Sorry for the long post. This post is inspired by a discussion with my sister MA!
When I think about social problems the world goes through over and over again despite the much effort to overcome them, I can’t stop thinking about what Prophet Muhammad–peace be upon him–dealt with, not only in his society during his life time, but also how Islam continued to solve those problems throughout the history.
What is really unique about Islam is that it deals with all problems, social problems included, in a comprehensive way the most important element of which is the spiritual element. The spiritual power Islam creates in the individuals is the first and the foremost step towards solutions.
Let me mention a couple of examples to demonstrate what I mean. I will focus on the issue of poverty and the issue of equality. These two problems were two apparent ones among many others at the time before the prophet received the message. The real wealth of the world, at the time, was in the hands of very few nations and within each nation (wealthy or not) the wealth was concentrated in the hands of a certain sector. This imbalance was not due to the cleverness or the hard work of those rich people or nations. Rather, it was because of an unjust political and economic systems that oppressed people, occupied lands, and categorized people into different social categories. Since this is not a research article, I will not quote or put references. However, I invite the reader to check this very small book for more details, quotes, and references. The book concisely describes the religious, social, political, and economic status of the world prior to the Prophet (pbuh) and Muslims’ contribution to fixing them.
The solution to those social problems starts with a spiritual reform to the hearts and the minds of people. This world in its miserable situation was shaken by the message of Islam, the minds were shaken and the hearts were shaken. It was as if it is something new the world never heard of before. The Qur’an, loudly and clearly makes the call: “… Worship God, you have no god but Him!” The Prophet made one, yet very powerful, call: “There is no god but God!”
It was very powerful and inspiring, yet very surprising. People of Mecca said as the Qur’an reproduced, “He makes all gods one god? Indeed, this is something very strange!” The tyrants were really afraid. This is really taking all the power from them. What is going to happen the gods they represent? What is going to happen to the claims some of them made to be gods themselves? What comes with this very strong message is that, other than God, absolutely everyone else and everything else is the creation of God, and that no one has the right to claim better, higher, or more authoritative than others. Even the Messenger himself would make it clear, “I am but a human who gets revelation from God!” This powerful and clear message destroyed the dogma of “godly blood running in the bodies of certain kings or families,” or “that we represent God on earth and by His authority we speak.” The spiritual power “No god but God” created in the hearts of people developed into the feelings the human dignity after almost being forgotten. The messages the prophet makes every now and then, “O people! Your Lord is one and your father [Adam] is one. There is no superiority for an Arab over a non-Arab or for a white man over a red man, all of you belong to Adam, and Adam is from dust.” The Qur’an declares it clear, “O people we have created you from a male and a female and we made you into nations and tribes so you can know one another; the most honorable of you before Allah is the most pious …”
Clear warnings were sent by the Messenger, “He, who has a small particle’s weight worth of kibr [arrogance and self-pride] will not enter Paradise!” When he was asked about what he meant by kibr, he answered, “… rejecting the truth and looking down to people.” People started developing this quality. People starting worshiping God by demonstrating humility. One time, Abu Dhar and Bilal–two of the prophet’s companions–disputed something. Abu Dhar angrily told Bilal (who was a black man from Africa), “O son of a black woman!” The Prophet overheard him. He immediately told him, “O Abu Dhar, you still have traces of ignorance.” Observe how the spiritual power did in this situation. Abu Dhar, put his cheek on the ground and made an oath that he will not stand up until Bilal steps with his foot on his other cheek just to apologize and repent from the mistake he made.
Islam came to made it forbidden to bow or prostrate to any one except God, not a king, not a religious leader, not a political leader. This symbol of freedom, the face, should not go down except in front of its creator. These were not only ideas and concepts; these were beliefs and emotions instilled by the powerful message of “No god but God!”
On the front of distribution of wealth, Islam came to acknowledge people’s right to own property and get rich. It even legislated a lot to protect people’s properties and belongings. It came to even encourage people to have a permissible source of income. It rewards the most people who work and eat from the result of their work. It came to reward the most a ‘deenar’ [unit of gold currency] spent on one’s family. Neither the Qur’an nor the words of the prophet hinted anything evil about making money or getting wealthy. However, it brought two simple concepts that changed people’s heart towards their wealth. Here are they in one short eloquent verse “Believe in Allah and His Messenger and spend from that which you have been made in charge of, those who believe and spend will have a tremendous reward.” The first concept is, “the wealth is not mine; it is Allah’s; I just happen to be given this wealth and made in charge of it. I will be held accountable for what I am in charge of: how I gained it and how I spend it.” The second one is, “If I spend for the sake of Allah, I will get a tremendous reward.” Charity wasn’t thought of as taxes. Charity was thought of as a way to get the great reward, to purify the wealth and to purify the soul. The word charity in the Qur’anic language is called “Zakah,” a word that comprises the meaning of purifying and growth. People were spending money in an unprecedented way. People were competing to spend for the sake of Allah. Poor people came to the prophet to complain to him that they are not rich enough to spend in charity and hence get a reward from God similar to that of the rich! The competition was for spending not for gaining. Spiritual power my dear reader!
The problems our world is facing are not so different from that faced at the time of the Prophet. The solution lies in the same concept. There is no hope in real reform, social or otherwise, until spiritual reform is achieved in the hearts of people. Only then, real social reform can start to be effective.