What awaits the Reformers?
THE TASK OF carrying the banner of reform in a deviant society entails that the reformer will have to denounce and oppose things which have become part of the lives, customs, and traditions of the people.
In fact, many of these things may have become deeply entrenched in their hearts. And yet, there is nothing which penetrates the depths of the human heart more sweepingly than faith; especially when they have been nurtured by it ever since their childhood. This may take any form, such as the worship of idols like trees, stones, totems, a dictator, or anything for that matter.
The messengers were sent to preach to these people and to dissuade them from the worship of such idols, the belief in which had become rooted in their hearts.
Do you then worship, besides Allah, things that can neither be of any good to you nor do you harm? Fie upon you, and upon the things that you worship besides Allah! Have you no sense? (Surah Al-Anbiyya:66-7).
What does one expect would be the response of a people when a Messenger condemns them in this manner? Surely this open and hostile confrontation distinguishes between the Messengers, Prophets, and their followers from those who even thought they were themselves righteous, were inclined to withdrawal. They were the ones who did not oppose or resist corruption; instead they were quite content to adopt the easy and simple way which was devoid of obstacles and hazards â€“ in other words the way of passivity and silence!
Let us take as an example the Hunafaâ€™ (true monotheists of pre-Islamic times). They
worshipped Allah only and committed no outrageous acts of transgression against the divine laws. Notwithstanding, they never opposed the vices and excesses that were common and widespread among their people. As a matter of fact, they made no attempt to reform their society which was riddled with polytheism, corruption, and misguidance. As a result, they suffered no persecution or hostility from their people.
Zayd bin Amr bin Nufayl was a prominent member of Makkahâ€™s Hunafa community. Imam
Al-Bukhari recorded a hadith on the authority of Abd Allah bin Umar that Zayd bin Amr bin Nufayl met the Prophet at the bottom of Baldah (a mountain between Makkah and Jeddah). The Prophet who was accompanied by Zayd bin Haritha was offered a dish with food and asked to draw near to partake of it. On his part Zayd bin Amr bin Nufayl said: â€śI do not eat from that which you have slaughtered to your idols and I do not eat except of that over which the name of Allah Almighty has been mentioned.â€ť
This incident was only one of many in which Zayd bin Amr bin Nufayl used to reproach the sacrificial meat of Quraysh. Very often he used to remind them: â€śO noble people of Quraysh, the lamb was created by Allah, He sent water down for it from the heavens, and caused plants to grow from the earth for its sake. Yet even after this, you slaughter it in the name of other than Allah.â€ť On other occasions he used to warn: â€śO noble people of Quraysh be warned of usury, for verily, it will lead to poverty!â€ť It was also reported that he came upon a man who wanted to murder his female servant. He interceded with the man saying: â€śDo not kill her, what crime has she committed to warrant being killed? If it is too difficult for you to feed and clothe her, then hand her over to me, I shall feed and clothe her.â€ť When she became of age he said to her father: â€śIf you wish you may have her, if you donâ€™t she will remain with me.â€ť
In spite of their occasional rebuke, Zayd bin Amr bin Nufayl and the Hunafa of Makkah had little influence in their community. This was because they appeared to have lost all hope of reforming their society which had become engrossed in every shape and color of polytheism, paganism, and deviance in their institutions and behavior. In the final analysis, the Hunafaâ€™s despair led them to conclude that they had no ability to confront the evils which were prevalent around them, and hence they chose to limit their efforts only to the task of personal reform. Accordingly, all the reformatory efforts that emerged from them remained confined to very narrow and restricted issues, let alone the undertaking of ambitious campaigns to realize complete reform in all aspects of life.
After raising many Prophets, Allah Almighty finally sent Prophet Muhammad at a time when waywardness prevailed. Through him He provided guidance from the ways of rebellion, vision from blindness, and aided him with noble companions who sacrificed and struggled with all that they possessed in the cause of Allah.
In hindsight, one finds that there was an astonishing and vast difference between the reaction of the Makkan polytheists to the Hunafaâ€™ and their reaction to the Prophet when he declared his mission.
For it was never reported, for example, that Zayd bin Amr bin Nufayl was persecuted and victimized by Quraysh. The most we can say in this regard was that they avoided him. They heard his message yet they never accepted it. Furthermore, they did not abuse Zayd in any way; and it must be said that the Hunafaâ€™ enjoyed a fair measure of respect and favor from Quraysh.
Although the Prophet Muhammad in the initial stages of his mission only called to true monotheism and encouraged the rejection of polytheism and paganism, Quraysh tried to suppress him using every available method of confrontation and opposition. The apparent reason was because he made no secret of the fact that his mission was one of fundamental reform of society nurtured on the milk of paganism for generation upon generation.