بَدَأَ الإِسْلاَمُ غَرِيبًا وَسَيَعُودُ غَرِيبًا فَطُوبَى لِلْغُرَبَاءِ
Abu Huraira (R) reported: Rasoolullahﷺ said, “Islam began as something strange, and it will return to being strange, so blessed are the strangers.” Ibn Majah (Kitab Al-Fitan)
In a world based on oppression, courage is strange. In a world based on amassing personal wealth, charity is strange. In a world where net worth means dollars, net worth meaning character is strange. In a world ruled by merchants of death, saving lives is strange. In a world where making money is the goal, the means be damned; virtue is strange. Therefore, blessed are the strangers because they struggle for a world where charity, character, courage, virtue, and kindness will be the standard. This is Islam.
We Muslims are like those on a sailing ship, caught in a storm. As the captain of such a ship, there are two paradoxical things that you must be able to do well. Be aware of the forces that are trying to sink you as well as be disconnected enough from them to be able to focus on the best way to navigate your way out of the storm. If you ignore the forces around you to focus, they will sink you. If you get distracted by what the forces throw at you, and lose focus on the goal, that will sink you just as fast. Time is of the essence and urgency is a competitive advantage. That is the difficulty – how to be aware, yet emotionally disconnected. Emotional reactions, no matter how justified, always lead to bad decisions. Seerah is the answer. Suleh Hudaybiyya is Rasoolullahﷺ’s Master Class in dealing with this dichotomy.
First a quick essential history lesson. The proliferation of nation states started after WW2. That is a reference point for us to understand that the Nation State is still very much a WIP project and is by no means complete. https://madsciblog.tradoc.army.mil/180-the-evolution-of-nation-states-and-their-role-in-the-future/
Add to this the complexity of the MNC some of which are wealthier than many Nation States – Amazon at $1 trillion (in 2018) would be #17 in rank if it were a country – and therefore what such companies and those who own them can do to impact global politics is a very important aspect to consider. Given the increasingly important and powerful role of online technology including AI and the enormous resources that these companies wield, it would be extremely naïve to imagine that they wouldn’t want to influence present and future markets. This will lead to a new form of colonialism which will be far more pervasive, insidious, and powerful than anything we have seen in the past. Here people’s minds will be the playgrounds and we will voluntarily allow them to use ours to make profit for their owners. FB and Insta members are already doing it. More will follow.
The Nation State idea differs from empires principally because for the first time common people were given a voice in law making. Like all WIP projects it is far from perfect but from our perspective as common people it is a very big step in our development which must be cherished and supported. The alternative is dictatorship. The biggest strength in times like this is to have a historical perspective and as clear an idea as possible about the best way forward. To do that effectively we must be prepared to face facts squarely without any sugar coating. If you can’t diagnose the disease, you can’t prescribe or implement the cure. You can’t diagnose with your eyes blindfolded. So, here’s a no-praise-no-blame view as I interpret the history of our people. You may not be interested in politics, but politics is interested in you. It’s your choice. Let me choose three crore areas to analyze broadly and suggest alternatives: Education, Leadership, and Muslim Society.
Education: The biggest calamity that happened to education was the separation of religious education from modern education. It happened originally after the brutal suppression of Muslims in Baghdad, Al-Andalus and India, and the genocide of Ulama but continued primarily because teachers in Madaaris didn’t know science, math, or English. English, whether we like it or not, is the language of global communication today. Without English the doors of much of the world remain shut, no matter how learned or creative you may be. Thus, the gulf between Islamic and other knowledge was established and grew. The same restriction of curriculum and teaching methodology happened in the Arab world with similar results. Regular schools removed all reference to the Creator and taught science as if there was no Creator. While Madrassas taught the Qur’an as if there is no creation. Roughly from the 18th century onwards, Muslims lost the race of scientific discovery and invention and are not even contenders anymore.
The so-called golden age of Islamic science (from the 8th to the 15th century) took place in centers throughout the Islamic world, such as Al-Andalus, the Near East, Central and West Asia, Turkey, and India. In contrast since 1900, only 2 Muslims were awarded the Nobel Prize in Science (Chemistry). We satisfied ourselves by talking about the glorious past. And forgot that it is the present which matters, and which impacts the future, not the past. This situation continues and each passing year compounds it. What is required is not scientific or Islamic education in isolation but both in consonance, each building on and supporting the other. It is bridges which must be built. The task is monumental and so must be addressed in a highly focused manner. We must remember what Allahﷻ taught us about the sequence of teaching theology and science and told us what the natural result of that would be.
إِنَّ فِى خَلْقِ ٱلسَّمَـٰوَٰتِ وَٱلْأَرْضِ وَٱخْتِلَـٰفِ ٱلَّيْلِ وَٱلنَّهَارِ لَـَٔايَـٰتٍ لِّأُو۟لِى ٱلْأَلْبَـٰبِ
ٱلَّذِينَ يَذْكُرُونَ ٱللَّهَ قِيَـٰمًا وَقُعُودًا وَعَلَىٰ جُنُوبِهِمْ وَيَتَفَكَّرُونَ فِى خَلْقِ ٱلسَّمَـٰوَٰتِ وَٱلْأَرْضِ رَبَّنَا مَا خَلَقْتَ هَـٰذَا بَـٰطِلًا سُبْحَـٰنَكَ فَقِنَا عَذَابَ ٱلنَّارِ
A’al Imraan 3: 190-191 Indeed, in the creation of the heavens and the earth and the alternation of the day and night there are signs for people of reason. ˹They are˺ those who remember Allah while standing, sitting, and lying on their sides, and reflect on the creation of the heavens and the earth ˹and pray˺, “Our Rabb! You have not created ˹all of˺ this without purpose. Glory be to You! Protect us from the torment of the Fire.
An outcome of our approach to Islamic teaching and our blind unquestioning support for Ulama led to increasingly divisive versions of Islam supported by convenient interpretations of the Qur’an and Sunnah by each sect. Ulama felt (and feel) insecure unless they have blind loyalty of their followers for which each sect promotes the idea that only their way is the right way and everything else is false and leads to the Hellfire. We have learnt to live with dichotomy of beliefs and ideas. This is the classic description of hypocrisy (Nifaq). The situation is beyond ridiculous. It is shameful and dangerous. We have 1400 years of history to prove this. How much longer we choose to let this continue is in our hands. And to Allahﷻ we will answer. Allahﷻ told us to be united and not to create divisions.
وَٱعْتَصِمُوا۟ بِحَبْلِ ٱللَّهِ جَمِيعًا وَلَا تَفَرَّقُوا۟ وَٱذْكُرُوا۟ نِعْمَتَ ٱللَّهِ عَلَيْكُمْ إِذْ كُنتُمْ أَعْدَآءً فَأَلَّفَ بَيْنَ قُلُوبِكُمْ فَأَصْبَحْتُم بِنِعْمَتِهِۦٓ إِخْوَٰنًا وَكُنتُمْ عَلَىٰ شَفَا حُفْرَةٍ مِّنَ ٱلنَّارِ فَأَنقَذَكُم مِّنْهَا كَذَٰلِكَ يُبَيِّنُ ٱللَّهُ لَكُمْ ءَايَـٰتِهِۦ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَهْتَدُونَ
A’al Imraan 3: 103 And hold firmly to the rope of Allah and do not be divided. Remember Allah’s favor upon you when you were enemies, then He united your hearts, so you—by His grace—became brothers. And you were at the brink of a fiery pit, and He saved you from it. This is how Allah makes His revelations clear to you, so that you may be ˹rightly˺ guided.
We recite the Ayah melodiously and explain it eloquently. And then we preach sectarianism without any thought about what we will say to the One who commanded us to be united. We talk about Adaab-ul-Ikhtilaaf but don’t practice them. We don’t know how to disagree without being disagreeable. And we pay the price in blood, loss of influence, angst, and frustration.
Leadership: Conflicts in leadership started early, within 30 years of the passing away of Rasoolullahﷺ and continue to this day. It is not in the scope of this lecture to go into the details of the conflicts and certainly not my intention to go into the rights and wrongs of it, but I want to say that it is essential to study history objectively and unemotionally and extract lessons. We must learn to differentiate between critiquing and criticizing. You critique the incident. You criticize people. We must critique incidents and extract lessons. Criticizing people is not our intention nor do we have the authority to do so. Critiquing, however, is essential to all learning. Without that you repeat mistakes at ever increasing cost. The only use of history is to learn lessons. Critiquing is how you do that.
Empire became our default which led to several attitudes which remain, and which must be addressed and corrected. We see these reflected in our organizations and cultures, though the last Muslim empire ended in 1927. Our default preference is autocratic leadership with zero tolerance for dissent. Blind loyalty gets precedence over competence. Competence and leadership ability are seen as threats and suppressed or eliminated. We have no succession planning as leadership is for lifetime. Elections are either a sham or a popularity contest, which in a leadership context makes no sense. Popularity is neither proof nor substitute for competence and ability. Both consciously and unconsciously, Ulama and Umara, Theologians and Kings, fueled and promoted sectarian politics. Leadership was suspect and brutally suppressed. Leadership education was (and is) taboo. Consequently, the quality of leadership deteriorated steadily. Apart from the rivers of blood that our history is colored with, there was a steady decline in leadership quality, academic excellence, scientific development, and consequently Muslim contribution to the world and therefore a decline in Muslim influence and power. The world respects and listens to contributors and uses consumers. When Muslims slipped from being contributors to consumers, they became a commodity to be used. Which brings us to our present state, where despite being one in four, we are like foam on the flood. Without weight or value, to be ignored, exploited, and discarded at will. Allahﷻ said that He sent us for the benefit of people to teach them how to live a life of virtue and goodness, compassion, and justice. Allahﷻ’s book is witness – whether for or against us, is for us to decide and work for.
كُنتُمْ خَيْرَ أُمَّةٍ أُخْرِجَتْ لِلنَّاسِ تَأْمُرُونَ بِٱلْمَعْرُوفِ وَتَنْهَوْنَ عَنِ ٱلْمُنكَرِ وَتُؤْمِنُونَ بِٱللَّهِ
A’al Imraan 3: 110 You are the best community ever raised for humanity—you encourage good, forbid evil, and believe in Allah.
Muslim Society: To use TA terminology, the Parent-Child Ego state was (and is) the preferred norm of Muslim society and all attempts to develop the Adult Ego state are repressed. It creates in us a tendency to blame others for our situation, be it local or global. Listen to our conversations and you will almost never hear statements owning responsibility for our problems. The rule of life is that only owners can change what they own. If you don’t own it, you can’t change it. So, if we don’t take ownership of our problems, we condemn ourselves to living with them in perpetuity, until we decide to accept responsibility. This is our single biggest problem and the biggest cause of our dismal and very painful state as a nation. We must not allow what is not in our control to prevent us from doing what is in our control.
Solutions: There is no example better than that of Rasoolullahﷺ. Deriving lessons from it, here are four things we must do urgently.
- Unity: It is time to stop paying lip service to unity and actively work to promote it. Stop preaching or supporting those who preach divisions and sectarian politics. Reject anyone who tells you to hate anyone, especially another Muslim. History is history. Don’t let it color your present. Learn the lesson but remember that it happened in a different time and place and with different people. Not the one you must work with today to solve problems that affect all of us. Remember that whatever be our Aqeeda, we have critical, even existential problems that are common to all Muslims. I am not talking about reconciling different ideologies or converting anyone. That is impossible and unnecessary. I am talking about working with people with a different ideology. That is possible and critical. Leave the Aqeeda to Allahﷻ. We must work with others, here, or we will perish. It is as simple as that.
- Central Fund: No long-term strategic planning can be done without an assured source of funding. Sporadic charity is not sufficient. In Islam we have Zakat, but the use of Zakat funds is strictly governed by the Qur’an. Therefore, I propose that a separate fund be created to which every Muslim, man, woman, and child, must contribute a small amount every day. This is where we can leverage our numbers where the compounded result will be significant. Just the price of one cup of coffee per day i.e., $ 5/day cumulative for 10,000 people, amounts to $ 18,250,000 in one year. Are we, every single one of us, ready to do this?
- Education: As I mentioned, we need an education system that bridges the gap between theology and science. Add to this education in manners, ethics, values, morals, leadership, communication, conflict resolution and the whole host of critical life skills that do not form part of our school curricula. It is out of the scope of this lecture to go into details, but I will suffice to say that it is all doable, enjoyable, and eminently possible if we have the will. We must feel the urgency of the situation and pull together as one if we are to succeed.
- Collaborative Leadership Structure: This consists of two major things. One is the structure itself where leaders must have fixed terms of leadership and a CTS assignment to develop successors. Success depends on developing successors better than we are. The big challenge will be to break out of our feudal mindset and embrace collaborative leadership. The second is the process of decision-making. We must practice the Shura method which Allahﷻ commanded and which Rasoolullahﷺ practiced and taught us. This automatically supports successor development and builds good interpersonal relationships. I must sound a warning in advance. We are talking about rewriting the destiny of the Ummah. It will take time, tears before Allahﷻ, patience, and investment. Be prepared for pushback from current leadership but they and we must fear the day of no return when we will meet Allahﷻ and be asked, “What did you do?”