By Maulana Wahiduddin Khan
In the mid-7th century, when Islam emerged, almost the whole world was groaning under political coercion, ruled by a system of absolute imperialism. This coercive system robbed people of almost every conceivable freedom and goodness. At that time, God commanded the end of this artificial system so that the doors of goodness could be opened unto humanity.
The Quran lays down this commandment:
Fight them until there is no more [religious] persecution, and religion belongs wholly to God
The ‘persecution’ or, in Arabic, Fitna, that this Quranic verse talks about is the ancient system of political coercion that, at the time when this verse was revealed, prevailed all over the world. The term ‘religion’, or, in Arabic, Deen, here referred to is God’s system of Creation based on Nature. This suggests that the man-made coercive system should be ended and the natural condition, which accords with God’s Creation map, should be established. Under such conditions, every human being will have freedom of action and be able to undergo the test of life in an atmosphere of freedom.
Through the struggles and sacrifices of the Prophet and his Companions, the ancient coercive system was demolished, and a new system took its place that God wanted. This was a momentous change, a unique revolution that changed the face of the globe. Islam overthrew the traditional order of history.
This revolution was so vast that it could not come about all of a sudden. And so, with God’s special help, it took the form of a process. The first phase of this revolution, in the early period of Islam, was a push, as it were, that was given to History. After this, History began moving in a particular direction. The revolution that started with Islam in the 7th century then continued apace, reaching its culmination in the mid-20th century. Thereafter, it became impossible for the old-style coercive system to be re-established in the world. This is no mere coincidence. The truth is that because of the developments in the last couple of centuries, the world has witnessed such enormous changes that it has made it virtually impossible for an old-style Empire to be established anywhere.
One can cite several examples of deterrents that stand in the way of reviving old-style Empires.
1. In the ancient past, whenever a monarch captured, through force of arms, a certain territory, the inhabitants of that territory felt compelled to accept his suzerainty, considering this as the conqueror’s right. This is why in those days, only a monarch, and not ‘ordinary’ folk, could defeat another monarch. But in today’s world, because of democracy, political freedom and the concept of a national government, public opinion has changed so much that no external conqueror can gain that wide social acceptance that is necessary for establishing stable rule.
2. In the past, the economy was based mainly on the land, and the land was considered the personal property of the king. But today, the Industrial Revolution has given birth to innumerable economic resources that all people can access. This is how it has become possible for ‘ordinary’ people to acquire economic resources on their own, without being dependent on the government. This, in turn, has made the possibility of governmental coercion even less possible.
3. Likewise, today there is something that can be termed as a ‘media deterrent’. In modern times, the development of media and communications have made it possible for news about a local happening to be broadcast almost immediately across the rest of the world so that people everywhere can come to know about it. This is a massive check that has made it virtually impossible to resuscitate the old-style political Empires. Now, no king can do whatever he likes without fear of censure, unlike before.
4. Today, we have what can be termed as a ‘universal deterrent’, in the form of the United Nations, Amnesty International and numerous human rights groups that simply cannot be ignored by any ruler. No dictator can afford to ignore them or act against them for too long.
With these momentous changes at the global level, human history entered a new phase. If the ancient period was what could be called ‘the military age’, the new age is a ‘non-military age’. In the former period, military power was considered necessary to achieve any big success. But now the peaceful method has become the only way to succeed. And so, now a struggle for any goal can be carried on, from start to finish, without needing to resort to violence at any stage. It can remain firmly within a peaceful framework and continue that way till it reaches the pinnacle of success. The fact is that the violent method has become an anachronism. It is completely contradictory to the spirit of the age.
And so, it can be confidently said that this is not the age of jihad in the sense of Qital or war. Rather, in this age jihad in the sense of peaceful efforts has returned. This does not, however, mean that jihad in the sense of Qital has now been abrogated. It still remains as a principle. The new global developments have to do not with its abrogation or otherwise, but, rather, with the changes in the prevailing conditions. This is in line with the generally-accepted rule in Islamic jurisprudence, that with the change of time and space, some commandments can also change. It is clear, in this regard, that there is a basic distinction between changing of conditions and abrogation of a commandment.
The changes that the contemporary world has witnessed are in favour of Islam, and are among the results of the revolution that was ushered in by Islam. These developments have greatly facilitated possibilities for engaging in Dawah, inviting people to God’s path, and Tabligh, communicating the word of God. Now, remaining firmly established on the path of peace and using only peaceful means, one can do all that Islam wants us to.