The Muslim world gets more than its share of media attention, but almost all of it is negative. Hardly a day passes by without some gratuitous insult being hurled at it. There are both internal and external problems facing Muslims. Kashmir, Afghanistan, Iraq, Chechnya and Palestine are constantly in the news, with US or zionist militarism and imperialism brutalizing ordinary people. Internally, Muslims face even greater problems: their societies are ruled by dictators and tyrants who are in league with the enemies of Islam; the channels of power, authority and influence between and within families are abused and distorted. Given this grim situation, was it realistic for the Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought (ICIT) to talk about “A New Civilization of Islam” at its conference on February 12 in Toronto to mark the 26th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Iran? As ICIT director Zafar Bangash pointed out in his opening remarks, there is never a better time to look up than when one is really down. Never given to pessimism, the ICIT conference tackled the issue head on.
An array of speakers—Zafar Bangash, Professor Mohamed Elmasry, president of the Canadian Islamic Congress, and Imam al-Asi, fellow of the ICIT—took the self-proclaimed superpower and its so-called civilization to task, while Hujjatul-Islam Mohammad Baqer Ansari reflected on 26 years of struggle and resistance of the Islamic Revolution (see article). A former editor of the Tehran Times, Hujjatul-Islam Ansari is currently working in the international relations department of the Rahbari (the office of the Rahbar).
The twentieth century, said Zafar Bangash, belonged to the West, the US being its leader; in that century more than 100 million people were killed worldwide, a figure greater than all the killings put together in previous centuries. If killing the largest number of people is a sign of progress and civilization, then America and the West are a great civilization. But being a civilization means more than simply having the ability to kill large numbers of people. The US, with a mere 5 percent of the world’s population, is also a profligate and wasteful society, consuming more than 40 percent of the world’s energy resources, for instance. Such levels of consumption cannot be found anywhere else. Those who get in the way of the West’s rapacious lifestyle and hunger for total domination are regarded as enemies, Islamic Iran being an excellent example of this phenomenon. The US is also the world’s biggest polluter of our physical environment, spewing more than 1,500 million metric tonnes of harmful gases each year, yet refusing to sign the Kyoto protocol. Zafar Bangash said that if Muslims want to create an Islamic civilization, it has to be rooted in the Qur’an and in the Sunnah and Seerah of the Messenger of Allah (saw).
Professor Elmasry picked up the theme by comparing and contrasting previous civilizations, Roman, Greek, Chinese, Egyptian and Islamic. He said that all the other civilizations had been based on three components: people, culture and geography. They expanded into other lands and created an empire; such expansion was partly or mostly for the purposes of exploitation and plunder of other peoples and resources. The Islamic civilization offered something different: it was based on values derived from a deen, and it did not exploit other societies. When Muslims arrived in Iran and Egypt, for instance, they did not plunder the resources of these societies and transport them to Arabia. They stayed in those lands and lived in harmony with the local populace. He challenged the notion that Western civilization is a Christian civilization; in fact, it emerged only by moving away from Christian teachings. It is rooted mainly in the Greek and Roman civilizations. He then pointed out a creeping phenomenon among Muslims that cannot take them anywhere they should want to go: the mawlid mentality; that is, turning every event into a ritual, feeling good about it, and then going home to return the following year none the wiser. He mentioned the Hajj as one such example: Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala wants the Muslims to re-enact the Sunnah ofProphet Ibrahim (as), learn from it and implement it in our families and societies; instead we have turned this great event into a set of rituals. The struggle, the meaning and the spirit of revival that must characterize the Hajj have been lost or thrown away. Rituals will not enable Muslims to emerge from the state of decline into which they have fallen. He called for an activist approach to our problems and difficulties instead.
Professor Elmasry’s call for activism was taken up by Hujjatul-Islam Ansari, who first drew comparisons between the two dominant systems of the last century (communism and liberal democracy), and then shed light on the Islamic system as propounded by Imam Khomeini in Iran. Since the demise of communism, liberal democracy’s true face has also been exposed. The evidence lies in the brutalization of those held atAbu Ghraib and in the zoo-like cages in Guantanamo Bay. Delivering democracy by guns and cruise missiles is no democracy. He pointed out that liberal democracy’s arrogance has been exposed by such crimes throughout the world, in the military, political and economic domains. He suggested that only Islam can bring about a just socio-political order in society, as shown in Iran, which is striving toward this goal. He said that the iron will of the people must defeat the arrogant powers eventually, as promised by Allah in the Qur’an (50:36).
Imam Muhammad al-Asi returned to the theme of civilization and said that neither the West nor we Muslims have a civilization at present; we both only have cultures. He pointed out that because Muslims had been starved politically since the khilafah was subverted into mulukiyya, the enemies of Islam use this as an opportunity to interfere in the affairs of Muslims. “Who can argue”, he asked, “when US president George Bush says that he wants to bring democracy to Muslim societies?” He is able to perpetrate this fraud on Muslims because their Islamic self-assertion and self-determination have been undermined and frustrated. Imam al-Asi had even harsher words for the so-called Western civilization. He said that it is important for Muslims to call it by its real name: an imperialist-zionist combine and, if the West insists, then call it an imperialist-zionist ‘civilization’. In his animated style, he said that those who have not only produced nuclear technology but also dropped nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki (Japan, 1945) cannot claim to be civilized. Killing ordinary people in large numbers is not the hallmark of a civilization. If human beings are at the core of human society, then the West is guilty of genocide on an unprecedented scale and cannot lay claim to being a civilization.
It was emphasized by more than one speaker that an Islamic civilization will not be achieved by Muslims imitating others; rather it will emerge when Muslims imbibe the ethical and social values of the Qur’an, and begin to live and die by the Sunnah and Seerah of Allah’s Messenger (saw). Although the task is difficult, we have no real alternative. Living in the West does not mean that Muslims have to adopt the kinds of values that have brought these societies to the brink of destruction, with rampant social, economic and sexual anarchy. Only by applying Islamic principles and ethics will we Muslims be able to emerge from the depths of weakness and degradation into which we have fallen.