Saturday, July 11, 2009

Transforming Society based on the Sunnah

While the June elections in Iran have declared Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as President, Mir Hossein Mousavi and his supporters are demanding a recount. Mousavi is part of the Reformist Movement in Iran – a group that is working towards establishing Capitalist values in the country. This phenomenon demonstrates that the 1979 revolution failed to harmonize the thoughts and emotions of the individuals in society. In order to change society one needs to change all the components of society – individuals who have permanent relationships based on a common set of thoughts, a common set of emotions and a common system – just as RasulAllah (saw) had initiated in Makkah and had been successful in Madinah.

In June of this year, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared victory in the Iranian presidential elections. Mir Hossein Mousavi, one of the other presidential candidates, challenged Ahmadinejad’s victory citing plausible election fraud. As a result, those who support Mousavi held protests to pressure the government to do a recount. Although all the protestors may not necessarily agree with Mousavi’s platform, it is clear that they are looking for change. A closer look at Mousavi reveals that he is part of the Reformist Movement in Iran - a collection of political parties and organizations who support the former President Mohammad Khatami's plans to change the Iranian system. This change does not involve closer adherence to the shariah, but instead plans for the greater application of Capitalist values.

This is based on Khatami’s statement, when he said: “The only way to save the country [Iran] is to establish democracy”. While it is interesting to note that some of the founding fathers of the Reformist Movement were originally part of the Iranian revolution in 1979, the question that must be asked is how is it possible for there to be many individuals in a so-called “Islamic State” calling in support of Capitalist values? After all, the Shah (whom they overthrew) upheld the very same Capitalist values.In order to understand what went wrong in Iran, it is important to understand what the components of society are and how to change them according to the method of RasulAllah (saw).

The Components of Society

A common misunderstanding is the idea that a nation or society is defined as a group of individuals. Such a definition of society is inaccurate as we do not consider, for example, a group of 1000 individuals on a ship to be a society or nation. However, we would consider a remote village with 50 people to be a society.

Upon a deep study of society and its components we see that a society is comprised of 2 parts:
1. Individuals and
2. Permanent relationships between these individuals.

These relationships are shaped and governed by:
1. Common thoughts,
2. Common emotions and
3. A common system.

The common thoughts are the “publicly traded” or acceptable ideas in a society that come from individuals and societal institutions that are related to the common system. The common emotions are the positive feelings and appreciation for the common thoughts and the common system that exist in society and the negative feelings and rejection of thoughts or systems that are alien to the society.The common system is made up of societal institutions, which implement political, economic, social, legal and judicial standards in the society. The political system enacts laws and institutes policies, which set the direction of the society in all walks of life. Thus, it is arguably the most influential institution. It decides social policies, such as the legality of alcohol, the limits of inter-gender relationships, and duties of parents towards their children. It decides economic policies, such as the legality of interest, the economic objectives sought in society, and the legal means of acquiring wealth. It also decides educational policies, which in turn determines the mainstream ideas and concepts held in society since mass education inculcates one generation after another with the society’s set of beliefs and ideals.

The Prophet (saw) addressed the importance of a common system in society through the following analogy:

"The example of those who maintain Allah's limits (hudood) and those who surpass them is like the example of those who share a boat. Some would occupy its upper deck and some its lower deck. The occupants of the lower deck would have to go to the upper deck to have access to the water. If they said, ‘why don't we drill a hole in our part (to directly access the water) and do not cause any inconvenience to those above us.’ If those on the upper deck let them do what they wanted then all of the passengers would sink. However, if they prevented them from doing so then all would be saved." [Bukhari]

Thus the protection of society will lead to the protection of the individuals in society. This protection must not only be manifested in rules and regulations but also in generating thoughts and emotions that will bind the individuals living in a society to each other.

How to Change Society: The Islamic Approach

Allah (swt) revealed:
إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يُغَيِّرُ مَا بِقَوْمٍ حَتَّى يُغَيِّرُوا مَا بِأَنْفُسِهِمْ
“Indeed, Allah does not change that which is in a people until they change what is within themselves” [TMQ 13:11]

The meaning of this verse is not, as some use it, that change will not occur in society or people until all the individuals change. Rather it is that change will not occur until the society changes what is in it which includes the individuals but also includes the common thoughts, common emotions and the common system in society. That is why it is important for us, who want to change the society, to define it correctly.

Referring to the Arabic in the above verse, the object of the verb (change) is the qawm - not the individual. The qawm (nation/society) is different to the fard (individual) and even afrad, a collection of individuals. Qawm, in the Arabic language, refers to a nation or people.While the mafhum (implicit meaning) of the ayah can be used as a proof that Allah (swt) will not change the condition of an individual until that individual works to change himself, the mantuq (explicit) subject matter of the ayah is not this, but rather it is the issue of collective change in society, not individual change.

This comprehensive understanding of qawm is indeed important because the ayah moves on to say that the change must be of “ma bi anfusihim”, that is, “that which is within themselves”, where the “ma” is ‘aam (general) and so includes everything that comprises the qawm.

Thus the rendered meaning is that Allah (swt) has decreed that He will not change the situation of any qawm until they collectively change all that is within themselves – the individuals, their thoughts and emotions, and the systems implemented in that society. For Islamic revival the requirement is Islamic thoughts and emotions, along with the Islamic system.

The example of the Prophet (saw) also illustrates for us how he exerted his utmost at changing the components of society in Makkah. After Allah (swt) revealed:

فَاصْدَعْ بِمَا تُؤْمَرُ وَأَعْرِضْ عَنِ الْمُشْرِكِينَ (94) إِنَّا كَفَيْنَاكَ الْمُسْتَهْزِئِينَ (95) الَّذِينَ يَجْعَلُونَ مَعَ اللَّهِ إِلَهًا آَخَرَ فَسَوْفَ يَعْلَمُونَ
“Therefore, proclaim openly (Allah’s Message), that which you are commanded, and turn away from ‘Al-Mushrikun’: Truly! We will suffice you against the scoffers. Who set up along with Allah another god, they will come to know.” [TMQ 15:94-96]

The Prophet (saw) along with the Sahabah (ra) moved from the secret phase of dawah to an open one calling all people to Islam. They would challenge the common thoughts, common emotions and the common system of Makkan society with the ayats that were being revealed such as worshipping other than Allah (swt), the use of riba, the cheating of scales in the marketplace and the practice of female infanticide.When Allah (swt) had given the Prophet (saw) and the Muahjireen (ra) the nusrah (material support) from the tribes of the Aws and Khazraj (i.e. the Ansar) living in Madinah, the Prophet (saw) was able to establish the Islamic State there. With its establishment, we can see its effect on the permanent relationships in society. The verses of the Qur’an concerning matters of worship, diet, morals, relationships and penalties were revealed. Khamr (intoxicants) and the flesh of swine were forbidden. Verses concerning the penal and criminal code were also revealed, as were those concerning business transactions, such as the complete prohibition of riba. Every time the verses that spoke to the people’s affairs in everyday life were revealed to Allah’s Messenger (saw), he explained them and ordered the Muslims to abide by them. He looked after the Muslims’ affairs by solving their problems and settling their disputes by his sayings, actions and by his silence over what happened right in front of him – which were all part of the divine guidance he received from Allah (swt). Life in Madinah continued to follow that course with its distinct Islamic viewpoint. As the society in Madinah was transformed into an Islamic society based on the Prophet’s (saw) method, its thoughts, emotions, and systems were all harmonized with the Islamic Aqeedah. Consequently, it was able to offer solutions to the life’s problems to all those that lived under its rule.

Conclusion on Iran

Now that we understand what society is and how to change it, we can return to the situation in Iran. While the Iranian revolution in 1979 changed certain aspects of the system, there was a failure in harmonizing the thoughts and the emotions of the individuals in society with Islam. This is due to the fact that the Prophet’s (saw) method was not used to transform the society, as he had done with the people of Madinah. Since Islamic methods were not used to transform the Iranian society, it resulted in a mixture of contradictory thoughts, ideas and systems. This inevitably resulted in the people looking towards other ideas and systems such as freedom and democracy as a solution to life’s problems.

It is also important to note that while various media outlets and literature will refer to Iran as an “Islamic State”, this statement is an incorrect assertion. There are many aspects of the systems in Iran that contradict the Hukm Sharai’ and emanate from other systems. If we refer to the Iranian constitution there are numerous contradictions that exist between it and the Islam. For example, Article 115 states, “The President must be elected from among religious and political personalities possessing the following qualifications: Iranian origin; Iranian nationality; administrative capacity and resourcefulness; a good past-record; trustworthiness and piety; convinced belief in the fundamental principles of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the official religion of the country. This relates to the ‘qualifications of the president’”. Being of Iranian origin and nationality is an indication that the constitution is for an Iranian Republic with Islam as its religion, not a constitution for an Islamic State whose authority belongs to the Khaleefah ruling all the Muslim lands by Islam.Iran should be a reminder for us in that if we do not follow the method of the Prophet (saw) to change society and if we do not implement Islam comprehensively, we will fail both in this life and the hereafter.

Allah (swt) says :
إِنَّ فِي هَذَا لَبَلَاغًا لِقَوْمٍ عَابِدِينَ

“Verily, in this (the Qur'an) there is a plain Message for people who worship Allah.” [TMQ 21:106]

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