Islam, The Misunderstood Religion
ISLAM AND IDEALISM
We are often asked: "Where is the Islam you Muslims talk about?”
When was it ever applied to life in its true form? You are never tired of saying that it is an excellent ideal system but did it ever exist in actual life? If asked about its practical form you cannot but refer to a short period stretching over the life of the (Holy) Prophet and the early caliphate or rather the first two caliphs. You are never tired of saying about Omar bin Al-Khattab, in particular, that he was the embodiment of what Islam stood for; you depict him in the most resplendent colors but when we inquire about the conditions of life prevailing during his reign we find nothing but "layers of darkness one above another"-feudalism, inequity, tyranny, reactionarism and backwardness. You assert that Islam gives the nation the right to chastise its rulers in case they fail to carry out their obligations but when, except in the early caliphate, were the people ever allowed to choose their own rulers, let alone chastising them? You also say that Islam offers a very just economy with a fair distribution of wealth but when, even in the early caliphate were the differences among the people leveled? You tell us that it makes the providing of the employment for all its citizens incumbent upon the state, but what about those millions of unemployed who sometimes lived on begging or were otherwise doomed to a lifelong privation and poverty? You also speak about the rights of women in Islam but did she ever in fact enjoy these rights? Isn’t it a fact that she has never been able to exercise them because of the unfavorable socio-economic conditions? You talk about the spiritual elevation of men as a result of their fear of God and establishment of relations as a consequence therefore between the rulers and the ruled, between different classes of the community on the basis of a mutual co-operation for the sake of justice and virtue, but when, save in a comparatively rare period, was this spiritual elevation ever witnessed? Did it ever provide a check on the rulers to prevent them from usurping the rights of the poor subjecting them to injustice and cruelty? Did it prevent them from trampling underfoot the liberties of the people and from exposing them to disgrace and humiliation? In fact you are talking about a dreamland which does not exist in the world of reality, and the short period of which you are so fond proves nothing beyond the fact that there were certain extraordinary persons who did perform mighty deeds such as others can never hope to do. It is an exception, for it was never afterwards repeated, for is it likely to be witnessed again".
This is what tile communists and their like assert. Many of the Muslims too are unfortunately found to be a prey to this sort of propaganda as they know nothing about the Islamic history save that taught to them by their imperialist masters.
Before proceeding further we would like to stress a basic difference between a pure idealism with no instance to show that it is practicable or applicable to conditions of life, and an idealism such as is fully attainable with historical evidence to support its claim that it cannot only be successfully applied to practical life but is also fully capable of directing its course. As such, the question that crops up is: is Islam by its very nature merely a Utopian ideal that exists nowhere, nor is capable of being practiced in this world, its whole texture being fabricated out of purely imaginary and fictitious elements, or is it a practical system of life but may not necessarily be applied to lire with equal success or in similar manner during all the periods of human history? Evidently, there is a very great difference between these two forms of idealism. If Islam be an ideology of a purely abstract character, then there is no longer any hope of its ever being applicable to the actually conditions of life howsoever great a change the social circumstances and conditions of life might undergo in future. But if it is a practical system or life and only the external conditions or life intervene in the way or its fullest application, then the case is quite different. In such a case there is every hope that it might be materialized in life if and when these unfavorable conditions of life change or become favorable to it. Which or the two cases is applicable to Islam, the former or the latter?
The answer is not far to seek as the matter is so clear that there can hardly be two opinions about it. That Islam has once been already fully applied in human history proves beyond any doubt as to its being a practical system of lire that is fully capable of being practiced or adopted by man. It also proves 1hat its basis is not an imaginary or a fictitious one. Men are what they were or have been before, there being no change in the human nature as such. Therefore what happened once might happen again and again. Modern progressionists say that it cannot re-happen and, therefore, Islamic revival is a hopeless task, but may we ask them if they want to say that man in the early days or Islam had attained to such a high pinnacle of moral perfection as humanity is unable to regain those heights ever again? How do they justify this stand of theirs in the face of their own claim that humanity is constantly advancing forward and ever marching ahead?
The question as to why the like of the early caliphate is not seen in the subsequent history save once in the beginning and later on during the extremely short periods scattered here and there in Muslim history, such as the reign of Omar bin Abdul Aziz for example, calls for a close study of the problem. Its answer, however, is clearly imprinted on the pages of history, either in the form of a local phenomenon witnessed in the Islamic world or as a universal truth exhibited in the life-history of mankind.
We needs must in this respect refer to the following two facts:
Firstly, the great leap that humanity strode forward with the help of Islam and the deep abyss from the bottom of which Islam lifted it to the lofty heights of moral refinement witnessed in the early caliphate, was a phenomenon such as cannot be explained in terms of ordinary physical laws of life; it was rather a miracle out or the so many other miracles brought about by Islam on the face of this earth. But it was made possible only after years of preparation and a thorough moral reorientation of those great heroes of Islam who exemplified and embodied this great miracle in their persons as well as in their whole conduct in life.
But Islam spread with such a lightning speed in the world that there is hardly any parallel to it in the history of the different historical movements either in the earlier or in the subsequent periods. This is just another miracle brought about by Islam that is hard to explain through any materialistic or economic interpretation of history such as with which the communists and the materialists are wont to explain away human history. This speedy propagation of Islam, however, brought into its fold very many nations who were far from being fully acquainted with the real spirit of Islam, nor did they understand the real significance of its socioeconomic and political system. Unfortunately, it was not possible for the Muslim governments of the time to arrange for the doctrinal instruction or moral education of these converts such as was given to early Muslims of Arabia. Consequently, the Islamic empire expanded and the number of the believers also multiplied but Islamic principles and teachings never found way into the hearts of these large hosts of converts. The rulers no longer feared public opinion while trampling underfoot the commandments of Islam. They usurped the people's liberties and subjected them to all forms of injustice as is known by the history of the Ommeyeds, Abassides, Turks and Mamlukes. In the absence of a well-formed and educated public opinion they could easily treat Islam as a plaything and usurp the rights of the people.
Secondly, the great advancement that Islam effected in human life cannot be termed as a physical or a natural phenomenon, for in one great leap it raised humanity from the lowest depths of slavery and serfdom to the highest and most ideal state of social justice yet experienced by mankind under any other social system it has so far tried. Islam freed it from the dominance of unruly passions and elevated it to the highest realms of moral perfection ever witnessed in the whole range of human history.
It was Islam that made men win these surprisingly lofty moral heights during its early period as the spiritual force exemplified in the personality of the Holy Prophet and his Companions was an extraordinary one. It was this force that raised men to a plane far higher than they could ordinarily attain and made them perform mighty works very much akin to miracles. When, however, this mighty impulse ebbed away the people reverted to their former state from their erstwhile sublime state of moral and spiritual existence, although they still retained a spark at least of the divine light. It is the pages of history illumined by this divine light which we intend to point out to our fellowmen in this treatise. But this does not mean, as some people have wrongly assumed, that it requires the constant presence of the Prophet himself and his Companions to bring about even the smallest change in practical life such as was effected by Islam, for that which was a miracle in the world of politico-economic relationships thirteen hundred years ago, has now, thanks to the experiences gained by mankind or by the Muslim community itself over the centuries, become a task for the performance of which man is fully equipped. Therefore if we should want to apply Islam to the modern conditions of life making due allowance for the high moral excellence exemplified in the lives of the early Muslims we would not have to move forward at the miraculously high speed such as characterized the early history of Islam, for the various experiences and the progress since made by man have already brought us much closer to the lofty pinnacle of the Islamic ideal. Its achievement has, as a consequence thereof, become much easier, the effort required also being far less arduous. A few examples from the modern life may suffice to illustrate the truth of what we have said above.
Most of the nations in the modern times elect their rulers through general elections and also have the right to suspend or dismiss them if they should fail in discharging their obligations towards the people. But this is no more than a modem application of an important feature of the Islamic system of government that was instituted by Islam
more than thirteen hundred years ago. Surely this was a miracle in the age of the caliphs Abu Bakr and Omar, but not in this modem world of ours; its realization is now completely within our means provided we should honestly wish to enforce it in our lives. For if we can take it from England or America, why cannot we as well adopt it in the name of Islam, especially when it is already therein Islam?
Then there is the question of guaranteeing the basic needs of its employees by the state. About this too there is the explicit commandment of the Prophet (peace be on him) that all employees of the state shall be provided with their basic needs. It was this very commandment that communism carried into effect in the twentieth century notwithstanding the fact that Islam had already done so without resorting to a dictatorship of the proletariat such as communism could not do without. If we are inclined today to guarantee these basic needs to the state-employees, why should we not follow the lead of Islam rather than imitate communism?
Thus the problem we are dealing with in the final analysis crystallizes into the fundamental question: Is a particular socio-economic and political system practicable or not? This is the only criterion whereby the practicability or otherwise of a system can be judged aright. Judging from this standpoint we find that the Islamic system of life is in fact a practical system of life, for it was the first system ever practically applied to human life on the face of this earth.
There is no truth in what the communists and their camp-followers say that the modern life is raised on a scientific foundation while Islam is a system based on passions and pious intentions. That this is absolutely false may be realized from the fact that the Islamic law, for instance, does not at all rest on the feelings or emotions of men. Similarly, early caliphs did not rest their decisions on wishful thinking or the intentions of men when conferring with their councils or seeking some legal interpretation and application of Islamic law.
The fact is that Islam does not rely on law alone. It no doubt frames various laws but it first of all wants to civilize human beings from within so that they would willingly submit to the law if and when it is enforced not only because of any outside fear of the government but because of their own moral initiative from within. Undoubtedly, this is the most excellent achievement so far gained by mankind in the world of politics. But still the law is there all the time although it is invoked only when the general good calls for it. In such cases it is enforced without any regard whatsoever of people to such an extent that caliph Othman said: "God restrains with authority that which is not restrained by the Qur'an."
Some writers while arguing that the revival of Islam is impossible allege that men like Omar are not born every day; personalities like him are exceptions and not met with frequently in history, But such a line of reasoning betrays their own barrenness of thought, For, it is not the person of Omar-the typical man produced by Islam that we stand in need of for the enforcement of the Islamic law but rather the laws framed or legal precedents left behind by him. Thus, for instance, Omar ordered that the hands of a thief shall not be cut in case there is a possibility of his being driven to it due to some external economic or social exigency. Surely, this legal precedent does not necessarily call for the presence of a man like Omar to apply it to practical life, as it was nothing but an interpretation o f the basic principle of the Islamic jurisprudence which lays down that in cases of doubtful nature the legal punishment should be avoided. There is no external or internal check upon us such as due to which we may not be able to enforce it in our practical life just because there is no Omar amongst us.
Similarly, Omar laid it down that the ruler was fully authorized to take of the excess of the rich people's wealth and distribute it among the poor as is nowadays being done, for instance, in England. It did not need an Omar to enforce this law in England which is sufficient to prove its practicability in the modern world. This ruling of his was also based on the well-known Qura'nic principle concerning riches: “In order that it may not (merely) make a circuit between the wealthy among you” (Iix : 7). Omar also enunciated the right of the state to institute an inquiry about the wealth amassed by the governors with a view to know as to whence they had acquired it, if it was their own or misappropriated from public funds or gained through unlawful means. This has also become almost a universal practice in the contemporary world, although there is, of course, no Omar here among us, He also made it a law that a foundling shall be looked after by the state and his expenses defrayed from the public exchequer, for he could not be held responsible or left to suffer for the sin committed by the parents, Europe and America at last recognized this by framing laws to that effect in the twentieth century, which again shows that so far as the enforcement or the application of the law is concerned the presence of an Omar is not inevitable. We need Omar not just because he was a man of towering personality but because he is the most outstanding legist of the early period of Islam besides his being so deeply imbued with the spirit and understanding of Islam, As for his personal life, we may follow it with benefit, for it helps us to ascend to higher planes of being and affords the Muslims of all times to come with a sublime and noble example to follow. But even if we fail in following his personal example, our observance of the laws enacted by him might suffice in practical life, for these would enable us to stand on our legs and not merely imitate or follow blindfoldly the laws and constitutions imported from foreign lands.
There is also still another great misunderstanding prevalent against Islam. It is said that Islam was never fully established on this earth save in the early caliphate period. It is correct that Islam was never enforced in its true form except during the short period of Omar bin Abdul Aziz after the early caliphate; yet it does not at all mean that Islam as a religion and a system of life had ceased to exist after the caliphate period. In the subsequent years, it was the government only that had suffered a morbid change from the point of view of Islam partly or totally. The rest of the society remained as Islamic in spirit as ever. It did never recognize the division of the people into the 'haves' and 'have-nots' nor into masters and salves. Rather they were all united in a universal brotherhood sharing with one another the labor as well as the fruits thereof.
The law of the land of Islam always ruled supreme in all the different parts of tile Islamic world. The people were never left to the mercy of feudal lords as happened in Europe. The Islamic traditions lived and these may be witnessed in the history of wars of Islam against its enemies. A perusal of the crusades, particularly during the days of Salah-ud-Din Al-Ayubi, may suffice to convince one of the veracity of the above Statement. The conduct of the Muslims in carrying out their international agreements even during their latter history was no less sublime and glorious. Their love for knowledge and regard for civilization made the Islamic world a favorite haunt of all true seekers of knowledge and arts. It was this torch of knowledge lighted by Islam that finally set ablaze the whole of Europe and made it march ahead on the path of progress and development.
In short, Islam is not an ideal system in the derogatory sense this term is commonly understood to imply in the West. It is rather a perfectly practical system of life that has already been once tried by humanity. Mankind as such can adopt it now with as much success as it did thirteen hundred years ago thanks to the experience gained since, for it has brought mankind much closer and nearer to its realization. On the other hand, it is communism which may rightly be dubbed as a mere idle idealism with no successful practical application of it so far to human life. The stage of real communism, we are told, has not yet been attained: the world is rather steadily moving towards that ideal stage. When all the world shall be brought under the control of a single world communist state and all wealth distributed evenly among all its citizens, then will the real stage of communism be attained. Then the class-war between the 'haves' and the 'have-nots' shall be done away with once for all as it is the uneven distribution of wealth that is the sole cause of this class warfare.
This communist dreamland is a Utopia such as would never be materialized in this world of reality. It belongs under the realm of delusion. Its basic assumptions that human beings can ever be artificially made equal in possessing similar means of production and that all class war shall come to an end when and if wealth is distributed evenly among all the people and that humanity cannot progress except through interclass warfare, are altogether baseless and untrue. It represents an idealism such as can fascinate the fools only. It originated out of materialism and, ironically enough, is supposed to be based on scientific principles and facts of life.
 "Idealism" is a word very popular in the East where it is used to describe a system that embraced in itself all that is best. From this it must be clear that we are not using this term in this sense with regard to Islam as we are in this book concerned with the aspersions cast against it. We use this word rather in the sense in which it is generally used in the West. According to the western interpretation, idealism means soaring high in the realm of ideas leaving the people below on earth to their fate, deprivations, hunger, misery and inequity. Practically nothing is done in order to do away with these evils. The people are left to themselves to groan under them. This is why the Europeans came to hate the word "idealism", quite justifiably of course, as it called on the people to accept the hell of feudalism, to suffer tribulations and disgrace, while it talked on to them about philosophical subjects such as had no meaning or use for them in their everyday life. Dry and empty as these abstract discussions were, they were also devoid of all sense. Naturally, human reason could not but abhor this sophistry. It is because of this historical background that the Europeans ridicule and hate all forms of idealism. Anxious to exploit this situation the communists betray their own ignorance when they accuse Islam of a similar barren and visionary idealism.