Islamic Perspectives

The Intellectual Crisis of the Ummah — ii

By Muhammad al-Ghazali
At a time when Muslims were much weaker in material terms, they enjoyed a dignified status because they fulfilled their mission as the best community raised for Mankind. This is why Islam could spread in a short time by love rather than by coercion. In all periods of past history, Muslims stood on a high moral ground and enjoyed the lofty locus of the best community so long as they recognized their basic vocation and fulfilled its requirements. A constant consciousness of this supreme collective obligation helped them maintain an attitude of sincerity and altruism toward humanity at large, enabling them to keep the channel of cordial communication and friendly dialogue open with all manner of people.

Muslims cannot regain their lost status in the world so long as they remain hostage to the terms of engagement with humanity defined by others. This state of mind has pushed the Muslims into a barren, thankless cycle of mutual phobia, hostility and skepticism towards the rest of humanity. The foremost damage of this fear and hostility is that it has created irremovable barriers between them and the Prophet’s ultimate audience, the entire humanity.

The second damage of this mindset has been to perceive this world and its inhabitants in the prevailing Western mode of thinking. The West perceives this world and humanity in typical Darwinian terms. It regards constant conflict and competition as the natural state of human existence more or less at par with the world of beasts. Under this so-called law of existence, this world and all its inhabitants must live in a constant state of mutual conflict. Only the fittest could survive here. The rest are destined to perish. However, in order to safeguard their mutual interests, human beings have agreed to a so-called social contract. Under the terms of this fictitious contract, they have consented to surrender a portion of their inherent freedom to be exercised on their behalf by the collective agency of the state. However, this fiction of social contract is confined to the narrow framework of a nation-state. In their mutual relations, the states also remain at loggerheads with each other under the compulsions of the same Darwinian theory. The only exception to this inherent conflict among nation-states is again safeguarding their national interest. This worldview rests on the notion of essential conflict in human history at all levels except where truce is necessary to procure selfish interests of individuals, groups and nations.

Contrary to this notion, Islam holds a positive view of human beings and regards them free from any primordial moral flaw. It considers them as the best creatures of God created in the finest of forms tempered with a God-conscious nature. Every individual man and woman has been recognized as a potential vicegerent of Allah Who has invested them with a good nature prone to altruism, with inherent capacity for self-fulfillment as well as cooperation with other human beings. Thus Islam rejects the Western, Darwinian view of the conflictual nature of man. In the perspective of Islam, peace and harmony, co-operation and concord are the original state of life. Conflict and disharmony are exceptions. The Western view is the other way round. The Muslim leadership has fallen in the trap of the anti-Islamic world-view of the Occident. It is only after freeing themselves from their hyper complex of Western superiority and recovering a true Islamic vision of the reality, that our leaders could neutralize the Western hegemony, which fixes them up in a state of helpless subjugation disabling them to perform their foremost obligation to humanity. Any effort on their part within the Western paradigm, whether as followers or opponents, will only promote Western hegemonic agenda.

Those of our leaders who have uncritically espoused this conflictual world-view include both the so-called traditionalists as well as the self-styled modernists. Both have gone far away from the essential vision of Islam. Some people might suppose that by emphasizing the supreme altruistic calling of the Ummah, we are ejecting the doctrine of Jihad from the framework of the Shari’ah. We are not. For Jihad is an institution which is an integral part of the Shari’ah. However, it is linked to the total vision of Islam and, therefore, must be regulated by an elaborate set of norms and stipulations and is always subject to definite legal requirements. More than any other thing, Jihad is waged, not for control over men and their resources, but for facilitating the performance of the main duties assigned to the Ummah namely, inviting Mankind to the path of truth, peace and justice. In other words, Jihad involves the use of all means including force, if necessary, in order to defend the mission/right of the Ummah to carry out the functions of enjoining good and forbidding evil, extending to humanity the perpetual invitation to Islam on behalf of the Last Prophet of Islam (pbuh), promoting justice and opposing oppression in all forms.  Beyond this ultimate objective, the Muslim is free to cooperate with non-Muslims in pursuing shared goals of making this common habitat an abode of peace, mutual understanding, fair play, justice and harmony.

It has happened many times in history that the pursuit of Da’wah and Jihad resulted in the voluntary mass conversions of new peoples into the fold of Islam. Soon these converts assumed the leadership of the Ummah, while the original preachers became their willing followers. Little wonder that the leadership of the Ummah had been alternating among diverse stocks of humanity throughout history. Had this not been the case, this leadership would have been monopolized by the peninsular Arabs till this moment.

At present the whole perspective of our leadership seems to have become credulously hospitable to un-Islamic ideas mainly due to the prevailing educational system. It is now hostage to an endless conflict with former colonial powers and their allies far beyond the justified reaction to the continued Western meddling in our affairs. The result of this engagement is that our leaders find no time to look inwardly into themselves and recollect the time and circumstances when they were disoriented from their straight path. In fact, there is hardly any political leader left in the Muslim world today who responds to the current environment in these terms. They look at life as recurrent compulsion of responding to the West as friends or foes. Being obsessed with this love-hate relationship with an entity that is pursuing a conscious and clear agenda of its own, our leaders have allowed themselves to be tied to the dynamics of the Western power game.

They have seldom thought of revisiting the ultimate power game into which they have been cleverly entangled to remain in a permanent state of subordination to the so-called superpowers. Quite obviously, the priorities of power game impose themselves on those who take this game for granted. The unconscious pursuit of this path has increased the distance between them and the cultural mission assigned by the Qur’an and bequeathed by the Prophet (pbuh) to the Ummah.

We are not suggesting here any sort of escapism. Nor are we insinuating any legitimacy for the powers whose hands are soaked in Muslims’ blood. What we are trying to emphasize is that Muslims have certain collective obligations that override all other temporal and existential issues of war and peace. The foremost duty of the Ummah shall always remain bearing testimony to the truth of Islam according to the clear verdict of the Qur’an. The Qur’an supplies the details of an elaborate programme of life which is geared to the fulfillment of this mission. It provides guidance to meet all the challenges that the Muslim community might face in carrying out this mission. This mission is the raison d’etre of their presence on the stage of history as expounded and frequently reiterated in the Qur’an and exemplified in the Prophet’s successfully accomplished mission in history. But we have almost forgotten what a tremendous energy, inner force and profound wisdom could be available to us in this Glorious and Wise Book of Allah. The Qur’an could invest us with the same force that it supplied to our early elders so long as they remained faithful to this noble mission.

The primary requirement of this mission is for the Muslims to order individual and collective life on the pattern prescribed in the Book of Allah since it is an essential ingredient of the testimony which the followers of Islam have to bear at all times and climes. Because the world is prone to judge Islam on the basis of Muslims’ conduct. This ordering of an exemplary life depends on educating the Muslims and training them to lead an Islamic life free from all inhibitions and complexes so as to present to the world a living example of Islamic life. Practicing Islam is the best way of preaching it in accordance with the Prophet’s model. The point of culmination in the Islamic education is acquiring the ability to call the entire humanity to the abode of peace. This later aspect calls for a critical understanding of the current modes of thought and behaviourand developing a common lexicon for communicating with humanity at large which is the potential Ummah of the Prophet (pbuh).

It should be kept in mind that there are strong Satanic forces that constantly strive to keep Muslims engaged in real or perceived battles with the rest of the world in order to foreclose the avenues of a healthy and friendly communication of Muslims with humanity.

Unless Muslim leaders return to the Qur’an seriously, take a stock of their recent past and crave for seeking a genuine guidance from this Book to redefine their status and role in life, they will be continually tossed around by the tides of time from one tempest to another. They will never be able to reach the shore of peace, peace within and peace without, peace with themselves and peace with others.

At the present crucial moment, we need to re-kindle Iqbal’s fire in our hearts and souls: “If you want to live as Muslim, then (know that) it is impossible without living the Qur’an.”   

This is the second and last part of a slightly abridged version of the keynote address at the two-day international conference on “Intellectual Crises of the Muslim Ummah: Rethinking Traditional Solutions” at the Alighar Muslim University on 6-7 April this year. The author is a professor in the International Islamic University in Islamabad and a judge on the Shariah Apellate bench of the Supreme Court of Pakistan.