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Prophet (s): Role Model

Book Review
Name of the Book: The Prophet Muhammad-A Role Model for Muslim Minorities
Author: Muhammad Yasin Mazhar Siddiqui
Publisher: The Islamic Foundation, Leicester
Year: 2006
Pp: 230 ISBN: 0-86037-535
Reviewed by: Yoginder Sikand

Islamic scholars, both traditional ulema as well as Islamist ideologues have tended to perceive and project Islam as a ‘ruling faith’ and as one inseparable from Muslim political domination. This understanding, writes Siddiqui in his introductory chapter, reflects the belief that Islam can be fully ‘implemented’ or ‘put into action’ only in a state ruled according to Islamic law. In the absence of such a state, it is believed, particularly by certain extreme Islamists, every effort must be made to establish such a political dispensation, using force if necessary. The problem has been further exacerbated by continued reliance on the corpus of medieval fiqh or Muslim jurisprudence, which assumed the existence of a Muslim ruler committed to ruling according to Muslim law and which was developed in a historical context of Muslim rule. Obviously, such an understanding of Islam poses major problems and challenges for Muslims living as minorities today.

Almost every country outside the traditional Muslim ‘heartlands’ is home to a Muslim minority population today. For such Muslim communities, the political perspectives reflected by the corpus of traditional fiqh are of little or no relevance, and can even be hugely problematic. Siddiqui therefore takes it upon himself to develop an understanding of Muslim jurisprudence that is particularly suited to their context, making a valuable contribution to the limited, but slowly expanding, corpus of writings on fiqh al-aqalliyat or fiqh for [Muslim] minorities.

What Siddiqui argues is that the basis of fiqh for Muslim minorities must lie in the Meccan period of life of the Prophet Muhammad (s) and his companions, a period of around thirteen years when  the Muslims were a minority and did not enjoy political sovereignty. In many senses, their position resembled that of Muslim minorities today. Muslim minorities need to see the role of the Prophet (s) and the early Muslims in that period as a model for them to emulate, Siddiqui suggests.

This book is divided into essentially two parts. The first part discusses, in considerable detail, aspects of the life of the Prophet (s) and his companions in Mecca, before their migration to Medina and the establishment of a polity there controlled by the Prophet (s). The second part seeks to draw out lessons from these experiences for Muslims living as minorities today.

In the roughly thirteen years of his prophethood in Mecca, when Muslims were a politically marginalized minority, Siddiqui writes, the Prophet (s) did not seek to acquire political power. Rather, the focus of his efforts was on spreading Islam through peaceful persuasion and by his personal example. Among other factors, it was his personality and his concern for others, irrespective of religion and social status, which won him an increasing number of followers. He would visit the homes of non-Muslims in Mecca, including his own relatives, joined them in their social gatherings and shared their joys and sorrows, and this, in addition to the message that he conveyed, endeared many non-Muslim Meccans to him. He, and several of his followers, enjoyed the protection of their own tribes, in accordance with the traditional Arab tribal code. His uncle, Abu Talib, who, while very close to the Prophet (s), did not accept Islam, provided him protection, and after his demise he received the support of another family of the Banu Abd Manaf, the Banu Nawfal.

In Mecca, the Prophet (s) continued his profession as a trader, maintaining business links with non-Muslims. He encouraged his followers to set free slaves and to treat them well. Some Quraish chiefs in Mecca had accepted Islam and they worked along with their non-Muslim fellow Quraishis in governing the affairs of Mecca till the Prophet (s) was forced to migrate to Medina. This, Siddiqui suggests, ‘provides a role model for the participation of a Muslim minority in bodies dominated by non-Muslims’ (p.110).

When the persecution of Muslims in Mecca mounted, rather than resorting to arms, the Prophet (s) allowed several of his followers to migrate to Abyssinia, a largely Christian country. There, the Muslims were warmly received by the ruler, Negus, who treated them well when he discovered that their faith and his had much in common. These migrants, Siddiqui writes, adopted aspects of the local culture and mingled closely with the inhabitants of the land, rather than living a ghettoized existence, so much so that some of them chose to stay on there even after the Prophet (s) had shifted to Medina.

Even after the Hijra, some Muslims remained behind in Mecca, Siddiqui writes, facing considerable persecution. Yet, despite all odds, they remained firm in their faith, and some of them received support from their non-Muslim relatives and friends. Siddiqui mentions the interesting case of the companion Abdur Rahman ibn Awf, who, having migrated to Medina, entered into an agreement with Umayyah ibn Khalaf, a non-Muslim Meccan and a close friend, for protection of mutual interests. According to the agreement, which was put down in writing, Umayyah ibn Khalaf would defend Abdur Rahman ibn Awf’s relatives and property left behind in Mecca, while the latter agreed to do the same with regard to the former’s relatives and property in Medina. The Prophet (s), Siddiqui says, knew of this agreement and even endorsed it.

All this shows, Siddiqui argues, that the Prophet (s) advocated and adopted a pragmatic approach to inter-community relations and politics, both when Muslims were a non-ruling minority, as in Mecca, as well as later, when the Prophet (s) established a state in Medina. The roughly thirteen years of his life as a prophet in Mecca show, Siddiqui says, that ‘[t]he Prophet (s) helped Muslims evolve within the constraints imposed by the tribal system and the prevalent social values and customs’. He, Siddiqui writes, did not want to do away with all local institutions and aspects of local culture. Rather, he accepted those of them that were good and in accordance with Islam, modified some others and rejected those that violated Islamic teachings. His was, then, a ‘middle way’, that entailed ‘reforming, adapting, restoring and reconstructing the existing order’, rather than wholly opposing it (p.173).

This approach, Siddiqui asserts, has valuable lessons for Muslims living as minorities today. Just as the Prophet (s) used the traditional Arab tribal ‘social security system’ for protection, so, too, Muslim minorities should seek to make use of the constitutional and legal provisions and rights that almost all states today provide, at least in theory, to their citizens, irrespective of religion. Just as the Prophet (s) worked with non-Muslim Meccans in the Hilf al-Fadul, a group of people who helped the needy, so, too, must Muslim minorities work along with well-meaning non-Muslims on social, economic, cultural and development issues of common concern. This sort of activity would enable Muslim minorities to establish close and friendly bonds with their non-Muslim fellow compatriots, helping improve their own position while also affording them an opportunity to tell others about their faith.

The Prophet (s) had close personal ties with several non-Muslims in Mecca, and Muslim minorities, Siddiqui advises, must emulate him in this regard and must have ‘excellent social relations with non-Muslims’ (p.194). Like him, they should also devote themselves to communicating Islam to others, not simply through preaching, but also through practical works such as helping the needy of other faiths, through various forms of social action and welfare provision, which would make others see their faith in action. It is, in other words, only by showing themselves to be a blessing for others, a source of comfort and benefit for them, that Muslims, including Muslim minorities, can live up to the demands that Islam places on them.

As Siddiqui succinctly puts it:

“Muslims all over the world, especially Muslim minorities, have to prove that they are the best community, devoted to the cause of protecting mankind against suffering and blessing everyone with happiness, regardless of caste, colour or creed. Their position is of the best community and their duty is to serve mankind […] Their presence must guarantee help for everyone, especially of their non-Muslim country. However, this cannot be affirmed merely verbally or by recounting old stories. They have to prove it by their conduct’ (p.194).

At the same time, Siddiqui stresses, Muslim minorities, like the followers of the Prophet (s) in the Meccan period, must remain firm in their faith. Violence in self-defence is allowed only in the most extreme cases of persecution, when no other solution is possible.

Otherwise, he advises, Muslim minorities must while make every effort to stay away from conflict.

This monograph is a brilliant contribution to the on-going debates about fiqh for Muslim minorities. It provides valuable insights for developing new and more relevant understandings of Islamic jurisprudence in Muslim minority contexts, envisaging the possibility of reconciling Islamic commitment with Muslim minority-ness, an issue that has largely escapade the attention of Islamic scholars but one that has sometimes been, and continues to be, a troubling one for many Muslims living as minorities.



One comment
  1. amy amster

    June 13, 2010 at 8:46 pm

    Lee and Low Books is an independent children’s book publisher specializing in diversity. They take pride in nurturing many minority authors and illustrators who are new to the world of children’s book publishing.

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    Minority Book Publisher

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