Inward and outward transformation – part II. The seeds of change
The cycle of corruption and correction
Why did Allah Almighty send messengers and prophets? In the varied stories of the prophets, we see a pattern throughout time. We see the spread of corruption, and when it reached rampant proportions, people would need guidance to restore the principles of decency. They were in need of reformation – of inward and outward cleansing and correction, so Allah would restore them and their community back to goodness and justice.
In the words of the prophet Shuaib (peace be upon him), he said he only had one mission – to reform the society:
I only desire reform to the best of my power. And my guidance cannot come except from God, in Him I trust and unto Him I repent.’” (Quran 11:88)
Corruption is hard to root out
Yet, he and the others, from Adam to Muhammad (peace be on them) against the refusal of their people to change their ways.
When we look closely as the lives of Adam and his children, Nuh and Ibrahim and Musa and Eesa (peace be on them) we see that whenever society was sent messengers or prophets, they were met with hostility and resistance. People were reluctant to change at best, and at worst aggressive and violent.
Corruption is entrenched because it suits those in power
The leaders of the community were satisfied with the status quo because it suited their personal interests. Pharaoh and others used their positions of power to exploit their people. Instead of serving their people, they used their people to serve them instead. And we see this reiterated in the stories of Yunus, Dawood, and Hud (peace be on them) as well. Today, we see that corruption entrenched and the same resistance to change. We have seen disparities in society widening instead of being bridged.
Real change requires personal and social development
Allah Almighty tells us that social change only comes about when people are willing to make personal changes. This is why He mentioned the word ‘change’ in the Quran twice in this ayah:
ذَٰلِكَ بِأَنَّ اللَّهَ لَمْ يَكُ مُغَيِّرًا نِّعْمَةً أَنْعَمَهَا عَلَىٰ قَوْمٍ حَتَّىٰ يُغَيِّرُوا مَا بِأَنفُسِهِمْ ۙ وَأَنَّ اللَّهَ سَمِيعٌ عَلِيمٌ
That is because God would never change a blessing He has bestowed on a people unless they change what is within themselves, and because God is Hearing and Knowing. (8:53)
Corruption to reformation
Allah Almighty wants to take us from worshipping idols to worship the creator, from immorality to morality, injustice to justice, humiliation to respect, inequality to equality. These are the main principles which Allah Almighty sent with all prophets. No prophet was sent to humiliate mankind or spread injustice. No messenger promoted indecency or bad character.
Whenever the moral compass of the world loses its right direction, and people follow taghut and tughyan (false deities), Allah sends someone to reform them. When they refuse to listen, and accept change, Allah punishes those who refused to change and saves those who were trying to change.
Change requires effort
Reform takes sincerity and time. It needs plenty of SABR. It requires clarity of direction- what do you want to change and how do you want to change?
We can take deep lessons in change from the example of how the Prophet (peace be on him) steered his society from darkness to light.
The first steps
The change which began in Makkah was sequential – as we see from the first five revelations, Surahs Alaq, Al-Qalam, Al-Muzzammil, Al-Muddaththir and Al-Fatihah. Allah Almighty guided the transformation from ignorance to knowledge, beginning with knowledge of Himself, with tawheed (monotheism) and how to worship Him. Having a good connection to Allah Almighty rescued people from their delusions and superstitions, and equipped them instead with knowledge and facts. Islam is therefore based on facts – about the reality of this life and the hereafter.
Ibadah has to be based on correct knowledge
When you worship Allah Almighty, your ibadah has to be based on knowledge and deep understanding. You can’t worship Him without understanding, as people were doing when they did tawaf around idols; created them and worshipped them or made them out of dates and then when they became hungry, ate them. So there was a transition from nonsense to common sense. Whenever we lose common sense, we need transformation.
Nonsense to common sense
We too, may Allah forgive us, have lost common sense. We are consumed by dunya. Our wants have taken precedence over our needs. We have neglected our needs for prestige. Hopefully this lockdown will bring common sense back to people.
People have been paying more attention to footballers and celebrities than anyone else. The frontliners, our nurses and doctors have been unsupported for so long. We are realising that we need to look after them so they can look after us. They are more valuable to society than all celebrities. So we need to treat them well and pay them well.
Moreover, we are made aware of the importance of good character in order to deliver any message, particularly in leaders. Sadly we have a circus of untrustworthy and disreputable leaders. They fail to deliver the right message. People don’t take them seriously. You need to have the right character to lead others. A personality which people can easily engage with. This quality is called leen in Arabic, which means easy going and kind-hearted.
Spirituality makes us strong
Spirituality is an important factor in effecting change. Finding spiritual connection, leads one from a mentality that is pessimistic, grumpy and angry, to one of optimism and gratitude.
You can’t change yourself if you are very angry. If you keep moaning and complaining, you will not be able to see beyond your nose. You need to change.
No matter how weak you are, you can always change your situation, but you need to have trust in Allah first. You need to know you can do it. There is always a way, where there is a will.
Change requires strength
Allah Almighty wants us to be strong. We need muscles, but our strength has to be both internal and external.
Abu Hurairah (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Messenger of Allah (peace be on him) said:
A strong believer is better and dearer to Allah than a weak one, and both are good. Adhere to that which is beneficial for you. Keep asking Allah for help and do not refrain from it. If you are afflicted in any way, do not say: ‘If I had taken this or that step, it would have resulted into such and such,’ but say only: ‘Allah so determined and did as He willed.’ The word ‘if’ opens the gates of satanic thoughts. (Muslim)
In this hadith the Prophet (peace be on him) told us to seek support and help from Allah and not be hasty.
The revelation in Makkah began with tawheed, as we need a strong imaan to make a difference. Otherwise we will be easily broken by our nafs (desires) and temptations. So we need solid pillars – spirituality based on knowledge about Allah, His attributes, names and destiny.
Seeds of change
Don’t be hasty – you have to have sabr.
Change does not come overnight, you have to plant the seeds in hearts and minds before you can see growth and change in the community. We need to plant these seeds of change in ourselves, our families and communities.
Then you require perseverance. The Prophet (peace be on him) never gave up, even though he was up against a brick wall. This is why he was commanded to leave Makkah and migrate to Madinah.
The Makkan period was typified by idol worship, high levels of haram, and oppression, disrespect to mankind, particularly women, the orphans and the poor. They were not entirely devoid of good character, and had some good features such as generosity towards their guests, and honesty in their dealings and but in that atmosphere, the Prophet (peace be on him) was sent to perfect their character. To improve them through the shariah and educate them so they acted based on fact, not superstition.
The journey from aql to action requires combating repressive culture and traditions
If you reflect in general on the Makkan period, the main revelation was focused on establishing tawheed – sanity in thinking. Questioning their false beliefs by pointing out the signs of Allah all around them, from the sky and the universe to the bee and the camel. The Quran was taking them from aql (using their intellect) to activation (becoming a stable, productive and caring society). Allah Almighty wanted them to think, not just follow traditions.
The Prophet (peace be on him) taught his companions how to escape ignorance and start a new life, based on revelation rather than tradition and culture. This is crucial for any change to happen. It has to be based on solid ground which is the revelation.
The principle of honour
Allah Almighty has told us that all people are equal and honoured:
We have honoured the children of Adam (17:70)
The hadith narrated in many books, with slight variations tells us that we are all equal there is no superiority of one race over another.
All mankind is from Adam, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over black nor a black has any superiority over white. (Tirmidhi)
While no tribe which is better than another, the most honourable among people s the one with most taqwa (obedience to Allah):
O mankind! We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know one another. Verily, the most honourable of you with Allah is that (believer) who has taqwa [i.e. he is one of the Muttaqoon (the pious)]. Verily, Allah is All-Knowing, All Aware. (49:13)
Humility, intellect and trustworthiness
Those who have taqwa do not show off, rather they have humility. The more taqwa you have the more humility you have. No matter how many qualifications and connections you have, if you are not humble, they will not benefit you. I received a call today from a friend whose close friend got a black belt last year and since then he has become arrogant. His company has become unbearable. I said, ‘Look at the humility of Nelson Mandela’. People warm to humility but dislike arrogant people.
The Prophet (peace be on him) taught us to diminish such qualities and he saw the fruits of his work in his life time. He promoted respect for mankind, equality, freedom and justice, over a two-tiered system which favours noble families. He promoted respect for intellect. Sadly, some of our leaders don’t respect intellect, and have suggested drinking disinfectant to combat the coronavirus.
Being trustworthy and fulfilling your trust (amanah) are essential qualities.
Embarking on change is not going to be smooth sailing. You will face calamities and tests along the way. How do you deal with them?
One of the six pillars of faith includes belief in destiny. How you deal with destiny informs how you cope with challenges.
We see this in the way Arabs dealt with death before and after accepting Islam. One of the renowned poets a the time of the Prophet (peace be on him) was known as al Khansa. She was one of the top poets. We see in her works, how she transitioned in her writing pre and post-Islam, shifting from tremendous grief at the loss of her loved ones, to acceptance of fate after becoming Muslim. This internal shift does not happen without effort.
The basic principles of a good society
When the Prophet (peace be on him) went to Madinah, he began to build on the foundations he had laid of aqeedah (belief), and prayer. (The command to perform salah five times had come two years before migration). Prior to that there were no rulings, as people had to become accustomed to the principles.
Once the Prophet (peace be on him) arrived in Madinah, he wanted to build a community. There were less obstacles, as he made treaties with the non-Muslim tribes to create peace.
In his first speech, narrated by Abdullah bin Salam, the Prophet (peace be on him) addressed people and told them to worship Ar Rahman (the Most Merciful) and spread the salam.
You will not enter paradise until you believe, and you will not believe until you love one another: ‘Spread Salaam’ (the greeting of peace) among you. (Muslim)
1. Don’t underestimate the Salam
In another narration he said:
O people! Spread Salam, feed the hungry, be in touch with your kin, and pray while people are asleep (at night) you shall enter paradise peacefully. (Tirmidhi)
How can we establish a good relations with each other? We have to start with salam – greeting each other. Under lockdown, you can barely say salam to anyone, let alone hug or shake hands.
If you have issues in your heart about someone, you don’t feel like greeting that person, so you have to overcome this. Greet them with a smile not a frown. Is there anyone who has no issues with some of their relatives, and is at peace with every single member of their family? No one. This is the nature of humans.
Something which boosts love among people is saying salam. This is simple but deep.
Seemingly insignificant, do not underestimate any good deeds, even greeting others with a smile.
Abu Dharr (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Prophet (peace be on him) said, Do not belittle any good deed, even meeting your brother (Muslim) with a cheerful face. (Muslim)
Thus smiling is very important because it reflects a good or bad connection with others around you. If everyone were to say salam with a smile, it would change the atmosphere, particularly in London.
2. Move from self-centredness to selflessness
‘Feed the food’ has become a real issue in the UK, with the growth of food banks, and the rise in poverty. Feeding others means looking beyond your own needs. Beyond I, me and myself. It means having empathy and compassion and reaching out to the community. By default we love ourselves, but we need to love others too. It’s not all about me. We need to look after each other.
We see this concept in the Fatihah, when we say iyyaka na’budu wa iyyaka nastaeen, (You alone WE worship and You Alone WE ask for help) it has community spirit embedded in it. On our daily prayers. This is why we have to keep repeating it in our daily prayers.
The servant will not reach the highest level of imaan until he loves for people what he loves for himself. (Ibn Hibban)
We see this demonstrated by our frontliners, may Allah protect them, who are serving the community, which is noble and rewarding.
The Prophet (peace be on him) established the foundation of any human society. And introduced change through these pillars. They may seem easy and you might say you know them, but they are not always easy to practice, maintain and improve.
Self-care is of course also important. Do not neglect yourself. Look after yourself so you can look after others. Look after those who need support in the community, whether it is spiritual support or educational support or financial. When you do this, it changes your inward reality. You are not just locked down in fulfilling your own desires. There is a whole world outside and you have to be part of it.
3. Fix broken relationships
Fix your relationships and you fix society. The Prophet (peace be on him) encouraged us to look after our relatives and maintain our relationships with them.
4. Keep a part of your relationship with Allah private
Apart from the ibadah that is evident to others, such as your attendance in the mosque, keep a special page between you and Allah. We need to improve our relationship with Him, such as through praying in the night. From Allah, we get our power and inspiration. Our guidance and strength. He is the one who supports us and gives us sabr and wisdom.
Have this connection and it will give you guidance on what you need to fix. Fix Your salah and get to know Allah more, and diminish your ego. We cannot get rid of our egos 100% but we can tame them.
These are my observations. They follow common sense. Change is a process which begins with the will to change. For it to be effective and lasting, you need firm imaan and knowledge. This will enable you to improve yourself – to increase good qualities such as humility and trustworthiness. When you have these you can initiate change within society.
May Allah enable us to change ourselves, so that we can may earn His pleasure and be agents of positive change. Ameen.
Delivered by Shaykh Haytham Tamim on 2nd May online.
January 15, 2021