The purpose of Islam is to solve the problems of this world in a way that gives us success in this world and the next. I want to emphasize this because often we fall into the either/or trap when it comes to the practice of Islam. Not surprising because we have all been raised in a climate of ‘Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s’ which the Bible quotes as the response that Jesus gave to the people who were trying to trick him into forbidding the Jews from paying taxes to the Roman government. They would then have used this to implicate and condemn him to Pontius Pilate who was the Roman tax collector for Judea. I mention this not because of taxes, which we Muslims must pay but to point out that this later became the spirit in which the separation of the ‘church and state’ happened in Europe and globally. This is completely antithetical to Islam. Unfortunately, historically our own Ulama, have also taken this either/or stance, expressed as Deen or Dunya. The reality is that Deen is not the opposite of Dunya but the way of living in the Dunya. Deen gives us the criteria for making decisions in our lives, which are in Dunya. If we didn’t have the freedom to choose, there would be no need for guidance about the consequences of choices. Living Islam is about making the right choices, and the framework to do that is Deen. Allah didn’t send us into the Dunya to leave it but to live in it according to Deen and to help others to find solutions to societal problems. Leaving the Dunya is a non-Muslim concept and practice of extreme asceticism that was the way of Christian monks and Hindu sanyasis. There is no monastic life (Ruhbaniya) in Islam.
Muslims came to demonstrate the Islamic way that makes people winners. As long as we did that, we had moral authority and Allah gave us power. When we stopped being demonstrators and became imitators, we lost our moral authority and Allah took away our power. Today we have voluntarily restricted Islam to some areas of worship, some selective application of the Shari’ah and have taken to the ways of others blindly. We are not even intelligent enough to see that those people themselves are intensely unhappy in their ways because those ways have destroyed their societies. We condemn their ways, but we imitate them and then we are surprised that nobody respects us.
The Muslim Ummah today is like a ship caught in a storm. Battered from all sides by hurricane strength winds trying to throw the ship on the rocks while the ship itself, its sails tattered, is leaking badly. In such a situation, if we want to remain afloat, we must ensure that we do three things:
- Be aware of our strengths and weaknesses.
- Understand the nature of the threat and how to overcome it.
- Demonstrate the way to overcome the challenge and succeed.
Ultimately it is execution that means everything. Knowing the way is not enough to reach the destination. We must walk on that path to the end. Remember that people listen with their eyes. They don’t care what we say until they see what we do. Today the world demands that we demonstrate Islam, or we stop talking about it. It is literally put up or shut up. It’s our call.
I want to begin therefore with a SWOT Analysis of the Muslim Ummah.
- Faith in Allah and the Aakhira which gives us enormous resilience and the ability to recover from personal disaster.
- Growing awareness and confidence especially among the youth to learn, practice and become exemplars of the Islamic model.
- Growing awareness of the gulf between Ulama and the general Muslim public which has difficulty applying Islamic knowledge in their lives, but unfortunately the Ulama are unable to guide them adequately.
- Muslims are ignorant about Islam, superstitious, and sectarian. Education methodology in Islamic schools, has no focus on application in real life. Ulama are slow (or no) to respond to emerging challenges. Intolerance for dissent in Islamic education and hero worship (blind Taqleed) of teachers leads to inability to dialogue with people of different beliefs. We see dissent as rebellion and not as welcome difference of opinion. We have forgotten Adaab ul Ikhtilaaf – how to disagree without being disagreeable. Disagreement in our case doesn’t result in deeper understanding and better solutions, but in the formation of yet another faction, which hates everyone else. There is a huge, very visible gap between our teaching and behavior which destroys credibility. This has given rise to another group which thinks that they have the right to legislate in Deen without any preparation in the academic sciences and behavioral training that is necessary to understand Islamic Law. We pay lip service alone to Tazkiyyatun Nafs wa Tarbiyatul Akhlaaq.
- Fragmented thought, fragmented people, fragmented leadership, and no appreciation of the challenges that face the Ummah; therefore, no specific thought-out action plan. More focus in our teaching and conversation on divisions than on commonalities. No collective approach except in times of traumatic upheaval. No attempt thereafter to deal with the reasons for the crisis so that it never happens again. We’re great firefighters only.
- Lack of vision at all levels including the topmost leadership; religious and temporal. No thinktank for scenario planning to leverage challenges. Our allergy to reading, constructive dialogue, our addiction to social media, and frenetic lifestyles, all result in our inability to even understand the crisis that we Muslims face, locally and globally, let alone solving it.
- Biggest of all, lack of followership. It is easy to claim love of Rasoolullah and the Sahaba and to send Durood on him. My question is, if Rasoolullah were to come among us today, how many of us would be willing to follow him as the Sahaba did. Think carefully before you answer to yourself because the Sahaba paid a price for following him. Are we willing to pay that price? Today, everyone is a Mufti. We like those who agree with us and condemn the same people in one instant if they say something we don’t like. Our rating of the greatness of an A’alim is based on FB likes and YouTube hits. We have people who spend countless hours making YouTube videos, refuting, maligning, character assassinating scholars they don’t agree with, all in the name of Nahi anil Munkar. Yet we want the world to revere us as role models. Ajeeb!!
- To fulfill the purpose of our creation and benefit all mankind by providing thought leadership to the world.
- To become role models for the world to look up to and emulate.
- To show Muslims ways to practice Islam so that our lives can become beacons of guidance as it was with Rasoolullah and his Sahaba.
- Concerted, hugely funded, and highly focused efforts to undermine Islam and disconnect it from life, using the best brains, technology, and media.
- Ignorant, apologetic, Muslims psychologically succumbing to the pressure and advocating changing Islamic law and the Qur’an, without understanding either.
- Increasing disconnect between Ulama and the average Muslim leading to the latter feeling that Islam is a way of worship alright, but not much else.
The problem with the approach of our leadership is that they talk almost entirely about ‘problems’ and don’t give solutions. At best some of them give incomplete solutions leaving the rest in the realm of imagination. The result is that Muslims have developed a “Victim” mindset. We blame the world for our condition yet do nothing to change it even where we have the opportunity. We have no role models of applied Islam which show success in this world through actions that promise success in the Aakhira. Examples quoted of the practice of Islam are of people who lived in the remote past and whose lives have little that is immediately in common with today’s challenges and problems.
The issue with the practice of Islam with most Muslims today is a “How” issue. It is a tools issue. It is not an issue of being convinced. Even people who are convinced are unable to practice because they don’t know how, don’t have systems to support them and have no means of developing these systems themselves. This is a huge opportunity to create such systems and build a support system for people to practice Islam. A good example is that after 1444 years we still don’t have a model for global interest free banking. At the peak of the sub-prime housing loan crisis, when the evil of the debt/equity model was brutally clear and the world was ready to look at a system of finance to beat the boom/bust roller coaster of global finance, we could have taken center stage if we’d had a workable zero interest financial model. But did we? Why not? Allah’s purpose however, with sending His Messenger with Islam is to guide all of mankind to the path that will guarantee them a beautiful life in this world and Jannah in the Aakhira.
مَنْ عَمِلَ صَـٰلِحًا مِّن ذَكَرٍ أَوْ أُنثَىٰ وَهُوَ مُؤْمِنٌ فَلَنُحْيِيَنَّهُۥ حَيَوٰةً طَيِّبَةً وَلَنَجْزِيَنَّهُمْ أَجْرَهُم بِأَحْسَنِ مَا كَانُوا۟ يَعْمَلُونَ
Nahl 16: 97 Whoever works righteousness, whether male or female, while he (or she) is a true believer (Muslim) verily, to him We will give a good life (in this world with respect, contentment, and lawful provision), and We shall pay them certainly a reward in proportion to the best of what they used to do (Jannah).
The condition of success is that we follow the path of Islam. This is logical when we realize that to benefit from any method, we must follow it without deviation or change. Be it physical fitness, weight loss or gain, swimming, flying a plane or driving to any destination, you can only succeed if you follow the path. So also, in life. Islam is the path to success. We can succeed only if we walk on that path fully and to the end. Not partially at will.
Our challenge is to show the benefit of the Islamic Way of Life in all aspects of human existence and demonstrate how the Islamic Way is better than any other way and makes its follower a winner. Once people see this clearly, they will be willing to listen to the benefits of Islam in the Aakhira which are linked to living in the Islamic Way. Simply talking about Jannah does not influence anyone when they see the Muslims around them living the lives of losers. We have no influence, no power, no moral values, no nobility. Just shameless extravagance, self-indulgence, and irresponsibility. We are people who talk but who don’t walk their own talk. Nobody is impressed. If you want to test my premise, randomly ask three Muslim youngsters who their role models are and what they want to have in life. If we want the world to change, we must change ourselves.
The challenge is to clearly differentiate based on Islam. Show how Islam makes the Muslim doctor a better doctor in the eyes of his patients. Show how Islam makes the Muslim teacher a better teacher in the eyes of her students. Show how Islam makes the Muslim politician a better representative in the eyes of his constituents. Show how Islam makes the Muslim technologist, businessperson, scientist, husband, wife, son, daughter, employee, employer; all better in their respective roles in the eyes of all those who deal with them. When we can do this, we can stop talking about Islam because people will see Islam. Until we can do this, talking about Islam does not help because people can’t see Islam. That is the crux of the matter. We must transform ourselves from being merely guardians of knowledge to demonstrators of how to leverage that knowledge. We are currently a repository of knowledge. We are like those who own a library of automobile engineering books but walk home every day. We need to convert knowledge into practical reality that makes winners in this world. Then not only we, but the whole world will ride. Because for any ideology to have an effect it must first be translated into working models.
Our Jaamiyaat and Madaaris have done an admirable job of preserving and protecting theological knowledge. However, they have fallen short in converting theological concepts into practical reality. The biggest reason is that they have ignored the Seerah of Rasoolullah. Allah sent His Messenger as a role model to be emulated. Our Ulama don’t seem to agree. If you are offended, ask if Seeratun Nabi is a separate subject in your curriculum. And then ask why not? If we have a tried and tested Best Way but we don’t use it, what does it say about us? As I have said before singing Anasheed is easy. The Seerah must not simply be read. It must be studied and practiced. We must evaluate ourselves, especially our Muamilaat, on the benchmark set by Rasoolullah. Today our Muamilaat are our biggest problem and the primary reason for the bad rap we have in the world. The solution is very simple. Live by the Seerah. But if even our religious institutions won’t teach the Seerah as a serious, specialized subject, who will teach it? This is one most urgent need and the solution to our problems.
Muslim intellectuals, scientists, and professionals have also failed to volunteer to partner with Islamic scholars to work on application models. The atmosphere of mutual suspicion and veiled hostility that exists between these two groups is a major reason why this healthy and very necessary partnership doesn’t happen. The question always is, ‘Who will bell the cat?’ No matter who, the initiative must happen for Islam to become practically applicable in our world. We must learn to work together in an atmosphere of mutual respect and appreciation for the different talents we bring.
Consequently, Islam is taught like we teach any other ideology. Islam is not merely an ideology but a practice. And like all practices, it works only if it is practiced. You can know all about Judo but unless you know how to do Judo, you will be killed in a street fight. To know how to do it, you must spend time in the dojo under the guidance of a sensei until you are an expert in applying Judo. Ditto for Islam. We must practice under the guidance of a Shaikh, until we become expert. It is our duty to translate the ideology into practical methods that can be applied, and which will benefit the practitioner in this life itself. We do this in organizational consulting where to sell a new business model or initiative, we run a pilot program as proof of concept. When that succeeds, the method can be implemented worldwide. That’s what we need for Islam in today’s context.
A good example to understand how knowledge gains popularity when its benefits are visible is to look at the popularity of Yoga. That opened the door for Hindu preachers to preach their ideology to people who come for the exercise and start experiencing its benefits. If we merely keep teaching ideology and theory without translating it into practical models, people view it as a dichotomy when they hear what we say but they don’t see us practicing it in our own lives and we and our message lose credibility. Allah defined our purpose clearly and said:
كُنتُمْ خَيْرَ أُمَّةٍ أُخْرِجَتْ لِلنَّاسِ تَأْمُرُونَ بِٱلْمَعْرُوفِ وَتَنْهَوْنَ عَنِ ٱلْمُنكَرِ وَتُؤْمِنُونَ بِٱللَّهِ
A’al Imraan 3: 110 You [Muslims] are the best of peoples ever raised up for (the benefit of) mankind; you enjoin Al-Ma’ruf (all good that Islam permits) and forbid Al-Munkar (all that Islam has forbidden), and you believe in Allah.
Quite justifiably the world is asking today, ‘If your way is so good, why don’t you practice it yourself?’