Look at the Individuals
If someone looked into the pre-Prophet Arabian inner Peninsula society, or, beyond that society into other societies around, such as, for example, the Roman and Persian, especially, those in the regions immediately in contact with the Arabian Peninsula, such as the Egyptian, Syrian, and Iraqi societies, or even those societies that flourished in the Southern terrain, such as the Yemeni, or, beyond the Red Sea, such as the Ethiopian, Sudanese, or others, then, he discovers several features that were commonly prevalent in all these societies. The features, (in actual fact, problems), were so prominent, that no visitor could ignore them.
One of the outstanding problems was economic; to be precise, unjust distribution of wealth (means of subsistence, to be specific). Basically, there were two classes: the have-all class and the have-none class. Among the first were the ruling class, the courtiers, the big merchants and the priestly class. They held most of the national, regional or tribal wealth. The others, the great majority, were the dispossessed class. They hardly eked out a living by acting as middlemen for the courtiers or government officials, or as ancillaries to big business, or laborers, or criminal gangs who lived by loot and plunder. The situation was no different from what it is today in our own, modern, glittering-at-night, and so-called advanced and civilized world, whether developed or developing, viz., 80% of the wealth in the hands of 20% of the people, and 80% of the rest of the people sharing among themselves 20% of the wealth: land or liquidity, all counted.
Economic inequality led to social inequality. There were the nobles, the priestly class (spiritually noble enough to be allowed company, but socially not so noble for inter-marriage), the middle-class (mostly merchants) the plebeians (including mercenaries who lived through civilized loot), and the slaves. (The last mentioned were a good 40% of the entire Roman population). Although, despite the division, (maintained through social norms, marriage rules, etc.), if in the Arab Peninsula it was neither so obviously obvious nor painfully painful than it was when compared to the situation in other societies around – but it was noticeably there anyway. To compare, in America, the inheritor of the life, culture and civilization of the Romans, a master could, down even after a thousand years after Islam, cut off as punishment the genital organs of a runaway black slave recaptured. Such were the Holy Laws of the time. So, what were the rights of slaves in the Roman society of the Prophet’s time should not be difficult to imagine. In fact, the imagination is made easy by the fact that so far as legal rights of the slave-class were concerned, in practice there were none, whether their masters were Roman or non-Roman. Women, as a class, shared better – marginally better – than the slave class. They had at least the freedom to sell their flesh rather than miss all the meals of the day.
Nonetheless, these problems, quite widely spread in these societies whether of the Arab or the non-Arab world, were visible only to an assumed visitor belonging to times a few decades after the Prophet. If he was a visitor of the pre-Prophet times, he was quite likely to skip noticing them. That is, those conditions, divisions, suppressions and oppressions were universal norms and, pontificated by the priestly class, were thought to have divine approval, if not dictated and decreed. Therefore few, if any, (including the Greek philosophers, Masters of the Western philosopher’s mind until quite lately) thought that those were any problems.
In contrast to the above, there were problems that were recognized even by the people of the time as problems that were irksome and made life uncomfortable. Lawlessness, lack of security, violence, kidnapping, wars and destruction of towns and villages, and heavy taxation by the governments, were problems that no one could ignore, not because they were simply “widely prevalent,” but because they “touched every one,” the rich and the poor, the town dweller and the country dweller. Every individual had been a victim, one time or another, of one of these problems.
Many social problems (leading to political problems) especially in the Arabian Peninsula rose among the ruffian Arabian people, it can be admitted (to the satisfaction of the surviving Marxists), from unjust distribution of wealth. But, admittedly too, this was because of low economic activity. Lands lay barren, and industries impoverished for lack of investment. Known mines lay un-dug and mineral resources were unexploited. Skins and hides, milk and butter, wool and cotton were high in demand, but low in supply. Trade routes were unsafe and newer routes unthinkable. Materials and goods, if produced, could only be achieved at high cost, and yet at low certainty of transfer to the markets. So, what little was produced in the lands, or cobbled together in primitive industries, employing crude methods, or obtained as yield of primitive dairies, was the share of he who could grab it either at high price, or, through loot, (either civilized loot of the elites, or uncivilized loot of the desert gangs). There was just not enough for all. As a modern economist would say, a little attention to the agriculture, and less than little attention to industrial activity, could have produced enough for everyone to have a humble share, avoid hunger, starvation, and the diseases that visit the undernourished. But, who was there to recognize, reorganize, re-vitalize and redistribute?
That leads to another problem of the inner Arabs of the Peninsula, in particular. It was easy to see that much of the most pressing and crucial economic problems could only be addressed if there was a government of some sort in place, if not powerful, at least a weak one, if not an empire ruling the vast territories, then at least a local government in charge of the uplands and the lowlands, the midrise mountains and the hollow valleys: like those of Bahrayn, `Umman, Hadramawt, or even Yemen. However low in yield, weren’t these areas benefitting from a central body, though with restricted power, organizing and ruling, if not the county sides, at least the towns and cities? What chance of any economic upturn was there, without there being any authority whatsoever, guiding and compelling the unruly people to the path of progress? The problem of proper financial management following a well charted economic plan was the problem of a government. But a government was precisely the missing trump card.
All in all then, the world in general, and the Arab world in particular, faced extraordinary problems, and needed an extraordinary person to resolve them. It needed a genius; and luckily, a genius arose in the form of a Prophet, Muhammad, on whom be peace.
But a visitor of the modern times, visiting the times of the Prophet discovers that the man of extraordinary abilities, the genius, Prophet Muhammad, did not address the pressing political, social or economic problems. He ignored them all, and talked not about them in any of his sermons. In the plan that he laid down before his audience, appeared not the words of popular interest. Instead, he addressed the individuals, and told them to set right their relationship with the Creator and the created. He promised them no economic advantages, no social security, and no political mileage. He told them that true kingdom was the kingdom of God, and those individuals who complied, obeyed and submitted, would enter that kingdom. That kingdom was not material, physical, earthly, but rather, spiritual. And they would not enter the kingdom as subjects: “You submit and be the king,” they were told in effect.
As he started, so he ended. He paid scant attention to economic problems to the end of his career; did nothing about increased production in farms and factories; did little to organize trade. He all but destroyed the farms, merchandise and trade caravans, targeting, so it looks, his own followers. He did create a political system, but deliberately kept it rudimentary avoiding all elaborations. He advised those who had entered into the Kingdom of God, to leave not the Kingdom and enter into the earthly kingdom. “I find you weak for governmental works,” he told not one, but several others who were pillars of the Kingdom of God that he had set up.
This should lead us to reconsider our own ideas about economic reformation and material progress. The Prophet’s methodology tells us a different story, dictates to us a different strategy: the key to progress, of any kind, is the individual. The root of human problems is not the systems in which they live: the political, economic or social systems. The root of human problems is the human themselves. It is not the systems that move the people, as much as the humans who run the systems. True, humans create the systems. But, whether the system will work to its full, half, or no efficiency, is determined by the creators themselves, and not by the systems. The best system can be failed by its creators, and the worst can be successfully run by a people determined to get results out of it.
A well run prison can be turned into a reformation center if the prison authorities have been reformed. If they deal with the prisoners like spiritual beings, admit and acknowledge that the true criminals are outside and not in the prison cells, sit and share the pain and the joys of the prisoners; be caring, sympathetic and loving, and, touch their souls, the prisoners would be reformed to a surprising degree. In the USA, it is commonly known by the prison authorities that those who embrace Islam inside the prisons, do not return with repeat crimes, as against others who are let out of one door, and are let in by another.
In contrast, allow democracy a free hand, enforce it at every point, give freedom of speech and movement, lay emphasis on human rights and women’s liberation, educate all and give the right to vote, author affluence through equal opportunity, but neglect the individual. What do you get? You get a plethora of white-collar crimes, deceitful bank manages, fraudulent CEOs, Ponzy schemes, smart stock and share market manipulators, and mortgage swindlers in the name of housing schemes. You get the present Global Financial Crisis.
Now they are talking of an alternative, the Islamic System of Finance, Islamic Banking, Muraabaha, Mudaaraba, etc. They – the very people who brought on the present financial crisis – are talking of a new system, and the gullible Muslims are likely to fall prey. Everything that was done before will be done again, but it will be in the name of Islam and Islamic system. Those who have fallen in love with the Islamic Financial System have not fallen in love with the Islamic Ethical System, its Moral System, or Social System. They – including many Muslims – are ready to embrace Islamic Financial principles, but not Islam itself.
They – as well as common Muslims – must understand that it is not the systems that produce results, although they do help. It is individuals. A reform of the Financial System will have to follow the methodology of the genius who brought that system. The fruits of the system that were enjoyed for a thousand years by successive generation of Muslims spread over a large part of the globe, were not the result of a revolutionary system that was enforced, though revolutionary it was. It was the result of the intellectual, moral and spiritual force of individuals who ran that system and were components of that system. Remove this element, and no system will work. Do not go back to the ancient Islamic times for a proper understanding. Go into the modern Islamic times. Look into lands where proud proclamations are made, year in and year out, about the prevalence of the Islamic system. If you notice contradictions, chaos and deprivations, look at the individuals.