Muhammad (SAW) A Prophet for Our Time (Part 2) (January 13, 2017)
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More than fourteen centuries have passed since the departure of the last Prophet and Messenger Muhammad (SAW) – a simple person who revolutionized the world and left behind gems of divine wisdom for us to uphold and pursue the true meaning of life and happiness. The ummah is entrusted with a gigantic task. Allah (SWT) is counting on us, believers, to assume the prophetic role of establishing Justice. Here we are fourteen centuries later and we find ourselves divided, helpless and hopeless. To improve our condition, we need to heed the saying of Imam Malik (RA). He stressed, “The latter part of the ummah will not be reformed except on the pattern in which the first part of the ummah (the first generation) was reformed.” 

The first generation of Muslims under the leadership of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) have achieved many accomplishments. The Prophet (SAW) laid down the foundation for Islamic work and dawah. The first and most important step toward social reform was purification of the soul. Undoubtedly, the Qur’an was the agent that changed and transformed the lives of the early converts to Islam. The Qur’anic passages that presented a different and unique worldview helped shape the minds and hearts of people. Purification of the soul through the Qur’an was the first step toward social reform. Thus, returning back to the Qur’an, particularly the Meccan passages, is the first and most crucial step toward fulfilling our duties assigned to us by Allah (SWT). An objective study of the sirah reveals the necessary steps toward social reform. 

1. Self-Purification: Self-purification is a painstaking process. While Islamophobia is rampant and widespread, we as Muslims must remain resolute and strong. The Prophet (SAW) and the companions during the first 13 years of his mission were met with severe persecution. The challenges were endured with fortitude and patience. During such heightened Islamophobia 1,400 years ago, the companions never gave up. The process of purification took place simultaneously as they were taunted, resented and persecuted. The condition presented a golden opportunity for Muslims. They engaged in dawah, propagating and disseminating the pure message they received from the Almighty.

The Prophet (SAW) taught, “Best among you are those who learn the Qur’an and teach it to others.” This brilliant advice, learn and teach the Qur’an, is meant to help us purify ourselves through its teachings before imparting its wisdom unto others, thus becoming a true beacon of light. They become the embodiment of the message they preach. The Qur’an wants to produce human individuals who revere God and simultaneously seek and uphold Justice. 

2. Building Coalitions: In such turbulent and trying times, we learn from the sirah of the Prophet (SAW) that it is suggested to reach out to people of conscience regardless of their religious or non-religious affiliation and work with them on social justice issues that are common to all.

It must be clear that faith is a personal matter. Allah guides whom He wills. People make choices and we are not in a position to compel any of them in any way to embrace Islam. This free will is a privilege Allah gave His servants and no one is entitled to take that privilege away from them. People are free to choose whatever they want to believe in.

All people regardless of who they are, Muslim or non-Muslim, Arab or non-Arab, white or black, are obliged to collectively work together to eliminate injustice. Discrimination against any person is discrimination against all of humanity. The Prophet (SAW) encouraged us to work with all people regardless of their creed or whatever they may choose for themselves as a way of life (deen) as long as our cooperation does not involve sin or enmity. “Cooperate with one another in righteousness and piety, and do not cooperate in sin and transgression.” (al-Ma’idah, 5:2) While faith is a personal matter, the work for social justice is a collective matter.

Hilf al-Fudul is a prime example of such cooperation. Various chiefs and members of tribes pledged to respect the principles of justice and collectively intervene in conflicts to establish justice. The pact became known as, “The League of the Virtuous, or Hilf al-Fudul.” The pledge was written and placed inside the ka’bah where the participants believed that it would be under God’s protection. This event was witnessed by the Prophet (SAW) when he was a young man. The Prophet (SAW) recalls the event, “I was present in the house of Abdullah ibn Jud’an when a covenant was agreed upon, and I would not accept red camels in lieu of it. Had I been asked to uphold it today (in the days of Islam) I would have agreed.”  Decades later, the Prophet (SAW) still acknowledges the validity of the pact.

His statement, ‘I would have agreed,’ meant that the Prophet (SAW) was not against cooperating with non-Muslims in upholding values that bring good to society. As long as we are not cooperating in sin and enmity, working with others on common causes is a must. Many organizations and groups would love to partner with Muslims. It is our responsibility to find them, build relationships with them and work together to uphold common and universal values that include freedom, equality and justice that are, in principle, Islamic values.

Muslims should be at the forefront leading the social justice movement. The companions understood what it meant to struggle for and establish justice. An envoy by the name of Rib’i Ibn `Amir entered the court of Rustum, the Persian leader, who asked him, “What brought you here?” Rib’i said, “God sent us, to bring out people from the worship of man to the worship of God alone; from the narrowness (and oppression) of this world to its spaciousness (and freedom); and from the injustice of other religions (and systems) to the justice of Islam.”

Rib’i (RAA) neither prepared his speech nor was he expecting such a question. His reply was very prophetic. This example should help us reflect on how the Qur’an helped shape the companions’ understanding of the world, people and justice. We have the legacy of the Prophet and that of his companions to learn from so we may walk in their footsteps for the pursuit of Justice. 

The challenges we face worldwide is bigger than all of us. Muslims from all races and ethnic backgrounds have no choice but to come together, maintain unity, harmony and plan strategically to defeat the enemies of Allah and Islam.

3. The Development of Islamic and Community Centers: Among many things the Prophet did during his migration from Makkah to al-Madinah was the establishment of masjid Quba’. Quba’ was the first masjid ever built for Muslims to freely worship Allah (SWT). He (SAW) later built his masjid, al-masjid al-nabawi or the Prophet’s masjid, in al-Madinah. The masjid was a welcoming masjid, a place where Muslims, males and females, would congregate to worship Allah. It was a place where all the affairs of the community were conducted. In other words, it was a true Islamic Center. It was a community center that catered to the needs of all people. It was a learning center in which great companions sought knowledge from who later passed on that knowledge to many generations across the globe. It was a court where disputes were settled. It was a place where marriages were officiated. In simple words, the Prophet’s masjid was the focal point of the community. It was the heart of the ummah. We must take lessons from our rich history and turn our masajid into complete Islamic and community centers. Our masajid must not only serve the rituals but also expand beyond that to fulfill the needs of the community. 

4. Fraternity: The concept of brotherhood (Mu’akhat) was initiated by Prophet Muhammad (SAW) upon arrival to al-Madinah. The Prophet created a bond of brotherhood between the emigrants (Muhajireen) of Makkah and the helpers (Ansar) of al-Madinah. The bond of love, sharing and caring between people of different tribal associations and cultural traditions helped create a harmonious diverse community serving one cause, the cause of God. The effect of such brotherhood/sisterhood was profound. The level of love and commitment the Ansar had to help and assist the emigrants is unmatched.  

A companion from al-Madinah, Sa’d Ibn al-Rabi’ah who was paired with a companion from Makkah, Abdul Rahman Ibn ‘Awf, addressed the latter, “My brother, among the people of Madinah I have the most wealth. I have two orchards and I have two wives. See which of the two orchards you like and I shall vacate it for you, and which of my two wives is pleasing to you and I shall divorce her for you.” This is the kind of love the companions had for one another. Of course, Abdul Rahman Ibn ‘Awf, who emigrated for the sake of Allah, leaving all his wealth and properties behind in Makkah didn’t take advantage of the generosity of his brother. He enquired, “Direct me to the market so that I may make my own fortune with my own hands.” The companions were self-reliant and brothers in faith.

Both Sa’d and Abdul Rahman, among many other companions were committed to a common cause, the cause of Islam. We must learn from this unique experience and embrace each other with love, compassion and with a sense of commitment toward our faith regardless of who we are, emigrant or indigenous Muslim, black, white or brown, Arab or non-Arab. We Muslims, have a strong bond, “There is no god except God.” We can, on that basis, leave our differences behind and come together with a renewed commitment for the sake of God serving the cause of Islam. 

5. Resolutions: It is noteworthy to learn how important it was for the Prophet (SAW) to find a way to bring all people together regardless of their faith or tribal affiliation seeking peaceful coexistence. He invited tribe and Jewish leaders who inhabited al-Madinah and its surrounding area to a pact that became known as the Charter or Constitution of Madinah. It is considered to be the earliest written constitution anywhere in the world. The Prophet (SAW) uprooted the tribal fanaticism and established a society based on mutual interest. This was indeed a breakthrough. First, the Prophet had to win the trust of both Jewish and pagan tribes. The challenge was to have them work with the new Muslim community in peaceful coexistence, respecting the lives, properties and places of worship of all.

The covenant or constitution regulated the rights and responsibilities of the citizens. The charter documented by Ibn Ishaq, one of the early Muslim historians, contains forty-seven clauses. Among them, the security of God is equal to all groups. All citizens of the state, Muslims and non-Muslims, will have the same political and cultural rights. Non-Muslims shall have autonomy and freedom of religion. And no one group will meddle in the affairs of other groups. Non-Muslims will take up arms against the enemy of the nation, Muslims and non-Muslims are obliged to defend the nation, and share the cost of war. There is to be no treachery between Muslims and non-Muslims and Non-Muslims will not be obliged to take part in religious wars of the Muslims.

Today, we face many challenges. Muslims are marginalized and are victims of hate and bigotry coming from a handful of very powerful people. Islamophobia is rampant and we must defend ourselves, building alliances and working with people of conscience at all levels, starting with the local government all the way to the state and federal government. Know that we, like all people, are protected under the constitution. We may learn from the prophet’s strategy and engage city councils in local cities, state and US representatives and senators among others to issue resolutions that honor the lives and worth of all people, grant them the right to live, work, go to school and worship freely without the threat of intimidation, discrimination or harm. 

The Qur’an and sirah of the Prophet (SAW) taught us at IONA the art of repelling evil with good and helped us overcome hatred and bigotry some Warren city officials and residents harbored toward Muslims. While facing fierce resistance in the City of Warren to establish IONA’s Masjid and Learning Center, the leaders of IONA built alliances with clergy from different denominations who showed support for our cause. Through patience and hard work and after years of promoting diversity, a resolution titled, “Re-affirming the American Core Values of Freedom, Equality and Justice” was unanimously passed by Warren’s City Council in 2010. It is through upholding such values and principles we can help shape and build strong communities.

The Prophet built a complete civilized state in Arabia over 1,400 years ago, and so can we. Civilization is not just about building cities, institutions, keeping records and advancing in science and technology. If justice or the spirit of civilization is not present, it is not a civilization. If ethics, or the blood-life of civilization is not there, it is not a civilization.

Muhammad (SAW), is a Prophet for our time and all times. He is our model and an exemplary one. “Indeed, the Messenger of God is an excellent model for those whose hope is in God and the Last Day and remember Him often.” (al-Ahzab, 33:21) We the Ummah, are the prophet of our time. “You are the best ummah produced for (the good of) mankind. You enjoin what is good and forbid what is evil and you believe in God.” (Aal Imran, 3:110)

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