At a time when Muslims are reeling from the cumulative effects of numerous attacks, ZAFAR BANGASH, Director of the Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought (ICIT) puts our plight and struggle in historical perspective
Most Muslims feel that the Ummah is undergoing one of the most difficult phases of its history so far. Whether one considers the plight of the Palestinians facing zionist atrocities, Afghans being burned alive by 15,000-pound bombs and killed by "thermobaric bombs" that suck air out of lungs, or millions of Iraqi children being starved by the world’s "sole superpower", the feeling of helplessness is not entirely misplaced. This made worse by the cowardice of Muslim rulers before the Muslims’ tormentors. There are 56 "Muslim nation-States", yet their combined success in helping Muslims anywhere is negligible. So what can be done to rescue the Ummah from its present predicament?
It is not the first time that the Ummah has confronted such problems. In the past, however, the problems were mostly from outside the House of Islam; now we are confronted by an enemy who has penetrated the House of Islam and recruited Muslims to its anti-Islamic campaign. This makes the task of recovery much more difficult. While the Ummah will no doubt recover from its present predicament (there is no better place to start than at the bottom), a necessary prerequisite is a clear understanding of both the external and internal enemies. Similarly, the Ummah must shed the intellectual disabilities that it has acquired in its downward slide into darkness.
Before identifying our enemies, it would help to review the setbacks suffered in the early days of Islam which have helped since then to weaken the Ummah. The first breach in the system established by the Messenger of Allah (saw) in Madinah, and followed by his rightly-guided khulafa, occurred at the Battle of Siffin, when Mu’awiyah rebelled against the legitimate authority of Imam Ali (ra). Malek Bennabi, the Algerian scholar (d.1973), has said that "the battle of Siffin, in the year 37 of the Hijrah [657 CE]... already contained — so soon after its birth — an internal contradiction: the Jahili spirit contending with the Qur’anic spirit. It was, moreover, Mu’awiyah, who broke a synthesis — in principle established for a long time, perhaps for evermore, thanks to the equilibrium between the spiritual and the temporal [life in Islam]" (Islam in History and Society, 1991. p.9).
This rupture was to manifest itself again between the children of the two protagonists of Siffin: like his father, Imam Husain (ra) stood for truth and justice, while Yazid ibn Mu’awiyah represented everything that Islam considers reprehensible. The tragedy of Karbala, although it enabled the jahili spirit to triumph at the time, was not really a victory for Yazid. By making the supreme sacrifice of his life and his family, Imam Husain denied to all future tyrants the opportunity to cloak their illegitimacy in the garb of Islam. The world of Islam has suffered a long line of tyrants and their court ulama masquerading as "Islamic saviours". It is this mindset that needs to be exposed and banished from Muslim political thought if Muslims are to regain their rightful position as leaders of humanity, a position assigned to us by Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala Himself, provided that we are faithful to the path laid down by Him for us.
The conversion of khilafah into mulukiyah (hereditory kingship) put the Ummah on a downward spiral whose logical conclusion was its disintegration, first into competing empires, then into colonies of a resurgent Europe, and finally as nation-States still subservient to the kuffar. The intellectual disintergration of the Ummah —helped by the injection of alien ideas into the body politic of Islam and foreign habits into the social and collective life of the Muslims— was more devastating than its physical subjugation. Today Muslims are like animals in a zoo, in the words of the late Dr Kalim Siddiqui; worse still, they have accepted these cages (the nation-States) as their permanent condition. And, like animals in a zoo or circus, Muslim rulers jump when the ringmaster cracks his whip. No longer do Muslims think in terms of the Ummah, a concept given to us by our Rabb (Sustainer) in His Book (21:92). Yet Muslim rulers continue to confuse the Ummah by such constructs as the Arab League, or the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), as if these can be substitutes for a unified Ummah. Such groupings reflect the intellectual and political bankruptcy of the ruling elites in the Muslim world.
A quick comparison between the Muslims’ past and present shows that the present is much worse than even the darkest days of the past in several vital respects. In 1099 CE the Crusaders invaded Palestine, sacked Jerusalem and perpetrated a bloodbath: more than 70,000 Muslim men, women and children were killed in one week. This dark period in Muslim history was reversed in 88 years: in 1187 CE Salahuddin Ayyubi reclaimed Jerusalem. Before doing so, he first had to deal with the rulers surrounding Palestine who had aligned themselves with the invaders. A similar situation occurred with the sacking of Baghdad by the Mongol/Tatar hordes under Halaku Khan in 1258 CE. The largest library in the world, with priceless manuscripts, was torched; Mu’tassim Billah, the Abbassid ruler, was executed.
Despite this setback, the Muslims recovered. The barbarians who had defeated the Muslims themselves soon embraced Islam. This is a unique event in history: the victors accepting the religion of the vanquished. From Baghdad, the Tatars surged northwest into Russia, where, after defeating the Dutchy of Muscovy, they ruled for 200 years. In its entire history Russia has not been ruled by any foreigners except the Muslim Tatars. The last of the Tatar rulers were finally defeated by Ivan the Terrible in 1556 when he sacked Kazan, their capital, and executed all their leaders. The turban-shaped domes of the Cathedral in the Red Square, Moscow, stand for the severed heads of the eight Kazan rulers. The defeat of the Tatars occurred barely 60 years after the loss of Cordova (present-day Spain) in 1492, but Islam continued to show its resilience in the face of repeated defeats. When Andalus (Spain) was lost, the Turks had already established themselves in the Balkans by defeating the Serbs in the Battle of Kosova (1389). Their rule in the Balkans lasted more than 500 years.
It is important to note that Muslims made these remarkable gains despite the corruption that had seeped into Islam’s core since the tragedy at Karbala. In fact, soon after Karbala, Muslims made spectacular gains geographically and went on, especially during the Abbassid period (750-1258 CE), to make major contributions in science, astronomy, mathematics and medicine. This remarkable intellectual flowering also influenced and inspired much of Europe, which was still in its Dark Ages. The early Abbassid years are often referred to as the golden period of Islam.
Today, however, Muslims would be hard pressed to point to even one such recent achievement; at one level, there appears no hope in the foreseeable future. Some have even characterised it as the Muslims’ darkest period, with poverty, misery, suffering and defeat being the lot of the vast majority. Yet this is a superficial diagnosis of the Ummah’s condition. The question we should be asking is: who represents the Ummah today? Perhaps it needs to be put differently: who understands and shares the aspirations of the Ummah? the rulers of the nation-States, or the Islamic movement, struggling to retrieve the honour and dignity of Muslims in the face of internal and external onslaught? With few exceptions (Iran, for instance), the Muslim regimes are subservient to kufr led by the US. The degree of control and manipulation exercised by external powers in the House of Islam is humiliating to any Muslim with even a shadow of conscience and self-respect. The Muslim masses, however, have played little or no part in bringing about this humiliation.
Let us name the Muslims’ external enemies first: the US, Israel, Britain, Russia, India et al. Under their jurisdictions— Afghanistan, Iraq, the Philippines etc. (under US), Palestine (under Israel), Chechnya (under Russia), and Kashmir and Gujarat (under India) — Muslims are being brutalised and terrorised. In many places the external powers have also co-opted Muslim rulers into their agenda. The most recent manifestation of this is the so-called "war on terrorism". It appears that whatever the US says is terrorism is terrorism; the others simply jump to do America’s bidding. No distinction is made between people struggling to regain their fundamental rights, such as the fighters in Palestine, Lebanon, Kashmir and Chechnya, and those indulging in violence: the zionists in Palestine and the Serbs in Kosova and Bosnia not so long ago, for instance.
Israeli state terrorism is financed by the US, and the zionist state is protected from international opprobrium by America’s use of its veto at the UN Security Council, while the Palestinians’ legitimate struggle, whether waged by Hamas or Islamic Jihad, is labelled "terrorism." The Hizbullah fighters were called "terrorists" for struggling to liberate their land, but zionist state terrorism is defended as "security measures." In the eighteen months of the second intifada more than 1,400 Palestinians (a third of them children) have been murdered by the zionists, while 400 dead Israelis, most of them soldiers, are considered a major crime.
But should we expect anything else from the Muslims’ avowed enemies? Our real problem is internal: the ruling elites who are pursuing the agenda of the enemies of Islam. Most Muslim societies are governed by laws that were imposed during the colonial period to serve the interests of the colonial powers, unchanged since except in trivial details. Even in societies where Islamic laws are in force, such as Saudi Arabia, their application is selective and intended to terrorise the populace, rather than guide by the spirit of adhering to Allah’s commands. There is effectively one law for the rich and powerful, and another for the rest of society; this is clearly unacceptable from the Islamic point of view. Societies that are not governed by Allah’s Laws are in open rebellion, as the Qur’an makes clear (5:46 and 47). The Muslim ruling elites fall into this category.
At a time when the Palestinians are being subjected to fire and steel by the zionists, and the Afghans are being pulverized by the Americans and their allies, there are Muslim rulers who want to offer the zionists ‘peace’, while others have joined the US’s campaign for "moderation", "toleration" and "sense." Never before have Muslims heard more nonsense from their rulers; expecting anything different from them, however, would be naive. The ruling elites are a product of that period in history when Muslims were under subjugation; their inferiority complex is born of such subjugation, and their ambition is to find acceptance with their slave-masters. They are, in the words of Malcolm X (Al-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz), the "house negroes" of today, identifying totally with the slave-master’s well-being instead of struggling to free themselves and their own people.
The solution to the Muslims’ current problems cannot come from faulty thinking or with tools acquired during the colonial era. True liberation will only come from thinking within the framework of the divine message revealed to the noble Messenger (saw) and put into practice by him, and by following his example. For this the Muslim world is in need of an intellectual revolution before external change can be brought about. In fact external, physical change will follow once our thought-processes and understanding have been corrected. This is the greater challenge facing the Ummah today, despite the immense suffering to which it is subjected by its enemies.