The recent history of the Islamic ummah is punctuated with numerous tragedies and
afflictions. From the loss of lands like Palestine and Kashmir, to the slaughter of Muslims in
the Balkans, Muslims from Morocco to Indonesia are painfully aware of the ummah's dire
It is not surprising that the question at the forefront of its mind is that of revival.
How can this ummah lift itself from itís present condition to that described by Allah
(SwT) in the Qur'an as 'The best nation brought forth from mankind'. How can a society
influenced by non-Islam revert to being an Islamic society, like that of Madinah?
An idea held without questioning is that the revival of a society begins by reviving only
the individual. This will lead to the revival of his family, his neighbourhood and then
ultimately the whole society. It is maintained that change occurs from the individual and
grows from there on, until the whole of society is revived.
Changes in society
Societies are dynamic and change from time to time. History has witnessed many societal
shifts. The European states changing from theocracies to secular nation states. Russia's
change from a feudal system to a communist system and then from Communism to Capitalism.
Turkey's change from an Islamic state to a secular republic
On close inspection none of the above changes occurred as noted above. Communism did not
spread gradually from a man to the rest of society by changing individuals. Rather the
idea of communism was held by a group of people who took control of the state and changed
society to match their ideas. When the Bolsheviks took control they were neither a
majority nor a reflection of the majority view. The change from communism to democracy again did
not come from the bottom up, but rather top down with peristroyka and glasnost.
Likewise, Europe did not emerge from its dark ages by change taking place from person to
person. Those thinkers and philosophers who were 'enlightened' struggled against the
clergy to remove its influence on the levers of power. It was a good many years later that
society was at one with the idea of secularism.
Turkey's transition from an Islamic state to a secular republic did not occur by the
young Turks changing each and every individual. Rather the colonial powers gave them support
to take power. By doing so they changed the laws and structures of the State which
brought the change of mindset amongst the people to sustain its existence.
In short we are hard pressed to find any examples in society which reflect the idea that
society changes from the bottom up, that is by changing the individuals alone.
The greatest change that has taken place in society is that which took place in Arabia.
Muhammed (SAW) changed the tribal society of the Arabs to an Islamic society, which became
a global force. We find no proof here of change occurring from person to person, until
the whole society became Muslim. Neither were people affect by pious conduct alone.
Muhammed, prior to becoming a Prophet up to the age of forty was renowned for his pious
conduct. This in itself did not cause a single person to follow him. Once the
responsibilities of Prophethood fell on his shoulders, he gathered a number of people around him who
were convinced of the vision the Prophet (SAW) brought.
The Prophet (SAW) addressed the society without having convinced all his family and
relatives to follow him, Abu Talib being a case in point. The Prophet (SAW) began in Makkah,
but did not wait for the whole of Makkah to revive before going to Madinah. He established
Islam in Madinah, but the majority of the inhabitants of Madinah were not Muslims. This
included four large communities of Jews living in and around Madinah (Bani Quraydha, Banu
Nadhir, Banu Qaynuqa and the Jews of Khayber). The inhabitants of Madinah included new
Muslims as well as Munafiq, in short a whole variety of people were living there. Thus
there is no evidence to say that the Prophet (SAW) changed society by merely changing
individuals one by one.
The Qadr of society
The flaw in the idea outlined, stems from the incorrect understanding of society. The
individual does not influence the society, but the society influences the individual.
A person follows the deen of his companions. [Hadith]
Those who keep the company of a blacksmith will smell like him and those who keep the
company of a perfume seller will smell like him. [Hadith]
The influence on the Muslim youth who live in a non-Islamic society is ample evidence of
this. Thus the influence a society exerts on the individual is far greater than the
influence an individual exerts on society.
This reveals the qadr (nature) of society. It is assumed that society is merely a
collection of individuals. This clearly is not the case. Merely having a group of people
gathered does not make them a society. Fifty thousand people at a football stadium do not make
them a society. That constitutes a crowd. However, fifty thousand people living in a town
does. This differs from a crowd because such a collection of people interact and have
relationships based on some common understanding. These interactions are regulated by an
authority, which is based on the same common understanding. Whether it be secular, tribal or
Thus a society is a group of people that are held together by certain common thoughts and
sentiments. A society is labelled western, if the western values bind its people and are
used as criteria for resolving societal issues. Likewise a society is labelled tribal if
the tribal values bind its people and is used for resolving societal issues.
In Pakistan to give and take a bribe is easily done. A person entering into such a
society soon learns to play by the 'rules'. However when a person comes out of this society and
enters into Britain or America, he soon loses this behaviour, but acquires others. He may
start to openly date a person from the opposite sex.
A deeply religious person coming from a Muslim country does little to affect the Western
society as a whole. Even though many people may be turning to Islam and many mosques may
open, it does little to detach society from its belief in secular ideals. Even 'devout'
Muslims will turn to secular politics, acquire capitalist traits and call for the ideals
of a secular society, whilst still remaining a Muslim.
If society cannot be changed by merely concentrating on individuals, then how do
societies change from one state to another? It was shown above that people in a society are bound
together by certain thoughts and ideas that the government protects and enforces. If
these thoughts can be challenged and another system put in its place, which moulds the people
around different thoughts, society would change.
Looking at the life of the Prophet (SAW), we find that his method was in harmony with the
qadr of society. Muhammed (SAW) gathered people around him for three years. He would take
them to the house of Arqam to given them deep culturing in Islam. This established a
group of like minded people with the same objective. After a period of three years Allah
(SwT) ordered the Prophet:
Proclaim openly! And separate yourselves from the Mushrik. [Qur'an]
From here onwards the Prophet (SAW) began to address the common ideas of that society
which they lived by, like the burying of the daughters, cheating in the market place, and
taking of riba, imitation of their forefathers and so on. He also challenged the existing
It is important to note that the Prophet (SAW) challenged the ideas and not merely the
practices. Burying of daughters was not prevalent. Had it been so, there would have been a
dearth of women in Makkah. Clearly this was not the case, since some men had ten wives as
well as there being prostitutes in Makkah.. However, all the above ideas were commonly
accepted, even if they were not widely practised. It is this fact that made them worthy of
The verse 'Perish the hands of the Father of Flame! Perish he!" was an attack on the
authority of Abu Lahab's rule. Hands being a metaphor for rule.
In 12th year of his Prophethood, he (SAW) sent Musab ibn Umayr (RA) to Madinah. He
managed to change the general ideas of the society towards Islam. Unlike Makkah, they were not
anti Islamic. The Madani society was not perfect, nor the majority of its inhabitants
Muslims, but it became suitable to accepting an Islamic government. The Prophet (SAW) then
sought the physical help from 12 prominent people from the Aws and Khazraj to give him the
pledge of war. They thus facilitated him coming to Madinah to assume power, even though
there were people like Abdullah ibn Ubay who detested this.
Thus by changing the general thoughts of the society and taking power, the Prophet (SAW)
was in a position to effectively remould society according to the beliefs and values of
Islam. Within 10 years of its establishment, tens of millions of people embraced Islam.
This brought about the compelte change of a scoiety from non-Islam to Islam.
Change in a society cannot come by addressing only individuals, since society is not made
up of just individuals. Society is made up of individuals who are bound together by
certain thoughts and ideas that are established and promoted by the government.
Adopting incorrect ideas will not bring a revival in society. Allah (SwT) says in the
Allah does not change the situation of a people until they change what is within
The Islamic ummah will not rise out of the quagmire that it has found itself in, until it
jettisons incorrect ideas and embraces the correct ideas.
"Prophethood will last among you as long as Allah wishes it to last, and then Allah will
raise it. Afterwards there will be the Khilafah according to the ways of the Prophethood
as long as Allah wishes to last, then Allah will raise it. Afterwards the re will be
hereditary rule (by consent) and it will last as long as Allah wishes, then Allah will raise
it. Afterwards there will be biting oppression and it will last as long as Allah wishes,
then Allah will raise it. Afterwards there will be the Khilafah according to the ways of
Prophethood' and then the Prophet (saw) was silent", narrated by Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal.