A young man enters a gathering in which an elderly scholar is addressing an audience. Clearly agitated, the young man struggles to wait for a pause in the scholar’s speech in order to interject. Finding his moment, the man gets up to say his piece. Voice raised and angry, he asks (or rather he shouts): Mata ta‘udu ilayna afghanistan? – ‘When will Afghanistan be returned to us?’ Mata ta‘udu ilayna al-‘iraq? – ‘When will Iraq return to us?’ Mata ta‘udu ilayna falastin? – ‘When will Palestine be returned to us?’ Mata, mata, mata!? – ‘When, when, WHEN!?’
The shaykh takes a deep breath and lets out a gentle sigh of pain, as his head bows to the hurt. He takes a moment to gather his thoughts, lifts his head to respond … But by then, the youth has already stormed out of the assembly.
Somewhat dismayed, the scholar turns to the audience and says in a subdued tone: Mata ta‘udu ilayna baladuna? Idha ‘udtum ila’Llah ‘adat ilaykum baladukum: ‘When will our land return to us? When you return to God, your land will return to you.’
The idea that the political fortunes of Muslims are tied to their collective worship and obedience of God may be anathema to secularised Muslims; it may even have become a tired cliché in royalist circles; but it is a true notion – and one that has a firm basis in the revealed texts.
Indeed, such a true Islamic political concept is rooted in the words of the Qur’an: God has given an example of a town which was once secure and peaceful, its provisions coming to it abundantly from every quarter. Yet it was ungrateful for God’s favours, so God made them taste hunger and fear because of what they did. [16:112]
So their state of safety and economic prosperity is replaced by their opposites – fear and hunger – only when they denied God’s blessings and became ungrateful for them. The Qur’an says elsewhere: When your Lord proclaimed: ‘If you are grateful, I will grant you increase; but if you are ungrateful, My punishment is indeed severe.’ [14:7] Scholars say that ingratitude, here means disobedience and gratitude obedience. Now the received wisdom in this regard states: al-ni‘matu saydun wa’l-shukru qaydun – ‘Blessings are like hunted game, and gratitude is what secures [them].’
The same political conviction can also be heard in the Prophet’s words, peace be upon him: ‘When you deal in ‘inah transactions, hold on to the tails of cows, satisfy yourself with farming and give up striving [in God’s path], God will cover you with humiliation and will not lift it from you, until you return to your religion.’ [Abu Dawud, no.3462]
So this is clear as day. Humiliation will not be lifted from the ummah, nor honour and dignity restored to it, hatta tarji‘u ila dinikum – ‘until you return to your religion.’ If humiliation still plagues us; if Muslims are still mere pawns in someone else’s grand game – then yes, we may incriminate shabby political leadership, blame the economic policies being followed, point fingers at this thing or that thing; but bottom line, the problem stems from a serious flaw in religious observance: hatta tarji‘u ila dinikum. If, as a few people avow, we have returned to our religion, in the way God ordained, then why is humiliation still haunting us? (And yet there is still much to be grateful for, and much more to look forward too.)
There can be no doubt that the affairs of believing communities, in terms of receiving divine blessings, is tied to how much their lives reflect loving obedience to God. Being able to live a goodly life (hayyatun tayyibah, the Qur’an calls it) is linked to the quality of faith and the doing of righteous deeds: Whoever does good deeds, male or female, and has faith, We shall cause him to live a good life and give them their reward according to the best of what they used to do. [16:97]
To conclude: there can be no doubt that the political fortunes of Muslims are tied inextricably to the degree of their worship of God and submission to His will. Mata ta‘udu ilayna baladuna? – ‘When will our land return to us?’ Whatever other political convictions or opinions we feel to factor in, at the forefront must come the Islamic response: Idha ‘udna ila’Llah a‘ada’Llahu ilayna ma suliba minna – ‘When we return to God, God will return back to us what was taken from us.’
And that’s a mata of fact!