True Reform and True Reformers

Dr. Muzammil H. Siddiqi, former President of the Islamic Society of North America, at the Islamic Society of Orange County (California, USA) delivered a khutbah on Shawwal 6, 1422/December 21, 2001:
“Why were there not, among the generations before you, persons possessed of balanced good sense, prohibiting (people) from mischief in the earth, except a few among them whom We saved (from harm)? But the wrong-doers pursued the enjoyment of the good things of life which were given them, and persisted in sin. Nor would your Lord be the One to destroy communities for a single wrong-doing, if its members were reformers.” (Hud: 116-117)
Islah” or reform is a continuous need of all people. Reform is needed on the micro level as well as on the macro level. Individuals need reform and societies need reform. Human beings need reminders who can remind them about truth, justice and morality. Without constant reminders and checks and balances, people tend to forget and then go down into wrong doings, evil, oppression and injustice. Allah mentions in the Qur’an about Bani Isra’il:
“After them succeeded a generation: they inherited the Book, but they chose (for themselves) the vanities of this world, saying (for excuse): ‘(Everything) will be forgiven us.’ (Even so), if similar vanities came their way, they would (again) seize them. Was not the Covenant of the Book taken from them, that they would not ascribe to Allah anything but the truth? And they study what is in the Book. But best for the righteous is the Home in the Hereafter. Will ye not understand? As to those who hold fast by the Book and establish regular Prayer, never shall We allow the reward of the reformers to perish.” (Al-A`raf: 169-170)
It is the duty of believers to work on both levels, personal and social. Believers have to reform their own selves, improve their own character, and remove their own shortcomings. They should also simultaneously keep working on improving the society and social structure. Personal piety without social reform cannot be very effective and cannot continue for too long. Also, it is hypocritical to call the whole world to change and not change one’s own self. All efforts at social reform are useless if the reformer himself does not benefit from them.
Self-reform: “O you who believe! Respond to Allah and His Messenger, when He calls you to that which will give you life; and know that Allah comes in between a man and his heart, and that it is He to Whom you shall (all) be gathered. And be conscious of a trial, which will affect not only those of you who do wrong: and know that Allah is strict in punishment.” (Al-Anfal: 24-25)
First, we should respond to Allah and the Messenger. Allah is inviting us (through His Messenger) to “that which will give us life” or that which will revive us. This call is a “life giving” and “life improving” call. Those who respond to this call have a better life because they live and move under the Light of Allah:
“Can he who was dead, to whom We gave life, and a Light whereby he can walk amongst men, be like him who is in the depths of darkness, from which he can never come out? Thus, to those without Faith their own deeds seem pleasing.” (Al-An`am: 122)
The real response is the response of faith (iman) and commitment to righteousness. Every person at the individual level must respond to Allah. Every individual Muslim, male and female, must make sure that his or her life is faithful, sincere, honest, decent, pure and clean. One must continue purifying and cleaning oneself through the study of the Qur’an, Hadith and sirah (biography of the Prophet), through `ibadah (worship), and dhikr(remembering Allah), through observing Halal and avoiding Haram in food, clothes and earnings, and through moral and ethical behavior.
“Our Lord! we have heard the call of one calling (us) to Faith, `Believe ye in the Lord’, and we have believed. Our Lord! forgive us our sins, blot out from us our iniquities, and take to Yourself our souls in the company of the righteous. “Our Lord! Grant us what You did promise unto us through Your Messengers, and save us from shame on the Day of Judgment; for You never break Your promise.” (Al `Imran: 193-194)
Social Reform:
However, beside self-reform and self-improvement, every Muslim must keep working to change the society for the better. We must establish justice, peace, equality, morality and righteousness in the society. We must promote goodness and must try to eliminate evil and wrong. This work should begin with one’s family, close associates and then in the society at large. This work is through da’wah, through com
manding what is right and forbidding what is wrong (Amr bi al-ma`ruf and nahy `an al-munkar). This requires a lot of patience and wisdom, but it must be done. Allah tells us:
“You are the best of peoples, evolved for mankind, enjoining what is right, forbidding what is wrong, and believing in Allah. If only the People of the Book had Faith, it were best for them: among them are some who have Faith, but most of them are perverted transgressors.” (Al `Imran: 110)
Allah also warns us that those who neglect this duty incur the curse of Allah upon them. Then their faith and prayers will not be of much benefit to them:
“Curses were pronounced on those among the Children of Israel who rejected Faith, by the tongue of David and of Jesus, the son of Mary, because they disobeyed and persisted in Excesses. They would not forbid one another the iniquities which they used to commit: evil indeed were the deeds which they used to do.” (Al-Ma’idah: 78-79)
Today there is a talk about reform in the Muslim world. But actually the whole world needs reform. Corruption and injustice are everywhere in the world. There are some Western writers who say that Islam itself must be reformed. According to them, reform in Muslims societies will come when Muslims open themselves up to everything Western. One writer said bluntly that Muslims should not be against “homosexuals, secularists, short skirts, dancing, evolution theory.” According to him, Muslim society will not progress unless Islam allows “kissing in public places, bacon sandwiches, cutting-edge fashion, movies, music, freedom of thought, beauty, love.”
One may ask, are they talking about reform or corruption? For us, reform is nothing but obeying Allah, going back to the authentic message of the Qur’an and the Sunnah. Of course, we must meet the challenges of the modern times, such as the use of reason and rational thinking, understanding human progress and the social, economic, political and environmental changes. As Muslims we must continue looking at these changes and see how we can adopt them or adapt them within our Islamic framework through the process of ijtihad (forming a legal opinion about things that are not explicitly addressed in the sources). Our basic sources of authority, however, are the Qur’an and authentic Sunnah and we must remain hold them firmly.
Based on the above-mentioned statement, Muslims are in need of true reform in the light of the Qur’an and the Sunnah bearing in mind that Islam is applicable to all times and ages.