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Intellectual Challenges Facing Muslims

Zafar Bangash

In His infinite mercy, Allah (swt) has provided His creation with guidance to organize their lives in this dunya. The Qur’an encapsulates the entire set of principles for such guidance. Allah (swt) did not leave man without a practical example to implement His revelation in society. He sent a chain of Prophets culminating with His last and final Messenger, Muhammad (pbuh) who exemplified in his blessed life the teachings of the Qur’an. These are referred to as the Sunnah and the Seerah.

Left to his own devices, man (the generic ‘man’ meaning both man and woman) is incapable to determine right from wrong to lead him on the path to Allah. He needs help. This is what the divine revelation and Prophetic example provide. Muslims, however, have strayed from this divinely-prescribed path and have been subsumed by the hedonistic culture of the west.

Most Muslims lead a marginal existence and show only nominal commitment to the principles of Islam. Others display schizophrenic tendencies oscillating between Islam and secularism, unsure what to follow.

If this reflects the plight of ordinary Muslims, the situation of most scholars and intellectuals is little better. Often, it is much worse because they carry a far greater burden of responsibility.

Influenced by western political thought, many scholars and leaders of Islamic movements no longer think within the framework of Islam. They have accepted western definitions of right and wrong; of success and failure; and conduct of the affairs of state and society. Simply put, they have accepted the west’s intellectual superiority and suffer from profound mental colonization.

The long period of colonialism has much to do with this state of affairs. While direct colonialism may have ended, the west continues to exercise indirect control through its proxies in the Muslim world. Thus, few Muslim countries can be considered to be truly independent. It is, however, the state of mental slavery that is most debilitating.

While western educated Muslims suffer from this disease most acutely, even scholars not educated in western institutions have accepted the west’s paradigm. The technological advancements and material prosperity of the west seem to have had a profound impact on Muslim intellectuals.

At the personal level, Muslims have accepted the narrow western definition of “religion”: that it is a personal matter with no role in the affairs of state. Social mores are flexible and dependent on the desires of small but noisy groups in society at any given time.

Economic matters are best left in the “capable” hands of usurious vulture capitalists that know best how to manage wealth. And acquisition of wealth is considered the highest pursuit in life that supposedly brings happiness.

Muslims with even a limited understanding of the Qur’an and the Prophetic Sunnah and Seerah know that such definitions run counter to the values and ethos of Islam. The Qur’an describes Islam as din (a comprehensive way of life, an ethical code and set of laws), not “religion”—which emphasizes separation of church and state.

At the societal level, most Muslims yearn for change. The systems they live under are incompatible with their values but an average Muslim does not have the wherewithal to bring about the desired change. They jump at the opportunity when someone promises to recreate the prophetic model of Madinah.

Unfortunately, even most ‘ulama’ have been co-opted into the secular system that the colonial powers left behind. They offer their services to the most oppressive rulers in return for a life of luxury. For this “privilege”, they must keep their mouths shut at the gross injustices prevalent in society.

What is the way out of this mess and is there any hope for Muslims? The picture is not totally bleak. In recent years, Muslims have witnessed the victory of the Islamic Revolution in Iran. Led by Imam Khomeini and the ulama, there was no confusion about the colonial imposed order in Iran. The Imam insisted it had to be dismantled in its entirety before the edifice of a new order based on Islamic principles could be erected.

The Islamic Republic—fruit of the Islamic Revolution — is still a work in progress but it has shown through steadfastness and immense sacrifices what is possible if the leadership is sincere and committed to Islam. Despite the huge hurdles thrown in its way and the illegal sanctions imposed on it, the Islamic Republic has withstood all such pressures and made impressive progress.

Indeed, it has expanded its strategic depth through Hizbullah, the Islamic movements in Palestine as well as its close ties with Iraq and Syria. Even the Ansarullah in dirt-poor Yemen have shown what can be achieved if the leadership and people are sincere and truly committed to Islam.

Despite the Islamic Revolution following the trajectory of the original Islamic State in Madinah and now representing a shining beacon on a hill that cannot be missed after myriad life-threatening struggles and ultimate sacrifices, the bulk of the Ummah has not accepted its leadership. This reflects a lack of clarity in the Ummah. Unfortunately, most “ulama” seek a leader from their own School of Thought in Islam. This divisive approach has prevented Muslims from uniting under a single leadership. What they fail to realize is that it is taqwa that determines a person’s standing with Allah (49:13), not a particular school of thought.

Great leaders demonstrate this clarity by properly understanding the present reality and then choosing a directional course to bring about the desired change. Clarity is a characteristic of those who know that the future is shaped by the decisions that we, as human beings, make today. Clarity is a feature of those who choose a directional course that establishes a sense of urgency, paints a just social and economic vision of the future, and satisfies the security and livelihood needs of every important constituency through the application of Allah’s divine law.

In this vein, Allah (swt) says about the muttaqis, “…and as for he who protected himself [against Allah’s corrective justice], He will show him a [new] direction, and He will provide [directions] for him from places he would [otherwise] not have seen; and for everyone who places his trust in Allah, He [alone] is enough” (65:2–3).

What gets lost in the translation is that Islamic direction-setting manifests as a by-product of the mixing of Allah’s Will and the muttaqis’ will. What is also evident in these ayat is that for an activity as important as this, Muslims need to look to none other than Allah (swt). Thus, Muslims who merge their consciousness with Allah can emerge from the interaction as powerful leaders.

In a nutshell, effective leadership furnishes for its flock a strong, unambiguous directional course. Direction-setting requires clarity, and Allah shows the way (that is, provides clarity by removing uncertainty). Stated another way, if a leader claims to be Islamic and the direction he has chosen is not clear, especially to those who have core knowledge, then such leadership cannot be said to have taqwa, and, therefore, disqualifies from leading Muslims to a more secure and peaceful future.

Through a continual line of prophets from Allah (swt) and their evidence-laden revelations, muttaqi leadership of every era was given an example of how to align a critical mass of committed followers to Allah and His law. These messengers came to remind mankind of their duty to Allah and His creation so that there would be harmony and balance on earth.

If we believe—as we must—that Allah created everything, then His sunan must be implemented in society, not that which we, as human beings with our limited knowledge, perceive to be the right framework for solving the problems of the world.

It must be understood that injustice, inequity, and polarity are all threads interwoven into the very fabric of western secular formulations. Muslims must understand that justice cannot be manufactured by simply tinkering with injustice. This simplistic approach has caused much confusion among Muslims and led many Islamic movements into a blind alley. Their dismal failure provides ample proof of lack of clarity in thinking. It is time to change this mindset.

The building blocks of the regenerative process of Muslim societies are none other than a proper understanding of the noble Qur’an and the Prophetic Sunnah and Seerah.

There is no other way. None!

Article from

Crescent International Vol. 53, No. 5

Dhu al-Hijjah 13, 14442023-07-01

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