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The Qur'anic View of History

The verses of the Holy Quran confirm the third view. As I have stated earlier, the Quran does not discuss human problems in our philo‌sophical and scientific terminology. Its language and approach is dif‌ferent. Nevertheless, the Quran views the problems concerning society in such a way that it supports the third view. The Quran puts forward the idea of a common history, a common destiny, a common record of deeds, a common consciousness, understanding, sensibility and a com‌mon conduct for the ummahs (societies) [1]. It is obvious that if the entity referred to as `ummah' did not have an objective existence, it would be meaningless to talk of fate, understanding, conscience, obedience, and disobedience with reference to it. It may be inferred that the Quran believes in a certain kind of life which is the collective and social existence. Collective life is not just a metaphor or an alle‌gory, it is a reality; likewise collective death is also a reality.
In verse 34 of Surat al‑'A`raf, the Quran asserts:
And every ummah (society) hath its term, and when its term cometh, they cannot put it off an hour nor yet advance (it). (7:34)
This verse refers to life and existence that is given a limited period of time, the duration of which cannot be changed. The end can neither be advanced nor delayed; and this life is associated with the nation (ummah), not with the individuals; or else it is evident that individuals of a nation are deprived of their existence individually and separately and not collectively and simultaneously.
In Surat al‑Jathiyah, the verse 28 states:
Every ummah (society) shall be summoned to its record. (45:28)
Thereupon we come to know that not only individuals have a particular record of deeds of their own, but societies are also judged by their own records of deeds, because they, too, are like living beings who are conscious, responsible, and accountable for their acts, as they have freedom of will and act accordingly.
In Surat al‑'An`am, verse 108 states:
....unto every nation have We made their deeds seem fair ....(6:108)
This verse affirms that every nation evolves its own particular consciousness, its own particular standards and its own particular way of thinking. The consciousness, understanding, and perception of every nation has a specific and distinguishable character.
Every nation judges things according to its own standards (at least in the matters involving practical values and notions Every nation has its own special way of perception and comprehension. There are many acts which are `good' in the eyes of one nation and `evil' in the eyes of another. It is the social atmosphere that moulds the taste and percep‌tion of the individuals of a nation according to its value‑system.
In Surat al‑Mu'min, verse 5 says:
....And every nation purposed to seize their messenger and argued falsely, [thinking] thereby to refute the Truth. Then I seized, and how [awful] was My punishment. (40:5)
This verse is about an unrighteous resolution and decision of a nation. It refers to a collective decision of immoral opposition to truth, and asserts that collective disobedience deserves collective retribution and punishment.
In the Quran, there are frequent instances how the actions of an individual are attributed to the whole group, or sins of a generation are associated with later generations. [2] In such cases, the people had the same (collective) thinking and the same (collective) will, or, in other words, they had the same social spirit. For example, in the story of the Thamud, the act of hamstringing Salih's camel, which was the deed of an individual alone, is attributed to the whole nation (they ham‌strung the she‑camel). The whole nation was considered to be respon‌sible for the crime. Consequently all of them were considered to deserve the punishment for committing that crime: (so Allah doomed them for that sin).
'Ali (A), in one of the sermons of the Nahj al‑balaghah, elucidates this subject in the following manner:
O people, actually that which brings together a community [and imparts unity and a common fate to it], is the common feeling of approval and disapproval.
Whenever any proper or improper action having collective appro‌val has been performed, even though by a single individual, the whole society is held responsible for it.
Indeed only one man had hamstrung the she‑camel of Thamud, but God included them all in His punishment, because they all condoned his act. So, God has said (in the Quran): "They hamstrung her and woke up repentant.”
God sent down His punishment collectively on the people of Thamud, because the whole nation maintained the same position and approved the act of one individual, and when his decision was enacted, it was actually the decision of the whole nation. God, in His Book, has attributed the act of hamstringing of the camel to the whole nation, although the act was performed by one person. It says: "That nation hamstrung the camel," and does not say that one person from among them committed the sin.
It is essential to remind here that mere approval of a sin, as long as it remains a verbal approval alone and practical involvement has not occurred, is not to be considered as a sin. For example, a person commits a sin and another comes to know about it before or after its committal and approves it, even though the approval leads to the stage of resolution but is not translated into action, it is not a sin; as the resolution of an individual to commit a sin, which is not translated into action may not be considered a sin.
An approval is considered as participation in sin when it plays an active role in its planning and execution. The collective sins belong to this category. The social atmosphere and the social spirit favour the occurrence of the sin and support it. If one of the members of a society whose approval is a part of the collective will and whose decision is a part of the collective decision commits the sin, it is here that the sin of an individual becomes the collective sin. The above quoted passage of the Nahj al‑balaghah which refers to the contents of the Quranic verse, explains the same fact. It is not merely the approval or disapproval which is regarded as participation in the intention or committal of a sin.
The Quran occasionally associates the acts of an earlier generation with the latter generations. For example, the action of an earlier nation, namely the people of Israel, has been associated with the Israelites of the Prophet's age, and the Quran says that these people deserve igno‌miny and wretchedness because they slew prophets unjustly. It is not so because in the view of the Quran they were the offsprings of the same race, but because they represented the same evil social spirit. It has been said that "human society has more dead than living. [3] It means that those who are dead participate in the formation of every age more than the living. Therefore, it is also said that "the dead rule the living more than before." [4]
In the Quranic exegesis, al‑Mizan, it is argued that if a society has a single soul and the same social thinking, it is as if a single indivi‌dual. In this case, members of society are like the bodily organs and faculties of one organism, intrinsically and physically united, and are amalgamated in the form of a single human personality in thought and action. Their pleasures and pains are like the pleasures and pains of one person and their bliss and adversities are like the bliss and adversities of one person. This discussion is further continued on the following lines:
In its judgement on nations and societies having religious or national pre‌judices or having a unique social thinking, the Quran regards the latter genera‌tions punishable for the actions of the earlier generations. A present genera‌tion is regarded accountable and punishable for the actions of those who have passed away. In the cases in which people had the same social thinking and the same social spirit, the Divine Judgement could not be otherwise. [5]
$$Section[Society and Tradition]
[1]. `Allamah Tabataba'i, al‑Mizan, vol. II, p. 102.
[2]. Following Quranic verses are referred to:
Woe, then, to those who write the Book with their hands and then say: This is from God, so that they may take for it a small price. Therefore, woe to them for what their hands have written, and woe to them for what they earn. (2: 79)
Abasement shall be pitched on them, wherever they are come upon, except they be in a bond of God, and a bond of the people; they will be laden with the burden of God's anger, and poverty shall be pitched on them; that, because they disbelieved in God's signs and slew the Prophets without right, that, for that they acted rebelliously and were transgressors. (3:112)
[3]. Auguste Comte, as quoted in Raymond Aron's Main Currents in Sociologi‌cal Thought, vol. I, p. 91.
[4]. Ibid.
[5]. Al‑Mizan, vol. IV, 112.



Principal Factors for the Success of Islam

In the previous chapters the main topics of our discussion comprised of a survey of the political and social conditions attending upon the birth of Islam and the situation at its commencement. Detailed description covering the environments prevailing in Arabia and the Hejaz region as the birth-place of Islam followed by pertinent information about Yemen, Omman and Iraq which at that time was under the government of Hira, and then about the regions of Shaam, Lebanon and Jordan a part of which was ruled by the Ghassanis having an Arab government. This was followed by a description of the empire of Iran as the eastern neighbour comprising present Iran, a part of Uzbekistan, Azarbaijan, Russia and even a part of modern Turkey. Then followed the description of Roman empire comprising Syria, the Lebanon, Turkey, Bulgaria and present Greece. This was followed by a survey of Egypt which had only sparse population in the south, which too developed after Islam. Then we dealt with Abyssinia comprising the present Abyssinia and a part of Sudan.
Outside this circle of neighbouring territories, there remained two relatively civilised regions, namely India and China which were remote from the land of Islam and had almost no connection with the Islamic movement. For this reason no details have been discussed even though in the Prophet's time certain groups were sent to China specifically as missionaries to Tibet to invite people to Islam where they reached Tibet in the time of Abu Bakr.
In this part of the discussion it is intended to reach certain from the preceding discussion.
The leading conclusion from the preceding discussion is that the movement of Islam began in centrally located region which is now the geographic heart of the Islamic world, and was at that time completely backward civilisation. Scientific and technical resources were nor existent, nor did it have wealth or any form of a government. Its people led a tribal life. The original base of the Islamic movement was surrounded by neighbours all of whom were well ahead in their civilisation and paid scant attention to this area because of their historical precedence. The king of Persia Khusrow Parviz, had written to his envoy to go and see who was the one to have dared to write to him asking him "to accept monotheism in order to enter the garden of bliss". He wanted to know who was it that had the courage to address him at all! And ever if he had something to communicate he should have given due consideration to established protocol. He upbraided his governor in Yemen desiring him to chastise the writer for having addressed the Emperor of Iran!
The neighbouring countries regarded this region (Arabia) too worthless to maintain any contact with it. Even today no communications exist with neighbours and if one was to come out of Mecca and Medina, one would come across no habitation or water for a radius of several hundred kilometers, and although it borders onto the Red Sea, this sea is to no avail as it affords no source of irrigation. It was too backward culturally and economically and even politically to have been able to influence any of its neighbours. In view of these conditions, what was it in the Islamic movement that enabled it to spread so rapidly and extensively in less than a quarter of a century and overcome all the neighbouring lands?
The causative factor may be considered from two angles, firstly about its effects on the people of Arabia itself and the deep transformation which resulted among them. What was it that made them undergo such a radical change?
How did the movement give them the competence and the ability to promote the mission of Islam? How could they so suddenly change from a tribal society into an organised central government, so that within two or three decades it came to be regarded as the model of a powerful state in the world? Whichever history one read one would witness mention of 'Umar bin-Khattab as a powerful and intelligent ruler.
Secondly, what attraction did the movement of Islam possess that it spread so rapidly over all the neighbouring lands? In a previous discussion it was stated by one of the participants that possibly the reason for such rapid progress was that heralded freedom and its breaking of social bonds and any movement which declared these goals, would have spread just as rapidly as Islam. I postponed my reply to that question until now and I had purposely delved into the details of early history to show that had 70 or 80 years before the movement of the Prophet of Islam, the Mazdaki faith made its appearance in Iran al lowing a good deal of freedom and even license, but it failed to make any headway. The faith of Manichaeus which gave an ideological code and which had appeared two or three (in one doubtful version about five) centuries before Islam in Iran, also gained no success. How was it, then, that this alien movement coming from a remote and strange land made such an overwhelming entry and so easily overcame all lands including almost the entire civilised world of the time?
To illustrate the importance of this matter, let us quote from a European subscriber to the Encyclopedia Britannica, also in order to know the point of view of an opposing source concerning the movement of Islam:
"Had a small Christian contingent been maintained in Arabia, that same emperor of Abyssinia alongwith the Christian government of that country would have been able to crush Muhammad (a.s.) in his cradle and destroy him, and Abyssinia would have succeeded in checking a movement which was to change the social, political and religious conditions of the world and cause a revolution in the political, social and religious conditions of the world."
This is the view of a Christian adversary whose observation "Muhammad would have been crushed in his cradle" reveals the degree of his animosity and rancour. It is therefore worth considering what spirit and moral power was inherent in this revolution that according to this Christian historian, even a small Christian contingent in Hejaz could have contained its progress in the initial stage.
Principal Factors for the Movement's Success
In conclusion it is intended to study what factors contributed to accelerate the progress of Islam as a world wide movement:
a) Unshakable Faith
The leading consideration relates to the starter of the movement, namely the holy Prophet of Islam. He held unshakable faith in his mission; for without such strong intrinsic faith success would have been quite uncertain. This is particularly true of a movement where success is in any case fairly risky.
b) Competence and Efficiency
The leader of the movement, namely the holy Prophet himself, possessed remarkable competence, efficiency and sagacity in discharging his tasks, and knew exactly what steps to take in every case. As recorded by numerous non-Muslim writers, his approach was methodical as of a highly experienced, capable and knowledgeable person. He handled his affairs with the expertise of a specialist.
c) Decisiveness
Owing to the two above mentioned personal qualities, namely unshakable faith and competence, the Prophet was never at a loss while faced with the events and crises in his life. The Prophet led the movement of Islam for 23 years, during all this period one does not come across even a single incident where he was uncertain or at a loss for a decision. On the contrary, he displayed utmost patience, coolness and decisiveness on every occasion. Among the various events in the course of the movement of Islam, some are related to the period before his migration to Medina where these qualities are evident and also certain events following the migration which reflect his decisiveness and explicitness.
As an example, after his migration to Medina in the "Hudaibiya" peace negotiations which occurred in the eighth year of Hijra, an unforeseen crisis arose for the Muslims. The Prophet had told them that they could proceed as the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca in that year, consequently they left Medina prepared for the pilgrimage unarmed and unprepared for a fight. When they approached Mecca, the infidels of Mecca refused their entry saying all but the Prophet and the Muslims could enter Mecca. This refusal greatly displeased the Muslims, especially as at the time a state of peace existed between the infidels of Mecca and the Muslims.
In response to the infidels refusal, most of the Muslims declared that they would fight their way into Mecca. The holy Prophet was faced with a predicament, since firstly they were not armed for battle, and secondly a battle during the Hajj season would not have been good publicity for the Muslims, since it would be said that the Muslims showed no regard for Hajj. Moreover the outcome of the battle was uncertain. On the other hand the refusal to adverse effect on the Muslims. What could the Prophet do in such a situation? With extraordinary finality he declared that he would renew the peace with the infidels despite their having revoked the earlier treaty and abstain from the exercise of force. It was such a strange decision for the followers of the Prophet, that 'Umar bin Khattab, one close follower, expressed that he had never doubted the Prophet's words to the extent of the day of the "Hudaibiya Peace Accord" -because he had said they would visit Mecca that year.
The matter of Hudaibiya Peace Accord is one of the most instructive episodes in the history of Islam, showing how the crisis was handled so adroitly by the Prophet. The Muslims turned back from the journey, but after a short time even those who had been opposed to the peace, came to realise how politically favourable that peace had been for the Islamic ummah.
d) Peculiarities of Prevailing Political Environment
Another issue which is directly related to the foregoing problems is that the Prophet's actions throughout the progress of the Islamic movement were appropriate to every stage under the prevalent conditions. During his 13 years of stay in Mecca, with the exception of one or two minor incidents, no armed clashes ever took place between Muslims and non-Muslims. One case was that occurred in those early years when the Muslims' numbers were small and at prayer time had no security, neither in their homes nor beside the Ka'aba or elsewhere. At home if the husband was a Muslim and his wife and children were idol worshippers, they would make fun of him whenever he stood up to pray, and a quarrel ensued. In the Ka'aba the idolaters would jeer at and often molest the Muslims. Thus they were forced to seek privacy for prayers in the mountains where numerous passes afforded seclusion.
One day while a number of Muslims including Sa'd bin-Abi Waqas. had proceeded to such a secluded place and were busy offering their prayers, when a number of infidels who were passing by, noticed them and began to jeer at them. The Muslims paid no head and continued with their prayers, but when the infidels resorted to molest some physically, Sa'd got annoyed and attacked them with a stick or a camel's bone which he found there, and broke one person's head. This was the first blood shed in defence of the Muslims, by a man who was later to become one of the commanders of the Army of Islam.
However, this was an incident not war. During all those 13 years in Mecca, the Prophet prudently paid heed to the political conditions. This point merits attention and understanding, since in those conditions prevailing in Arabia a lone man would be subjected to molestation and even his life would be in danger. But a person who had a family to rely on, or belonged to a tribe that supported him, no one dared hurt him. This was a particular condition then existing. With regard to the prophet, so long as Abu-Talib lived, he had his support and of the Bani-Hashim tribe and those of the tribe of Quraish with whom mutual relations existed. When Abu-Talib died, in the tenth or eleventh year of his prophethood, the conditions became difficult for the Prophet. Abu-Lahab became the head of the family of Bani-Hashim and he was from the first opposed to the Prophet, and thus the Prophet was left without any political support. What could he do? He went here and there and contacted various groups to secure political support for himself.
However, by that time the number of Muslims had risen to between 60 to 80, even more including these who had migrated to Abyssinia. The infidels regarded the Prophet and his followers as a tribe in their own right political and military potential but the Prophet himself did not consider this situation satisfactory and sought stronger support elsewhere[72] to make up for the lost support of the Bani-Hashim.
When his contacts with a number of tribes produced, he began to prepare himself for migrating to Medina, and after some negotiations with the tribes of Aus and Khazraj of Medina during Hajj, he finally decided to undertake this epic journey. Thus so long as the Prophet had not succeeded in creating a new political institution as well as a strong political base that could sustain itself in Arabia, he sought support from other dependable sources. In the interval between the demise of Abu-Talib and the migration to Medina, which was not a long one, he was still protected by his relatives. For instance if Abu-Lahab was his opponent, then 'Abass was a person of high status in the Bani-Hashim clan who dearly loved the Prophet, and Abu-Lahab, too, had to pay some regard to family relations.
Accordingly it shows that the Prophet paid due heed to the political conditions then prevalent conformity which was another factor towards his success. When he arrived in Medina, contrary to the records of certain historians that there was no house where the Qur'an was not recited, there were many houses where not even one had yet embraced Islam. Although there was at least one Muslim in a number of houses, the Prophet initially practised his former way in the movement.
For instance, in the battle of Badr when he left Medina with the Muslims, he said to them: "We are going to attack a caravan." There was no mention of a war, but when they were out of Medina and the subject of war came up, he formed a council and asked them whether they were prepared for a war. Historians write that the reason for this question was that in the terms of his accord with the tribes of Aus and Khazraj, they had undertaken to defend him in Medina, whereas, then the question of a war outside Medina was proposed, and this matter, was outside the agreement. Therefore he wished to know that apart from their accord whether they would agree to join him in a war or not? Such observance of established social traditions served as a factor for his success.
e) Decisive Response
Throughout the entire period of his invitation to Islam the Prophet gave a clear answer to all matters which were put forth. During his stay of 13 years in Mecca, one does not come across holy verses or topics related to administration, taxes, Friday and 'Id prayers and the like, since the main problems then were social conduct and related with divinity such as the manner of performance of devotional acts, prayers, fasting, ethics and the combat with polytheistic practices, selfishness and moral corruption. There was then little of political aspects. Of course, equality was practised within the group, and from the very beginning, the Prophet himself, lived like a brother with other Muslims. But when he came to Medina, fresh problems arose, and he showed full preparedness to deal with each one of them, and his decisive approach proved to be a factor for his success in promoting the movement.
f) As a Herald of Freedom
From the very beginning the Prophet declared himself to be the herald of freedom, the herald of equality, justice and equity, and this proved to be a very effective factor in the success of Islam. He explicitly declared that an Abyssian slave and a Quraish Sayid of a noble house were equal before him. Equality justice and fraternity were without doubt his winning qualities which were related particularly to the Prophet and Islam.
g) Filling the Existing Socio-political Vacuum
Another important point which served as a factor in the Prophet's success was that he commenced the Islamic movement in the environment of Hejaz where the great powers of that time did not have an important base, and where in fact a relative social and political vacuum prevailed. It is true that the Prophet's power as compared with the strength of the infidels of Hejaz was at the beginning quite weak, but, as we have said, he enjoyed the full support of Abu-Talib, and no one dared make an attempt on his life. Even in the night of his emigration they could not attack him singly or a clan. They decided to pick a young man from each of the tribes so that all the tribes would share the guilt in the attempt on the Prophet's life, and they thought of this plot only as the Prophet had departed for Medina.
In Mecca, therefore, it would appear there existed small and scattered power-groups that the Prophet could deal with and such great powers as Rome, Iran, Abyssinia and Egypt had no strong foothold in Hejaz to take any steps. The extent to which the influence of these powers in Hejaz was still in the hands of the infidels and had not till then been captured by the Prophet and a peace treaty existed between them, and the Prophet felt easy in his mind that after the battle of Khandaq (Ahzab) they would be too afraid to resort to a fresh assault, the Prophet began writing letters to the rulers of neighbouring countries as we have earlier mentioned. He dispatched letters to the rulers of Hira, Ghassan, Jordan, the Governor of Yemen, the King of Abyssinia, King of Egypt, Emperor of Rome and to Khusrow Parviz, Emperor of Iran. This universal invitation to Islam was initiated in the sixth year of migration.[73] Those who presume that the Prophet had brought Islam primarily as a faith meant exclusively for Arabia and the Arabs, do not appear to know in what year he sent this invitation to all the regions neighbouring Arabia. He would dispatch one Muslim as his courier bearing his message. In the case of Iran, when his letter reached Khusrow Parviz and he saw that the letter began with the words: "From Muhammad, prophet of Allah, to Khusrow, King of Fars", he became very angry to see his name appear after that of the Prophet[74] and tore the letter up. He directed Badhan, his Governor in Yemen[75] to send a couple of his soldiers to Yathrib and arrest the man who had dared write such a letter to him and had made such claims, and have then bring him to the royal court.
This goes to show how little did Khusrow Parviz know of Muhammad (a.s.) in Arabia and that he was completely ignorant about his the prophet's wars, a number of battles, victorious in all except one. Muhammad (a.s.) was poised for further actions abroad, and he was not the one to be simply arrested by sending a pair of soldiers. This story shows the existence of a vacuum in the birthplace of Islam as regards the awareness of the great political powers of the time-which merits detailed study.
It was not only Khusrow Parviz who was ignorant about Muhammad (a.s.); Heraclius, Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire, despite his closer links with Arabia, was in a similar situation; when he received the Prophet's letter, he said: "Go and see if there are any Arab traders in Syria who can give me some information about Muhammad(a.s)." As it happened, Abu Sufiyan, a sown enemy of the prophet right to the end, and till then did not even pretend to have embraced Islam, was in Shaam.
He came and speaking diplomatically began his criticism of the prophet but unintentionally mentioned some thing which interested Heraclius. Heraclius asked him what kind of a person he was in their community? Abu Sufiyan said that he was honest and had a good name. The main point is that Heraclius, too, had no knowledge of Muhammad (a.s.), and even his courtiers had never heard anything about the Prophet. The persons who were better informed about the Islamic movement were firstly, Negus who had received two Muslim missions earlier, and Maquqass, king of Egypt. The powerful rulers round about Mecca and Medina and Hejaz region had no interests in that land since it neither yielded revenue nor was it suited to exploitation and colonisation. The region was also remote from them and was nothing but a burning hot desert. Perhaps any new movement has the possibility of growing in a place where a relative political vacuum exists. This is, of course, not the sole condition for the growth of a movement, since there have been other movements which have grown in places devoid of such political vacuum and even under local pressure, however the possibilities of success grow more favourable in a state of a political vacuum so that dominant forces do not crush it is the offing.
In short the movement of Islam was a perfectly comprehensive movement from an ideological viewpoint which could provide decisive response to all the questions, realistic response, useful and practical in every way. It was led by someone who had profound faith indomitable spirit forebearance and perseverance, a leader who had participated in every phase of the movement, and had fully shared all the difficulties with the rest, and was not the kind of a leader who would sit in a corner and issue orders to others. In addition, all this took place in a socio-political vacuum.
These thus were the original factors leading to the success of the movement, but naturally behind all these were the divine will and His aid from which the Muslims benefited repeatedly. But Divine pleasure is not a gift freely bestowed on everyone; as the holy Qur'an proclaims repeatedly in various verses that there is victory sent by God, but one should also make an endeavour,[76] they made the endeavour and victory was theirs, as promised.

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