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Building Muslim Strength: Reflections on the State of the Muslim Ummah in the Light of Islam

By: Dr. Ahmad Shafaat

(2001)

(Revised: June 2002)


Everywhere in the world Muslims are subjected to gross oppression but generally they are unable to defend themselves successfully. They have been dispossessed of their lands as in Palestine, or denied the control of the lands in which they are in majority as in Kashmir, or denied independence as in Chechnya or prevented from governing their countries even after winning a free and fair election, as in Algeria. Muslims are prevented to pray in Masjid al-Aqsa or they pray under the Jewish guns and the whole Muslim world cannot do anything. Our sisters in Bosnia and Kosovo were violated with the knowledge of the whole world and the Muslim ummah could not do anything to help them. If sometimes there is some kind of reprieve against the more powerful enemies, as in Bosnia and Kosovo, it results from chance combination of circumstances when foreign powers find it to their advantage to come to Muslims' aid at the brink of destruction. It is clear from all this that the need for Muslims everywhere to empower themselves is of the highest urgency.

The attack on the USA on September 11 has only highlighted the above points. The oppression from which Muslims are suffering in many parts of the world, the inability of the Muslim governments to take proper action instead of suppressing their people, and the resulting helplessness of the people are the direct cause of the events of September 11. For, when people are subjected to external oppression and injustice and to internal suppression by their governments, who miserably fail in their duty of looking after the interests of the people, some are bound to take things into their own hands and act militantly.

Responses to September 11 vary from categorical condemnation to qualified condemnation to qualified approval to categorical approval. This is as true of Muslims as of non-Muslims. The response of condemnation by non-Muslims hardly needs any documentation. But some evidence of approval of the attack needs to be mentioned. According to reports broadcast on American TV stations and articles published in the Wall Street Journal, a poll published in a Greek newspaper a few days after September 11 showed 30% of respondents considered the attacks a justified reaction to U.S. policies. Only 10% of respondents agreed with the view that Greece should cooperate militarily with its NATO partners in a possible campaign against states harboring terrorism. Takis Kafetzis, the political analyst who supervised the poll, claims that in reality over 40% of the respondents felt pleasure with what happened. "The fact that they did not say so was simply due to the fact that they felt that they had to somehow control their responses." 

But no matter what we think about September 11, it should be clear to every Muslim that we can neither hope that a continuation of the September 11 type of militancy will bring an end to the external and internal oppression of the Muslims nor be satisfied with showing that Islam is against terrorism and most Muslims are moderates. We urgently need an alternative to the 9/11 type of approach. This alternative must be as effective as or more effective than September 11. That is, it must result in real empowerment of Muslim societies and communities all over the world, so that Muslims can defend their rights and interests by internationally recognized means, less open to criticism.

The Holy Qur'an has several verses about strength or power, for which it uses the word quwwah. It has also many other verses, which, although do not use the word quwwah have a strong bearing on the concept. These verses provide us with all the guidance that we need in order to get the strength and ability to defend ourselves, provided we interpret the Qur`an according to the following self-evident principles:

1)        We use some common sense to understand the Qur'an, as the Qur'an itself exhorts us to do;

2)        We understand the spirit of the Qur'an as a whole and not simply focus on the literal meaning of individual verses;

3)        We recognize that the Qur'anic words are chosen to simultaneously achieve two purposes: to deliver a message to the whole humanity for all times to come and to move its first hearers so that this message could be transmitted in time and space. If I want to achieve something for hundreds of years I must first influence and move to action people around me here and now and to do that I must say things that would be understood and be effective at this time and at the same time I must not sacrifice what I want to achieve in the future.

EIGHT PRINCIPLES FOR BUILDING STRENGTH

To begin with we need to keep in mind the following eight principles:

n      Increasing recognition of our weakness

n      Increasing awareness of the dangers and threats we are facing

n      Having the desire and determination to build our strength

n      Learning humility and steadfastness in faith and action

n      Knowing that weakness can turn into strength and vice versa

n      Overcoming fears without throwing caution to the winds

n      Knowing that things start with individuals

n      Combining self criticism with finding, and building on, what is positive

1)      Increasing recognition of our weakness

We need to fully face the obvious fact that at this stage of history we are extremely weak. The signs of this weakness are everywhere and we have already noted some of them. The situation is well described in another way by a sister in a letter she wrote to the National Post in 2001. In response to an article by Daniel Pipes, she wrote:

Mr. Pipes should put his mind at ease regarding Islam as a threat to anyone, least of all the powerful West.  Islam in general and Muslim countries in particular are on the defensive everywhere and losing ground politically as well physically.  In Chechnya, Kashmir and Palestine Muslims are fighting with little more than their hands to combat overwhelming forces occupying their lands.  Indonesia has lost East Timor.  A movement is afoot to detach Southern Sudan from the North.  Iraq is bombed on a regular basis, its once vibrant economy and high standard of living smashed to smithereens, its children dead or dying in thousands.

….

As for the 1.3 billion "Muslims" of this world, a recent survey of American Muslims found that only 3% are actively engaged in the political defense of Islam and Muslims in America.  Which means that 97% have no time or do not care enough about their religion to stand up for it.

….

So Mr. Pipes stop worrying about the threat of Islam.  There isn't any, it’s just a paper dragon.  Go find another dragon to slay! (Sherbanu Parpia)

We need to recognize the reality that the Muslim ummah is a paper dragon. But there are indications that many of us do not do so. Since a long time we have been victim of a "denial syndrome" when it comes to our weakness. Connected with this is the fact that our talk has often been more powerful than our power itself. Thus, for example, in 1967 our leaders talked of throwing the Jews into the sea, but when the actual war took place, the hollowness of those slogans and a lack of real power became obvious. Similarly, in Afghanistan the Taliban could not show any real power against the US aggression and were quickly dissolved.

2)    Increasing awareness of the dangers and threats we are facing

In addition to recognizing our extreme weakness we need also to face the fact that we are surrounded by all kinds of powerful forces hostile or unsympathetic to Islam and Muslims. Despite Muslim weakness these forces never cease. One way they sustain their hostile actions is to keep presenting Islam and Muslim as a threat. Mr. Pipes knows very well that the Muslim world is a paper dragon, but he is still fanning islamophobia to make sure that it stays a paper dragon.

Some of the powerful forces in the world -- the US State Department, Western Media etc -- may not themselves be deliberately committed to hurting and harming Islam and Muslims, but they are used by well-organized groups, e.g. evangelical Christians, Zionist Jews, for that purpose. They keep the Muslim world under close watch to make sure that it does not get any real strength and to undermine Muslim religion and civilization. Human rights and women issues are among the weapons used. One sister, Shariffa Carlo has provided a first-hand testimony. Talking about what happened to her before she accepted Islam, she writes:

When I was a teenager, I came to the attention of a group of people with a very sinister agenda. They were and probably still are a loose association of individuals who work in government positions but have a special agenda - to destroy Islam. It is not a governmental group that I am aware of; they simply use their positions in the US government to advance their cause. One member of this group approached me because he saw that I was articulate, motivated and very much the women's rights advocate. He told me that if I studied International Relations with an emphasis in the Middle East, he would guarantee me a job at the American Embassy in Egypt. He wanted me to eventually go there to use my position in the country to talk to Muslim women and encourage the fledgling women's rights movement. I thought this was a great idea. I had seen the Muslim women on TV; I knew they were a poor oppressed group, and I wanted to lead them to the light of 20th century freedom. With this intention, I went to college and began my education. I studied Qur’an, hadith and Islamic history. I also studied the ways I could use this information. I learned how to twist the words to say what I wanted them to say. It was a valuable tool (Shariffa Carlo, Becoming Muslim).

In the last couple of centuries the European nations went to Asia and Africa accompanied by missionaries carrying the seemingly harmless symbol of the cross and an innocent message of love. The result was that the Asian and African countries were soon under colonial rule by the Christians. In the last century the USA was "yet another Civilized Power, with its banner of the Prince of Peace in one hand and its loot-basket and its butcher-knife in the other" (Mark Twain, “To the Person Sitting in Darkness”, 1901, describing the United States playing the European- style imperialist game in the Philippines). Now the instrument of sabotage and conquest is human rights and women's issues. This is not to say that we should not pay careful attention to these issues and reform ourselves to the degree reform is needed. But we must be aware of what is really going on. Very often the use of the human rights issues are not used in a fair way. Thus the Christian crusade against “slavery” in Sudan was primarily a deception. Rebel officials rounded up local villagers to pose for the cameras. They recruited fake slavers to “sell” them. The money exchanged hands and the “slaves” were then “set free” (Reported in 'The Irish Times', London's 'Independent on Sunday', 'The Washington Post' and 'International Herald Tribune').

In addition to the above examples, there is the example of the two American Christians  --  Dayna Curry and Heather Mercer – who went to Afghanistan pretending to be “aid” workers but whose real objective was to aggressively spread the gospel in Islamic countries. They belong to a missionary group deceptively named as Shelter Now, one of many groups well-organized, highly motivated and not short of cash. All this is now common knowledge in the West, since the “aid” workers have gleefully admitted all this on public TV, probably in order to use their fame to encourage other Christians to go on similar adventures under various guises.

As for Muslims, most of us are not fully aware of the degree of hostile actions that are being planned and executed against Islam and the Muslim world. For quite some time now we have a head-in-the-sand type of attitude towards the threats and dangers that face us. One reason for this is the natural human tendency to avoid facing uncomfortable facts. But there are also some historical reasons.

It is a great mercy of God on Muslims and one of the blessings that he bestowed on them for the sake of the Holy Prophet, rahmah li al-‘alamin (mercy to all the worlds), that for most of their history they have not experienced suffering as other nations have. After an initial persecution in Makkah, the brunt of which was born by the Prophet himself and his early followers, Islam has mostly seen successes. Muslim lands were free of foreign occupation. Even where they were in minority, as in India and Spain, they were in a position of power. Internally we enjoyed a great deal of stability and prosperity by the standards of those times, which resulted in the flourishing of scientific and intellectual activity. Our lives had as much value as that of an American or a Jew today. In 712 C.E. some Muslim pilgrims were attacked by some pirates off the coast of Sind. When the ship carrying the pilgrims docked at Basrah and their complaints reached the governor of the province, Hajjaj bin Yusuf, otherwise not the best of Muslims, he immediately sent a 17-year general Muhammad bin Qasim, to punish the pirates. The young general not only meted justice but also introduced Islam to what is now Pakistan.

It is only relatively recently that we are experiencing serious difficulties and defeats. Although in Europe the Muslim power came to an end when on Jan 2, 1492 the last of the Muslim rulers were defeated, the Muslim world has experienced large scale defeat and suffering only in the last two of the 14 centuries. To be sure, the Muslim ummah was viciously attacked twice in the past and suffered a great deal of death and destruction, once by the Mongols and then by the Crusaders. But this was temporary. The Mongols converted to Islam after destroying Baghdad and the Crusaders were finally defeated. The result of this is that it is difficult for us to fully accept and deal with this relatively new experience of defeat and suffering. For, manners of a people continue long after their conditions change. Our manner is still in many ways that of an ummah living in security, if not with a superpower status. But now we are a weak and oppressed people. We need to change our manner accordingly. We need to develop a language to talk about suffering and defeat without, of course, being defeatist. The Qur`an contains such a language because the Prophet and the companions went through a great deal of suffering and often defeat; even total annihilation was seemingly a possibility for them. But we have not built on this language to deal with our present situation. 

3)    Having the desire and determination to build our strength

To simply face the facts that we are weak and that we are surrounded by dangers is just one side of the picture. To stop at that is of course very depressing and totally useless. We need to start from where we are and build up our strength with determination. This requires knowing the eight sources or means of strength (see below).

In times of weakness the desire for strength is natural and was shown by prophets. For example, the Prophet Lut, when faced with the force of his wicked people, says:

Would that I had some strength (quwwah) to resist you or had some strong support (to assist me) (11:80)!

     More generally the Qur`an gives the following principle:

(Believers are) those who when a wrong is done to them they help themselves (yantasirun) (by some action in self-defense) (42:39)

If it is a characteristic of believers to do something in the face of wrong done to them, then clearly they must have the desire and determination to build their strength if they already do not possess such strength.

The Qur`an also gives the following principle:           

And God changes not the condition of a people unless they first change (by his will) themselves (13:11).

This verse can be and has been understood in two ways: 1) God does not take away his favors from a people unless they depart from the religion of fitrah on which God created them. 2) God does not bring a people out of a miserable state unless they change themselves and put them back on the religion of fitrah. Both meanings apply to us. We must have gone terribly wrong somewhere to find ourselves in our present state and we need to change ourselves to get out of that state. It is clear that among the things that we need to change is our denial of our weakness, our complacency in the face of dangers, and lack of any action to rebuild our strength. We also need to abandon the idea that when we are on the right, the world or God should automatically give us our rights. The Qur`an and the whole history of humanity show that this world is a place of perpetual struggle between good and evil, right and wrong, truth and falsehood, and justice and oppression. In order to get our rights and justice we need to build the strength to fight for them.

4)      Learning humility and steadfastness in faith and action

Our response to our defeats and adversity is usually one of the following: i) denial; ii) rage against our enemies; iii) putting ourselves down; or iv) not caring because we ourselves are not affected. All these responses are inadequate. The proper responses are taught by the Qur`an in the following verses:

We have indeed sent to communities before you (O Prophet) affliction of suffering and adversity in order that they may learn humility. If only when suffering reached them from us, they had been humble! But their hearts hardened and Satan made all that they used to do seem fair unto them! (6:42-43).

If you have received a blow, the (other) people have also received a similar blow. These (good and bad) days We cause to go around among men so that God may manifest (lit. know) those who are faithful and may choose witnesses (shuhada`) from among you (to faith and truth). And God loves not the wrong-doers (3:140).

(Believers are) those who when a wrong is done to them help themselves (yantasirun) (by some action in self-defense) (42:39)

O believers! Seek assistance through patience (sabr) and prayer. Truly! God is with the patient. And say not of those who are killed in the cause of God, ‘They are dead.’ Nay, they are living, but you perceive not” (2:153-154).

Thus the proper responses to defeat and adversity are humility, deepening of faith, and steadfast action. Rage against injustice and oppression is fine if it is translated into suitable and effective action.

Humility does not mean to walk with our head down, but to face our weaknesses rather than close our eyes to them. Humility means accepting existing realities, including the reality that some realities need to be changed.

Patience or steadfastness implies that we should not always expect quick results but realize that some particular tasks may require long-term commitment on the part of individuals. The last of the Qur`anic passages quoted above (2:153-154) talks of prayer and patience as means of assistance. This patience may at times be simply enduring whatever hardships one faces but in this passage it refers to steadfastness in action as is clear from the reference to martyrs: in the time of the Prophet people were not martyred sitting at home but during some action.

Action in self-defense mentioned in 42:39 is not necessarily fighting back in a physical sense but any action that is effective. It may sometimes be forgiveness, as is stated in the next verse: “whoever forgives and amends (aslaha), he shall have his reward from God”.

5)      Knowing that weakness can change into strength and vice versa

The Holy Qur`an says:

God is he who created you from weakness, then gave strength (quwwah) after weakness, then after strength (quwwah) weakness and gray hair. He creates what he will and he is the knowing and the mighty one (30:54)

When Lut spoke the words in Qur`an 13:11, he was not aware that the very guests in his house that he was wishing to protect were angels in human disguise who had been sent to save him and destroy his wicked people. The meaning is that the sources of strength are sometimes nearer than we may think.

It is indeed one of the central elements in the teaching of the Qur`an that power ultimately belongs to God Almighty. If anyone else has any power it is only because God has temporarily given it to him:

Say: Lord of all dominion (mulk)! You grant dominion to whom you will and you take away dominion from whom you will. You exalt whom you will and you abase whom you will. In your hand is all good and surely you are able to do all things (3:26).

…And to God (alone) belongs the dominion (mulk) of the heavens and the earth and all that is between them. He creates what he will and God is able to do all things (5:17).

There is no power (quwwah) except by (the help of) God (18:39).

The oppressors often behave as if their power is theirs to keep forever and as if there is none who can bring them to justice. But this is an allusion that will be destroyed on the judgment day:         

And among people there are those who take besides God rival (deities) loving them with a love that should be given to God (alone). Those who have (true) faith, they love God with the greatest intensity. If only the transgressors knew (what they will know) when they will see the punishment, that all power (quwwah) belongs to God alone …(2:165).

But the truth that power really belongs only to God will be seen not just in the hereafter. This truth has also been demonstrated in history again and again:

Do they not travel in the land and then see the end of those who were before them and they were so much greater than they in power (quwwah)? And God is not such that anything in the heavens or in the earth can foil him. Lo! He possesses knowledge and power (35:44; see also 40:21-22, 82-83, 47:13).

The simple but profound truth that power really belongs to God is not something that only the unbelievers need to learn. It is something that the believers also need to keep in mind, both in times of weakness and in times of strength. In times of weakness it should teach us patience and steadfastness in obedience to God and in times of strength it should teach us humility and constraint in the use of power. Both lessons are demonstrated by the noble example set by the Holy Prophet. For thirteen years in Makkah and for several years in Madinah he was in a position of weakness when he patiently suffered or steadfastly struggled with faith and courage, certain that in the end truth and justice will prevail. And when towards the end of his life God gave him a clear victory against the Makkans he acted with humility before God, as the Qur'an instructed him:

When there comes the help of God and the victory, and you (O Prophet) see the people enter the religion of God in crowds, celebrate the praises of God and seek his forgiveness, surely he is ever ready to turn in mercy (110).

This principle that weakness can turn into strength and strength into weakness means that we should never regard the enemies of Islam and Muslims as invincible, no matter how much economic wealth, military might and technological superiority they might have. The Holy Qur`an reminds us:

How many of a little group has overcome mighty host by God's leave. God is with the steadfast (sabirin)  ... So they routed them by God's leave and David slew Goliath ... (2:249-251).

Here the Qur`an talks of a little group, but the same principle holds for a big weak group like the Muslim ummah today.

6)      Overcoming fears without throwing caution to the winds

The Holy Qur`an often states that believers should fear none but God. This one fear of God should free us from all other fears. This has two important implications in the way we live as Muslims. First, we should not compromise Islamic teachings to appear moderate. Second, we should not stop regarding ourselves as Muslims first and then Canadians or Americans or Pakistanis or Turks etc.  In North America Muslims have come under some pressure since 9/11 to view themselves Americans or Canadian first, then Muslims, despite reports showing that most practicing Christians/Jews in these countries regard themselves Christians/Jews first and then American or Canadian.

7)      Knowing that things start with individuals

We have a tendency to expect the “community” to do something for solving our problems. But how do things start in the “community”? From some individuals! This means that some individuals have to rise and commit themselves to some of the work that needs to be done for rebuilding Muslim strength. Moreover, because of the complexities of the modern age, adequate strength cannot be built overnight. This means that individuals must rise with a very long-term commitment to very specialized type of work. Individuals can work separately or in small teams. Some individuals or teams then need to rise to find ways to use what other individuals or teams are doing for more general objectives.

8)  Combining self criticism with finding, and building on, what is positive

We talk a lot against ourselves but the effect of all this talk is that we put ourselves down, create despondency, and hence make ourselves weaker. This type of talk is against the teachings of Islam. In Islam there is only critical analysis of what went wrong and how it can be corrected (see the Qur`anic verses about the setbacks suffered by Muslims in the battle of Uhad) but there is no room for putting ourselves down and thus creating despondency, which the Qur`an equates with dalalah (going astray) (15:56).

Also, our criticism of ourselves needs to be combined with a search for, and appreciation of, what is positive in our communities and countries and then finding ways to build on that. The Qur`an along with a criticism of some aspects of companions’ conduct also mentions their good qualities in order to build on them.

EIGHT PILLARS OF STRENGTH

There are six sources of strength that human beings can use to empower themselves with God's leave and which Islam encourages us to use:

1) Iman (faith)

2) Knowledge and understanding

3) Military or police force

4) Economic wealth

5) Da‘wah

6) Political activism

7) Organization

8) Unity

1)      Iman

Faith gives us the light by which we can see what needs to be done and how. It gives us the inner strength to persist patiently and make necessary sacrifices. It enables us to use power responsibly, wisely and therefore more effectively. Above all, it brings the help of God and whatever strength we possess is increased. The Holy Qur'an says:

And [the prophet Hud said], O my people! Seek forgiveness of your Lord and then turn to him in repentance; he will send down on you rain in abundance and add strength (quwwah) to your strength (quwwah). Do not turn away as sinners (11:52).

Thus turning to God in repentance, seeking his forgiveness brings prosperity and an increase in strength or quwwah. This principle is stated in the words of the earlier prophet Hud (may peace be upon him) but the following verses address directly the faithful and steadfast followers of the Prophet Muhammad (whom God blesses, glorifies and loves):

If there be of you twenty steadfast they shall overcome two hundred, and if there be of you hundred steadfast they shall overcome a thousand of those who disbelieve, for they (the disbelievers) are a people who do not understand (8:65).

Now has God lightened your burden, for he knows that there is weakness in you. So if there be of you a steadfast hundred they shall overcome two hundred, and if there be of you a thousand, they shall overcome two thousand by the permission of God. And God is with the steadfast (8:66).

Thus faith can increase the effective power of a people by two to ten times depending on the strength of the faith.

Faith gives us some moral and spiritual force that can sometimes conquer without the use of physical force. Thus one of the two groups that in the past attacked and devastated the Muslim lands - the Mongols -- won the military victory but they were conquered by the superior moral and spiritual force of Islam in that they themselves became Muslims. The second group – the Crusaders – was physically defeated, but they also encountered a superior moral and spiritual force of the Muslims. When the Crusaders temporarily won control of some Muslim lands, they unleashed horrific death and destruction. But when Salah al-Din defeated the Crusaders he did no such thing. The Crusaders did not convert: apparently, the hate in the Christian heart for Islam and Muslims was too great to be conquered by this act of love and tolerance. Nevertheless, ever since there have been many Europeans who developed a better view of Islam and Muslims.

2)      Knowledge and understanding.

In one of the verses quoted above (8:65) the Holy Qur'an says that believers can overcome ten times bigger force of the disbelievers because the disbelievers "are a people who do not understand." This means that lack of understanding leads to weakness while understanding leads to strength. And of course the Qur`an repeatedly says that it is a guidance for people who reflect or understand or have knowledge (3:190-191, 6:98, 10:24, 13:3, 16:11 etc) or that it makes people reflect, understand, or have knowledge (2:219, 7: 176, 9:122, 16:44, 34:46 etc).

This understanding should be thought of in general terms and include knowledge of science and technology and of what is happening in the world around us as well as knowledge of moral and spiritual truths. This may be obvious to some of us, but in the past this was not so obvious even to many scholars.

Shaykh Ahmad Sirhindi (1564-1624), otherwise a great reformer and thinker and called Mujaddid-i Alf-i Thani (Reviver [of Islam] for the second millennium of Islamic calendar) considered philosophy and pure science useless. In his Maktubat, I/266, we read: “Among [the philosophers’] firm and sure sciences is mathematics, which is utterly meaningless and absolutely useless.” He said that one should not waste time on arithmetic and only learn enough of it to calculate shares of inheritance and to determine the direction of Qiblah. He considered geometry to be utterly useless, there being no point in knowing that the sum of the angles of a triangle equals two right angles. Clearly, Sirhindi had no appreciation of the necessity and power of pure thought and ideas. The philosophy and mathematics to which Sirhindi refers is not of the European variety because major European developments in these fields came later and whatever work the Europeans had done at the time of Sirhindi would not be known to him. Sirhindi is referring to the pursuit of philosophy and mathematics among Muslims. This shows that even in Sirhindi’s time Muslims were taking interest in philosophy and mathematics and that his outlook was not shared by all Muslims.

There is no evidence of any persecution of philosophers, mathematicians, and scientists at that time in the Muslim world, at least not by any central authority. But at about the time of Sirhindi the Christian church was tormenting Galileo Galilei (1564- 1642) for his scientific theories. At this time the Western and Muslim worlds are at a comparable state as far as philosophy and science are concerned. However, whereas in the West the attitude represented by Galileo begins to win over that of the Church, in the Muslim world the attitude represented by Sirhindi was to persist for centuries.

In assessing the outlook of Muslim scholars like Sirhindi we may exaggerate either by condemning them too harshly or by trying to defend them too sympathetically. I will attempt to avoid both extremes.

In fairness to the scholars I think we must recognize the following points: They are not against the rational method. Indeed, they constantly apply reason within their Islamic assumptions to arrive at their positions. The mistakes they made are not unlike those that even reputed scientists have made in the application of the rational method within their own set of assumptions. It is also noteworthy that Sirhindi gives a reason why he is not in favor of pursuing study of philosophy and mathematics: these fields do not serve any useful purpose, that is, they do not benefit man. If it were demonstrated that these fields of knowledge are useful, Sirhindi and other scholars of his caliber would have encouraged their study. These scholars were living in a time when the Muslim world was secure and had the status of something like a superpower. There were no visible signs, as they exist today, that the pursuit of the study of sciences, including pure sciences like mathematics, is vital for the security of the Muslim ummah and hence our collective obligation. There was also a lack of easily accessible clear signs, such as exist today, that science was useful in solving many problems of human existence, even apart from providing security from external aggression.

Nevertheless, we must unequivocally state that Sirhindi made a mistake. This mistake may not take away much from his greatness as a religious reformer and scholar, but it surely calls into question the role ascribed to him of the Mujaddid for the second millennium of the Islamic era, since his outlook has landed us today in a disastrous position.

If Sirhindi is excusable for the above mentioned reasons, there is no excuse for those ‘ulama who were opposing science and technology even in the 19th and 20th centuries when it should have been obvious that the Western colonialism was defeating Muslims mainly because of their superiority in science and technology. This is so especially because the Qur`an clearly commands the Muslims to prepare a deterrent force for the defense of Islam and Muslims. Some ‘ulama in the early 20th century were discussing whether loud speakers can be used for adhan. Why did they not also discuss how best to fulfill God’s command to prepare a deterrent force in the defense of Islam and Muslims?

One of the reasons that the ‘ulama discouraged the pursuit of science was that it will reduce adherence to Islam. But the failure on the part of Muslims to implement the Qur`anic commandment to provide a deterrent force illustrates that intellectual stagnation in the Muslim world had just the opposite effect. Only practice of some of the Islamic teachings – those within an individual’s control, e.g., prayers, fasting etc – continued. Islam became much less effective in solving social, political and economic problems. For, Islam can solve such problems only if it is applied intelligently (with fikr, fiqh, and ‘aql). Positions need to be debated rationally and then some decisions reached collectively. Otherwise we live with whimsical, abstract, oversimplified positions divorced from reality and from the purpose of Islam -- falah of humankind. Today some Muslims insist on a lot of such positions. Here are some examples:

Preserving historic sites is wrong.

Selecting ruler by democratic vote is un-Islamic.

Women cannot vote.

Women cannot drive.

Taking pictures of living things is haram.

All musical entertainment is haram.

Flying kites is haram.

If we follow the logic used to arrive at these positions, it would be found at least inconclusive, if not highly defective. An intelligent debate on the basis of the Qur`an and the authentic Hadith would probably not lead to these positions.

3)  Military or police force

In this world where God has for a determined time allowed oppression and evil to exist along side with justice and righteousness it is often necessary for individuals and nations to defend themselves.  If everyone in this world were a just and righteous person human beings would live together in perfect peace and harmony and there would be no need for anyone to build and use power. But that is not the way God willed this world to be. Consequently, in this world the building and sometimes the use of force are unavoidable.

 

Some states that often act against Islam and Muslims such as the USA and Israel do believe in force. The following words of an American writer represent the thinking of many influential Americans: "For globalism to work, America can't be afraid to act like the almighty superpower that it is ...The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist -- McDonald's cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley's technologies is called the United States Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps." ("What the World Needs Now", by Thomas Friedman, New York Times, March 28, 1999." -- from Backing Up Globalization with Military Might). Even those Americans who are primarily for peace regard the use of force an option to be always kept. When it comes to Israelis, especially the Zionists, their faith in power is evident in the way Israel has been established and maintained.

 

In view of this, it is not possible for Muslims to ignore the building of military force. Hence the Qur'an says:

Make ready for them whatever you can of (armed) force and of horses tethered, that thereby you may dismay the enemy of God and your enemy, and others beside them whom you do not know but God knows. Whatever you spend in the way of God it will be repaid to you in full, and you will not be wronged (8:60).

This verse commands Muslims to make ready to the best of their ability the type of force that will deter aggression against them by known and unknown enemies. Obviously, in our age this commandment can only be fulfilled if we do our best to acquire or build the sort of weapons that other nations possess, which in turn requires us to acquire and develop the best possible knowledge of science and technology.

Had Muslims paid attention to this commandment of God as soon as they came into contact with the colonial forces, they would not have been in such a mess today. They would have immediately turned to acquiring such military force as was necessary to deter colonial powers from making their advances against the Muslim world and against other Asian and African countries. This would have required developing science and technology and organizational techniques to the same level as, or higher than, the Europeans. As a result Muslims today would have been not only militarily strong enough to defend themselves but also would have reaped all the benefits of advancement in science and technology. But, alas, by the time the Europeans came Muslims had closed their eyes to part of the teachings of Islam, reducing them mostly to the five pillars and the rituals connected with them and to some rules about personal and family life (e.g. prohibited foods, marriage, divorce, inheritance). As a result, although Muslims continued using whatever military force they had, they never made ready adequate force, as God commands. The results for this disregard for a commandment of God are now there for all to see.

As a further comment on the above verse it may be added that military force is viewed in the verse primarily as a defensive and deterrent force. From the rest of the teachings of Islam, it becomes clear that what must be defended are the following rights:

a)      The right of the Muslim nations to live in freedom, security, and prosperity and to live by the laws and constitutions of their own choice without impositions from outside.

b)      The right to hold the word of God entrusted to them as supreme.

Finally, it may be noted in regard to the above verse that it may not be limited to military force only. It can also be interpreted to include police force. Thus when the world truly becomes a global village and wars between nations are therefore eliminated, the application of this verse would consist of keeping an adequate police force to deal with crimes and an adequate military force to deal with any civil wars.

4)    Economic wealth

In the last verse quoted above, after commanding the Muslims to make ready military force, the Qur`an says: 

Whatever you spend in the way of God it will be repaid to you in full, and you will not be wronged (8:60).

This takes for granted the obvious fact that before there can be military force there has to be economic wealth, part of which may be spent for building a military or police force or for developing the scientific and technological knowledge needed for building such a force. Of course, economic wealth is useful not just for building adequate military strength but also in other ways, e.g. in political defense of Muslim causes.

To help increase our economic strength, the Qur`an gives us some very useful general principles:

i)                    Honoring contracts and fulfilling commitments (5:1, 2:177, 17:34, 23:8);

ii)                   Writing business deals and having them witnessed (2:282-283).

The Qur`an does not condemn acquisition or possession of huge wealth in itself. Thus when it talks about Korah or Qarun (an ancient equivalent of the modern multi-billionaires) it does not condemn him for having wealth but only for forgetting God, the hereafter, and the rights of the poor. In the past Muslims have seen the pursuit of wealth in a negative way because this pursuit can often make us get lost into the life of this world and forget God and the hereafter. This is no doubt an attitude that is taught in the Qur`an and Hadith and we should never abandon it. But it needs to be balanced by another aspect of Islamic teaching: we must do whatever necessary for defending Islam and Muslims. This means that in this age we have to learn to remember God and the hereafter and at the same time create wealth, for, our self-defense will become very hard indeed if all the nations of the earth around us -- Americans, Europeans, Japanese, Indians, Chinese, Koreans etc. are becoming wealthier and wealthier while our economies are generally stagnant or in decline.

5) Da‘wah

This can increase our strength by:

a)         Providing an opportunity to interact with non-Muslims and hence to better understand and deal with them;

b)        Increasing our own understanding of Islam and thus make us better Muslims;

c)         Increasing our numbers in non-Muslim countries, although this should not be our primary objective.

6)  Political activism

Within Muslim countries political activity is needed to bring governments that are more faithful to Islam and more sensitive to the interests of Islam and Muslims. In non-Muslim countries political activism is needed for defense against the anti-Muslim hate, media bias against Islam and Muslims, and legislature that targets Muslims. Our political activism should also help non-Muslims who are victims of injustice and oppression. In all these forms, political activism is the main part of the religious obligation of jihad for the present age.

7)    Organization

In building and maintaining strength an important role is played by efficient organization in all efforts involving more than a few persons. After iman, sound organization is the single most urgent need of the Muslims in the present age.

Efficiency of organization can be achieved within the four broad principles given by the Qur'an: 

a)         Participation of the people involved, through a consultation process (shura) suitable for the type of task an organization is engaged in (Qur'an 42:38).

b)        Avoiding waste (israf) of every type of resource (Qur'an 7:31, 17:26-27, 25:67 etc).

c)         Acceptance of the authority of those who are given some responsibility (ul al-amr), when the authority is acquired  by a due process and is exercised to carry out the task assigned (Qur'an 4:59).

d)        Accountability of all people involved, no matter what is their position, with convenient procedures for relieving persons from their responsibilities in case of incompetence, misuse of authority, and serious violation of rules (4:135, 5:8, 9:71 etc).

(See also other articles on consultation and organization on this website.)

In non-Muslim countries our communities are fragmented in various organizations that are far from realizing their full potential. This is because some or all of the above Qur`anic principles of organization are ignored. In order to strengthen ourselves, the answer is not to replace these various organizations by one big organization, but for each existing or yet to be conceived organization to apply the above principles and flourish and for these flourishing organizations to come together under an umbrella organization to cooperate and participate in larger efforts. In other words, it is perfectly alright, even desirable at this point, to form small teams that concentrate on limited tasks and aim for the highest goals. September 11 has proved that individuals working together with strong and sustained commitment can shake the very foundation of the world. Similarly, sustained effort can have massive impact in other ways: in building our economies, our militaries, our level of education and research, intellectual and artistic activity, helping those who are in need, and even enhancing unity amongst us.

8) Unity

Unity and strength are connected in the following verse.

And obey God and his messenger and do not quarrel, for then you will be weak in hearts and your strength (rih) will depart and be steadfast; surely God is with the steadfast (sabirin) (8:46).

We often stress unity as if it can come by itself and once achieved it will give us strength. This is doing us a lot of harm. The unity never comes and strength never follows. The proper emphasis is that we stress empowerment, take steps to achieve it, and stress unity as a necessary ingredient of our ongoing efforts to build strength rather than stress unity in a vacuum.

Also, we should divide unity into two types and work on them separately. One is the unity of hearts and the other is unity of minds. The unity of the hearts is built on common objects of love, which in our case, are Islam and the Holy Prophet. The unity of mind is built by agreement on how to interpret, implement, and serve Islam. The two types of unity are to some degree independent. Thus it is possible for people to feel close because they love the same things even if they have serious differences on some matters. Similarly, it is possible for some people to share the same opinions but not feel close otherwise.

We should feel close to everyone who has a deep love for Islam and the Holy Prophet. At the same time we should keep working on increased unity of mind by dialogue and debate. In this process we should show the maximum possible tolerance to different points of view without compromising what we know to be the truth.

When we think of strength we must think of all of its sources: faith, knowledge, wealth, arms, da‘wah, political activism, organization, and unity. These eight sources are like eight pillars that support our overall strength. If even one of them weakens, our strength can be seriously reduced. Thus if iman weakens, then knowledge, military strength, and economic wealth may begin to be misused and then begin to weaken. If knowledge weakens, military and economic strength begins to weaken, which creates internal and external problems and results in the weakening of faith. If there is not enough economic wealth to leave a surplus after fulfilling people's basic needs, then military strength will be adversely affected. Knowledge will also suffer, since it would be impossible to sustain necessary educational and research institutions of adequate quality, which will weaken the military still further. Even iman may be affected if there is too much poverty. Likewise, it is not hard to see that if organizational efficiency or unity reduces, then this will weaken all other sources of strength as well.

There are some pious Muslims who think that we should work mainly on our iman and the rest will follow. There is also an attitude among some Muslims that we must first get united and then somehow we will become strong. This is a dangerous thought because this world does not allow us the luxury of putting off the building of economic and military strength or advancing in knowledge till a sufficiently large proportion of Muslims can reach an adequate state of faith or till they have achieved some imagined ideal of unity. We must work simultaneously on building all six types of strength.

Finally, as noted earlier, our strength cannot be built overnight. It will require a lot of hard work to improve our faith, to build our businesses, to produce a suitable number of scientists, engineers and experts in various fields of learning and to build our armed forces. Many of us have to take up many specific tasks, commit to them on a long-term basis, and work patiently over years. Blessed are those who will take the challenge. May God make me among them.

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