Islam: A Revolution without Revolutionaries
Dr. Sherif Abdul Azeem
* This is the ‘Eid-ul-Fitr Khutbah of 1417 A.H. delivered at the Islamic Centre of Kingston, Canada
9 February 1997
What are we celebrating today? We are celebrating Eidulfitr, we are celebrating the break of the fast, we are celebrating the end of Ramadan, we are celebrating our efforts in worshipping Allah throughout the blessed month, we are celebrating the mercy, the forgiveness, and the protection from Hell fire that had come to cover all of us in Ramadan. Yes, indeed, we are celebrating all this today, but we are also celebrating something much more important. Some of you might ask what can be more important than Ramadan, the fast, the prayers, the forgiveness…? Yes, there is something far more important than all this — the fact that we are Muslims.
Today, we are in fact celebrating our Islam, our being members of the greatest faith ever revealed to mankind, our being believers in the most beautiful and the most comprehensive scripture that ever descended from heaven to earth, our being followers of the greatest man that ever walked on the face of the earth, our being believers in Allah, the One and Only. Had we not been Muslims, we would have not been here today. We would have not known Ramadan, not experienced the sweetness of the fast, not tasted the beauty of the prayers, we would have not known that today is Eid.
Today we are celebrating, first and foremost, that we are Muslims. We are celebrating the greatest blessing of our lives: our Islam. Islam is the faith that defines us, defines who we are, defines our identity.
Islam is the religion that Allah has chosen for us, has perfected for us, and has granted us as the Quran has eloquently expressed “This day I have perfected your religion for you, completed my favor upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion.” (5:3)
Islam is a favor, Islam is a privilege, Islam is a bounty from Allah. Islam does not need us. We need Islam. All we have to do is to be grateful for such a great blessing and say, “Praise be to Allah who has guided us to this: never could we have found guidance, had it not been for the guidance of Allah” (7:43)
But why is it that we believe that Islam is such a tremendous bounty from Allah? Because there is nothing like Islam on earth:
It is Islam that has taught human beings that the Lord their God is One and Only. That He has no partners, no wife, and no son, and that there can be no compromise on the unity of God.
It is Islam that has taught human beings that they are all equal and that no Arab is superior to non-Arab, nor a non-Arab is superior to an Arab and that the best of all of us is the one who is most righteous.
It is Islam that has taught human beings that they are all brothers and sisters created from a single pair of a male and a female. Therefore, Islam , unlike Hinduism, neither recognizes nor condones the idea of a caste system. Islam is a war on caste systems, on aristocracies, and hereditary social groups of all kinds.
It is Islam that has taught humanity the value of the intellect, the importance of reflection, and the role of the mind in attaining faith. Christians teach that one can never become a believer except when the Holy Spirit mysteriously occupies one’s heart. Islam teaches that faith is the fruit of reason and it is through continuous reflection on the wonders of creation that faith can be obtained, maintained, and nurtured.
It is Islam that has has taught humanity that people of all races, all colors, all ethnicities are perfectly capable of attaining faith in the One and Only God. Hindus believe that Hinduism is just for those privileged to be born in the faith and therefore they do not invite the “less privileged” to embrace their faith. Jews believe that they are the chosen race and even when they accept others to embrace Judaism, those converts are always lower in rank than those born as Jews. Islam rejects all that and calls upon all people of all backgrounds to submit themselves to their Creator. Once they do, they automatically become members of the community of Islam with the same rights and duties as any other Muslim. Islam is not, and can never be, the monopoly of one race or a certain linguistic group.
It is Islam that has taught humanity that God is absolutely Just and Merciful and that He will never punish one person for the sins of others. Christianity teaches that Adam and Eve had bequeathed their sin to all their descendants and thus all humans are born in this “Original Sin” and therefore Jesus Christ had to be sacrificed on the cross to redeem humanity of its ‘original sin.’ Islam says, NO. Humans are not born in sin. No person will be held accountable for another’s mistakes. Every soul will pay for its own deeds, only. Divine justice is absolute.
It is Islam that has taught humanity that righteous deeds are necessary for salvation. Faith is indispensable, but not sufficient. Humans will be admitted to Paradise by their faith and their righteous acts. They have to go together, hand in hand. Many Christian denominations teach that faith in Jesus is enough for salvations. If you accept Jesus sacrifice on the cross, then you are saved regardless of what you may do afterwards because Jesus has already paid for all your sins. Islam totally disagrees. No one can pay for your sins. Faith, doing righteousness, avoiding evil, and continuous repentance are the only ways for salvation. Islam does not accept, nor condone the corrupting influence on the individual as well as the society that can be caused by the idea of a “guaranteed” salvation.
It is Islam that has taught humanity how to balance the needs of this life and the next. Islam does not accept the idea that renunciation of this world is the best means to get salvation in the next. Catholicism and Buddhism teach that by living a reclusive life, one can attain higher spirituality. Buddhism even taught the recluse must make his living by begging. Islam rejects the whole notion of the alleged goodness of renouncing the world. Islam teaches that best means for advancement in the next life is by getting involved in the affairs of this world by commanding good and forbidding evil; by helping one another in righteousness and piety; by doing Jihad, by struggling against all forms of evil, injustice, tyranny, intolerance… Islam does not teach rejection of the world, it teaches involvement, struggle, and change.
It is Islam that has taught humanity that kindness to parents, to kin, to neighbors, and to fellow humans is an essential part of faith and righteousness. Christianity claims that Jesus has taught that one cannot come closer to God unless one hates one’s father, mother, wife, children,…(Luke 14:26) Islam teaches the opposite. One cannot come closer to God unless one acts so kindly towards one’s mother, father, family, neighbors, etc.
It is Islam that has taught humanity that God is very close to them and that He is with them wherever they are and that He hears their prayers and respond to them. Islam teaches that God is so close that He needs no intermediaries to mediate between Him and His servants. Islam does not accept the concept of priesthood and clergy acting as mediators between God and humans. Islam teaches that one does not have to confess one’s sins to a priest in order to get forgiveness. One can simply confess one’s sins to God without any human intervention, seek forgiveness, and God will grant it. Many Jews today still believe that prayers cannot reach God and get a response from Him unless the prayer is made at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. Some even fax their prayers or send it via the Internet to Jerusalem so that someone there would take it and put it on the Wailing Wall to reach God. Islam teaches that wherever one maybe, one can pray to God, confess to God, seek God’s help and forgiveness, and God will certainly respond. No human intervention is needed, no special place or time is necessary. God is always very close.
It is Islam that has taught humans to accept and respect their human nature. Islam recognizes the strengths, the weaknesses, and the needs of humans. Islam never requires humans to behave as angels or to ignore their physical and emotional needs. Christianity does not allow divorce. Islam recognizes it as a human reality. Catholicism considers celibacy an ideal. Islam does not. The Anglican Church frowns upon second marriages. Prince Charles in order to become King of England has to behave as a practicing Anglican. Therefore, he can commit adultery openly with his famous mistress but he cannot marry her or else he will lose the throne for violating the rules of the Church of England. Islam never engages in such irrationality and moral contradictions.
There is nothing like Islam on earth. There is no faith, no religion, no ideology, no system of belief that can rival Islam in its clarity and simplicity ; in its submission to God, the One and Only; in its rationality and intellectual depth; in its egalitarianism and equality; in its spirituality; in its code of ethics; in its unparalleled balance between the needs of this life and the demands of the hereafter. Islam has elevated the human soul, body, and mind to heights that have never been reached by any other faith or tradition. Islam is the only religion that has truly enabled human beings to fulfill their humanity.
Islam is like a perfect piece of art at which the human eye can keep looking and scrutinizing for days, weeks, years on end and still can find no flaws, no defects, and no contradictions. All the human eye can do is to keep wondering at the amazing beauty and coherence of this faith of ours: Islam. Leopold Wiess, the Austrian Jew who embraced Islam in 1926 and became one of the greatest Muslim intellects of the twentieth century has expressed the same level of astonishment at the overwhelming beauty and coherence of Islam,
“I was asked, time and again: ‘Why did you embrace Islam ? What was it that attracted you particularly ?’ — and I must confess: I don’t know of any satisfactory answer. It was not any particular teaching that attracted me, but the whole wonderful, inexplicably coherent structure of moral teaching and practical life programme. I could not say, even now, which aspect of it appeals to me more than any other. Islam appears to me like a perfect work of architecture. All its parts are harmoniously conceived to complement and support each other: nothing is superfluous and nothing lacking, with the result of an absolute balance and solid composure. Probably this feeling that everything in the teachings and postulates of Islam is ‘in its proper place,’ has created the strongest impression on me.”
In a nutshell, Islam is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. It is important to note that Islam is not just a set of ideals, it is a tremendous force capable of transforming and regenerating individuals as well societies and whole nations. The influence of Islam upon the first society that embraced it, the Arabian peninsula, was nothing short of a revolution. Islam has revolutionized Arabia in all aspects of life: politically, economically, socially, and above all morally:
It was Islam that transformed the fiercely independent-minded Arabs who knew no government, obeyed no authority, recognized no state into a nation with a government, a capital, and a respected authority.
It was Islam that taught the anarchic Arabs how to elect a head of state from among themselves and how to run their government upon principles of mutual consultation.
It was Islam that taught the Arabs who never agreed on any form of law to build a nation based on the rule of one sacred, just, and merciful law. Islam also taught them that they were all equals before the law and no one even the daughter of the Prophet was above the law.
It was Islam that transformed the intensely militant Arabs from a group of tribes massacring each other all the time — to the extent that they had to agree on four months of peace every year to prevent their whole race from extinction due to the incessant wars — into one nation with united tribal armies able to confront and defeat the armies of the surrounding superpowers: the Byzantines and the Sassanids.
It was Islam that abolished usury from Arabia and taught the Arabs how to make business transactions justly and fairly without exploitation or abuse.
It was Islam that abolished the gruesome habit of female infanticide from Arabia.
It was Islam that taught the Arabs that women were full human beings, not mere chattel, and that they were their sisters in humanity and in faith. It was Islam that guaranteed for Arabian women their rights to: inheritance, property, divorce, and independent legal personality.
It was Islam that eradicated Alcohol, with all its evils, from Arabia.
It was Islam that ended all forms of prostitution, gambling, and intoxicants from the Arabian society. And it was Islam that opened all doors for freeing slaves.
It was Islam that uprooted racism from the Arab mind completely to the extent that the deeply racist and arrogant Arabs would accept to be soldiers in armies whose leaders were black Africans.
And above all, it was Islam that transformed the idolatrous and superstitious Arabs into believers in the One and Only God. It was Islam that transformed them from idol worshippers into a people who stand together in one line in prayer and prostrate their heads to the Almighty.
Arabia before Islam was a society bound by tradition and precedent. Whatever was customary was right and proper. Whatever the forefathers had done deserved to be imitated. Islam rejected this blind faith in tradition. Islam challenged all the customs of the society. Islam questioned all the mores and manners of the Arabs. Islam introduced to them the standards of morality and the fundamentals of right and wrong. Islam taught them how to think critically of everything around them and how to reject the bad habits and keep the good ones. Islam showed them the proper way for peace and happiness in this life and felicity in the next. This was the essence of the revolution that Islam was.
The question that irresistibly comes to the mind is this: that was the past, what about now? Can Islam revolutionize the world today as it did to seventh century Arabia? Is Islam relevant today? Does Islam have anything to offer today’s world? Yes, a great deal. For us, Muslims living in the West, it would be reasonable to focus on what Islam has to offer to our Western society at the dawn of a new millennium. The West, as the seventh century Arabia and as any other society for that matter, has its own virtues as well as vices. Islam can improve and enhance all the virtues while eliminating — or, at least, minimizing — the vices.
In a society where alcohol is the number one cause of criminal death and injury; where alcohol costs billions of dollars each year in medical expenses and property damage; where alcohol consumption causes the death of hundreds of thousands of people annually; where alcohol is a major cause of rape and domestic violence — Is there any faith more able than Islam to prevent all the ills of alcohol?
In a society still tormented by racial strife; where “black” churches are continuously fire-bombed by bigots of all kinds; where one rarely sees a black person in a “white” church or a white person in a “black” church — Islam has so much to offer because Islam does not tolerate the very idea of a “black” mosque or a “white” mosque; Islam obliges believers to stand together in one line, shoulder to shoulder and foot to foot, and prostrate their foreheads to God so that they learn they are all humble servants of the Almighty.
In a society where violence against women has risen to alarming proportions, where it is not safe for women to walk alone in the dark, where even institutions of higher learning have to provide ‘walk home service’ to protect women on campus at night — Islam has much more to contribute than escort services or karate lessons. Islam does implant modesty and sense of propriety in the minds of the believers, Islam eradicates vulgarity, Islam eliminates any possibility that men view women as sex objects.
In a society as violent as the United States where some 25000 lives are taken every year by handguns alone; where 5% of the world population consume 50% of the world’s illegal drugs despite the arrest of some 700,000 drug dealers every year; where a car is stolen every few seconds; where a woman is raped every few minutes — Islam has a lot more to offer than merely putting more cops in the streets. Islam teaches that prevention is better than cure and that crime can best be reduced by taking care of the family, the community, and the neighborhood. Islam attaches great esteem and honor to the role of the mother because when she takes proper care of her children, the whole society benefits. Islam reminds the fathers of their duties, encourages the neighbors to take care of each other’s needs, strengthen community bonds, advocates commanding what is right and forbidding what is wrong instead of apathy and individualism. Islam always eliminates problems from their roots.
In a society afflicted with intense individualism, excessive materialism, fierce consumerism, and unabashed sensualism; Islam has the intellectual and the spiritual power required to rectify all the excesses of the society because Islam preaches moderation and balance in all worldly and other-worldly affairs.
The influence of Islam is not limited to the social and moral domains, it extends to the political, economic, legal, cultural, and educational realms as well. Two examples should suffice.
In the realm of politics: the egalitarian nature of Islam requires major reforms in the way democracy is practiced in the society today. As it stands, the existing democracy is elitist and lopsided in favor of the wealthy, the powerful, and the special interests. The average person almost has no meaningful say in how things are run by the elite. This state of affairs falls far short of the ideal of mutual consultation in all affairs advocated by Islam.
In the realm of economics: capitalism left unregulated has a tendency to make the rich richer and the poor poorer. In a period of ten years only (1978-1987) the poorest fifth of the American population got 8% poorer while the richest fifth got 13% richer. This is the nature of capitalism; wealth breeds more wealth, sometimes even without any effort or creativity. Islam obliges all rich people to pay part of their wealth annually to the poor so that the wealth gets redistributed in the society in order to protect the poor from perpetual poverty and give them a fair chance to compete in a world dominated by the tyranny of capital.
There is so much in Islam that can truly make the West, and indeed the whole world, a safer, better, and more decent place to live in. Islam is a formidable force with potential great enough to revolutionize the world and radically change the course of history as it once did some 1400 years ago.
The problem is we have got the theory, but we don’t have the practitioners. We have the revolution but we do not have the revolutionaries. And as there can be no democracy without democrats, no socialism without socialists, there also can be no Islam without Muslims. Islam is a message that is in constant need for messengers to deliver it to the world. Yes, the Book of God is there, the guidance of the Prophet is there, the testimony of history is there, but where are the Muslims? Where are the messengers? Where are the revolutionaries? They effectively do not exist.
What does exist in the world today is some sort of “de-Islamized” Muslims. People who call themselves Muslims but the Islam they practice is a vague shadow of the Islam described in the magnificent words of the Quran. Muslims of today practice an Islam without spirit, an Islam without a message to humanity, an Islam without a mission, an Islam without ambition… An Islam without identity.
Islam will never revolutionize the world, as it once did, unless there are true Muslims, as they once existed– Muslims from the inside-out, Muslims in thought and in action, Muslims in theory and in practice, Muslims in private and in public, Muslims in spirit, in intellect, and in emotions.
The road to produce such Muslims is long and hard. It is perhaps more realistic to focus on just one good first step. This first step, I believe, would be to raise a generation of Muslim youth who take great pride in their great faith. A generation of young Muslims whose identity is purely Islamic, a generation of Muslims for whom Islam comes first and everything else – national, ethnic, racial, linguistic identity – comes, at best, a distant second– a generation that totally believes in what the great khalifa Omar once said, ” It is only because of Islam that we gained ‘izzah’ (honor, dignity, and pride), and if we seek ‘izzah’ outside of Islam, Allah will humiliate us.”
I once had a conversation with a brother who embraced Islam several years ago. I asked him about the things he liked or disliked the most about Islam and Muslims. His answer was, ” Everything about Islam is beautiful, but there is one thing I dislike in Muslims…They do not have a great sense of pride in Islam…”
The brother’s point is precisely what we need to ingrain in the minds of our new generation: the sense of pride in belonging to Islam — A pride strong enough to make them declare to the whole world openly and loudly, “We are Muslims, we will plead guilty to that, and we are extremely proud of it.”
[du'á in Arabic]
Ameen! Aqeemus Salaah!
* This is the ‘Eid-ul-Fitr Khutbah of 1417 A.H. delivered at the Islamic Centre of Kingston, Canada