Islam and the theory of revolution

Maulana Wahiduddin Khan I The Pioneer | Apr. 26, 1998 | Page 5

We learn from the Quran that the state of a community is changed by God only when its members have themselves moved on to a higher spiritual plane, whether by individual effort or under the benign influence of social reformers. Material social accomplishment means little without that inner core of virtue.

The Quran expresses this with telling simplicity: “God does not change a people’s lot unless they change what is in their hearts.” (13:11) The starting point of the Islamic revolution is, in fact, the individual. From the individual stems progress of the kind to give society a whole new ethical structure. Clearly, Islamic thinking on this subject is diametrically opposed to the communist ideology, which decrees that the individual be reformed by a change of system.

The Islamic view is that when the individual voluntarily reforms, society will of itself undergo a radical transformation. And that, from the Islamic standpoint is the ideal situation, obviating as it does the need for totalitarian ‘incentives’ to change, such as threats, coercion, intimidation and draconian punishments. The theory of Islamic revolution recognises that the individual is the source of both corruption and reform.

Therefore, if the rectification of any aspect of society is sought, the starting point must be the individual and his spiritual wholeness. There is a hadith which gives metaphorical expression to this. “Listen carefully. In the body there is a piece of flesh. In that is healthy, the whole body is healthy. But if that piece of flesh is not in proper shape, the whole body will become unfit. Listen, that piece of flesh is the heart.” (Al Bukhari). If a social revolution is to be brought about, emphasis must be laid primarily on producing good character. The importance of the good and the right

 — in though, word and deed — should, ideally, be inculcated from the very outset. A state of personal virtue must be arrived at, whether by early spiritual nurturing so that goodness becomes a matter of instinct, or by later initiatives in conditioning, so that reform takes place from within as a matter of mature and rational acceptance. Goodness then becomes the principle upon which all healthy social interaction takes place. This has a generally pervasive effect also on social institutions, which take their moral hue from the individuals responsible for their functioning at all levels in their hierarchies.

According to a hadith recorded by Mishkat, the Prophet of Islam said that the rulers would be of the same level as that of the ruled. That is, whether a system is good or bad for a society will depend upon the individuals who manage it, and also who are managed by it, and whose lives as citizens of a country are quite inseparable from it. In a society formed of good citizens, the system, whatever it may be, will run on just and equitable lines.

Conversely, in a society formed of miscreants and moral backsliders, no system per se can conceivably engender social progress, while the system itself, because of the corruption of individuals, will appear to be riddled with iniquities. The strength of a society and its ability to endure are dependent on the personal worthiness of its members. Each member contributes his individual strength like a brick in a tall building. If the bricks are badly made, so that they erode and crumble, it will only be a matter of time before the entire building crumbles and falls.

Can society survive if its constituents are of an inferior moral fibre? Society is also at risk from individuals who launch out on their own on perverse and ill-considered courses. When a single individual can wreak such havoc on society, should not change be in the direction of moderation? Clearly, in a society which is entirely riven by corrupt and subversive forces, a revolution is called for. The most salient principle of Islamic revolution is that change must be brought about by peaceful efforts. There is a hadith which says: “God grants to non-violence what He does not grant to violence.”

The Prophet Mohammed was eminently successful in bringing about major changes in both religious and secular beliefs and practices throughout seventh century Arabia and the countries surrounding it. The fact that this was done in the most gradual and pacific way, with the minimum of bloodshed, is a matter of historical record. It was only after a very long period of missionary work that the Prophet exhorted people, on the basis of divine revelations, for example, to give up drinking, gambling and adultery.

Had he attempted to hasten matters by force or intimidation, people would have reacted negatively and might have decided never to comply with his requests. (Al Bukhari). It is a measure of the success of his persuasive methods that, despite the heavy addiction to liquor in Arab society, regular topers not only gave up the habit, but also destroyed all the liquor pots they had stored in their homes.

Given the 15 years of his painstaking work just to condition individuals’ minds to the sublimity of surrendering to their Creator, one might say that the Prophet’s method was evolutionary rather than revolutionary.