Regardless of which interpretation of Islamic history that we choose to follow there are some basic truths about our history as Muslims, along with the truths of the Qur’an and hadith, that have shaped our experiences and perceptions and so should not be ignored in our strategic outlook on our protection and survival as an Ummah.
Of the historical realities is the fact that the Prophet Muhammad (sa) began teaching Islam in Makkah by first sharing the wahy (revelation) with those closest to him, beginning with his wife Khadijah (ra), who is counted as one of the world’s best women. She is also the mother of the Prophet Muhammad’s daughter Fatima (ra), who is the wife of the Prophet’s (sa) cousin Ali ibn Abu Talib (ra). Outside of the prophet’s intimate household, other notable converts to Islam, included Abu Bakr (ra), the first khalifah and Umar ibn al-Khattab (ra) who followed Abu Bakr in the khilafah, and Bilal (ra) the Abyssinian and the first muedhdhin (person who calls the adhan for prayer). These and other converts became the vanguard of Islam, the first to accept the message of Islam and the first to suffer persecutions and eventually exile for their new faith. At the time of the hijrah of the Prophet (sa) to Madinah, where he established the first Islamic government, approximately 40 Muslims accompanied him to Madinah according to his instruction.
Sayyid Qutb, in his book Milestones, highlights some very special characteristics of this initial period of conversion to and instruction in the new faith, prior to the hijrah to Madinah. His purpose in so doing is not only to allow us to appreciate who the first of this select group of Muslims were, but also to identify for us a method, or Sunnah, that we must understand and duplicate with pure intentions, if we hope to emulate these early converts to Islam, dedicate our lives to the movement as they did, and insha’Allah, be blessed with the same victory.
One of the most striking aspects of the Prophet’s Sunnah in Makkah, Sayyid Qutb writes, was the way in which the new converts were introduced to Islam, and the methods by which their minds were gradually cleansed of falsehood through verbally-communicated information reinforced by certain activities. They were not readers of books.
In the Makkan method, and indeed throughout the Prophet’s life in this world, he taught through verbal communication, heart to heart. The practices that he taught were designed to support intellectual pursuit with actions. These actions of prayer, fasting and remembering Allah, along with living according to truth, constitute a method of transformation that is part of the Sunnah and focuses on the inner preparation for jihad, or struggle in the path of righteousness. The primary topic, according to Sayyid Qutb, was tawheed, the Oneness of Allah, who is the Creator, and the Sustainer of all that He Created.
The result of this teaching was not only the outward rejection of commitment to and worship of any entity other than Allah; it also included the teaching and understanding of purpose and unity that created within the early Muslims an understanding and acceptance of the essence of Islam. Knowledge of this essence is derived from realizing the reality of Oneness of the Creator from whom all things originate and to whom they must and will return. Allah was not introduced as a body of energy, or merely a force, but as an entity possessing an infinite number of attributes that are appreciable to human beings, inviting us not only to know Allah, but also to love and obey Him.
The converts of Makkah were also acquainted with the cycle of return beginning with birth, and destiny shaped by submission or rebellion, death and judgement. Submission as taught by the Prophet (sa) is recognized as more than an idea, or even a testimony; it is a complete way of life. Through the lives of the first converts and their experience as students under the tutelage of Allah’s Messenger, we learn that actions borne of truth not only have “being”, but also “purpose”; and that, when performed in unity with truth, our actions also have power. This power is not the result of legal statute, but of personal belief, certainty and conviction.
Today the Islamic movement is challenged to recapture this dynamism of action, which is an outcome of belief and certainty. Belief and certainty lie at the foundation of Islam and the Islamic project, which is jihad. It moves us beyond mere knowledge and historic paradigms of being into an opportunity to be a generation distinguished by our unique contributions and sacrifices that will be measured as progress in Allah’s Plan to restore truth, justice and balance to His world through the khilafah.
What glorious possibilities await us if we dedicate ourselves to this objective by pursuing the maturity required. The Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (sa) informs and instructs us in a method that cannot be overlooked should we sincerely make it our objective to take up the struggle for human perfection and salvation. Although we may believe that the passage of time should alter our methods and objectives, the truth might be that the Sunnah, which is composed of actions, is a way of being that is not affected by time. It is possible that the Sunnah has little to do with wearing thobes, or riding camels, or any of these things. The essence of the Sunnah is action that is performed with pure intentions toward the purpose. Surah Al-Asr (Surah 103) explains perfectly the importance of “being” with “purpose” and the concept of time.
We are desperately wanting and in loss from to the lack of instruction from the hearts of our pious and knowledgeable brothers and sisters on every level of our society. We need to bring the Sunnah of the Prophet (sa) back to life for us, and to instruct ourselves in its understanding, which is a complete way of being in unity with Allah, not as equals, or sameness, but in His presence, connected to Him through our minds and actions. This is the reality of tawheed. When we achieve this level of being, measured for us as it was measured and bestowed upon the Vanguard of Islam, before us, no perception of power will intimidate or frighten us, causing us to be so afraid that we stand silently as our brothers and sisters are slaughtered, our lands are illegally occupied, and our resources squandered.
We must particularly guard against the perversions and temptations by which the Pharoahs of our time seek to divert us from this path of truth and action. Our men in particular are being misguided and emasculated by the tolerance, acceptance and promotion of promiscuity, homosexuality and other immoralities. Like Herod who killed the male children of the Jews fearing the birth of Jesus (sa), because he feared Jesus would lead the Jews in revolution, the Caesars and Pharaohs of our time are killing our men with immorality and female rivalry, hoping to destroy their commitment to truthful action. Allah said to Musa (sa): “remember Pharaoh who killed your men and let your women live; indeed this was a tremendous trial.” (Al-Qur’an, 7:141.)
We as a people seem to be trapped in inactivity and passivity due to conflicts between knowledge and action, which is self-interest; this life and the next, which is doubt; and the seen and the unseen, which is unity. Through the teachings of the pious among us, if they will speak out, we can become a people who will reach fulfilment in this life and the next according to the Sunnah of Allah’s Prophet, Muhammad (sa), which is an enduring example, and a practical demonstration of unity, purpose and survival.
[Anisa Abd el Fattah is Chairwoman of the National Association of Muslim American Women (NAMAW) in Washington DC.]
Muslimedia: November 16-30, 1999