The Prophet’s uncle and dear friend ‘Abbas ibn ‘Abd al-Muttalib said: “When you were born (O Muhammad), the earth shone and your light illuminated the horizon. We travel in the illumination of that light and in the paths of right guidance.” [Sharh al-Shifa’, and ‘al-Isti`ab]. This path of guidance is more than mere dogma, far more than the routine of robotic rituals. Islam is rather a comprehensive way of life; with a revelation that has been preserved in its entirety, an exemplar who lived in the full bloom of history and whose exceptional life-standard as uswatun hasanah serves as a holistic model of excellence.
Need for Effective Leadership
At a time when there is an evident crises of political and religious leadership, there is a crucial need for operative leadership in the style of the Prophet. A leadership that is vibrant in thought, articulate in expression, warm in engagement, relevant in message, courageous in action, revolutionary in approach, embracing in methodology and compassionate in objective. Leadership that serves as a catalysts for positive change; leadership that is constructive rather than destructive, connecting rather than disconnecting, resolving conflict rather than escalating clashes, offering optimism rather than pessimism, harmonizing rather than polarizing; a leadership that is relevant, practical, realistic and pragmatic.
Whither followers of the Prophet?
More than a billion people throughout the world claim to follow the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and find in Islam our emotional and spiritual sustenance. Islam is our source of guidance, the spring of our moral guidelines, fountain of serenity and spiritual enlightenment. Islam offers ethical guidance that fills our lives with tranquility and motivates us to compassion.
Yet, there are distinct elements that make understanding of the current Muslim condition particularly challenging. Of grave concern is the fact that there is an escalation in Muslims killing in the name of Islam, coupled with the fact that Muslims are increasingly being killed by Muslims. It is apparent that some among those who proclaim to be part of the Muslim fraternity, have lost sound understanding of the higher objectives of our faith and are substituting the inspirational message of Islam by despicable expressions of intolerance, a pomposity of dogmatic self-righteousness and atrocious acts of unjustifiable viciousness.
For any Muslim who cares about his or her faith, this reality arouses intense feelings of concern and anguish. How do we reconcile between the prevalent negative, intolerant, violent public perceptions of Muslims in the world today with Islam as the Faith of Peace brought by the Messenger of Mercy?
Treading the Middle Path
The rising tides of fanaticism, the preponderance of violence in the name of Islam, growing inter-faith resentment and increasing intra-faith intolerance is an untenable course signifying substantial departure from the idyllically Islamic path of wasaṭiyyah (non-extremism). As an ummah (global community of faith) we are distinguished by what we as Muslims share and agree upon regarding the fundamentals of our faith, not by the way we differ among ourselves on secondary issues. We were never intended to be a community bogged down in disputations and discord [Q 3:105].
The Qur’anic concept of wasaṭiyyah nurtures a peaceable environment through a synergy of positive forces. It envisages a degree of confluence and the striking of a balance between reason and revelation, text and context, ijtihād (informed independent reasoning) and maslahah (social goodwill), ideals and reality, rights and responsibilities, distinctiveness and inclusivity, obligatory obedience and free-willed voluntarism, continuity of fixed principles and the imperative of transformational adjustment; between the legacy of the past, the reality of the present and prospects for the future.
The Prophet style was such that he promoted mahabbah (love) not hatred, he promoted rifq (kindness) not harshness, he promoted i’itimaan (trust) not suspicion, and he promoted amal (hope) not pessimism. In establishing the foundation of Islamic civilization, the Prophet’s first act in Madinah, was to build a masjid and establish bond of brotherhood; cornerstones of building a healthy, strong and successful Muslim fraternity. He built foundation of unity and companionship that developed into a global civilization, he did not build institutions of suspicion and division to lead to fragmentation.
Manifesting the Prophetic Example
As we celebrate the birth and life of the rahmatan lil ‘aalameen (mercy unto the worlds), it is incumbent upon all of us to replace the preponderance of suspicion, hatred and violence with trust, brotherhood, kindness and love. It is on occasions like these that we should seize the opportunity to enhance our insight to Islam, develop a higher consciousness of the values of our faith and promote a better understanding of the universal prophetic mission. In engaging fellow human beings, reflect on the prudent words of the Prophet; “A Muslim is one from whose words and deeds other Muslims are safe; and a Mu’min is one in whom humanity at large find safety and security regarding their lives and property” [Tirmidhi].
What the world desires is mindful and empathic leadership; a leadership promoting fellowship, building partnerships and devoid of showmanship. What is desperately needed is a leading voice of reason championing the cause of humanity; rising above the artificial divisions of self-serving prejudices, religious bigotry and party politics.