Muslims can take comfort in the fact that their present state of powerlessness is not a permanent condition; circumstances can and do change. But Muslims themselves must first desire change, as Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala says in the Qur’an: “He [Allah] will not change the condition of a people until they change that which is within themselves” (al-Qur’an 13:11). Both the Qur’an and the Seerah of the noble Prophet (saw) also confirm that those who strive in Allah’s Way will ultimately triumph. While Allah says that He will test even those who have committed themselves to Him (29:2), He also promises help and victory both in this world and in the hereafter (40:51, 61:13).
Let us consider only two episodes from the Seerah to understand how the Prophet (saw) transformed his state of powerlessness into power. When the tribal chiefs drove him out of Makkah in what is known as the Hijra (migration) to Madinah, the Prophet (saw) appeared virtually powerless. Eight years later, when he liberated Makkah, he came at the head of a 10,000-strong army. He did not have to use it to convince the tribal chiefs of the futility of resistance. They all lined up to pledge allegiance.
What steps did the Prophet (saw) take to transform his condition of virtual powerlessness into absolute power? Several points are worthy of note: the two pacts of Aqaba, whereby a group of Madinah notables pledged allegiance and vowed to defend him with their wealth and with their lives if he migrated to Madinah; the migration itself provided a base from which the Prophet (saw) and his Companions could operate relatively safely. It was perhaps providential that his mission to Taif, a city some 40 miles south of Makkah, did not bear fruit; had he settled in Taif, it might have been an easy target for the Makkan chiefs to attack and destroy. In addition to its distance from Makkah, Madinah had another advantage: it lay on the trade route to Syria. The Makkan caravans had to pass near it, and were thus vulnerable to Muslim attacks. This immediately provided a strategic advantage to Muslims against their enemies.
Upon his arrival in Madinah, the Prophet (saw) took several steps in quick succession to consolidate his power base: first, he created a bond of brotherhood between the Ansar (the helpers of Madinah) and the Muhajiroun (immigrants from Makkah). This had far-reaching social implications: the new arrivals from Makkah were provided immediate relief, without which they would have faced great hardships, but just as importantly, the two groups were immediately integrated into a single community. The second was to draw up the Covenant of Madinah, which brought all the people of Madinah—Muslims, Jews and even the mushriks—into a common agreement. The most significant aspect of the 53-article document was that everyone, non-Muslims as well as Muslims, accepted the leadership of the Prophet (saw). Similar agreements were entered into with tribes around Madinah, thereby consolidating the power of the nascent Islamic State.
There are important lessons in the Seerah for the Islamic movement. A territorial base and a unified leadership are both essential. Just as important, however, is the support of the local population for the successful establishment of Islam in society. It cannot be imposed by force but through the consent of those living in a particular area. True, those with vested interests will oppose such a development; the Prophet (saw) experienced this with the munafiqun (hypocrites) as well as the Jewish tribes, despite their signing the Covenant of Madinah. But the support from the rest of the population in Madinah was essential in countering these interest groups.
From the above it is clear that it is not enough to be right — who could be more right and correct than the Prophet of Allah? Right must assert itself with might, with power. Those who are powerless are always liable to be persecuted by those who have power; and if the power rests with those opposed to Allah’s Laws, Muslims will be persecuted, as they are today. What we must do now is to concentrate on establishing institutions through which we can assert power, not for our own interests and the exploitation of the powerless, as others use power, but for the establishment of peace, security and justice in the world, for Muslims and non-Muslims alike, as demonstrated by the example of the Prophet (saw). And once we are able to project power, the very tormentors of Muslims, in the manner of the Makkan chiefs, will line up to make peace with us.