Thursday, March 4, 2010


Charles Gai Eaton (1921 – 2010)

The case of the Muslims was different to all the others, for we had been, for roughly half the period between the Hijrah and today, the dominant power in the world, the dominant civilization. It is much more difficult for a master to tolerate a condition of slavery than it is for those who have never known power, authority, or independence. It is true that the Qur’an teaches us that, in the lives of peoples as in the lives of individuals, nothing endures and there is no certainty that those who are strong today will not be weak tomorrow: “Thou givest sovereignty to whom thou wilt and withdrawest sovereignty from whom thou wilt....” (Aal Imran 3:26). Nevertheless, human nature being what it is, we find the loss of power, and failure after success, particularly bitter. This is what makes it so difficult for us to consider our situation calmly, objectively, and in terms of factual reality.

That brings me to the very difficult and sensitive question of “political Islam,” that is to say Islam regarded primarily as a political ideology and often as a political slogan. Everyone says, everyone reminds me, that Islam is a total religion from which no aspect of human existence can be excluded, therefore politics is necessarily and rightly included within the orbit of the Faith. True. No one will disagree with this statement as it stands. But we have nonetheless to consider the context in which it is made. Islam is a religion, not an ideology. Ideologies, that is to say theories for the betterment of mankind and the creation of the perfect society, are the product of the Western mind and the Western history. As I see it, what we, as Muslims, should understand by “politics” is the disposition of the affairs of the community; the practical affairs, the governance and regulation of the community, the promotion of good in society and the suppression of evil. These things have nothing to do with Utopian theories.

I recall also a hadith of Sayyidina Isa (AS) in one of the Gospels which, if I remember correctly, goes like this: “Seek first the Kingdom of Heaven, and all the rest shall be added to you.” I take this to mean that, if we give priority to first things, then secondary things will fall into place. This is not simply an ideal. It is a practical plan of action. With regard to the Jama‘at-e-Islami, Dr. Israr Ahmad ascribes their failure to their misconceived notion of faith and the error of their view of Islam; in short, to attitudes based on the Western standpoint and showing a preference for material existence and worldly pursuits. This, surely, is a case in point.

The correct balance between, on the one hand, spirituality and concern for the Hereafter, and, on the other, concern for the affairs of this world is difficult to achieve, but we have to make the attempt and we have, in the Messenger of Allah (SAW), a perfect example of this balance. We know that the Akhirah is “better and more lasting”; logic compels us to take note of this fact.Although our ultimate fate depends upon Allah (SWT), yet seen from our side of the barzakh, it depends also upon our conduct here and now.

This obliges us to pay adequate attention to the dunya, which, in any case, most of us must do for the sake of our livelihood. Of course the young think that life lasts for ever. I have reached an age at which one is well aware of its brevity. To give exclusive attention to the dunya, even in the name of righteousness and in the cause of justice, is, to say the least, short-sighted.

 Moreover, there is another important consideration. There are two kinds of action in this world: the successful and the unsuccessful. Now unconsidered, hasty action, driven by passion rather than wisdom, tends to be unsuccessful, and the more emotionally involved one is in a particular action, the more likely one is to fail. To put this in its simplest terms, action must be rooted in contemplation. Contemplation in its turn demands detachment, that detachment which every Muslim should have at his disposal if he is fully aware of life’s brevity, aware of Divine Judgment, aware of the overwhelming presence of Allah (SWT). Here, it seems to me, virtue and practical necessity come together. The more we act as we should, the more likely we are to succeed.

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