earthquake. These do not solve the problems. Collect all you want, and the poor stay poor, the oppressed kills himself.
We are going against hegemony, the capitalist system which requires that the poor stays poor for the expansion and progress of the economy. The free market economy stresses that cheap and disposable labour is important for the growth of a developing economy. The people of the first world are now free of slavery and labour manipulation, but the demand for slave products still exists after the abolishment of slavery and there has to be someone to work it for them. The peasants of the poor third world countries are now the slaves of the emancipated people of the West.
Surely a so-called reformist would squeeze his brains to figure out ways to solve these problems, and present a system that can challenge the hegemony, be it Marxism, liberal capitalism, socialism, “Islamic capitalism”, or whatever the heck they wish to name it. A reformist who promises change for the benefit of society must provide concrete action plans and strategies instead of empty slogans and dogmatic proclamations.
If we reform our thoughts regarding the concept of time and realise that humans a have fleetingly short life span, or that we have a tendency to drop dead without prior notice, then surely we have no time to waste. Stupid dramas with competing Islah organisations is a waste of time, for example. Our excessive protectionism is a waste of time as well. In order to reform our relationship with other human beings, we need to understand their thoughts and opinions, and all kinds of views that differ from ours. Declining to read books “not from our own sources” from fear of turning into liberals or seculars will impede and destruct the process.
Sadakat Kadri wrote in his Heaven on Earth, how some contemporary Ulama interpret the Shariah as an order to execute. God told people to cut off the hands of thieves, so the Qadhi exists to cut hands, relentlessly so, not to ensure that people do not steal. The aim is to execute, not to prevent social calamities and ensure justice. With the fervour shown by reformists for the Shariah, is the Shariah the aim itself, or is it only the means?
These questions beg us to read and gain knowledge, and there are no other ways around it. It is no longer acceptable that we reject the concept of human rights because “it is not part of Sibghatullah”, or that we reject secularism because secularists are morally bankrupt. We need to reform our political education so that we can prove our seriousness as reformists.
I rest my case. – January 31, 2015.
Ahmad Ibrahim Zakaria is a member of the PAS Representative Council, United Kingdom