Change Management in Islam


If one has to learn ‘Change Management,’ he has to learn it from the life of Prophet Muhammad (saws). During a short period of 23 years, he changed his society completely. From paganism and idolatry the Arabs were sunk in, he changed them to being submissive before the one true God; from tribal quarrels and wars to national solidarity and cohesion; from drunkenness and anarchy to disciplined living; from utter bankruptcy to the highest standards of moral excellence; from absolute backwardness and ignorance to becoming the epitome of knowledge, science and civilization, writes SYED KAZIM.


Change Management is an approach to transform individuals, teams, and organizations from a current state to a desired future state. It is an organizational process aimed at helping change the stakeholders to accept and embrace changes in their business environment. In some Project Management contexts, Change Management refers to a Project Management process where changes to a project are formally introduced and approved. Kotter defines Change Management as the utilization of basic structures and tools to control any organizational change effort. The goal of Change Management is to minimize the change impacts on workers and avoid distractions. Today, Change Management has become one of the hot topics for discussion in the corporate world. Let us see what type of Change Management Islam has to offer.

Islam talks about change at three different levels: the individual, social and political. Individually, Islam talks about changing oneself, to shun bad habits and imbibe good habits and character. At the social level, Islam talks about creating a society where everyone is given justice and which eliminates all kinds of injustice prevailing in society. At the political level, Islam talks about replacing man-made laws with the laws given by Allah (swt). From the Qur’an, we learn that Ibrahim (asws) strove to bring change at three levels: within himself, within his family and society and within the leader of the time.Allah (swt) talks about change by placing before the people a specific condition for change. Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an thus,

“Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they (first) change what is in themselves.” (Qur’an 13: 11)

In this verse, Allah (swt) makes it clear that He will not change the condition of the people unless and until the people first strive to change themselves. So, the first thing that we learn with respect to change is this: if we need to witness change, it has to start from our own self. On the one hand, the Qur’an commands people to forbid lying, backbiting, spying, suspicion, fraud, extravagance, arrogance, hoarding, mischief, corruption, mockery, ridicule, hypocrisy, interest, wine, gambling, adultery and theft and, on the other hand, the Qur’an commands the individual to be dutiful to parents, give the due to needy, to show kindness to neighbours, justice to relatives, help the orphans, exhibit cooperation, keep promises, to be honest, to be truthful, to be tolerant, to be punctual, to be kind, to do justice, to be generous and to have a forgiving nature. It is a process of changing the person which involves removing the bad habits and inculcating the good ones.

The next objective of the Qur’an was to change the society. Indeed, the reason behind sending Prophet Mohammed (saws) was again to change and bring in a positive social reform, so that it could become a better place to live in. Not only Prophet Mohammed (saws), but all the Prophets who were sent, were sent with the ultimate goal of changing the society which they live in.Allah (swt) also says in the Qur’an,

“(This is) a Book which We have revealed to you, (O Muhammad), that you might bring mankind out of darknesses into the light by permission of their Lord – to the path of the Exalted in Might, the Praiseworthy.” (Qur’an, 14: 1)

This is a significant purpose for which the Qur’an was revealed, that is to bring people from the darkness of wrong beliefs and actions into the light of faith and righteous deeds. The responsibility of the Prophets was to put efforts to bring people to light through da’wah and communication, through explanations and reminders, educating and counseling, and it is then Allah (swt) Himself who guides people to accept this light.

In the world before Prophet Mohammed (saws), reading was generally the prerogative of the royal family, and of the families of the nobles and aristocrats, and of the clerical and priestly classes. Others were often discouraged or even prevented from learning to read and write. In some instances, they were punished. This is how the world was before Prophet Mohammed (saws). The situation changed completely after Prophet Mohammed (saws). When we analyse the life of Prophet Mohammed (saws), the first commandment given to him by Allah (swt) was not of prayer, da’wah, charity, or fasts, but the very first command given by Allah (swt) was to read. ‘Iqra’ (Read!), said the Qur’an to the world in the middle of the seventh century, and the world never looked back from there on. Today, in the twenty-first century, learning to read and write is one of the most pressing and popular priorities throughout the world, no matter what one’s race, religion, class, age or gender. The gift of universal male and female literacy, across races and classes, is one of the most profound ways in which Prophet Mohammed (saws) changed the world.

From the Qur’an, we also learn that whenever change is implemented, it should be implemented in stages and not all of a sudden. In order to bring in change, the Qur’an has adopted a natural process. Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an,

“We have revealed this Qur’an little by little so that you may recite it to people at intervals, and We have revealed it gradually.” (Qur’an, 17: 106)

This step-by-step change has proved to be very effective and successful.

Drinking was a part of the lives of the people at the time of Prophet Muhammad (saws). When alcohol was prohibited in Islam, it was not prohibited with just one command; it was, in fact, prohibited in three stages. Imam Ahmad recorded that Abu Hurayrah said,

“There were three stages to prohibit Khamr (intoxicants). In the first state, Allah (swt) said in the Qur’an, ‘They ask you about wine and gambling. Say, ‘In them is great sin and (yet, some) benefits for people. But their sin is greater than their benefit’’ (Qur’an, 2: 219). The verse commands people not to indulge in it as the sin is greater than its benefit. In the second stage, Allah (swt) said in the Qur’an, ‘O you who have believed! Do not approach prayer while you are intoxicated until you know what you are saying” (Qur’an, 4: 43). This verse commands people not to approach prayer when they are intoxicated. And in the final stage, Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an, ‘O you who have believed! Indeed, intoxication, gambling, (sacrificing on) stone alters (to other than Allah), and divining arrows are but defilement from the work of Satan, so avoid it that you may be successful’ (Qur’an, 5: 90). This verse finally commands people to abstain from the consumption of Alcohol completely.”

Through these verses of the Qur’an, Allah (swt) mentally prepared them to go away from alcohol and finally stop its consumption. After finally prohibiting alcohol, in the next verse Allah (swt) also explains the reason why it was prohibited. Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an,

“Satan only wants to cause between you animosity and hatred through intoxicants and gambling and to avert you from the remembrance of Allah and from prayer. So will you not desist?” (Qur’an, 5: 91)

This verse also made it easy for people to stop to consumption of alcohol. From this we also learn that, when we impose a change it is also necessary to explain the benefit for implementing change so that it will make it easy for people to accept it and adopt it.

When we are speaking about Change Management, it is also important and relevant to speak about the psychology of persuasion. Once, a research was conducted where the researchers asked a few house-owners to place a huge signboard in front of their houses and which read ‘Drive Carefully’ and everyone refused. Later, the researchers visited another set of houses and asked the people to place a small signboard which read ‘Drive Carefully’ and mostly everyone agreed. Two weeks later, the researchers asked them to replace the small signboard with a larger signboard and amazingly 76% of the people accepted. Psychologists call this the ‘Foot-in-the-door effect.’ Thus a concept which was implemented 1430 years back was also proved to be true according to the modern psychologist.

On one hand, when alcohol was prohibited in the United States, which is also known as the ‘The Noble Experiment,’ it miserably failed, as people did not have strong belief in God. On the other hand, when alcohol was prohibited at the time of Prophet Muhammad (saws), people threw it away in the streets as soon as they heard the command. It was also because of the strong belief in God and the Hereafter. From this we also learn that if any positive change should happen, it can only happen when a person has strong belief in Allah and the Hereafter.

Finally, Islam addressed the aspect of political change. A change that will bring justice, a change that will bring Allah’s law, a change which will make Allah’s law superior, a change that will establish Allah’s law and make it dominant over all the others ways of life. Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an, To establish the religion and not be divided therein” (Qur’an, 42: 13). Allah (swt) also says that the very purpose of revealing the True Religion is “to make it prevail over all other religions” (Qur’an, 48: 28).The objective of sending the messengers was also to bring a change in the system. Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an, “It is He who sent His Messenger with guidance and the religion of truth to manifest it over all religion” (Qur’an 9: 33 and 48: 28). This is the final and ultimate change which the Prophets looked forward to and this change was anticipated with an objective to attain peace and justice.

Prophet Muhammad (saws) also motivated people to change any wrong in society to which they are witnesses. As he once said, “He among you, who sees something that is disapproved (of by Allah), should change it with his hand. If he cannot do that, then let him change it with his tongue. If he cannot do that, then let him change it within his heart (by always disliking what is evil or harmful) and that (the last option) is the weakest (or lowest) of faith” (Sahih Muslim).

Many people are resistant to change, but we have to understand that resisting change is in the very nature of the human being. People will give many excuses when a new task is given to them. When we see the life of Prophet Moosa (asws), when he was given the task by Allah (swt), he gave excuses like, fear of getting killed, fear that the people may deny him and fear that the people might punish him. (Qur’an, 28: 33; 26: 12 & 20: 45). From this, we understand that resistance to change is in the nature of the human being.

Allah (swt) did not send down all the laws at one time. The Qur’an was sent down over a period of 23 years. In the first thirteen years at Makkah, none of the social laws were sent down. As a matter of fact, if you analyze the Makkan Surahs, they all talk about Tawheed, Shirk, Day of Judgment, Hell and Heaven etc. This was done in order to first build up the faith of the believers. It was only when the Prophet (saws) had settled down in Madinah that the social laws were sent down.

The Qur’an came down according to the needs of, and problems faced by, the nascent Muslim community. The verses were revealed according to the growth in ideological affinity of the new adherents, according to the progress of the general social life, and according to new challenges faced by the Muslim community in its day-to-day life. One verse, or a few verses, would be revealed according to the special circumstances and events, and they would answer questions which arose in the minds of the people, would explain the nature of a particular situation, and would prescribe a way of dealing with it. These verses would correct their mistakes, either of understanding or of practice, would bring them closer to Allah (swt), and would explain to them the wisdom of the various aspects of the universe in the light of Allah’s attributes. This teaches us that people change gradually and not overnight. This is the wisdom which we should apply even today. That is, if there is a sinner who wishes to turn back to Allah (swt), or a person who wishes to change himself, he may not be expected to conform to all the laws and quit all the sins he does overnight, but rather, it takes time and the change is witnessed gradually.

First, we need to change ourselves and then we should work towards the reconstruction of society in the light of the Qur’an and Sunnah. If we are unable to change ourselves, then we will never be able to change the society. We should not accept anything and everything as and when it comes, but we need to question it before accepting. The life of Prophet Ibrahim (asws) is the best example with regard to asking questions before accepting anything. The change which is made should be from negative to positive, from darkness to light, falsehood to truth and from bad to good. In the current society, if we make changes as per the Qur’an and Sunnah, like imposing capital punishment over rapists, banning alcohol, banning pornography, etc., the society would become more peaceful and prosperous.

If one has to learn ‘Change Management,’ he has to learn it from the life of Prophet Mohammed (saws). During a short period of 23 years, he changed his society completely. From paganism and idolatry to submission to one true God, from tribal quarrels and wars to national solidarity and cohesion, from drunkenness and anarchy to disciplined living, from utter bankruptcy to the highest standards of moral excellence, from absolute backwardness and ignorance to the epitome of knowledge, science and civilisation. He preached a religion, founded a state, built a nation, laid down a moral code, initiated numerous social and political reforms, and changed human thought and behaviour for all times to come. Man’s history has never witnessed such a complete change of a society or a place and, that too, all these unbelievable wonders transpired within a short span of just 23 years.