Ignorance to Enlightenment:
The Achievement of Prophet Muhammad – Peace be upon him
Muzammil H. Siddiqi
has been truly gracious to the believers in sending them a Messenger from among
their own, to recite His revelations to them, to make them grow in purity, and
to teach them the Scripture and wisdom – before that they were clearly astray.
(Al ‘Imran 3:164)
Basic mission of Prophet Muhammad –peace be upon him- was to guide humanity. He
came to lead human beings to the right path, from the darkness of Shirk to the
light of Tawhid, from the corruptions of injustice and sin to the ways of peace
and virtues, from the narrowness of this worldliness to the bliss and salvation
of the eternal world. Arabs before Islam were living in Jahiliyah. Jahiliyah was
not only the time when they did not have any schools, books, reading and
writing; it was actually an era of total ignorance, lawlessness or what the
Qur’an calls “being clearly astray.” Their thoughts were the thoughts of
Jahiliyah (zann al-jahiliyah, 3:154), their rules were the rules of Jahiliyah (hukm
al-jahiliyah, 5:50), their fashions were the fashions of jahiliyah (tabrruj al-jahiliyah,
33:33) and their zeal and outrage was always for the sake jahiliyah (hamiyah al-jahiliyah,
48:26) During the first Hijrah to Abyssinia, Ja’far ibn Abi Talib –may Allah be
pleased with him- spoke before Najashi, the king of Abyssinia. He described the
condition of Arabian society before Islam in this way:
O King, We were the people of Jahiliyah, we used to worship idols, eat the
dead, commit shameless deeds, break the ties of relations, mistreat our
neighbors and the strong among us used to oppress the weak. We were in this
condition until Allah sent a Messenger among us from our own people… (Al-Bukhari
From history we learn that there were ten major problems of Jahiliyah:
1. Shirk or atheism – They worshipped many gods and goddesses or in general they
did not care for any divinity or worship.
2. Tribalism and racism – The whole society was divided in tribes. A person’s
main commitment was to his tribe and race. They had tribal, racial and color
3. Exploitation of the poor and needy – Slavery was common and the rich used to
exploit the poor and needy.
4. Injustice and double standards – They had no sense of justice and fairness.
Good thing was whatever a person considered good for himself and for his tribe;
and bad thing was whatever one considered bad for oneself and for one’s tribe.
People did not believe in any universal standard of good or bad.
5. Infanticide – It was common to kill children, especially the girls because of
a misguided sense of shame or fear of poverty.
6. Shamelessness – They had no sense of shame. Sometimes they used to have nude
Tawaf around the Ka’bah.
7. Drunkenness – Alcohol and other intoxicants were common and they were fond of
8. Usury and interest – The whole economy was based on interest. Different types
of riba practices existed at that time.
9. Adultery and fornication – It was common among men and women to have illicit
relations. There were different types of marriages and different styles of
10. No belief in the Akhirah or in the accountability of the Day of Judgment –
They did not believe that there can be resurrection and there will be another
life after death.
Besides these injustices and corruptions, they had no organized religion, no
sacred scripture, no religious laws and values and no central authority and
In a short period of time, the Prophet – peace be upon him- changed all these
things. Their belief system, their ethics, their morality, their social,
economic and political conditions were changed. He gave them a sacred book that
Allah revealed to Him. He gave them a system of worship. He gave them sacred
laws and rules. He established institutions of learning and education for them.
He united them into one brotherhood and sisterhood of faith. He made them most
honest and most civilized people. He also gave them a mission to guide the
humanity to the right path.
The Prophet – peace be upon him - achieved all this in a very short period of
time. No wonder, the American scholar Michael Hart in his book on the one
hundred most influential and successful people in history, called Prophet
Muhammad – peace be upon him - the number One man in history. A French historian
said, “If greatness of purpose, smallness of means and astounding results are
the three criteria of human genius, who could dare to compare any great man in
modern history with Muhammad?” (Peace be upon him.) There are many other
objective and honest historians who have given similar testimonies.
How did the Prophet accomplish all these things? He did this by the help of
Allah, by His continuous guidance and by His glorious Book the Qur’an. He did
this by his wonderful personality, by his kind and compassionate character and
demeanor. He did this by his commitment and sacrifices.
Muslim Ummah also continued on this successful path that the Prophet – peace and
blessings of Allah be upon him- laid out for them. They made great contribution
to culture and civilization. They were successful as long as they were true to
his teachings and took his example seriously. Humanity at large and Muslims
themselves have now gone down into the same evils of ignorance and Jahiliyah.
The ten major sins of the old Jahiliyah have now re-emerged in the same or even
in more ugly forms. The challenge is that who will save the humanity today.
We should remember the Prophet and should study his Sirah with this commitment
and determination that we have to save ourselves, our families and the societies
around us from all evils. We should dedicate ourselves to his Sirah and Sunnah
and follow his example.
Indeed, for you in Allah’s Messenger there is a fine example to follow; for
him who aspires to Allah and the Last Day and often remembers Allah. (Al-Ahzab
(Khutbah at ISOC – Rabi’ul Awwal 4, 1428/ March 23, 2007)