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Islamic Society ( 28 Jul 2021, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Islamic Concept of Activism: Reform Can Be Brought From Within Not From Outside

Prophet of Islam Worked From Within the Society and Brought About A Revolution

Main Points:

1. In modern context, Muhammad Yunus of Bangladesh worked from within the society and brought change

2. Taslima Nasrin is an example of an activist working from outside when she was thrown out of the country for highlighting the plight of religious minorities.

3. Dr Tahirul Qadri wants to bring about a revolution in Pakistan while working from Canada.

4. Asylum seekers can't achieve social goals.


By S. Arshad, New Age Islam

28 July 2021

Islamic concept of reform is that it can be brought from within the society. Social, economic, political, or for that matter, spiritual reform cannot be brought about in a day or by brute force. It needs continuous struggle and efforts on the part of reformers and activists. The activist or the reformer needs to live among his people for guidance and education. Reforming a society needs decades or centuries of persevered efforts and during this period, the activists have to face opposition, suffer hardships and humiliation.

The prophet of Islam pbuh was able to bring about a revolution among the illiterate and uncivilised tribes of Arab because he lived among them and made continuous efforts to reform his society. In the process, he had to face physical and mental torture, had to starve with his followers, had to migrate and had to fight battles. All this while he lived in the society, among his friends and foes and propagated his message and worked for the formation of his ideal society. Finally, he succeedded in achieving his goal.

The Quran presents this concept of bringing change from within the society. It enjoins on human beings to work for bringing social, political and spiritual change continuously and patiently. A reformer should be ready to face opposition, hardship and torture from the members of his own community or society 'for, they know not what they are doing'. Reform and revolution can't be brought with the help of remote control from an unknown place.

People working from outside the community do not win the confidence and trust of their community. People working from within the community know the psychology and problems of their community and work for their emancipation accordingly. Secondly, people working from within the society believe in what they preach or propagate. So their approach is balanced and acceptable to a large section of the society. People working from outside the community generally strive to establish an idea or ideology they themselves know that it is not practicable or acceptable to the larger society. This makes them leave their society and live in exile. This is true both for individuals and groups. Moreover, such groups and individuals want a change overnight or through force. Such people, instead of making patient efforts, adopt violent or aggressive ways and means to impose their ideas. This proves counterproductive.

In modern context, Muhammad Yunus and Taslima Nasreen present a good example of reformer working from within the society and reformer working from outside. While the former achieved his goal and honour both from his community and global community for his contributions to the economic development of the poor and underpriviledged sections of Bangladesh, the latter had to leave her countryand could not contribute to the development of her society.

After the Famine of Bangladesh in 1974, Muhammad Yunus decided to bring about economic development among the poorest sections of the society whi did not qualify for bank loans. He founded Grameen Bank and gave loans to the poor who wanted to do something to earn a living without a bank guarantee. Inspired by the Prophet pbuh who made an axe for a jobless man so that he could cut the woods from the forest and sell it, Muhammad Yunus thought that it was better to give loan to the poor than to give them charity. Thus he was the pioneer of the idea of microcredit and microfinancing.

His initiative was a big success. It brought economic prosperity among the poorest section and helped jobless people stand on their own feet. Their development contributed to the economic growth of the country.

Muhammad Yunus's Grameen Bank has now branches all over Bangladesh. 97% of the borrowers are women and the bank covers 97% villages of Bangladesh. This way, the Grameen Bank has contributed to the women empowerment in the country.

Could this revolution, this economic reform and women empowerment have been achieved if Muhammad Yunus, instead of working on his ideas, only had criticised 'the economic system of Islam, found fault with the Zakat distribution of Islam and abused the wealthy Muslims of Bangladesh or held the government of Bangladesh responsible for the poverty of his people?

The idea of microcredit and microfinance has inspired even the European countries and 64 countries have started this system of banking including Grameen America in the US where almost all the borrowers are women.

This success brought recognition and honour for him both from his country and from abroad. He won Ramon Magsasay Award in 1984 and Nobel Prize in 2006 apart from 50 honorary doctorates from prestigious universities of 20 countries. Other awards and honours are numerous. All this was possible because of a positive approach to finding the solutions of the problems of the society. From his award money, he decided to build a science and technology university and an eye hospital for the poor.

On the other, Taslima Nasreen, also from Bangladesh is a glaring example of a negative approach to the problems of the society. She was also a thinker and pained at the plight of the poor particularly of the women of her country tyrannised by the male dominated society. She wanted to bring social and economic reform among the Muslims of Bangladesh. But instead of launching a movement for reform and instead of doing something worthwhile for the poor people and for the emancipation of oppressed Muslim women, she started abusing the government, the clergy and the Islamic system for all the miseries, superstitions and ill practices rampant among the Muslims of Bangladesh. This antagonised the Muslim community for whom she wanted do something good only because of her wrong approach. She was a medical doctor but she took to writing as the only means to bring a reform and that too in a short period of time. Muhammad Yunus had to work on his project for 30 years to see the fruits of his work. But Taslima Nasreen wanted a change without any vision or roadmap for change in a short period of time. Her tirade against the ills of the society revolved round anti-Islam rhetoric and sexist depiction of the Muslim society. Though this earned her fame as a fighter for freedom of expression, it proved counterproductive and created chaos and confusion in the society. She had to leave her country and live in exile in Europe and India.

Anothe example of activists working from outside was Islamic scholar and exegete Muhammad Asad. Though he produced commendable Islamic literature, he could not create extraordinary impact on the Muslims of the world because of his floating life. He was born in Austria to Jewish parents in 1900. He shifted to Jerusalem in 1922. In 1926, he converted to Islam and remained in what is now Saudi Arabia from 1927 to 1931. He came to India in 1937 and stayed here even after Partition. After Partition, he settled in Pakistan as the first passport holder citizen of Pakistan. However he left Pakistan in 1952 and settled in Spain. He died in Andalucia in Spain in 1992 and was buried in Granada.

He wrote the translation of the Quran titled 'The Message of the Quran" and his biography 'The Road to Mecca' apart from articles on Islamic philosophy and statecraft. But since his language was Hebrew and English, he could not make much impact on the Muslims of the Indian sub-continent who spoke Urdu, Punjabi, Bengali, Tamil, Malyalam and Pashto. If he had stayed in Jerusalem and worked for social and ideological reform among the people of his region, he could have contributed even more to the spread of the message of Islam.

Another example is of the Islamic scholar of Pakistan Dr Tahirul Qadri who is an exegete and thinker of Islam. Apart from doing ideological work on Islam, he also strives to bring about political change in Pakistan. He also founded a political party and was elected to Pakistan's Assembly. But fearing political vendetta, he left Pakistan in 2005 and acquired Canadian citizenship. In 2011, came back to Pakistan with a plan to bring about constitutional change in the country and organised the Million March. However, when his plans did not materialise, he went back to Canada. Presently, he is engrossed with his ideological work under his organisation Minhajul Quran.

There are a number of others who work for the reform of their society from exile. Such people can't achieve much because reform can be brought in the society when activists and reformers live with their people for life and educate them with patience and perseverance. A 'Hit and Run' policy only antagonises people.


S. Arshad is a columnist with



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