Social Change in Islam


social change in Islam


بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

Social Change in Islam

Sunday, 25th April 1980

Sokoto University[1], Nigeria



First Section 2

Islamic Dynamism. 2

Second Section 5

The Credentials of Social Change in Islam. 5

Third Section 10

From Dynamism to Stagnation 10

Fourth Section 11

What Calls for Change? 11

Fifth Section 14

Between Identity and Modernization 14

Sixth Section 16

Route to Change for Muslims 16

Seventh Section 18

Islam and Social Change 18


Brothers and sisters,

My talk to you this morning is divided into seven sections. They are:

First:  That the most important impression that Islam imparted when it splashed into world history is that of dynamism, activism, and effectiveness.

Second: That there is a built-in basis for social change in the Teachings of Islam.

Third:  That at a later stage the Islamic Community became stagnant and reactionary. Islam became associated with reaction,

Fourth:  That the contemporary predicament of the Third World in general, and the Islamic world in particular calls for imminent, radical, change.

Fifth: that two conditions must be satisfied in our contemporary predicament: legitimacy and change or identity and modernization.

Sixth: That for Muslims, Islam must guide social change and that this involves lessons for others.

Seventh: Finally, I shall describe Islam’s positive response to social change in seven instances and conclude.


First Section

Islamic Dynamism


During its first phase in history dynamic social change was considered a Moslem phenomenon.

The Quran loads praise upon strength of faith and zealous activism. The Arabic word ‘Juhd’ (struggle, effort, to exert oneself) seems to lie at the root of all commendable deeds. Through struggle with yourself you achieve righteousness (جهاد النفس), through intellectual effort you achieve rational knowledge and understand the meaning of revealed knowledge (الاجتهاد), and through dedication to the cause of Truth you seek to reshape the world around you الجهاد) ).

This attitude enabled the Muslims to acquire the then known philosophies, so that Peter Abelard (d. 1142, a friend of Peter the venerable) had used the word philosopher as a synonym of the word Muslim. The Muslims have reshaped the cultures of the then civilized world so that W.M. Watt said: “there is something almost incredible and because of that fascinating in the story of how the ancient cultures of the Middle East became transformed into Islamic culture”. They effected such an achievement in social engineering so that W. C. Smith said: “Surely the Islamic enterprise has been the most serious and sustained endeavor ever put forward to implement justice among men”.

Their economic enterprise has furnished the world with the most advanced international economic system the world had ever known before modern times, according to M. Rodonson. Their impact on Europe was tremendous. I have detailed that impact in a lecture I gave to the Islamic University of Omdurman. Here I shall mention only the effects of that impact upon the two wheels, which transported Europe out of the “age of darkness”, i.e. the Reformation and The Renaissance.

No one denies that knowledge of the ancient philosophies and sciences of mankind passed into Europe through Moslem mediation. The details of the influence of Islam on Europe may be studied in a book by W.M. Watt titled: “The influence of Islam on Medieval Europe”. This explains the spark, which kindled the Renaissance.

After contact with Islam, Europeans have come across the concept of religion based on conscience rather than on an establishment. They also discovered the concept of faith based upon a holy text rather than a holy man. Those were the basic ideas of the Reformation.

Europe then proceeded to build modern civilization while the world of Islam slumped gradually into stagnation.

When the world of Islam encountered Europe again it was an encounter between a powerful and dynamic European civilization and a stagnant and weak Islamic world.

Europe sought to monopolize modernization, which it described as Europeanization or Westernization. This is incorrect because modernization is the achievement of all the civilizations of mankind. Muslim civilization and others have contributed to the intellectual, scientific, and technological, developments, which led up to modernization. In this sense, modernization is the further development of heritage of mankind. It is desirable, indeed inevitable, because it provides the best means to multiply the effects of human effort and employ it to achieve economic welfare and military prowess.

There are several ways to modernize society. Two ways distinguished by modern European thought are:

The Marxist theory which describes an inevitable thrust from feudalism into capitalism and then socialism. The process, according to Marx is as inevitable as biological evolution and when the technique of production and the relations of production reach a certain stage of development, the existing system will be overthrown and the system next in line established. Soviet experience reversed this order of things: a political event, the Bolshevik Revolution, built the modern Soviet Economy.

Rostow describes an alternative pattern. He says that all human societies are in one of five stages of development. Through certain changes, a traditional, society moves towards a pre-take-off stage, then take-off into self-sustained growth, then economic maturity, then the mass consumption stage[2].

The communist pattern requires a working class movement to lead society and build a system similar to that in Eastern Europe. In reality this role has fallen upon communist parties which claimed to be the conscience of the working classes.

The Rostow pattern requires a middle class to lead society to build a system similar to that in western Europe and American.

When middle classes have not been forthcoming, military regimes established by senior officers have claimed and been encouraged to think that they can play the role of the middle classes in effecting modernization according to the capitalist recipe. And where the working classes have not performed the role ascribed to them by the communist pattern, junior Army officers have claimed and been encouraged to think that they can play the role of the working classes in effecting communist modernization.

Both patterns, are, therefore, based on a class role, both substitute army officers for their chosen classes and both make short thrift of traditional societies considering them mere obstacles in the path of modernization. The responses of traditional societies to the changes required by modernization are, however, different.

One such difference was described by Peter Lloyd in his book “classes, crises, and coups”. He studied social conditions in two villages whose affairs are regulated by traditional cultures, one village called Agbaga in Southern Nigeria, the other called Tajor in Southern India.

Land in the Nigerian village is communally owned, the tribal chief simply regulates its utilization, work in the land and social mobility are open to all the villagers. The Indian village, on the other hand, binds all social activity to the caste system. In this village, ownership and social status are reflections of events which have taken place in previous incarnations. Obviously, the society in the Nigerian village is more conducive to change than the society in the Indian village[3].

Liberated from those Euro-centric misconceptions, we may now refuse to right-off Islam in the context of social change, and seriously pose the question: What is the Islamic response to social change?


Second Section

The Credentials of Social Change in Islam

One aspect of Islam deals with the spiritual teachings. These are eternal and are considered the same for all revealed religion. In the words of the Qurān:

(Not an apostle did we send before thee without this inspiration sent by us to him: that there is no God but I, therefore worship and serve Me)[4]. Al-Anbiā’, 25

Islam is submission to that Truth and the term is used in the Qurān to describe all the believers in it.

Another aspect of Islam deals with morality. Here Islam bases morality on the three objective foundations of morality viz.: compatibility, altruism and universality. Thus:

Compatibility: The Prophet (PBUH) said: ‘No man is a true believer unless he desireth for his brother that which he desireth for himself’[5].

Altruism: The Quran said:

 )Those who give preference to others even though they are in great need([6]. Al-Ḥashr, 9

Universality: The Qurān said:

(They are urged to do what is universally accepted as good ‘al-Maᶜrūf’ and to avoid that which is universally considered repulsive ‘al-Munkar’[7]) Al-Aͨrāf, 157

A third aspect of Islam deals with social and legislative matters.

This aspect is dealt with by a limited number of Quranic verses.

Those social and legislative verses are either of a general nature, or, when specific, require complex conditions for their application.

We shall explain, later, how large is the role of the Islamic community in the elucidation and application of those injunctions.

Muslim scholars have recognized the nature of the social aspect of Islamic teachings. Thus in the book; Sharḥ Ibn Abī Ḥadīd, volume III Abu Jaͨfar Al-Najīb says: “The companions of the Prophet have been faithful to the spiritual injunctions of Islam and kept them unchanged. The social teachings, however, they applied with flexibility”.

Again, in his book on Islamic policy (al-Siyāsa al-Sharᶜīya) Ibn Qayyim al-Jawzīya quotes Ibn ͨUqēl, saying: “To say that such policy must be based on the holy texts is faulty, and would put the companions of the prophet at fault”. Otherwise, how can we explain such policies as ͨUthman’s burning up of the unauthorized texts of the Quran? Or ᶜUmar`s burning town of Saᶜd`s Ibn Abī Waqqāṣ’ palace because the owner used it to isolate himself from the people?[8]

ᶜUmar, the second khalīfa, accommodated change, which was beneficial to the community. Thus he instituted the Divan, a book keeping system copied from ancient Persian practice. He refused to divide the black soil lands of the river valleys among the warrior, to avoid feudalism, and introduced a land tax instead, Al-Kharāj, When two employees of Ḥāṭib Ibn Abi Baltaᶜa stole a camel, he refused to punish them for theft and fined their employer instead because he underpaid them. Also ᶜUmar suspended the punishment for theft during a period of famine. For the political benefit of the community, he suspended the head tax of the Christians of Najrān area and Taghlib tribe.

This whole attitude will further consolidate when we make the following observations about the schools of Muslim law:

  1. Abu Jaᶜfar al-Manṣūr asked al-Imām Mālik to write a moderate book of law avoiding the two extremes of Ibn ᶜAbbās (license) and Ibn ᶜUmar (strictness). He wrote it and al-Manṣūr was so impressed by it that he decided to impose it as the official legal code for the community. Mālik refused and advised thus: ”do not do so Commander of the faithful. All sections of the Islamic community have received the holy text and the prophetic sayings as we have received them. Do not interfere with the choice they made for themselves to suit their circumstances”.
  2. The schools of Muslim law have elucidated and extended the regulations in the given holy texts by the methods of:

Ijmāᶜ i.e. Consensus

Qiyās i.e.  Analogy

Istiḥsān i.e.  Preference, employed more by the Ḥanafi school.

Istiṣlāḥ i.e. Utility, employed more by the Māliki school.

Istiṣḥāb i.e. The acceptance of customs and practices which do not contradict that which is specifically prohibited. Employed more by the Shafiᶜi school.

The schools of Muslim law employed those devices in varying degrees. Their interpretations of some Quranic injunctions varied. The extent to which they relied upon opinion also varied. So, their methodology reflected clear differences. Differences have also been reflections of the influence of their heterogeneous social environments.

Thus: The Māliki school which developed in the more patriarchal, more moralistic, less class-conscious environment of al-Madīna maintains that a woman may be married off only by her guardian, that her husband need not be her social equal, and that if she were divorced three times, she could not be re-married to her x-husband until she had been properly married and divorced by an intervening husband.

The Ḥanafi School evolved in the more cosmopolitan more class-conscious environment of al-Kūfa, whose attitude to legal matters was more formalistic. Consequently it, maintains that a woman decides over questions of her own marriage, that her husband must be her social equal and that the intervening husband could perform a formal marriage only, i.e. he may be a boy who could not consummate the marriage, or he may simply have married her to make it possible for her to re-marry her ex-husband.

The Shāfiᶜi School developed after the first two, reflects and satisfies the need for a more systematic approach to the formulation of law from the given texts.

The Ḥanbali School was the last of the four Sunni schools of law. By the time of its development, the Islamic community was growing increasingly anxious about the impact of foreign ideas on its unity. Those fears, together with other factors, have later caused the door of Ijtihād to be closed. Meanwhile those fears reflected themselves in the strictness of the Ḥanbali school.

Later, when Taqlīd become a menace and crippled any effort to develop the legal formulations in the light of changing circumstances, Ḥanbali jurists became exceedingly radical, reflecting the need to bypass the authority of Taqlīd. Al-Manār vol. X quotes a Ḥanbali  jurist Najm al-Dīn Aṭ-Țūfi (d. 1316 Christian Era) as saying: ”Every utility is a necessity which must be observed in the regulation of society. This, of course, applies to social issues because creed must be observed as transmitted”.

Better-known Ḥanbali jurists who responded to the need for social change with radical views are Ibn Qayyim al-Jawzīya (already mentioned) and Ibn Ḥazm, who advocated revolutionary ideas about state intervention in favor of social justice. He also said: “when a prohibited matter, opposes something which has overwhelming utility, the prohibition is waived”.

Conservative Muslim jurists and authors never accepted this dynamic attitude to the role of the Ummah. They considered the Ummah’s  role in the following terms:  To receive the given holy texts, understand them as literally as possible, and apply the injunctions without further elucidation or rational explanation. In fact, they maintain that Allah’s words should be received as given because the Qurān says:

(He (Allah) cannot be questioned for His acts; they (people) will be questioned for theirs)[9].     Al-Anbiyā’, 23

This verse, however, only means that Allah is not accountable to anyone for His acts in terms of reward and punishment as are human beings.

In his Al-Muwāfaqāt, Al-Shāṭibi said that Allah’s sayings are always reasoned and point to certain aims. Reason is a condition for religious duty in Islam and to give instructions which contradict reason would make the whole exercise ridiculous[10]. This is what the Quran explicitly rules out:

(Not for idle sport did we create heaven and earth and what exists between them[11]).      Al-Anbiyā’, 16

All acts and injunctions are supported in the Quran by some raison d’etre, for example, when reference is made to the Prophets, the Quran says:

(Apostles revealing the Truth and the consequent rewards and punishments for peoples’ deeds so that none could  be excused on the basis of ignorance)[12].   Al-Nisā’, 165

Also to the Prophet Muḥammad:

(We have sent you down only as an act of mercy to mankind)[13].   Al-Anbiyā’, 107

Referring to the reason for creation, the Quran said:

(To test the righteousness of mankind.[14]) Al-Mulk, 2

Referring to the justification for Jihād, the Quran says:

(Those who have suffered injustice have been permitted to fight and make war[15]).  Al-Ḥaj, 39

Referring to retribution, the Quran said:

(Retribution preserves life[16].) Al-Baqara, 179

And so on right through the text of the Quran.

Speculating on the philosophy of Islamic law, Aḥmad Ibn Idrīs Al-Qarāfi al-Māliki (d. 684) said in his book Al-Furūq: The holy texts are the sources of the laws, and from them we can deduce the laws. There are, however, besides the laws, general principles that pervade the holy texts, and that constitute the secrets of the Shariᶜa and its guiding directives[17].

Some of those guiding directives are: harm is neither to be inflicted nor answered in kind, necessity waives prohibition, urgent need is a necessity, that which is a must for the carrying out of a certain duty is itself a duty, and a public interest overrides a private interest, and so no. Several authors have written about those guiding principles, for example:

Al-Qawāᶜid by Abdel Raḥmān Ibn Rajab Al-Ḥanbali.[18] (d. 795 AH)

Al-Ashbāh wal-Naẓā’ir by Jalāl al-Dīn al-Suyūṭi Al- Shāfiᶜī [19](d. 911AH).

Those classics show the dynamic nature of Sharīᶜa.

Al-Ghazāli wrote an autobiographical booklet, which he called: Al-Munqidh Min Al-Ḍalāl[20]. In that booklet he described the need for a positive response to change in the following way: “when new forces of intellectual and social change challenge the status quo, it is no use to try to patch up the shattered glass as some do under the regime of Taqlīd. The only reasonable and workable thing to do is to heat the material and reduce it to a liquid state and then remold it “.

In the corpus of Islamic belief and thought, there is even a pervasive belief in a revolutionary response to change: The Quranic promise that the righteous shall inherit the earth, the prophetic traditions about an expected Mahdi narrated by Tirmidhi, Ibn Dawūd, al-Ḥākim and Ibn Māja, through: ᶜAli, Ibn ᶜAbbās, Ibn ᶜUmar, Abu Saᶜīd Al-Khudari and Umsalama, and the urgent need for radical change for the better, have all contributed to make belief in the expected Mahdi a built-in principle of revolutionary change which was held by all sections of the Islamic community.

The most famous Shiᶜa belief in the expected Mahdi is that of the Twelver sect, who believe that the Twelfth Imām will re-appear as the Mahdi. The Sunnah Muslims expressed their beliefs in the expected Mahdi in various books, for example:-

Al-Bayān fi Akhbār Ṣāḥib Al-Zamān by Al-Nakaji Al-Shāfiᶜi

Al-ᶜArf Al-Wadrī fi Akhbār al-Mahdi by Jalāl al-Dīn al-Suyūṭi

Al-Qawl Al-Mukhtaṣar fi ᶜAlāmāt Al-Mahdi Al-Muntaẓar by Ibn Ḥijr Al-Haytami.

ᶜIqd Al-Durar fi Akhbār Al-Imām Al-Muntaẓar by Yūsuf Ibn Yaḥya Al-Dimishqi.

Third Section

From Dynamism to Stagnation

We can see how at a point in history, Islam was associated with dynamic and constructive change. The Moslem jurists and authors have shown how Islam could and did respond positively to social change. Then several factors conspired to eclipse that image and to bequeath Islam the reputations of stagnant, fatalistic and reactionary-a state of affairs represented by an Arabic poem, which states:

Things have been per-ordained.

To be active or inactive are equivalent.

Even the embryo in its womb is well provided for,

Therefore, those who make any effort to win their daily bread must be insane!! [21]


Factors of Stagnancy

Four factors have conspired to crystallize this stagnant trend:

First: The regime of Taqlīd, which imposed an intellectual straight jacket on the community.

Second: The development of a despotic political regime terminated freedom of thought and action and made policy the instrument of an increasingly decadent despotism.

Third: The development of social and economic privilege increasingly segregated the community and subordinated the interests of the community to selfish economic interests of the rulers and the well to do.

Forth: Burdened by Taqlīd, despotism and economic injustice, the masses of the population have taken refuge in quietist shelters provided by the Sufi orders.

Stagnation displaced dynamism and the Islamic community acquired the decadent characteristics wrongly ascribed by such authors as the German sociologist Max Weber to Islam.

So we may conclude that Islam preaches socially dynamic teachings and is capable of positively responding to change. That at some stage and for various reasons, Islamic society fortified itself against social change and proceeded to acquire a reactionary character. Islam has been made to wear the mantle of fatalism and stagnation. This, more than any other factor, prepared the Islamic community for the invasion of foreign creeds and ideologies.

Fourth Section

What Calls for Change?

The predicament of the Third World calls for a second birth to avoid inevitable calamity.

During the past century, populations in the Third World were stabilized on the basis of long term growth of 1% per annum. The death rate which prevailed then was 40 per thousand. During the first third of the 20th century, technological and scientific developments in medical and health services brought the death rate down to 25 per thousand.

Consequently in the second half of the Twentieth century populations all over the Third World sustained an average growth of 2.6% per annum.

This effectively consumed all the benefits which agricultural developments in the food growing sector of the Third World had achieved.

Until 1950 the Third World was a net exporter of food. That position was reversed so that it became a net importer of foodstuffs. They imported foodstuffs worth $8bn in 1970 and its food requirements are estimated by FAO to grow by 3.6% per annum for all the period between 1970 and 1985.

The benefits of agricultural development in the cash crop sector have been eroded by the secular tendency of the terms of trade to move in favor of manufactured goods. This trend in the tendency of the terms of trade can be seen to have been so during all the last eighty years.

Industrial growth in the Third World sustained an average growth of 6.6% per annum between 1950 and 1970. Since then the rate of growth tended to drop because of the absence of trade outlets. Although international trade is growing annually, the share of the Third World in that trade, with the exception of trade in oil, is diminishing.

The Third World is also suffering from number of socio-economic problems; unemployment was estimated to stand at 160 million persons in 1970 in the whole of the Third World. The ILO[22] expects unemployment to increase at an average rate of 2.4% per annum in the period between 1970 and 1985.

There is a cancerous growth in urbanization so that some cities are growing at the rate of 4%, 6% or 8%, per annum without any relation to their ability to provide jobs or services to their expanding populations.

Education is not yielding results compatible with the investments in it. In every respect, the educational programs are built on the image of this or that overseas ‘mother’ country. The result is that the educational effort is less meaningful in terms of the problems of the home country. This led to the phenomenon of the internal brain drain. Its negative effects are worsened by the negative effects of the external brain drain, when the bright persons are siphoned off to work and live overseas.

The economic burdens are beginning to be unbearable in the Third World.

In 1970 the total indebtedness of the Third World was $79bn. In 1980 it became $300bn. The debt service for the whole Third World wad $9bn in 1974. Today it is more than twice that figure. The balance of payments deficit for the Third World was £10bn in 1970 now it is more than trebled. The only exception in those figures is the position of the oil producing countries. Those countries have sold their oil cheaply until 1970. In fact, in real terms, the price of oil fell by 50% between 1950 and 1970. This enabled the Western European industrial countries to realize their post war ”miracles”.

After 1973 the oil producing countries raised the price of oil and effected more control over the production of oil. The revenues of oil producing countries now number in hundreds of millions of dollars. They have managed to embark upon very ambitious development plans in terms of expenditure. The economic viability of  many of the industrial and agricultural projects implemented under those plans is doubtful.

Further, the technology being transferred into the oil producing countries is an advanced technology, which further strengthens the dependence links with the source country from which it is being imported. This also applies to the purchase of arms, which has reached horrendous proportions. One example suffices: Iran purchased arms from America worth $10bn between 1972 and 1976.The purchasing power of the funds of oil producing countries is continuously being eroded by inflation and dollar devaluation.

The Vietnam War has cost America $270 bn, but it is the first war America fought without having to raise more taxes. America financed the Vietnam war by printing more dollars and sustaining huge deficits. The rest of the world, which continued to use the dollar as its reserve currency had to make do with a devalued dollar and, in effect, financed the American policies.

The import bills of the oil producing countries have reached astronomical figures reflecting the enormous growth of consumption markets at home whose tastes are firmly attached to western goods.

Robert Graham reports how every device is used to make the oil producing countries recycle their funds. He said that contractors particularly in the military field were quoting “one price for Iran and the Gulf, another for the rest of our clients”.

In fact through recycling, capital flight, investments in foreign countries, huge purchases and import bills, a large proportion of the earnings of oil producing countries is being expatriated.

Almost always the effect of oil wealth has been to evolve a rentier mentality, which has a detrimental effect on the agricultural sectors of the oil producing countries- even countries whose agricultural sector was well established suffered a neglect of agriculture. Another effect of the oil boom has been a destabilizing increase in the rate of inflation. This plus a sharply unequal pattern of income distribution in many oil producing countries, has had the effect of widening the social gap between the classes. The result is to increase socio-political tension.

Throughout the Third World, there is a high degree of political alienation between the rulers and the rest of the population. In many cases the psycho-sociological gap is so wide that the regimes can be described as regimes of internal colonialism. Those regimes spend about 50% of public revenues on top-heavy administrative hierarchies. They direct no less than a third of expenditure on security matters – security expenditure, which is aimed at controlling hostile populations. The whole system can be described as a regime of salaried feudalism.

Currently the ruling elites identify with left wing or right wing alien ideologies. Substantial sections of the new social forces support or oppose the regimes in terms of alien ideologies of right and left. Meanwhile the rest of the population is engrossed in deeply slumbering traditional concepts and creeds. Throughout the Third World, societies are urgently in need of an ideology, which will articulate their self- awareness, consolidate their self –confidence, mobilize their effort for development and create a powerful co-cultural nexus between the rulers and the masses.

So we may conclude: internal and external reasons make the predicament of the contemporary Third World unbearable. A radical change, a second birth, a new start, is the imperative remedy for this state of affairs.


Fifth Section

Between Identity and Modernization


Some western thinkers recommend a second birth in terms of a capitalist system, which will institute laissez-faire at home and free trade abroad. The weakness of the national entrepreneurs will simply make them, under free trade, a prey to foreign economic interests. Further, their life styles and preoccupation with trade, real estate speculation, and export and import activities, do not qualify them for the rigorous role of spear-heading economic development. Free trade could only lead to the total  hegemony of the multi-national companies and the powerful economies, which back them.

Apart from those problems, a capitalist program of development, which is based on laissez- faire, is bound to leave industrial relations and social services to market forces. This is no longer feasible because national and international opinion is now saturated with a high degree of social consciousness, which can only be, satisfied by a high degree of welfare legislation and social security.

The alternative communist program is alienated by the atheist nature of communist ideology. It is also disqualified by insistence on a class war, which undermines the national unity required for the success of the development plan. It undermines the cohesion of society in favor of internationalism, which is a thin veil for Soviet national interest.

Some leaders in the Third World have sought to build national-socialist alternatives to capitalism and communism. Abd al-Nāṣir, Nikrumah, the Baᶜth party and Nyrere are cases in point. Abd al-Nāṣir’s and Nikrumah’s efforts have come to total grief and their respective countries have turned against them full circle.

The two regimes of the Baᶜth party have not been able to strike roots and are encircled by opposition movements.

Nyere’s regime is politically stable, but economically it is outdone by capitalist Kenya.

The main causes of failure in these cases are: Their failure to effect sustained economic development, their failure to develop a popular basis for government and their undue subordination to the international power play.

Some Muslim activists and thinkers think that the collapse of those ideologies and programs should lead to the victory of an Islamic program based on traditional Islamic concepts and systems. This attitude is both faulty and dangerous.

Faulty, because we have explained how those traditional concepts and systems have been influenced by the surrounding intellectual and social environment. To try to resurrect them is to try to shape contemporary society in the mould of a bygone intellectual and social past.

For example, when interpreters of the Quran explained the Quranic verse (Wal-Arḍa Baᶜda Dhālika Daḥāha)[23], they explained it as follows: Daḥāha i.e Basaṭaha, which means spread it out. In the light of past cosmology, they could only interpret the word Daḥā as spread out. In fact, the word Daḥā in Arabic means to round. In the light of contemporary cosmology the meaning is now clear.

Again, constitutional jurists made a Qurashite descent a condition for becoming a Khalīfa. This and the whole traditional concept of Khalīfa is irrelevant for us today.

I have described the credentials for social change in Islam and maintained that through positive response to social change, the Islamic Ummah dispensed its historical trusteeship.

To insist upon a return to traditional Islamic patterns misrepresents Islam, ignores the dynamism of its social teachings, and neglects the Islamic exhortation that we should employ all the sources of knowledge: the intuitive, the rational and the empirical.

Dangerous, because to think about the present in terms of a past social straight jacket only play into the hands of anti-Islamic ideology.

Marx thought that ideolism is necessarily socially reactionary. This is incorrect. Plato was an ideolist philosopher who was socially progressive. He maintained, among other things, that the highest income  in the Republic should not exceed four times the lowest income. Hobbes was a materialist philosopher but his social system was despotic and reactionary. Islam as a creed belies the Marxist ideas because it involves belief in an ideal system which makes allowance for social change.

We may now conclude that the capitalist, communist, national socialist and traditional Islamic programs will not effect the requisite second birth – the first three programs because they seek modernization at the cost of identity and authenticity, the fourth program because it satisfies the latter (identity and authenticity) at the cost of modernization, but both modernization and identity have to be catered for.

Sixth Section

Route to Change for Muslims

Many non-Muslims have observed the deep roots, which Islam tends to strike in the hearts and minds of Muslims. That it is easier to convert a person from any religion than it is to convert a Muslim and that however suppressed, Muslims retain their Islamic identity.

After years of de-Islamization, Turkey is again alive to its Islamic identity. After a quarter of a century of an Aryan-westernizing regime, the Iranians are asserting their Islamism in the most pronounced way. That the Muslims among the Soviet troops, which invaded Afghanistan, rushed into the bookshops of Kabul to buy the available copies of the Quran, and so on. There are unique features about Islam, which may go some way to explain this tenacity:

  1. Muḥammad is the only Prophet in history whose historicity is undoubtful. He was the only Prophet to build a state whose success story stands towering in world history. In eighty years its territorial expanse surpassed that which the Roman Empire amassed in eight hundred years.
  2. The Quran is the only holy book whose authenticity cannot be doubted. A book which became the definitive classic of Arabic for fourteen hundred years. A book whose value is being increased by the expansion of human knowledge.
  3. The most important national communities of the Islamic world i.e. the Arabs, the Turks, the Iranians had their most glorious periods in history under the banners of Islam.
  4. The movements of social and national awakening in Moslem countries have been inspired and articulated by Islamic founding fathers viz.: ᶜOthman Dan Fudio (Nigerian), Muḥammad Abdu (Egyptian), Jamāl al-Dīn (Afghan), Ḥāj ᶜUmar al-Fūti (Senegal), Abdel Qādir al-Jazā’ri (Algerian), ᶜUmar al-Mukhtār (Lebyian), Muḥammad Aḥmad al-Mahdi (Sudan), and so on.
  5. To the Muslims, Islam has been more than Christianity, Greco-Roman culture, Latin and Roman law combined have been to Europe.

This multi-faceted impact ensures the presence of Islam at all the levels of consciousness of a Muslim. Those who try to develop their societies outside or in hostility to Islam can only begin to succeed if they effect an intellectual, psychological, and cultural, exchange transfusion.

The inevitability of development based on Islamic credentials is further strengthened by the fact that the alternative ideologies are now in the defensive. The moral and spiritual emptiness of the Western system is causing anxiety to many thoughtful Western Thinkers. A. Huxley said: “Such is the world in which we find ourselves- a world which judged by the only acceptable criterion of progress is manifestly in regression. Technological advance is rapid. But without progress, in charity, technological advance is useless”.

The popularity, in the west, of such philosophies as existentialism, logical positivism, and language analysis, is a clear sign of intellectual surrender.

The same impression is strengthened by the appeal of such books as Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock, Daniel Bell’s End of Ideology and Charles Riech’s Greening of America. This last book actually calls for soul therapy.

Under the surface, Western society lives in a high degree of spiritual chaos: all types of primitive religions grip the hearts of people. Ancestor worship exists in the form of mother and father fixations. Worship of natural forces exists in the form of the worship of such forces as: success, the market and prosperity. Peoples’ behavior may be described in terms of fetishism,  ritualism, and totemism. A deep look at western society will not lead to a decision to emulate it.

The communist alternative is even worse off. The communists have been beaten by the west in their own cherished field i.e. the field of technology. The new social forces in the Soviet Union are no longer satisfied with current ideology. One of the first books to be written in the Soviet Union after the relaxation which followed Stalin’s death is the revealing novel “Not by bread alone“.

Communist civilization is in search for a soul. This is indicated by such concepts as socialism with a human face, Euro-communism, and the tumultuous reception for the pope in Poland.

So for us Muslims, social change must be based on Islamic Credentials.

Seventh Section

Islam and Social Change


You may turn to me and say: we accept the logic of your argument, but Islam does have aspects, which are inimical to social change. They are: the punishments, the status of women, inheritance, the economic restrictions, the detrimental effects on science and the religious intolerance.

Let us take them one by one:

First: The punishments:

There are four canonical punishments called Ḥudūd. To apply them there are complex conditions, which must be fulfilled. Thus the conditions for amputating a thief’s hand are so difficult to fulfill that, if properly observed, there will be a mitigating circumstance preventing it. For example, there must be no pseudo-entitlement to the stolen property, e.g. if it is public property, or if it belongs to a relative, or if it belongs to someone indebted to the thief, and so no, then there is no amputation. The thief must have broken into an enclosure, thus, there is no amputation if he had embezzled money or picked it from a pocket or snatched it from the owner. There must be a certain standard of social welfare because the existence of social injustice prevents amputation. That is why ᶜUmar would not amputate the hands of the two employees of Ibn Abi Baltaᶜa because they were underpaid.

To punish an adulterer four witnesses, who have actually seen the act, must be presented. This is most improbable.

Therefore, those punishments (Ḥudūd) must be understood as a measurement of the moral fault involved. The momentousness of the prescribed punishments serves as a moral deterrent. Short of the application of those weighty punishments, the Muslim community could measure punishment to guilt and protect itself against crime.


Second: The Status of Women:

Islam considers man the male human half and women the female human half. The Prophet said women are the other halves (Shaqāyiq) of men. There is a division of function between them.

Both establish the family and have a role in it. Both live in society and have role in it. But the duties of maternity make the wife’s family role more important for her, and the duties of paternity make the husband’s society role more important for him. And since the family, is an organization, the man heads that organization to ensure harmony. This pattern seems to be the only one, which could make the family, as a social unit, viable. Nowhere was a better arrangement developed. But what about the signs of female inferiority in Islam like polygamy, the witness status, and the half- share in inheritance?

Polygamy: Marriage is not an Islamic sacrament. Polygamy is not an Islamic duty. Marriage  in Islam is a contract to regulate conjugal relations. According to Abu Ḥanīfa, whenever the Quran refers to marriage, it indicates that it is voluntarily decided by the woman concerned. So it is a contract freely entered into by one party asking the other and the other accepting. According to Aḥmad Ibn Ḥanbal, if the terms of contract require, that the husband should not take another wife, and that the wife should have the right to divorce, then those terms are binding and should be enforced by the law courts.

Witness status: Two women witnesses are required to take the place of one male witness in financial matters. This regulation is justified in the text by the possibility that one woman forgets and is reminded by the other. This is quite possible in financial matters with which women are not normally familiar. In matters with which they are more familiar,  i.e. maternal affairs, their witness is even preferable to that of men. Anyway, the onus is not on status but on familiarity with the subject matter of what is being witnessed. In an exchange between Aḥmad and Isḥāq Ibn Manṣūr, Aḥmad said that he would accept the witness of a single woman if she was trustworthy.

Inheritance: The family in Islam is consolidated as the building brick of the community. Spiritual and moral factors are directed to that end. Several verses of the Quran link belief in Allah with paternal and maternal duty. There is a Qudsi tradition which says: ‘I am Al-Raḥmān (the Merciful: Allah) and, the term for blood relation (Rahim) is derived from My name: I am pleased with those who honor it and reject those who break it’.

The inheritance formula in Islam is part of a package designed to make the family system viable. Since the wife is likely to be incapacitated by pregnancy, childbirth and childcare, the duty of providing for the family is squarely placed on the husband without depriving the wife of her economic right, which she can treat as her own without any family obligation. Those rights are: the right to half an inheritance, the right to trade and earn wages and the right to be the sole recipient of a payment made at her marriage and should be kept by her as a kind of insurance. If social values and obligations change, a person may freely will a third of his inheritance in such a way as to affect the share of his sons, his daughters, and the rest of his family[24].

Third: Economic restrictions:

The economic system of Islam denies the legitimacy of unearned income. That is why it prohibits gambling, monopolistic earnings, middle-men trade and so on. Islam prohibits interest as a source of unearned income. If capital is productive, Islam agrees that it should be rewarded. What Islam prevents, is reward to capital when it has sustained a loss.

The theory of interest has justified it as an incentive to save. J.M. Keynes has discussed that concept and concluded that there are several motives, which drive people to save and that the factor, which determines the level of saving, is not interest but the level of investment through its effect on incomes. He maintained that high interest rates tend to decrease investment and so decrease incomes and saving. He advised that all possible means including the sanction of the moral law should be employed to curtail the rate of interest.

Under an Islamic economic system interest, which involves no transfer of resources from one owner to another, would be sanctioned. Under such circumstances no party will receive unearned income but interest will simply measure the efficiency of capital in the various available uses. Also interest could be sanctioned if it is a means of compensation for owners for losses due to inflation and devaluation. Also interest could be sanctioned when an Islamic banking system deals with a non-Islamic banking system on the basis of the age-old Islamic principle of reciprocity.

A modern Islamic banking system could operate all the current banking facilities against payment of fixed fees. It should, however, not engage in the interest bearing transactions. Instead it could function in the way equity banks function today. In an Islamic society the moral injunction not to hoard will be aided by the economic impact of Zakat which acts as a negative rate of interest eroding hoarded wealth and favoring its activation.

So the restriction of interest in the Islamic system serves economic, moral and even political purposes.

The political purpose it serves is that it prevent the growth of an envied rentier class. This restriction is by no means an obstacle to the development of an active banking system. It simply means the development of an active modern banking system within different structural and financial arrangements. The same goes for insurance which is a beneficial institution which Islam would highly welcome because it minimizes risk and protects owners from crippling loss. The only sufferance is that in an Islamic setup the insurance funds will be invested in dividend earning shares instead of interest bearing deposits[25].

Fourth: Islam positively encourages the acquisition of technological and scientific knowledge. All sources of human knowledge are sanctioned by Islam. Thus in the case of intuitive knowledge the Quran said:

(Obey Allah, and believe in His Prophet and He will give you two portions of his blessings and appoint a light to guide your actions)[26]. Al-Ḥadīd, 28

The prophet said: ‘Beware of the intuition of the faithful because he sees by the light of Allah’[27].

In the case of empirical knowledge the Quran said:

(Do they not travel through the land so that their hearts and minds may thus learn wisdom and their ears may thus learn to hear?)[28]  Al-Ḥaj, 46

In the case of rational knowledge, the Quran said:

(So we detail signs for people who think.)[29] Al-Jāthia, 13

The Quran repeats the need to employ our rational faculties in more than fifty verses.

A French scientist Maurice Baucaille has recently published a book called the Bible, the Quran, and science. He said that he examined the Arabic text of the Quran and made a list of the objects mentioned which are of a scientific nature. He then concluded : “It was only when I examined the text very closely in Arabic, that I kept a list of them at the end of which I had to acknowledge the evidence in front of me: the Quran did not contain a single statement that was assailable from a modern scientific point of view”.

Fifth: Religious toleration: Islam does not simply tolerate, it positively recognizes other monotheist religions. Abu Ḥanīfa, on the basis of traditions, extended this attitude to all other religions. This, of course, is simply an application of the Quranic injunction:

(There is no compulsion in religion)[30]. Al-Baqara, 256

The question whether the head-tax (Jizya) is a religious or a political tax was debated extensively by the classical jurists. One school of thought considered it a political tax, a belief supported by ᶜUmar’s practice who waived its enforcement on the Christians of Najrān and the tribe of Taghlib for political purposes. Therefore, the question of head tax on non-Muslim citizens of a Muslim community should be governed by our current political interests.

Islam bases peaceful international relations on sound foundations. Thus, the Quran says:

(Fight in the way of Allah those who fight you. Do not make aggression, Allah deplores the aggressors.[31]) Al-Baqara, 190

Also the Quran says:

)Allah does not instruct you not to love and to do justice to those who refrain from persecuting you on religious grounds and expelling you from your homes.[32]( Al-Mumtaḥina, 8

So we may conclude that the positive spiritual content of Islam, the depth of its entrenchment in Moslem hearts and minds, the flexibility of its social teachings, the failure of all alternative ideologies, the issue of legitimacy and identity together with authentic modernization, add up to support the cause of Islam.

I am thinking about Islam not in the sense of a complacent return to an ideal model, but in the sense of a positive response to challenge. Islamic thought is required to respond to the challenge of the modernization of society, the democratization of politics, the development and socialization of the economy, the fraternization and rectification of international relations.. to respond to those challenges from Islamic foundations based on Islamic credentials.

Myself and others are working on blue-prints, which constitute a systematic response to that challenge. Here, I am satisfied, if I succeed in persuading you to recognize the credentials for social change in Islam, and restore to Islam in your hearts and minds its basic social dynamism.


Finally there are seven points about Islam which are the meeting points between reason and revelation and which could provide the Truth which religion and philosophy have labored to discover through human history. They are:

First:  Islam preaches an eternal spiritual message about the omnipotent, omniscient, creator of the universe to whom all creation is subject. It also preaches a flexible social code to cater for varieties of time and place.

Second: Islam recognized and advocated the three objective principles of morality: compatibility, universality, and altruism.

Third: Islam recognized and preached the employment of the three sources of human knowledge: intuition, empiricism, and rationality.

Fourth: Whereas ideologies and creeds erred between the extremes of individualism and collectivism, between spiritualism and materialism and between anthropocentrism and theocentrism, Islam preached the Golden Mean.

Fifth: Islam based inter-religious relations on two most advanced pillars: freedom of religious conscience and recognition rather than simple toleration.

Sixth: Islam based international relations on reciprocity and the brotherhood of humankind, i.e. your humanity is recognized above differences in creed and color.

Seventh: Islam involves some unique features: the Prophet Muḥammad and his unique achievements among Prophets, the Quran and its unique characteristics among holy books and the success story, which characterizes the historical impact of Islam as a religion and as a civilization.

He who believes that those seven coups of genius and achievement are the doings of an uneducated  Arab who lived in the seventh century of the Christians era, is credulous enough to believe anything.

The conclusion is forced upon us that the uneducated Arab was the instrument of a masterly revelation. In the words of the Quran:

(Such is the doing of Allah who disposes of all things in perfect order. For He is well acquainted with all that you do)[33]. Al-Naml, 88



[1] Now ‘Usmanu Danfodiyo University’, in Sokoto, Nigeria

[2] Rostow, W. W. The Stages of Economic Growth, in The Economic History Review, Second Series, Vol XII, No. I

[3] Peter Lloyd, Classes, Crises and Coups, London: Paladin 1973

[4] (وَمَا أَرْسَلْنَا مِن قَبْلِكَ مِن رَّسُولٍ إِلَّا نُوحِي إِلَيْهِ أَنَّهُ لَا إِلَٰهَ إِلَّا أَنَا فَاعْبُدُونِ سورة الأنبياء الآية (25)

[5] Narrated by Al-Bukhāri and Muslim

[6] (وَيُؤْثِرُونَ عَلَى أَنْفُسِهِمْ وَلَوْ كَانَ بِهِمْ خَصَاصَةٌ) سورة الحشر الآية (9)

[7] (يَأْمُرُهُمْ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَيَنْهَاهُمْ عَنِ الْمُنْكَرِ وَيُحِلُّ لَهُمُ الطَّيِّبَاتِ وَيُحَرِّمُ عَلَيْهِمُ الْخَبَائِثَ)، سورة الأعراف الآية رقم 157

[8] أبي عبد الله محمد بن أبي بكر/ابن قيم الجوزية، الطرق الحكمية في السياسة الشرعية، ص 11-13

[9] سورة الأنبياء الآية (23)

[10]  أبو إسحق إبراهيم بن موسى بن محمد اللخمي الشاطبي، الموافقات، المجلد الثالث، دار ابن عفان للنشر والتوزيع، الخبر، الطبعة الأولى، 1997م،  ص 208-209

[11] سورة الأنبياء الآية (16)

[12] (رُّسُلاً مُّبَشِّرِينَ وَمُنذِرِينَ لِئَلاَّ يَكُونَ لِلنَّاسِ عَلَى ٱللَّهِ حُجَّةٌ بَعْدَ ٱلرُّسُلِ)، سورة النساء الآية (165)

[13] (وَمَا أَرْسَلْنَاكَ إِلَّا رَحْمَةً لِّلْعَالَمِينَ) سورة الأنبياء الآية (107)

[14] (ليَبْلُوَكُمْ أَيُّكُمْ أَحْسَنُ عَمَلًا)  سورة الملك الآية (2)

[15] (أُذِنَ لِلَّذِينَ يُقَاتَلُونَ بِأَنَّهُمْ ظُلِمُوا) سورة الحج الآية (39)

[16] (وَلَكُمْ فِي الْقِصَاصِ حَيَاةٌ يَا أُولِي الْأَلْبَابِ)  سورة البقرة الآية (179)

[17] أبو العباس أحمد بن إدريس الصنهاجي القرافي، الفروق أو أنوار البروق في أنواء الفروق، دار الكتب العلمية، بيروت، الطبعة الأولى 1998م، الجزء الأول، ص 6

[18] عبد الرحمن بن أحمد بن رجب بن الحسن، الحنبلي، القواعد

[19] جلال الدين السيوطي الشافعي، الأشباه والنظائر

[20] حجة الإسلام أبي حامد الغزالي، المنقذ من الضلال والموصل إلى ذي العزة والجلال.

[21] جرى قلم القضاء بما يكون    فسيان التحرك والســــكون

حرام منك أن تسعى لرزق     ويرزق في غشاوته الجنين

[22] International Labor Organization

[23] An-Nāziͨāt, 30 , (وَالْأَرْضَ بَعْدَ ذَلِكَ دَحَاهَا)، سورة النازعات الآية (30)

[24]  The author’s views developed later, stating that, albeit halving women’s share in some inheritance’ cases is famous, there are several instances in which women inherit like or even more that men in Sharīͨa. He also called for reviewing the inheritance formula in contexts were women’s obligations as bread earners are higher. See

الصادق المهدي، حقوق المرأة الإسلامية والإنسانية، الطبعة الثالثة، 2019م. في الموقعحقوق-المرأة-الإسلامية-والإنسانية-2

[25] The author studied later the so-called Islamic Banking system. He criticized the revived historical formulae as detrimental to investment and opposing the goals of Sharīͨa, he revised his views stated here on interest rate, arguing that it differs from the forbidden usury (Ribā). See

الصادق المهدي، جدلية الأصل والعصر، الطبعة الثانية، 2020م، ص 36جدلية-الأصل-والعصر-2

[26] (اتَّقُوا اللَّهَ وَآمِنُوا بِرَسُولِهِ يُؤْتِكُمْ كِفْلَيْنِ مِنْ رَحْمَتِهِ وَيَجْعَلْ لَكُمْ نُورًا تَمْشُونَ بِهِ( سورة الحديد، الآية (28)

[27] "اتَّقوا فِراسةَ المؤمنِ ، فإنَّهُ ينظرُ بنورِ اللهِ " رواه الترمذي، والطبراني.

[28] (أَفَلَمْ يَسِيرُوا فِي الْأَرْضِ فَتَكُونَ لَهُمْ قُلُوبٌ يَعْقِلُونَ بِهَا أَوْ آذَانٌ يَسْمَعُونَ بِهَا ۖ سورة الحج الآية (46)

[29]  (إِنَّ فِي ذَلِكَ لآيَاتٍ لِقَوْمٍ يَتَفَكَّرُونَ) سورة الجاثية، الآية (13)

[30] (لَا إِكْرَاهَ فِي الدِّينِ)، سورة البقرة الآية (256)

[31] (وَقَاتِلُوا فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ الَّذِينَ يُقَاتِلُونَكُمْ وَلَا تَعْتَدُوا ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَا يُحِبُّ الْمُعْتَدِينَ)، سورة البقرة الآية (190)

[32] (لَا يَنْهَاكُمْ اللَّهُ عَنْ الَّذِينَ لَمْ يُقَاتِلُوكُمْ فِي الدِّينِ وَلَمْ يُخْرِجُوكُمْ مِنْ دِيَارِكُمْ أَنْ تَبَرُّوهُمْ وَتُقْسِطُوا إِلَيْهِمْ إِنَّ اللَّهَ يُحِبُّ الْمُقْسِطِينَ) سورة الممتحنة الآية (8)

[33] (صُنْعَ اللَّهِ الَّذِي أَتْقَنَ كُلَّ شَيْءٍ ۚ إِنَّهُ خَبِيرٌ بِمَا تَفْعَلُونَ)  سورة النمل الآية (88)