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Muslims Can Ask Themselves: Are We Following the Prophet Muhammad and Quran’s Divine Purpose or Are We Following the Bedouin Of the Pre-Islamic Jahiliya?

By Shafa Elmirzana 

April 13, 2018 

Instead of leading to secularized states, the world now is as fervently religious as it was, and in some places more so than ever. 

Today, religion is one of the most powerful and pervasive forces on Earth. Indonesia is no exception. 

Most of us want to believe that our own religion is the right one. Unfortunately, “what is wrong” with other religions often takes centre stage rather than a mind-set of “what is right with our religion”, leading instead to neglect of practicing the “right” teaching of one’s own religion. 

As Muslims observe IsraMi’raj, or the birth of Prophet Muhammad, on Friday (dated Rajab 27 on the Islamic calendar), it’s worth reflecting on this issue. 

Many Muslims have read the Quran page by page in its original Arabic text. They believe that reciting the Quran is a holy act in itself, which brings them God’s blessings. But it would be better if they understand the very reason that the scripture itself identifies its divine purpose as to serve as guidance to mankind. 

How can people be guided if they do not understand the guide’s language? 

The Quran invites people not to just read it, but also to try to discern God’s message. Reading only the translations can lead to misinterpretation because of the risk of taking messages out of context and worse, cherry-picking the text to support their own ideas. 

Islam as a religion was also a civilizing force in Arabia. It brought some discipline to its native population, the Bedouin of the desert. 

The 14th century historian Ibn Khaldun wrote that the Bedouin was “a savage nation, fully accustomed to savagery and the things that cause it […] Such a natural disposition is the negation and antithesis of civilization”. 

Thus, continued Khaldun, if we do not keep them in a cage, they could go loose and destroy civilization. Khaldun cited “[…] how civilization always collapsed in places the Bedouins took over and conquered, and how such settlements were depopulated and laid in ruin”. He cited the Yemen, “Persian civilization in the Arab Iraq” and “contemporary Syria”. 

Beyond a mere ethnic group, Khaldun referred to the Bedouin as “a state of mind” that thrives on anarchy. 

In the Islamic world, the causes for the decline of civilization are primarily internal. Malek Bennabi, an Algerian author, likened the stagnancy of the Muslim world to “a motor that had consumed its last litre of petrol”. 

The place of creative thinking in a society that requires openness and tolerance for criticism became substituted by politics of resentment and grievances. 

This mood, which we can still see until today, is infectious, addictive and ultimately provides a crutch for a people unable and unwilling to be creative and take responsibility for their history, and instead blame others for all their flaws. 

Indeed, during the time of Prophet Muhammad and before his prophethood, there existed two ethnic groups referred to as Arab: al ‘Arab was the sedentary city dweller, and al-A’rab was the nomadic Bedouin. 

Inhabitants of Mecca and Medina were considered urban ‘Arab and of different character to Bedouins. The Bedouin had negative connotations, as they initially resisted Muhammad’s prophetic message. The Quran describes them in Surah 97: 9 as “AshadduKufranWaNifaqa” (the worst in disbelief and hypocrisy). 

So, to return to today’s apparent neglect among Muslims on “what is right with our religion”, Muslims believe that Prophet Muhammad, blessings and peace be upon him, is an Uswah Hasanah (role model). 

He demonstrated patience and mercy even to his enemies. The prisoners of war taken captive at the battle of Badr were among his most bitter enemies. Prophet Muhammad, however, ensured they were given the best treatment. Among them was Suhayl bin ‘Amr, a fiery speaker who denounced Prophet Muhammad. 

One of the Prophet’s closest companions, ‘Umar, suggested that two of Bin ‘Amr’s lower teeth be pulled out so that he might not be so vile in his speech. The Prophet replied: “Were I to do this, Allah would disfigure me on the Day of Judgment, despite the fact that I am His messenger.” He also said, “Indeed, I am sent as a mercy.” 

When the Prophet went to the city of Ta’if near Mecca to invite its people to Islam, they met him with denial and ridicule, and encouraged boys to throw stones at him until his feet bled. 

But when angels sought his permission to destroy the town, the Prophet refused saying, “I am sent as a mercy and not as a punishment”. 

The most well-known story was when the Prophet conquered Mecca, entering it with 10,000 soldiers. God let him decide the fate of those who had abused and persecuted him. 

One of his companions said, “Today is a day of massacre.” But the Prophet said, “No, but today is a day of mercy.” Then he went before the defeated people and said to them, “Go, for you are free.” 

With all the above examples from the Prophet, Muslims can ask themselves: Are we following the Prophet Muhammad or are we following the Bedouin? 

ShafaElmirzana is a professor at SunanKalijaga State Islamic University UIN Yogyakarta and a former Fulbright visiting professor at Virginia, the United States. 

Original Headline: Are Muslims following the Prophet or the Bedouin? 

Source: The Jakarta Post