At different times in the human history, various
attributes have propelled the nations towards greatness or oblivion. Certain principles
however have been essential for the survival. The nations that ignore these basic
principles become fossilized in thinking and get stuck in rituals while other nations
continue their march towards progress.
The Muslims around the World believe in the glory of past
achievements. The religious leaders continue to remind their audiences about great periods
in the Islamic history. They collectively ignore to emphasize the aspects of Islam that
propelled the Muslim nations to greatness and hark back to times when the World was very
simple and challenges required simple solutions. Till such times that Muslim nations
understand and correctly diagnose the problems, they will continue to belong to the
so-called Third World. I would like to highlight the aspects of Islam, which have been
ignored and still have not received due importance and recognition. While the problems can
be identified with relative ease, the solutions will require an in depth understanding to
face the challenges of next millennium. If we do not understand the far-reaching
implications of the basic message, then the Muslim nations will continue to stay back in
somewhere in 16th to 18th century.
In this day and age, at the threshold of 21st century, I
believe that the leadership in Muslim countries must emphasize the following tenets of
Islam. Once the due importance has been placed on these aspects, then the institutions
must be developed or improved to implement these aspects of Islam.
Quest for knowledge.
The teachings of holy Quran and Hadith place a great importance on
the acquisition of knowledge. By knowledge it was meant all kind of scientific, technical,
social and political information. It was never meant to be only the knowledge of religious
rituals. If it were only the religious knowledge, then the prophet would not implore his
followers to travel even to China to seek knowledge. He would have asked them to stay back
in Mecca and Medina and master the details of Islam. The earlier Muslims up to 15th
century AD understood the true message of Islam and advanced the knowledge acquired from
earlier civilizations. Then Europe translated the works of Muslim scholars and scientists
and started the process of renaissance. Gradually, Europe and other western countries
continued to advance and Muslims stopped learning from outside. The Muslims continued to
believe that anything discovered by European or knowledge gained by Western people should
not be learned or assimilated to avoid cultural influences that will come with it. The
gradual decline starting from the sixteenth century continues till today.
The importance of knowledge in Islam is underscored by the following
sayings of prophet (pbuh):
"The ink of the Scholar is more holy than the blood of the
" To listen the instruction of science and learning for one
hour is more meritorious than standing up in prayers for thousand nights."
"An hours contemplation and study of Gods creation
is better than a year of prayers"
At present, the literacy rate in most of Muslim countries is way
below Europe, Americas or even Asian countries. It reflects that education and quest of
knowledge receives a very low priority in Muslim countries. In India, when Sir Syed Ahmed
Khan started the process of establishing educational institution for Muslims, many
religious scholars opposed him for polluting the minds of Muslims with western ideas and
education. I have personally observed many Muslim scholars mentioning knowledge only in
the passing and not highlighting it as a critical issue for propagation of Islam. This has
been projected as personal choice issue. In Islamic centers and Mosques any discussion
about science, technology and economics is discouraged. Even in America, there are a
number of Muslim families who do not send their daughters to school. The fear is that the
girls will learn bad habits and bring disgrace to the family. The girls are sent back home
to stay and marry after a certain age.
Islam not only emphasized knowledge but also asked followers to
explore and think about the whole universe. In the Surah Rehman, the Muslims were given
impetus to study and explore the universe, moon, sun and stars. Based on these Quranic
injunctions, the young Muslims must be exhorted to seek knowledge and education as a
religious duty and excel in these areas.
Philanthropy and Charity
One of the common sights in many Muslim countries is a presence of
large number of beggars. If the common Muslim understands meaning of Zakat and idea behind
it, then there should not be any beggars. The concept of charity has become out dated. In
many Muslim countries, it means throwing small amounts of money to the beggars. In India
and Pakistan, lots of people go to the tombs (Dargahs and Mazars) and feed people as an
act of charity. In Islam the charity begins with close relatives, orphans, and neighbors
and then extends out to other deserving segments of the society. Currently, the modern
states in Europe and America have a complete system of social welfare. In addition to
government programs, there are countless organizations that cater to all kinds of deprived
segments of the society. These kinds of institutions can be improved upon in line with
Since God almighty ordained that charity will bring wealth to the
people, it is no wonder when we find out that the wealthiest nations in this World are the
most charitable as well. The prosperity of America is perhaps due the charity of its
people. The people in the United States help not only fellow citizens in the USA, they
also contribute to every country that has a natural disaster or needs help. The wealthy
people have established charitable trusts and have contributed large amounts of personal
wealth to the deserving public and private institutions. No country in the present world
has so many charitable organizations as the USA.
The concept of Zakat is very explicit but requires modern
institutions to reach out to the really needy people. I believe that even if the most
basic form of Zakat is implemented in Muslim countries, there will be a great benefit to
Islam is the first religion that started the concept of human rights
and equality. The prophet of Islam preached the equality of mankind and gave a criterion
to judge the human beings. If we look deeply, the whole struggle of Islam centered on
challenging the status quo in a society where the infant girls were buried alive and
people were divided into various tribes. The ruling class in Mecca asked Prophet (pbuh)
for a separate status from ordinary Muslims which he declined. Islam was the first
religion that preached equal treatment under the law without discrimination based on race,
color and gender for all Muslims. Islam also outlined the rights of fellow human beings
and placed it before other obligations of Muslims. The Islamic history is full of events
wherein human rights were given great importance. The Prophet (pbuh) in his last sermon
explicitly declared; "An Arab is not superior to non Arab or vice versa".
The concept of human equality is given only a lip service in most of the Muslim countries.
The administration of justice clearly indicates that some people are more equal than
others in countries like Pakistan.
Mercy and Forgiveness
Whenever Islam or Islamic Sharia is mentioned, an image emerges of a
system where there is no room for forgiveness. This image is not far fetched. The defining
aspect of Islamic Sharia that has been propagated and also practiced is an eye for an eye
and a tooth for a tooth. This image has been enhanced by Islamic revolution in Iran, harsh
penalties in Middle Eastern countries and currently highlighted by events in Afghanistan.
Although this has been blown out of proportion by western mass media, there is no Islamic
country or a party that has emphasized the role of mercy and forgiveness in Islam or the
life of our Prophet (pbuh). Whenever any one talks of implementing Sharia law in any
country, the first thing that comes to mind is the cutting the hands of thieves and lashes
for the drunken people.
Islam combined the mercy and compassion of Christianity with the
concept of punishment proportional to the crime in Judaism. The life and times of prophet
Mohammed (pbuh) is full of numerous historical events where he has shown mercy for his
worst enemies and forgave the people who had committed war crimes against Muslims.
The events during conquest of Mecca by Muslims highlight the
importance of mercy and forgiveness in Islam. The Prophets explicitly ordered that women,
children and old people should not be killed. The people who lay down their arms should
not be harmed. The Prophet forgave all of his sworn enemies such as people who killed his
companions and beloved uncle Hamza (pbuh).
The cleanliness in Islam has been described as half Iman. The Muslim
have been time and again reminded about cleanliness, as they have to perform ablution
before prayer. Islam enunciated the principle of cleanliness. However, the concept of
cleanliness has to be extended from personal hygiene to clean home, streets, neighborhoods
and environments. The issues of environmental pollution, global warming, clean air and
clean water are perfectly Islamic and need resolution. The knowledge and cleanliness go
hand in hand. The illiterate masses can not understand the problems of chemicals polluting
the underground water reservoirs or the depletion of ozone layer causing a number of
diseases. The problem is so glaring that it does not require any elaboration. A visit to
neighboring countries such as Morocco and Spain can easily show the contrast between a
Muslim and non-Muslim country. The first and foremost criterion for judging a civilized
society is the level of cleanliness.
I personally believe that Muslims around the World have either
forgotten Islamic teachings about cleanliness or completely ignore them. If we really
believe in Islamic injunctions, then Muslims should be in the forefront of understanding
the issues of global warming, pollution and the impact of massive deforestation on
Simple and honest living
The great prophet of Islam left a shining example unparalleled in
the history of mankind of a simple and honest living. After the conquest of Mecca, the
World lay before his feet. He could have lived a lavish life and still receive all the
admiration of Muslims. However, it is still inspiring and awesome to think that prophet
lived an austere life without any luxury. One time Hazrat Omar saw him in his house and
asked why the leader of Muslim is living such a simple life whereas Kings of Rome and
Persia live in palaces. The prophet remarkably replied that theirs is a life for this
World and for me the kingdom of hereafter.
The companions of the prophet (pbuh) were inspired by his example
and became legends in their own rights. There are a number of documented events of the
lives of prophets companions living simple honest lives and sacrificing everything
in the cause of God almighty. Looking at the Muslims of today it appears that Muslims in
general and our Rulers in particular want to live a life of luxury. The authoritarian
regimes and dictators still exist in Muslim countries. Even the rulers of poor Muslim
countries live like kings. The example and teaching of prophet are not really understood
Unity among believers
Before the advent of Islam the people in the Arabian Peninsula were
divided into various tribes and clans. Islam cut across all ethnic and racial divisions
and gave the Muslims a concept of brotherhood and one Ummah. After a brief period, the
Islam united the Arabian people and Islam eclipsed the major empires of that time.
In Surah Al-Imran-103, God almighty ordained Muslims as "
Hold firmly together to the rope of Allah, and be not divided among yourselves, and
remember the favors Allah bestowed on you when you were one another foe and He reconciled
your hearts and turned you into brethren through His grace"
Looking at the ground reality, Muslims across the World are divide
as never before in the history. In Pakistan there are violent reactions of racial, ethnic
and religious divide. Even in America, where the lessons can be learned, the divisions are
obvious. There are three classes of Muslims in America. The Arabic speaking people
consider themselves as first class Muslims because they can read Quran (not necessarily
understand it) with proper pronunciation. The second class Muslims comprise of people
coming from subcontinent (India, Pakistan and Bangla Desh). All other Muslims coming from
Africa or local black Muslims are considered as a third class in most of the Muslim
communities. There are Turkish, Egyptian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi Islamic centers in the
USA. In addition to ethnic origins, there are divisions like Sunni, Shia and Ismaelis. A
difference in opinion and interpretations of certain details should be acceptable.
However, the division goes beyond the normal levels. The Muslims must remember the Quranic
injunctions and limit the differences to a lower level.
In conclusion, the Muslim Societies around the World will stay
behind the civilized World if they do not understand and appreciate the principles behind
the message of Islam. The ideas require reinterpretation in all ages at different times.
The next millennium will dawn with new challenges. Even America is continuously updating
their laws and methods to face the new problems of information age and beyond. Islam
ushered in the age of reason. Our Prophet (pbuh) struggled and worked very hard in
spreading the message of Islam. We as Muslims have to understand the spirit behind the
rituals and follow the spirit and not get bogged down in the differences between various
sects and national customs. The Muslims can reclaim the heritage of learning, charity,
kindness and generosity again by following the tested principles of Islam with the
understanding of underlying universal truth.
For comments, contact the author at nhassa @yahoo.com