Lesson From The Quran

Verse 143....
وَكَذَلِكَ جَعَلْنَاكُمْ أُمَّةً وَسَطًا لِتَكُونُوا شُهَدَاءَ عَلَى النَّاسِ وَيَكُونَ الرَّسُولُ عَلَيْكُمْ شَهِيدًا....
And in the same way We made you a moderate Ummah (community), so that you should be witnesses over the people, and the Messenger a witness to you.....
(The earlier verse has dealt with the subject of the Qiblah or the orientation for Salah and has indicated that the "Straight Path" is identical with a willing acceptance of the divinely ordained injunctions of the Shari'ah. Since the Islamic Ummah has accepted these injunctions without the least hesitation, the present verse says, by way of parenthesis, a few words of praise for it, bringing out the superiority of the Islamic Ummah over other Traditional communities. (Bayan al-Qur'an))
The verse qualifies the Islamic nation (Ummah) with the objective Wasat which signifies "moderate, middle or central", and is usually applied to a thing considered to be the best of its kind. According to a hadith reported by al-Tirmidhi from the blessed Companion Abu Sa'id al-Khudri, the word Wasat is to be interpreted as "just" - in the sense of being "the best" (Qurtubi). The verse points out that just as Allah has granted to the Muslims a Qiblah which is superior to all other orientations, in the same way He has bestowed upon the Islamic Ummah the unparalleled distinction of being moderate, balanced and just - in short, the honour of occupying the central position among all the Ummahs or Traditional communities. This distinction will manifest itself in its full resplendence on the Day of Judgment. Those among the earlier Ummahs who had been denying their prophets would, on that day, pretend that they had never received a book from Allah nor had any prophet given them any kind of guidance. The Islamic Ummah would, then, be called upon to bear witness, and it would, testify that prophets had been coming from Allah in every age, and providing guidance to each and every people. The earlier Ummahs would raise the objection that since the Islamic Ummah did not exist at that time and could not possibly know what had been happening before it came into being, its testimony against the earlier peoples could not be valid. In reply to this, the Islamic Ummah would maintain that even if it was not an eyewitness to the events of the past, yet it had received an authentic report from the most reliable source of information that can possibly be - that is, from the Last Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam) and from the Last Book of Allah. The Holy Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam) himself would be called in as a witness, and he would confirm the testimony Of his Ummah. (For details, see the various Ahadith reported in the collections of al-Bukhari, al-Tirmidhi, al-Nasa'i and Imam Ahmad).

The most moderate of all people
According to the present verse, the characteristic quality which confers a superiority on the Islamic Ummah over others is its being Wasat - (a word which has been variously translated into English as "midmost, moderate, just, intermediary, middle, central or justly balanced.") In order to explain the implications of the word Wasat, commentators have usually made use of another Arabic adjective Mu'tadil (signifying "moderate or temperate") and the noun I'tidal which means "being equal"; both the words come from the root 'Adl which signifies "to be equal, or to make equal." (So, for the purpose of the present discussion we shall choose the English word "moderation" in order to explain certain essential features of the Islamic Ummah.)
In this regard one would like to know why the superiority of a human group or individual should be made to depend on the quality of moderation. Let us begin this discussion with a quite tangible fact. All the medical systems, old or new, are unanimous in accepting the principle that the health of the human body depends on the temperateness of the different elements of which it is composed, and that illness or disease comes from a disturbance of this equilibrium. According to the ancient Greek medicine, which was further developed by the Muslims, these elements or "humours" are four in number -blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile -, and the humours produce four physical states in the body - heat, cold, wetness and dryness. As long as the four states are properly balanced against one another, the human body enjoys good health; but as soon as there is an immoderate increase or decrease in any one of them, the body becomes diseased, and if the balance is not properly restored in time, it may succumb to the forces of death. Similarly, in the ethical and spiritual sphere too health depends on temperateness and inner equilibrium, and illness arises out of intemperance and disequilibrium, which, if allowed to grow, results in spiritual death. At the same time, anyone who has eyes to see would readily discover for himself that the essence of manhood which places man at the head of all created beings, does not lie in the physical states of his body - that he, in fact, shares with all the animals - but in something higher and subtler: namely, spiritual perfection. As the great Sufi poet Rumi has said: "Manhood does not reside in the flesh, or in the fat or in the skin; manhood is nothing else than seeking to please the Friend." As to those who ignore this essential attribute of man and allow it to be destroyed in themselves, Rumi says: "These people you see all around are non-human; they are not men, but only wear the masks of man."

The Universal Man
This being so, we are naturally led to the conclusion that he alone can deserve the title of Al-Insan al-Kamil ("the Universal Man") who has attained ethical and spiritual equilibrium along with physical equilibrium. This quality has specially been granted to all the prophets (AS), and, in its most perfect form, to the Holy Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam) who is thus "the Universal Man" par excellence. As for humanity in general, Allah has, on the other hand, created a stable and complex system of medicines, instruments and physicians for the physical well-being of man; similarly, He has, on the other hand, sent His prophets who bring divine guidance for man, and who are provided with a certain amount of requisite physical force too, so that they may promulgate this law of equilibrium and moderation in the world. The Holy Quran defines the purpose of sending prophets and messengers of Allah to men, and of giving them Divine Books:
لَقَدْ أَرْسَلْنَا رُسُلَنَا بِالْبَيِّنَاتِ وَأَنْزَلْنَا مَعَهُمُ الْكِتَابَ وَالْمِيزَانَ لِيَقُومَ النَّاسُ بِالْقِسْطِ وَأَنْزَلْنَا الْحَدِيدَ فِيهِ بَأْسٌ شَدِيدٌ وَمَنَافِعُ لِلنَّاسِ
"Indeed, We have sent Our messengers with the clear signs and We have sent down with them the Book and the Balance, so that men might uphold justice. And We have sent down iron in which there is great might, and many uses for men." (57:25)
Let us add by way of explanation that "the Book" is meant for producing inner equilibrium and temperateness in men, and "the Balance" for producing equilibrium in their social conduct and economic transactions - the "Balance" may also stand for the Shari'ah of every prophet which helps us to define what "equilibrium" really is in its various applications in the different spheres of human life, and which serves to establish justice in the world.
Now, let us recall that the verse under discussion characterizes the Islamic Ummah with the word Wasat ("moderate, middle, central"). Our discussion must have made it clear that this simple word comprehends all the qualities which it is possible for an individual or a community of men to possess in this world. Through such a characterization of the Islamic Ummah, the Holy Qur'an has thus indicated that this Ummah possesses the essential quality of manhood to a degree of perfection that no other Ummah does, and that it is superior to all others in serving the purpose for which the whole cosmic order has been created, and for which all the prophets and divine books have been sent.

The Universal Community
Certain other verses of the Holy Qur'an define this essential quality of the Islamic Ummah in more specific terms. For example: وَمِمَّنْ خَلَقْنَا أُمَّةٌ يَهْدُونَ بِالْحَقِّ وَبِهِ يَعْدِلُونَ : "Among those We have created there is an Ummah which guides by the truth, and by it dispenses justice." (7:181) That is to say, the Islamic Ummah displays its spiritual equilibrium in giving up the pursuit of individual desires and interests in order to follow divine guidance and try to make others too do the same, and in settling all kinds of disputes in the light of divine law without being influenced by the vested interests of a person or a group. Another verse is still more specific:
كُنْتُمْ خَيْرَ أُمَّةٍ أُخْرِجَتْ لِلنَّاسِ تَأْمُرُونَ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَتَنْهَوْنَ عَنِ الْمُنْكَرِ وَتُؤْمِنُونَ بِاللَّهِ
"You are the best Ummah that has been brought forth for men, bidding to good deeds and forbidding evil deeds and believing in Allah." (3:110)
It is the best Ummah, for it has been granted a unique Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam) who taught us to respect all other prophets, and a Book which is the most comprehensive and the most perfect of all the Divine Books, and has in itself been endowed with the quality of temperateness, moderation and equilibrium to a degree as no other Ummah does enjoy; it has been destined to be the recipient of the most subtle modes of knowledge, to outshine others in all the forms of faith and practice, and, above all, in the fear of Allah - its field of action not limited to any one country or race but extending all over the world, and infusing all the spheres of human existence. The phrase أُخْرِجَتْ لِلنَّاسِ : "raised for mankind." (3:110) indicates that the very purpose for which it has been brought into being is to work for the good of men, and to help them find the way to salvation and to Paradise, its function and, so to say, its very insignia as an Ummah being to guide people towards good deeds and to dissuade them from evil deeds. This role of the Islamic Ummah has been formulated very succinctly in a hadith: ألدين النصيحة : "Religion consists in having the good of others at heart" - particularly of other Muslims. Let us add that the good deeds towards which this Ummah is meant to guide others are those which have been defined as such by the Shari'ah, while the evil deeds from which it is to dissuade them include infidelity (Kufr), association (Shirk), innovations in religion (Bid'ah), sins of different kinds, illegitimate customs, transgression of divine commandments, immoral or indecent actions, etc. As to dissuading people from evil deeds, this too may take various forms - it may require the use sometimes of the tongue, sometimes of the hand, sometimes of the pen and sometimes of the sword - in fact, it would include all the forms of Jihad. As far as the extensive and intensive display of this particular quality is concerned, no other Ummah can compare with the Islamic Ummah.

Moderateness: A Comparative View
Let us now consider how far the temperateness or the moderation of this Ummah is borne out by actual facts. Since it is not possible here to make a detailed comparative study of the respective beliefs and practices of all the Ummahs, we shall give only a few examples which would, we hope, satisfactorily establish the superiority of this Ummah over others.
First of all, let us take up the doctrinal aspect. In the case of the earlier Ummahs one would observe that on the one hand they took their prophets to be the sons of Allah and started worshipping them وَقَالَتِ الْيَهُودُ عُزَيْرٌ ابْنُ اللَّهِ وَقَالَتِ النَّصَارَى الْمَسِيحُ ابْنُ اللَّهِ : "The Jews said, 'Ezra is the son of Allah', and the Christians said, 'Christ is the son of Allah'." (9:30) -, and that on the other hand some people from among them, in spite of having recognized and acknowledged their prophet on the basis of his oft-repeated miracles, refused to obey him when he asked them to take part in a holy war, and bluntly said: فَاذْهَبْ أَنْتَ وَرَبُّكَ فَقَاتِلَا إِنَّا هَا هُنَا قَاعِدُونَ "Go forth, you and your Lord, and fight; we will be sitting here." (5:24) We sometimes see even the spectacle of prophets being tortured by their own followers. On the contrary, we have the Islamic Ummah which has such a deep love for the Holy Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam) that Muslims have, in every period of their history, taken it to be the greatest blessing to be able to sacrifice their own lives and even the lives of their wives and children at his call, and yet it has never exceeded the limit, and has placed the Holy Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam) only in the station of a prophet and not in the station of Allah. In spite of knowing him to be the most perfect of all the prophets, it has been calling him عبد الله و رسوله : "the servant of Allah, and His messenger." The doctrinal position with regard to him, as defined in the famous Arabic poem "Qasidah al-Burdah", is that, short of attributing "the sonhood of Allah" to him (which the Christians do in the case of Christ, and which constitutes an act of infidelity), anything that one says in his praise would be correct; or, in the words of a Persian poet, addressing the Holy Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam):
بعد از خدا بزرگ توئ قصھ مختصر
"In short, after God, you are the greatest."
When we turn from the doctrinal aspect to a consideration of the actual attitudes and practices in the matter of worship and rites, we again find similar excesses and aberrations on the part of earlier Ummahs. On the one hand, we see their religious scholars misinterpreting or changing the injunctions of their Shari'ah and even distorting the
Cont'd on page15
Cont'd from page 12
Sacred Books for a few pieces of silver, and inventing all kinds of ruses to get rid of divinely ordained rites; on the other hand, we find people giving up the world altogether, imprisoning themselves in monastic cells, refusing to accept their share in the blessings of the physical world which Allah has not only granted to man but the enjoyment of which also He has permitted, and, in short, believing that imposing hardships on oneself carries the highest merit and is in itself an act of worship par excellence. The history of Islamic Ummah, on the contrary, presents a totally different picture. On the one hand, it has never adopted monasticism as the supreme form of religious life - in fact, Islam forbids such an attitude. On the other hand, through its readiness to sacrifice property and life, even children and all for the sake of the commandments of Allah and His Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam), the Ummah established its sway even politically over a considerable area of the world. It has demonstrated in its practice as no other Ummah has that religion is meant to be put into action in the market-places and the halls of power as much as in the mosques and the contemplative retreats. It is the Islamic Ummah which has shown the world how the poor in spirit can move about in the robes of kings, and the kings in spirit conceal themselves in the garb of beggars - all because the king as well as the beggar knows that the greatest dignity lies in being the servant of Allah.