Bringing Change

Bringing Change

The Holy Quran propounds an immutable law of change, i.e. “people or nations can’t have their state of affairs changed until they change their own psyche or mindset or paradigm”[1]. A long-lasting positive change in a society can only be brought about through appropriate education. Even when a revolution is indispensable, the step of appropriate education and awareness in the community is a pre-requisite.

The Quranic strategy of the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w) for bringing positive change in the society of his time was primarily based on four points: (1) Taleem-e-kitaab-o-hikmat (i.e. Education about the Quranic Injunctions and the wisdom behind those injunctions), (2) Tazkiya (i.e. Human Resource Development; the word tazikya is based on the root z-k-w, which primarily means ‘to grow or to develop’. The purpose of tazkiya is to develop the positive attributes and potentials in the people through appropriate education), (3) Tazkeer (i.e. Good Advice/Admonition/Exhortation), (4) Being a role model in integrity of character (Uswa-e-Hasna). A brief historical account of the struggle for change by the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) is given below, which may serve as guidance.

The people of the pre-Islamic Makkah in the 6th century AD had some great virtues including admirable habits of hospitality and generosity, forbearance and fortitude, and a sense of great determination and firm will. But till the dawn of the 7th century AD, the state of human rights in the city state of Makkah was abysmal. Slavery was commonplace, and slaves were bought and sold like a commodity. Women were considered an inferior genus. Female slaves were forced to prostitution and female infants were buried alive. People were supremely superstitious, and most of them used to worship hand-made idols. Any followers of the Divine religions had lost or adulterated their original sacred texts and were impelled to follow the interpretations of the religious elite, who were never shy to misinterpret their religion for petty gains. Drinking, gambling and adultery were rampant. Political, administrative and religious portfolios were in the hands of a few influential tribal lords and trade was monopolized by a few rich traders[2].

In this backdrop in 610 AD a forty-years old noble personality of Makkah named Muhammad (s.a.w.), well-known among his people at that time as a truthful (sadiq) and honest (ameen) man, received the first installment of the Divine Revelation, with the proclamation of the name of his Guardian Lord[3]. In the next installment, he was commanded by his Lord to rise up and warn his people of the harmful consequences of their prevalent way of life[4]. Then he was commanded by his Lord to embark upon a program of social, political, economic and religious reforms in his society and urge people, inter alia: to comply with the commands of only One God Who was their Creator and Sustainer[5]; to not worship idols or call upon entities besides Allah who could be of no benefit or harm to them[6]; to not spread corruption in the land[7]; to be kind to their parents[8]; to take care of their relatives, orphans and the poor[9]; to free their slaves[10]; to not commit adultery[11]; to not kill innocent human beings[12]; to fulfill their promises[13]; to give full measure and weight in business and trade[14]; to not follow blindly anything without knowledge[15]; and to mete out justice even if it goes against their relatives[16]. He warned them against burying alive the female infants[17] and killing their children for fear of hunger[18].  He told people that Allah has honored all the children of Adam[19], and tribal affiliations and descent had no merit. In the eyes of Allah, all have ranks according to their deeds[20] and the person with highest integrity is worthy of the greatest honour[21].

His wife Khadija (r.a.), his adopted son Zaid (r.a.), his cousin Ali (r.a.) and a trusted friend Abu Bakar (r.a.) immediately believed in his prophetic status and stood up in support of his mission with further support from his uncle Abu Talib. (The Prophet’s father had died even before his birth and his mother had died during his childhood). The poor and the disadvantaged in the society were among the first to respond to his call to Islam, who saw a ray of hope for the amelioration of their socio-economic conditions. After the initial three years of private and individual preaching, the Prophet (s.a.w.) was commanded by the Almighty for open preaching, starting with the near kindred[22]. Tribal leaders like Abu Jahal, Abu Sufyan, Abu Lahab and other rich and the influential Quraish of Makkah were extremely concerned with the emerging ideology, which was meant to free the common man from the shackles of their lordships. They made every attempt to check the spread of this ideology named Al-Islam, i.e. submission of one’s will to Allah’s commands.  They ridiculed and belied the Prophet (s.a.w.), called him insane[23] and a liar[24]. They launched slander and false propaganda campaigns against him and persecuted and tortured his followers. Bilal (r.a.), the salve of Umaiyah bin Khalf who had accepted Islam, was severely tortured by his master. Another victim of cruelty was a freed slave Ammar bin Yasir. His father and mother were tortured to death in front of his eyes. Other victims of torture included Abu Aflah, a freed slave of Bani Abdud-Dar and Khubbab bin Al-Arratt. The list of victims also had women including Umm Ubais, Zanirah and her daughter, just to name a few.

In order to escape from the day-by-day increasing persecution, some believers in Al-Islam had to leave their homes and emigrate from Makkah to Abyssinia (Ethiopia). But the Quraish could not tolerate any safe haven for them and followed them even there, to get them back and persecute them again. But the king of Ethiopia was kind enough to grant asylum to the believers. Meanwhile, the Quraish in Makkah socially and economically boycotted the prophet (s.a.w.) and his key protectors and supporters. The tyrants of Makkah also began hatching schemes to kill the prophet (s.a.w.). The life in Makkah became so dangerous for the prophet (s.a.w.) and his companions that ultimately they had to migrate to Medina, leaving behind their homes and their property, which was later plundered by the Makkahn tyrants.

This is a glimpse of the circumstances during the early 13 years of the prophetic life of Muhammad (s.a.w.) in Makkah, when he was enjoined by the Almighty for a strenuous struggle, i.e. Jihad against the disbelievers with the help of the Quran[25]. This strenuous struggle or Jihad continued peacefully after migration to Medina[26] but the Makkahn tyrants did not leave any stone unturned to harm the community of the believers even in Medina and continued hatching conspiracies along with the hypocrites of Medina. In such circumstances, while the community of believers was steadily gaining support and strength in Medina, they were now in a better position to offer a tougher resistance to their opponents. Now the believers were commanded by their Lord to strive hard against the disbelievers and the hypocrites, and to be stern against them[27]. When the battles were imposed upon this community of believers while they were in Medina, they were commanded by their Lord to offer the armed resistance[28]. Thus Jihad, which started in Makkah as a purely peaceful strenuous struggle with the help of the Quran for socio-politico-economic reformation, had to be transformed into an armed struggle by the believers to respond to the armed aggression of the anti-reform disbelievers and their supporters. At last, the strenuous struggle of the believers with unstinting patience and perseverance resulted in triumph with Allah’s help and people entered the fold of Islam in throngs[29]. According to Montgomery Watt, “Foremost among the reasons for this success of Muhammad’s was the attractiveness of Islam and its relevance as a religious and social system to the religious and social needs of the Arabs”[30].

[1] Al-Quran Surah 13: Verse 11; Surah 8: Verse 53. The keyword in these Verses is ‘nafs‘, which has many meanings, including the mindset and psyche.

[2] “Muhammad at Makkah” by W. Montgomery Watt; “The Life of Muhammad” by Guillaume

[3] Al-Quran Surah 96: Verses 1-3

[4] Al-Quran Surah 74: Verse 3

[5] Al-Quran Surah 10: Verse 3; Surah 6: Verse 102

[6] Al-Quran Surah 11: Verse 2; Surah 10: Verse 18; Surah 10: Verse 106

[7] Al-Quran Surah 7: Verse 56

[8] Al-Quran Surah 17: Verse 23; Surah 6: Verse 151

[9] Al-Quran Surah 17: Verse 26; Surah 89: Verse 17-18; Surah 107: Verse 2-3

[10] Al-Quran Surah 90: Verse 13

[11] Al-Quran Surah 90: Verse 32

[12] Al-Quran Surah 17: Verse 33; Surah 6: Verse 151

[13] Al-Quran Surah 17: Verse 34

[14] Al-Quran Surah 17: Verse 35; Surah 6: Verse 152

[15] Al-Quran Surah 17: Verse 36

[16] Al-Quran Surah 6: Verse 152

[17] Al-Quran Surah 81: Verse 8-9

[18] Al-Quran Surah 6: Verse 151

[19] Al-Quran Surah 17: Verse 70

[20] Al-Quran Surah 6: Verse 132

[21] Al-Quran Surah 49: Verse 13

[22] Al-Quran Surah 26: Verse 214

[23] Al-Quran Surah 15: Verse 6

[24] Al-Quran Surah 38: Verse 4

[25] Al-Quran Surah 25: Verse 52

[26] Al-Quran Surah 2: Verse 218

[27] Al-Quran Surah 66: Verse 9

[28] Al-Quran Surah 9: Verse 41

[29] Al-Quran Surah 110: Verse 2

[30] W. Montgomery Watt, “Muhammad at Medina”, Oxford University Press, 1956.

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