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The Arqam Effect: From Reading the Qur’an to Action

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Originally published in January 2013.

Those familiar with the biography of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ (peace be upon him)  are versant with the story of a young man named Arqam. Arqam played an instrumental role in the unfolding of the history of the Arabian Peninsula. Despite his key role in history, he is noted in the books of Prophetic biography to be a discreet person in Meccan society. In contemporary Western terms Arqam functioned as a:

  1. self-less philanthropist furthering the cause of a brotherly society
  2. non-profit organization working for the betterment of society

Upon a close read of the biography of the Prophet ﷺ  we learn that Arqam’s role in history was more than non-profits and philanthropists. Arqam’s decision functioned as an institution devoid of bureaucracy in impact and its effect was so profound that it moved the direction of history. The educational space in Arqam’s home communicated a qualitative education so profound and thorough that it affected personal, intellectual and historical change. It was so transformative an experience that the whole of the Arabian Peninsula was reshaped. A disruption of the old psychological order was brought about by transforming the attitude, thinking, and practices of the students of the Qur’an.

One of the fundamental verses that promoted such a transformation based on a wholesome understanding of community life was revealed in Madina and is found in the Chapter of the Qur’an entitled Ma’ida. It reads as follows:

“And cooperate in righteousness and piety, but do not cooperate in sin and aggression. And fear Allah ; indeed, Allah is severe in penalty.” (5:2)

Imam al-Qurtubi al-Maliki, commenting on this verse, said: “It is a command for all the creation to assist one another in (taqwa) righteousness and (birr) piety, which means they must help one another.” 

Imam al-Mawardi ash-Shafi said: “Allah (exalted is He) has called on people to help one another and married cooperation to righteousness and piety.” He further stated that“in righteousness there is Allah’s pleasure and in piety is the pleasure of the people and he who has gained Allah’s pleasure and that of people is happy and fully blessed.

Imam Ibn Atiya al-Maliki said: “Piety is engaging that which is obligated and recommended of action whereas righteousness is restricted to performing obligations.”

The term piety in the sense found in the Qur’an, in this verse, transcends the basic command to righteousness or God-consciousness. This is so because piety enjoins doing more than what is commanded of goodness and staying away from what is ugly and prohibited (haram) – this is God-consciousness (taqwa). Rather, the commitment to piety is more than just personal spiritual development as it unfolds in doing what is obligated and staying away from the prohibited; it demands doing acts of goodness which are not obligated. Piety (birr) adds great value to society because it carries the human being to a standard of excellence that is not a matter of keeping to the do’s and don’ts of Islam. God-consciousness is a fundamental level of spiritual maturity, but piety is a call to grow beyond the basics of fearing for one’s well being and desiring what is best. For this reason the commitment to piety has a social component

The group studying at the home of Arqam did not secretly meet to plan a violent overthrow of the system, nor did they study a manifesto that would teach them a program to enshrine their newly founded party. The environment in this period of Islamic history was very hostile to women, the weak, the stranger, and the poor. The strong man governed and the sword was always near. It was far from the state of nature that honored the human being and far from the rule of law—rather, it was the law of barbarism and ignorance celebrated through poetry and occasional hospitality. Despite this social fact and environmental challenge the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ  did not falter. It was in the abode of Arqam that the early Muslims found a safe house to imbibe the teachings of the Qur’an and the character necessary to transform society from the core. If it was power they were after, they had a chance to march into Mecca and conquer it after they achieved independence in Madina. If it was wealth they aimed at, they had the ability to plunder to their delight. What they were after was a life worth living.

Rather what they learned at Arqam’s home was an institution of education that taught that the poor, the rich, the stranger, the woman and the non-Muslim all had inherent rights that are God-given and that faith and reason are not to fall prey to superstition. The Arqam effect was so profound in impact that individuals who graduated from the institution were later key individuals who served to construct the society of Madina. Madina, as many of us know, was the first State in the world to be founded on a constitution. They became corner stones to society and its major benefactors. The lesson of the Qur’an they imbibed was that to build society is an obligation and to uphold justice and law is crucial to society’s survival. The education they received was a Qur’anic education and, further, a human education.

Fetullah Gulen states: “A system of education without a clearly defined target and purpose will only serve to confuse future generations. We have to be careful that our youth is taught the proper material in an effective manner to ensure that they are actually learning rather than simply becoming conduits of data.”1  Arqam, as a youth, learned more than just the fundamentals for a successful career. He learned how to be a functional part of society, how to care for society, and how to build society.

Lessons on citizenship are not enough to bring about a just social life. An understanding of Islam bent on attaining power to wield it like a sword will not bring about a just social order. A life devoted to spiritual practices and neglect of the material world is not enough to bring about a change in the madness of the world. A booming economic upturn is also not enough.

What is needed is a transformation of perspective, a cultivation of will, a suppression of ego, and a deep commitment to the teachings of the Qur’an. The students of the school of Arqam eventually moved on to graduate. When they graduated, they renewed society, for it was through the patient suffering in Mecca and the studious effort to understand the Qur’an. While the world was in chaos, they eventually developed the qualities necessary to build Madinan society and then return to build Mecca. Study of the Qur’an must be accompanied by a spirit searching for solutions for humanity’s spiritual and intellectual ailments as well as its social ills. Change is not only personal, but it is in light of social transformation. What do we need to change in ourselves to make society better? That question is the question we must ask when we read the Qur’an.

  1. http://en.fgulen.com/recent-articles/4296-what-generations-expect-from-education []

About the author

Yusuf Rios (Abul Hussein)

Yusuf Rios was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. While becoming a Catholic priest, Yusuf discovered the path to Islam. He studied Islamic sciences for a period of seven years, studying with scholars in Cleveland, Ohio before receiving a work-study contract with the Islamic American University. At the Islamic American University, he read Arabic and a limited number of Islamic sciences intensively for one year. He then traveled to Cairo, Egypt where he resided for five years. There, he attended a number of intensive courses at Arabic learning centers. After these courses, he joined various scholarly circles, reading Islamic sciences with a host of scholars of diverse expertise and orientations. Yusuf takes particular pride in having studied intimately with a number of scholars from al-Azhar University. Likewise, he has great love and attachment to Egypt and especially al-Azhar Mosque where he studied for the major portion of his residence in Egypt. Yusuf has a Bachelors in Western Philosophy and Sociology and is working on a Masters in Education. He serves as an instructor in Islamic Sciences with Islamic American University and in local mosques in Dearborn, Michigan and Cleveland, Ohio. His four main research areas in Islamic sciences are in the areas of Usul al-Fiqh, Maqasid ash Shar’ia, Hadith Sciences, and Fiqh.

15 Comments

  • Jazakallah Khair for this beautiful article brother Yusuf…. if there were more Muslims who think like you were around the world would be a better place.

  • Assalamualaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh

    This article is quite difficult to read. I’m not sure if it’s wordiness or vagueness but I just couldn’t get the point.

    First of all,
    1) Who is this Arqam? A young man? A Sahabi? A brother from the Salaf generations?

    2) What did this Arqam do? He found an organization where people came and studied? Gathered to feed the poor?

    This article is incoherent. I just can’t make any sense of it. Perhaps you expected the read to be familiar with Arqam. Well, I have never heard of Arqam before so I do require an introduction.

    Excessive eloquence is not beneficial either. You need to keep your writing standard at the level an 8th grader can understand. Islam is not a deen only for the well educated.

    • Thank you for the enlightening article Br. Yusuf. May Allah reward you!

      Brother Gibran, please have manners in how you address the respected authors of this site. You can ask for clarification without demeaning remarks.

      Al-Arqam was one of the companions of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) who opened up his home to the Muslims so they could learn the principles of Islam and study the early revelations. It was during the phase when the Prophet’s call was secret and not yet made public. Al-Arqam’s home was their gathering place, where they met and prayed and studied and discussed their affairs. It was a safe place to gather and learn from the Prophet (pbuh), and it allowed for him to strengthen the faith of his followers before the Quraysh would begin assaulting and persecuting them.

      • Assalamualaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh

        JazzakAllahu khairan

        I will take your advice to heart inshaa Allah.

        Maybe I’m the only one who had a hard time understanding it. However this article is not above criticism. I don’t think people with less English ability would have an easy time understanding this. Also, the introduction to Arqam was confusing. This frustrated me as I tried to read the article so Astaghfirullah wa atoobu ilayh.

        Ask Allah’s forgiveness for me. Jazzakumullahu khairan.

  • Thank you Z for bringing justice to our virtual mosque.Your gentle admonitions to brother Gibran are well intentioned.for we three were in such a house as Al Argam’s I imagine we would have had prayer,salah, I think we would have had refreshment in so much as often the prophet(swt)counselled that the wayfarer be treated with welcome,fare and equanimity.Thus in such a household any differences of intellect or intellectual capacity would be subservient to faith.What we have in common is so much greater than our differences.But many we are told wont see this and prefer to follow the illusion of ‘us’ and ‘them’.Although it is a translation of the Holy Qur’an that I follow here in England I don’t imagne Al Argam would refuse to teach me.The above article teaches me for which I am grateful as I am for the contributions of others.Even the prophet(swt) was gently admonished in a certain surah concerning a household dispute.We are in good company if we have not only sense but sensibility,to use a famous phrase from an English author,Jane Austen.Nothing can break the foundation of Allah’s will,neither man nor jinn.If only we can draw closer to His precepts, there’s the rub speaking practically.We need more such households as Al Argams to help us do so. Brian Cokayne, Stockport, England

    • wa alaykumusalam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh

      JazzakAllahu khairan for the article.
      Now I have another source of inspiration from the Sahaba!

  • salam..

    Brother Yusuf
    this article is difficult to understand.
    plz keep it simple , easy n attractive to read.

    I hope u dont find my cmmnt offensive.
    May Allah reward u for ur efforts.Perhaps u need to step down from ur level so that people like me can get ur ideas 😉

  • Selamu Alejkum

    “A Jewel”

    May Allah make us strive in gaining understanding, and reaching beyond average literary skill so that we may be an example.

    Striving to understand leads to self improvement. Reaching a higher level of literacy will help us develop by making us better and more eloquent speakers. I ask Allah to make us set the bar HIGH and aim to leap over it…..

    May Allah bless the writer and prolong his life. May Allah help us draw lessons from the example of Arqam so that we may develop Institutions that will better society….

  • Assalamu’alaikum,
    Just a suggestion regarding the sentence “to march into Mecca and conquer it after”, a better word would be “liberate” or “emancipate”. That’s what the sahabah did rather than “conquer”.

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