By Spahic Omer
Islam is not only an ideology or a philosophy, but also a total and operational system of life. Furthermore, Islam is not just about a personal enlightenment and improvement, but as well about a social transformation and reform.
The ultimate goal of Islam is to build a sophisticated culture and civilisation (a refined righteous and progressive life) whose constituent elements are holistic persons with inclusive thought and life patterns, and whose vision and purpose integrate the domains both of this world and the Hereafter.
Consequently, just to be an upright person is not sufficient in Islam. Constantly promoting the truth and being a source of goodness to others, is as important. The two complement each other, comprising the Islamic notion of comprehensive excellence or a quality culture.
It follows that besides being a world, a person, likewise, must become an active part of a much bigger world around him. The path to happiness and salvation is strewn as much with personal challenges as with collective hurdles and ensuing engagements.
The Qur’an is replete with references to each of these dimensions. It also speaks about shared responsibilities in this world and, hence, about a collective accountability on the Day of Judgement.
People will have to answer for all aspects of their existential journeys and for all features of their relationships with their Creator and His Islam as the guidance intended for humanity. “Then, on that day, you will be questioned about the bounties (of God) and the delight you indulged in (al-na’im)” (al-Takathur, 8).
Civilisational proficiency versus civilisational malfunction
Needless to say that the totality of Islam calls for a totality in performance, which in turn calls for the inclusiveness of accountability. In addition to being liable for his personal accounts, a person will also be fully responsible for his share – or the lack of it – in a social contract.
Civilisational (in the manner of responsibly and constructively inhabiting as well as developing the earth) proficiency is to be rewarded, just as civilisational malfunction is to be chastened. The ineptness of a bigger picture, positively, is an indication of the ineptness of many – perhaps even all – of its building blocks.
It is a spiritual offence if a person fails to actualise the message of Islam at the level of his private behaviour. However, in equal measure, it is a collective spiritual and ethical offence, too, if the social and civilisational dimensions of Islam are not realised, for which answers will be sought and for which some people will have to pay. The latter is considered a ruin, in essence as the former.
Regardless of how certain people may look at it but Muslims – the faithful followers of the only truth – have been raised up by a heavenly decree as the best nation and an example for mankind, which is a responsibility as much as a privilege. As such, if the mission is duly fulfilled, Muslims will be brought forth as witnesses against the nations, otherwise the nations will be produced as witnesses against Muslims (al-Baqarah, 143; Alu ‘Imran, 110).
The genuine advocates of the truth are meant to lead, and at the same time serve, the world, sparing the world all sorts of painful predicaments associated with falsehood. Doing so is an exceptional feat that warrants an abundance of worldly and otherworldly benefits. However, failing to rise to the occasion guarantees the offenders a proportional adversity.
Contributing to and participating in the collective betrayal of the holy trust imposed over a nation is no trifling matter. It is a big one. It denotes that people’s at once individual and institutional respectability has hit an all-time low, sanctioning all kinds of retribution as a result. Persons will be bound to suffer then, and so will entire societies as conceptual actualities and organisational experiences.
Islam is synonymous with peace. But this peace ought to be internal as well as external. A person’s inner peace is expected to make him live peacefully with other people, his natural surroundings and, finally, with the metaphysical world.
Indeed, there is no peace in today’s world primarily because there is no spiritual peace. There is no peace between people because there is no peace inside people, and there is no peace down on earth because there is no peace with that which lies beyond earth.
Affirming a collective accountability and guilt by association
Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) charged his disobedient compatriots en masse for abandoning the revealed Qur’an and for treating it as if of no account (al-Furqan, 30). It was a case of collective guilt, or guilt by association.
Allah further says in the Qur’an: “(Remember) the day when We will call every people with their (respective) Imams (leaders or record of deeds); then whoever is given his book in his right hand, these shall read their book; and they shall not be dealt with unjustly in the least” (al-Isra’, 71).
Also: “And you shall see (on the Judgment Day) every nation kneeling down; every nation shall be called to its book (record): today you shall be rewarded for what you did” (al-Jathiyah, 28).
The following two sets of the Qur’anic verses are particularly interesting, as they present a more vivid, yet more dramatic, picture of certain events in the Hereafter.
“(Allah) will say: ‘Enter among nations which had passed on before you of jinn and mankind into the Fire.’ Every time a nation enters, it will curse its sister until, when they have all overtaken one another therein, the last of them will say about the first of them: ‘Our Lord, these had misled us, so give them a double punishment of the Fire.’ He will say: ‘For each is double, but you do not know.’ And the first of them will say to the last of them: ‘Then you had not any favour over us, so taste the punishment for what you used to earn’” (al-‘A’raf, 38, 39).
“But if you could see when the wrongdoers are made to stand before their Lord, refuting each other’s words. Those who were oppressed will say to those who were arrogant (their oppressors): ‘If not for you, we would have been believers.’ Those who were arrogant (oppressors) will say to those who were oppressed: ‘Did we avert you from guidance after it had come to you? Rather, you were criminals.’ Those who were oppressed will say to those who were arrogant (their oppressors): ‘Rather, (it was your) scheming night and day when you were ordering us to disbelieve in Allah and attribute to Him equals.’ But they will (all) confide regret when they see the punishment; and We will put shackles on the necks of those who disbelieved. Will they be recompensed except for what they used to do?” (Saba’, 31-33).
A time for introspection
Accordingly, today’s Muslims should be losing sleep over the fact that in contemporary contexts the prospect of a genuine Islamic civilisation is more of a dream than a reality. That means that there is something and somewhere seriously wrong with the ways many Muslims comprehend and apply their Islam.
Everyone should look at himself in the mirror and start asking some hard questions. It is better for a person to examine himself now and make due amends before he is examined by the Creator, following which there will be neither opportunity nor time for atonements.
Instead of inventing and leading, most Muslims are happy with the prospects of following, imitating and consuming, even if it be in the realms of ideas, values and principles. This approach puts on the line essentially everything, from national and religious identities, traditions and ethea, to self-respect, freedom and pride.
This is applicable especially to Muslim leaders and critical decision makers who tend to oppress and mislead their fellow citizens in the name of incompatible-with-Islam ideologies, systems and programs which they have chosen and have decided to foist upon their people.
Such socio-political cream of the crop feel closer to the people and communities of the selected alien ideologies and systems than to their own Muslim peoples. They yet ostensibly act as the redeemers and champions of the latter, albeit the only thing on the agenda is self-glory.
The conundrums of westernisation and modernisation
Muslims should be wary of the seemingly attractive projects of westernisation and modernisation whose many features are often forced down people’s throats in the name of progress and cultural refinement. While the West is not inherently evil – nothing is – and while everything affiliated with it is by no means to be repudiated completely, one has to bear in mind that the whole thing is done for the sake of proselytising the effects of Western civilisation.
In passing, Western civilisation is a double-edged sword. It stems from an array of materialist, humanist, naturalist and evolutionist tendencies. It is by definition anti-spiritual and anti-religious, perceiving those provinces as backward, archaic and inhibiting. It is no wonder, then, that the West and its civilisation are the home of religiophobia, particularly Islamophobia in that Islam is the “last and only religion standing”.
The concept of civilisation is a Western construct, concocted in the 18th century. It was created in the milieus of Western colonisation and imperialism and was used for their justification and consolidation. It was imposed as such on the rest of the world, including the Muslim world. In the course of the past two centuries, the Muslim mind had to grapple with the concept and its monolithic mould, producing mixed results.
All things considered, modern Western civilisation is proving a failed experiment day by day. Perpetual global actual and cold wars, nuclear proliferation, environmental destruction, global warming, moral degradation, intellectual cul-de-sacs, etc., are some of the signs. But then, nothing better could be expected from a life paradigm that is at constant war with human nature and heaven.
It goes without saying, therefore, that embracing the plans of westernisation and modernisation wholeheartedly spells trouble for the Muslim mind, soul and the whole of Muslim existential wellbeing. It means a gradual distancing from the world of Islam and a steady drawing up to the world of its virtual antithesis.
Such is the relationship between the two that the more of the West suggests the less of Islam, and vice versa, to the point that to some people, for the successful dealing with either one, the principle that should be applied is “less is more”.
Striking a delicate balance with the West and its civilisation is still possible, though, taking what is wholesome and compatible with the teachings and values of Islam, and rejecting – but also, if possible, Islamising, as part of seeking alternatives – what is discordant with the Islamic message. Nonetheless, in the process, one should walk on eggshells at all times.
There are no shortcuts to excellence, in the light of which fundamental components of civilisation are to be generated, rather than simulated, smuggled, or counterfeited. As Oswald Spengler (d. 1936), a German philosopher, argued that no spirit of a culture (civilisation) can be transferred to another culture. Attempts to do such a thing lead to lifeless and banal cultural (civilisational) creations.
For the same reason did Arnold Toynbee (d. 1975), an English historian, tie the rise of civilisations to the notion of creativity, that is, creatively responding to life challenges and problems, and creatively solving them. He also tied the fall of civilisations to the loss of the creativity penchant and the adoption of such civilisational sins as nationalism, militarism and tyranny instead.
Playing the blame game
At any rate, it will be a disaster if anyone ends up adopting Western civilisation-cum-modernisation to such an extent that he changes his Muslim collective spirit and a sense of belonging as well as community.
Such people will belong neither here nor there on the Day of Judgment – according to the implications of the above Qur’anic verses. They will curse their counsellors and mentors for their plotting night and day as they were instructing them to forsake the truth of Allah and His Islam, laying the blame squarely on them: “If not for you, we would have been believers.”
However, as the Muslim collaborators would blame, they too will be blamed by the weak and oppressed ones back home for doing the same to them as their external tutors were doing to them. Their culpability will be double: being led astray and leading others astray, and so will be their punishment.
The Muslim agents of un-Islamic philosophies, beliefs and values in Muslim lands are responsible for one of the most harmful procedures. That the procedure is harmful is one thing, but it keeps procreating and so, never stops hurting the Muslim consciousness and materiality. It became a perennial menace, which was the aim all along.
About this Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) warned: “Whoever starts a good thing and is followed by others, will have his own reward and a reward equal to that of those who follow him, without it detracting from their reward in any way. Whoever starts a bad thing and is followed by others, will bear the burden of his own sin and a burden equal to that of those who follow him, without it detracting from their burden in any way” (Jami’ al-Tirmidhi).
The Prophet (pbuh) also said: “Whenever a person is murdered unjustly, there is a share from the burden of the crime on the first son of Adam for he was the first to start the tradition of murdering” (Sahih al-Bukhari).
Without doubt, it is time for every sector of Muslim society, led by its leaders and policy makers, to start calibrating their consciousness and to start getting in charge of their own civilisational destiny, restoring thus the intended order of things. This new situation will function as an antidote to the advances of the ever growing manifestations of misguidance and error.
Allah says: “O you who have believed, upon you is (responsibility for) yourselves (guard your own souls). Those who have gone astray will not harm you when you have been guided. To Allah is your return all together; then He will inform you of what you used to do” (al-Ma’idah, 105).
(Assoc. Prof. Dr. Spahic Omer is an academic in the Department of History and Civilisation, AbdulHamid AbuSulayman Kulliyyah of Islamic Revealed Knowledge and Human Sciences. The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of IIUMToday.)