Friday, March 19, 2010

The Purpose and Duty of the Muslim Ummah


Responsibilities and Duties

To the Muslims we have only one very simple thing to say: Understand and fulfil the responsibilities and duties that fall upon you by virtue of your being Muslims. You cannot get away with merely affirming that you are Muslims and that you have accepted God as your only God and Islam as your religion. Rather, as soon as you acknowledge Allah as your only Lord and His guidance as your way of life, you take upon yourselves certain obligations and duties. These obligations you must always remain conscious of, these duties you must always endeavour to discharge. If you evade them, you shall not escape the evil consequences of your conduct in this world or in the Hereafter.

What are these duties? They are not merely confined to the affirmation of faith in Allah, His Angels, His Books, His Messengers, and the Day of Judgement. Nor are they confined to performing the Prayers, observing the Fasts, going on the Pilgrimage, and paying the Alms. Nor are these duties exhausted by observing the injunctions of Islam relating to marriage, divorce and inheritance. Over and above all these duties, there is one which is the most important: that your lives bear witness to the Truth that you have been given by God before all mankind, the Truth which you believe to be true.

The Only Purpose of Existence

The Qur'an clearly states that witnessing to the Truth in a manner that would leave mankind with no justifiable ground to deny it is the only purpose behind constituting you as a distinct Ummah (community), named Muslims.

And thus We have made you a community of the middle way, so that you may be witnesses [to the Truth] before all mankind, and the Messenger may be witness [to it] before you (al-Baqarah 2: 143).

This mission is the sole objective for which your Ummah has been brought into being, it is the raison d'etre of its existence as a society of human beings. Unless you fulfil it you are squandering your life. For this is no ordinary duty; it is a duty enjoined on you by God. It is a Divine command and a Divine call:

O believers, be ever steadfast in standing up, for the sake of God, bearing witness to justice (al-Ma'idah 5: 8) .

It is not a mere trifle but an emphatic and grave mandate, for Allah also says:

And who is a greater wrong-doer than he who suppresses a witness entrusted to him by God (al-Baqarah 2: 140).

You have been warned of the consequences of evading this duty. Look at the history of the people of Israel. They too were appointed to stand in the witness-box; but sometimes they suppressed the Truth, and sometimes they witnessed against it. By their conduct, they, in fact, became witnesses to falsehood rather than witnesses to the Truth. The consequence was that God forsook them and a curse fell upon them.

And so, humiliation and powerlessness afflicted them, and they earned God's anger (al-Baqarah 2: 61).

Witness to the Truth

What does this duty of witness imply? Consider it carefully: You have been given Divine guidance, you have been shown the Truth. You must, therefore, establish by your testimony and witness its authenticity and truthfulness before all mankind. This is a testimony that will make the authenticity and truthfulness of Divine guidance self-evident, for all to see, and a witness that will make it clear and indisputable for all people.

For this very purpose all the Messengers were sent to the world; this was their primary duty. After them, their followers were entrusted with the same duty. And now the Muslim Ummah, as the successor to the Last Prophet, blessings and peace be on him, is charged with this very mission, just as he was charged with it during his lifetime.

Nature and Importance

What is the importance of this witness? You will know its importance only when you understand that man has been made accountable for his conduct and will be rewarded and punished in the Hereafter under the Divine Law which rests entirely on this witness. God is All-wise, All-merciful, and All just. His mercy, justice and wisdom are not such that He should punish people for living against His will while they had no knowledge of it, that He should take people to task for deviating from the right path of which they were ignorant, that He should hold people accountable for things of which they were unaware. [1] It was as a provision against this that the first man He created was a Messenger, and that after him many more were sent from time to time. [2] They were all to be witnesses to mankind, to make it understand and remember the will of God. They were all to teach human beings the proper way of conducting their lives, the code of behaviour that they should adopt to win God's favour, the acts that they should perform, the acts that they should avoid, and the things for which they will be brought to account. [3]

This witness was given by Allah's Messengers so that the people may not be in a position to say to God: How can we be punished for things of which we were not warned? The Qur'an says:

[We sent] all Messengers as heralds of glad tidings and as warners, so that men may not have any argument against God, after [the coming of] these Messengers; God is indeed All-mighty, All-wise (al-Nisa' 4: 165).

In this manner God made His Messengers bear the crucial responsibility for guiding man on His behalf. They were thus charged with a very delicate and grave responsibility: if they bore witness to the Truth properly, the people would be accountable for their own actions, but if they failed in their duty, they themselves would be called to account for their people going astray. In other words, unless the Messengers made people responsible for their conduct by giving them conclusive and indisputable testimony to the Truth, the people would hold the Messengers responsible for their own misdeeds, saying: 'The knowledge that God gave you, that you did not communicate to us; the way of life that He showed you, that you did not show US.' [4] That is why all the Messengers always remained acutely conscious of the burden of this responsibility, and that is why they endeavoured so hard to bear witness before the people to the Truth entrusted to them. [5]

Responsibility of the Ummah

All those who were led by the Messengers to the knowledge of the Truth and Divine guidance were formed into a community, an Ummah. Every Ummah was charged with the same mission as the Messengers of witnessing to the Truth. As successors to the Messengers, every Ummah has the same crucial role and responsibility as they had. Thus, if an Ummah properly fulfils its duty of witnessing to the Truth and yet the people do not pay heed, it will be rewarded and the people will be brought to account. However, if the Ummah neglects its duty, or if it gives false witness, it will deserve to be punished more severely than the people. The Ummah shall be accountable not only for its own misdeeds, but also for the misdeeds of those who went astray or turned to error and wickedness because the testimony given to them by the Ummah was misleading or false.

This, brothers, is the nature and logic of that grave and crucial duty which lies upon me, you and all those who consider themselves part of the Muslim Ummah, or those who have become sufficiently aware of God's Book and the guidance brought by His Messengers.

Notes by Khurram Murad

1. Law of God for Judgement:

The Qur'an has explained in considerable detail the law under which man's accountability on the Day of Judgement depends upon the witness to the Truth rendered by its bearers before him. It is important to understand what the Qur'an says in this regard.

Firstly, why has man been placed on earth? So that he may use his full and enormous potential to conduct himself in that right manner which will fulfil the meaning in his life.

And He it is who has created the heavens and the earth in six days, and His throne was upon the waters, so that He might test you which of you is best in conduct (Hud 11: 7).

He who has created death and life, so that He might test you, which of you is best in conduct (al-Mulk 67: 2).

We have made all that is on earth an adornment for it, and so that we might test which of them is best in conduct (al-Kahf 18: 7).

Secondly, what is the meaning and purpose of man's life? That he lives as his Creator desires him to live: in surrender and worship to Him alone. Not because God in any way needs his worship, but because man needs to worship only his Creator and none else so that his own nature is not perverted and corrupted, and so that he does not live in opposition to its intrinsic character. Also, only by so living, will his earthly life be set onthe right path and will prosper, bringing him peace and happiness (all of which the Qur'an calls falah).

And I have not created Jinn and mankind except to serve and worship Me. I desire of them no provision, neither do I desire that they should feed Me (al-Dhariyat 51: 5S7).

Thirdly, and consequently, man's earthly life must be judged. He must give an account of his conduct, and he must face the consequences of how he lives his life. Obviously, to be judged fairly, this judgement must be made only after his earthly life has come to an end, and only by the One who gave this life, who knows everything, and who is All-powerful and Alljust. Only then can he be judged fairly, and duly rewarded and punished, for everything from the most hidden innermost thoughts to the consequences of his conduct that extend far and wide, and beyond life for generations to come. The judge, in other words, must be the King and Master of the Day of Judgement.

What, did you think that We created you in mere idle play, and that you would not be returned to Us? But, high exalted is God, the King, the True! There is no god but He, the Lord of the Noble Throne (al-Mu'minun 23: 115-16).

And We have not created the heavens and the earth and all that is between them in mere idle play; We have not created them but with truth [meaning and purpose], but most of them understand it not (al-Dukhan 44: 38-9).

Or, do those who commit evil deeds think that We shall place them on an equal footing with those who believe and do righteous deeds, both in their life and their death? How bad is their judgement! God has created the heavens and the earth with truth [meaning and purpose], so that every human being shall be recompensed for what he has earned, and they shall not be wronged (al-Jathiyah 45: 21-2). Every human being shall taste death; and you shall surely be paid in full your wages on the Day of Resurrection; whosoever [then] is saved from the Fire and admitted to Paradise, he indeed wins the triumph; worldly life is nothing but enjoyment of delusion (Al 'Imran 3: 185).

And We shall set up just balance-scales on Resurrectlon Day, and no human being shall be wronged anything; even if it be the weight of a mustard-seed, We shall bring it forth, and sufficient are We as reckoners (al-Anbiya' 21: 47).

He knows the [most] stealthy glance, and what the hearts conceal (Ghafir 40: 19).

Fourthly, therefore, man's ultimate destiny lies in the life to come, in the Akhirah. Equally important is the fact that the account of the Akhirah as given in the Qur'an clearly demonstrates, and repeatedly emphasizes, that one will be judged there by due process of justice, fairly and equitably, mercifully and kindly. Also, no one will be wronged or dealt with unjustly even by an atom's weight.

And vie with one another, hastening to forgiveness from your Lord, and to Paradise as vast as the heavens and the earth, which has been prepared for the God-conscious (Al 'Imran 3: 133).

O my people, surely this worldly life is but a brief enjoyment; surely the world to come is the home abiding. [There] whosoever does an evil deed shall be recompensed only with the like of it, but whosoever does righteous deeds be it man or woman, and is a believer those shall enter Paradise, therein provided [with blessings] beyond all reckoning (Ghafir 40: 39-40).

Surely God shall not wrong so much as an atoms weight (al-Nisa' 4: 40).

Fifthly, in all fairness, therefore, man must be made aware of how he should live his earthly life. In other words, he should know of his Creator and Lord, of what He desires of him, of how He wants him to worship Him and surrender to Him. Unless man knows all this, he cannot be held fully responsible and accountable if he pursues a wrong way of life. Such knowledge has been given to him in his own nature, in the universe around him, and in the revelations sent through God's Messengers.

And when your Lord brought forth from the Children of Adam, from their loins, their descendants, and made them bear witness about themselves: Am I not your Lord? They said: Yes, we bear witness lest you say on the Day of Resurrection: We were unaware of this. Or lest you say: Our fathers ascribed partners [to God] aforetime, and we were but their descendants after them. What, wilt Thou then destroy us for the deeds of the vain-doers? (al-A'raf 7: 172-3) .

How many a sign there is in the heavens and on earth which they pass by [unthinkingly], and on which they turn their backs! And most of them do not believe in God, but they ascribe partners [to Him] (Yusuf 12: 105-6).

[And God will say:] O community of jinn and men, did not Messengers come unto you from among you, who conveyed unto you My revelations and warned you of the meeting of this your day? . . . That is because your Lord would not destroy communities unjustly, while their people are ignorant (al-An'am 6: 130-1).

Sixthly, for a number of reasons, all of which it is not possible to discuss here, only God, and no one else, can provide man with the knowledge of the right guidance. Firstly and primarily, because only He can tell how man should relate to Him. Secondly, because only the Creator can tell him how he should relate to himself, to other human beings, and to all other things in the universe. And, finally, because only God can give man a guidance which will be applicable universally, and for all times.

Say: Is there any of those you associate [with God] who guides to the Truth? Say: Only God guides to the Truth. Thus, then, He who guides to the Truth deserves more to be followed or He who cannot guide unless he be guided? What ails you? How judge you? And most of them follow nothing but conjecture, and conjecture can never take the place of truth (Yunus 10: 35-6).

Say: Shall we call, apart from God, on that which neither benefits us nor harms us, and shall we be turned back on our heels after God has guided us aright? Like one lured to bewilderment on the earth by Satans, and he has friends who call him to guidance: Come to us! Say: God's guidance is the only [true] guidance; and so we have been commanded to surrender to the Lord of all the worlds (al-An'am 6: 71).

This, then, is the Divine law for the judgement of man. Central to this law is that the Truth be witnessed before mankind fully, faithfully, and by all possible means. For without guidance from God, man's earthly life, both individual and collective, will result in misery and suffering. But, more importantly, without that guidance man will never be in a position to make his ultimate destiny glorious.*

2. God's promise to guide:

Adam, according to the Qur'an, is neither a mythical figure nor merely a symbol of the human race. He is mentioned, as a Messenger, along with Noah and Abraham.

God chose Adam, and Noah, and the House of Abraham and the House of Imran above all mankind, offspring of one another (Al 'Imran 3: 33).

He was given knowledge and guidance (2: 31-5); when he erred and his weaknesses became known to him, God turned towards him in mercy, exhalted him, guided him and promised him and his progeny continuing guidance (20: 115-27, 2: 3S9).

Adam disobeyed his Lord, and so he erred. Thereafter his Lord chose him, and so He turned towards him, and He guided him. He said: Get you down, both of you, from here, each of you an enemy to each. Nonetheless, there shall most certainly come unto you guidance from Me; and he who follows My guidance shall not go astray, neither shall he be unprosperous. But whosoever turns away from My remembrance, his shall be a life of narrow scope; and on the Resurrection Day, We shall raise him blind. He shall say: O my Lord, why has Thou raised me blind, whereas I was given sight? God shall say: Thus it is. Our revelations came unto you and you did forget them; and so today you are forgotten (Ta Ha 20: 121-6).

3. Messengers and their mission:

It was in fulfilment of this promise to mankind that, firstly, God sent His Messengers with His guidance, with the Truth, to every people some of them the Qur'an has named, some it has not.

We have sent you [O Prophet] with the Truth, as a bearer of glad tidings and a warner; not a community there is, but there has passed away in it a warner (al-Fatir 35: 24).

We have revealed to you [O Prophet] as We revealed to Noah and the Prophets after him, as We revealed to Abraham and Ishmael and Isaac and Jacob and their descendants, including Jesus and Job and Jonah and Aaron and Solomon, and as We gave to David Psalms; and Messengers We have mentioned to you before, and Messengers We have not mentioned to you; and as God spoke His word unto Moses. Messengers [We sent] as heralds of glad tidings and as warners, so that mankind might have no excuse before God after [the coming of] the Messengers; and God is All-mighty, All-wise (al-Nisa' 4: 163-5).

Secondly, He charged all of them with this mission and duty: to communicate the Truth, to invite people to worship the One God alone and surrender to Him as their only Lord by word and example. In other words, to witness to the Truth before men and women to whom they were sent, so that they could have no plea to make before God, so that they could be questioned as to how they lived their lives, so that those who lived by the Truth could be rewarded, and those who did not could be punished.

And We never sent, before you, any Messenger except that We revealed to him: There is no god but I; so serve and worship only Me (al-Anbiya' 21: 25).

And this was Our argument, which We gave to Abraham as against his people. We raise up in degrees whom We will; surely your Lord is All-wise, All-knowing. And We gave Isaac and Jacob, and both of them We guided and Noah We guided beforeand [We guided] of his descendants: David, and Solomon, and Job, and Joseph, and Moses, and Aaron and thes do We reward the doers of good Zachariah and John, and Jesus, and Elijah, each was of the righteous; and Ishmael, and Elisha, and Jonah, and Lut. And every one of them did We favour above other people. And [likewise We guided] some of their forefathers and their descendants and their brethren. And We elected them, and guided them onto the straight path. That is God's guidance; He guides by it whomsoever He wills of His servants. And had they ascribed partners [to God], in vain would have been all that they ever did. Those are they to whom We gave the Book, and the Judgement, and the Prophethood. So if these deny this [Our guidance], We have entrusted it to people who do not disbelieve in it. Those [Messengers] are they whom God has guided; follow, then, their guidance. Say: I ask of you no reward for it; it is but a reminder unto all mankind (al-An'am 6: 83-90).

Indeed We sent forth Our Messengers with clear revelations and We sent down with them the Book and the Balance, so that mankind may establish justice (al-Hadld 57: 25).

The Prophet Muhammad was the last of them. He did not bring any new Truth, message or guidance; he came with the same Truth, and was entrusted with the same mission and duty as were all the Messengers preceding him. This duty and mission has been expressed in a number of ways: warning (indhar), bringing glad tidings (tabshir), inviting and calling (da'wah), communicating (tabligh), reminding (dhikr), teaching (ta'lim), conveying and propagating (tilawah), enjoining and promoting what is good and right and forbidding and eradicating what is wrong and bad (amr bi 'l-ma'ruf wa nahl 'ani 'l-munkar), establishing Din (iqamah), establishing justice (qist), making the Divine guidance and Din prevail (izhar), or witnessing (shahadah). All these expressions pertain to the same mission, though from different perspectives and with different emphases.

O Prophet, We have sent you as a witness [to the Truth], and as a herald of glad tidings and a warner, and as one who calls to God, by His leave, and as a light-giving lamp (al-Ahzab 33: 45-6).

O Messenger, deliver that which has been sent down to you from your Lord; for if you do not, you will not have delivered His message (al-Ma'idah 5: 67).

Even so We have sent among you, of yourselves, a Messenger, to convey unto you Our revelations, and to purify you, and to teach you the Book and wisdom, and to teach you that which you knew not (al-Baqarah 2: 151).

It is He who has sent forth His Messenger with the guidance and the way of the Truth, so that he makes it prevail over all other ways of life; and God suffices as a witness (al-Fath 48: 28; also 9: 33, 61: 9).

. . . and those [among the followers of Moses] who follow the Messenger, the unlettered Prophet, whom they find written down with them in the Torah and the Gospel, who will enjoin upon them the right and forbid them the wrong, and make lawful to them the good things and make unlawful for them the bad things, and lift from them their burdens and the shackles that were upon them. Those who believe in him and succour him and help him, and follow the light that has been sent down with him it is they who are the prosperous (al-A'raf 7: 157).

4. Man's accountability and the witness:

The witness given by the Messengers, and by all those who are charged with the same duty, is the basis for man's accountability in the Akhirah, and his consequent reward and punishment. The Truth is witnessed before them so that they are left with no argument against God; they will be charged because they received it: this position has been stated in the Qur'an in many places and from many different perspectives, as we have seen before.

Whoever follows the right path, follows it for his own good, and whoever goes astray, goes astray to his own loss; and no bearer of burdens shall bear the burden of another. We never chastise, until we have sent forth a Messenger (al-Isra' 17:15)

So, [on Judgement Day,] We shall most certainly call to account all those unto whom [Our] message was sent, and We shall most certainly call to account the Message-bearers and thereupon We shall most certainly relate unto them [their account] with knowledge, for We were never absent (al-A'raf 7: 6-7). And when We took a pledge from all the Prophets from you [O Prophet], and from Noah, and Abraham, and Moses, and Jesus, the son of Mary We took from them a solemn pledge, so that He might question the truthful concerning their truthfulness, and He has prepared for those who deny the truth a painful punishment (al-Ahzab 33: 7-8).

The day when God shall assemble all the Messengers, and say: What answer were you given? They shall say: We have no knowledge; Thou art the Knower of the things unseen (al-Ma'idah 5: 109).

[And God will say:] O community of jinn and men, did not Messengers come unto you from among you, who conveyed unto you My revelations and warned you of the meeting of this your day? They shall say: We bear witness against ourselves. They were deluded by the life of this world, and they bear witness against themselves that they had been disbelievers (al-An'am 6: 130).

Then the disbelievers shall be driven in companies into Jahannam till, when they reach it, its gates will be opened, and its keepers will say to them: Did not Messengers come to you, from among yourselves, who conveyed unto you your Lord's revelations, and warn you against the meeting of this your Day? They shall say: Yes, indeed! But the word of punishment will have fallen due upon the disbelievers; and it shall be said to them: Enter the gates of Jahannam, to dwell therein forever. How evil is the abode of those who are arrogant! (al-Zumar 39: 71-2).

Surely We shall help Our Messengers and those who have believed, in this world's life and on the Day when all the witnesses shall stand up the day when their excuses shall not profit the evil-doers, and theirs shall be the curse, and theirs the evil abode (Ghafir 40: S1-2).

5. Sense of responsibility:

The Qur'an gives a very moving account of how God's Messengers devoted themselves in all earnestness to their mission, how they laboured hard to fulfil their duty, how they suffered heavily in their cause. Their history is ample testimony of this. But here two examples should suffice: firstly, that of the Prophet Noah and secondly, that of the Prophet Muhammad, blessings and peace be on them.

Indeed, We sent Noah unto his people, and he dwelt among them a thousand years, all but fifty . . . (al-'Ankabut 29: 14) .

He [Noah] said: My Lord, I have been calling my people night and day, but my call has only caused them to flee farther away. And whenever I called them, that Thou mightest forgive them, they put their fingers in their ears, and wrapped themselves in their garments, and persisted, and became arrogant in their pride. Then indeed I called them openly, then indeed I spoke publicly unto them, and I spoke unto them in private (Nuh. 71: 5-9).

Would you [O Prophet], perhaps, torment yourself to death because they refuse to believe? (al-Shuiara' 26: 3).

No comments: