Retribution, Calm, Democracy

Issue 501 » October 31, 2008 - Dhul-Qida 2, 1429

Living The Quran

Al-Nahl (The Bees)
Chapter 16: Verse 126

Just Retribution
"If you should punish, then let your punishment be commensurate with the wrong done to you. But to endure patiently is far better for those who are patient in adversity."

When the Prophet, peace be upon him, saw the mutilated body of his uncle Hamza (may Allah be pleased with him) after the battle of Uhud, he said that he would mutilate 30 of the enemy. The Sahabah said they would carry out a slaughter never seen before by the Arabs. This verse was revealed to address that sentiment.

Aggression is an action that must be repelled with similar force in order to preserve the dignity of the truth and to ensure that falsehood does not triumph. Response to aggression, however, must not exceed the limits of repelling it. Islam is the faith of justice and moderation, peace and reconciliation. It repels any aggression launched against it or its followers without committing any aggression against others.

This is indeed part of the method of advocacy. To repel aggression within the limits of justice preserves the dignity of the Islamic message so that it suffers no humiliation. A humiliated message has no appeal for anyone. Indeed no one will accept that humiliation be suffered by a divine message. God does not permit His message to suffer humiliation without repelling it.

Yet at the same time that the rule of equal punishment is established, the Quran calls on believers to endure with fortitude and to forgive. This applies in situations when the believers are able to repel aggression and to eradicate evil. In such cases, forgiveness and patience are more effective and of greater value to the Islamic message. Personal position or prestige is of secondary importance when the interests of the message are better served by forgiveness and endurance.

In the life of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, we have the best example. He and his companions were tortured, killed and driven out of their homes by the Makkans but they forgave them and accepted them as brothers after the opening of Makkah. The Prophet, peace be upon him, also taught soldiers to kill only combatants and not to destroy crops, kill Priests and Monks or destroy houses of worship. At the same time, warfare is allowed and fighting to protect one's family, property or life is a type of Jihad. We have to maintain our balance and not fight evil with evil or commit atrocities to respond to atrocity. We have to be patient and wait for the victory given by Allah to our struggle.

Compiled From:
"In The Shade of The Quran" - Sayyid Qutb, Vol. 11, pp. 115-116
"Questions and Answers" - Abdullah Hakim Quick

Understanding The Prophet's Life

Calm Temperament

The human mind works at its best when the surrounding environment is calm and settled. Likewise, it works at its best when the thinker's temperament is calm. When the human mind is beset with external or internal commotion, its powers become weak and it more easily falls prey to rashness and reckless passion. 

It is a strategy of debate to get one's opponent angry, since once the opponent loses his or her composure his or her defeat is almost imminent, especially if one is able to keep one's cool and a smile on one's face.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) warns us that: "Anger is a burning ember in the human heart that is stoked up." [Musnad Ahmad]

The Prophet's conducts should remind us that just because we know we are in the right, this gives us no excuse to get angry. Indeed, if we are upon the truth, this should give us all the more reason to remain calm. Anger merely confuses things and makes it more difficult for us to think clearly and communicate our thoughts to others.

We should remember the Prophet's words: "The strong person is not the one who can throw his opponent. The strong person is the one who can keep control when angry." [Bukhari]

Compiled From:
"Calm" - Salman al-Oadah


Critique of Democracy

At the heart of the "conflict," "debate," or "dialogue" between civilizations, democracy is often presented in the West as "a value" supposed to be either "Western" or "universal" or, with no fear of contradiction both at the same time. Thus presented, "the critique of democracy" becomes suspicious and its instigators tend to be lumped with old-time idealistic Communists defending the "dictatorship of the proletariat" or new Muslim radicals advocating a theocratic implementation of the shariah.

However, democracy is not a value but a generic system encompassing a set of organizational and institutional models for universal, fundamental values and principles. Democracy could only be a "value" if it guaranteed the respect of a series of other higher "values."

The critique of democracy, in the sense of criticizing its dysfunction and the perversion of its models and institutions, is a necessity today. If one approaches the issue on an international level, one very quickly realizes that the high-sounding dialogue between civilizations that would reduce the terms of the debate to accepting democracy or not is most misleading: one knows, or should know historically that being a democracy has never been enough to guarantee the promotion of peace, the respect of human rights, dignity, freedom, autonomy, etc. From the outset, Athenian democracy was forever at war with its neighbours (besides, its discriminatory treatment of women, the poor, and the "Barbarians" is well known) and today as well, U.S.-style democracy keep getting involved in conflicts and wars that, as in Iraq, completely fail to respect fundamental values and human dignity (moreover, that the discriminatory treatment of Native-American and African-American citizens still endures within the system is well known).

The constructive critique of contemporary democratic models must be undertaken, first of all, by identifying what they do not guarantee in terms of respecting values, which must absolutely be reformed if we are to be consistent. Repeating that it is the least bad system cannot justify passivity about denouncing its perversions and excesses.

Compiled From:
"Radical Reform: Islamic Ethics and Liberation" - Tariq Ramadan, pp. 282, 283