Muslims and the Message

There are few known civilisations and societies – religious or secular – which have not felt the brunt of internal divisions and tensions or the pain of external threat. The Islamic civilisation is certainly to be counted amongst these. Founded, as it were, on the twin sources of Barakat (Divine Grace) – the Quran and the Prophetic Sunnah – Islam extended itself to embrace a bewildering diversity of cultures and peoples. But despite this expansion – which covered almost half of the known world – and its accompanying problems, there was one thing that it never sacrificed and that was leadership in almost every domain. From the arts to the sciences it was Muslims who laid the foundations of “progress” – not only for themselves but for the benefit of others as well. Furthermore, they never allowed their juristic and philosophical disagreements to stunt their contribution to both their own and to world growth. Muslim thought appears to have been inspired, not by a parochial, but by a sense of universal duty.

Nevertheless, this civilisation decayed and the last three centuries of the Ottoman Empire – immersed in political corruption and general complacency – witnessed a hastening of this decadence. And along with the rise of the western powers came its final political collapse. Up to today Muslims have not yet fully recovered. It appears more and more that as Muslims we find ourselves at the crossroads of our own confusion. Having lost our position as world leaders we are grappling to make sense of a message that preaches universality and brotherhood. A message which consistently tells us that: ” We have made you an Ummah justly balanced that you might be witness over other nations.” ( Surah Baqarat :143 )

Unfortunately, we as a “justly balanced Ummah ” viz. free from fanaticism and extremism, are no longer doing the judging. On the contrary, we are the judged. And our performance, to a large extent, is quite appalling. Furthermore, when it comes to analysing our inadequacies and problems, we all too frequently attribute them to external factors such as imperialism, zionism, etc. But has it ever occurred to us that if the House of Islam were in order, that any imperialist or zionist or any other plotter would have great difficulty in upsetting its internal cohesion? To be aware of belligerents trying to undermine Islam is one thing. But for that calm, rational awareness to transform itself into a “plot mentality ” – not infrequently manifesting itself as phobia – may yet prove to be our greatest undoing. The awesome suspicion that this mentality generates even against brothers and sisters of a kind in some Islamic movements sprouting up in many parts of the world, is sufficient evidence for this.

Certainly we have to remain aware of belligerents who are bent on undermining Islam. Muslims in the past have been aware of and have dealt adequately with this problem. Similarly, Muslims in the future would have to remain equally vigilant. But of far greater and more immediate importance is our awareness of the message of Islam and ourselves as Muslims. Our own internal ” domestic health ” must remain of paramount importance. We simply cannot, with impunity, wreck our own homes and then shout to the world that the cause of all this chaos is exclusively the product of some mysterious plot.

Moreover, if there are any anti-Islamic forces that seek to undermine the unity of Muslims and that seek to distort the truth of Islam, then this should serve as a unifying factor – and not as a point of departure to internal ruin. It is also important to note that the way we handle our internal affairs will, of necessity, affect the way in which we present the message to the non-Muslim world. And this message can only truly be projected if we ourselves are examples of the ” balanced Ummah ” mentioned in the Quranic verse. The Quran is also emphatic when it tells us that:” Indeed, Allah will not change the

condition of a people until they ( first )change that which is in themselves “  ( Surah ar-Ra’d :11 )

In other words, in as much as we are expected to bear witness over other people we are similarly expected to bear witness over ourselves. Every effort to pass on the message must be preceded – or at least accompanied by – an even greater effort to improve ourselves. Now this inner struggle (the Jihad of the self) to better ourselves does not only depend upon extensive spiritual practices – the transforming powers of which are undoubtedly effective – but also on a healthy and constructive sense of self-criticism.

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