January 22, 2002
Islam: A Path of Struggle
First let us briefly look at an important question. Why must
Islam be so emphatically linked with the idea of struggle? What has the one to
do with the other? Cannot a person become a good Muslim without involving
himself in a struggle that necessarily requires sacrifices? The answer is: No.
And for very obvious reasons.
Islam is not merely the confession of a faith which is made
once in a lifetime. The faith is of cosmic dimensions. It requires a radical
reorientation of entire life and the world. The confession is not merely verbal;
it is an act of witnessing which must transform life into a living and
continuing testimony of faith. You enter Islam by saying shahadah (bearing
witness). But you can live in Islam only by constantly doing shahadah (al-Baqarah
2:143, al_hajj 22:28). Doing shahadah will bring you in ceaseless confrontation
with false gods inside you, and with those outside you. It will also require a
ceaseless striving to reshape self and society so as to attest to your
Being Muslim thus requires becoming Muslim. Becoming Muslim,
after the seed of Iman has been sown in the heart, is a two-fold process: to
summon one’s own self and to summon mankind, to live under the sovereignty of
One God alone. Both are inextricably linked together, both are to be taken up
Summoning mankind is not a passive call. It is an active,
dynamic process, a movement. It must wage Jihad with all available resources so
that all false claimants to absolute rule are dethroned, oppression and
corruption are over powered, and justice is established among mankind. That is
why the Prophet, blessings and peace be on him, in the very early days of Makkan
There were such people before you that a man would be seized
and a pit would be dug for him in which he would be thrown, then a saw would be
brought and placed over his head and he would be cut into two, and his flesh
would be combed away from his bones by iron combs – still nothing would turn him
away from his religion. By God, he will complete this mission until a rider will
travel from San’a to Hadramawt and will have no fear but of God, and no worry
but about a wolf that might harm his cattle (Bukhari).
The path of Islam cannot therefore be anything other than the
path of struggle, and therefore sacrifice. Is not Islam, one might say, a gift
of God? It surely is. Without His help and His enabling hand we can take no
steps on the straight path (al-Sirat al-Mustaqim), the path of Islam. Yet only
through our sincere intention and devoted striving can we deserve to receive
this most precious gift, to retain it, to grow in it, to derive full benefit
from it. The gift, no doubt, is given in His infinite mercy and kindness, but it
is not unconditional If given whether desired or not and earned or not, it would
have become cheap, valueless. That is why the Qur’an says that Allah
“guides unto Himself him who turns unto Him” (al-Shura 42:13). Turning
towards God requires both will and effort; it also entails turning away from all
false gods besides God. It is a total change of direction, inner and outer.
Progress, then, depends on striving: “Those who strive hard in Our way –
surely We shall guide them onto Our paths” (al-Ankabut 29:68).
Struggle: The Indispensable Key
Such is the law of God (Sunnat Allah), not only for Islam, but
for all the priceless gifts our lives have been blessed with. Look at some of
them: the eyes we see with, the ears we hear with, the hands and the feet we
work with, the air we breathe and the water we drink, without which life cannot
even exist. We have not made them, nor could we, even if we wanted. We get them
without asking, we have no inherent claims upon them nor any inalienable right
to possess them They are all gifts of God’s grace. Yet to retain them and to
derive full benefit from them we must put in our best efforts.
Not much comes to us in life without endeavour or struggle. We
gain only what we earn by our strivings: “We have created man into (a life
of) trial and pain” (al-Balad 90:4). “And that nought shall be
accounted unto man but what he has striven for” (al-Najm 53:39). The soil
is there, the water is there, the seed is there; but the soil will not turn
seeds into crops unless we dig it, plough it, sow the seeds, water the plants,
protect them and harvest the crop. Without sweat and toil, the gifts of God that
abound all around us will not yield their full treasures to us. Indeed the
richer the treasures desired, the greater the efforts required.
Islam and Sacrifice
Islam is not just one gift among many; it is the choicest gift
of God (al-Maidah 5:3). Out of all the countless bounties and the blessings that
Allah has given us to enable us to live our lives in this world, the greatest
and the most important is that He has guided us to the true meaning and purpose
in our lives. That purpose and that meaning is to live for Him, to strive to
seek His Pleasure, and even to die in His way. Instead of living like animals –
being born, eating and drinking, procreating and dying we live a meaningful
existence. Life is thus lifted up from being a transient, fleeting moment in
history, terminable at death, to an eternal event. Our existence is no more
directed to merely coveting and acquiring the blessings and bounties that abound
in this-world. Instead the way is open to turn this-world’s possessions into
everlasting benefits to be reaped in that-world, sometimes by taking and
enjoying them, gratefully, sometimes by giving them up.
If ordinary things in this world cannot be obtained without
effort, obtaining meaning and purpose in life, which is Islam, must surely
require utmost endeavour. The nature and magnitude of struggle, and of
sacrifice,must be commensurate with the nature and value of the goal we want to
And what purpose in life could be more valuable, more
compelling,more important, more urgent, than that of bringing the whole man –
his inner personality, his environment, his society, the entire world – to the
path of Allah. Without struggling hard, merely by wishing, desiring, professing,
making claims and statements, how can we ever hope to reach the destination that
we have set for ourselves? If one’s daily bread cannot be earned without effort,
will Allah give His greatest blessing – success in this life and success in the
life to come – unless we prove that we deserve to receive it? Unless we
demonstrate that our profession of faith is rooted in our hearts, that we are
truthful in our claims of loyalty,that we are prepared to offer sacrifices
required of us.
Says the Qur’an:
Do you think you should enter Paradise unless God establishes
who among you have struggled hard and who are patient? (Al-Imran 3:142)
Do you think you should enter Paradise while there has not yet
come upon you the like of those who passed away before you? Misery and hardship
befell them (Al-Baqarah 2: 214)
Do the men think that on their [mere] saying ‘We believe’,
they will be left to themselves, and will not be put to the test? We certainly
put to the test those that were before them (Al-Ankabut 29:2-3)
Of course, this does not mean that our efforts and sacrifices
can in any way match the gifts Allah gives to us; yet it is through our own
labour that we get food from the earth; yet it is so priceless that the hard
work put in by a farmer cannot be considered equivalent to the immense benefit
that we derive. Similarly, whatever we are required to sacrifice in our struggle
in the way of Allah is not measurable against the benefits that we shall
personally derive, that the Muslim Ummah will collectively gain, that mankind as
a whole will reap. Nevertheless we must prove, within our human limitations,
that we are prepared not only to profess our faith in our cause, but also
prepared to struggle and sacrifice what we really love for that which we declare
to be dearest to us. That is why, in the Qur’an, Iman is almost invariably
bracketed with righteous deeds (al-‘amal al-salih) and with Hijrah and Jihad.
Indeed only those believers are declared to be truthful in their claims to faith
who are certain and unwavering, who struggle in Allah’s way with their lives and
possessions (al-Hujurat 49:15).
Struggle, as we briefly mentioned before, is undertaken at two
levels. At the personal level, Iman requires that one bring his self under Allah
and obey Him; that one must therefore love Allah more than everything else:
“The (true) believers love God more than all else” (al-Baqarah 2:165).
Put differently, Iman requires that nothing is too worthy, nothing is too
valuable to sacrifice in order to earn Allah’s pleasure.
But it is at the collective level that struggle, and hence
sacrifices, are required in order to summon the entire world to live under One
God. Most often the Qur’an denotes the struggle in this sense as Jihad. Iman
demands dethroning all false gods, standing up to all forces of evil, oppression
and corruption. Jihad is required to subdue all forces in rebellion against God.
It therefore requires sacrifices of a vastly different order and nature than
those required to subdue one’s Nafs (self).
Sacrifice and Inner Resources
Sacrifices contribute to the success of our struggle in two
ways. Firstly, they strengthen our inner spiritual and moral resources and
develop qualities of character which are essential to our struggle at every
level. Secondly, they develop and reinforce cohesion and discipline within a
collectivism, giving it the strength and resources to conduct Jihad at the wider
Every act of sacrifice nourishes and increases your Iman; for
it transforms a verbal confession and a mental conviction into a living reality.
It confirms, and thus increases, your love for Allah; for at every step you give
up something for the sake of this love (al-Imran 3:172-3). It reinforces your
loyalty and fidelity to Allah; for all other loyalties become secondary as they
are sacrificed for the sake of this loyalty. In short, sacrifices bring you
nearer to Allah. The process is mutually interactive: the stronger the faith,
the greater the will and capacity to sacrifice; the greater the sacrifices, the
more internalized and deeper the faith.
Sacrifices are essential for the development of all moral
qualities, but especially for the development of patience, endurance,
perseverance, fortitude, resolve and determina tion. These can be summed up in
just one word: Sabr. Every sacrifice reinforces the quality of sabr, making it
grow in quality and strength. Sabr, in turn, sustains and increases the capacity
to sacrifice. Again, the process is dialectic. All promises of help from Allah,
all assurances of success in this-world and rewards in the Hereafter, have been
made conditional upon the attainment of Iman and Sabr (al-Imran 3:139,125 ; al-Anfal
8:46 ; al-A’raf 7:137 ; al-Zumar 39:10).
Sacrifice and Collective Discipline
Sabr is a very comprehensive virtue. One of its many aspects
is discipline. Discipline is closely related to sacrifice; they are in fact
interdependent. In its comprehensive sense inclusive of self-discipline,
spiritual and moral discipline, organisational and social discipline – it cannot
be attained unless you are prepared to sacrifice things you love. Nor can you
continuously offer sacrifice of things to which you assign some value without
developing a discipline within you, an inner discipline. Though disciplined,
collective life, too, plays no less important a role in reinforcing the spirit
of sacrifice. And sacrifice is equally essential for generating and sustaining
such disciplined collective life. Let us briefly see why.
It is obvious that while walking on your personal way to God,
you will need to attain to greater and greater heights of sacrifice and
self-discipline to succeed in seeking His pleasure. But once you decide to come
together with others to struggle together to bring the world under the lordship
of its Creator, you stand in greater need of making sacrifices. Without them,
neither your organized collective struggle can take a durable shape and achieve
necessary strength, nor can you aspire to be successful in your mission.
“God loves those who, fighting in His way, join ranks as if they are a wall
of molten lead”, says the Qur’an (al-Saff 61:4). What a beautiful and
meaningful parable. Strong and solid, fused and welded, impregnable and without
cracks and fissures, that is how members of a Muslim community, joined, welded
together, strive in the way of Allah.
Now, how is a wall built? It is built of many single building
blocks, each with its own individuality. How do the blocks ‘join ranks’ to turn
into a solid, strong and impregnable wall? One block goes over another, one sits
by the side of another, and so the wall goes up as you start cementing them,
gaining in strength and height at each step. The blocks may look so similar, as
do human beings, yet each has an inner individuality of its own. No block is
required to sacrifice this individuality. Indeed the richness and strength is
gained by virtue of so many individualities coming together.
But as you build the wall, if each block is adamant to go its
own way, if it is not prepared to carry the load which will come upon it from
the top or give support to the blocks below it, if a block which is going into a
corner is not prepared to be chiselled so that it can fit in its place, a strong
wall will never be built. Many bricks will have to go into the foundations below
the ground, never to be noticed by anyone after the building is finished. Yet
they will be bearing the whole load, and without their sacrifice the building
will not rise even above the ground. Many blocks will have to be broken, so that
they can fit into a uniform wall.
Without some sacrifices on the part of each block a solid wall
will never come to exist.
Taken from “Sacrifice: the Making of a Muslim”. [read]