By Maulana Wahiduddin Khan
The Quran (11:91) relates that the Prophet Shu‘ayb was addressed by his people thus:
They replied, ‘Shu‘ayb, we do not understand much of what you say. In fact, we see that you are powerless among us. Were it not for your clan, we would have stoned you, for you are not strong against us.’
This verse refers to the protection provided by members of Prophet Shu’ayb clan who, despite not being true believers, protected him on the basis of tribal custom. This same phenomenon of is expressed in a Hadith report in the Musnad of Imam Ahmad, according to which God has sent every prophet along with the protecting power of his community.
In olden days, long before the rise of modern forms of governance, people were protected by the fellow members of their respective tribes. According to tribal custom and tradition, it was the duty of the tribe to protect its members against other tribes. In those days, this served as a protecting power for the prophets, too. Thus, the Prophet Muhammad was given such protection by Abu Talib, head of the Banu Hashim clan. Even though Abu Talib did not accept Islam, he continued to protect the Prophet from his opponents, in accordance with tribal tradition.
In the present age, the tribal system has, of course, disappeared. But the role of protective power that it once performed is now played by the secular system based on the modern conception of the state. This system now provides believers, including those who are engaged in Dawah or inviting people to God’s path, the same sort of protection. The modern secular state provides all its citizens the guarantee that they can follow, preach and propagate the religion of their choice without any obstruction, provided, of course, they do not resort to violence.
The protective shield that guarded the prophets in the past was based on the tribal system. It was a tribal protection mechanism, and not something specifically Islamic as such. Yet, despite this, the prophets accepted it. Likewise, in today’s world, the protection that Muslims enjoy is a secular one, and not specifically Islamic as such. So, in accordance with the practice or Sunnat of the prophets, Muslims must accept this protective mechanism and, living under it, must lead their lives and engage in Dawah or inviting others to God’s path, using only peaceful means.
However, Muslim ‘leaders’ from across the world have wrongly branded secularism as ‘irreligiousness’ (la-Diniyyat), unleashing not just verbal but actual physical war against it. In this way, they have unnecessarily become enemies of secularism. Thereby, they have lost the valuable protection that the secular system provided them.