InsightJanuary February 2005

Reviving the Ummah, how?

Jamal Harwood

When considering the multitude of problems that currently face the Islamic Ummah, whether it is foreign occupation, poverty, widespread corruption, technological decline and the like, many Muslims suggest that the answer to these lies in materialistic solutions. By materialistic solutions, it is meant to include the drive towards increasing the wealth of the Muslims, or by raising the level of technology in the Islamic world, or by increasing the availability of academic education to the Ummah. Further, they back their arguments by looking to the Western world, whom they see to enjoy all of these materialistic achievements, and they attribute the relative success of the Western nations over the Islamic world to these aspects. In this article, we will, Insh’Allah, demonstrate that this is indeed not the correct understanding of the problem and its solution. It is not the materialistic wealth that leads to revival, rather it is only the intellectual wealth that can achieve it.

The Situation of the Arabian Peninsula before Islam

If we consider the situation of the Arabian Peninsula before the advent of Islam, it was characterised by a widespread decline in many areas of life. Internally, the societies were plagued by tribalism, petty feuding and social injustice. For example in Madinah the two major tribes, the Aws and Khazraj were constantly engaged in futile wars, such as the Harb al-Jamal – a battle lasting for years over the killing of a camel. In Makkah, the practices of burying daughters alive, cheating in the markets, prostitution and oppression of the weak by the strong were rife. Externally, the Arabs had no influence on the rest of the world. The major powers at the time, the Romans and the Persians, while fighting against each other, troubled themselves little with the Arabs, seeing them as insignificant bedouins not worth conquering.

The Impact of Islam on the Arabian Peninsula

However, with the arrival of Islam, things changed dramatically in the Arabian Peninsula. Muhammad  and the Muslims struggled to bring an entirely new way of thinking on to the scene. This is clear from the description of Ja’far ibn Abu Talib to the Negus in Abyssinia made by him during the first Hijrah from Makkah, when he said, “…we were an uncivilised people,worshipping idols, eating corpses, committing abominations, breaking natural ties, treating guests badly, and our strong devoured the weak. Thus, we were until God sent us an apostle whose lineage, truth, trustworthiness and clemency we know. He summoned us to acknowledge God’s unity and to worship Him and to renounce the stones and images we and our forefathers formerly worshipped. He commanded us to speak the truth, be faithful to our engagements, mindful of the ties of kinship and kindly hospitality, and to refrain from crimes and bloodshed…..We confessed his truth and believed in him, and we followed him in what he had brought from God, and we worshipped God alone without associating anything with Him.”

A Productive Way of Thinking

So, with this new way of thinking, the Arabs ascended from the former depths of decline and jahiliyyah. The Prophet (saw) and the Muslims with him established a state in Madinah, whose history contrasts starkly with what had come before it. Internally, it ruled with justice and security over those who lived under it, whether they were Muslims or not, freeing them from the shackles of slavery, poverty, ignorance and the the obedience to other human beings. Externally, the Islamic State expanded to unite more than half of the known world under the banner of Islam, and was the leading nation in all areas of life, whether in technology, intellect, economic ability or societal security and justice.

The Power of Thought

The important fact is that this dramatic transformation came about not after any materialistic innovation, the discovery of wealth or for any other reason than the absorption of an entirely new way of thinking. This way of thinking was one that gave the people an objective in their life, and gave them a reference point for solving all of the problems which would face them. When previously they had proceeded in life with no direction, nor ability to progress, bringing reactionary and improvised solutions to the issues confronting them, they now had a comprehensive thought and a productive way of thinking which provided the driving force for all of their actions. Indeed, it was this ideological way of thinking that allowed the Muslims to dominate in the world arena, and undermine the authority and corruption of the contemporary superpowers, and it was this that led them to achieve the materialistic progress. In the above examples, their success was merely a result of responding to the call of their ideology. Allah says,

 “Lo! We reveal unto you the scripture with the truth, that you may judge between mankind with that which Allah has shown you.” [Quran 4:105] and He says:
“It is He who sent the Messenger with the guidance and the deen of truth, that it may prevail over all other deens.” [Quran 9:33]

Characteristics of the Productive Way of Thinking

The productive way of thinking for the revival of society is a unique way of thinking that has two important characteristics. Firstly, it is based upon the adoption of an ideology, that is a belief about life and its purpose from which emanates a system which comprehensively organises the affairs of life according to this objective. Secondly, the acceptance of this ideology is dominant in the society, such that the people, willingly and consciously, refer to it in every issue and problem that arises in life. This is both whether it is to do with the individual, such as how he should behave and what values he should hold, or it is to do with the society, such as how it should organise its government and what should be its policy with other nations. Regarding the Muslims, they shaped their individual behaviour according to the Qur’an and Sunnah, and referred all their problems to Allah (swt) and His Messenger, Muhammad (saw).

The productive way of thinking can apply not just to the Islamic ideology, but to any ideology, such as Capitalism or Communism. Thus, nations have existed which have also organised their affairs internally, and achieved prominence in the world externally, such as Russia when it adopted Communism in the early 1900s and Britain when it adopted Capitalism after the Reformation. However, unless the productive way of thinking is centred around the correct ideology, problems will arise in the society and the success of the nation will be shortlived – ultimately it will fail. This was the case with the Soviet Union, and will soon be the case in Britain, where social injustice, poverty and low morals are leading the people to misery, despite the prominence of the nation.

ISLAM: The Only True Revival

Thus, for the true revival, the ideology must be correct. This ideology is of course the Islamic ideology, which convinces the mind, as it is based upon the rational proofs, and it agrees with the nature of human beings such that it provides a system which accords with the natural instincts and inclinations of people, leading them to happiness and security. Both of these characteristics are absent from Capitalism and Communism.

The success of the Muslims in the Arabian Peninsula was directly as a result of the advent of the Islamic ideology and the productive way of thinking which its adherents adopted. But it is a success which contrasts with the current situation in the Islamic world, where it is as if the history of the pre-Islamic days of Jahiliyyah has repeated itself. Internally, there is social degradation, poverty and technological inability; and externally, the Islamic Lands have no effect on the affairs of the world, rather it is they who are exploited and controlled by the disbelieving nations and the tyrant rulers which they imposed on the Ummah.

Material Wealth Cannot Compensate for the Loss of Intellectual Wealth

All this exists despite the existence in the Islamic world of uncountable wealth in the form of natural resources, a huge population, and many sons and daughters with academic degrees and technical education. This leads to the question, why is the Islamic Ummah in such a state of disarray? The answer lies in the decline in the productive way of thinking. Even a brief study will show that Muslims no longer refer to Islam in the solving of the problems of life, rather they refer to it only in the areas of worship and moralistic actions, i.e. those aspects of Islam which pertain to individual practices. In this way, when it comes to praying, fasting or Hajj, they go to the Islamic texts, but when it comes to the issue of economic policy, instead of referring to the Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet, they refer to the IMF or the World Bank, which are institutions of kufr, as is the case in Bangladesh, Turkey, Jordan etc. Similarly, when it comes to the foreign affairs of the Islamic Ummah, they refer to the United Nations as is the case in Saudia Arabia, Bosnia, Palestine etc. The division of courts into Shari‘ah courts and secular courts in Pakistan and Malaysia are good examples of this division.

The Separation of Islam from Life's Affairs

In essence, what has happened is a separation of the Islamic ideology from the affairs of life, where instead of returning to the Islamic creed in these issues, the Muslims merely imitate solutions from another way of life, i.e. that of Western Capitalism. This is despite Allah saying,

“So judge between them by whatever Allah has revealed and follow not their desires away from the truth that has come to you.” [Quran 5:51]

Thus there has become a split in the way of thinking, whereby the Muslims have left the true and complete understanding of the Islamic ideology and its productive way of thinking which led the Prophet and his Sahabah, and the generations of Muslims after them to the ranks they previously had enjoyed. This is in fact the true cause for the current situation that faces the Islamic Ummah and not a lack of wealth, technology or academic education. It is this that has led the Muslims to neglect their duty of appointing one ruler over them to govern by Islam, and their duty to unify the Islamic lands, and their duty to expel the kuffar from physical and political control of the Ummah and that which belongs to her.

Accordingly it is clear that the way forward for the Islamic Ummah in solving those problems which face her is not a call for increasing the wealth at the Ummah’s disposal, nor a call for increasing the level of technology, nor is it a call to increase her level of academic education. When the Prophet brought revival to the Arabs, he focused on none of these things. For the materialistic things are in themselves of no value in the shaping of a society or the defining of its objectives. They are merely tools which can be used for a particular purpose, that purpose being decided by the thoughts and ideas of the people who own the tools. If the thoughts are absent, or unproductive, so too will be the tools. Accordingly, we see multitudes of young men with Phd’s waiting on tables in Egypt, billions of pounds worth or natural resources being squandered and plundered in Saudia Arabia and the Gulf, and vast armies and arsenals of weapons in Turkey and Syria sitting idly. Increasing in any of these areas on its own will achieve nothing.

In fact, this futile race for materialistic change is encouraged by the West and their agents in the Islamic Lands. For they hope this will act as a diversion for the Ummah from carrying out her true task which is intellectual change.

The Way for Revival

Indeed, the way forward is to fundamentally change the way of thinking of the Muslims, such that they understand that their deen is an ideology, which will define their objectives and which they will refer to in all aspects of life. When the Muslims have done this, the Islamic Ummah can use all the assets it has to propel her to her correct station as the leading nation in the world, progressive more than any other in justice, technology, education and in all other materialistic achievements, just as was the case before. All these will come when Muslims understand that the greatest wealth a nation could hope to have is not the material wealth but the intellectual wealth

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