In all of its broad meanings, the word most associated with
revolution is change. We live with revolutionary changes every day. The Earth spinning on
its axis; the Moon's orbit around the Earth; and the Earth's orbit in relation to the Sun
are celestial motions demonstrating cycles of revolution in which many observable changes
take place. The alternation of the day and the night; the changes of the seasons; tide
changes; migratory cycles of animals and the very regulation of time are all phenomena
affected or controlled by revolution.
All living things accept this form of revolution as a part of life and beyond control. That part of Creation that is best able to submit to uncontrollable, unstoppable change, has the best chance of survival and success. The leaves fall from trees as the sap goes into the roots in preparation for winter; birds fly south and then back north in migratory cycles; animals fur thickens then sheds, adapting to seasonal changes. Indeed, the examples of natural revolutionary phenomena are too numerous to count as is the reaction of life to it.
From the tiniest atom to the grandest galaxy, everything is in flux. The similarities in atoms and galaxies show a oneness in origination and activity. Allah ta ala says in Holy Qur'an: Allah originates Creation and then repeats it. Life begins. It grows and develops, reacting and adapting to the unending changes which affect it. It reproduces itself, and, when it can no longer resist or adapt to revolution, it dies, which is, in itself, another change.
And so, with mankind, we also submit to the natural cycles of revolution: resting our bodies at night in sleep, rising again in the morning, only to lay down in rest the following night; Planting in the spring, harvesting in the fall; wearing warm clothes in the winter, and light clothes in the summer. Revolution is nothing but change. Change from one state or condition of being to another.
Revolution has been used to define great changes within a socioeconomic or cultural structure, such as the Industrial Revolution, the American Civil Rights struggle and Women's Rights movement; or political upheavals within a social structure or government, such as the American, French and Russian revolutions. These types of revolutions, although signaling great changes, did not necessarily improve the lot of those most affected by it.
Beginning in England and spreading to other countries, The Industrial Revolution signaled a shift from an agrarian based society to one mechanized for mass production of manufactured goods, fueled by large amounts of capital. This industrialization brought about several major changes:
1. Factories and mines usually centralized their locations and, due to their need for large amounts of labor, caused migrations from the countryside to the urban areas which developed around such enterprises.
2. New class distinctions developed between those who controlled the means of production (capitalists) and those who did the work. High class became connected with wealth and influence rather than the old aristocratic notions of birth and nobility.
3. Industrialization changed the way work was done and goods produced. The family enterprise of artisans and craftsmen was gradually replaced by specialized work routines which ended in a final product.
Although the Industrial Revolution brought about great changes in the economical structure of nations, impacting as well on the social and political environment, it did little or nothing to help the working class poor. Child labor, sweatshops, long and arduous working hours and few if any benefits or rights for workers were some of a long list of hardships workers had to endure, and still are enduring before labor unions began to organize to address some of these issues.
"When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another .... they should declare the causes which compel them to the separation ."
Thus began the Declaration of Independence , the
document which articulated the American colonies' determination to separate from the
British Empire and become free states. The American Revolution was the struggle of one
people against another to remove the yoke of oppression from around their neck. The
American Revolution, in fact, was one of the most hypocritical of revolutions.
We hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. And so also began the second paragraph of the Declaration as it went on to describe the justification for Revolution. And all the while these famous signers of this historic document were agreeing to its content, many if not most were owners of men. Men who had no self evident inalienable rights; men who could not pursue life, liberty or happiness; men who were not included in the Declaration that spoke of all men.
These men were Africans: free men, women and children taken against their will specifically for the purpose of enslaving them in a foreign land. The very time that such a hew and cry of oppression of the Americans by the British was reaching its peak, these same Americans were doing the same and worse to their African brethren.
But the extent of the hypocrisy does not stop there. The aspiration of the pursuit of happiness which Americans were willing to fight for, was ultimately at the expense of the original inhabitants whose land they stole. Americans celebrate every year the holiday of Thanksgiving, supposedly giving thanks for surviving a harsh winter in what is now known as Massachusetts. Their survival could not have been possible without the help of the local original inhabitants who provided them food and taught them what was edible and what was not in a land foreign to the new settlers. What is not common knowledge is that those same settlers massacred those same natives, building huge bonfires and burning them alive. This was indeed a worst case scenario of the proverbial biting the hand that feeds you .
It is not within the scope of this writing to analyze each and every social, political or economic upheaval or change. Revolutionary changes engineered by men, generally are governed by political or economic ideologies, fueled by the desire to change an intolerable or stagnating environment. When a revolutionary action takes place, certain issues are addressed and conditions are confronted. Those forces and influences opposed to any change in conditions, represent the status quo. When the status quo is confronted by a revolutionary force for change, their is, almost inevitably a struggle for dominance between the opposing wills.
Sometimes the forces representing the status quo wins out wherein conditions remain the same with the exception of a few changes made to pacify the large majority of people from considering such a drastic type of change as revolution. The action is classified (by the status quo) as a riot, revolt or insurrection, but never a revolution. The leadership is invariably hunted down and their party (movement) destroyed. The intolerable and stagnated conditions - although sometimes changed in form and appearance - remain.
Sometimes the forces representing revolutionary action wins, bringing about fundamental changes in the status quo or an end to it altogether. The French and Russian revolutions were examples of major changes in the ruling class of these nations although most of the evidence concerning those revolutionary actions point to sinister conspiracies which were not designed to improve the lot of the masses of the people.
The circumstances of an event may be deemed a revolutionary act. Such acts, while stimulating changes along certain lines, may not be strong enough to effect a major change in the status quo or the sociopolitical environment. When Ms. Rosa Lee Parks refused to give her seat to a white man in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955, she committed a revolutionary act. She did not do it for revolution, she did it because her feet were tired after a long hard day of working for white folks. Her action, however, and subsequent arrest triggered the Montgomery Bus Boycott which crippled the city and sparked the Civil Rights Movement which continues, in some form today.
In 1972, when Russel Means, Dennis Banks, the American Indian Movement (AIM) and seven other Native American organizations occupied the Bureau of Indian Affairs building in Washington, D.C., because they were sick and tired of their activist brothers being murdered by government agents and their goons, that was a revolutionary act. Even though they were unsuccessful in bringing about any meaningful change in the oppressed conditions they were forced to live in, they did, if only for a short time, called worldwide attention on the plight of Native Americans in modem America.
When Huey Newton and Bobby Seale formed the Black Panther Party in 1966 to address the oppressive conditions and systematic police brutality African-Americans were subjected to in the San Francisco Bay area in particular and the nation as a whole, they committed a revolutionary act. By 1967, the Panthers had organized a free breakfast program in the communities to feed the children in need. By 1968, the Party planned the merger of several other activist movements in that was perceived by the FBI as a strengthening of a political movement they perceived was a direct threat to the national security of the government. As a result, massive government resources were turned toward the systematic destruction of the Black Panthers and the assassination of its leaders.
The revolutionary actions of people like Ms. Parks, Russel Means and Huey Newton or organizations like AIM and the Black Panther Party reflected a condition of life which could no longer be tolerated and that those affected were willing to risk all in order to bring about a change. It may take weeks, months or years before a condition of being reaches a point of stagnation or intolerance but the defining moment is when a stand is taken that brings about a change in that condition. If revolution is change, then a revolutionary act is the action which attempts to brings about that change. When a man or a woman, out of conviction, accepts Islam, he or she has committed a revolutionary act.
When a child of Adam (as) takes Kalirna Shahada
(converts to Islam) out of conviction, he has in fact taken a stand to effect a positive
fundamental change in his spiritual being and worldly condition. Allah ta ala say
s in the Holy Qur'an that He does not change the grace of a people until they
change what is in themselves. This is a profound statement of Truth and has
enormous impact in its full meaning. To effect true revolutionary change that would
improve the human condition, one must first effect a revolutionary change within oneself.
To do this, the son of Adam (as) must understand which actions purifies the soul and
brings it to success and which actions corrupt the soul and brings it to loss.
Islam (submission to Allah) is the process by which a son of Adam steps away from bad actions and embraces good. This revolutionary process is best observed on the front-lines of Da'wah where the defining moment of the preaching of Islam results in Shahada. Shahada is, in fact, the point where a child of Adam (as) takes a stand against unbelief and ignorance and takes a step towards Allah ta ala, Who will change the state of his soul and worldly condition. Allah ta'ala describes, in Holy Qur'an this transformation of the human soul from the state of ignorance (jahilia) to the state of Islam as: "...Bringing the living out of the dead..." and: "...that He may lead you from the depths of Darkness into the Light..." (57:9)
Islam is a comprehensive way of life that has been chosen for mankind by the Almighty Creator as the best way to achieve success in this life and in the Hereafter. It is a system of living that provides the best guidelines for the individual and the group; for men and for women; for the old and the young; for all people, regardless of color, ethnicity, or race. Islam provides: guidelines for economic practices based on fair dealing and justice; a political format for expediting civil needs and responsibilities; and a social practice that gives due consideration to all human circumstances and conditions.
Islam opposes all forms of injustice, oppression and corruption. It is the duty of all Muslims of conviction to oppose these things also. But the first stage of opposition is that he himself, is not unjust to others; that he himself, does not oppress others; that he himself, is not corrupt. Otherwise, he is nothing more than a hypocrite for Allah ta ala says in the Holy Qur'an: Do you enjoin right conduct on the people yet fail to practice it yourselves? The final stage of revolution comes when the people who have stepped onto right guidance can no longer tolerate injustice, corruption and living in an oppressive state. At that point, steps are taken to stop oppression with the hand, or, if not able to put a stop to it, then to leave (Hijra) to where there is no injustice or oppression.
Allah ta'ala says in Holy Qur'an: "Indeed Allah commands justice, the doing of good, and liberality to kith and kin, and He forbids all shameful deeds, and injustice and rebellion: He instructs you that ye may receive admonition". (16:90)
Islam prohibits all forms of intoxicants and gambling,
fornication and adultery, usury (interest, doubled and multiplied on loans such as car
notes and house mortgages). In most un-Islamic societies, these social maladies are
lawful. Yet, the damage and misery done to people's lives are incalculable.
Murder and oppression, maltreatment of orphans and children are some of the many things that are prohibited in most un-lslamic societies, however the law is too weak and the justice system to corrupt and easily manipulated to be effective in enforcement and prosecution. If you have enough money and the right lawyer, the guilty may go free. Conversely, if you are poor and are forced to rely on court-appointed counsel, the innocent may be condemned.
Islam in America is a revolutionary force for change. It is a clearly defined system or way of life which fosters justice, righteousness, and balance in all areas of human endeavor. It is the rope which Allah, the Most High stretches out to you. With it He pulls his servants out of the quagmire of despair, destitution and confusion. Allah, the Most High is the friend that never leaves you. He is the Most Merciful of those who show Mercy and He is the Protector and Defender of those who have faith.
28 April 1998.
[Currently, he is the technical advisor for the Islamic Post and member of Muslims of the Americas Inc. He was trained in combat photography and photo journalism and had experiences in the Vietnam and Afghanistan war.]