Impact International, March 1996, London, U.K.

MILLENNIUM- An Islamic Perspective by Dr. Shahid Athar

Presented Nov 20, 1995 at the Millennium & Religions Conference in Chicago by Parliament of Worlds Religion.

'By the token of time (through the Ages), man is in a state of loss, except those who truly believe, act correctly and act together in mutual counsel of Truth and patience' (Al- Asr 103).

The Islamic calendar does not start with the birth or the death of a person, but with an event, the migration of believers from oppression to freedom, freedom to practice 'submission to the will of God' in order to attain peace within and around. The advent of Prophet Jesus (Alaih Salaam-peace be upon him) was similarly an epochal event in the history of humankind. The Qur'an calls him a 'sign', a 'mercy', a 'witness' and an 'example'. He is Messiah, Messenger, Prophet, Servant, Word and Spirit of God. The calendar may not be exactly precise but the millennium can serve as an important point of reference in the Divine scheme of message and revelation. And take us into the future.

The future is very dear to us. Even if it has not arrived yet, the future is already in our thoughts. On the other hand, the past is a collection of good and bad experience, its use is in shaping the present and shaping the future.

Islam did not start with Prophet Muhammad, (SAWS- Allah's Mercy & Peace be upon him), but with the first man created - Prophet Adam, (Alaih Salaam-peace be upon him), who was sent to Earth not as a sinner but as a vicegerent so as to tell and teach his children about God. About right and wrong. About the meaning and purpose of life. What pleases Him? What does not? And what is the consequence in either case. His message was eternal, as true in the present as in the future. All those countless prophets and messengers, from Noah to Abraham, to Moses, to Jesus and to Muhammad (may God's blessings and mercies be upon them all) who followed him brought the same message: to believe in God and to obey God; to do good and not to indulge in wrongdoing.

Muhammad, (SAWS- Allah's Mercy & Peace be upon him), task, defined in the Qur'an, is to be 'a giver of the glad tidings as well as a warner'. The Our'an reminds us of nations who were destroyed - because they had rebelled and disobeyed - and gives us a glimpse of the life in hereafter of people who do good and who love and obey God. In the scheme of divine revelation, the past, present and the future are one continuum.

Before Islam, the tribes of Arabia were notorious for their corruption and depravity: they buried female infants for the fear of false shame; they fought with each other over small things; after the death of their fathers, they took their mothers as their property and made them their own wives; they kicked the women out of their homes, when they did not need them, without even a formal divorce; they dishonored and oppressed women; and no crime was too small for them.

In that society that we call Jahiliya, or society of ignorance, Islam came as a beacon to lead them out of the darkness to a new future. In the course of a few decades, these very people became the harbingers of knowledge and civilization to many other people in the world. Islamic civilization helped to revive, rejuvenate and enrich other civilization s. Internal decline and colonial intervention greatly impaired this civilization. It was a culture of civilized co-existence and not a culture of clash or coercion. Muslims are now trying to recover their civilization.

Many in the media seem to enjoy inventing and orchestrating a dark and dreadful image of Islam and Muslims. However, Muslims who know Islam and their duty towards humanity will neither be provoked by nor succumb to such campaign of distortion and defamation against their faith and their personality. They will keep their dignity and self-esteem.

Education, not the wealth, is the foundation of the future. As Muslims acquire more knowledge, they will be able to reform not only their own lives but also interact more positively with their neighbors. They cannot remain in isolation from the rest of society. Therefore Muslims must plan for dealing with hunger, poverty, homelessness, declining welfare, drugs addiction, perversion and promiscuity, as well as the oppressive and illegal hegemony of the human gods in our modern secular pantheon.

In Islam service to humanity is a function of their duty towards God. The Qur'an says: 'And from among you there must be a society, community or party that should invite people to all that is good and enjoin the doing of all that is right and forbid the doing of all that is wrong.' (Al-i-'Imran, 3:104)

In inviting people to goodness and forbidding from the wrong, Muslims will need to join hands with other believers who share a great deal of these values about good and bad and about right and wrong. The conflicts that we witness today are not conflicts between religions, they are conflicts of irreligion. Therefore, those who believe in God and know the right from the wrong - Jews, Christians and Muslims, especially - can join together to build a not a perfect, but an incomparably better world than we live in today: a society of neighbors who are just and fair to each other.

The second half of the millennium has seen two world and several local wars. It saw nuclear incineration of entire populations. It invented a savage new crime against humanity: ethnic cleansing. The new millennium ought to be different. Let the people of faith and goodwill work together to turn it into a thousand years of peace and prosperity, love and mutuality.

Prophet Muhammad, (SAWS- Allah's Mercy & Peace be upon him), has foretold that 'after many years of bad times, an era will come when humanity will re-commit itself to God and there will be peace and prosperity in the whole world'.

On the threshold of the next millennium, Muslims have a duty towards the world and towards the fellow humans. It is their unilateral obligation to invite others, and to work together in building a better and a peaceful world: a world which is free from oppression and exploitation, where rights are a reality and where justice prevails over hypocrisy.

Shahid Athar
Dr Shahid Athar is a member of the Karachi- based World Muslim Congress and the Interfaith Alliance, Indianapolis, USA.