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fall of the Muslims; and the way out of this impasse.
I am convinced that the time has come for the Muslim community
and their intelligentsia to critically re-evaluate the whole heritage
of traditional Islamic thought, including theology and jurisprudence.
This is because the traditional formulation was made by the society
and intelligentsia of that time in accordance with their knowledge
and level of understanding, and conforming to needs of that time.
Now the situation has changed tremendously and there is no doubt
that the traditional formulation must be reconsidered.
Since the emergence of the modern reformism movement of Jamaluddin
al-Afghani, Muhammad Abduh and Rashid Ridha at the end of the nineteenth
and the beginning of the twentieth centuries, many studies have
been made on the decline and fall of the Muslims. These include
the works of thinkers like Iqbal, Malek Bennabi and Fazlur Rahman.
However, the condition of the Muslim community has not changed very
much and continues to be precarious. In comparison with other communities,
especially those in Europe, United States, Russia and Japan, the
Muslim community is the most backward, especially in socio-economic,
scientific, technological and military fields.
What are the reasons for this backwardness? From the point of view
of numbers, the Muslims, now more than a billion, have outnumbered
the Christians, and from the point of view of natural resources,
Muslim countries are among the richest in the world. Why, with such
vast resources and possessing an infallible divine scripture, are
the Muslims unable to compete with and surpass other nations?
This situation is exactly the opposite of the situation of their
early ancestors who, within a short period of time, climbed the
heights of success and created a great world empire and a great
world civilization. These early successes which had astounded the
world must have had their
reasons based on the laws of historical
change. What are those reasons? This is the greatest challenge facing
Muslim intelligentsia at the close of the twentieth century and
on the threshold of the twenty-first: to seek the true causes of
Muslim decline and thereby to lay the ground for a new Muslim Renaissance.
As we have said, this study and review of our traditional formulation
must encompass classical theology and jurisprudence. The hadith,
of course, is at the core of these traditional disciplines.
Our present knowledge points to many factors that contribute to
the rise and fall of nations, factors that are ideological, political,
economic, social, cultural, historical, psychological, demographic,
geographical, scientific, technological and military in nature.
But it is also quite certain that within this pluralism of factors,
not all play equally important roles. Technology can surmount geographical
limitations; military strategy can overcome numbers; political leadership
can offset economic weakness, and so on. Turning to the Quran as
our infallible guide, we find the following statements that can
give us a clue to the understanding of the problem under discussion.
Surely, God does not change the condition of any
people until they them-selves change. (13:11)
That is because God does not change the blessings
He had bestowed upon any people, unless they themselves change.
If only the previous generations had some intelligent
people who enjoined them from corruption, they would have been saved.
But We saved a few of them, while the rest pursued their material
things and became sinners. Your Lord never destroys any community
unjustly while the people are righteous. (11:116-117)
We will surely give victory to our messengers and
to those who believe, both in this life and on the day the witnesses
are raised. (40:51)
You shall never waver, nor shall you worry; you are
guaranteed victory for as long as you are believers.(3:139)
All the above Quranic statements point
to a people’s ideology as the most important component in
the determination of their fate. This means that insofar as a people
is imbued with a scientific, dynamic and progressive ideology, that
far will it climb the ladder of success. Conversely, insofar as
a people revert to a previously held anti-scientific, static and
regressive ideology, that far will it degenerate. The strong unambiguous
statements about victory being granted to believers in both worlds
necessarily follow from the definition of believers as those possessing
and practicing the true scientific ideology.
Basing ourselves on this premise, we can make the following hypothesis.
The rapid rise of the Arab nation from its dark period of paganism
prior to Muhammad to become the most powerful and civilized nation
in the world then, within a short period of time, is due to the
new, inspiring, powerful and dynamic Islamic ideology of monotheism
brought by Muhammad. The Arabs, under his and his immediate successors’
leadership, discarded their erstwhile polytheism and superstitions.
They united to fight and struggle under the guidance of the Quran
and set up a just social order. Because this struggle was based
on divine truth and justice as contained in the Quran, it was invincible.
It also gave rise to a great social movement, bringing forth with
it outstanding political, military and intellectual leaders who
helped to create the first scientific-spiritual culture in history.
This hypothesis, in contrast to the modernist or the traditionalist
theses, appears to be the most helpful in our effort to understand
the history and the decline of the Muslims. The modernist thesis,
in brief, states that the Muslims declined because they have remained
traditional and have not modernized themselves according to Western
secular values. The traditionalist thesis, on the other hand, blames
the secularization of Muslim societies and the neglect of orthodox
Muslim teachings as the major cause of Muslim decline.
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