Similarities and Differences
The correct standpoint, I think, is that one should look for similarities but also acknowledge the differences between a contemporary Muslim group in a particular country and the Prophet and his companions at the Makkan as well as the Madinan periods. Whenever such a group finds itself in a situation similar to that of the early Muslims, it should follow the exemplary behavior of the Prophet in that situation.
A few examples will illustrate this point.
1. The people who accepted Islam in Makka were not left to live as isolated individuals. They formed an organized group. I think the wisdom behind this is:
Firstly, that Muslims according to the Qur'an are an ummah, they are brothers and as such can not be proper Muslims if they live separately. It may seem paradoxical, but it is true that when we live as isolated individuals, our individuality will not be realized and will not be complete because there is a vacuum inside each of us that cannot be filled except by other Muslim brothers.
Secondly, that if our ultimate aim is to form a community of our own, then the embryo of that community has to be formed in the womb of the community that we desire to change. Only in this way can we face the challenges of the community to which we are opposed. Thus we can experience something of the blessings of living in a Muslim society and give others a living example of that society.
The lesson from this for any people who want to work for a proper Muslim community, which could develop into a Muslim state, is that:
a. They must organize themselves into a group and have a leader
The proper thing is that there should be only one such group of Muslims working in a particular community of Jahiliyya or semi-Jahiliyya. The more groups we have, the further we go from the example of the Prophet, and thus the more we delay the process of Islamization.
If for some reason or the other many more than one group exists then the second best attitude is that these groups should be friendly and should cooperate in working towards common ends and coordinate this work. They have to remember that the bond that ties them together, la ilaha il-la Allah is more important than the petty differences that divide them.
b. They must remember that their leader is not a Prophet whose every word is to be believed and followed. He is himself a follower of the Prophet and is therefore to be followed only so far as he follows the Prophet. An enlightened follower of such a leader must do his best to have direct access to the criterion by which he judges his leader i.e. the Qur'an and the Sunna. Such a leader is not only not a Prophet, he is not even an Amir of the Faithful in the sense that Abu Bakr, Umar or any of the Muslim khalifs were. To be an Amir in this sense one must be the actual ruler of the Muslims, i.e. the person who actually holds the reins of power and who can therefore implement the Islamic law. Our leaders are indeed amirs but they are amirs in a much more limited sense. It would therefore be wrong on their part to claim the powers which the Prophet gave to rulers, and wrong on our part to invest them with such powers.
c. They should do their best to preserve their brotherhood which is the lifeblood of their unity, and remember that Satan will do its best to corrupt that unity by what the Qur'an calls nazgh , and be sure that quarrel and conflict bring nothing but frustration and disintegration.
d. In accordance with the same ideal, there should also be cooperation between Muslim organizations and present Muslim state that is willing to help and aid. One hopes that there will come a time when a Muslim state will consider its land the abode of all genuine Muslims, and open its doors for them. It would accept them as full citizens, and accelerate the process of Islamization all over the world as part of its duty, and thus give it all the moral and material support and backing that it needs.
2. At Makka, the Prophet, following the guidance of the Qur'an started by inviting people to the basic principles of the faith. I think that he did that because Islam is not a mere collection of orders and prohibitions. It is a system that is both rationally and psychologically ordered. So unless you strengthen the internal foundations, you cannot have any strong external building i.e. unless some Iman is firmly established in the hearts of men, it is futile to ask them to do what God enjoins or avoid what He forbids. This comes out clearly in the words of Aisha who, according to al Bukhari, said that when the Prophet came he started by telling the people about God and the hereafter and only after they believed in this, did he tell them not to drink and not to commit adultery. Had he started by the latter, they would have adamantly refused to comply with his orders and abstain from these sins.