Two extreme positions have been adopted by various people. The first one is that since the Prophet's message was finally brought to completion in the form of the Qur'an and the collections of authentic Hadith that are now at our disposal, the earlier stages through which this message passed are now irrelevant to the kind of method that we should follow in propagating or practicing it. Our religion is complete and must be practiced in its totality. No part of it can be, for any reason, suspended or deferred in application.
The other position is that people have now relapsed to the kind of Makkan Jahiliyya which prevailed at the time of the Prophet's mission. We have therefore to start at the point from which the Prophet started and pass through all the stages through which he passed until we finally create our Muslim State.
Both of these are untenable positions. The first because it ignores the important fact, mentioned above, that Islam is both a message and a method. The way the message is to be conveyed or practiced is an inseparable part of that message and as such cannot be ignored. If this is accepted then we can always find guidance in the methods the Prophet adopted at any period of his life.
The second position is untenable because it is impossible to transfer an entire historical situation from one period and superimpose it on a later one. But this is exactly what the second position demands. The consequences of such an attempt can be seen in the living example of some young men I know who tried to follow this method as a result of a literalist understanding of the great Muslim writer and martyr Sayyid Qutb. They started by forming a group and electing a leader. This group was supposed to be like that of the early Muslims. But it ignored the fact that those who gathered around the Prophet were the only Muslims on earth. To match their group exactly to that of the Prophet's they called it Jamaat-al Muslimin, an expression which suggests that they are the only Muslims, and they did believe that one who did not belong to their group was not a Muslim, or as the more moderate among them would say, majhul-al-hal i.e. his case is doubtful. When I once asked some of them what right they had to deny Islam to a person who professes the shahada, who performs his prayers, and whom they know to be morally upright. The reply was "But to be a Muslim you have to belong to the Muslim community and these people are living in the Jahiliyya community." "If by a Muslim community you mean a society like yours" I said, "then there are many other Islamic societies." "They are not Islamic," they said, "because they accept as Muslims those who live in the Jahiliyya community and anyone who considers such people to be Muslims is himself a non-Muslim."
They believed that being at the Makkan stage they should follow the example of the Prophet in inviting people only to the principles of belief and tell them nothing about things like economics, politics, social justice, etc. The question arose that should they themselves practice that part of the shari'a which was revealed at Madina. On this issue the group split into two, at least one of which considered the other to be non-Muslim.
The group who believed that they should not practice the Madinan part of the Shari'a went to the extreme of neglecting the study of the Qur'anic Madinan verses.
That part of the group which believed in the practice of shari'a in its entirety went to the extent of whipping a member who confessed to have committed adultery.
I think that the example of these enthusiastic and in many ways sincere young men serves as a good warning against this kind of extremism.