As Educator: Further Remarks

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Due to misconceptions and secular tendencies, especially in the West in recent centuries, most people define religion as blind faith, meaningless acts of worship, a consolation for life’s problems. Such mistaken ideas have developed in Christendom partly due to Christianity’s historical mistakes and shortcomings. Some secularized, worldly Muslims have compounded this mistake by reducing Islam to an ideology, a social, economic, and political system. They ignore one fact stated in the Qur’an, the Traditions, and throughout Islamic history: Islam, the middle way between all extremes, addresses itself to all human faculties and senses, as well as to each individual’s mind, heart, and feelings, and encompasses every aspect of human life. That is why Prophet Muhammad stressed learning, trading, agriculture, action, and thought.

 

Moreover, he encouraged his people to do perfectly whatever they did, and condemned inaction and begging. For example, he said: “God loves a believing, skilful servant.” The Qur’an declares: Say: “Work; and God will surely see your work, and the Messenger and the believers” (9:105). As all of our actions will be displayed on the Day of Judgment, we cannot be careless and do something half-heartedly just to get rid of it. Moreover, The Messenger declares: “When you do something, God likes you to do it perfectly.” [1]

Islam encourages people to work, and considers our lawful attempts to earn our living and support our family to be acts of worship. Unlike medieval Christianity, it does not idealize (nor even advise) life as a hermit. It forbids dissipation and luxury on the grounds that if we live a self-indulgent life here and neglect our religious duties, our prosperity in both worlds will be in jeopardy. For example, in a concise saying that summarizes the essentials of a happy economic and social life and prosperity in both this world and the next, The Messenger declares:

When you are involved in speculative transactions, occupied only with animal-breeding, content with agriculture, and abandon striving in the way of God to preach His religion, God will subject you to such a humiliation. He will not remove it until you return to your religion. [2]

This hadith is extraordinarily apt in describing the pitiable condition of Muslims over the last few centuries. Speculative transactions signify the dying of a healthy economic life and the resort to unlawful, self-abandoned ways of earning one’s living. Contentment with agriculture and animal breeding is the sign of laziness and abandoning scientific investigation—the Qur’an explicitly states that God created humanity as His vicegerent and entrusted us with knowledge of the names of things. This means that we are to establish science and exploit natural resources by discovering the Divine laws of nature and reflecting on natural phenomena. However, while doing this, we should seek God’s good pleasure and practice Islam.

The Qur’an contains many verses, such as Say: “Are they equal—those who know and those who don’t know?” (39:9), that emphasize the importance of knowledge and learning. It also warns that among His servants, only those who have knowledge truly fear God (35:28), meaning that true piety and worship is possible only through knowledge. Confining knowledge to religious sciences devoid of reflection and investigation inevitably results in contentment with animal breeding and agriculture, in idleness and the neglect of striving in the way of God. The ultimate result is misery, poverty, and humiliation.

The Messenger drew attention to this important fact in some other Traditions, such as: “An hour of reflection and contemplation is better than a year of (supererogatory) religious worship,” and “A powerful believer is better and more lovable to God than a weak one.” [3] Being powerful requires both spiritual and physical health as well as scientific and technical competence. Restricting the meaning of being powerful to physical strength shows one’s total lack of understanding of what true power is based on.

In conclusion, being a good Muslim is possible only through being a good student in the school of Prophet Muhammad.

This attitude was displayed by Ja’far ibn Abi Talib, the Prophet’s cousin, who emigrated to Abyssinia to escape severe Qurayshi persecution. He once told the Negus, ruler of Abyssinia: “O king, we used to drink blood, eat carrion, fornicate, steal, kill each other, and plunder. The powerful used to oppress the weak. We used to do many other shameful and despicable things.”

Prophet Muhammad set the best example for his people in belief, worship, and good conduct—in short, in all aspects of life. His people considered having daughters a source of shame, and so buried them alive. When the Prophet came with the Divine Message, women enjoyed their rights fully. Once a girl came to The Messenger and complained: “O Messenger of God, my father is trying to force me to marry my uncle’s son. I don’t want to marry him.” The Messenger sent for her father and warned him not to do this. The man promised that he would not do so. The girl then stood up and said: “O Messenger of God, I didn’t intend to oppose my father. I came here only to find out whether Islam allows a father to marry his daughter to somebody without her consent.”

The Messenger warned his Companions not to beg. However poor and needy they were, the Companions did not beg from anybody. They were so sensitive in this matter that they even refrained from asking help. If, for example, one of them dropped his whip while on a mount, he would dismount and pick it up himself rather than ask someone to pick it up and hand it to him. [4]

Prior to Islam, people worshipped idols and did not give due respect to their parents. God’s Message told them: Your Master has decreed that you shall not worship any but Him, and to be good to parents (17:23). This Divine decree changed them so radically that they began asking the Messenger if they would be punished if they did not return the looks of their parents’ with a smile. The Qur’an ordered them not to usurp an orphan’s property (17:34) and forbade theft. This made them so sensitive to others’ rights that history does not record more than one or two thefts in that blessed period of the Prophet’s rule.

Murder was extremely widespread in pre-Islamic Arabia. However, when the Prophet came with the prohibition: Slay not the soul God has forbidden (17:33), this evil was all but eradicated. The Messenger also forbade fornication. This ended all kinds of sexual immorality. However, we do find one incident of fornication during that period. It is as follows:

One day a pale and exhausted man came to The Messenger and exclaimed: “O Messenger of God, cleanse me!” The Messenger turned his face from him, but the man insisted, repeating his demand four times. At last, the Messenger asked: “Of what sin shall I cleanse you?” The man replied that he had fornicated. This sin weighed so heavily on his conscience that he desired to be punished. The Messenger asked those present: “Is he insane?” When told he was not, he told them to see if he was drunk. They examined him and found him sober. In the face of his insistent confession, The Messenger had to order the man to be punished. After it, he sat and wept.

A few days later, the man’s partner appealed to The Messenger to cleanse her. Many times The Messenger turned away from her and sent her back. In utmost remorse, she insisted on being punished. The Messenger sent her back once more, saying: “You may be pregnant. Go and give birth to your child.” The woman did so, and then returned with the same request. The Messenger excused her: “Go back, for perhaps your child needs feeding.” After the child had been weaned, the woman came again. When someone reproved her while the punishment was being carried out, the Prophet frowned at him and said: “By God, this woman repented of her sin so much that if her repentance were shared out among all the people of Madina, it would be enough to cover them with forgiveness also.”

Prophet Muhammad established such a magnificent system and formed such an excellent community that not even a Plato, a Thomas Moore, a Campanella, or any other utopian has been able to imagine its equal. Among thousands of other examples, the following illustrates this fact.

Abu Hurayra, one of the poorest Companions, once came to The Messenger. He had not eaten anything for some days. An Ansari by the name of Abu Talha took him home to give him some food. But there was no other food in his house except some soup that his wife had made for the children. She asked her husband what she should do, and they decided upon the following: They would put their children to bed without feeding them. As the soup was too little to satisfy all of them, only the guest should have it. While they were sitting at the table and getting ready to eat, Abu Talha’s wife would knock the candle over, extinguishing it apparently by mistake. In the resulting darkness, they would act as if they were eating, although Abu Hurayra would be the only one eating. This is what they did. Abu Hurayra ate until he was satisfied, and then left, unaware of what had really happened.

The following day, they went to pray the morning prayer in the mosque. At the end of the prayer, the Messenger turned to them and asked: “What did you do last night, that caused this verse to be revealed in praise of you: They prefer others above themselves, even though poverty be their portion. (59:9)?”

 

[1] Muttaqi al-Hindi, Kanz al-‘Ummal, 3:907.
[2] Abu Dawud, “Buyu’,” 54; Ibn Hanbal, Musnad, 2:84.
[3] Muslim, “Qadar,” 34; Ibn Ma’ja, “Muqaddima,” 10; Ibn Hanbal, 3:366.
[4] Muslim, “Zakat,” 108; Ibn Ma’ja, “Jihad,” 41.