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The Earth's Complaint (Part 2)

Essential Truths
But why, it may be asked, will the earth be inspired to tell all? Typically, the Muslim response is to explain that this accountability forms part of the wisdom for which man was created. For in Islam's account of things, man's place in the cosmos is a truly formidable one. He has been made a khalifah, a vicegerent or custodian of the earth; responsible for tending it and for upholding the Divine Will in it. In this reading, man's sojourn on earth comes in the shape of a life-long examination; a “test” in order that his potential as khalifah be realized and the extent of his knowledge, love and worship of God be made known. As such, the earth is said to be like a “field” which man is called upon to cultivate, with knowledge, submission and good deeds, so as to reap the harvest of everlasting bliss – Paradise and proximity to God – in the Afterlife. It is He, reveals the Qur'an, Who created death and life, to try which of you is best in conduct.[4] This same notion reverberates in the saying of the Prophet, peace be upon him, who explained: “The world is green and sweet, and God has appointed you as vicegerents in it to see how you behave.”[5]

Accountability for what we do or do not do in this life, then, forms an integral part of Islam's essential truths. At the actual forefront of these truths comes the reminder that the universe has a Creator, and that this Creator is One. Secondly, they remind us that we must affirm this realization in our lives. In order to facilitate this, we are given a set of devotional practices which constitute the ideal and simplest means of approaching God. Thirdly, they remind us of man's vocation as vicegerent, and of his responsibility to the earth and to his fellow men. In addition, we are reminded of the unseen world, of jinns and angels, and their influences; and of the end of days when all humanity will be brought to account. It is with this in mind that 'Umar, the Prophet's close companion and Islam's second caliph, exhorted: “Call yourselves to account before you are called to account.”[6] There is also a hadith which informs us: “The prudent one is he who takes stock of his soul and works for what comes after death, while the foolish one is he who follows his whims yet hopes in God's forgiveness.”[7]

In The Shadows Of Ideology

In Islam the Basics, Colin Turner, in depicting the image of Islam in the West, writes:
“The Western image of Islam as a harsh, uncompromising religion that demands strict and unquestioning obedience from its followers, who, if pushed, will not hesitate to spread their faith with violence and terror, is one not confined to the rhetoric of twelfth-century Crusaders: fear of Islam and Muslims, or 'Islamophobia' as it is currently known, is sadly as visible today as it was then. Just as pictorial depictions of Muslims as child-eating demons abounded in the days of Richard the Lionheart, so too some 800 years later do we come across ostensibly serious works on Islam whose front covers carry photographs of gun-toting mullahs or balaclava-clad terrorists, often against the backdrop of blown-up embassies or hijacked airliners. While the responsibility for the creation of this negative image rests largely with sensationalist tabloid press, which is always ready to prey on its readers' fear of the unknown, much damage has been inflicted by writers and academics who, one assumes, should know better. The Muslim world, it would now seem, is the bogey man to be feared and held at bay as we approach, in the words of one academic, the “end of history”.[8]

But the notion of Islam as a faith that inspires its followers to violence in order to achieve its goals – even if this involves the killing or maiming of women, children and other civilians – is not a Western construct alone. For the past quarter of a century the over-politicization of Islam has fed this stereotype. Militant re-readings of the faith, that ascribe to it the kind of inhumane acts that have no place in it – neither from the Qur'an; nor the practice of the Prophet; and nor in the interpretations of the juristic community – are a scourge on Islam's name and warp its essential truths. Islam the path of salvation is now being eclipsed by Islam the ideology. This is not to deny the political dimension inherent in Islam, but to question the logic at work here. How can Islam turned political and mutated into ideology ('Political Islam', as it is now being called) in any way bring to the fore the essential truths of the faith? How can the restoration of “Islamic governance” ever warrant slaughtering the very soul of the faith on the alter of power politics? This is not a case wherein it may be said that the means justifies the goal. Not at all!

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Next:
The Earth's Complaint (Part 3); Windows into a Worldview – Dignity, Vicegerency, Trusteeship
The Earth's Complaint (Final); Windows into a Worldview – Sanctity, Justice, Mercy
——————-
Footnotes:
4. Qur'an 67:2.
5. Muslim, Sahih, no.2742.
6. Cited in Ibn Qudamah al-Maqdisi, Mukhtasar Minhaj al-Qasidin (Damascus: Maktabah Dar al-Bayan, 1999), 397.
7. Al-Tirmidhi, no.2461, where he declares it to be Hasan. Its chain, though, is weak – as per Ibn Hajr al-'Asqalani, Hidayat al-Ruwwat il Takhrij Ahadith al-Masabih wa'l-Mishkat (Cairo: Dar ibn 'Affan, 2001), 5:49.
8. Turner, Islam the Basics (London &New York: Routledge, 2006), 184-5.

10 Responses

  1. Hassan

    “He has been made a khalifah, a vicegerent or custodian of the earth;”

    Can you back that up from Quran or hadith?

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  2. Hassan

    I was under impression that khalifah in Surah Baqrah meant “generation after generation”. Not “vicegerent or custodian of the earth;”.
    I hope some sheikh can clarify this.

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  3. Abu Abdurrahman

    Bismillahir rahmanir raheem…

    Brother Hassan: the word khaleefah in the context of the Quran – in surah al baqrah for instance – refers to and contains both meanings: of man being a vicegenerant, as well as being generations one after another – these are two meanings of the word which both apply to the ayah, as the scholars of Islamic exegesis (tafseer) have pointed out.

    And Allah azza wa jall truely knows best.

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  4. Abu Aaliyah

    as-salamu ‘alaykum wa rahmatullah,
    One of the brothers had a query about the word “khalifah”, which I translated as vicegerent or caretaker. In the next part of the article (I believe), there is a footnote from al-Raghib al- Asbahani explaining the word; and in my article “Islam, Beauty,Balance” footnote#10, referring to some early tafsir sources about the word. Perhaps the brother can refer to both of these footnotes.

    May Allah bless all the brothers and sisters involved in the blog,and grant them the tawfiq; the enabling grace, to write what is pleasing to Him and beneficial to His servants. “Khayrun-nas anfa’uhum lin-nas” as our Prophet, peace be upon him, said.

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