At a time when the Islamic movement is under massive attack all over the world, it is perhaps useful to remember the broader historical context of our struggle. In this issue, we reprint an extract from a paper on the work of the Islamic movement that was written by the late DR KALIM SIDDIQUI and first published in 1982.
The contemporary ‘world order’ has been created by the west through two hundred years of imperialist rule and many wars, including two world wars, among competing imperialists. This ‘world order’ has been created largely at the expense of Islam. The world of Islam has been parcelled into small nation-States. These nation-States have been awarded a dubious ‘independence’ and a fraudulent ‘sovereignty’. In fact these nation-States are neither Muslim nor ‘Islamic’; they and their rulers, as well as their political, social and economic systems, are creations of imperialism and serve the purposes of the imperialist powers. These nation-States do not belong to the mainstream of Islamic history. They are a symbol of our decline, defeat and dismemberment. They are a product of the era of our humiliation and subservience. ‘Independence’ and ‘sovereign equality’ in the international system, enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations, in fact mean permanent dependence. For Muslims the entire world order as it exists today is unacceptable. It must be changed.
The Islamic movement is the traditional instrument of change. It is not a political movement with a manifesto written by a committee or with an ideology strung together by a motley collection of philosophers, historians, dreamers and activists. The Islamic movement, in its purest form, is the manifestation of the Divine Will. As such, the first complete Islamic movement was none other than the movement which was led by the Prophet Muhammad, upon whom be peace, in the Arabian peninsula just 1,400 years ago. The primary roots of the Islamic movement, therefore, go back to the Prophet’s movement and the Islamic State in Madinah. The labyrinth of secondary roots is spread throughout Islamic history and deeply embedded in the political culture of the Muslims.
It is appropriate, therefore, to view the Islamic movement as an instrument of change. Change is endemic in the human condition. It is not possible to prevent change. No ‘progress’, however defined, is possible without change. No society is exactly the same on any two days. No individual is the same on any two days of his life. No relationship between individuals, or groups, or societies, or nations, is the same from moment to moment. Change takes place on an on-going basis. Change is a process of growth and development as well as a process of decline and fall. Change is essential to attain taqwa, to attain happiness, to attain knowledge. To set goals and to struggle to achieve them is to engage in bringing about change. Individuals, families, groups, collectivities, companies, cooperatives, nations, all engage in activities to bring about desirable change or to prevent unacceptable change.
War is the most intense form of struggle to bring about or to prevent change. Aggression may be defined as an attempt to impose change. Imperialism, colonialism, capitalism, communism, exploitation, uneven exchange relationships, class differentiation, ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’, and so on, are all organized attempts to bring about, manage, maintain, and control change to the advantage of some and the disadvantage of others. When the struggle to control, divert, impose, manage, maintain, resist or otherwise manipulate change takes place in the interest of some and against the interest of others, we see the sort of political, economic and social behaviour characteristic of secular societies. In this framework of the pursuit of gain at the cost of others, man becomes a Machiavellian animal. All modern human behaviour at all levels, at the international level as well as the inter-personal level, takes place in this framework. Indeed, this is precisely the hallmark of the western civilization.
The western civilization’s highest value is the ‘standard of living’ of western man. The western civilization has no other value. It recognizes no other value as worthy of consideration. In a sense it is a complex civilization fairly representing the enormous advances made by man both in technology and in organizational skill. One has produced the technological wonders of the space age and the awesome power of modern weapons, the other has produced the complex human organizations of the modern nation-States and the business acumen and ‘efficiency’ of the ‘multinationals’. The genius of the western civilization has made everyone ‘equal’ while in fact it has made inequality permanent. The so-called ‘sovereign equality’ of nation-States has already been cited as an example. The unequal exchange relationships between the rich and the poor, the haves and the have-nots, have been made a permanent feature of the human condition. When ‘aid’ is given to the poor it is only to allow the rich to export more at higher prices, ultimately making the poor poorer and the rich richer. When protection is extended to the weak it is to prevent the weak from trying to overcome their weakness. A ‘democratic’ oligarchy is created to confine the use of power and management of resources in the hands of the same people, the rich, organized into ‘competing’ parties. An ‘education’ is given which first makes the individual feel insecure and then equips him to pursue selfish goals in a controlled ‘system’.
The resultant commercialism has been given the values of ‘freedom’ and ‘competition’. This has created a culture of institutionalized greed for high mass consumption. Profit maximization by the company has been made respectable by economic theory, but the same economists hold wage maximization by trade unions to be ‘immoral’. Companies can ‘regulate’ supplies to raise prices, but labourers must not withhold labour or else they are causing ‘disruption’. Women must be sex objects at home, in the streets, in the world of entertainment, and at work, but they must not forget to take the pill or else they are being ‘irresponsible’ by bringing into the world unwanted children. The west now has a thriving abortion industry to meet the needs of a sexually greedy civilization which, at the same time, does not want too many people to share in the goods and services they produce. ‘The poor are poor because they have too many children’, is a commonly held aphorism. ‘There are too many poor because they breed like rabbits’, is another. It follows, therefore, that the poor must not be helped or else they will have even more children while the world is already suffering from ‘over population’.
The western civilization only believes in change which serves the west. The rest of the world is told to ‘catch up’ while the west also insists on its right to ‘pull away’ as a reward for its superior technology and organizational skills. The west’s real motives for keeping the poor poor, or making them even poorer, are now widely recognized by many in the west itself. The ‘left’ and the ‘third world’ lobby has produced a good deal of literature on the themes of exploitation, neo-colonialism and imperialism. But the ‘left’, the ‘liberals’, and those who set up such cosmetic operations as Oxfam, War on Want, Christian Aid, and the Third World Foundation, etc., are quite ineffectual and succeed only in giving the west an undeserved image of caring for its victims. They operate on the fringes of the symptoms, while themselves being part of the disease.
The position that has to be taken now, and only the Islamic movement can take it, is that the western civilization is in fact a plague and a pestilence. It is no civilization at all. It is a disease. It feeds upon itself to its own detriment. The west today is qualitatively no different from thejahiliyyah, the primitive savagery and ignorance, that prevailed in Arabia and the rest of the world at the time of the Prophet Muhammad, upon whom be peace. That jahiliyyah also called itself a ‘civilization’; it had its ‘values’, it had its centres of knowledge and gave education to its children. It was strong in its trading relations and had a rich culture. The people of Makkah were renowned for their hospitality and poetry, and other forms of art also thrived there and elsewhere. Thatjahiliyyah even had its ‘gods’.
In that setting Islam came as the instrument of change, indeed of transformation. Islam was not revealed to the Prophet in the seclusion of a monastery. Revelation forms only a part of Islam and consists of the actual words of the Qur’an. The rest of Islam is the actual method of change applied by the Prophet, upon whom be peace, and the Islamic movement that he led. This is known as the Seerah (life) of the Prophet, and his Sunnah (everything the Prophet said, did, caused to be done, allowed to be done, and ordered to be done). The Islamic movement that the Prophet led also included all those who accepted Islam: a handful in Makkah, then the many thousands in Madinah, and finally almost the entire population of the peninsula. The Qur’an called for the total commitment and participation of Muslims with all their resources in the struggle of the Islamic movement.
At the end of the 23 years of Muhammad’s prophethood and the struggle of the Islamic movement, the peninsula of Arabia had been transformed from the state of jahiliyyah, primitive savagery and ignorance, to the state of Islam. To bring about the total transformation of an established order is in the very nature of Islam; this is the very purpose of Islam. Islam changes all existing relationships into a new set of relationships. But unlike ephemeral social change sought by other ideologies, which is often change for the sake of change, or for the benefit of a ‘class’ or imperialist power, Islam posits a set of constant values. All change takes place around a well-defined and generally known set of constant values. This set of constant values is the belief system of Islam. These beliefs are the boundary conditions, the parameters, around which change is organized. The constant values of Islam also control and guide the process, method and purpose of change. The new social relationships established by Islam are dynamic and flexible, and provide for the growth of the human personality through experience and knowledge within the given parameters. The end result of the organized struggle for change is the establishment of the Islamic State. It is no accident, therefore, that the first Islamic State in history was established by none other than the great exemplar himself, Muhammad, the Prophet of Allah, upon whom be peace for ever and ever more.
The point that has to be understood clearly is that the Islamic State and the Islamic movement are parts of a whole; Islam is incomplete without the Islamic State. In the sense that the struggle of the Islamic movement to establish the Islamic State is at the very heart of the Sunnah of the Prophet, participation in the Islamic movement is a duty obligatory on every Muslim. Thus, while the Qur’an and the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad are the constant values in Islam, the Islamic State and the Islamic movement are the dynamic, growing, developing, changing, acting, reacting and retroacting variables. This unique combination of constant values and dynamic factors makes Islam a most versatile and effective instrument of change.
[This is an extract from Dr Kalim Siddiqui’s paper ‘The Islamic movement: setting out to change the world again,’ first published in 1982 and reprinted in ‘In Pursuit of the Power of Islam: major writings of Kalim Siddiqui,’ edited by Zafar Bangash (1996).]