The central focus of the Quran’s teaching is the unity of the Creator and the unity of the created. The society that the Quran wants to establish is based on the principle of the unity of humankind since Allah is the Sustainer of all humankind; He is the Sovereign Almighty of all humankind (114:1-3).
For this purpose, the Quran advocates that Muslims should lead a collective life by being symbiotic parts of the body of the Muslim Ummah. It does not allow classes within the Muslim society on any basis whatsoever. It declares that the entire Muslim society (which is classless Ummah) is one holistic unit.
وَاعْتَصِمُوا بِحَبْلِ اللَّهِ جَمِيعًا وَلَا تَفَرَّقُوا
(3:103) – And hold fast, all together, unto the bond with God, and do not draw apart from one another. [Asad]
مِنَ الَّذِينَ فَرَّقُوا دِينَهُمْ وَكَانُوا شِيَعًا ۖ كُلُّ حِزْبٍ بِمَا لَدَيْهِمْ فَرِحُونَ ; وَلَا تَكُونُوا مِنَ الْمُشْرِكِينَ
(30:31-32) – and be not of Al-Mushrikun; Of those who split up their religion (i.e. who left the true Islamic Monotheism), and became sects. [Hilai & Khan]
إِنَّ الَّذِينَ فَرَّقُوا دِينَهُمْ وَكَانُوا شِيَعًا لَّسْتَ مِنْهُمْ فِي شَيْءٍ
(6:159) – Verily, those who divide their religion and break up into sects (all kinds of religious sects), you (O Muhammad SAW) have no concern in them in the least. [Hilali & Khan]
The universal source that binds the Muslim Ummah together to lead and govern a collective life (without any sectarian conflicts and differences) is Allah’s universal constitution, the Quran. This is what the Prophet (PBUH) accomplished when he practically established the divine state in Medina.
If this is not the case, then Allah clearly declares:
وَمَن لَّمْ يَحْكُم بِمَا أَنزَلَ اللَّهُ فَأُولَٰئِكَ هُمُ الْكَافِرُونَ
(5:44) – for they who do not judge in accordance with what God has bestowed from on high are, indeed, deniers of the truth! [Asad]
وَمَن لَّمْ يَحْكُم بِمَا أَنزَلَ اللَّهُ فَأُولَٰئِكَ هُمُ الظَّالِمُونَ
(5:45) – And they who do not judge in accordance with what God has revealed - they, they are the evildoers! [Asad]
وَمَن لَّمْ يَحْكُم بِمَا أَنزَلَ اللَّهُ فَأُولَٰئِكَ هُمُ الْفَاسِقُونَ
(5:47) – for they who do not judge in the light of what God has bestowed from on high it is they, they who are truly iniquitous! [Asad]
There is no doubt that one of the purposes related to the goal of unity of humankind is that world tensions resulting from political and economic confrontations should end. But there is a higher purpose beyond this. There is a unique universal principle of human evolution and progress: that a nation which has reached advanced civilization and culture than other nations and it keeps its achievements only limited to itself, then its progress stops after reaching a certain point. But if it spreads its achievement and knowledge to other nations then its evolutionary advancement becomes limitless.
According to Robert Briffault’s analogy, if cultural progress remains limited to an island surrounded by an uncultured and uncivilized ocean, then its progress stops after reaching a certain point and starts stagnating. In the same way, if progress is limited to only a group within a nation while the rest of its people are at the bottom of the evolutionary chain, then that group’s progress stops after reaching a certain point and then starts stagnating. The higher evolution will occur only if the entire nation participates equally in it. According to the same principle, if an individual in a group reaches a higher level of knowledge and intellectual achievement, but does not use his position to help others in evolving to a higher level, then his own evolution stops after reaching a certain point. This is the reason the Quran makes the individual, part of the collective group; and the group, part of humankind. It does not let them remain isolated.
One cannot enter paradise by leading individual life. The Quran declares:
فَادْخُلِي فِي عِبَادِي ; وَادْخُلِي جَنَّتِي
(89:29-30) – Enter, then, together with My [other true] servants – yea, enter thou My paradise! [Asad]
When the divine laws become the driver of world affairs in all areas – political, economic, social, cultural, etc. – then the world turns into a paradise and it starts shining with the light of Allah:
وَأَشْرَقَتِ الْأَرْضُ بِنُورِ رَبِّهَا
(39:69) – And the earth will shine bright with her Sustainer’s light. [Asad]
Therefore, one cannot enter this heaven individually, but only through collective living under the holistic umbrella of the Quranic divine laws. For this, it is important that one should join the group of believers (Momineen) who are obedient to Allah. Then, one will enter the blissful heavenly society established according to the Divine Laws.
In the hereafter heaven, it isn’t the case that some part of it is hell. The Quran proclaims that if its divine laws are implemented in a society then it will create a similar type of heaven here, in this world.
Therefore, mysticism is not right from the Quranic point of view because it advocates monastic life in which every individual is concerned with one’s own spiritual progress and does not include the whole society in it. In the same way in the world of politics, the Quran rejects a political system in which one group dominates power and influence while the rest live below under them. Proceeding further, at the global and international level, the Quran declares that a system is against humanity in which one country advances so much ahead that it dominates the rest of the countries in the world. It declares that only that system is worthy of human respect in which all individuals are equal participants.
The Quran says that only that system will last which benefits all humanity:
وَأَمَّا مَا يَنفَعُ النَّاسَ فَيَمْكُثُ فِي الْأَرْضِ
(13:17) – But that which is of benefit to man abides on earth. [Asad]
If that is not the case then the progress of even the most developed country will stop and it will slowly lose its preeminence, and eventually, it will vanish into the dustbin of history. Only that progress and evolution will sustain in the long run in which all members of the human family are equally respected and involved.
وَلَقَدْ كَرَّمْنَا بَنِي آدَمَ
(17:70) – NOW, INDEED, We have conferred dignity on the children of Adam. [Asad]
If this is not the case, then a society no matter how advanced and evolved will stagnate and suffer and will descend into hell like other past nations who behaved similarly.
The Quran has used the word جحیم (Jaheem) for hell which means stagnation. Whenever a nation starts stagnating that is when its hell begins. As Allama Iqbal says:
Taste of laziness from action is self-imprisonment;
The hunter waylays its victim if its hands fold up!
This is the secret of progress and evolution that the Quran mentioned 1400 years ago, and which only now modern sociologists and anthropologists have started discovering. But we do not have to go outside to seek its proof. The proof resides in our own house. That is, the history of the rise and fall of the Muslim nation is a reflection of this reality.
Causes of our rise and fall
When a small group of Prophet’s (PBUH) companions (R) understood the power of this Quranic wisdom then they created such a unified Ummah – by removing all the distinctions of the ruler and ruled; high and low status; rich and poor; and Arab and non-Arab – with the underlying core principle that in every individual’s effort and earning ability, all are equal participants. After the opening Surah, the Quran has described the attributes of Momineen when it declares:
وَمِمَّا رَزَقْنَاهُمْ يُنفِقُونَ
(2:3) – And spend on others out of what We provide for them as sustenance. [Asad]
Whatever We have provided for them they keep it open for the betterment of others. What is the limit of this opening? The Quran replies:
وَيَسْأَلُونَكَ مَاذَا يُنفِقُونَ قُلِ الْعَفْوَ
(2:219) – And they will ask thee as to what they should spend [in God's cause]. Say: "Whatever you can spare." [Asad]
That is, whatever is surplus to your needs. This they were commanded to do. But they went beyond this:
وَيُؤْثِرُونَ عَلَىٰ أَنفُسِهِمْ وَلَوْ كَانَ بِهِمْ خَصَاصَةٌ
(59:9) – But rather give them preference over themselves, even though poverty be their own lot. [Asad]
They always give preference to the needs of others, even if they themselves are indigent and living a life of hardship.
Today, it has become a puzzle as to what the economic system of Islam is. And if someone is told that no surplus wealth remains with anyone in this system then he sees the germs of communism in this system. However, when the wisdom of evolution of human abilities as given in the Quran is understood, then there remains no mystery in understanding its economic system. As mentioned above, the Quran’s judgment is that a system in which an individual, or a group, or a nation keeps to itself the output of its efforts, then the progress of that individual, that group, that nations stops; and it cannot move forward after reaching a certain point.
The Quran calls this type of mentality بخل (Bukhl or miserliness) and says:
وَمَن يَبْخَلْ فَإِنَّمَا يَبْخَلُ عَن نَّفْسِهِ
(47:38) – And yet, he who acts niggardly [in God’s cause] is but niggardly towards his own self. [Asad]
They should know that the one who is miserly in this matter, in fact, harms none but himself. He stops his own self-development. In contrast to this, a group or a nation develops itself further when it tries to help develop others:
وَمَن تَزَكَّىٰ فَإِنَّمَا يَتَزَكَّىٰ لِنَفْسِهِ
(35:18) – He who groweth (in goodness), groweth only for himself. [Pickthall]
Whoever provides nourishment to others, he himself receives the same in return. This was the crux of the principle that the Prophet’s (PBUH) companions (R) had fully understood. The result was that their progress became limitless. There was neither any mystery, nor any puzzle, nor any ideology beyond understanding, nor any supernatural formula in this limitless achievement.
What happened later?
Well, the later followers abandoned that universal principle of the law of progress and evolution. They restricted the wealth individually and within the limits of their family. One group within the nation became the ruler and thus power and authority became limited within a particular group. Beyond this, the entire nation imprisoned itself within its boundary walls of nationhood by ignoring the concept of the universal brotherhood of Ummah. This was the condition of worldly people. And the so-called people of God imprisoned themselves for “spiritual” progress within the walls of monasteries cutting themselves off from the rest of humanity. And on top of this, the people of Sharia started telling that Islam’s purpose is achieved if everyone became pious in their own boundary walls of individual piety. The result was that the nation of Islam as a whole stopped at the place where it was, and started blindly following ancestors, and became fossilized in a time capsule. This is the barrier or جحیم (Jaheem) that the Muslim nation is in since that time. The meaning of stopping at one place is that the intellectual abilities of such a nation become devoid of evolution and progress as a whole. That is, that nation does not possess the abilities of thinking and of rational understanding, and therefore it becomes dependent on other nations. How clearly the Quran describes this situation when it says:
وَقَالُوا لَوْ كُنَّا نَسْمَعُ أَوْ نَعْقِلُ مَا كُنَّا فِي أَصْحَابِ السَّعِيرِ
(67:10) – And they will add: "Had we but listened [to those warnings], or [at least] used our own reason, we would not [now] be among those who are destined for the blazing flame!" [Asad]
Truly we did not utilize our intellect and ability to think, and we opposed him (the warner) with sheer prejudice and stubbornness. Had we listened to him attentively and used our intellect, we would not be in this Hell.
There is another point to note here. A nation that abandons its thinking at a certain point of its evolution deceives itself that it is at the pinnacle of humanity; and that no other nation can reach that level. That is how it pretends itself that its hell is heaven, and does not want to get itself out of the hell it really is in. In other words, it does not see its hell. This is because one can see the prevailing hell only if one has the ability to see it:
وَبُرِّزَتِ الْجَحِيمُ لِمَن يَرَىٰ
(79:36) – and the blazing fire [of hell] will be laid open before all who [are destined to] see it. [Asad]
Let us pray: O Allah! Unite our hearts; so that we become once again the universal Ummah and the role model for humanity in the shining footsteps of the Prophet (PBUH). In the words of Allama Iqbal:
“When the people of God let the thread of unity go from their hands
They fell into a hundred mazes
(Today) We are dispersed like stars in the world
Of the same family, but strangers to each other
Bind again these scattered leaves!
Revive (Refresh) the law of everlasting love!
Free this love from the yoke of false deities
Unravel the mysteries of your Oneness (Tauheed)”
[Asrar-e-Khudi (Dua), English translation: RA Nicholson]