Islam: A Path of Struggle
First let us briefly look at
an important question. Why must Islam be so emphatically linked
with the idea of struggle? What has the one to do with the other?
Cannot a person become a good Muslim without involving himself in
a struggle that necessarily requires sacrifices? The answer is:
No. And for very obvious reasons.
Islam is not merely the confession
of a faith which is made once in a lifetime. The faith is of cosmic
dimensions. It requires a radical reorientation of entire life and
the world. The confession is not merely verbal; it is an act of
witnessing which must transform life into a living and continuing
testimony of faith. You enter Islam by saying shahadah (bearing
witness). But you can live in Islam only by constantly doing shahadah
(al-Baqarah 2:143, al_hajj 22:28). Doing shahadah will bring you
in ceaseless confrontation with false gods inside you, and with
those outside you. It will also require a ceaseless striving to
reshape self and society so as to attest to your witnessing.
Being Muslim thus requires becoming
Muslim. Becoming Muslim, after the seed of Iman has been sown in
the heart, is a two-fold process: to summon one's own self and to
summon mankind, to live under the sovereignty of One God alone.
Both are inextricably linked together, both are to be taken up simultaneously.
Summoning mankind is not a passive
call. It is an active, dynamic process, a movement. It must wage
Jihad with all available resources so that all false claimants to
absolute rule are dethroned, oppression and corruption are over
powered, and justice is established among mankind. That is why the
Prophet, blessings and peace be on him, in the very early days of
Makkan life, declared:
There were such people before
you that a man would be seized and a pit would be dug for him in
which he would be thrown, then a saw would be brought and placed
over his head and he would be cut into two, and his flesh would
be combed away from his bones by iron combs - still nothing would
turn him away from his religion. By God, he will complete this mission
until a rider will travel from San'a to Hadramawt and will have
no fear but of God, and no worry but about a wolf that might harm
his cattle (Bukhari).
The path of Islam cannot therefore
be anything other than the path of struggle, and therefore sacrifice.
Is not Islam, one might say, a gift of God? It surely is. Without
His help and His enabling hand we can take no steps on the straight
path (al-Sirat al-Mustaqim), the path of Islam. Yet only through
our sincere intention and devoted striving can we deserve to receive
this most precious gift, to retain it, to grow in it, to derive
full benefit from it. The gift, no doubt, is given in His infinite
mercy and kindness, but it is not unconditional If given whether
desired or not and earned or not, it would have become cheap, valueless.
That is why the Qur'an says that Allah "guides unto Himself
him who turns unto Him" (al-Shura 42:13). Turning towards God
requires both will and effort; it also entails turning away from
all false gods besides God. It is a total change of direction, inner
and outer. Progress, then, depends on striving: "Those who
strive hard in Our way - surely We shall guide them onto Our paths"
Struggle: The Indispensable
Such is the law of God, not
only for Islam, but for all the priceless gifts our lives have been
blessed with. Look at some of them: the eyes we see with, the ears
we hear with, the hands and the feet we work with, the air we breathe
and the water we drink, without which life cannot even exist. We
have not made them, nor could we, even if we wanted. We get them
without asking, we have no inherent claims upon them nor any inalienable
right to possess them They are all gifts of God's grace. Yet to
retain them and to derive full benefit from them we must put in
our best efforts.
Not much comes to us in life
without endeavour or struggle. We gain only what we earn by our
strivings: "We have created man into (a life of) trial and
pain" (al-Balad 90:4). "And that nought shall be accounted
unto man but what he has striven for" (al-Najm 53:39). The
soil is there, the water is there, the seed is there; but the soil
will not turn seeds into crops unless we dig it, plough it, sow
the seeds, water the plants, protect them and harvest the crop.
Without sweat and toil, the gifts of God that abound all around
us will not yield their full treasures to us. Indeed the richer
the treasures desired, the greater the efforts required.
Islam and Sacrifice
Islam is not just one gift among
many; it is the choicest gift of God (al-Maidah 5:3). Out of all
the countless bounties and the blessings that Allah has given us
to enable us to live our lives in this world, the greatest and the
most important is that He has guided us to the true meaning and
purpose in our lives. That purpose and that meaning is to live for
Him, to strive to seek His Pleasure, and even to die in His way.
Instead of living like animals - being born, eating and drinking,
procreating and dying we live a meaningful existence. Life is thus
lifted up from being a transient, fleeting moment in history, terminable
at death, to an eternal event. Our existence is no more directed
to merely coveting and acquiring the blessings and bounties that
abound in this-world. Instead the way is open to turn this-world's
possessions into everlasting benefits to be reaped in that-world,
sometimes by taking and enjoying them, gratefully, sometimes by
giving them up.
If ordinary things in this world
cannot be obtained without effort, obtaining meaning and purpose
in life, which is Islam, must surely require utmost endeavour. The
nature and magnitude of struggle, and of sacrifice, must be commensurate
with the nature and value of the goal we want to reach.
And what purpose in life could
be more valuable, more compelling, more important, more urgent,
than that of bringing the whole man - his inner personality, his
environment, his society, the entire world - to the path of Allah.
Without struggling hard, merely by wishing, desiring, professing,
making claims and statements, how can we ever hope to reach the
destination that we have set for ourselves? If one's daily bread
cannot be earned without effort, will Allah give His greatest blessing
- success in this life and success in the life to come - unless
we prove that we deserve to receive it? Unless we demonstrate that
our profession of faith is rooted in our hearts, that we are truthful
in our claims of loyalty, that we are prepared to offer sacrifices
required of us.
Says the Qur'an:
Do you think you should enter
Paradise unless God establishes who among you have struggled hard
and who are patient? (Al-Imran 3:142)
Do you think you should enter
Paradise while there has not yet come upon you the like of those
who passed away before you? Misery and hardship befell them (Al-Baqarah
Do the men think that on their
[mere] saying 'We believe', they will be left to themselves, and
will not be put to the test? We certainly put to the test those
that were before them (Al-Ankabut 29:2-3)
Of course, this does not mean
that our efforts and sacrifices can in any way match the gifts Allah
gives to us; yet it is through our own labour that we get food from
the earth; yet it is so priceless that the hard work put in by a
farmer cannot be considered equivalent to the immense benefit that
we derive. Similarly, whatever we are required to sacrifice in our
struggle in the way of Allah is not measurable against the benefits
that we shall personally derive, that the Muslim Ummah will collectively
gain, that mankind as a whole will reap. Nevertheless we must prove,
within our human limitations, that we are prepared not only to profess
our faith in our cause, but also prepared to struggle and sacrifice
what we really love for that which we declare to be dearest to us.
That is why, in the Qur'an, Iman is almost invariably bracketed
with righteous deeds (al-'amal al-salih) and with Hijrah and Jihad.
Indeed only those believers are declared to be truthful in their
claims to faith who are certain and unwavering, who struggle in
Allah's way with their lives and possessions (al-Hujurat 49:15).
Struggle, as we briefly mentioned
before, is undertaken at two levels. At the personal level, Iman
requires that one bring his self under Allah and obey Him; that
one must therefore love Allah more than everything else: "The
(true) believers love God more than all else" (al-Baqarah 2:165).
Put differently, Iman requires that nothing is too worthy, nothing
is too valuable to sacrifice in order to earn Allah's pleasure.
But it is at the collective
level that struggle, and hence sacrifices, are required in order
to summon the entire world to live under One God. Most often the
Qur'an denotes the struggle in this sense as Jihad. Iman demands
dethroning all false gods, standing up to all forces of evil, oppression
and corruption. Jihad is required to subdue all forces in rebellion
against God. It therefore requires sacrifices of a vastly different
order and nature than those required to subdue one's Nafs (self
Sacrifice and Inner Resources
Sacrifices contribute to the
success of our struggle in two ways. Firstly, they strengthen our
inner spiritual and moral resources and develop qualities of character
which are essential to our struggle at every level. Secondly, they
develop and reinforce cohesion and discipline within a collectivism,
giving it the strength and resources to conduct Jihad at the wider
Every act of sacrifice nourishes
and increases your Iman; for it transforms a verbal confession and
a mental conviction into a living reality. It confirms, and thus
increases, your love for Allah; for at every step you give up something
for the sake of this love (al-Imran 3:172-3). It reinforces your
loyalty and fidelity to Allah; for all other loyalties become secondary
as they are sacrificed for the sake of this loyalty. In short, sacrifices
bring you nearer to Allah. The process is mutually interactive:
the stronger the faith, the greater the will and capacity to sacrifice;
the greater the sacrifices, the more internalised and deeper the
Sacrifices are essential for
the development of all moral qualities, but especially for the development
of patience, endurance, perseverance, fortitude, resolve and determination.
These can be summed up in just one word: Sabr. Every sacrifice reinforces
the quality of sabr, making it grow in quality and strength. Sabr,
in turn, sustains and increases the capacity to sacrifice. Again,
the process is dialectic. All promises of help from Allah, all assurances
of success in this-world and rewards in the Hereafter, have been
made conditional upon the attainment of Iman and Sabr (al-Imran
3:139,125 ; al-Anfal 8:46 ; al-A'raf 7:137 ; al-Zumar 39:10).
Sacrifice and Collective
Sabr is a very comprehensive
virtue. One of its many aspects is discipline. Discipline is closely
related to sacrifice; they are in fact interdependent. In its comprehensive
sense inclusive of self-discipline, spiritual and moral discipline,
organisational and social discipline - it cannot be attained unless
you are prepared to sacrifice things you love. Nor can you continuously
offer sacrifice of things to which you assign some value without
developing a discipline within you, an inner discipline. Though
disciplined, collective life, too, plays no less important a role
in reinforcing the spirit of sacrifice. And sacrifice is equally
essential for generating and sustaining such disciplined collective
life. Let us briefly see why.
It is obvious that while walking
on your personal way to God, you will need to attain to greater
and greater heights of sacrifice and self-discipline to succeed
in seeking His pleasure. But once you decide to come together with
others to struggle together to bring the world under the lordship
of its Creator, you stand in greater need of making sacrifices.
Without them, neither your organized collective struggle can take
a durable shape and achieve necessary strength, nor can you aspire
to be successful in your mission. "God loves those who, fighting
in His way, join ranks as if they are a wall of molten lead",
says the Qur'an (al-Saff 61:4). What a beautiful and meaningful
parable. Strong and solid, fused and welded, impregnable and without
cracks and fissures, that is how members of a Muslim community,
joined, welded together, strive in the way of Allah.
Now, how is a wall built? It
is built of many single building blocks, each with its own individuality.
How do the blocks 'join ranks' to turn into a solid, strong and
impregnable wall? One block goes over another, one sits by the side
of another, and so the wall goes up as you start cementing them,
gaining in strength and height at each step. The blocks may look
so similar, as do human beings, yet each has an inner individuality
of its own. No block is required to sacrifice this individuality.
Indeed the richness and strength is gained by virtue of so many
individualities coming together.
But as you build the wall, if
each block is adamant to go its own way, if it is not prepared to
carry the load which will come upon it from the top or give support
to the blocks below it, if a block which is going into a corner
is not prepared to be chiselled so that it can fit in its place,
a strong wall will never be built. Many bricks will have to go into
the foundations below the ground, never to be noticed by anyone
after the building is finished. Yet they will be bearing the whole
load, and without their sacrifice the building will not rise even
above the ground. Many blocks will have to be broken, so that they
can fit into a uniform wall.
Without some sacrifices on the
part of each block a solid wall will never come to exist.
Taken from "Sacrifice:
the Making of a Muslim".