Justice, Not Prayer, Is The First Obligation of a Muslim 

by: Asghar Bukhari

Apolitical practicing Muslims claim that the first and highest priority of a Muslim has always been the rituals they perform and the great ethical causes of the world are of secondary importance.

Although I usually stay clear of theological debates, I am drawn to this particular argument, because of the damage it has done to the revolutionary message of Islam and how today this argument is used to undermine any political awakening of the Muslims.

Muslims are taught to spend their lives on the impossible task of perfecting themselves through ritualistic worship and never wake up to the true cause of Islam.

This theological concept was implanted in the minds of our religious leadership by those who unjustly ruled us. They feared that the ethics of Islam would undermine their authority. So they allowed Muslims to pray — just as long as they were silent on injustice. Over time that is exactly what we did.

Are rituals the first and most important thing a Muslim should do? Was perfecting ones rituals our mission on this earth? Or did ethics take precedence? Perhaps history could give us an insight and an answer to this troublesome argument about priorities.

Let us go back to 1492; it was in this year that the Muslims were defeated in Spain by Christian fanatics. Within 100 years the Christians had committed a Holocaust that wiped every single Muslim from Spain -with the tacit agreement of much of the rest of Christian Europe. The land of thousands of mosques now saw them burn or converted to Churches. The Muslims that once visited the mosques were massacred or ethnically cleansed. The entire Muslim population of Spain disappeared from the land they had lived in for hundreds of years.

Without being willing or able to uphold Justice all their prayers could not hold back what followed. In this hellish period recorded in history, Muslim women were raped in their tens of thousands. Muslim women were referred to as ‘whores’ by the Christian ruling classes, and were used as such — so much so that it is recorded how a village elder complained to the Church that all the children had the eyes of the local priest. A man of the cloth, who was tasked with forcibly converting them to Christianity, His method of choice was mass rape.

Nor were their children spared, they were taken, traumatised and broken and given to the very priests who had raped their mothers -in order that they be brought up as ‘good Christians’. Hundreds of thousands of Muslim children would have their families broken up in this way. Many would have their fathers or mothers murdered in front of them as they were forcibly removed — only to be taught to hate the very Muslims that gave birth to them; A crime never spoken of or remembered by Europeans — or by historically ignorant Muslims.

The Muslim men feared no better. Account after account is given in the excellent book that is a must-read for all Muslims - ‘Blood and Faith’ by Mathew Carr - of how they were brutalised; expelled from the homes or enslaved (this Muslim slave trade powered the Spanish economy). Muslim men were even castrated en-masse to stop them having children and polluting Christian Spain. Islam was banned and Muslims were mercilessly tortured for even the slightest hint that they may still be following it. Stories of Muslim men being caught washing, consequently accused of secretly doing ablutions for prayer, were subsequently burned alive in public for doing so are documented.

There is a logical reason I write about this period in history. You see the force of history itself proves the apolitical Muslims argument incorrect. For without standing against injustice (the first and highest of all obligations commanded by Allah) — there would be no prayer, for it would be wiped off the face of this earth — as it was in Spain.

Spain is not the only place this type of brutal uprooting of Islam has occurred. This occurred whenever the Muslims became weak and unwilling to uphold the great ethics Allah demanded they fight for. Time and time and time again we were destroyed — and prayers did not save us. Spain, Portugal, Albania, Italy, the Balkans, Burma, the Caucasus, Palestine… all places where for the most part Islam was or is being wiped out.

Prayer cannot be greater than justice — because without justice there is no prayer. It would lie dead along with the corpses of those who prayed and history proved this.

However, so ingrained is the false teaching that rituals are superior to ethics that logic and the weight of millions of dead, raped, burned alive and ethnically cleansed Muslims will not convince those who believe otherwise. It would have to happen to their families before they would realise why Allah made the struggle for Justice so important in the Quran.

Muslims used to be God’s champions on this earth sent to help the poor and the downtrodden — now we are the last to help, too busy rushing to the mosque to help anyone else.

Now all the great Islamic ethical battles of the world, from animal rights, to human rights, from global warming, to the rights of women are fought for by non-Muslims. Go to any Palestine demo and you find non-Muslims far outnumber Muslims. They care more for our people than we do.

Justice became a secondary matter in our lives. Our religion lost its meaning. Allah had a mission for us — to bring the Light of His justice where before there was only the darkness of tyranny.

We betrayed Him and we suffered humiliation as a result.

To clarify, I am not saying we should not pray, neither am I saying prayer is not an obligatory and beautiful blessing from Allah. It is all these things and more. No man can thank God enough for the honour of being able to communicate with Him through prayer.

What I am saying is prayer was supposed to be a pillar, a way to remind mankind of their mission to roll back oppression. This pillar was supposed to support the giant leap in faith we had to make when carrying out our mission, to bring justice in a world of tyrants. We as Muslims were tasked to bring about that order — even if it meant dying in the process.

Instead, thanks to the colonized version of apolitical Islam, Muslims used prayer as an excuse to hide behind, a replacement for great deeds, not a pillar to uphold them. They made prayer their sole most important mission and abandoned any greater cause.
You see God asks us, to do two types of obligation. One is for the world around us and the other is for ourselves. Prayer is just for ourselves but what we do for the wider society, we are doing both for ourselves and for others. That is why God prioritises justice over ritual.

The beauty of the Islam that brought men flocking to the Prophet PBUH was the great ethical revolution it brought to their lives — not rituals, which Arabs had an abundance of, prior to the message of Islam. It was the great ethics of Islam, that made them better than they were, freed them from their selves and from the tyranny of others. It made selfish men understand their whole lives were about making a better world for others in the Cause of God.

It taught them that the first obligation of a Muslim was to bring justice to those who had none — to uphold a just order. You see when the Muslim understands this; his prayer has real meaning, for it upholds something deeper, something greater. It upholds the very attributes of God. When we understand this — then and only then - will our prayers get back the true meaning they once held, instead of the hollow excuse it is now.

A Pillar upholds something great…else it has no purpose.

“We sent Our Messengers with clear signs and sent down with them the Book and the Measure in order to establish justice among the people…” (Quran 57:25)

It was as simple as that.