Introduction – Stages of Islamic Revolution (1996)

Introduction to Dr Kalim Siddiquis final book, Stages of Islamic Revolution. This book was published just in time for his final conference, in South Africa in April 1996. He died while still in Pretoria, a few days after the end of this conference. The Foreword to this book is also published as a separate post here, and a PDF of the full book is also available to download here.


The history of Islam and Muslims has entered a new phase of rapid change. Everywhere Muslims are engaged in struggles to establish the Islamic State. This short study attempts to identify and bring together the underlying ideas and processes that are at work. [1] It highlights the need for an intellectual revolution within Islam before Muslims can acquire total control over their history and destiny once again. It argues that such a revolution is already underway. In its early phase this intellectual revolution has taken the form of a new political thought and a global consensus among Muslims in all parts of the world. Also taking shape, in the wake of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, is a transforming historical situation. A number of new Islamic Revolutions are in the pipeline. The Islamic Revolution is viewed as a point in time when all forces of total change in a society converge. The power the Islamic Revolution generates, under a muttaqi leadership, defeats and dismantles the post-colonial nation-State and sets up the Islamic State in its place. Most Muslims in all parts of the world are already part of this movement. But the processes involved in bringing about Islamic Revolutions that lead to the setting up of Islamic States are as yet little understood, though the need for Islamic Revolutions in all Muslim countries is widely expressed in remarkably similar terms.

The history of Islam has clearly reached a stage when Muslims have realised that they are in a position to initiate, direct and control major change in their societies as well as to play a significant role in world politics. It is important that their drive for change in Muslim societies as well as in the world is directed by a profound understanding of the dynamics of change Western social sciences have developed many sophisticated theories of social, economic and political change. The West has created a vast network of academic and research institutes that follow, record and analyse changes taking place in all parts of the world. Their work offers a continuous assessment of past and present policies and new policy options available to governments, inter-governmental organisations, political parties, industrial and commercial complexes, and their leadership. This is one of the major strengths of the West. The fact is that all of us face a new historical situation every day. The states, organisations, cultures, movements, even civilisations, that are most successful are those that can manage, direct, guide, influence, anticipate, manipulate and control the forces of change.

Change from one day to the next is usually small. Changes in the historical situation become more pronounced over five, ten, twenty or thirty-year periods. Cataclysmic or sudden changes are rare. When they do occur, they are usually the result of undetected or little noticed accumulation of pressures over long periods of time. The absence of change, or prolonged resistance to change, may also lead to sudden or ‘revolutionary’ change. Not all change is necessarily physical or situational. Changes in the knowledge, perception, understanding and evaluation of reality often have the same effect as physical changes. Thus it is that theoretical, analytical, mathematical, technological, or even philosophical advances may change the perception of reality while the physical form and shape of reality remain unaltered. Most propaganda attempts to build mental barriers against ideas, beliefs or information that are deemed to be undesirable. The current propaganda in the West against Islam and ‘Islamic fundamentalism’ is of this variety. The West knows that the global Islamic movement has a powerful intellectual foundation. But the West wants to block it out. It does not even want to hear what Islam has to say. To this the Muslim mind has intuitively reacted by regarding the West’s policies, actions and propaganda as a declaration of global war on Islam. Changes of perception have as great an impact on history and human behaviour as physical change. Apples had been falling to the ground long before Newton noticed the phenomenon. We shall encounter all these forms of change during the course of this study. It can be safely assumed that every generation faces a new historical situation. All systems of beliefs, moral values, knowledge, thought and behaviour must be able to organise, manage and order change over time and internalise man’s limitless ability to learn from his experience.

The human brain is such a powerful creative machine that it throws up new ideas all the time. Islam is knowledge as well as an epistemology, or a permanent source of ever-expanding knowledge in all fields. Islam can develop, order and organise new information and knowledge. Islam also orders and directs change, and internalises new knowledge born of new theories, experiments, experience, and evolving historical situations. This is why Islam insists that Muslims, all Muslims, living at any one time, must bring the prevailing historical situation under their control. Islam demands that the world’s physical resources are used to pursue the goals set by Islam for all mankind.

The Seerah (life) of the Prophet Muhammad, upon whom be peace, and his Sunnah (precept, example), are the basic models that exemplify Islam’s method of historical transformation. The Prophet began with a handful of individuals, organised them into small groups, then into larger goal-achieving systems, until the process led to the setting-up of the Islamic State. This clearly required the development of a versatile political process of incredible complexity and effectiveness. This process as a whole may be called the hikmah (wisdom), or the method of the Prophet. The spiritual, intellectual and physical qualities inherent in the hikmah are an integral part of the Seerah and the Sunnah of the Prophet. So far scholars of the Seerah and the Sunnah have concentrated their attention almost exclusively on the meticulous research and recording of all that the Prophet did, said, ordered to be done and approved of. This literature is extensive and puts the Prophet of Islam in a unique position in history. The life of no other person who has ever lived has been so meticulously researched and recorded by his followers, including contemporaries who knew him, and by an unbroken chain of scholars in all parts of the world since his time. But so far scholarship in this area has been so concerned with the accuracy of the record of facts, events, action and the spoken word that analytical and creative literature has been slow to emerge. The historical situation now facing Islam and Muslims demands that scholars should turn their attention to the formulation of the underlying principles and structural forms of the Prophet’s hikmah or method. This area of the Seerah represents the unopened treasure-chest of Islam and its revealed paradigm. The route to this treasure-house of Islam lies through the development of a whole new range of literature that is based on the Seerah. There is no harm in the application of the speculative method to the largely descriptive literature on the Seerah that now exists. We must realise that Muhammad, the last of all prophets, upon whom be peace, is a giant figure in world history. It is virtually impossible to distort his life and message, as the Orientalists have found to their cost. Besides, the Seerah is also protected by the Qur’an and the record of the systematic transformation of the historical situation that the Prophet brought about.

The vast intellectual energy that the Orientalist scholars in the West have spent in an organised attempt to damage the Prophet’s reputation has made no headway. In a very real sense, the Prophet is defended by Allah subhanahu wa taala Himself. The use of speculative methods of research by committed and muttaqi Muslim scholars, with ends and purposes clearly defined and known, may prove to be greatly productive in unlocking the vast treasure-house that is the Seerah and the Sunnah of the Prophet of Islam, upon whom be peace.

What is being suggested here is that abstraction and conceptualisation are essential processes that may now be applied to the vast literature of the Seerah and the Sunnah that now exists as a storehouse of meticulously researched data. This requires a new type of scholarship that uses data from the Seerah and the Sunnah to generate theoretical formulations in areas of political, social and economic problems that Muslims, indeed all mankind, face now. We also need to generate new policy options, organisational structures and compatible behaviour patterns. The Seerah and the Sunnah must now be used to generate new disciplines of problem-solving knowledge in the short term. These can then be revised to keep pace with new and evolving historical situations. People living in distant parts of the world, and experiencing vastly different physical conditions and historical situations, would then be able to generate knowledge from the Seerah and the Sunnah relevant to problems and situations peculiar to them.

It appears that for long periods of our history change of any kind was feared and discouraged by scholars as well as by ruling dynasties. This explains the almost total ban on ijtihad that is still found in the Sunni tradition. In the Shi’i tradition there was at first an equally rigid ban on ijtihad. Slowly, under pressure of conditions, fallacies and contradictions that could no longer be defended on theological grounds, the Shi’i doors were prised opened to allow some controlled ijtihad by a handful of mujtahids. This slow beginning under a new usuli school of ulama ultimately led to changes that made the Islamic Revolution in Iran possible. [2] For most of their history, Muslims accepted change so long as it was ad hoc and did not directly require change in theology. In modern times we have accepted the total, some would say sacrilegious, transformation of the physical environment of the Hijaz and the Haramain in Makkah and Medina. The Saudi rulers, acting under cover of a spurious wahabi theology, have destroyed vast areas of the physical inheritance of Islam. Most changes that we accept today have been imposed by Muslim dynastic rulers or by colonial occupiers for their own sinister purposes. At no stage has change, its nature, direction and extent, been derived or devised from the Seerah and the Sunnah of the Prophet. Neither did the change ordered by rulers follow any criteria of good and bad, right and wrong, or desirable and undesirable. Change in Muslim societies, States and Empires has been the result of drift or the dynastic and political needs of rulers at any time. For an example of this, one only has to compare the changes that occurred in the Uthmaniyyah (Ottoman), Safavid and Mogul Empires when they were historically contemporaneous. In short, change was not generated, controlled or directed by an intellectual movement that was also part of a political system of Islam, or at least part of an Islamic movement. This single factor alone, more than any other, eventually contributed to the collapse of dar al-lslam (House of Islam) and its colonisation by foreign powers.

The literature on the Seerah and the Sunnah offers an abundance of detail of situations, events, dates, places, names, ages, genealogy, battles, wars, campaigns, decision-making, sayings and so on. All this amounts to description of a very high order. But the straightforward description of facts on its own leads to limited understanding, especially if this understanding is essential as a guide to future action and policy. For example, it is known that the Prophet launched no fewer than 63 military campaigns from Medina. Only a handful of these campaigns were purely defensive in nature and the Prophet personally took part in fewer than half of them. On most occasions the Prophet called a group of his companions, the sahaba, often no more than 20 in number, gave them horses and swords, appointed one among them their leader, and told them to go and deal with a recalcitrant tribe or trading caravan that may be a threat to the fledgling Islamic State in Medina. The military campaigns of the Prophet are a rich source of facts and other information about the situation in Medina and its immediate environs. But little or no attempt has been made to draw a conceptual framework in which the military campaigns fit into a consistent whole in the Prophet’s method as a statesman, military leader and a da’ii. Apart from Dr Muhammad Hamidullah’s pioneering work of nearly a generation ago [3], there is very little substantive work on the conduct of State in Islam. It is difficult to find, derived from the Seerah and the Sunnah, conditions in which the Islamic State may go to war or take war-like action.

Most Muslims today are horrified by the faintest hint that his military campaigns may have played a part in the Prophet’s method of da’wah, or invitation to Islam. Today da’wah is generally understood as a pacifist activity, more or less in line with the carefully cultivated image of Christian missionaries. The major military campaigns of the Prophet, eg. Badr, Uhud and Ahzab, are described in some detail, but their ‘political’ implications and ‘psychological’ impact on the early Muslims on the one hand, and the enemies of Islam on the other, are only briefly dealt with. How these military campaigns consolidated the Muslim society and weakened the tribal loyalties of the Arabs are issues dismissed in a few lines in the Seerah literature. Similarly, there is the issue of ‘power’. Clearly the Prophet needed power. But, on the face of it, at least in Makkah, he had no power. What was the Prophet’s understanding of ‘power’? How did he acquire, use, increase, and generate new power? What proportion of the Prophet’s power was military power? What role did military campaigns play in generating more power? Did the Prophet share power with others? If so, how? These questions have neither been asked nor answered in the extensive literature on the Seerah and the Sunnah. The relationship between early and late events in the life of the Prophet can only he established by means of concepts. It is concepts that help us identify facts and to establish links between facts and events occurring at different times.

Concepts also help us to derive lessons, information and new ideas from facts that may otherwise appear to be unrelated. The organisation and growth of knowledge, and its codification, require concepts, hypothesis, over-arching schemes, theories and grand theories. These are essential tools of research, understanding and communication over vast spans of time. No academic discipline is possible without them. Historians have only recently and reluctantly acknowledged that there would be no history without concepts to identify facts, and that a value system is required to organise them into a written narrative. The consistency of the literature on the Seerah and the Sunnah over hundreds of years is evidence of the firm grip Muslim historians have maintained over their use of concepts and the organising schema. Even the deviation of Muslim history from the path set for it by the Prophet, upon whom be peace, and the emergence of dynastic rule flying the flag of Islam, have failed to dent the veracity of the literature on the Seerah and the Sunnah.

It must also be noted that hundreds of years of hostile intellectual industry by Orientalist scholars, designed primarily to subvert the Seerah and the Sunnah of the Prophet, has made little headway. If it was possible to damage or dent the reputation of the Prophet, or to distort his record, the Orientalists would have achieved it a long time ago. But in fact, the only thing that has come close to damaging the Prophet and his Seerah and Sunnah is the Muslim failure on the stage of history.

The world now regards the historical record of Islam as some kind of medieval ‘game theory’ that is no longer relevant to a complex modern world. As far as they are concerned, Islam may be a good foundation on which to develop a computer game in which the few always win over the many. But, to them, this is not ‘practical politics’. This study attempts to offer a framework in which to arrange our understanding of the origins. achievements and failures of the Islamic movements in all parts of the world. It may help them to determine their own place on the map of history. To know how far one has come, and how far there is still to go, is the beginning of all wisdom.



[1]   The secular world offers many competing ‘theories’ of history. Islam reveals the origins of man and the broad sweep of history. Islam also offers a historical method; a method of change, evolution, growth, maturity, progress, achievement, decline, fall and regeneration. Islam’s processes of historical change were examined by me in a paper written in 1988-89. It is included in this volume as an appendix. Its title, ‘Processes of error, deviation, correction and convergence in Muslim political thought’ is a summary of its content. It can also be called a tentative outline of a possible ‘theory’ of history and historical change in Islam. The analysis presented in this book is based on the ‘theory’ developed in that paper. The appendix to this book is, in a sense, its foundation.

[2]  For a brief discussion of changes in Shi’i theology, see Hamid Algas, ‘The Roots of the Islamic Revolution’, London: The Open Press, 1983.

[3]  Dr Muhammad Hamidullah, The Muslim Conduct of State, Lahore: Shaikh Muhammad Ashraf, sixth edition, 1973. (First published from Hyderabad, India, 1941).