By Asghar Ali Engineer
26 Feb, 2010
MUSLIMS everywhere celebrate the birthday of Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) with great devotion and reverence. But often it is seen that the devotees do not always reflect on the message of the person whom they so venerate. Eid-i-Milad has just become a tradition rather than an occasion for deep reflection.
Muslims also refer to Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) as Muhsin-e-Insaniyyat, the benefactor of all humanity, but do we care to know in what respect he became the benefactor? In this limited space I have I will try to shed some light on the revolutionary aspects of Mohammad’s (pbuh) teachings and how Muslims should benefit from these. The Prophet of Islam was an ummi, that is he did not know how to read and write and yet he ushered in a great social and economic revolution that is as useful today as it was all those centuries ago.
We can call him a liberator of all humanity if we follow his teachings, not so much from the tangled web of Hadith but from the Quran that he brought us. The Quran indeed was his real miracle. Firstly, he emphasised the importance of knowledge. This word occurs in the Quran more than 800 times along with its various derivatives (the word jihad, so controversial today, occurs only 41 times).
Knowledge was so important to him that he required Muslims to seek knowledge even if they had to go to China, then a very distant land from Arabia. Following this teaching, Arabs who were quite averse to knowledge — especially in the written form (there were only 17 people in Makkah during the Prophet’s lifetime who could read and write) — became great precursors of various sciences and even the West immensely benefited from their findings. The West discovered the treasures of Greek knowledge through the Arabs.
Secondly, the Prophet liberated women from bondage and gave them rights, recognising their individuality and rights. Women got equal rights in marriage and marriage was declared a contract between two equals. He made it obligatory for women too to seek knowledge. “Seeking knowledge is obligatory for Muslim men and Muslim women”, he said. The cause of women’s bondage to men was mainly due to women’s ignorance, and when acquiring knowledge became their right and an obligation, women too became empowered. It is knowledge that is the true liberator.
Thirdly, Mohammad (pbuh) was greatly concerned with justice. Justice is so fundamental to Islam that Allah derives one of his names from justice (Adil). Justice for weaker sections of society was of utmost importance to the Prophet. Allah, according to the Quran, is on the side of the weak. And it is the weak (mustazifin) who shall inherit the earth and who shall be its leaders. The powerful and arrogant (mustakbirun) shall be doomed, promises the message brought by Mohammad (pbuh).
Fourthly, the Prophet made the individual responsible for all actions, not the collective tribe or community, as was the case in pre-Islam Arabia. The Quran also declared that each individual must carry his own burden and no one else should be held responsible for the deeds of others. It was a very revolutionary declaration at the time, when an entire tribe or community acted as one and an individual accounted for nothing. The Quran made reward or punishment individual-centred as opposed to tribe-centred. This freed individuals, men and women, from the burden of tribal customs and superstitions. Collective action, said the message, may be important, but not at the cost of the choices an individual must make.
Fifthly, Mohammad (pbuh) also gave the individual rights and dignity along with responsibility. Human dignity was not circumscribed by any religion, tribe or ethnicity but included all children of Adam (karramna bani Adam). It was indeed a revolutionary declaration of which preceded the UN Charter of Human rights by more than 1,400 years. Also, the Prophet said that all creation is the family of Allah.
Sixthly, he gave the concept of Bait al-maal, a treasury to which all Muslims would contribute according to their income. In modern terms, this can be described as a move towards a welfare state in modern terms. Zakat was no longer a tax imposed on the people to cater to the luxurious lifestyle of rulers, as was the norm in pre-Islam days. It was meant strictly for the welfare of the weaker segments, orphans, widows, the poor, travellers and for the liberation of prisoners and slaves. Such usage of public tax money was unprecedented.
The Prophet even declared that land was only for its tillers, thus bringing down the oppressive and exploitative feudal system. Unfortunately, within a few decades of his death Muslim rulers established a great empire based on the same exploitative system. All this may sound unbelievable to many non-Muslims. Why? This is because Muslims often pay verbal tributes to the Prophet (pbuh) instead of acting on his charter.
Now let’s look around and ask ourselves: What is the condition of women in Muslim countries? Are Muslim states welfare states? Do their rulers live a simple life like the Prophet did? Do they respect individual rights and human dignity? Do they practise justice? Do they respect human life as the sacred trust of Allah? The answers may not be in the affirmative. Muslims have to reflect seriously on their failures and recommit themselves to the Quranic value system, brought to them by Mohammad (pbuh).
The writer is an Islamic scholar who heads the Centre for Study of Secularism & Society, Mumbai.