An enquiry into the notion of ‘change’ in light of the Qur’an and Sunnah
The Muslim ummah today is witnessing and experiencing monumental events across the lands of Islam. Following decades of intellectual, economic and political decline and slumber, the ummah is yearning for change and wants to turn a new page in its recent history of humiliation and bloodshed.
The Arab spring brought a glimmer of hope to many, in that, after decades of suffering from tyranny, brutal dictators such as Mubarak and Bin Ali have been toppled. On the other hand, the Arab Spring has ushered in a new era of Western domination, this time with a tinge of Islamic flavour within a secular political system. Such cosmetic window dressings are far from adequate, nor will they save the ummah from the wrath and punishment of Allah (swt).
How can real change occur in this ummah? How can the ummah progress from her state of backwardness? What should the nature and outlook of this change be? This article will explore these questions in the light of the following ayat of the Qur’an.
Change as expounded in the Qur’an
Allah (swt) has sent His Messenger, Muhammad (saw) to us with guidance vis-à-vis the notion of change. Allah says,
“Verily, Allah will not change the (good) condition of a people as long as they do not change their state (of goodness) themselves (by committing sins and by being ungrateful and disobedient to Allah)” [TMQ: 13-11].
“That is so because Allah will never change a grace which He has bestowed on a people until they change what is in themselves. And verily, Allah is All-Hearer, All-Knower” [TMQ: 8-53].
Explanation and lessons
Allah has given us countless bounties which we enjoy. In His infinite justice and fairness, Allah says that He will not alter the good state of a people unless the people disobeyed Allah and committed evil deeds.
According to Imam Ibn Kathir, Ibn Abi Hatim narrated that Ibrahim said, “Allah revealed to a prophet from among the Children of Israel, ‘Say to your nation: every people of a village or a house who used to obey Allah but changed their behaviour to disobeying Him, then He will take away from them what they like and exchange it for what they dislike.” Ibrahim then said, this statement has proof in Allah’s Book and mentioned the ayat 13 of Surah Ar-Ra’d.
Sayyid Qutb (may Allah bless him) stated in his tafsir regarding this ayat (13:11), “He [Allah] does not change any grace, luxury or position of respect, or indeed any hardship or position of humiliation or weakness, until people have changed their actions, feelings and conditions. The change then fits what they themselves have changed”.
It is evident that these ayat have a collective context and focus on people (biqawmin) as a community rather than as individuals. Moreover, although these ayat discuss about the good condition and blessings of Allah, the reverse is also true, in that, when a nation suffers disgrace and humiliation. Therefore, Allah informed the ummah that when we suffer humiliation, Allah will not change that condition unless the ummah changes its condition.
Some Islamic movements believe that if Muslims as individuals possess good morals and focus on their ritual worship, this would solve the crises the ummah faces today. This is a misunderstanding of the aforesaid ayat.
Whilst individuals are part of society, it is the collective thoughts, emotions, practices, values and systems that shape individuals. This is true today as it was true at the time the revelation was sent to Muhammad (saw). The collective jahil trends of the Meccan society contradicted the thoughts, emotions, practices and values which Islam promoted. However, the system in Mecca opposed the change which Muhammad (saw) called for.
Muhammad (saw) came to address the Meccan Qawm, which is why he called upon his uncles (the rulers of Mecca) to accept Islam and rule by what Allah had revealed. He (saw) did not call for individual reform. Rather, he (saw) called for a wholesale change of the thoughts, emotions, practices, values and system of the Meccan society.
Allah is aware of the wants, desires, likes, dislikes and inclinations of every individual and people. Allah therefore conditions a people in accordance with their outlook in life. Allah would not improve their condition unless they worship Allah with unconditional sincerity. These ayat place the onus on us as the ummah to incline towards Allah and obey His shari’ah.
Allah says in the next line of ayat 11, “But when Allah wills a people’s punishment, there can be no turning back of it, and they will find besides Him no protector”.
Allah confirmed that as long as a people obeyed His shari’ah, they would enjoy His blessings and goodness on earth. But should they invoke His wrath by disobeying Allah, then they will find no protector against Allah and His punishment will descend upon them.
After the death of the Messenger (saw), Allah had bestowed His grace on this ummah for centuries and the ummah enjoyed unparalleled and enviable wealth, glory and might. Allah gave this ummah plenty of provisions whereby she enjoyed high standards of life, generations after generations.
Allah grants such blessings to mankind to test them so that they may choose whether to be grateful to Allah for His blessings or not. The ummah felt that the power they were given was theirs by right and they did not pay due attention which Allah’s shari’ah deserved. Hence, the ummah brought upon itself severe punishment. Therefore, Allah altered the blessings with which He had favoured the ummah.
The present condition
The ummah today is colonised and being ruled through dictators and pseudo democrats under kufr laws. We are dominated by liberal capitalism across the Muslim world. How can this be changed through individual reform? Such assumptions centred upon individuals contradict the Sunnah and the aforesaid ayat.
If we are to elevate and revive this ummah, the focus must be to change society, its common thoughts, emotions, practices, values and the capitalist systems by which the ummah is ruled. Yes, individuals will play a crucial role in effecting this change, just as the sahabah together with Muhammad (saw) changed the Arabian Peninsula. However, to focus merely upon individuals would be a fatal error. Change by no means can occur by individual reform.
It is clear from the discourse in this article that real change cannot occur through individual reform unless we focussed on changing the collective. This change must be holistic, not gradual, partial or superficial. The ummah must re-establish the Khilafah which will bring back the grace and dignity the ummah enjoyed previously. It is the Khilafah that will bring an era of real change and progress.
Wakil Abu Mujahid