The Need for Prophetic Morality in the Modern Islamic World

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The more we research the problems in the Muslim world, the more we realize that we have them because we have been alienated from the good attitude and moral standing of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). All the Muslim scholars of the modern age who are working to revive the deen have pointed out this poignant reality.


Currently, the whole world is in a state of serious moral decay. Good ethics are being cast aside in the corridors of power even among the majority of the Muslim elite. True Islamic economic values based on honesty, fair-dealing, truthfulness and justice have been trampled under the heels of unethical capitalism, a part of materialist culture introduced into the Islamic world by the West during the heyday of colonialism.[1] In social life, we find that Muslims are more interested to follow, and in fact idolise, film stars, models, singers and athletes who for the sake of glamour unashamedly imitate (that is, follow blindly) the Western hedonistic way of life. It seems that some of them have simply forgotten their Prophet as the best example to be followed in all spheres of human activites as specified by Allah, the Lord of the whole universe. Besides this, wars, killings, moral corruptions, wanton sexual activities and depraved behaviour as well as a wayward kind of life have become somewhat common norms and mores among the Muslims. Only an improved situation based on Islamic justice if properly implemented can gradually correct the state of affairs in the Islamic world. Remember, Allah (SWT) has always enjoined us to do justice and good things in order to be safe and successful:

Allah enjoins justice (and right judgment in all matters), and devotion to doing good, and generosity towards relatives, (Nahl, 16:90)


Be just: this is nearer and more suited to righteousness and piety. (Maidah, 5:8)

So justice in dealing with fellow human beings will have to be upheld at all times. Otherwise, Allah will not help and protect us, thus leading us not only to damnation, but also total loss in this life and Hereafter.

Apart from external threats to the Islamic way of life, there have also developed serious internal dissensions within the Muslim societies, arising from such problems as mismanagement, maladministration, tyranny and injustices of the rulers over the ruled, moral corruption and embezzlement of properties, absence of frugality in public expenditure, disunity due to different opinions and the rise of new sects, and the spread of Islamic liberalism, as well as the practice of calumny and character assasination among the political elite and their political opponents. We could see all these examples clearly happening in the administrations of Egypt under Nasir, Sadat and Mubarak; in Pakistan under the Muslim League administration and in present day Malaysia, as well as Indonesia. In short, we can say that the Muslim ummah has unfortunately sunk so low as to succumb to a Machiavellian form of behaviour in their politics, economic and social endeavours without any care for the Shari‘ah. This form of development would no doubt eventually lead to the self-destruction of the Muslim ummah at a greater rate throughout the world.

The crux of the matter is that the whole world now exists under the heavy domination of Western materialist civilisation. In fact, the hold that this atheistic civilisation has on the world is becoming stronger and is also inevitably penetrating into the Muslim millieu. Of course, the development of the globalising process with its highly technical machinery and apparatus from the West, and its associates in certain Asian countries such as Japan and Korea, has certainly brought about the rapid spread of this destructive culture into the Muslim societies of Asia and Africa too.

In view of this untoward development, we in the Muslim world who really love the Islamic way of life with its clean and sublime nature have no choice but to oppose this unhealthy trend of development by way of promoting da’wah and wholistic Islamic education in the Muslim ummah, especially pertaining to its youth. In this connection, we shall look at the examples set by the Holy Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) during his lifetime regarding Islamic morality, as he has been proclaimed universally by Allah, the Almighty, the Creator and Master of the whole universe as being a blessing to the whole world, and hence an appropriate example for all mankind to follow. For example, Allah has stated:

“We have not sent you (O Muhammad) but as (an unequalled) mercy for all the worlds.” (Anbiya’, 21:107)

Besides this, Allah, the Most Wise and Knowlegeable, has positively declared Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) as uswatun hasanah (that is, ‘an excellent example’) to be emulated by anyone who truly believes in Him and the Last Day. Concerning this, Allah had stated:

“Assuredly you have in Allah’s Messenger an excellent example to follow for whoever looks forward to Allah and the Last Day, and remembers and mentions Allah much.” (Ahzab, 33:21)

Hence, we as Muslims have to seek guidance in the examplary life of the Prophet (PBUH). In addition, we have also to follow the guidance of ulama like Ustaz Bedi‘uzzaman Sa‘id Nursi of Turkey and others wherever they may be, as long as their propositions fall in line with the Qur’an and Sunnah. Hopefully, through this positive exercise, it will bring about a lot of benefits to us as members of the Muslim community and also prevent the further deterioration of the Muslim ummah as a whole in contemporary life. Only in this way shall we be able to attain our true salvation in this life and the Hereafter.

The Issue of Modern Jahiliyyah:

Concerning the issue of modern jahiliyyah, Prof. Muhammad Qutb, originally of Egypt and the younger brother of the famous Muslim activist, al-Marhum Sayyid Qutb (rahmatullahi ‘alayh), has coined the phrase, “ Jahiliyyah al-Qarn ul-‘Ishrin” (Ignorance of the 20th Century).[2] This is an apt description of the situation in our world today, even though we are already living in the 21st century. The modern world today as we have mentioned before is in a state of grave moral bankruptcy. In his book, Prof. Muhammad has discussed how the Western materialistic culture and heterodox teachings have eroded the true and dynamic teachings of Islam based on the Qur’an and Sunnah.[3] Thus, we have no other choice but to take serious notice of his advice and warning. At the same time, we have to take heed of the advice given by the contemporary and internationally famous Islamic scholar, Ustaz Professor Dr. Shaykh Yusuf al-Qardhawi about the threats of modern secular life being promoted by the West, that is, the Zionist-secular Christian connections of the present world.

The Efforts of the modern day Ulama to instill Islamic Morality:

Besides Ustaz Bedi‘uzzaman Sa‘id Nursi, other ulama of modern times have also discussed the need to implement Prophetic morality in the modern world. However, we shall first discuss some of the contributions made by Ustaz Bedi‘uzzaman Sa‘id Nursi, a great Kurdish ‘alim (Muslim scholar), a mujaddid (reviver) as well as a mujahid in modern Turkey. As a very intelligent person, Ustaz Sa‘id Nursi was able to commit the Qur’an and other Arabic religious texts and dictonaries to memory such that it invited the jealousy of other religious scholars in the region. As a result, he had to get involved in a number of munaziras (debates) against these scholars who often challenged his ability. He managed to win all the debates, which finally earned him the name of Bedi‘uzzaman (Wonder of the Time). At the same time, he also occupied himself with the study of mathematics and modern sciences. He was driven towards the study of both religious and modern sciences as he was convinced that neither the traditional system of education alone nor the modern secular form of education could solve or remove the doubts concerning the religion of Islam that were taking place in the modern society of Turkey. He strongly believed that a Muslim would have to master both the disciplines in religious and secular education before he could really become a truly knowlegeable person and be able to overcome all the challenges of the future world comfortably and justly.

He was influenced in this new way of thinking by the reformist efforts promoted by the famous ‘alim of Egypt, Shaykh Muhammad ‘Abduh (1849-1905) who had reformed the educational system of Jami‘ah al-Azhar (Al-Azhar University). At first, Ustaz Sa‘id Nursi tried to establish his own university on the model of al-Azhar in Eastern Turkey offering instruction in both religious and modern secular sciences, as well as Arabic, Turkish and Kurdish languages. His aim in starting such an educational institution was to promote Islamic unity and also the necessary development for the Muslims in order to counter the Western atheistic culture which was encroaching upon the Ottoman Empire and the Muslim world at large.

However, all his efforts in this regard failed to materialise until the time of his death in March, 1960, as he did not get the support of the authorities of the Ottoman Empire, the Young Turks Regime that followed it and later the Republican government of modern Turkey. Nonetheless, this failure did not deter Ustaz Sa‘id Nursi from devoting his full energy to da‘wah and educational activities through the field of Islamic propagation by way of oral delivery (that is, making speeches), writing in newspapers and even writing his magnum opus (great work), Risale-i Nur (Arabic, Rasa’il an-Nur), a tafsir (exegesis of al-Qur’an) which is well-known even to this day.

Beginning with his transformation from a fiery debater during his youthful days to a more mature and deep-thinking religious reviver,

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Ustaz Sa‘id Nursi concentrated his energy towards paving the way for Islamic renaissance and development in Turkey in particular and the Islamic world in general. He managed to address the problems of the Islamic world, with particular reference to the spread of secularism and atheistic tendencies developing within the fabric of the Turkish society under the influence of the Western materialistic culture and ungodly Freemasonic activities, even though he had to spent a great part of his life (about 35 years or so) in hardship, that is, in detention and solitary confinement. His message, with its emphasis on Islamic aqidah (belief), saved Turkey alhamdulillah from total irreligiosity, and has brought it back slowly but surely towards Islam, as we are able to witness today.

Some Examples of Prophetic Morality as propagated by the Ulama of Modern Times.

In his efforts to save and develop the Muslims in the modern world, Ustaz Sa‘id Nursi had fallen back on the teachings of the Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). The evidence of his endeavour is to be found in his speeches, in the writings from the earlier part of his career, in his later press statements and most of all in his great work, Risale-i Nur. Henceforth, we shall discuss some of his ideas on Islamic restoration, especially the need to refer to Islamic morality in order to save and bring the Muslim community back towards positive development in their life in the modern world.

In his lecture entitled, The Damascus Sermon (Khutba Shamiya) which has been compiled as part of the epistle, Risale-i Nur, he has discussed the problems of Muslim weaknesses and hence their inability to progress as opposed to the rise of the West.[4] In his deliberations concerning the backwardness of the Muslim ummah, he had mentioned six dire sicknesses suffered by them, that is, the rise of despair and hopelessness among the Muslims in their social life; the death (absence) of truthfulness in their social and political life; love of emnity; not knowing the luminous bonds of unity that bind them to one another as believers; despotism and restricting endeavour to what is personally beneficial.[5]

To support his opinions, Sa‘id Nursi had quoted from the Qur’an and Sunnah, that is, pointing out that both the progress and the success of the Muslims depend only on them devoutly following Islam in their daily life. Here he had called upon the Muslims in line with their position as believers to take note of the valuable advice given by Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in his famous Hadith, that is, “You will never go astray as long as you hold on to Kitabullah (al-Qur’an) and my Sunnah”. Then he added that Islamic supremacy would be gained only through the material and technological progress achieved through the unity and cooperation of all groups and peoples who made up the Islamic world.[6] What he was saying here about the importance of unity and cooperation among the Muslims to ensure their progress in fact reminds us of the programme of the Prophet (PBUH) in setting up unity based on Islamic brotherhood for the Muhajirin (Emigrants) from Makkah and the Ansar (Helpers) from Madinah just after the Hijrah (Migration) of the early Muslims.[7] Following this, the nascent Muslim society of Madinah began to grow magnificently until it became the Islamic state and gained control of the whole of the Arabian Peninsula under the banner of Islam.

While talking about unity within the Ottoman Empire and later during the administration of Young Turks, Ustaz Sa‘id Nursi also warned the Muslims about the dangers of nationalism, that is, racial chauvinism springing out of the struggle of the Christian minorities in Balkan Peninsula and some Arab territories with the support of the Western powers. At the same time, he called upon the Arabs and the Turks to be united as fellow Muslims and safeguard their sovereignty and not to succumb to the lure of nationalism which would weaken the position of the Muslims within the empire as a whole.[8]

His warning was indeed very appropriate and in line with teachings of Islam. The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) himself had warned the Muslims against upholding the banner of nationalism (that is, chauvinism) which he likened to asabiyyah of the pre-Islamic Arabian society. Concerning the issue, Rasulullah (PBUH) had commented:[9]

“He who calls others to group chauvinism (asabiyyah) does not belong to us, he who fights for the sake of group chauvinism (asabiyyah) does not belong to us; and he who dies upholding group chauvinism (asabiyyah) does not belong to us”. (Abu Dawud)

and “You are all children of Adam, and Adam was created of dust”. (Ahmad)

And he also said,

“Oh people, your Lord is one. Know that there is no superiority of an Arab over a non-Arab or of a non-Arab over an Arab, nor of a white over a black, or of a black over a white, except through consciousness of Allah (taqwa). Verily, the most honourable among you in the sight of Allah is the one who has most taqwa. (Ahmad)

Apart from Ustaz Sa‘id Nursi and Prof. Dr. Yusuf al-Qardhawi, other scholars who talked about the dangers of nationalism to Muslim unity also include Allama Mohammad Iqbal (1879 – 1934) of the Indo-Pakistan sub-continent and Maulana Sayyid Abul A’la Maududi (1903 – 1979) also of the same sub-continent. In fact, both Iqbal and Maulana Maududi had explained a lot more concerning the nature and dangers of nationalism in the contemporary world in their respective writings.[10] So their wise advice would have to be digested too by us.

Further, Ustaz Sa‘id Nursi reminded the Muslims that truthfulness has always been the basis and foundation of Islam. During the era of the Prophet which he called, “the Era of Bliss”, he pointed out that truthfulness and lying were as far apart from one another as belief and unbelief.[11] Salvation he said was to be found in honesty.[12] In this instance, he was arguing that the Prophet (PBUH) had upheld truthfulness above everything else and thus he and the early Muslim generation were successful in their lives. Indeed, truthfulness had been the practice of the Prophet (PBUH) as he was trusted by all the people of the Meccan society, including the unbelievers who also praised him with the name of al-Amin (the Trustworthy One). Not only that, the Quraish who were his enemies then trusted him for his honesty to the extent that they even left their properties in his charge whenever they wanted to travel outside Makkah. As it happened, the Prophet (PBUH) asked ‘Ali b. Abi Talib, his cousin, to return some properties belonging to a number of individuals of the Quraish just before he departed on a journey of hijrah to Medina in 622 A.D. Such honesty is hard to find these days. More often than not, we come across Muslim rulers who practise corruption and simply squander away the wealth of their country without caring for the poor and needy.[13] Nonetheless, as proposed by Ustaz Sa‘id Nursi, we have to revive such good behaviour to ensure our salvation and success in this modern era.

Besides truthfulness, the great reviver in his talk in Damascus also stressed love and brotherhood among the Muslims as a mean to protect their interests. In this instance, he called upon the Arabs to stand alongside the Turks as sentries of the sacred citadel of Islamic nationhood. Thus, he stated that based on the bond of brotherhood, all Muslims should help one another morally and if necessary materially.[14] This proposal is indeed very relevant to us even today if we consider the state of affairs of the Muslims in Palestine, Afghanistan, Kashmir, the Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar and Patani Muslims of Southern Thailand among others, who are still under the oppression and subjugation of local powers with the open or covert support of their Zionist-Christian associates in the West. We have to respond actively and positively in lessening or even removing the burden of suffering experienced by our Muslim brothers and sisters in these countries as the Prophet (PBUH) stated:

“Whoever among you (Muslims) does not care for the welfare of other Muslims, then he is not from among them!”

The above statement is very serious indeed. It means that Allah does not accept a person to be a Muslim, unless he cares, that is, provides help and even defends his brothers in faith whenever or wherever necessary. As for the method of offering help or defence, it should be discussed thoroughly and carefully by certain quarters within the Muslim society, especially the ulama, and not be the subject of open discussion in some public forum.

Ustaz Sa’id Nursi also talks of the need to implement Shura (consultation) as enjoined by Shari‘ah and practised by the Prophet (PBUH) while in Madinah. He had urged the practice of Shura when he talked about freedom in his Damascus speech.[15] Prior to this, while talking about constitutional rule during the time of Sultan Abdul Hamid II and later still addressing the regime of Adnan Menderes of the Democratic Party, he always emphasized Shura as a good form of government, as opposed to despotism.[16] In this respect, he was continuing the tradition of Shura as practised by Prophet (PBUH) and not creating something new outside the pale of Islam. The Prophet (PBUH) had carried out consultation with his companions whenever necessary pertaining to questions of war and peace and so forth. He did not act arbitrarily, that is, he did not act according to his own whims and fancies. The evidence can be seen in the case of the Battle of Badr, the first battle in Islam, and the Battle of the Trench, which were fought after the Prophet (PBUH) had consulted his companions on both of these matters.[17] Similarly, the Prophet had consulted his companions before signing the Truce of Hudaibiyyah in 6 Hijrah.[18] Now, it is this basic problem that is besetting the Muslim countries of the Middle East and North Africa, thus giving rise to the social upheaval popularly known as “the Arab Spring”, and its aftermath which is still troubling Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Syria. The same may be said of the case of Algeria, Sa‘udi Arabia, Morocco and others in the affected area, but probably trouble will only really break out in these countries at some later stage of human history. This is to be expected as the citizens of those countries are still not free as they should be.

The main problem here is despotism. If the subjects of a country are governed in a dictatorial manner without any freedom whatsoever as provided for by Islam, then it is only a matter of time before the people rise up to demand their rights violently. So again, Ustaz Sa‘id Nursi had acted graciously in conformity with the Prophetic morality of dealing with the needs of the Muslim society when he was pressing for freedom and tolerance within Turkish society. Now, we have to do the same to solve our problems with regard to good governance and avoid the path of despotism and unnecessary bloodshed. Unless we take all this into account, no peace and no real development, in terms of the sort of change which will lead to balance and harmony, can take place in any of our Muslim states of today.


After having discussed at great length the need to implement Prophetic morality in the modern world as a means to improving the position of the Muslim ummah vis-à-vis their religious, politics, economic, social affairs and so forth, I believe we really have to make our efforts to work out a programme of change and development so as to realise the progress that we have been hoping for. In this connection, initially we have to set up a working committee consisting of other ulama, Muslim thinkers and others who love Islam, but with the necessary expertise to initiate positive changes. Of course, we also need financial support. However, the details of this positive endeavour, as I have said before, would have to be discussed behind closed doors in some private forum.

In addition, in this important work, we need only involve private organisations like the NGOs, rather than working at governmental level. This is important as government to government involvement would result in some sticky “red tape”, and probably there might be some hindrances such as national or dynastic interests in term of national policy and diplomatic considerations and so forth. Just look at what has happened to both the Arab League and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) over the years that they have been in operation. To be frank, they have achieved very little.

May Allah give us the strength to work for Islam!

Fadhlullah Jamil, School of Distance Education, University Science Malaysia, Penang, Malaysia

[1] In practice, capitalism thrives on riba (usury) and monopoly of trading activities which are both haram in Islam.

[2] Muhammad Qutb, Jahiliyat al-Qarn al-‘Ishrin, al-Qahirah: Dar al-Shuruq, pp. 292.

[3] See also Muhammad Qutb, Islam and the Crisis of Modern World, The Islamic Foundation, London, 1979 and Muhammad Qutb, Islam, the Misunderstood Religion, The Pennsylvania State University, Philadelphia, 1993.

[4] The Khutbah (Sermon) was delivered by Ustaz Sa ‘id Nursi at the Umayyad Mosque in the year 1911.

[5] See The Damascus Sermon (Hutbe- Samiye), translated by Sukran Vahide, 1994, pp. 16 -17 and also Sukran Vahide, Badiuzzaman Said Nursi, The Author of Risale-Nur, Sozler Nesriyat San, Istanbul, 2004, pp. 97.

[6] Sukran Vahide, Badiuzzaman Said Nursi, pp. 104.

[7] See Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi, Muhammad Rasulullah: The Life of Prophet Muhammad, (trans. By Mohiuddin Ahmad), Academy of Islamic Research and publications, Lucknow, India, 1979, pp. 184.

[8] Sarwat Saulat, Said Nursi, International Islamic Publishers, Karachi, 1981, pp. 36.

[9] Yusuf al-Qardhawi, The Lawful and the Prohibited in Islam (translated from, Al-Halal wa al-Haram fil Islam), American Trust Publications, Indianopolis, U.S.A., n.d., pp. 247 – 251.

[10] Iqbal on nationalism, in Syed Razul Hasan, The Reconstruction of Legal Thought in Islam, Law Publishing Company, Lahore, 1974 (?), pp. 142 – 144 and 158 – 160 and Sayyid Abul A’la Maududi, West versus Islam, (translated by S. Waqar Ahmad Gardezi and Abdul Waheed Khan), Markazi Maktaba Islami, New Delhi, 2000.

[11] Sukran Vahid, Ibid., pp. 102.

[12] Ibid.

[13] We have glaring examples of this in the cases of Zain al-‘Abidin Ben ‘Ali of Tunisia, Colonel Qadhafi of Libya and so forth.

[14] Ibid. pp. 103.

[15] Sukran Vahide, Ibid., pp. 105.

[16] Ibid., pp. 41 and 331.

[17] Muhammad Hamidullah, The Battlefields of the Prophet Muhammad, Centre Cultural Islamique, Paris, no. 3, New Revised Edition, Hyderabad, Deccan (India), 1973, pp. 13 – 21 and 29 – 36. See also, Akbar Shah Najeebabadi, THE History of Islam, vol.1, (Revised by Safu ur-Rahman Mubarakpuri), Darussalam International Publishers and Distributors, Riyadh, April, 2000, pp. 156 – 164 and 190 – 197.

[18] Najeebabadi, Ibid., 199 – 205.

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