Islamic Perspectives

Ulama – a strategy for change – iv

By Yawar Baig


The Ulama need to take an aggressive, proactive stance in all aspects of society not only to actively combat all attacks on Islam and Muslims but also to proactively deal with emerging issues. They need to first identify and select social evils in Muslim society and eradicate them. Then Ulama need to become the social activists who help all oppressed people to fight against their oppressors irrespective of their race or religion.


10. Change in attitude towards money:

Ulama need to rethink their attitude to money and actively work to make their institutions financially self-sufficient by the creation of endowment trusts, financial investments that yield return or other such means. The present situation of financial dependency creates a lack of respect in society and poses a serious hindrance to all developmental work that may be envisaged. Transparency of dealing, financial discipline, planning and control are all essential to establish. We need to be able to demonstrate the efficacy and superiority of Islamic Banking over other ways of banking and how it develops society instead of destroying it.

However, in 1430 years we don’t have a single viable Islamic financial model on a global scale. This is because our focus has never been on application. Instead, our own religious institutions are dependent on charity for their existence. Islam did not come to make beggars out of us. We chose to become beggars instead of becoming philanthropists to the world. That is why we have no influence in society. After all who listens to a beggar? This also makes it difficult for us to criticize those who donate to our Madrasahs. In some cases such people are engaged in banking, cigarette/bidi manufacture and other questionable business or engage in clear israaf in their lives, yet we can’t say anything to them for fear that they will discontinue their donations. This further harms our own image in the eyes of others.


11. Change in approach to society at large:

In one word, we must hold ourselves accountable to the question: “What impact do I and my institution have on the society we exist in?” And by this I mean the total society, not only Muslims. Ulama, Jamiyaat, Madrasahs must focus on social work, especially to eradicate poverty, illiteracy, superstition and ignorance. It is essential for Ulama to be visible in all situations of natural or man-made disasters, giving aid to all people who are affected irrespective of their religion. Ulama and their students can run on-going programs at the village level focused at adult literacy, social awareness, alcohol detoxification, women’s issues, marriage counselling and other such matters.

For this, courses in Applied Psychology & Counseling, Law, Public Administration, Teacher’s Training, Montessori Education, Entrepreneurship Development, Rural Development, Agriculture & Animal Husbandry and other subjects can be taught or otherwise made available to Madrassa students. This will not only give them a source of earning a decent living but will also impact society and demonstrate the value of Muslim institutions to the world.


12. Change in approach to women

It is a peculiar situation where on the one hand we talk of Islam as being the first religion or ideology that actively worked for the emancipation of women and actually gave women legal, political and social rights in a society where even their human identity was denied. On the other hand our actual attitude towards women is anything but collaborative and equal. We treat women with hostile suspicion and in most Muslim societies deny them the rights that Islam has given them. We make no effort to involve them in any serious discourse that has to do with any religious, social or political agenda. Yet we make sanctimonious speeches of how one pious woman can change the whole family. No nation can progress or prosper that refuses to allow more than half its population to participate in nation building. It is a choice that we need to make. The situation has come where if we don’t make the choice according to Islam our women will take the choice out of our hands.

This list in not exhaustive by any means. I am sure you can think of more things that need to be done. However, I believe that what I have enumerated above are absolutely critical to do. I believe also that Insha’Allah if we do these things, we will see the results in less than 5 years.


13. Learning to disagree without being disagreeable

It is a sad situation that as times have changed we seem to have lost the ability to dispute with concern. Over and over again we see instances of Ulama disputing with each other over various matters, some serious, some trivial but doing this almost invariably in ways which divide the Ummah. Ulama take stances which are hard, use language which is harsh and are unbending and unwilling to change their opinions no matter what logic is presented. At the same time we talk about the way in which our elders and teachers used to dispute, where as a result of the dispute, their hearts came closer and their understanding of the Deen was clearer.

Today therefore it is an essential skill to be able to disagree without being disagreeable. To learn to dispute on matters of principle and understanding but ensuring that the hearts are always kept free of all rancor. It is essential to delink one’s ego from the argument so that any situation or interpretation can be discussed and dialogued in detail and in depth so that the best possible way of understanding it comes to light and all those involved can agree on this. In cases where an agreement is not possible, when disagreement follows the rules of keeping the hearts free from hatred and personal conflict, then people can agree to disagree yet remain friends.

In the interest of keeping the Ummah together, it is essential that we follow these rules of disputing so that as a result of the dispute the Ummah does not divide even further.


14. Tazkiyatun Nafs (Purification of the Soul)

It is an accepted principle in agriculture that one must prepare the ground first before any seed can be planted and be expected to germinate, grow and produce fruit. Without proper preparation of the earth the seed will either not germinate at all or be deficient in its growth. Tazkiya is the preparation of the heart to receive the knowledge of the Revelation. Without this preparation the knowledge will fall on cold stone and leave it unmoved. The fault lies not with the knowledge but with the lack of preparation.  Allah made Tazkiya a major role of Nabuwwat when He said:

A’al Imraan 3: 164. Indeed Allâh conferred a great favor on the believers when He sent among them a Messenger from among themselves, reciting unto them His Verses (the Qur’ân), and purifying them (tazkiyatun nafs), and instructing them (in) the Book (the Qur’ân) and Al Hikmah [the wisdom and the Sunnah], while before that they had been in manifest error.

It is a regrettable fact that in the course of years we seem to have lost the importance of Tazkiya in our teaching system. We seem to concentrate purely on the external without any focus on the internal or hidden aspect of our worship and actions. There is almost no religious institution which takes care to graduate the students with the help of a trained Shaikh through a ‘course’ on Tazkiya. The correction of the internal aspects of oneself, Baatini Islaah, is a very important aspect of learning that Rasoolullah and all those who came after him among the great teachers of Islam paid close attention to. Allah  mentioned this internal aspect of worship in the Qur’an with specific reference to Salah where He said: (Al Mu’minoon 23: 1) “Successful indeed are the believers. Those who offer their Salât (prayers) with all solemnity and full submissiveness;”  (Al Ma’oon 107:4) “So woe unto those performers of Salât 5. Who delay their Salât from their stated fixed times. Those who do good deeds only to be seen (by others).

This has specific reference to the intention which is an internal aspect of worship that is a condition of its acceptance with Allah. A lack of sincerity can nullify the best of deeds.

This is further confirmed by the famous hadith of Niyyah narrated by Sayyidna Omar Ibn Al Khattab which is usually the first hadith in most books where he reported Rasoolullah as saying: ‘The reward of deeds is based on their intention.’ Intention is an internal matter, not visible to the outsider but something that is so important that the entire deed depends on it for its validity before Allah. Allah said about the internal aspects of reading and listening to the Qur’an: (Zumur 39:23) “Allâh has sent down the best statement, a Book (this Qur’ân), its parts resembling each other in goodness and truth, oft-repeated. The skins of those who fear their Lord shiver from it (when they recite it or hear it). Then their skin and their heart soften to the remembrance of Allâh. That is the guidance of Allâh. He Guides therewith whom He pleases and whomever Allâh sends astray, for him there is no guide;” (Anfaal 8: 2) “The believers are only those who, when Allâh is  mentioned, feel a fear in their hearts and when His Verses (this Qur’ân) are recited unto them, they (i.e. the Verses) increase their Faith; and they put their trust in their Lord (Alone).

I wonder how many times in our Tahfeezul Qur’an class do we ask the student to reflect on what effect the recitation is having on his heart. After all Allah described the effect it is supposed to have so it is only logical and natural that we should reflect and examine if our hearts are also responding in this way or not. If they aren’t then we need to question the state of our hearts and take remedial action to bring them alive. Hardness of the heart is a sickness and must be cured. That is why we need to focus on Tazkiya before we begin any teaching. Allah said about sins: (Al An’am 6:120) “Leave (O mankind, all kinds of) sin, open and secret. Verily, those who commit sin will get due recompense for that which they used to commit;” (Al An’am 6:151) And do not go ( even ) near the acts of indencies, open or secret.”

It is clear from these Ayaat as well as many ahadith and the Seerah of Rasoolullah that it is essential to pay close attention toTazkiyatun Nafs if one is to benefit from religious knowledge. In my view it is because we teach Fiqh without attention to Tazkiya that we produce arrogance and rigidity in the heart of the student. However in the current scheme of things, working on one’s own internal issues is left to the student’s own devises. This must be changed forthwith.

Without purification of the soul and without a focus on the hidden aspects of worship and conduct,  religious education can never be complete. Just as the Salah is not complete only with paying attention to its external aspects alone but one must work on developing concentration and dedication until one reaches a level of Ihsaan as described in Hadith Jibreel (AS), narrated by Sayyidna Omar Ibn Al Khattab; no other aspect of Islam will be complete with the external alone.

Conclusion:I believe that time is of the essence and so these changes must be made with an utmost sense of urgency. As time passes not only are our Ulama getting disconnected with the world but more importantly with our own Ummah. Most ordinary Muslims can’t understand, connect or be influenced by our Ulama. This is a situation that must be changed as a matter of the highest priority.

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-31 July 2010 on page no. 28

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