By Dr Waheeduddin Ahmed
More than 4000 years ago, in the then city of Ur, a young man by the name of Abram or Ibrahim stole in the temple of Nanna, when the high priests were away attending a town festival and broke all the idols, the false objects of worship and submission, as he thought to himself. This was perhaps, the first act of ideological revolution in a civilized settlement of humans and the first ever expression of the rejection of false gods.
In so far as the archeologists have excavated, explored and unrivalled the history of civilization, the first ever civilization, which has revealed itself was in Mesopotamia (that is in present day Iraq). There were those Sumerian cities on the banks of the river Euphrates. Then some time in the third millennium B.C. a strong man by the name of Sargon conquered the various cities and established the Akkadian empire centered in the city of Akkad or Agade. Then after a few hundred years, when the Akkadian empire was waning, there was a short Sumerian revival and a third Sumerian dynasty came to power in Ur. At the time of Ibrahim (A), there was a king by the name of Ur-Nammu. The Judaic traditions mention his name as Nimrod, although the Qur’an doesn’t give the king any name: simply talks about him as malik (king). This king was very powerful. He gave the world the first ever legal code, 300 years before the code of Hammurabi. He erected Ziggurat (Zaqqarat), the tall structures like the pyramids. This king, also, probably for the first time in human history institutionalized polytheism, idol worship, in violation of what was engrained in human consciousness from day one. There were temples dedicated to sun, the moon and various other objects. The temple of Nanaa was the temple dedicated to moon. This was the temple where the young Ibrahim (A) carried out his act of idol breaking. With this historic act began the battle between Towheed and Shirk in human history. The legends associated with this battle have come to us through the Bible but the Qur’an gives us a wonderful narrative of a dialogue which ensued between the king, who ruled at the time and Ibrahim (A), one, an idol maker and the other, an idol breaker. This dialogue is a masterpiece of logic ever to be found in any literature.
Alam tara ila al-ladhi hajja Ibrahima fi rabbihi an atahullahul mulk.
Have you not seen the one, who argued with Ibrahim about his lord, the one whom Allah had given the kingdom?
Idh qala Ibrahimu rabbi al-ladhi yuhi wa yumit
When Ibrahim said that my Lord is the one who gives life and takes it away
Qala ana uhi wa umit
He replied: “I give life and I take life.”
(Legend has it that the king ordered two prisoners, who were condemned to death, to be brought in. He ordered one prisoner to be executed and pardoned the other one.)
Qala Ibrahimu fa innallaha yati bisshamsi min al-mashriq fati biha min al-maghrib fa buhitat al-ladhi kafar.
Ibrahim said: “ But surely Allah makes the sun rise from the east. You make it rise from the west. The one who talked kufr was thus confounded.”
No discussion, no debate and argument between the greatest philosophers of the world could be as clear and conclusive as in this dialogue given in the Qur’an. It’s beauty and simplicity is astounding.
As we can see, this conflict between the truth and falsehood, monotheism and polytheism, Towheed and Shirk started right at the dawn of civilization and is with us ever since. The Qur’an says that Ibrahim (A) was the imam (the leader) of the mankind. A leader is the one, who sets out to articulate his message; in this case inviting people to believe in one god and to reject false gods. As the history has told us, Ibrahim (A) left Mesopotamia; went to Kan’an, Syria and Egypt (the so called Fertile Crescent), before settling in Kan’an, the present day Palestine. This was the whole world of civilization at that time. Wherever he went, he invited people to Towheed (belief in One God, the creator, the one who gives life and takes life, the one who makes the sun rise from the east, acts which no one else in the universe can emulate, nor have any share in such action. Thus the essence of the kalmia: La ilaha illa Allah, the first element of the Islamic faith was institutionalized and which permeated the consciousness of every human being for all times to come.
Inviting people to Allah, which we call Da’wah is the most important Abrahamic tradition. Also, the breaking of idols as we have seen is another tradition of Ibrahim (A). The battle began with the smashing of idols in the temple of Nanna. You can take it as the manifestation of the first political action. History suggests that Ur-Nammu was the first to establish a kingdom. This action, this battle is never a one-time battle. The conflict is ongoing and eternal. Once you have broken some idols you cannot sit on your laurels, as the idols have a tendency to pop up again and again, at one place or another. Ibrahim’s (A) Sunnah had to be repeated by Prophet Mohammad (S) after he conquered Mekka. He smashed the heads of Lat wa Manat with his own hands. There is a symbolism here. Idols may not be made of stone. The icons of falsehood come in various shapes and forms. Sometimes the idols are ideas of falsehood. Sometimes, they are abstract like tyranny, oppression and injustice. With the smashing of their heads at one time and place in history, they do not disappear forever. They germinate again in suitable circumstance. It is therefore of absolute necessity that the revolutions made by Ibrahim (A) and by Mohammad (S) are kept alive, active and continuous. This continuous revolution is named in the Qur’an: amr bil maroof wa nahi an al-munkar enjoining good and forbidding evil..
In the context of our own history the conquest of Ka’ba did not solve the problem for ever. There was only a respite for a period; then the idols came back and set themselves up in Arabia, in Cairo, Baghdad, and Damascus and in all the other cities of the Crescent. For centuries, it looked as though the Sunnah of breaking the idols was in abeyance. The hands which are made to break the idols were paralyzed. It is only now, it seems that a ray of hope has penetrated the darkness of despair and we have witnessed the so-called Arab Spring, in Tunisia and in Egypt. The struggle continues in other countries. Time and again, year after year, we stood here as khateebs and decried the subjugation, which Muslims suffered and cursed the tyrants, who had terrorized the Muslim Ummah. We had given up hope and thought that the moment of liberation would not arrive at least in our life time but we had underestimated the spirit of our young people. They rose up, first in Tunisia, then in Egypt, in Libya, in Yemen and in Bahrain. However, the biggest challenge we are facing today is how to keep the Spring free from infiltration and contamination. The enemies of Revolution have joined the ranks of the revolutionaries, looking for opportunities to sabotage and subvert. There are ex-colonialists and neo-colonialists. There are demons coming forward wearing the faces of angels. History shows that any gold they have touched has turned into dust. The revolutionaries need not rejoice too soon. They need to be forever vigilant.
Our generation is living through one of the most tumultuous times in history. Only two decades ago, the world was divided into two camps: communism and capitalism. The protagonists of each camp believed in the absolute validity of their beliefs. They believed that their own system was the answer to all the problems of mankind. Then all of a sudden one camp tumbled and disintegrated, making the other camp the master of the whole world, allowing it to be arrogant to the extreme, hitting out in all directions and proclaiming a “new world order”. Soon the surviving camp realized that it was witnessing the second phase of a new world disorder. Communism was gone and capitalism is tattering at the edge of a disaster. It is committing suicide. People have woken up and a world revolution has begun, in New York, in Oakland and in almost every capitol in the world. While the communist system suffered from a lack of incentive and ownership, resulting in low productivity, capitalism gave incentive and utmost freedom to a few people to exploit and plunder. The vulnerability and the misery of the people was a commodity sold for exploitation. The gap between the rich and the poor kept widening and now it has reached a danger point. As we now well know 1% of the people own 40% of the wealth in this country (USA). A recent study has shown that one in fifteen people in America is suffering from extreme poverty. Who is to blame? A presidential candidate, who is a billionaire and happens to be black, has said that if you are not rich it is your own fault!
So, how did this gap between the rich and the poor develop and is widening every day? The answer is not as complicated as some people may think. It lies in the phrase: “redistribution of wealth”. This phrase is associated with socialism i.e. take from the rich and give to the poor. In fact it works both ways. What has happened during the past few decades is that the wealth has flown in the wrong direction: from the poor to the rich. Wages have been stagnant; benefits reduced, unions busted. Globalization has brought extremely competitive labor market. Jobs have been exported. All this has caused the income of the poor and the middle class to drop and the profits to increase, which the employers have refused to share with the employees. There was a time, when they used to share it with the workers and the wages were linked to productivity; not any more. Many corporations, including the pharmaceutical companies do not pay a penny in tax. The GE has paid zero income tax in America. At this time of widespread unemployment, the corporations are sitting on three trillion dollars of cash, which they could invest but are not investing and yet there is a lie being spread that if you give the rich a tax break they would invest that money and the economy would improve.
The oil companies wait for a small upheaval in the Middle East. As soon as it happens they jack up the gas prices. Each increase in the gas prices, while making windfall profits for the gas companies, increases food prices worldwide. As a result, people who are living on the edge of poverty fall off the edge. This is the grand larceny, which goes unpunished, even rewarded under Capitalism. Why are they unpunished? It is because they share some of their loot with the lawmakers.
We are only too aware of how the whole world economy was brought to a ruin by the greed of a few people recently, making scores of people homeless and throwing millions of people into misery, hunger and poverty. As it happened they first sold the so-called subprime mortgages to the unsuspecting, uneducated and vulnerable people; then packaged those toxic assets and sold them to unsuspecting investors. Knowing that these assets were going to fail, they bet against them and made enormous amounts of money. We all know what happened since. The banking system crashed, the whole world economy collapsed, making millions of people unemployed and homeless. What happened to these criminals? Did they go to prison? No. Our government again took our money and gave it to them under the pretext of stabilizing the system, which they used to give themselves bonuses. Goldman-Sachs has set aside $292,000/ per staff member as bonus this year, while millions of people in this country are struggling to make ends meet as a result of their criminal acts.
They threw the Patriot Act at us, setting themselves up as the symbols of patriotism. In fact it is the 1% elite, who are anything but patriotic, the antithesis of patriotism. They include the politicians, legislators, the incumbent presidents and the prospective presidents, who come to you for votes but serve the special interest groups after being elected. They have nobody’s interests in mind except their own. Marx and Engels had declared: “workers of the world unite”. They did not but the capitalists of the world did.
They start wars so that the businesses associated with the war industry may prosper, appealing to your patriotic instinct, designing and fashioning enemies for you, whom you are expected to hate in the darkness of your prejudiced minds, which they have crafted for you. This country of ours sent our sons and daughters to two world wars, the Korean War, the war in Vietnam, two Gulf wars and the Afghan War. What were your interests in those wars? The WWI started because a crackpot Serbian assassinated the crown prince of Austria: Archduke Ferdinand and the major European monarchs declared war against each other. The WWII started as Germany was economically oppressed as a result of the Treaty of Versailles and the German territories were taken from Germany and were given to the adjacent countries, forcing a resurrected Germany under Hitler to go to war to regain those territories. Wars in Korea and Vietnam were fought to stop the Domino Effect, whatever it meant! Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were fought on behalf of an unjust and unlawful state in the Middle East. Can any man in the street say that he benefitted from these wars? Those who benefitted were in the top one percent of the population, the capitalists and the industrialists, who paid the politicians to carry out these operations on their behalf. And of course like the elite members of the Roman Senate they claimed the crown of patriotism for themselves.
This country of ours, founded on the noblest principles of freedom and justice is now flouting justice domestically and internationally. Our prison population is one of the highest in the world. The poor are more likely to be convicted and executed than the rich. The black people, who are only 7% of the population, have a 32% share in the prison population. Our present administration, drunk with unchallenged power has broken every international law. Extrajudicial killing is its favorite pastime. Once in the middle ages there was this Old Man of the Mountains called Hassan Ibn Sabah, who created the act of assassination on the world stage. Centuries later, our government, equipped with drones instead of daggers is staging the same act in a grand finale.
In 2012, the circus of elections begins again. In 2008 the young people in this country were very optimistic. Today, that optimism has evaporated. They are on the streets now to occupy Wall Street and close down Oakland. They do not have any trust in the system or in the politicians. This may be the beginning of a revolution, at least in the thinking.
We as Muslims, have a greater reason to be skeptical. We know that both Communism and Capitalism are not the solutions to the ills of the society. We knew at the outset that these systems would fail. We have a better system, economic, social and political but we do not have a model of this system anywhere in the world today because of the dark ages which have interrupted our civilization.
The big question however is whether we should partake in the political circus of elections which is to come shortly while many honest non-Muslim citizens are rejecting it. I think that we should do well by keeping our distance from this ugly drama of treachery and deceit.