Allah tells us to walk upon the face of the earth and observe the collapse of past civilizations a few times in the Quran. Surely this does not mean that we should merely plan holiday escapades when winter comes, but we are asked to critically search and question the fate of people before us, and to learn lessons from them. Dead people tell no lies.
Say, [O Muhammad], "Travel through the land and observe how was the end of those before. Most of them were associators [of others with Allah ].
From this sprung up the need for archaeologists, historians and sociologists in this religion, ones who can decipher the meanings of things and languages of the past, so that we can learn, instead of only knowing the general idea of history in passing. The damned Pharaoh knew about the people who came before him , and yet he learned no lesson- no , he refused to learn, and the end he received was then justified.
[Pharaoh] said, "Then what is the case of the former generations?"
The prophets of the past , presented in the Quran ,over the generations and among different civilizations, showed the same pattern of thought and action. Although they were separated by years between them , or distance between the sprawling deserts, they were men who brought message from the same God, bearing the same principle and belief- which says that God is One, and there’s no God but He.
Surely if we wish to learn from the past, we need to observe the regularity of their actions, and patterns of their behaviour. Similar to the behaviour of friends and people around us; in order to know them and be closer to them, we observe their general behaviour and patterns of their thought; things they like to do, or things they hate. It shouldn’t be weird then, to know people of the past we observe things they did with regularity, their philosophy and pattern of thought.
Regarding the acts and thoughts of the prophet, of things he does regularly, we have in fact known this quite well. Our Islamic scholars name the thought and speeches of the prophet as the Hadis, and his acts and examples as the Sunnah.
There is a similarity of thought and action of the prophets from different ages that we must observe. This is the Sunnah of the prophets, of which most if not all of them follow the same pattern. Surely if we learn from the previous civilizations not to repeat their sins and wrongdoings, we must also follow the example of the prophets? Viewed from a purely Manichaean world, the prophets are the forces of good , and their disobeying counterparts as forces of evil.
What is it that we must follow, what is the regular pattern of the prophets? That is that they came with problem statements, and as provider of solutions. What we must understand that the prophets did not come out of nowhere. They aren’t outsiders in their community. The prophets did not just descend from the skies with holy books and instructions.
In fact the prophets spent their childhood and their youth amongst the people of their nation. They grew up accustomed with the traditions and the patterns of behaviour of the people. Prophet Muhammad grew up to be the most trusted man in the whole of Makkah, they called him Muhammad Al-Amin.
What we need to understand is that the prophets who lived in the community understands the problem of the nation and as a messenger of the God, he begins with the problem statement; and the problem statement must come with experience and a thorough understanding about the people . Prophet Shuaib explained to his people that they should be fair in trades and not to cheat in their dealings. Prophet Lut said to his people that they must stop choosing men over women, and Musa alaihissalam stated that Firaun must release his clutches and tyranny upon Bani Israel, and that he must fear Allah.
Give full measure and do not be of those who cause loss.
In the surah Al-Qasas it is stated how Firaun is a tyrant who divides the people apart , and Allah wishes to favour and bring justice for the mustadh’afiin, the ones who were oppressed under his rule.
Indeed, Pharaoh exalted himself in the land and made its people into factions, oppressing a sector among them, slaughtering their [newborn] sons and keeping their females alive. Indeed, he was of the corrupters.
And We wanted to confer favor upon those who were oppressed in the land and make them leaders and make them inheritors
I believe that this is the Great Sunnah of the prophets that we must follow- we must be the ones who understand the social structure and culture of our people, and by understanding the people we might discover what is it that plagues the nation and oppresses the people, so that we might be able to come with a problem statement. What is the source of all these hunger and suffering, of the corruption and the lack of integrity?
Frantz Fanon wrote in The Wretched of The Earth, in the chapter The Pitfalls of National Consciousness, regarding the crisis in post-colonial countries, after they achieved independence. He wrote about young nationalist bourgeoisie who replaces the colonials before them as the new rulers of the independent nation. These are privileged men who had the opportunity to study in the colonials’ mother country, to learn in their great universities all sorts of knowledge.
Frantz Fanon called them bourgeoisie of the under-developed nations. Fanon wrote that the crisis of national consciousness after independence is that the people who were previously united in their fight against the imperialists, now descend into terrible racism , sectarianism and religious separatism . Whose fault is this? It is the fault of the new rulers, the young bourgeoisie , who are disconnected from the masses, who fail to educate the people regarding the building of a nation.
The laziness of this privileged people, the scepticism with which they view the people- saying that villagers are a lazy bunch , and unable to understand things like national unity and progress, says Fanon. Because the bourgeoisie are unable to educate people and to come with problem statements and solutions, tribe leaders and heads of religion who were alienated during the fight against the colonials, now starts to grow in influence , and we see the people separated into race and religious groups, each being antagonistic to each other.
Frantz Fanon wrote this almost sixty years ago, during the height of the Algerian war for independence, yet we see these symptoms now , in our country. And whose fault is it?
We economists, engineers, lawyers, doctors, pharmacists, biologists, teachers and accountants who have the privilege and the opportunity all this time, we must strive to follow the Great Sunnah of the prophets. Who else would be available to come up with the problem statement of our nation, other than those who studied extensively in the workings and culture of the society?
What I wish to say after so long and so many confusing terms is that we need writers. Write about the problems of our nation, not about trivial issues which pop up every two weeks, or stories about your experience in kindergarten. We do not need that. The prophets did not come to dictate how should we sit in mosques, or whether we can touch dogs or not. Write about the problems of our nation, based upon a sincere observation, with a heart which wishes truly for the salvation of all.