The greatest problem facing Islam today is, as I see it, that Muslims have almost totally forgotten the Sunnah (Prophet’s way) of non-violence. In later times when the Ottoman and Mughal empires disintegrated and problems like that of Palestine have had to be confronted by the faithful, Muslims all over the world have fallen a prey to negative reaction on a colossal scale; they have failed to remember that the policy of Islam is not that of violence but of nonviolence. It is the result of this deviation, that despite almost a 100-years of bloody wars, Muslims have achieved no positive gain. Rather whatever they already had has been lost by them.
According to Imam Malik, later generations of this Ummah (Muslim community) will be able to settle matters at issue in the same way that earlier generations had done, i.e. non-violent methods. Similarly, Muslims of modern times must likewise resort only to non-violent methods. Just as no gain could accrue from violent methods earlier, no gain can accrue from violent methods today.
The state of affairs of Muslims in modern times resembles that which prevailed at the time of Hudaybiyya. Today once again—only on a far larger scale—this hamiyat al-jahiliya, prejudices prevailing in pre-Islamic Arabia (48:28) is being displayed by the other party. In the first phase of Islam its solution lay in Muslims sedulously avoiding an equivalent display of prejudice, and in holding firmly kalima at-taqwa (the word of piety) they became entitled to the succour of God and were granted a clear victory (48:26).
At the time of the Hudaybiyya peace treaty, the Quraysh, who had secured the leadership of Arabia, were bent on waging war. The Kabah was in their possession. They had expelled the Prophet and his companions from their home-town. They had taken possession of Muslims’ homes and other properties, and spared no effort in disseminating negative propaganda against Islam.
Given this state of affairs, there were only two options before the believers. One was to attempt to put an end to tyranny and launch an outright war on the other party in the name of securing their rights. The result of such a move would certainly have been further loss in terms of lives and property. The second option was to remain patient in the face of immediate loss, be it political or material, and, in spite of the losses avail of whatever opportunities are already available. The Prophet Muhammad, may peace be upon him, and his companions chose this second course. The result was that the entire history of Arabia was revolutionized in just a few years time.
The same state of affairs is widespread in modern times. Although today Muslims have suffered great losses, political and material, at the hands of other nations, however there still exist a great number of opportunities on a far larger scale. If availed of wisely, we can rewrite the history of Islam in magnificent terms.
The Manifestation of Religion:
The modern age is regarded by Muslims as being fraught with problems for Islam. But this is quite contrary to the actual situation. The modern age was in fact the age of Islam, just as the period of rainfall is the period of farmers. But Muslims, lacking in understanding and awareness have failed to understand this; hence their failure to convert this potential into reality. What is called izhar ad-din in the Qur’an does not refer to something which is temporary in nature. It, in fact, refers to an eternal ideological ascendancy of Islam. It means that in the world of ideology, such a revolution would be brought about as would establish the ideological supremacy of Islam forever. God has already brought it into existence potentially, the believers have only to tap and convert this potential into reality. The aim of the revolution brought about by the Prophet and his companions in the seventh century is stated to be izhar ad-din in the Qur’an: “‘They desire to extinguish the light of God with their mouths: but God seeks only to perfect His light, however much the infidels may abhor it” (9:32-33).
Izhar in Arabic means dominance/ascendancy/ supremacy. Here izhar ad-din signifies intellectual and ideological dominance, not political dominance. This means that in intellectual and ideological respect, God’s religion assumes ascendancy over all other ideologies and religions for all time. Granting ideological ascendancy to God’s religion was no simple matter. It amounted to the writing of history afresh. For although God’s religion had always been in a superior position ideologically, it had become obscured by false and misguided ideas. The reason being that in ancient times people were heavily under the influence of superstitious thinking. Their arts and learning in general had all become fettered by superstition and idolatry. This had led to a veil being thrown over true religion, which was the only vehicle for God’s truth.
God desired that through the final Prophet an intellectual revolution be brought about which would alter this unfavourable and artificial state of affairs. That human sciences themselves become supporters of the true religion so that according to the established academic standard itself, the religion of monotheism may be made an established religion for the people.
By izhar ad-din in this verse is meant this same divine plan being brought into a revolution by the Prophet and his companions. This revolution set a new process in human history. Its purpose was to unravel all the veils of superstition which clouded human judgement, and to lay bare the scientific proofs hidden in nature, so that the truth of monotheism could be brought to light for all humanity. In modern times this revolution has reached its culmination. There were two main aims of this izhar ad-din. One, that the system of religious persecution be put to an end, so that a propitious atmosphere could be created for the performance of Da’wah of the true religion. In ancient times this task could only be performed in a very adverse atmosphere. The second purpose was to rally all arguments in support of God’s true religion, so that all other religions might be shown to be totally lacking in the sound base of arguments. Both these tasks have been performed on a large scale in present times. A brief mention of these is made here.
In ancient times the monarchical system prevailed all over the world. And individualistic system like monarchy could be established by force alone. That is why a coercive system of governance was established by the monarchs. They inevitably crushed any sign of intellectual or religious freedom found among their subjects. This state of affairs posed a permanent obstacle to the general development of human thought or to the spreading of any religious mission. Ultimately this coercive political system was destroyed by the revolution brought about by the Prophet and his Companions.
This abolition of oppressive systems and the freeing of peoples’ minds from superstition ushered in an era of freedom and democracy. The effect of this revolution in human history set in motion a process. Later on western nations contributed greatly towards this revolution in human thought. Now this process has culminated in the unparalleled scientific achievements of the present day. In consequence, it has become possible for the task of Da’wah of truth to be performed in an atmosphere of freedom, which was earlier seriously hampered by the oppressive atmosphere.
Idolatry is another name for a religion of superstitions. In ancient times this Shirk (idolatry) dominated the minds of the people, having rendered the progress and development of science impossible. The Prophet and his companions made great sacrifices to put an end to this superstitious system. In this way the age of science had its beginnings. The changes wrought by it influenced the course of history over the centuries.
The scientific revolution, which was in actual fact a by-product of the Islamic revolution, gave us modern communications. The advent of this new age made it possible for the first time in human history for the propagation of Islam to be carried out on a universal scale. According to a Hadith a time was to come when God’s words would enter all the homes in the world. (Musnad, Ahmad) This was indirectly, a prediction of the modern age of communications.
One outcome of the modern scientific revolution is that we have at our disposal a number of new arguments in support of Islamic beliefs. Prior to this revolution the Da‘is [evangelist] of Islam could resort only to traditional arguments in support of the truth of Islam. But today it has become possible to measure up Islamic realities by the highest standards of human knowledge and to establish its authenticity by purely logical arguments. In ancient times the study of religion could be done only as something sacred and as a matter of dogma. That is why established and un-established religions had not academically been distinguished from one another. In modern times, owing to the influence of the scientific revolution the study of religions can be done as objectively and as critically as any other matter which comes under scientific scrutiny.
Such critical study has proved, purely academically, that by historical standards, there is only one reliable religion, and that is Islam. All other religions are lacking in this historical credibility. After this intellectual revolution it has become possible to establish the truth of Islam vis-à-vis other religions purely on the basis of human knowledge. That Islam is the only authentic version of divine religion may be fully supported by arguments.
These modern development in our times have taken Islam to the point of unopposed victory. Now the need of the hour is for Muslims to put an end unilaterally to all violent activities against mad’u (invited) nations, so that a normal relationship may be allowed to grow between Da‘i (preacher, inviter to Islam) and mad’u,(invited) only then the message of Islam can be conveyed in a normal situation. Now, in the wake of the scientific revolution it has become possible to begin a serious and beneficial dialogue between Islam and non-Islam, the result of which will necessary be in favour of Islam.
A Great Opportunity:
- Since direct argument cannot be applied to religious beliefs pertaining to the unseen world, these can be supported only by indirect or inferential argument. Educated people had therefore come to believe that religious realities belonged only to the domain of dogma, and that they were not academic or scientific realities. But after the breaking up of the atom the science of logic has undergone a change, and it has been accepted that inferential argument too, in its nature, is as valid and reliable as direct argument. It has subsequently become possible for religious realities to be established on an academic level, i.e. exactly on the same level as material or non-religious theories.
- In ancient times when man observed the world, it appeared to him that in nature there existed things which were very different from one another. This observation of appearance produced the mentality of idolatry. People began to think that in view of the great diversity of things in existence, their Creator too ought to be more than one. But scientific study has shown that this variety is only that of appearance. Otherwise, all things in nature are different expressions of the same matter. In this way Shirk (idolatry) lost its intellectual base while monotheism gained the solid support of logic.
- According to a statement of the Qur’an, the signs of God lay hidden in the earth and the heavens. The study of science has made it manifest to all that the universe is a great storehouse of divine arguments. “We will show them Our signs in all the regions of the earth and in their own souls, until they clearly see that this is the Truth.” (41:53)
- After the new discoveries of science, many such things have come to the knowledge of man as have rendered it possible to prove with new arguments those events which are of important religious significance. For instance, carbon-dating has made it possible to determine the exact age of the mummy of RamsesII, thereby providing scientific proof for the statement of the Qur’an that the body of Pharaoh was saved by God, so that it might become “a sign to all posterity.” (10:92)
Islam in the Present Age:
Now the question arises as to whether an Islam which teaches non-violence can be of relevance in the present age, and assume a superior position once again in new situations. The answer is entirely in the positive. The truth is that Islam’s being a peaceful religion shows that it is an eternal religion. Had it been a religion of violence, it would not have been eternal. For, in modern times, the way of violence has been totally rejected by contemporary thinking. Now only that system is worthy of consideration and acceptance the teachings of which are based on peace and non-violence. Modern thinking, for example, has rejected communism. One of the major reasons was that communism had to be sustained by violence. And under no circumstances is violence acceptable to the modern mind. Nazism and Fascism too have been rejected on similar grounds. Modern man, therefore, disapproves of both religious and non-religious extremism, because they lead man ultimately to violence.
But Islam is a religion of nature. It has held violence as inadmissible from the outset. Islam has been an upholder of peace, not violence, from day one. In the past, Islam played a great role in the development of humanity, as a result of which human history entered a new age of progress and development. The time has come today for Islam to play a great constructive role, leading human history once again into a new age of progress.
What is called scientific or technical progress is the result of the discovery of some of the great secrets of nature. But if nature and its mysteries have always existed in our world, why has there been such a long delay in their discovery? Why could not the scientific advancement of the last few hundred years have been made thousands of years ago?
The reason was that in ancient times religion and science (divine knowledge and human knowledge) were linked with one another. Religious persecution had become an insuperable obstacle to the progress of science. Scientific enquiry was anathema to men of religion. What Islam did was separate religion (which had become, in essence, a set of irrational beliefs) from scientific research and investigation. For instance, eclipses of the sun and moon had been linked with human destiny. The Prophet Muhammad, may peace be upon him, declared that eclipses had nothing to do with the lot of human beings. These were astronomical events, not events pertaining to the fate of mankind. (Fathul Bari, 2/611)
In this connection, an incident of the pollination of dates is recorded in the books of Hadith. The Prophet of Islam observed that in worldly matters such as these, “you should act according to your experience, as you know these matters better.” (Sahih Muslim bi Sharh An-Nawawi, 15/117).
This meant delinking religion and science from one another. In this way scientific research acquired an atmosphere of freedom for its functioning. For the first time in human history, science (human knowledge) could be developed freely without the intervention of religion. And advancing gradually, it culminated in the attainment of the modern age. But today, man is again facing an even greater problem. That is, despite the extraordinary progress made in the field of science and technology, human beings are confronted with various kinds of problems, without there being any solution in sight. All these problems have resulted from not knowing the limit of freedom.
Modern man aspired to freedom as the highest good, but once having reached this goal, he was unable to set reasonable limits to freedom. In consequence, unrestrained freedom descended into anarchy and lawlessness. This is the actual cause of many of the problems which are emerging in modern times in western society. Now man requires an ideology which delimits his freedom, drawing the line between desirable and undesirable freedom. And it is only Islam which can provide him with such an ideology.
Now is the time for this ideology to be presented to man, who is ready and waiting to accept it. After the fall of communism (1991), the world is faced with an ideological vacuum. This vacuum can be filled by Islam alone. In the present world the developed countries have become economic or military superpowers, but the place is vacant for an ideological superpower, and that, potentially belongs to Islam.
There is only one obstacle in converting a great potential into a reality in favour of Islam. And that is the repeated recourse to violence by Muslim movements in modern times. Such action has presented Islam before the world in the guise of a violent religion. For this reason the man of today shies away from Islam. He fails to study Islam objectively. If this barrier could be removed and Islam once again brought before the world as a non-violent religion, or as a peaceful social system, then once again humanity would accept it, recognising it to be the voice of its own nature.
Modern man is in need of a new religion or a new system, based on peace. It should be free from superstitious beliefs, and should provide the answers to deep psychological questions. Its principles should not clash with scientific realities, and it should be supported by a victorious history.
Today no religion but Islam can lay such positive claims to acceptance, for it is Islam and Islam alone which fulfills all these conditions. Individually, there are many men and women today who, after having studied Islam, have acknowledged these unique qualities in Islam. Some have acknowledged them in theory while others have gone ahead and accepted Islam in practice.
[Excerpt from “Islam Rediscovered” by Molana Wahiduddin Khan