Civilizational Aspect of the Islamic Shari’ah

When the Almighty Allah created Adam, He made one of the duties assigned to him “the development of the earth.” This is clear from the statement of Allah to His Angels as the Qur’an reports, “[Remember] when your Lord said to the angels, ‘I am going to place a Khalifah (vicegerent) successive authority on earth” (Qur’an, 2: 30) Ibn ‘Ashour comments, “The word Khalifah in its figurative meaning refers to someone who shoulders a responsibility entrusted to him by a higher authority. So the meaning is, ‘We are creating an authority to act according to our Command.”[1]
Though we agree that the key purpose of creating man is to worship Allah as it is clear from Allah’s saying, “I created jinn and mankind only to worship Me,” (Qur’an, 51: 56), it cannot be neglected that the creation of Adam had another key purpose. The Almighty Allah said, “Worship Allah. You have no god other than Him. It was He Who brought you into being from the earth and assigned you to develop it.” (Qur’an, 11: 61) Thus, humans are created to achieve prosperity for this land, and this was why Allah taught Adam the names of everything.
In light of this idea, it is logical that the Qur’an criticizes the corruption caused in land by man as Allah says, “Corruption has appeared throughout the land and sea by [reason of] what the hands of people have earned.” (Qur’an, 30: 41) Al-Qurtubi comments, “Scholars differed in identifying the meanings of “corruption”. It is said that corruption refers to drought, scarcity of plants, and lack of blessing. It is also said that corruption refers to economic difficulties. Some said that corruption means sins, plundering and doing injustice.”
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However it might be more logical to widen the indication of the word corruption to cover all of its sorts, not the corruption referring only to sins and disobedience to Allah in its traditional religious meaning. Al-Miliji, comments, “The meaning of corruption in the Qur’anic usage is not confined to its common usage for disobedience according to Shari‘ah perspective, which includes drinking alcohol, adultery, stealing, bad behaviors, etc. In fact, the meaning presented in the Qur’an is much wider.”[2] Ibn Ashour states, “Corruption means the evil circumstances. Using the definite article Al (the) may indicate that it is a generic noun to cover all forms of corruption in land and sea.”[3]
Thus, it can be logically concluded that Islam aims at achieving the wellbeing of humanity or, in another words, to achieve civilization. This is the Islamic vision of the universe that seeks to worship Allah alone, promote morality and achieve ‘umran (development/prosperity) in the earth. This duty that Islam commands Muslims to carry out can only be achieved through presenting Islam in its complete and comprehensive meaning. It was the mission that Companions shouldered and could convey until the early Muslim generations were able to create civilization within a short period of time.
Thus, achieving human wellbeing is an objective of the Islamic Sharī‘ah, and as long as this is an objective of the Sharī‘ah, it must be presented and made clear in the Da‘wah discourse. This is the Jihad of our modern time. It is clear from the statements of the Prophet (PBUH) that Jihad can be undertaken through actions or statements as stated in the Hadith that reads, “Practice Jihad against the disbelievers with your hands, your properties and your tongues.”[4] Jihad with hands i.e. war has its conditions and circumstances.[5] However, the main means of conveying Islam is through speech as Allah said, “Call to the path of your Lord with wisdom and good admonition.” (Qur’an, 16: 125)
With this in mind, Muslims need to realize and understand the civilizational aspects of the religious teachings and rulings of Islam. Such wide approach in reading the texts of Islam guarantees presenting Islam in its comprehensive form and helps Muslims, and non-Muslims, to realize the civilizational dimension of Islam. The following are just examples of this attitude.
Preservation of the Environment
Ibn Majah and Ahmad reported that the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) passed by Sa‘d when the latter was performing ablution. He (PBUH) said, “What is this extravagance?” Sa‘d replied, “Can there be any extravagance in ablution?” the Messenger of Allah said: “Yes, even if you are on the bank of a flowing river.”[6] This Hadith is usually quoted to prove the prohibition of consuming extra water in making ablution. However, it must be understood from this Hadith that a Muslim should not be extravagant in using water for any purpose. This meaning also can be broadened to be applied to preserving all natural resources of the environment. Al-Najjar comments, “Water in this context is just an example for environmental resources in general. The consumption of these resources must be rationalized whether these resources are abundant or not and whether they are renewable or not.”[7]
Encouraging Development
The Muslim world suffers a state of backwardness, and it is necessary for the religious discourse to showcase how the Shari‘ah encourages and calls for development to prove that Islam came not only for calling people to perform spiritual acts of worship. Rather, true Islam achieves balance between the affairs of this world and the Hereafter. Many Ahadith may be used to encourage this value of development, while –apparently speaking- they could be used only for deducing fiqhi rulings.
Jabir ibn ‘Abd Allah narrated that the Prophet (PBUH) said, “Whoever revives a barren land, then it is for him.”[8] This Hadith has its fiqhi dimension, but it can also be understood as a call for encouraging development. This meaning is also supported by the Hadith narrated by Anas that the Prophet (PBUH) said, “If the Final Hour comes while you have a palm-cutting in your hands and it is possible to plant it before the Hour begins, you should plant it.”[9] Though the Hadith speaks about the end of this world life, it encourages Muslims to do whatever possible for them at this moment to develop the earth. Thus, development is meant for itself, not only for serving a coming generation.