Ideal Muslim in a Pluralistic Society
In a world plagued with wars, racism, political turmoil, economic downturns, and social anguish, many people are looking for an alternative in which justice, freedom, decency, and common sense will prevail. Such societies have existed in the past, in the golden eras of Islamic civilization, and we have the hope that, if Allah wills, such a society may appear again. But until then a Muslim has to live in this society in a way which will cause that society itself to metamorphose into a just and liberal one.
Here is a picture of what a Muslim’s life in a society consisting of Muslims and non-Mulims, would look like. Drawing on the extensive research of Islamic History and contrasting the ideal with the sorry state affairs in human societies today, let us explore the religious, political, economic, social, and other facets of this Muslim’s life, illustrating everything from the responsibilities of those in authority to the interactions between individuals on the humblest levels. For those who are longing to see a better world, this life offers practical ideas and hope.
The collective lives of the people do not bear any impression of the guidance of the Qur’an and the Sunnah. The lives of luxury led by the ruling few and greed has caused many people a grave economic set-back.
Let us take a look at how an ideal Muslim woman would live in such a mixed society.
The Muslim woman never forgets that the mother’s responsibility in bringing up the children and forming their characters is greater than that of the father, because children tend to be closer to their mother and spend more time with her; she knows all about their behavioral, emotional and intellectual development during their childhood and the difficult years of adolescence.
Hence the woman who understands the teachings of Islam and her own educational role in life, knows her complete responsibility for the upbringing of her children, as is referred to in the Qur’an:
(O you who believe! Save yourselves and your families from a Fire whose fuel is Men and Stones . . .) (Qur’an 66:6)
The Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) also referred to this responsibility in his hadith:
“Each of you is a shepherd and each of you is responsible for his flock. The leader is a shepherd and is responsible for his flock; a man is the shepherd of his family and is responsible for his flock; a woman is the shepherd in the house of her husband and is responsible for her flock; a servant is the shepherd of his master’s wealth and is responsible for it. Each of you is a shepherd and is responsible for his flock.”1
Islam places responsibility on the shoulders of every individual; not one person is left out. Parents – especially mothers – are made responsible for providing their children with a solid upbringing and sound Islamic education, based on the noble characteristics that the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) declared that he had been sent to complete and spread among people:
“I have only been sent to make righteous behavior complete.”2
Nothing is more indicative of the greatness of the parents’ responsibility towards their children and their duty to give them a suitable Islamic upbringing than the verdict of the ‘ulama’ that every family should heed the words of the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam):
“Instruct your children to pray when they are seven and hit them if they do not do so when they are ten.”3
Any parents who are aware of this hadith but do not teach their children to pray when they reach seven or hit them if they do not do so when they reach ten, are parents who are sinners and failing in their duty; they will be responsible before Allah (Subhanahu wa ta’ala) for their failure.
The family home is a microcosm of society in which the children’s mentality, intellect, attitudes and inclinations are formed when they are still very small and are ready to receive sound words of guidance. Hence the parents’ important role in forming the minds of their sons and daughters and directing them towards truth and good deeds is quite clear.
Muslim woman have always understood their responsibility in raising their children, and they have a brilliant record in producing and influencing great men, and instill ling noble values in their hearts. There is no greater proof of that than the fact that intelligent and brilliant women have produced more noble sons than have intelligent and brilliant men, so much so that you can hardly find any among the great men of our ummah who have controlled the course of events in history who is not indebted to his mother.
Al-Zubayr ibn al-’Awwam was indebted for his greatness to his mother Safiyyah bint ‘Abd al-Muttalib, who instill led in him his good qualities and distinguished nature.
‘Abdullah, al-Mundhir and ‘Urwah, the sons of al-Zubayr were the products of the values instill led in them by their mother, Asma’ bint Abi Bakr, and each of them made his mark in history and attained a high status.
‘Ali ibn Abi Talib (radhiallahu anhu) received wisdom, virtue and good character from his distinguished mother, Fatimah bint Asad.
‘Abdullah ibn Ja’far, the master of Arab generosity and the most noble of their leaders, lost his father at an early age, but his mother Asma’ bint ‘Umays took care of him and give him the virtues and noble characteristics by virtue of which she herself became one of the great women of Islam.
Mu’awiyah ibn Abi Sufyan inherited his strength of character and intelligence from his mother, Hind bint ‘Utbah, not from his father Abu Sufyan. When he was a baby, she noticed that he had intelligent and clever features. Someone said to her, “If he lives, he will become the leader of his people.” She responded, “May he not live if he is to become the leader of his people alone!”
Mu’awiyah was unable to instill his cleverness, patience and skills in his own son and and heir, Yazid, because the boy’s mother was a simple Bedouin woman, whom he had married for her beauty and because of the status of her tribe and family.
Mu’awiyah’s brother Ziyad ibn Abi Sufyan, who was a prime example of intelligence, shrewdness and quick-wittedness, was similarly unable to pass these qualities on to his son ‘Ubayd-Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala) who grew up to be stupid, clumsy, impotent and ignorant. His mother was Marjanah, a Persian woman who possessed none of the qualities that might entitle her to be the mother of a great man.
History records the names of two great men of Banu Umayyah, the first of whom was known for his strength of character, capability, intelligence, wisdom and decisiveness, and the second of whom took the path of justice, goodness, piety and righteousness.
The first was ‘Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan, whose mother was ‘A’ishah bint al-Mughirah ibn Abi’l-’As ibn Umayyah, who was well-known for her strength of character, resolution and intelligence. The second was ‘Umar ibn ‘Abd al-’Aziz (radhiallahu anhu), the fifth of the khulafa’ al-rashidun, whose mother was Umm ‘Asim bint ‘Asim ibn ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab, who was the most noble in character of the women of her time. Her mother was the righteous worshipper of Allah (Subhanahu wa ta’ala) whom ‘Asim saw was honest and truthful, and clearly following the right path, when she refused to add water to the milk as her mother told her to, because she knew that Allah (Subhanahu wa ta’ala) could see her.
If we turn towards Andalusia, we find the brilliant, ambitious ruler ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Nasir who, having started life as an orphan, went on to establish an Islamic state in the West, to which the leaders and kings of Europe surrendered and to whose institutes of learning the scholars and philosophers of all nations came to seek knowledge. This state made a great contribution to worldwide Islamic culture. If we were to examine the secret of this man’s greatness, we would find that it lay in the greatness of his mother who knew how to instill in him the dynamic spirit of ambition.
During the ‘Abbasid period there were two great women who planted the seeds of ambition, distinction and ascendancy in their sons. The first was the mother of Ja’far ibn Yahya, who was the wazir of the khalifah Harun al-Rashid. The second was the mother of Imam al-Shafi’i: he never saw his father who died whilst he was still a babe in arms; it was his mother who took care of his education.
There are many such examples of brilliant women in our history, women who instill led in their sons nobility of character and the seeds of greatness, and who stood behind them in everything they achieved of power and status.
The Muslim as Islâm meant him to be, is a unique and remarkable person in his attitude and conduct and in his relationships and dealings with others at all levels. Throughout his long history, man has never been given the components of a virtuous and integrated personality such as Islâm has bestowed upon the Muslim through the divine guidance contained in the Qur’ân and Sunnah.
Islâm does not concentrate on filling men’s minds with philosophical ideas, or on excessive dream-like spirituality, or on physical training and perfection, or on self-serving materialistic philosophies such as exist nowadays in both East and West. Islâm drew up a balanced, integrated program for man’s development, taking into account his physical, intellectual and spiritual needs, based on the sound principle that man is formed of body, mind and soul.
The personality of the Muslim is perfectly integrated and balanced, and no aspect of it is overtaken by others, as happens in other societies where man is brought up under imperfect manmade systems which all too often are governed by selfish desires, reprehensible innovations or deviant ideas. The Muslim as has been explained in this study, is obedient to Allâh, follows His guidance, seeks His protection, accepts His decrees and always seeks to please Him.
The Muslim personality is balanced. He pays due attention to his body’s needs and his outward appearance, without letting it distract him from taking care of the inner characteristics, as befits man whom Allâh has honored, made His angels prostrate to him, and subjugated for his benefit all that is in heaven and earth. Rather, the Muslim is also concerned with that which will form sound intellectual development and ways of thinking, so that he will understand the nature and essence of things. He does not forget that man is not only composed of a body and a mind, but that he also possesses a soul and a spirit, and feels a longing for higher things that makes him rise above this materialistic life and scale the heights of goodness, virtue and light. Therefore he pays as much attention to his spiritual development as to his physical and intellectual development, in a precisely balanced fashion, which does not concentrate on one aspect to the detriment of others.
With his parents, he is an example of sincere filial piety, good treatment, infinite compassion, utter politeness and deep gratitude.
With his wife, he is the example of good and kind treatment, intelligent handling, deep understanding of the nature and psychology of women, and proper fulfillment of his responsibilities and duties.
With his children, he is a parent who understands his great responsibility towards them, which is, as well as flooding them with love and compassion, to pay attention to anything that may influence their Islâmic development.
With his relatives, he maintains the ties of kinship and knows his duties toward them. He understands the high status given to relatives in Islâm, which makes him keep in touch with them no matter what the circumstances.
With his neighbor, the true Muslim is an example of good treatment and consideration of others’ feelings and sensitivities. He puts up with mistreatment and turns a blind eye to his neighbor’s faults while taking care not to commit any such errors himself. He always adopts the Islâmic attitude whereby treating neighbors well was made a basic principle of Islâm, so much so that the Prophet thought that Jibrail would make his neighbor his heir. Therefore he never does anything bad to his neighbor, nor does he fail in his duty towards him; rather, he does not spare any effort to do favors for his neighbor, without expecting any favors, reward or thanks in return.
His relationship with his brothers and friends is the best and purest of relationships, for it is based on love for the sake of Allâh and this pure, sincere, brotherly love derives its purity from the guidance of the Qur’ân and Sunnah. Hence it became a unique network in the history of human relations.
From these strong bonds and deep love emerged a group of the best attitudes and characteristics, which make the true Muslim a wonderful example of humanity, in whom are embodied the values and morals of Islâm. He is loving, not cold, towards his brothers and friends; he is loyal and does not betray them; he is sincere and does not cheat them; he is gentle and never harsh; he is tolerant and forgiving, and does not bear a grudge or stab in the back; he is generous and prefers others to himself, and he prays for them in their absence.
In his social relationships with all people, he is well mannered, civil and noble, characterized by the attitudes that Islâm encourages. These are not the matter of superficial politeness, which conceals ulterior intentions, aims and goals. Rather it is the ongoing good behavior which is taught in the Qur’ân and Sunnah, and which Islâm has made a religious duty for which man will be brought to account.
The Muslim is truthful and sincere with all people. He does not cheat, deceive or betray. He does not envy others. He fulfils his promises. He has the attitude of shyness (modesty). He is tolerant and forgiving. He is cheerful. He is not pushy. He is patient. He avoids slandering or uttering obscenities. He does not unjustly accuse others of ‘fisq’ or ‘kufr’. He is shy and modest. He does not interfere in that which does not concern him. He refrains from gossiping, spreading slander and stirring up trouble. He avoids false speech and suspicion. When he is entrusted with a secret, he keeps it and does not disclose it. He is modest and never arrogant. He does not make fun of anyone. He respects his elders and those who are distinguished.
He mixes with the best of people. He is keen to do good to people and protect them from harm. He strives to reconcile between the Muslims. He calls others to the way of his ‘Rabb’ with wisdom and beautiful preaching. He visits the sick and attends funerals. He returns favors and is grateful for them. He mixes with people and bears their mistreatment with patience. He tries to make people happy as much as he can. He guides people to do good. He always likes to make things easy and not to make them hard.
He is fair in his judgements. He does not oppress others or play favorites. He is not a hypocrite or a sycophant or a show-off. He does not boast about his deeds and achievements. He is straightforward and is never devious or twisted, no matter what the circumstances. He loves noble things and hates foolishness. He does not exaggerate in his speech or puff up his cheek with pride. He is generous and does not remind others of his gifts or favors. He is hospitable and does not complain when a guest comes to him. He prefers others to himself as much as possible. He relieves the burden of the debtor. He is proud and does not think of begging. He knows that the upper hand is better than the lower. He gets along with people and they feel comfortable with him. He measures all of his habits and customs against Islâmic standards. He follows Islâmic etiquette in eating, drinking, giving ‘salam’, visiting people, entering their homes and sitting with them, and in other social activities. This is the clear, beautiful picture of the Muslim whose personality has been formed by Islâm and whose heart, mind and soul are filled with its divine light.
For man to reach this sublime level of noble virtues and morals and to translate them into a living reality on earth is the greatest achievement for which systems, laws, philosophies and ideologies may strive. It surpasses all other scientific and materialistic achievements which are known in our world today, and which dazzle us with their lights and colors. Man is the noblest and most precious of creatures, and all of the past efforts to establish human cultures have been aimed solely at achieving his happiness and elevating and honoring him. The way to honor him is by enhancing his humanity. The culture that concerns itself only with man’s lower desires, without developing and purifying his human nature and awakening his potential for good, is a culture that is sorely lacking. It has failed to fulfill the most important condition of human culture and has neglected the very humanity of man, which is his most valuable hidden asset.
All of the achievements and inventions of human civilization, such as cannons, missiles, satellites, transistors, television, video, etc., cannot replace the human aspect of man and indeed are worthless if they are not used to enhance his humanity, purify him and make him truly happy:
“By the Soul, and the proportion and order given to it. And its enlightenment as to its wrong and its right. Truly he succeeds that purifies it. And he fails that corrupts it!” (Qur’ân 91:7-10)
The development of a society is not measured solely in terms of its scientific achievements and material inventions. These are a factor, but there is another, more important, standard by which a society is also measured. That is the prevalence of human values such as love, empathy, altruism, sacrifice, uprightness and purity of thought, behavior and dealings with others.
If individuals are the basis of a society, and the pillars upon which every social renaissance is built, then rightly-guided societies pay attention to human development and enhance the positive, constructive aspects while seeking to eliminate evil, destructive motives, so that the individual will become a model citizen. It is from groups of such model citizens that clean, civil, strong, healthy, righteous societies are formed.
The Islâmic society is one which is integrated and of superior quality, and the Muslim in such a society is of the highest class because of the teachings of his religion which have instilled in him the highest and noblest human attitudes, and encouraged him to adhere to them in the field of social relationships.
The backwardness, division, hatred and cutting off of ties that we see occurring at all levels — international, regional and individual — among the Muslims are clear evidence of how Muslims are ignoring and neglecting the strong bonds of faith and brotherhood enjoined by Allâh. Hence the misguided ideologies of jâhiliyyah arose in the Muslim lands, and we have been overwhelmed by imported foreign principles that have brought poison and disease, and have made us like debris floating on the floodwaters. This would not have happened to the Muslims if their genuine Islâmic identity and the purity of their intellectual and spiritual sources had been preserved.
The attack against the Muslim world was conducted on two fronts. One was an assault directed against the Islâmic identity and aimed at distorting the Islâmic personality. The other was aimed at polluting the intellectual and spiritual sources, and diverting Muslims towards other, alien, sources. They managed in many Muslim lands to distort the Muslim identity and made the Muslims follow them like sheep in their intellectual matters and the way they behaved and felt. They deprived the Muslims of the values and morals of their religion, and took away the divine impetus which had brought them onto the stage of world history in such a remarkable fashion.
Nothing can restore the health and authenticity of the Muslim identity except a sincere return to the eternal way of Allâh, and a deep understanding of the mission with which the Muslim has been entrusted. This will enable the Muslims to fulfill their duty of conveying this message to mankind, after they have adopted it for themselves as an ideology and way of life.
When our misguided Ummah, which is lost in the mire of jâhiliyyah, subordination and tribalism, finally returns to the cool shade of Allâh, it will once again be the free, strong, integrated, supportive, united Ummah that will never be defeated. Then it will be the Ummah of faith, and Allâh has promised in the Qur’ân to support the Ummah of faith: “…and it was due from Us to aid those who believed.” (Qur’an 30:47)
Thus a Muslim or a muslimah should live in such a way as the sahabah of old, who by their very life, caused the land in which they had arrived (such as India, China or Indonesia) to embrace Islam en-masse.