By Maulana Wahiduddin Khan
January 31, 2015
The Prophet was victorious over Makkah in the year 8 A.H. Thereafter, the Arabian tribes began entering the fold of Islam in multitudes (Quran 110: 1-2). This was a phenomenon of what is called ‘mass conversion’. According to Jabir bin Abdullah, after this incident the Prophet is reported to have said these words of historical significance: “People have entered God’s religion in multitudes, and they will soon, in the future, turn away from it in multitudes.”(Musnad Ahmad)
Jabir bin Abdullah, the narrator of this Hadith report, was a well-known Companion of the Prophet. He died in the year 78 A.H. He was alive during the time of the Battle of Siffin, in 37 A.H., when Muslims were divided into two groups, one led by Ali, the other by Muawiya, which resulted in a bloody civil war, the first in Muslim history. It is said that some 70,000 people died in this war.
A neighbour of Jabir bin Abdullah’s relates that when he returned from a journey, Jabir came to meet him. He mentioned to Jabir the civil war that had torn Muslims apart. Thereupon, Jabir began to weep and narrated this Hadith.
Why is it that divisions and strife began to appear shortly after the Prophet left this world? It was not because people’s intentions were corrupt or that they had lost their sincerity. The only reason for this was because of the phenomenon known as ‘conditioning’.
An Arabic saying succinctly expresses what conditioning is about:
That which you grow up on is precisely what you grow old on, too.
This means that the environment that conditions you when you are young remains with you till the end of your life.
This fact is expressed in the form of a Hadith: “Every child is born on nature; then his parents make him into a Jew, a Christian or a Zoroastrian.”(Bukhari)
The massive corruption and strife among Muslims after the Prophet left this world owed in large measure to this fact of conditioning. Mass conversions brought large numbers of people into the fold of Islam. In this period, which was much before the invention of the printing press, there was no system of mass education and training. And so it happened that many people simply recited the Kalimah, testifying that they believed in the one God and accepted the Prophet, and entered Islam, but because of the lack of an appropriate system of training, their cultural de-conditioning could not happen. In terms of religion, they identified themselves as Muslims, but in terms of culture they remained largely as they had been before, clinging on to their ancient cultural values, norms and practices.
There are numerous Hadith reports that mention beforehand that degeneration would soon set in among Muslims. This degeneration or perversion is generally thought to be arising from anarchy and disorder in society, but in reality its cause was the phenomenon of conditioning—that is to say, people being under the influence of their ancient mindsets.
For instance, there is a report which appears in several books of Hadith wherein the Prophet warns: “Do not return to disbelief after me that you start striking the necks of one another.”(Bukhari)
In this Hadith of the Prophet the verb “to return” appears. This word indicates reverting to one’s earlier condition. This earlier condition was the pre-Islamic tribal culture, which was in contrast to Islamic teachings. In this tribal culture, every man carried a sword. This culture had no room for peaceful discussion. People conditioned by this culture knew only one way to solve their differences—by wielding their swords.
In the pre-Islamic Arab society it was not that fighting ever solved people’s conflicts. Instead, it only further exacerbated them, because those who were vanquished burned with the desire for revenge. That is why this society was characterized by continuous war, or what can be called “chain war”. The Prophet of Islam wanted people to resolve their differences through peaceful discussion. He strongly sought to dissuade them from letting their differences become an excuse for them to fight with each other under the influence of tribal conditioning.
History shows that vast numbers of Muslims who began entering the fold of Islam did not, however, go through the process of being de-conditioned of their deeply-rooted pre-Islamic tribal conditioning. There was no appropriate system for mass de-conditioning in place in those times. And so, all sorts of pre-Islamic cultural norms, customs and practices, including internecine war, infiltrated Muslim society through converts who recited the Kalimah but retained their ancient, pre-Islamic mental conditioning. This proved to be the case with many new converts to Islam not just in Arabia but in several other parts of the world where mass conversions to Islam later took place.
This phenomenon of returning to the past assumed various forms—for instance, the emergence of hereditary monarchy among Muslims after the age of the first four Caliphs, the emergence of a completely ‘form-based’ understanding of Islamic worship and the writing of Muslim history solely on political lines. And so on.
The most undesirable form that this phenomenon assumed was, as mentioned in the above-quoted Hadith, return to violence and war. After the Prophet left this world, violence and war began to tear apart Muslim societies. This phenomenon continues till today. It is essentially due to the fact of deeply-rooted cultural conditioning that continues to remain unaddressed.
Put simply, it is all about the revival or expansion of ancient, pre-Islamic tribal culture in the name of jihad.