Young Muslims Need to be Radical, Capitalism is Jāhilīyah
In the study of the Prophetic life, not much emphasis is given to Muḥammad (s) in his youth. This may derive from the fallacy that his prophethood only began after the age of 40, for that is the advent of revelation. In fact the very first creation of the Almighty, before the angels, was the Nūr (light) of Muḥammad (s). Thus every deed of the Prophet, from cradle to grave, was divinely inspired and a sunnah (practice) for us to emulate. Therefore, as jāhilīyah makes its resurgence, it is imperative that we learn and then espouse the methodology of our beloved Prophet, what he did in those first 40 years in preparation of establishing Islam.
Pre-Islamic Arabia was a land of godlessness – consumed in idolatry, but this is not why it was called the jāhilīyah. The term jāhilīyah may literally mean ‘state of ignorance,’ not knowing the divine truth, but in essence jāhilīyah refers to the supremacy, the domination of a few men over other men. Is this not the current state of affairs? The Almighty created humankind free with no distinction of one over the other, the spirit of monotheism is such that it is God, creation, and nothing in between. Disastrously, in the name of greed man has enslaved the other, rebuking the divine order.
Muḥammad (s), the young man, pointed to the source of corruption in Arabia; economic inequality. Makkah was a center of trade and in it he witnessed how the majority (Arabs) abused the minority (non-Arabs), how there was no equal pay for equal work, how women and children were treated as commodities. These injustices were all tolerated by that jāhilī society for it was ‘good’ economically, unfortunately these are all normative to present-day capitalist societies as well.
He, alongside his uncles Zubayr and Abū Ṭālib ibn ‘Abd al-Muṭṭalib, decided no more. They gathered allies, unconcerned with religious or tribal differences, and created an organization that would defend the defenseless, that would fight economic injustice. They called this alliance Ḥilf al-Fuḍūl (حلف الفضول), and concerning it, Ibn Hishām in his Sīrah (Biography of the Prophet) records:
فَتَعَاقَدُوا وَتَعَاهَدُوا عَلَى أَنْ لَا يَجِدُوا بِمَكَّةَ مَظْلُومًا مِنْ أَهْلِهَا وَغَيْرِهِمْ مِمَّنْ دَخَلَهَا مِنْ سَائِرِ النَّاسِ إلَّا قَامُوا مَعَهُ وَكَانُوا عَلَى مَنْ ظَلَمَهُ حَتَّى تُرَدَّ عَلَيْهِ مَظْلِمَتُهُ
“The allies promised and pledged that they would not find any oppressed person among their people or among anyone else who entered Makkah except that they would support him. They would stand against whoever oppressed him until the rights of the oppressed were returned.”
The formation of the Ḥilf al-Fuḍūl was so important to the Almighty, that He made it a prerequisite to the establishment of Islam. It was these very efforts that compelled the non-Muslims, the enemies of the Prophet (s), during the early years of Islam to all testify, that even though they violently disagree with his religion, in character they have no choice but to state that he is al-Sadiq (honest) and al-Amin (trustworthy).
Furthermore, this alliance was not just a stepping stone for the religion, but when asked many years later in Madinah on its validity, the Prophet (s) responded:
لَوْ دُعِيتُ إِلَيْهِ فِي الْإِسْلَامِ لَأَجَبْتُ تَحَالَفُوا أَنْ تُرَدَّ الْفُضُولُ عَلَى أَهْلِهَا وَأَلَّا يَعُزَّ ظَالِمٌ مَظْلُومًا
“If I were called to it (Ḥilf al-Fuḍūl) now in the time of Islam, I would respond. Make such alliances in order to return rights to their people, that no oppressor should have power over the oppressed.”
This pre-Islamic pact between the Prophet (s) of Islam and justice-oriented pagans of that time was not only not abrogated, but it was affirmed and strengthened for future generations of Muslims to adhere to. This tells us two things, firstly that Muslims can and should ally themselves with non-Muslims especially when it is concerned with social justice, and secondly in importance economic rights in the eyes of God and the Prophet (s) are second to none.
Hence, Muslims, especially young Muslims, must emulate the Prophet (s) and fight the good fight, by immersing themselves in the labor struggle and civil rights movements of today; standing up to the rich and powerful, exposing their greed. Be it unionization, or the fight against the gender pay gap, or the rights of migrant Hispanic and Latino workers, if Muslims are not participants in these efforts they are not following the prophetic way.
In the form of capitalism, jāhilīyah, has arisen to heights not seen before. Thus, as the young Muḥammad (s) alongside the Ḥilf al-Fuḍūl fought till the jāhilīyah of his time came crashing down, we as young Muḥammadans must bring the jāhilīyah of our era to heel.