Islam And The New World Order *

Ghulam Haider Aasi

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Islam And The New World Order

by Professor Ghulam Haider Aasi

The destructive consequences of the idol called “nation”, were ever-known to religious peoples, but these are now shattering the hopes and aspirations of the secularists as well. Suffice it to note that the leaders of the world’s greatest nation (the only so-called super power left) are yearning now for a new world order, while the just and peaceful ordering of their own nation has proven to be a farce. The recent Rodney King riots in Los Angeles have brought to surface the facts of glaring socio-economic injustices, ever-present racial discrimination, and the total loss of religio-moral values to the attention of the whole world no matter how much the nation’s leaders try to explain them away.

To the thinking, awakened, and conscientious Western scholars, it has now become evident that no human social organization can work justly and peacefully unless it is based on universal religious ethics. Hence there are efforts for a call for: Global Responsibility: In Search of a New World Ethic, (the title of Hans Kung’s book) which concludes with three basic statements: “No human life together without a world ethic for the nations; No peace among the nations without peace among the religions; No peace among the religious without dialogue among the religions.”

From the viewpoint of Islam, such a call has been made eternally in the final Divine Writ, al-Qur’an al-Karim, that reads:

“Say, O followers of early revelation! Come unto that tenet which we and you hold in common: That we shall worship none but God, and that we shall not ascribe divinity to aught besides Him, and that we should not take human beings for our lords beside God” (al-Qur’an,3:61)

To understand the role of Islam in the ordering of any social and human organization, it is imperative to reflect on the three inseparable, essential meanings of the word “Islam”. The first and generic meaning of the term “Islam” is: one’s self surrender to the One and Only God, the Ultimate Absolute Reality. This describes Islam as the “Din al-Fitrah”, Religio-Naturalis. That is, in its innate nature all the creation is bound to its Creator.

Whereas this description lays stress on the total otherness of the two realities, the Creator, and the Creation, on the essential principle of Taw hid, on the unity and universality of God and His transcendence; it also establishes the principle of equality of all mankind. The first statement of the “Shahadah” - “There is no God but God ... ” provides the eternal basis for universal humanism on religio-spiritual norms, rather than on physical and material forms. Speaking in the Qur’ anic terms, this sense of Islam provides three eternal, universal religio-moral norms, namely, the Tawhid, al-Akhira, and the ‘Amal Salih. Hence, every one’s orientation to God, one’s accountability to God and one’s worth entirely based on his or her actions defines each person first and foremost as Homo Religious, a religious being and then a social being. This also expresses the fact that one cannot be at peace with oneself, internally or externally, or spiritually and physically without being always conscious of one’s self-surrender to God, the Alone and Ultimate Reality.

The second sense of Islam explains its expression as the universal religion - an exemplary and perfect form of the natural religion demonstrated in the actual living of the Prophets and the true mystics and believers throughout the religious history of mankind. It is in reference to this sense of Islam that the Qur’an describes all the prophets as Muslims. It asserts the fact that there has been no group of people who have not been provided with God’s guidance through their own warners and in their own language.

“And indeed within every community have We raised up a Messenger entrusted with the message:
Worship God and shun the powers of evil and among those past generations were people who benefited from God’s guidance just as there were among them many who inevitably fell prey to the grievous error, go, then about the earth and behold what happened in the end to those who gave the lie to the truth. (a 1Qur’an 10:47, 16:36, 35:24)

The perfect and final form of this universal Islam was eternalized in the Divine Writ of the Qur’an and in the exemplary model of the final messenger of God, the Prophet Muhammad (God’s blessings and peace be upon him and all the prophets).

The third meaning of the term Islam describes it as both historical and religious tradition in which case Islamic tradition stands comparable to other religions or religious traditions. The adherents of the true, generic natural and universal religion though clinging ever to the pristine principles and teachings have, nevertheless failed to establish them in their personal and communal lives. It is the awareness of this failure and commitment to the perfect vision of the universal religious values that makes every true believer and a Muslim obligated to work for the social organization of humans - a human society where Divine grace shines through human interactions and where Divine peace flows from nature.

Both the natural and universal levels of Islam provide us with eternal, immutable, and universal religio-ethical norms which can serve as a basis for such an exemplary society where justice and peace, progress and prosperity, harmony, and tranquility prevail, and where the heavens and the earth and all that exists in them live in the presence of Divine glory and perfection.

However, the challenge stands, how the actualize these universal religio-ethical norms. For humanity, the latest and perfect model in history is the society of Madinah led by the Prophet Muhammad and his rightly-guided caliphs, from where we can reimbibe the pristine meanings of these norms and realize them in our lives.
The first of these universal religio-ethical values is the God-consciousness more properly described by the Qur’anic term of “Taqwa”. This God-consciousness is neither actualized by doctrinal claims, nor by mere religio-spiritual rituals and exercise. Rather, it is developed through inalienable Sensus Numinous -creature-consciousness - realizing one’s utter dependence on God and living in His love and fear simultaneously. It is well stated: “the faith stands within fear and hope”.

The second principle is of equity and justice. The true God-consciousness, the genuine religiosity and valid spirituality cannot be separated from the commitment and practice of an absolute justice. In an exercise of justice and equity, all distinctions of class and creed, race and religion, genealogy and gender, nationality and number, are ruled out. The clarion call of the Divine Writ asserts this principle as per the following:

“Behold. God enjoins justice, and the doing of good and generosity towards one’s fellow being; and He forbids all that is shameful and all that runs counter to reason, as well as envy, and he exhorts you repeatedly so that you might bear this in mind and heart.”(al-Qur’an 16:90)

Believers are reminded time and again that God-consciousness and being just are inseparable:

“O you who have attained to faith! Be ever steadfast in you devotion to God, bearing witness to the truth in all equity: and never let hatred of anyone lead you into the sin of deviating from justice. Be just: This is the closest to being God-conscious. And remain conscious of God: Verily, God is aware of all that you do. (al-Qur’an 5:8)

“Do not touch the wealth of an orphan, save for improvement, before he comes of age. And in your dealings give full measure and weight, and equity. We do not burden any human being and with more than he is well-able to bear, and when you voice an opinion, be just even though it he against one near of kin. And always, observe your bond with God: This has He enjoined upon you, so that you might keep it in mind. (al-Qur’an 6:152)

This third principle inter-related to the earlier two is to voice one’s opinion for good and against evil- to enjoin good and to forbid evil. It is the realization of this principle that decides one’s real strengths and weakness in faith both on personal and social levels. The Prophet Muhammad said it perfectly:

“The highest kind of jihad is to speak up for the truth in the face of a government or power (sultan) that deviates form the right path and justice.” (Sunan Abu Da’ud)

It is rather ironic that today many Muslims repeat this saying of the Prophet without bringing it into practice: ‘‘If any of you sees something evil, he should set it right by his hand; if he is unable to do so, then by his tongue; and if he is unable to do even that, then within his heart - but this is the weakest form of faith. ” (Sahih Muslim, on the authority of Abu Sa ‘id al-Khudri).

The adherents of all religious traditions claim their religious communities to be righteous and chosen communities or the covenanted, saved, liberated, or enlightened communities, and the Muslims are no exception to this rule, boasting of themselves as being the best community (khayra ummatin). However, the fact of the matter is that the Divine Writ conferred this honor on the Prophet Muhammad and his companions. The Qur’ an records:

“You are indeed the best community (ummah) that has ever been brought forth for the good of mankind: You enjoin the doing of what is right and forbid the doing of what is wrong and you believe in God .. “(al-Qur’an 3:110)

The Qur’an further stresses the fact that no felicity or happy state is possible unless there is always a vigilant community of truly conscientious believers actively carrying out the eternal command:

“And that there must grow out of you a community of people (Ummah) who invite unto all that is good, and enjoin the doing of what is right and forbid the doing of what is wrong and it is they, they who shall attain the happy state. (al-Qur’an 3:101)

To underscore the indispensability of this principle the Prophet of Islam made it clear in the following unequivocal terms:  “By Him in whose hands I repose: You must enjoin right and forbid wrong, or else God will certainly send down chastisement upon you; then you will call upon Him, but He will not respond to you. No, by God, you must enjoin right and forbid wrong and you must stop the hand of the wrongdoer, bend him to conformity with justice and force him to do justice, or else God will set the hearts of you all against one another.”

Help and correction is needed in the case of both the wrongdoer and the one wronged (zalim and mazlum).
It is for the necessity of this practice of enjoining good and forbidding evil and for the requirements of mankind’s exercises of freedom of will that the Sustainer and Creator of all the worlds did not decree for humanity to be bound by one religious tradition. Rather, the diversity of religious traditions serves a positive purpose of vying with one another in doing good works.

Historically speaking, the Qur’an is the first religious scripture which addresses the question of the Unity of the Truth or the One True Religion and the reality of the diverse religious traditions. This issue is dealt with in the Qur’an in its use of three terms: din, millah, and ummah. As stated earlier, the credit goes to this historical Islamic tradition for identifying every human entirely on religious, ethical convictions, and essentially as a religious moral being. All the other distinctions have no value unless governed by this one.

Every human being endowed with natural religious instinct becomes a member of one universal human community. “All mankind were once one single community” (umman wahidah). It is in response to God’s guidance provided throughout the series of revelations and their bearers, the messengers, that the people differed and divided themselves into diverse communities. The Qur’an states this point clearly:

“And know that mankind are but one single community, and only later did they begin to hold divergent views.  And had it not been for a decree that had already gon forth from the Sustainer, all their differences would indeed have been settled from the outset. (al-Qur’an 10:19)

“All mankind were once one single community; [then they began to differ] whereupon God raised up the prophets as heralds of glad tidings and as warners, and through them bestowed revelation from on high, setting forth the truth, so that it might decide between people with regard to all which they bad come to hold divergent views. Yet none other than the selfsame people who had been granted this [revelation] began, out of mutual jealousy, to disagree about its meaning after all the evidence of the truth had come to them.  But God guided the believers unto the truth about which. by His leave; they had disagreed: for God guides onto a straight way him that wills [to he guided]. ” (al-Qur’an 2-213)

It is interesting to note that many classical commentators of the Qur’an were baffled with the Qur’anic verdict that the religious diversity of mankind is God-willed. In the zeal and human wish to see every human being joining the Islamic tradition, they found it frustrating that every human being having the same natural potential, i.e. being naturally Muslim, could differ with and deny the veracity of the Qur’an and Prophetic tradition. The Qur’an, however, made it clear, that granted the unity of truth, and the universality of Divine guidance, however, for humans to freely exercise their wills and to develop themselves intellectually, morally, and socially, it was necessary to let there remain different religious traditions vis a vis the challenge of the one and true religion - Islam - (one’s self-surrender to God), to all mankind. Human civilizations are not destroyed due to their wrong beliefs, rather, it is their character and conduct which leads to their destruction. The Qur’ an records:

“For never would thy Sustainer destroy a community for wrong [beliefs alone] so long as people behaved righteously [towards one another]. And had thy Sustainer so willed, He could surely have made mankind one single community: but [he willed it otherwise, and so] they continue to hold divergent views. [All of them,] save those upon whom thy Sustainer has bestowed His grace. And to this end He created them [all]. But [as for those who refuse to avail themselves of divine guidance,) that word of thy Sustainer shall be fulfilled: “Most certainly will I fill hell with invisible beings as well as humans, all together AND [remember:] out of all the accounts relations relation to the [earlier] We convey unto thee [only] that wherewith We [aim to] make firm thy heart: for through these [accounts] comes the truth unto thee, as well as an admonition and a reminder unto all believers. (al-Qur’an 11:117-120)

It was in the realization of these teachings of the Divine Writ - the Qur’an, that the Prophet Muhammad established through the first written Constitution of Madinah, the institution of ummah. This institution of ummah did not just mean the community of Muslims, rather, it applied to all human groupings who based their socio-political organization on common religio-moral norms. Later, those ummahs which joined the Islamic socio-political order were further recognized as ahl al-Dihimmah -the religio-moral communities whose physical-political security was guaranteed by the Muslim State. Such covenanted communities enjoyed complete religious, social, culture, and economic freedom, as long as such a freedom was not abused to the detriment of the order of the state.

One should not feel hesitant to accept the historical fact that what the Muslims jurists worked out as codes and laws in terms of inter-religious relations or international relations, the so called genre of “Siyar” cannot be practicable in present situations. Muslim statesmen and scholars can benefit from this literature by subjecting it to critical analysis in light of the norms provided by the Qur’an and the Sunnah. In this respect, neither the critiques of non-Muslim scholars should be ignored, nor should one give a blind eye to the developments made by non-Muslim societies with regard to inter-religious inter-communal and international institutions.

Today, Mankind’s ingenuity in inventiveness has transformed the whole world into a global village where interdependence of communities is an indispensable fact. But our unwillingness to admit the universal religious-ethical norms as the only enduring basis for the proper ordering of our human organizations and societies puts us at the precipice. The proper application of the role of Islam in establishing a just and peaceful social order can help us not only to demonstrate its veracity, but also will provide us with the model which mankind most certainly needs. For humans follow models more than they live by ideals.

Condensed from a speech at the Institute of Islamic Understanding Conference in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia.

Originally published in the Spring 1993 print edition of The American Muslim.