Al-Arqam ibn Abi al-Arqam Mosque, Benghazi
In the first post in this series, the requirement to follow the Sunnah of the Prophet ﷺ, not only in our individual worship but also in political (or indeed economic or social) matters was discussed. This political Sunnah includes the methodology of the Prophet ﷺ in statecraft and also in how he strived to establish the first Islamic state in Medina. The conclusion was that reference must be made to both his sīra and to the Qur’an in determining the necessary steps to re-institute the Imamate (Caliphate).
The first point to be made here is that the Prophet ﷺ did not work alone in his da‘wah in Makkah. Initially, he privately invited relatives, friends and select individuals to Islam and met with them secretly in the House of Al-Arqam to teach them verses from the Qur’an. This group was enlarged over time and became the Prophet’s party – the Sahabah (). The need to work collectively is also indicated by the following verse:
“Let there be a group among you who call [others] to goodness, enjoin good and forbid evil – it is they who will be successful.” [3:104]
This duty of “enjoining good and forbidding evil” [amr bi’l ma‘rūf wa nahi ‘anil munkar] is closely linked to politics, as indicated by the famous lexicographer Imam al-Fayruzabadi (d. 817/1415) in his dictionary al-Qāmūs al-Muḥīṭ:
وسستُ الرعية سياسة أمرتها ونهيتها
“Taking care (siyāsah, ‘politics’) of the flock is enjoining and forbidding them [amartuha wa nahaytuha]” [al-Qāmūs al-Muḥīṭ, 2/89]
And Imam Ghazali emphasizes the importance of this duty in his Iḥyā’:
“Enjoining good and forbidding evil is the greatest pillar of the dīn, and it is the mission for which Allah sent all the prophets. Had its enactment been suspended and its knowledge and action disregarded, prophethood would have become dysfunctional, religion would have disappeared, slackness prevailed, misguidance spread, ignorance common, the land destroyed and the people perished, but they would not have realised their destruction except on the Day of Judgment.
That which we feared did indeed take place; to Allah we belong and to Him we shall return. The reason for this is that the knowledge and application of this pillar has withered away, and its reality and form erased. The hearts, therefore, have been overcome by hypocrisy to people, while no longer being watchful of the Creator.
The people have indulged in their whims and lusts like animals. It is rare to find on the surface of the earth a true believer who is fearless for the sake of Allah. Whoever takes initiative to avoid such slackness and bridges the gap by pledging to performing it or taking the responsibility to implement it, thus renewing this extinct Prophetic Sunnah, carrying its burdens, rolling up his sleeves to revive it – then he alone among the created beings has revived a Sunnah that time conspired to kill, and only he has exclusively obtained an act of devotion before which all other devotional acts fall short of reaching its summit.” [translated by Mustafa Abu Sway in A Treasury of Al-Ghazali, Kube, Markfield, 2017, pp. 54-55]
Thus, by striving as the Messenger ﷺ did to establish Allah’s rule upon the earth, we will be reviving a political Sunnah and, insha’ Allah, gain the highest of rewards.
During the private stage of the da‘wah in Makkah, the Quraysh did not see the Prophet ﷺ as a threat and the idol-worshippers used to say when they saw him, ‘There goes the child of ‘Abd al Muttalib who is spoken to from Heaven’ [The Makkan Crucible, p. 111]
But things changed during the next phase of the call when it became public and the Messenger ﷺ together with the Sahabah clashed openly with the powers that be (the Quraysh) and attacked their way of life. This stage commenced after Allah revealed to the Prophet ﷺ:
“Therefore proclaim (openly) that which you are commanded and turn away from the polytheists.
Verily, We are sufficient unto you against the scoffers, who take with Allah another God but they will come to know.” [15:94-96]
As mentioned by Dr. Zakaria Bashier in his seminal work on the sīra, The Makkan Crucible, the Quraysh had numerous false gods “from idols of various shapes, sizes and locations to demons, divines, and soothsayers. Ancestors were also given quasi-divine status. They were greatly venerated and their legacy was much esteemed and cherished. The enjoyment of women, wine, poetry and horses held sway over their minds and tastes. Inasmuch as they clung to them and persisted in satisfying them at any cost, they constituted values that approached the status of adored and worshipped objects.” [The Makkan Crucible, Islamic Foundation, Markfield, 2007, pp. 112-113]
Dr. Bashier describes how Allah directly condemns “the capitalistic values of the money-conscious mercantile society of Makkah” (op. cit., p. 117) in the following verses of the Qur’an, which were among the earliest to be revealed:
“Woe unto every slanderer, traducer.
Who accumulates wealth and counts it.
He thinks that his wealth will render him immortal.
Nay, he will indeed by flung into the Destroyer.
And what will convey to you what the Destroyer is?
(It is) the Fire of Allah, kindled.
That which mounts up to the hearts (of men).
Verily it is closed in on them.
In columns outstretched.”
The consequences for the party of the Prophet ﷺ were dire. The Sahabah faced persecution and torture because of their activities. But they persevered because of the strength of their imān.
In this open phase the Sahabah , led by the Prophet ﷺ, were uncompromising in their stance towards the idol-worshippers. On a number of occasions, the leaders of Quraysh approached the Prophet’s uncle and protector Abu Talib in order to come to an arrangement so that he ﷺ would stop challenging their belief system. The Prophet ﷺ was himself present at one of these gatherings and gave his reply. Here is the account of the meeting as related by Ibn Sa‘d:
‘They said: Send for him (Muhammad) and we shall give him a fair offer. Abu Talib sent for him and when the Messenger of Allah [ﷺ] came, he said to him: “O Son of my brother, those are your uncles and the chiefs of your people and they want to deal fairly with you.” The Messenger of Allah [ﷺ] then said: “Speak, I am listening.” They said: “You leave us alone and our gods, and we leave you alone and your God.”
Abu Talib commented on their offer favourably, saying the chiefs had treated his nephew fairly. But the Prophet [ﷺ] replied as follows: “Well, would you grant me a word, which if you adopt it you would thereby rule over the Arabs, and with it the non-Arabs would submit to you?”
Abu Jahl replied: “This must be a winning word. Yes, by your father, we would say it, and even ten words like it.” The Prophet [ﷺ] then said: “Say Lā ilāha illā Allāh.” When the Prophet [ﷺ] uttered this monotheistic dictum, the idolaters were repelled by it. They shrank away from him and said to one another with displeasure: “Cling to your gods, and be steadfast and patient with this belief.” ’ [Cited in The Makkan Crucible, pp. 148-149]
This incident illustrates the political significance of the kalimah.
In the next part of this series of posts, we will examine how the Prophet ﷺ directly sought political power and how this stage of the da‘wah culminated in the Hijra to Medina.