Until they Change What is Within Themselves

Allah frequently swears in the Quran by various times and many of these times that are mentioned are the times of transition, so for example, Allah says:

Wal-Fajr – When the night is beginning its transition to the day

Wad-Duha – When the morning is completing its transition from the night

Wal-‘Asr – When the day is transitioning into the night

So these times indicate the power of Allah because it takes tremendous power to bring about a change. We find that in our individual lives that its very easy to sustain old habits that we have but its very difficult in many instances to change those habits. We find it in our automobiles that it takes great amount of power to get the car rolling but once its moving along, it takes significantly less power to sustain its momentum. So times of transition are the times where power is indicated. And it’s interesting that when a person challenges the power of Allah (SWT), Allah reminds that person of this reality.

So in the Quran, when Nimrod or Namrood challenges Allah Subhanahu wa Ta’ala, what does Allah’s messenger remind him with?

Have you not seen the one who disputed with Ibrahim concerning his Lord, because Allah gave him something of power and dominion? Ibrahim said it is my Lord who gives Life and causes death. He arrogantly said: I can give life and I cause death.

So its related that he summoned two men. He said Kill this one and let this one live.

Ibrahim said it is Allah who brings the sun from the East. You then bring it from the West.

So you change this order that Allah has established.

Thus was the one who rejected faith dumbfounded.

Now keeping this in perspective, when we talk about the role of the messengers and the prophets of Allah, who undertook the responsibility of transforming individual lives and transforming societies under Divine guidance, we need to understand that this was an enormous task and responsibility. And yet we sometimes fail to appreciate the role of the prophets in this regard. We need to keep in mind that whatever goodness we find in this world, it is mainly as a result of two factors, the fitra on which Allah (SWT) created us human beings on or the direct or indirect consequences of the efforts of Allah’s messengers.

The nature of change is that it should come from within as Allah says:

Innallaha laa yughayyiru maa bi qawmin hatta yughayyiruu maa bi anfusihim

Verily Allah will never change the condition of a people until they change it themselves

And we see many examples of this in the Quran. So when Maryam (AS) as is described in the Quran was pregnant with Isa (AS), she was told:

Wa huzzee ilayki bi jiz’in  nakhlati tusaaqit ‘alayki rutaban janiyya

Shake the trunk of the palm tree towards yourself and fresh and ripe dates shall fall upon you

Now you could have ten strong men try to shake a palm tree and they wouldn’t be able to shake it, let alone have fruits fall off it. But Allah (SWT) is telling us that we have the responsibility of initiating a change after which we should leave the rest to Allah.

Also, when we talk about change we need to understand that change by its very nature is evolutionary. An example of this can be seen in the case of the abolishment of slavery during the early period of Islam. During the time of the Prophet, slavery was widespread through out the Arabian Peninsula and it enjoyed the status of a highly established institution. The Prophet avoided a path that would seek to abolish slavery at the early stage of his movement for reform. Instead, he adopted a gradual process of trying to remove the evils by way of education. Allah revealed verses in the Quran that enjoined the Prophet to persuade people to be kind to their slaves. These verses sought to change the very view of slaves in the eyes of slaveholders. The Quran referred to slaves not as slaves but as human beings who were no different from their “masters”, who were deserving of respect, dignity and treatment that is but the right of all human beings.

In those days slaves were a common commodity traded in the marketplace. So had slavery been immediately abolished, it was likely to introduce many problems in the society. So Islam introduced a two-fold movement. On one hand, it discouraged taking up new slaves. On the other hand it promoted the thought amongst people that freeing a slave was an incomparable virtue, to the extent that one was encouraged to purchase slaves solely for the purpose of freeing them. So the Prophet and his companions began to purchase slaves from their masters and set them free. And thus we saw that gradually slavery was abolished from the Muslim society. 

1.    Hisham ibn ‘Amr’s Effort to End Boycott

After Umar & Hamza (RA)’s acceptance of Islam, more and more people from amongst the Makkans had started entering the fold of Islam, which raised strong concerns between the Makkans. So roughly around the seventh year of the Rasulullah (SAW)’s prophethood, they convened a conference and advocated a total boycott of Muslims and their supporters. And it was decided to make the decision completely binding on everyone in Makkah.  The terms of the boycott were so strict that they ruled out intermarriages or trade transactions with Hashimites.

All the Hashimite clan, including the non-Muslims among them, along with the Muslims of other tribes suffered a great deal as a result of the boycott. If a tradesman or a farmer brought some good or provisions to sell in Makkah, he was offered much more than his asking price on the condition that he would not sell anything to the Hashimites. The situation became very grave as month after month went by with no hope for a quick end to this boycott. These people used to starve every day and their children cried themselves to sleep every night. No one from outside Banu-Hashem could speak to them, which froze the propagation of Islam completely for three years. Three years out of only 23 years for the spread of the message is too long, relatively speaking.

Quraysh would not lift the embargo unless either Prophet Muhammad (SAW) abandoned his message, or his Companions surrendered him.  The problem was that no one, not even the non-Muslims, did what Quraysh was hoping for.  The Muslims did not do it because of their faith in Allah (SWT).  Likewise, the non-Muslims felt the duty of protecting Prophet Muhammad (SAW) and standing by their tribe.

One great example of a disbeliever with exceptional magnanimity was Hisham Ibn-Amr-Al-Amerey. He trained a camel to travel among the she’ebs to deliver food in the middle of the night. But while Hisham continued to smuggle food into the she’eb, he soon realized that he needed to do more to help the Hashimite clan. He felt that he could not do much on his own and that he needed to work out a plan which could foil any attempt by Abu Jahal to continue with the boycott.

So he went to Zuhayr ibn Abu Umayyah who belonged to the Makhzum clan and said to him that:

“Are you happy to sit back enjoying your food wearing whatever clothes you fancy, marrying as you wish, while your uncles are confined in their quarters: no one buys from them or sells anything to them, and no one accepts any marriage contracts with them. I swear by God that had they been the uncles of Abu Hakam (Abu Jahal) and you made an approach to him to boycott them in the same manner as he asked you to boycott your own uncles, he would never have consented to join in.”

Zuhayr was overwhelmed by the argument and assured Hisham him of his support. He then went to Mut’im ibn ‘Adiy who was from the clan of Abd Manaf and secured his support, then to two other influential leaders of Makkah to get their support. Together they all met at the Ka’bah and through a pre-orchestrated plan denounced this covenant in front of everyone thus ending a period of excessive hardship which the Prophet and his companions endured with patience, confident that their cause would come out of it much stronger.

Now there are many lessons that we can learn from the efforts of Hisham ibn ‘Amr. First of all just because someone is not a Muslim, that in itself is no reason to alienate that person. Had the Prophet (SAW) treated the disbelievers with animosity, they would not have converted to Islam.

Also, had the non-Muslims of Banu-Hashem not seen such high moral values from the Prophet, they would not have accepted to stand by him the way they did. So sometimes, practicing dawah by morals and ethics is more effective than mere preaching. And this is why we should be very cognizant of what sort of image we project as a community. Because when we read in the Quran about people accepting Islam in large numbers

Wa  ra  aytan  naasa  Yadkhuloona  fi  Deenillahi  Afwaaja

And you see the people entering the religion in Droves

This will happen when our Da’wah is not being made primarily as individuals because individuals call individuals to Islam; communities call communities to Islam. So our communal characteristics should be so positive that they are undeniable and people are forced to accept that ‘Yes, Muslims are the most honest, respectful, compassionate, industrious people I ever met’ as opposed to ‘Muhammad or Fatima is the most industrious person I ever met’. And in order to do that, we all have a part to play and when each one of us chips in and contributes, the strength of our communities will attract other communities to Islam.


2.    A Fresh Convert’s Effort to Make a Difference

Idh jaa’ukum min fawqikum wa min asfala minkum wa idh zaghatil absaaru wa balaghatil quloobu wal hanajir wa tazunnuna billahiz zunnuna. 

When they came upon you from above you and below you, when eyes grew wide and hearts reached to the throats and you were imagining vain thoughts concerning Allah.

Hunalikab tuliyal mu’minuna wa zulzilu zilzaalan shadeeda

There were the believers solely tried and shaken with a mighty shock

A man named Nu’aim Ibn Mas’ud from Ashja’ tribe went to the Prophet (SAW), declared his identity and “I bear witness that there is no god but Allah and that you (SAW) are the Messenger of Allah.”  The Prophet was very happy with him and advised him to go back and bring them news.  Nu’aim said, “If I do so I will have to say very bad things about you.”  The Prophet (SAW) replied “Go and say what you wish”. Now this happened to be a true really and extremely skillful.

Nu’aim went to Bani Quraiza and told them that Quraysh was not from this land, and so if they were exhausted from the siege, they would leave Bani Quraiza alone in front of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) who would take revenge for their betrayal.  He told the solution was to encourage Quraysh to fight but take fifty of Quraysh’s men to guarantee that Quraysh would not leave.

Nu’aim then went to Abu-Sufyan that Bani Quraiza made an agreement with Prophet Muhammad to bring him fifty of Quraysh’s men to make peace with him.  On the next day, Abu-Sufyan contacted Ka’b the leader of Bani Quraiza and asked him, “When do we attack”?  Ka’b said, “Give us fifty men first to ensure your seriousness in the fight.” Abu-Sufyan thought that Nu’aim was right, so he replied saying that he would not give them even one man. Thus, Ka’b also thought that Nu’aim was right.  This was the first step toward victory; Nu’aim fooled them both to keep them from working together and this supported the nation and protected it.

3.    Umar bin Abdul Aziz’s Reforms in Society

‘Umar ibn Abdul Aziz (RA) was confronted with many obstacles of un-Islamic practices brought about by his own immediate family elders. A general moral degeneration had set in the Muslim society. The lives of luxury led by the ruling few and greed had caused many people a grave economic set-back and the levying of undue taxes had made their lives all the more miserable.

He declared that people were not bound, but free to elect anybody they pleased as their Caliph. The people were only willing to elect him as their leader. He abolished the luxuries that the rulers before him had for their use, and all the privileges enjoyed by the ruler’s family and relatives. He appointed jurist scholars known for their righteousness and piety, and dismissed the corrupt ones. He abolished taxes and distributed the wealth with justice. He organized the collection and distribution of Zakat so well that there was a time when no one came to ask for it, and the Zakat distributors could not find anybody to take it. He granted non-Muslims their rights and privileges under the Shari’ah. He arranged for education of the masses drawing attention to Qur’an sciences, Hadith and Fiqh. He appointed scholars to record by writing the hadith of the Prophet (SAW), and the quotations of his companions (RA). It was in fact the first organized movement to record the hadith. As a result, he succeeded in generating a powerful intellectual movement and eventually produced the four great Imams

Thus he achieved the purpose for which Islam endeavors to establish its rule:

“When we give them authority in the earth, they strive to establish Salat, make arrangements for the collection of Zakat, enforce good and forbid evil.” (22:41)

Our Communal Responsibility

When the Mongol hoards swept through the heartlands of Islam, what did they leave in their wake? Pyramids of skulls; they razed some of the most beautiful cities of history, all the cities of Central Asia, Tashkent, Bukhara, Samarkand. Razed beautiful tiled buildings, gardens, libraries, depositories of some of the richest learning in human history. What happened in Baghdad, they say that the Tigris ran black with the ink flowing off the pages of the books that were dumped into Tigris. People being massacred left and right. 

Imagine if you woke up after the Mongol hoards had swept through your village, everything is burnt, everything is razed to the ground. You see a pile of skulls, one or two survivors and you have to stand up and you have to get on with your life. They had the spiritual strength not only to do that, to get on with their lives with their dignity intact, not resorting to desperate measures and tactics and in two generations what happened? Those Mongol hoards were converted to Islam. What kind of people do you think did that? They weren’t shallow people. They were people who had deep spiritual strength, they had patience, they had reliance on God, they had trust in God, they had confidence in God’s wisdom. They had the ability to make the best of a bad situation; to continue to articulate their faith so those people who conquered them looked at them for a source of strength and guidance for themselves.


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