Change is a constant in human life. How change is managed, shaped and directed ultimately determines the way people govern their lives.
Change is endemic in human nature. Both humans and societies undergo constant change. The biological process of aging, for instance, occurs all the time and is irreversible. Similarly, millions of cells in the human body die each day while millions of new ones are produced. Some cells are never replaced; this process can be described as natural change.
Natural change of a physical type is generally predictable largely because physical processes are regular, consistent, and constant. The predictable motion of the stars and planets, for instance, has motivated the development of calendars that help us manage necessary activities like the harvest; similarly, the predictable flow of blood and the functioning of organs in the human body have helped medical science develop diagnostic procedures that determine a departure from normalcy; and lastly, understanding the predictable flow of electrons from a high energy level to a lower energy level has helped us distribute hydroelectric power across wide networks and spaces.
Change at the social level is more complex because human behavior is neither consistent nor constant, and thus not easily predictable. For thousands of years, philosophers, social scientists, sages, and others have tried in vain to model human behavior such that a degree of predictability would lead to a modicum of stability in human society. Reining in complexity to begin to address the solution to such a problem is beyond the aggregate capabilities of man. He needs help.
Change is endemic in human nature.
To this end, Allah (swt) in His infinite mercy, all-encompassing knowledge and wisdom, has continuously sent guidance for mankind, culminating with the final dispensation to Muhammad (pbuh), “Social laws have been revealed before your time. Go, then, about the earth and behold what happened in the end to those who gave the lie to the truth…” (3:137). Man needs guidance; without it, he is prone to tyranny and corruption, “Verily, man is prone to tyranny, whenever he sees [his own deeds, actions] as impressive” (96:6–7). In a sense, guidance, for those who are firmly committed to it, can be viewed as a set of rules, commands, observations, and advices that reduce complexity in the social dynamic and assign predictability where none existed before. This gives those who are committed to Allah (swt) a significant advantage, though most Muslims have not yet come to terms with this competitive edge.
One significant aspect of Allah’s (swt) guidance is immunity against corruption. Just as He has endowed the human body with an immune system or a defense mechanism, to ward off viruses, bacteria, disease, and even death, He has equipped societies with certain defense mechanisms. Those who are governed by such principles such as ‘adl, fairness, and freedom from exploitation and oppression are better able to meet internal or external challenges compared to those who manage their affairs with rampant criminality and corruption.
Unfortunately, in the world today, societies are managed less by the proximity of ideas to fairness and justice than by concentrated power centers pursuing a particular self interest. For instance, ruling elites in most societies promise to usher in certain policies to improve people’s lives. Such promises are often predicated on material gains: better jobs, more income, better houses and so on. Both the quality of education and healthcare are also considered necessary to bring about positive change in people’s lives. Some changes are discouraged or even suppressed. If people attempt to reduce the power or wealth of the ruling elites or try to change the imposed political system, they are not only discouraged but also actively opposed and their efforts suppressed. Most Muslims want their societies to be governed by Islamic principles of social and economic justice, but such aspirations are vetoed by the ruling elites.
How victim societies react to imposed change determines the nature and outcome of their struggle.
This is not dissimilar to the opposition the noble Messenger of Allah (pbuh) faced when he proclaimed the message of Islam in Makkah. The ruling elites viewed Islam’s teachings as a direct challenge to their privileges in the prevailing exploitative system, hence their violent reaction to it; even though Islam’s message, like that of all the earlier prophets was to bring humanity back to its pure fitrah of submission to the one God, Allah (swt). Throughout history, no exploiters have ever given up their privileges voluntarily; the Makkan mushriks were no exception. This struggle between haqq (truth) and batil (falsehood) can be traced back all the way to the creation of Adam (a). The Qur’an tells us that when Allah (swt) created Adam (a), He commanded the angels and Iblis to bow to him. The angels immediately complied but Iblis, puffed up by arrogance, refused (2:30–32). His rebellion was based on elitism; Iblis argued that since he was made of fire, he was “superior” to Adam (a) who was made of mud. Condemned for disobeying Allah’s (swt) command, Satan then decided to ambush Adam (a) and his spouse, misleading them while they resided in Paradise.
But Adam (a) and his progeny were bound to spend a portion of their lifetimes on earth for a divinely ordained period of time before their return back to Allah (swt). Adam (a) and by extension man in general, despite all of his divinely endowed abilities, still did not have the capacity to create a harmonious set of rules to manage his own behavior. Thus Allah (swt) is His infinite care, love, and generosity for man created what man could not: a perfect, comprehensive, and balanced set of guidelines and rules to manage his earthly existence. Those who abide by Allah’s (swt) commands are promised generous rewards in the Hereafter (17:09, and numerous other ayat) while transgressors are warned of painful doom (17:10). Unlike angels, human beings have also been endowed with free choice: to accept or reject Allah’s (swt) commands, thus determining their station in life. Conformity to Allah’s (swt) power presence is the natural state for humans but there is always the satanic temptation to violate these rules and fall to the lowest depths (95:05).
Similarly, there are individuals and systems, guided by ambition and personal greed who attempt to distance human beings from the divinely prescribed path. The Qur’an has identified such figures, guided as they were by their baser instincts, as Pharaoh, Qaroon, Nimrod and others, collectively referred to as mustakbirin. In today’s terminology, this would mean the imperialist powers. Imperialists attempt to impose conformity on target societies through aggression, the primary objective being the facilitation of their own narrow-minded interests achieved by virtue of the labor and efforts of the degraded and dispossessed many. They also use force to thwart the type of actionable change that would challenge their plans.
On the other hand, the vast majority of human beings, given the license to freely think, would find certain changes as highly desirable; for instance, changes designed to achieve certain preset goals. The Muslims’ quest to return their societies to Islamic values from the present Western-imposed systems would be one such change. Then there are calamitous changes: natural disasters like floods and earthquakes that affect both a society’s infrastructure as well as the human condition. Along the same lines are sudden upheavals; they can be both positive — like an Islamic revolution overthrowing the corrupt imposed order, as happened in Iran — or negative, such as a foreign invasion that the victim society may have little capacity to withstand, such as the Zionist occupation of Palestine or the Indian invasion and occupation of Kashmir. This category shall be characterized as imposed change.
How victim societies react to such imposed change determines the nature and outcome of their struggle. Victim societies may not be able to resist the initial onslaught but if the leadership is muttaqi, they can neutralize the invaders’ advantage. Through the judicious use of force, the resistance can control change in a manner that imposes overwhelming costs on the invaders. When the losses in material, manpower, or morale exceed the benefits that accrue to the invaders, the balance is tipped forcing them to abandon their quest for domination. Hizbullah’s resistance to the Zionist occupation of Lebanon is a good example. It was escalated to a point where the Zionists could no longer afford it. The Afghans did the same to the Soviets in the 1980s. Thus, the overwhelming firepower of the invaders may not be the insurmountable obstacle that many fear.
Having lost the edge more than 200 years ago, Muslims are forced to react to the policies and plans of predatory powers, often in the form of military aggression. The suffering inflicted on the people of Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Palestine, Kashmir, and now increasingly in Pakistan reflects this grim reality. Muslim societies are targeted and affected in many different ways diminishing their growth and development and frustrating their aspirations for dignified existence. Most Muslims feel helpless because of such foreign onslaught, especially one directed at them by the imperialists and Zionists, but they need not feel completely powerless.
Power and powerlessness are first and foremost states of mind. In the Qur’an, Allah (swt) narrates the story of Dawud’s (a) confrontation with Goliath (2:251). While the soldiers in Saul’s army refused to confront Goliath because they thought him to be too big, Daud (a) saw his size as an opportunity: he was too big to miss!
There is also a need to move beyond defining power merely as the possession of brute force. A coach cannot match the physical strength of a highly trained professional athlete; however the coach has “power” over the athlete because he decides which player will play and which will not. This is because the proper exercise of power is related to important factors of which physical strength is but one. On the world stage, it is in the interest of the dominant power culture to make the vast majority of people uncomfortable with power and its dynamics; and given this parochial acculturation with handling power, people in general display a Pavlovian response to force: fear. Because of the nonexistence of stable representative political institutions in the majority Muslim world, the judicious exercise of political power or the fact of power interwoven into the Islamic social conscience is lost on them. They feel that the only way for them to reemerge on the world stage is with the force of nuclear technology, ICBMs, bombs, and warplanes. This is first and foremost a conditioned response, not a thinking one.
When states attempt to project power, they consider military and financial clout or even a large population base as important factors but these do not automatically guarantee success. If military might and abundant wealth were the only determining factors, the French would still be in Algeria, the Americans in Vietnam, the Russians in Afghanistan, and the Zionists in Lebanon. Empirical evidence from history shows that even small numbers of people have been able to defeat much larger forces using ingenuity, determination, and creativity. The most crucial factor in any struggle is morale. It helps one party withstand the greater firepower of the other or find creative ways to avoid it. Morale can be enhanced by patriotic fervor, belief in the righteousness of one’s cause, and iman — the most crucial factor for Muslims in any struggle. From the pacesetting days of the first generation of Muslims to our present unsettled times, iman has played a crucial role in enabling Muslims to overcome enormous odds. There is a hadith of the noble Messenger of Allah (pbuh) in which he has stated, “Iman is the source of my power.” Implied beyond the obvious message of this hadith, is that Allah (swt) wants man, His chosen ruling species on earth, to exercise power justly. Therefore, attuned to the divine power culture, man has to be comfortable with the idea of power — quite the opposite frame of reference from the taghuti-imposed systems in vogue today.
In addition to divine guidance, the other important factor in managing change is leadership. If the leadership is muttaqi, the Muslims’ (or the Islamic movement’s, to use the correct term) chances of success are greatly enhanced. The first generation of Muslims led by the Prophet (pbuh) repeatedly defeated foes many times larger and better armed in almost every battle. This is because winning on the battlefield requires extensive alignment to the leadership culture off the battlefield. Just as individual acts of devotion (prayer, fasting, etc.) are redeemed by social activism, Islamic social integration into the fabric of affected societies (municipal, civic, and economic services) along with direction-setting activities geared toward a balance of social justice are validated by a measured, unified, and determined engagement on the field of military battle. Winning on the battlefield is all about execution of plans and strategies, not people; it should be a matter of fact. Winning leadership, on the same hand, separates itself from those who simply give orders and issue commands by what it accomplishes in the stages of preparation.
In this area, great leadership helps societies manage change by doing several important things, two of which are direction setting, and motivation through informal networks. Both of these serve to integrate the leadership culture into the social fabric of society at all levels such that when a major sacrifice is demanded (for example, the loss of life in a war), the leaders and the led are prepared to make it. Results from these types of activities do not accrue over night; they take time, maybe decades of dedicated work in the way that this work ought to be done. Individual society members and their leaders who have demonstrated the patience and fortitude to go through this slow but necessary tempering process have not often lived long enough to see the fruits of their efforts, but the associated gains have benefited their societies for hundreds of years.
Direction-setting consists of establishing a sense of urgency, giving a vision of the future and satisfying the needs of important constituencies (as long as such satisfaction is not outside the bounds of Allah’s (swt) guidance). An overwhelming ambiance of injustice brings about its own sense of urgency. All of Allah’s Prophets (a) focused their societies’ attention on the imbalance of justice in their daily lives along with the forces responsible for maintaining this degrading status quo. The ordinary people who committed to the prophetic programs yearned for a more just society responsive to their aspirations and needs. To this end, consider the vision that Allah’s final Messenger (pbuh) painted for his people, “The time will come when a woman will be able to walk from Sham [Levant] to Hadramaut [Yemen] having no fear other than the fear of Allah.” Now this is a vision — a vision to look forward to. It is about traditionally powerless elements in society having recognition on par with all other human elements of society, it is something tangible about a geostrategic area whose social characteristics and norms are well understood, it is about integrating security into the cultural mindset and expectation of a people, it is about the kind of conscious socialization that replaces human protection, usually at a huge cost, with the only protection that matters: free courtesy of Allah (swt). Compare this to the pablum that regularly issues forth from Muslim mouthpieces for Western social engineering propaganda.
To be continued. This article had first appeared in Crescent International in August 2008.