Islam revolutionised the oppressive tribal Arab society in the 7th. century. It demolished its hierarchical and exploitative social and economic system. It ushered in the radical idea of equality of mankind, abolished usury and thereby liberated the poor from the crushing burden of indebtedness of the rich. It raised the social status of women and treated them with honour and dignity. Islam thus established itself as the most progressive social and economic system which dispelled the darkness of the Arab tribal culture of the seventh century and transformed it into an enlightened region Can the Arab spring reinvent the progressive and enlightening character o Islam and restore its primacy to meet the challenges of the 21st. century without distorting the substance of Islam
A glance at the evolution of Muslim societies right from the time of the Prophet Muhammad (saw) to the 17th century reveals a uniform trend, within the Muslim ruled territories, of respect and tolerance of other religions and promotion of religious harmony and multicultural societies from India in the east to Andalusia( Southern Spain) in the west.
The Qur’an unequivocally declared that “there is no compulsion in religion.” Thus tolerance of other religions is proverbial in Islam and was amply demonstrated by the Prophet himself, his companions and later by Muslim rulers. The Prophet Muhammad (saw) allowed the Christians of Najran to offer their prayers right in the Prophet’s mosque, overruling the objections of his companions. Caliph Umar, after the conquest of Palestine, visited the Church of Sepulcher in Jerusalem. During the course of his visit it was time for the evening prayer (Asr). Archbishop Polonium invited the Caliph to pray inside the church which he refused saying that if he prayed inside the church it would eventually be converted into a mosque which he never wanted to happen. The Church of Sepulcher still stands firmly with its antique grandeur and epitomizes the spirit of tolerance of Islam.
After the conquest of Iraq and Persia Caliph Umar neither forced the people of the conquered territories to convert to Islam, nor did he impose shariah laws on them. He did not confiscate their properties, particularly agricultural property.
Similarly when the European crusaders in the second crusade were crushed by Salahuddin Ayyubi in 1148 the French and German leaders of the crusade, Bishops and Princes, fled back to Europe leaving behind ordinary crusaders at the mercy of Salahuddin’s forces. Salahuddin treated them well, gave them food and shelter. The crusaders were so deeply impressed by this generous treatment that according to Ode of Deuil, chaplain to King Louis VII of France, “they voluntarily converted to Islam”.
Islam treats women with honour and dignity. The injustices inflicted on women in the pre-Islamic tribal system were completely eliminated. Surah Mujadelah, Chapter 58, testifies to this fact. The Prophet also, in his last sermon, warned the Muslims “to fear God with regard to women and be enjoined of good on their behalf”. Women had the freedom to express their views boldly and frankly. They were granted equal rights with men to offer protection to any acquaintance seeking refuge. The Prophet’s daughter, Zainab, had given protection to her polytheist husband without seeking the permission of her father. She announced it the next morning in the Mosque.
Islam is extremely flexible. The strictness in Islam is restricted to its basic tenets as contained in the five pillars of Islam: Iman (faith), Saum (fasting), Salaat (five times daily) prayer, Zakat (poor Due) ad Hajj (Annual Pilgrimage to Kabah) It insists on their adherence and refuses to compromise. Importantly, the Quran prescribes a set of moral and ethical values such as honesty, sincerity, truthfulness, transparency etc. These have universal relevance, to guide mankind to the path of piety and righteousness. The Qur’an does not propound any political and economic ideology which tend to change and become irrelevant and obsolete.
Islam is favourably disposed towards the poor and is deeply concerned about their welfare. It condemns their exploitation by the rich and therefore abolished usury, and introduced the system of Zakat to mitigate the condition of the poor and the needy, The Qur’an exhorts the affluent members of society to give Sadaqah, be charitable to the poor and lift them above the poverty level.
Consultation and consensus are crucial components of the Islamic polity. The Prophet Muhammad (saw) never went to any battle front, except the conquest of Makkah, without consultiing his companions. The first four caliphs were elected by the congregation, based on talent and competence, after intensive consultation.
Islam introduced a radical reform in the religious systems of the world when it abolished priesthood and established direct communion of human beings with God. The concept of intermediary between God and mankind was made irrelevant and declared archaic. The five pillars of Islam provide direct contact of a Muslim with his / her Creator.
It is repeatedly stressed in the Qur’an that Muslims should always seek the path of piety and righteousness. It is also enshrined in the Qur’an that Muslims “should participate and cooperate in pious and virtuous deeds irrespective of the sources they come from and avoid and refrain from sinful acts” (Chapter 5, verse 2) The Prophet Muhammad (saw) participated in the HIlful–Fudul conclave, an organization founded by the polytheists, prior to the commencement of his prophetic mission, to protect the poor and the weak from the oppression of the rich and the powerful. He was proud of his association with this organization, which was formed by the polytheists, even after he was divinely commissioned to prophethood. It is thus obvious that it is the nature of the deed that matters not the ideology whether socialism, capitalism, communism, Confucianism, Buddhism etc. Similarly the Prophet would accept the help of any person whom he considered trustworthy. His best friend and confidant was his uncle Abbas, a polytheist, who converted to Islam just before the conquest of Makkah. He had no hesitation, while migrating to Madina, in utilizing the services of a professionally competent and trustworthy non-Muslim Bedouin Arab camel driver, Abdullah bin Uraiquit. Theey did not betray his trust. It is thus clear that prejudices and preconceived notions should not play a role in decision making process. What is important is that Muslims should pursue, adopt, encourage and promote virtuous deeds wherever they exist and irrespective of the quarters they came from.
It is noteworthy to observe that Muslim empires wherever they were established promoted a flourishing multicultural society. The Abbasids in Baghdad and Damascus utilized the services of Nestorian Christians and Jews in translating the Greek scientific corpuses into Arabic which helped them to accomplish significant heights in the fields of science and technology.They produced scientists of great eminence such as Ibn Sina,and Al Razi (Medicine), Al Beruni (Astronomy), Al – Khawarism (Mathernaics), Ibn Haithamn (optics) who made path breaking discoveries that later led to the scientific and industrial revolution in Western Europe in the sixteenth – seventeenth centuries.
The Umayyad rule in Andalusia (southern Spain) from the eighth to the 13th century was one of the finest examples of multicultural society with complete religious harmony and social integration of different communities. The Jews in Andalusia rose to positions of great political prominence among the different Muslim kingdoms. Andalusia has been called “Ornament of the world.” By Rosa Menocal, a distinguished historian of Yale University, USA.
The Moghal rule in India from 1526 to 1757 testifies remarkably to the evolution of multicultural society in a Muslim empire. The Moghals did not interfere with the religious beliefs of local non Muslims. In fact they made generous land grants for the maintenance of temples. Emperor Akbar even entered into marriage alliance in the family of Rajputs who turned out to be the backbone of Moghal rule in India and lent it stability.
Thus we observe that in all the great Muslim empires, in the historic past, tolerance, support, cooperation and mutual trust with non- Muslim subjects was the hall mark of their policy and principle of governance which enabled them to enjoy peace harmony, stability and prosperity in their respective domains.
Acts of blasphemy against the Quran and the Prophet are outrageous and most disgusting. They are deeply resented by Muslims, and rightly so. Because of their acute resentment they tend to react violently. The reaction of Muslims to acts of blasphemy should be guided in the light of Quranic revelations and the life of the Prophet Muhammad (saw).
The Qur’an is totally silent about blasphemy. The Hypocrites, called the Munafaqin, during the time of the Prophet used to undermine Islam while pretending to be Muslims. Their betrayal of Islam has been strongly condemned in the Qur’an but no drastic action has been commanded. Allah (swt), however, asked the Prophet not to participate and lead their funeral prayers. The Prophet also displayed considerable restraint in his attitude towards the Munafaqeen although he was fully aware of their malicious activities, knew each of them and could identify them. After the death of the Prophet, Khulfa al Rashidin (the rightly guided Caliphs) also displayed the same restraint.
The peaceful spirit of Islam is against violent behavior. The right wing political and religious leaders in the West are deliberately provoking Muslims to act violently by publishing blasphemous material denigrating the Prophet and the Qur’an just to substantiate their accusation that Islam is prone to violence and Muslims habitually react violently. In order to counteract this conspiracy of the enemies of Islam, Muslims should act with restraint as the Prophet did against the Hypocrites. They must demonstrate their resentment publicly and forcefully but peacefully. They should refrain from emotional outbursts and violence which may prove counterproductive.
Ijtihad in Islam is a powerful instrument to bring about radical reforms in Muslim societies. It implies creative and enlightened thinking to open new avenues of progress in order to improve the quality of life of Muslims without violating the values enshrined in the Qur’an. The concept of Ijtihad has stemmed out of a conversation which the Prophet had with Ma’az bin Jabal and is recorded in two authentic books on the Traditions of the Prophet, Al – Tirmidhi and Abu Dawud. It is clear from this conversation that the Prophet himself had visualized that with the passage of time the Qur’an and Sunnah might not be able to provide complete guidance of the evolving human society. Hence decision makers should use their intelligence to draw their conclusion within the framework of Quranic values and ethical normsin order to maintain the progressive character of Islam..
There is need for reform in Muslim societies in all the fields, political, social and economic.The Arab spring offers a remarkable opportunity to the Arab countries liberated of dictatorship to initiate these reforms and restore the primacy of Islam as the most dynamic and equitable social, political and economic system beneficial to all mankind. They should be Islamic in outlook and character,, and modern as well responding adequately to the changing needs and demands of the contemporary society
Arab Spring Charter of Human Equality and Rights, and Global Peace and Harmony
The Arab countries which have been significantly influenced by the Arab spring such as Egypt, Libya and Tunisia should issue a Charter of Human Equality and Rights and Global Peace and Harmony, like the Prophet’s Charter of Madina, in which they shall:
Declare unequivocally that all citizens shall be treated as equals without discrimination and that their right to freedom of expression shall be protected and honoured provided it is conducted in a civilized manner, does not excite communal tension and hurt religious feelings.
Unambiguously commit to establish a transparent, just, honest, impartial and compassionate system of administration, and that all the citizens shall have equal rights and responsibilities.
Establish a knowledge based and educationally advanced society which shall ceaselessly work for the advancement of the frontiers of knowledge in all disciplines, particularly science and technology to ensure continuing progress and prosperity of mankind
Categorically affirm its total commitment to improve the quality of life of the poor and shall adopt and implement an economic policy that will provide equal opportunity of growth to all segments of society, ensure fair distribution of wealth, prevent exploitation of the poor and the weak by the rich and the powerful.
Proclaim to eliminate gender bias which violates Islamic priciples. Women shall have full opportunity to be educated to the highest level ,and shall enjoy full freedom to choose the profession of their choice and display their talents and skill but they shall function within the ethical norms enshrined in the Qur’an They shall be fully assured of the protection of their honour and dignity, safety and security.
Solemnly pledge to ensure the safety and security of the minorities. They shall have full freedom to pursue their religious practices and.shall enjoy the same rights and responsibilities as the rest of the citizens. They shall have equal opportunity of participation and growth in nation building activities.
Unreservedly support the rise of a global community committed to peace and tranquility, shall vigorously promote religious harmony and interfaith dialogue, and shall endeavour to minimize areas of conflict and confrontation and transform them into areas of concord and cooperation.
It is a formidable challenge which the great powers of the world have failed to meet. Hence the Arab spring offers a unique opportunity to the emerging Arab democracies to explore the potentiality and capability of Islam, using the concept\\of Ijtihad, to meet the challenges of modern times without violating the fundamental principles of Islam and thereby restoring the primacy of Islam even in the contemporary period.