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Books Section > The Living Thoughts of the Prophet Muhammad by Maulana Muhammad Ali > Chapter 12: The State


Chapter 12:
Home Life:

The universality of the prophet's message lay in two, or rather in three, directions. In the first place, he claimed to be a Guide for all nations of the world. This, in fact, was a clear implication of the great idea of the oneness of humanity on which he based his religion. Thus he was commanded:

Say, O people! I am the messenger of Allah towards you all. (7:158)

We have not sent thee but as a mercy for the nations. (21:107)

Another offshoot of the same basic idea was that he claimed to be a Guide for all time, so that it was laid down that religion was made perfect by his appearance and that no prophet would appear after him:

This day have I perfected your religion for you and completed My favour on you and chosen for you Islam as a religion. (5:3)

Muhammad is not the father of any of your men but he is the Messenger of Allah and the last of the prophets, and Allah is Cognisant of all things. (33:40)

The second peculiarity of his message was that it aimed at the development of human nature in its entirety, the cultivation of each of its numerous faculties. There was no phase of human life in which he did not claim to furnish guidance. In his own life, every phase of human activity found a thorough manifestation. He was born an orphan and brought up by his uncle; in his youth he earned his livelihood by labour and hard work, including the pasturing of goats; later on he took to trade and had to go abroad for this purpose; he married and had children to look after; he championed the cause of the widow, the orphan, the weak and the oppressed, while still a young man; on receiving the Call he applied himself whole-heartedly to reform the rampant evils, and underwent the severest persecutions and hardest trials of a reformer; he had to fly for his very life to a distant place where he had to organise people belonging to different races and different religions into a compact whole; he had to defend a small and helpless community against overwhelming forces bent on its destruction; he had to lead his followers personally into the field of battle to face the enemy and to the mosque to make them bow before God; he had to declare war and to make peace; he was a soldier as well as a general; he was a law-giver as well as a judge; he led the life of a recluse passing his nights praying to God till his feet were swollen, and that of a man of the world passing his days in the worldly engagements of his growing community; and lastly, he became the head of a State which within ten years after his death was the greatest living empire of the world.

The Prophet was thus not only the founder of a religion which has gone on expanding for fourteen centuries, but also the founder of a State, branches of which are even now spread over the world. He, however, not only founded a State but also laid down the rules and laws by which a good State should be governed. The State which the Prophet founded was invested with physical force, as every State must necessarily be, to fulfil its function of stopping aggression and oppression, but it was one of the unique services which he rendered to humanity that he spiritualised this greatest of all human physical forces. Like the religion which he founded, his ideal for a State was democratic, but it was a democracy based upon the fear of God and upon responsibility to God in the first place. The following descriptions of believers occurring in one of the early revelations, when he was still leading the life of a helpless and persecuted reformer, shows how the two ideas of democratising and spiritualising the State were blended:

And those who respond to their Lord and keep up prayer and their government is by counsel among themselves and who spend out of what We have given them. (42:38)

The chapter in which this verse occurs is entitled Shura, or Counsel, on account of the great democratic principle of counsel laid down here as the basis of the future State of Islam.

But the verse itself gives prominence to the great acts that are needed to spiritualise man, answering the call of God, praying to God and devoting oneself to the service of humanity. The verses that follow show that the Prophet wanted his followers to be trained on spiritual lines while preparing them for conducting the affairs of the State:

And those who, when great wrong afflicts them, defend themselves. And the recompense of evil is punishment proportionate thereto, but whoever forgives and amends (matters thereby), he shall have his reward from Allah; for He does not love the unjust. And whoever defends himself after his being oppressed, these it is against whom there is no way of blame. The way of blame is only against those who oppress men and revolt in the earth unjustly -- these shall have a painful chastisement. And whoever is patient and forgiving, that surely is an affair the doing of which should be determined upon. (42:39-43)

These excellent rules for the defence of the Muslim community which was being oppressed and persecuted at the time, and for the forgiveness of the enemy that was bent upon its extirpation, clearly show that the basis was herein being laid of a Muslim State, because forgiveness could only be exercised towards a vanquished enemy. It was in their sufferings that the Muslims were being told to exercise forgiveness when their turn should come to take revenge on a fallen enemy. The passion for revenge was thus being obliterated from their hearts from the very beginning, and the physical force of the State was spiritualised by making it subject to moral considerations.

In forming a State, some men had necessarily to be placed in authority over others, but those placed in authority were warned that they would be answerable to God, first of all, for what they did in the exercise of authority. The warning to David was a warning to every true believer:

O David! We have made thee a ruler in the land, so judge between men with justice and do not follow (thy) desire, lest it should lead thee astray from the path of Allah; for those who go astray from the path of Allah; shall have a severe chastisement because they forget the day of reckoning. (38:26)

The day of reckoning had to be borne in mind when exercising authority over others. The Prophet also told his followers in plain words that if they were placed in authority over others, their responsibility to God became the greater, and they could not be saved if they did not work whole-heartedly for their good:

There is not a man whom Allah grants to rule people, then he does not manage their affairs for their good but he will not smell the sweet odour of paradise. (Bukhari, 94:8)

When bidding farewell to two of his governors, who were leaving Medina to take charge of two provinces, his last words were:

Be gentle to the people and be not hard on them, and make them rejoice and do not incite them to aversion. (Ibid., 64:62)

It was due to this moral training in the exercise of government that the Prophet's successors devoted themselves heart and soul to the good of the people over whom they were placed in authority. How the Commander of the Faithful felt his responsibility to God may be illustrated by two incidents in the history of 'Umar, the second Caliph. An ordinary citizen rebuked him in public, saying repeatedly: "Fear Allah, O `Umar!," Some people wanted to stop this rudeness, but 'Umar himself intervened, saying:

Let him say so; of what use are these people if they do not tell me such things.

On another occasion, he visited a famine-stricken camp at night incognito, and finding a woman with no food to give her children, he rushed back to Medina, a distance of three miles, and took a sack of flour on his own back to feed the distressed woman and her children. When a servant offered his services to carry the load, he said:

In this life you might carry my burden, but who will carry my burden on the day of judgement?

The foundations of the State founded by the Prophet were thus spiritual. They were at the same time democratic in the truest sense of the word. All people, including the ruler, had equal rights and obligations and were subject to the same law. The Prophet himself did not claim any rights beyond those which other Muslims had. In the actual working of the State organisation, of which he was the founder and the head, there was nothing to distinguish him from others. Outsiders came and asked: Which of you is Muhammad? He was a King, yet he had no throne to sit upon, no crown to wear, no palace to live in, no bodyguard to protect him from enemies with whom he was carrying on an incessant war. The apartments in which he and his family lived were small mud huts without doors, while the furniture of his house was nothing but an earthen vessel for water and a rough mat to sleep on. He passed day after day and night after night without any fire being lit in his house to cook food for him and his family, and had nothing to live upon except dates and water. He never claimed any superiority on account of his being a ruler. When his soldiers were digging a ditch for the defence of Medina, he was there with his pick-axe, and when they were removing heaps of dust and stones, he was one of the labourers who were covered with dust. If ever there was a democracy free from all differences of heredity, rank or privilege, it was the democratic State of which the foundations were laid by the Prophet.

Every one was a subject and every one a ruler in the Islamic State:

Every one of you is a ruler and every one shall be questioned about those under his authority; the king is a ruler and he shall be questioned about his subjects, and the man is a ruler over the people of his house and he shall be questioned about those under his authority, and the woman is a ruler over the house of her husband and she shall be questioned about those under her authority, and the servant is a ruler so far as the property of his master is concerned and he shall be questioned about that which is entrusted to him. (Bukhari, 11:11)

The law was one for all and all were one in the eye of the law, including the Amir, the man entrusted with the highest command, and including the Prophet himself, who was as much subject to law as any of his followers; "I follow naught but what is revealed to me; indeed I fear the chastisement of a mighty day if I disobey my Lord" (10:15).

The head of the Muslim State was also called an Imam, lit., one whose example is followed, because he was expected to serve as a model for others. The first Amir, or the first successor of the Prophet, was Abu Bakr, and the very first words in which he addressed those who had sworn allegiance to him were:

Help me if I am in the right, set me right if I am in the wrong.

And again:

The weak among you shall be strong in my eye till I have vindicated his just rights, and the strong among you shall be weak in my eye till I have made him fulfil the obligations due from him.

The law was to be held supreme, the Caliph himself being subject to the same law as those under him:

Obey me so long as I obey Allah and His Messenger; in case I disobey Allah and His Messenger, I have no right to obedience from you.

It was the Prophet who had laid down this rule of the supremacy of the law:

To hear and obey (the authorities) is binding, so long as one is not commanded to disobey God; when one is commanded to disobey God, he should not hear or obey. (Bukhari, 56:108)

The law of the Quran was supreme indeed, but there was no bar to making laws according to the needs of the people so long as they did not go against the spirit of the revealed law. On being appointed governor of Yemen, Mu'adh was asked by the Prophet as to the rule by which he would abide. "By the law of the Quran," was the reply. "But if you do not find any direction therein," asked the Prophet. "Then I will act according to the Sunna of the Prophet," was the reply.

But if you do not find any direction in the Sunna of the Prophet," he was again asked. "Then I will exercise my judgement and act on that," came the reply. The Prophet raised his hands and said:

Praise be to Allah Who guides the messenger of His Messenger as He pleases. (Abu Dawood, 23:11)

The necessary laws were, however, to be made by consultation. In reply to `Ali who enquired as to how to proceed in cases where there was no definite direction in the Holy Quran, the Prophet is reported to have said:

Gather together the righteous from among my community and decide the matter by their counsel and do not decide it by one man's opinion.

Counsel was freely resorted to by the Prophet himself in all important matters. Medina was attacked thrice by the Quraish, and every time the Prophet held a consultation with his followers as to how to meet the enemy. On one of these occasions he acted on the opinion of the majority and marched out of Medina to meet the enemy, although his own opinion was that the Muslim army should not leave the town. He definitely directed his followers to take counsel whenever an important matter was to be decided: "Never do a people take counsel but they are guided to the right course in their affair." When some people disobeyed his orders in one of the battles and this act of theirs caused heavy loss to the Muslim army, he was still commanded to take counsel with them: "pardon them and ask Divine protection for them and take counsel with them in affairs of the State."

It appears from the Holy Quran that people were gathered together for counsel on many important occasions:

Only those are believers who believe in Allah and His Messenger and when they are with him on a momentous affair, they go not away till they ask his permission. (24:62)

It was due to these clear directions to make the laws for themselves and to decide other important matters by counsel that the first successors of the Prophet had councils to help them in all such matters. It was also in the early history of Islam that great Imams, such as Imam Abu Hanifa, freely resorted to analogical reasoning in legislation, and ijtihad was recognised as a source of Islamic law along with the Holy Quran and the Sunna of the Prophet. The two principles of democracy, the supremacy of the law and the taking of counsel in making new laws and deciding other important affairs, were thus laid down by the Prophet himself. The third principle of democracy, the election of the head of the State, was also recognised by him. He went so far as to say that even a Negro could become the head of the State, and that obedience was due to him as to any other head (Bukhari, 10:54). It was due to such teachings of his that the election of a head was the first act of his Companions after his death. When news of his death spread, the Muslims gathered together and freely discussed the question as to who should succeed the Prophet as the head of the State. The Ansar, the residents of Medina, were of opinion that there should be two heads, one from among the Quraish and one from among themselves, but the error of this view was pointed out by Abu Bakr who made it clear in an eloquent speech that the State could have only one head (Bukhari, 62:6); and so Abu Bakr was elected, being, as 'Umar stated, "the best" of them and "the fittest of the Muslims to control their affairs (Bukhari, 94:51).

Fitness to rule was the only consideration to decide the election, and even a Negro could be elected to rule over the Arabs, as the Prophet had laid down in clear words: "Hear and obey though a Negro, whose head is like a raisin, is appointed to rule over you" (Ibid., 10:54).

People who could elect the head could also depose him in extreme cases if it became necessary, because the Prophet had laid down the condition to hear and obey "whether we liked or disliked, and whether we were in adversity or ease, even if our rights were not granted," and "the authority of the head could only be disputed if he committed open acts of disbelief in which you have a clear argument from Allah" (Ibid., 93:2).

People were required to have the moral courage to point out the injustice of the rulers. The Prophet said:

The most excellent jihad is the uttering of truth in the presence of an unjust ruler. (Mishkat, 17)

The public treasury was not the property of the head of the State; he was only entitled to a fixed salary like all other public servants. It was Abu Bakr, the very first successor of the Prophet, who acted on this rule (Bukhari, 34:15). They had no special privileges and he could be sued in a court like any other member of the Muslim community. The Prophet himself set the example by declaring on his death-bed that if anyone had any claim against him, he should come forward. 'Umar, the second successor of the Prophet, appeared as a defendant before one of his judges. The Prophet had no doorkeeper, and the governors were required to be accessible to all people at all hours of the day. 'Umar issued instructions to his governors that they should lead simple lives and should not keep a doorkeeper who should prohibit people from approaching them.

The Prophet did not introduce any compulsory taxation to carry on war with his enemies; people were required only to subscribe voluntarily if they felt the justice of the cause. He carried on war for seven years only on voluntary subscriptions. The only compulsory tax was the zakat, collected annually at the rate of 2 1/2 per cent on the savings of the year, and the main item of its expenditure was the help of the poor and the needy. Later on 'Umar laid it down clearly that people could only be taxed with their assent and according to their capacity (Bukhari, 62:8). The State was required not only to provide for uncared-for families, but also to pay the unpaid debt of a deceased person when there were no other means to pay it (Ibid., 43:11). As much regard was to be paid to the rights of non-Muslim subjects of the State as to those of the Muslims (Ibid., 62:8).

Positions of authority were considered a trust, and the fittest persons were to be chosen for this purpose:

Allah commands you to make over trusts to those worthy of them and that when you judge between people you judge with justice. (4:58)

Justice was declared to be the foundation-stone of the State which the Prophet founded; in dealing equitably no distinction was to be made between friend and foe, between people whom one loved and those whom one hated:

O you who believe! Be upright for Allah, bearers of witness with justice; and let not the hatred of a people incite you not to act equitably: act equitably, that is nearer to piety; and be careful of your duty to Allah, for Allah is Aware of what you. (5:8)

O you who believe! Be maintainers of justice, bearers of witness for Allah's sake, though it be against your own selves or your parents or near relatives; if he be rich or poor, Allah is competent to deal with both; therefore do not follow your low desires lest you deviate; and if you swerve or turn aside, Allah is surely Aware of what you do. (4:135)

It was with his Flight to Medina, from which the Muslim Era starts, that the Prophet became the head of a State which was soon compelled to enter on warfare. Medina, as already stated, was attacked thrice by the Quraish, in the years 2, 3 and 5 of the Flight, and this war came practically to a close by the Prophet's conquest of Mecca in the year 8. This sequence of events shows that the Prophet was not aggressive. In fact, permission to fight was given to the Prophet after war was made on him, as clearly stated in the Holy Quran:

Permission to fight is given to those upon whom war is made because they are oppressed. (22:39)

Even after permission was given, he was expressly told that his war was to be defensive:

And fight in the way of Allah with those who fight with you, and do not exceed this limit. (2:190)

Though he had never fought during the fifty-four years of his earlier life, he acted as a most sagacious general, and did not allow a drop of the blood of his followers to flow in vain. He kept himself so well-informed about the enemy's movements that in the whole course of a continuous war of seven years, and in spite of the enemy strength, spread over the whole country, being overwhelmingly greater than the small Medina Muslim community, the enemy forces were never able to trap the Muslims unaware or to deal a crushing blow to them on any field. In the battles of Uhud and Hunain, when defeat was almost in sight for the Muslim force, the Prophet warded off the danger by risking his own life and saved the situation. The Prophet had, up to the time that war began, trained his men only on spiritual lines, but when war actually started he did all that was necessary from a military point of view. He had a census taken of the men who could take the field against the enemy. He also made arrangements to train them in the use of arms. Even women were called upon to carry provisions (Bukhari, 56:66), to take care of the sick and the wounded (Ibid., 56:67), to remove the wounded and the slain from the battlefield (Ibid., 56:68), and to take part in actual fighting in extreme cases (Ibid., 56:62,63,65).

War was enforced on the Prophet; temperamentally he was averse to it. He therefore tried his best to reduce its horrors to the lowest possible limit. Strict orders were given that non-combatants should not be killed in war. A woman was found among the killed in one of the battles, and when this fact was brought to his notice, "He forbade the killing of women and children" in war (Ibid., 56:147). "She was not fighting," he said, and added that even hirelings should not be killed in war (Mishkat, 18:4). All non-combatants, including labour units employed in war, were thus exempted; and the battle was a trial of strength only between the fighting forces. War became necessary in order to save the Muslim community from extermination, but bloodshed was limited to the minimum.

It was due to the Prophet's abhorrence of unnecessary bloodshed that he was so generous in making peace. The cessation of hostilities was made necessary if the enemy desired peace:

If they incline to peace, do thou also incline to it and trust in Allah. (8:61)

The enemy's proposal of peace might be insincere; it might be made to gain time and prepare for another war; but even then the offer was not to be rejected. "And if they intend to deceive thee," the verse quoted above goes on to say "then surely Allah is Sufficient for thee." The Prophet's faith in God was to him an assurance -- even so was the faith of his followers -- that even if the enemy made another war, he would again be defeated and would have to beg for peace. The righteousness of the cause was to him a sufficient guarantee that the upholders of that cause would be victorious in the end. The instructions given to his troops show his anxiety to mitigate the horrors of war:

In avenging the injuries inflicted upon us, molest not the harmless inmates of domestic seclusion; spare the weakness of the female sex; injure not the infant at the breast or those who are ill in bed. Abstain from demolishing the dwellings of the unresisting inhabitants; destroy not the means of their subsistence, nor their fruit trees, and touch not the palms. (The Spirit of Islam, by Syed Amir Ali, p.81)

The treatment meted out to prisoners of war shows the same anxiety:

So when you meet the disbelievers in war, smite their necks until you have overcome them, and made them prisoners. Afterwards either set them free as a favour or let them ransom themselves, until the war lays down its weapons. (47:4)

The Prophet actually set free all prisoners of war as a favour, except in the battle of Badr, when seventy prisoners of war were set free on paying ransom while war with the Quraish was still in progress. On one occasion, in the battle of Hunain, as many as six thousand prisoners were set free as a favour.

The war which the Prophet was compelled to fight was thus a mercy at its start because it had to be fought in self-defence; a people were to be saved from aggressors who were out to annihilate them. It was a mercy in the end because it had to be stopped when the aggressor sued for peace -- safety of the oppressed being the object, not the annihilation of the aggressor. It was a mercy for the non-combatants as well who in modern warfare are greater victims of the tyranny of war than even the fighting forces. The aggressors were not to be annihilated because annihilation of the enemy was not the only means of stopping the aggression. The Prophet's viewpoint was that at times a generous peace was a better remedy for aggression than the annihilation of the aggressor, because while an attempt to annihilate a people might only fan the fire of revenge among the vanquished, a generous peace might bring about a real change of heart.

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Books Section > The Living Thoughts of the Prophet Muhammad by Maulana Muhammad Ali > Chapter 12: The State

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