Imperative for the Ummah

Imperative for the Ummah

Dr. Israr Ahmad


The decline of the Muslim Ummah from what was once a prosperous and dominant community to a morally decadant, intellectually effete, politically impotent, and economically pathetic group of people is a constant source of perplexity and anguish to many of us. Aren´t we the most beloved of the God´s people? Aren´t the disbelievers enemies of Almighty God? Then how could anyone explain their opulence and supremacy and our decadence and subjugation at their hands? Surely God the Almighty is not unjust. Or is He?

What we must understand and keep in our minds at all times is that God the Almighty has no special attachment to any particular group of people. His law and His justice is the same for everyone. At the same time, we must also appreciate that we, the Muslims, are the “chosen people of the Lord” — obviously not in the sense that we can get away with all transgressions and crimes, but in the sense that Almighty Allah (SWT) has placed a heavy burden on our shoulders.

We are the custodians of His last revelation, the Holy Qur´an. We are the followers of His last messenger, Prophet Muhammad (SAW). Whether we want this position or not, the fact remains that we have been appointed the representatives of Almighty Allah (SWT) among all nations of the world. We are meant to be a living paradigm and a model of the teachings of the Holy Qur´an and the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (SAW). We are meant to attract the entire mankind, by virtue of our exemplary character and norms, towards the Deen of Allah. But this “privilege” is also a liability. If we behave in contravention to the Divine commands, we would become liable to a double punishment — for our own evil deeds as well as for the crime of driving and repelling other people away from Divine Guidance.

In the words of Prophet Jesus Christ (AS), “every tree that fails to produce good fruit is cut down and thrown on the fire”.

Surely God the Almighty is not unjust.

But then, what is the way out of this predicament? How can we escape the continuing humiliation in this world and the torments of Hell-fire in the world to come? The solution, of course, is obvious. We must turn back to the guiding light of the Holy Qur´an and the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (SAW), we must repent, we must change our individual lives and our collective behavior, and we must fulfill all our obligations.

The imperative for the Ummah, and the road-map for her ultimate salvation, can be derived from three verses of the Holy Qur´an. These verses (Surah Aal-e-Imran 3:102-104), which appear in the middle of the 3rd Surah, provide us with a brief yet comprehensive plan of action, both for the Muslim Ummah as a whole as well as for its individual members. English translation of these verses is as follows:

  • O Believers! Heed Allah as He should be heeded, and see that you do not die but in a state of submission. 
  • Hold on firmly together to the Rope of Allah, and be not divided among yourselves; remember (with gratitude) the favors Allah bestowed on you, when you were one anther´s foe and He reconciled your hearts, and you turned into brethren through His grace. You were then on the brink of the pit of fire, and He saved you from it. In this way Allah makes His signs clear to you, so that you may find the right path.
  • Let there be a body of people among you, who invite others to all that is good, and enjoin what is right, and forbid what is wrong. They are those who will be successful. (Al-Qur´an; Aal-e-Imran 3:102 to 104)

The first verse informs a Muslim individual, in a nutshell, the obligations he or she owes as a member of the Muslim Ummah. The second verse lays down for the Muslims, at a collective level, the imperative to unite into a cohesive fraternity on the basis of the “Rope of Allah”. The third verse delineates the goal for the entire Muslim Ummah in general and for its activist component in particular, which is to enjoin the good and forbid the evil.

There is a wonderful correlation between these verses, as they unfold before us three steps through which we should approach our ultimate objectives and ideals. Here is an explanation of the practical implications of these verses.

VERSE NO. 102: The Basic Obligation of a Muslim Individual

The Holy Qur´an uses the phrase “O you who believe” with different shades of meaning; thus, it is employed sometimes to address the true believers, sometimes to address those who are weak and indecisive in their faith, and sometimes to address the double-crossing hypocrites. It is often the context of the verses that help us understand as to which group(s) is meant at any given place in the Holy Qur´an.

A lot of misunderstandings can be avoided if we realize that the word Iman has been used in the Qur´an and Hadith in two different connotations, depending upon the context. This actually reflects the dual aspects of the concept of “faith” itself. Thus, from a purely legalistic standpoint, Iman simply implies a public testimony of basic Islamic beliefs practical implications of which may or may not manifest in a person´s behavior and actions. However, true Iman is much, much more than mere verbal attestation. True faith implies a strong inner conviction and deeply felt certitude, which is invariably manifested in a person´s whole being and his entire life, affecting all his actions and behavior. On the other hand, it is quite possible for a person who claims to be a believer — though he will be considered so in matters of law — to have, in reality, a very weak faith, or he may even be a Munafiq.

The significant point here is that, in the Muslim community, those with a weak faith or even the known hypocrites were never treated as Kafirs or non-Muslims. This is because anyone who testifies to the unity of Allah and to the prophethood of Muhammad (SAW), and who doesn´t deny or reject any of the basic and essential teachings of Islam, is to be considered a Muslim for all legal purposes, his or her character or actions notwithstanding. However, it must be kept in mind that this definition of a Muslim is limited strictly to legal matters; in reality, it is quite possible for those who are legally Muslims to be devoid of true faith, in the sight of the Almighty God.

The phrase “O Believers” as used here refers to all the three categories - all those who are legally Muslims — including those with a weak faith and the hypocrites in addition to the really committed and dedicated believers. The people who claim to be believers are being commanded by Allah, in this verse, to have fear and awe of the Almighty to the utmost degree. The original Arabic word is Taqwa, the meaning of which goes way beyond simple “fear”, as discussed below.

Instead of merely describing any particular outward appearance, Taqwa actually denotes a state of mind which reflects in each and every aspect of a person´s life. It can be defined as a person´s awe of Almighty Allah (SWT), consciousness of his obligations towards Him, and cognizance of his ultimate accountability to his Lord and Creator. Taqwa is the spirit that animates and energizes the formal observation of the commands of Shariah. It is quite possible for a person to make a pretense of obeying the Divine law without any regard for its true spirit. On the other hand, a genuine attitude of submission before Almighty Allah (SWT) is possible only when there is a profound internal awareness of responsibility, which is another word for Taqwa.

A person´s attitude of heading or fear of God prevents him from going against His commands — even when there is no possibility of getting caught in the life of this world. A person´s sense of duty makes him act on the injunctions of Almighty God — even when there is no external compulsion to do so. A person´s firm conviction in the accountability of the Hereafter makes him attentive and watchful of his every action — even in an environment where such an attitude of honesty or rectitude is mocked by his colleagues and peers. Thus, vigilance, self-restraint, moral integrity, and caution are the hallmarks of Taqwa.

The words which qualify the command for Taqwa in the verse under discussion “ He should be heeded” are very striking indeed. When this verse was revealed, the Companions of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) became terribly anxious, for they thought that it was by no means possible for any one to have God´s Taqwa to the highest degree due Him. In reply to their inquiry, Almighty Allah (SWT) consoled them with these words: “So heed Allah as much as you can...” (Al-Taghabun 64:15). This means that Allah wants each one of us to live a life of self-restraint and righteousness to the highest possible degree. This takes into account the fact that every person is endowed with a specific level of strength and capability vis-à-vis self-restraint and righteousness, and also that God shall certainly consider each person´s peculiar capacities and his or her specific circumstances in the ultimate accountability of the Hereafter. What this does not sanction, however, is any complacent and self-satisfied attitude regarding our obligations as Muslims.

We must not excuse and absolve ourselves of our duties by underestimating our own capacities. We are not allowed to give up the struggle for cultivating Taqwa in our lives by pretending that we lack the necessary strengths and capabilities. Almighty Allah (SWT) knows — right down to the minutest details — as to how much strength He has given to any particular person, and He shall judge every one accordingly.

Finally, we have the most emphatic words of this verse: “...see that you do not die but in a state of submission”. All that is being demanded here is that one should make sure that he does not die in a state of sin. But this is by no means an easy job. No one knows as to how long he is going to live and where and when his death will take place. In order to make sure that death does not catch him while he is committing a sin, he has no choice but to remain extremely alert at all times, and must watch that not even a single moment of his life is spent in sinful activities. This, of course, is just another way of inculcating in our hearts and minds the supreme importance of Taqwa.

What kind of submission and obedience is being demanded by Almighty Allah? Of course, He wants us to perform the obligatory Salah five times a day, and to observe the Saum during the month of Ramadan, and to help the poor and the destitute with Zakat, and to perform Hajj if we have the means to do so. But is that all? Can we draw a dividing line between the religious and the secular components of life? Are we allowed to obey Allah in the “religious” matters and to do whatever pleases us in all “non-religious” spheres of life? Do you really think any one can get away with this kind of hypocrisy?

The submission that is required by God Almighty is total and unconditional. Allah demands that man should submit his whole being and his entire life to His commands. The splitting up of the human life into separate compartments, some governed by the teachings of Islam and others by one´s own desires or by the prevailing trends of the society, is against the spirit of Taqwa, to say the least. This sort of attitude betrays that, in fact, it is the desires of one´s own heart that a person has decided to follow and not the injunctions of Almighty Allah (SWT). It also shows that all the supposedly “good deeds” performed by such a person are nothing but a shallow display of false piety. May Almighty God deliver us from all contradictions in our claims and our deeds.

VERSE NO. 103: Holding Fast to the Rope of Allah

All those who have accomplished the requirement of the preceding verse, or who have at least started the journey with a sincere intention, are called upon to unite with each other by holding onto the “Rope of Allah”. There are at least three authentic traditions of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) in which the Prophet has told us the meaning of this phrase: The “Rope of Allah” is nothing but the last of God´s revelations, the Holy Qur´an.

What does holding onto the Qur´an mean? It means that we must fulfill all the obligations that we owe to the Book of Allah. The attitude of indifference that we constantly show towards the Holy Qur´an, along with our hypocritical lip-service, is tantamount to ridiculing or belittling the last of the God´s revelations. Our abandoning this ultimate source of guidance has resulted in the most damaging trend of growing internal strife and sectarianism. The Holy Qur´an acts like the nucleus or the center for the Ummah. The more we move towards the center, the more we shall come nearer to each other. Understanding our responsibilities towards the Holy Qur´an and trying our very best in fulfilling them is the surest way to unity. It is equally obvious that we can neither expect any improvement in our worldly state of affairs nor hope for salvation in the Hereafter unless we carry out all the obligations that we owe to the Qur´an.

Our first obligation is to have faith in the Holy Qur´an. A verbal declaration of belief that the Holy Qur´an is the word of Almighty God, revealed to Prophet Muhammad (SAW) through the angel Gabriel is a legal requirement for becoming a Muslim. True faith, however, will emerge only when that attestation blossoms into a strong inner conviction and deeply felt certitude. And, of course, only true faith can lead us towards genuine devotion and veneration of the Holy Book. Today the trouble is that, though we claim to believe in it, there is hardly any true conviction in our hearts regarding the Divine origin of the Holy Qur´an. This unfortunate state of uncertainty and doubt is responsible for the fact that our “faith” in the Qur´an is, generally speaking, nothing more than an article of dogma that has very little to do with our practical lives. It may be pointed out that the ultimate fountain-head and source of Iman is the Holy Qur´an itself. If the Book is studied and its meanings are pondered upon in an authentic quest for truth, all the veils of darkness shall be lifted from one´s heart, and the soul will get illumined by the light of gnosis and conviction.

Our second obligation is slow and thoughtful reading of the Holy Qur´an with correct pronunciation. The Holy Qur´an is unlike any other book, and, as such, it should never be read like ordinary books. We must read it carefully, reflecting on its messages, constantly seeking guidance for our lives, and we must read it again and again. Just as our material body is in constant need of food for its sustenance, our spiritual soul or Rooh is also in perpetual need for its nourishment. And just as the food for our bodies is derived from the earth, the diet for our souls is obtained from the Word of God, the Holy Qur´an itself.

Our third obligation is to understand and comprehend the Holy Qur´an. Of course, there are numerous levels and grades of comprehension, accessible to different persons according to their respective planes of intellect and consciousness. The first stage in the comprehension of the Holy Qur´an is called Tazakkur, a term which alludes to the fact that the teachings of the Qur´an are not at all foreign or alien to the human nature, rather they represent the eternal truths ingrained in the human soul. The Holy Qur´an has been rendered very easy, by Almighty God, for the purpose of gaining this level of guidance. The second stage in the comprehension of the Holy Qur´an, however, is far from easy. Tadabbur is described as a penetrating study, an intense reflection, as thorough deliberation of the Holy Qur´an as possible, and diving deep into the bottomless ocean of its wisdom. There must be a number of scholars, at all times, who are engaged in this level of deep study and research. Such scholars can only be produced if we have a network of universities, throughout the Muslim world, which concentrate on the Qur´anic research and make this Book the focus of all their intellectual activity.

Our fourth obligation is to act upon the teachings of the Holy Qur´an. At an individual level, it is imperative for every Muslim to mold his or her life according to its message. Our Prophet Muhammad (SAW) has said, “None of you can become a true believer until his desires become subordinate to what I have brought.” The best way to benefit from the study of the Holy Qur´an is to go on changing our life-styles and mending our ways in accordance with its teachings. According to another saying of the Prophet, “The Qur´an will be an argument either for you or an argument against you (on the Day of Judgement).”

At the collective level of the community, it is equally imperative for us to try and establish the system of Social Justice as given by the Holy Qur´an. The Muslims are, as a whole, responsible for establishing the sovereignty of the Almighty God, and each of us is obligated to try his utmost in this path. It has been made obligatory upon all of us to try our utmost in establishing the Islamic System of Collective Justice, initially in our own homeland and then, ultimately, over the entire globe. This obligation obviously requires the Muslims to bring about fundamental changes in the un-Islamic politico-socio-economic system under which they may find themselves, in order to conform it to the teachings of the Holy Qur´an.

Our fifth obligation is to propagate the message of the Holy Qur´an to every nook and corner of the world. This was originally the responsibility of Prophet Muhammad (SAW), who fulfilled his own obligation by conveying the Divine message to the Ummah; since Prophethood has come to an end with the advent of Prophet Muhammad (SAW), it is now the duty of the Muslims to deliver that message to all humanity. Thus, the Holy Prophet has commanded “Convey on my behalf, even if it only a single verse.” It may be pointed out here that this obligation cannot be fulfilled to the highest degree unless there is an Islamic state in existence. This is because the the unassailable proof of the remarkable perfection as well as the applicability of the Qur´anic injunctions in the contemporary world can be established only when they are put into practice in toto, and the results presented before the whole world as evidence of the veracity of Qur´an. In other words, the fourth and fifth obligations are closely linked with each other.

To sum up, we must develop real faith that this is indeed the word of God; we must read the Holy Qur´an on a daily basis; we must try to comprehend its meaning; we must act upon its do´s and dont´s in our individual as well as collective capacities; and we must spread the message and teachings of this Book to every nook and corner of the world. In addition to being a guarantee of our salvation in the Hereafter, this is the most certain and surefire approach if we want to achieve a sense of real unity among our ranks.

A basic fact common to both sociology and psychology is that human beings with a common purpose tend to unite and associate with each other. People with similar interests, goals, and priorities are automatically attracted towards each other. No artificial effort or external coercion is needed. If we succeed in making the Holy Qur´an the center and nucleus of our lives, our ambitions, and our endeavors, then all strife, disharmony, and sectarianism will disappear. But attaining such a goal, of course, requires a tremendous input of effort.

Before the advent of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) the inhabitants of the Arabian peninsula - as a result of their mutual hostilities and unending wars - were standing on the brink of the pit of fire, as described in the verse under discussion. Indeed, it was only the blessing and mercy of Almighty God that saved them from total destruction. The Muslim Ummah, in the dying moments of the 20th century, is again experiencing the same sort of predicament. The ideal “Ummah” is no longer present in the world of reality; it has long been divided into numerous nations and nationalities, groups and factions, tribes and clans, sects and cults. Unity is impossible without going back to the Qur´an.

VERSE NO. 104: The objective of the Muslim Ummah

The individual Muslim was first commanded to become pious and virtuous to the maximum possible degree; then, the Muslims were ordered to cling tenaciously to the Holy Qur´an, which will also unite them with each other and weld them into a cohesive brotherhood. Now, the question arises: Why should they unite? What is the purpose or the goal for which this united and cohesive group is required? This is explained in the third verse, in which all the Muslims of the world are being commanded to call people towards all that is good, to enjoin all that is esteemed and right and just and moral, and to forbid all that is odious and wrong and unjust and evil.

But what if the majority of the Ummah were to forget its duty? When the vast multitude of people in the Muslim Ummah are in a state of slumber, or fighting among themselves, or busy in pursuing this-worldly goals, what are we supposed to do? Under these conditions, there must arise an Ummah within the Ummah. There must arise from within the Muslims an activist group, or Hizbullah in Qur´anic terminology, that will endeavor to remind the Muslims their obligations, that will call the people towards all that is good, enjoin what is right, and forbid what is wrong.

However, it must be emphasized that this is actually the purpose for which the entire Muslim Ummah was created in the first place, as mentioned in a most emphatic fashion in the same Surah: “You are the best of people raised for the (guidance of) mankind; You enjoin the good, forbid the evil, and believe in Allah” (3:110).

This is a very profound and significant guidance of the Holy Qur´an. The Muslim Ummah has been raised, according to these verses, not for enjoying any VIP treatment from Almighty Allah (SWT), but for the sole purpose of propagating and conveying the guidance with which it has been endowed to the entire humanity, for all times to come.

It is clearly indicated by the context of the verse under discussion that, to carry out this tremendous responsibility, the Muslims of the world must remain united in the form of a close-knit fraternity. This is because political authority can neither be gained nor maintained without strong internal cohesion, and, as we shall see shortly, the function of “Enjoining the good” and “Forbidding the evil” can never be satisfactorily performed by an impotent and feeble group of people which lacks the authority to implement what it believes to be true.

“Calling people towards all that is good” is a duty which is to be performed in a humble and soft manner, almost in the passive and patient style of a Buddhist monk or a Christian missionary, with absolutely no aggressiveness whatsoever. “Enjoining what is right”, however, means to dictate or enforce the right things on the basis of authority, which means that this necessitates a revolution in the power structure so that the moral goodness can be properly implemented. Thus, complete enforcement of the Islamic law and moral values can be achieved only when a positive change has been brought about in a country´s political structure.

The Qur´anic commands vis-à-vis human society, law, economics, and politics are not given to us so that we may admire and praise them, but they are meant to be implemented in their totality. This necessitates that the gulf between Faith and Power be removed, which obviously requires a revolution in the leadership so that — instead of fulfilling any un-Islamic agenda — it contributes towards the establishment of “God´s Kingdom” on earth. Without collective organizational power, a significant portion of Islam remains confined to the realm of theory, and, as a result, all sorts of corruption, injustice, inequity and immorality are let loose on earth. It´s not that Islam cannot survive or support itself without political authority, but, in fact, it is the political authority that grows more and more corrupt unless it is subordinated to the commands of the Holy Qur´an and the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (SAW).

However, it is important to keep in mind that the duty of enjoining the good should be carried out even in the absence of an ideal Islamic state. Every Muslim enjoys at least some degree of authority, and he or she is obligated to implement the commandments of Almighty God within the confines of his or her little “kingdom” i.e. family, private business etc.

“Forbidding what is wrong” is an independent and equally significant obligation. Prophet Muhammad (SAW) has said: “If any of you should see an evil or wrong (being committed), he must change it with his hands (i.e., with force); if he is unable to do so then he must change it with his tongue (raising his voice against that practice); if he cannot do even this, then he must (feel aversion) in his heart; and this is the weakest (stage of) faith.”

It is impossible to live in an immoral and corrupt environment without being affected by the prevailing trends. If the social milieu favors evil, if wrongdoers can get away with the most serious of crimes, if the righteous feel isolated and helpless, then, in such a society, a person will loose any sense of moral integrity that he may possess if he were to adopt a complacent attitude.

The only way to save your own soul is to be utterly “intolerant” of corruption, injustice, inequity, and immorality. The only way to escape from the evil effects of the sinful environment is to fight vehemently against it. The only honorable way for a self-respecting person is to put up a tough resistance, and never to give up.

If Muslims ever find themselves in a situation where all sorts of wrongs are being committed in front of their very eyes, then it is the demand of their faith to try their utmost in changing that unfortunate state of affairs. A theoretical knowledge of the Right and Wrong, without the urge to promote the former and destroy the latter, is a gross immorality in itself. To enjoin good and forbid evil is, therefore, the true measure of a person´s faith, as well as the ultimate function of the Muslim Ummah.

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