The basis of our civilization

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From the very outset, Muslim civilization was built on foundations supplied by ideology alone. It has never had anything to do with the concepts of race or nation, and so it lacks the cement of racial or national homogeneity which was and is so decisive a factor in all other civilizations. Ours has always been an ideological civilization - with the Law of the Qur'an and its source and, more then that, as its only historical justification. To speak of the Muslim ummah as of something politically justified and culturally valuable (and therefore to be cherished and defended) and, in the same breath, to question the importance of Islamic Law as the form-giving element in our life is hypocritical or, alternatively, an outcome of ignorance. For what values remain in that much-vaunted ummah if we resile from its shar'i background? Certainly not a social philosophy worth the name: for that is based on the concept, derived from the shari'ah, of a divinely-willed order in human relation. And certainly not its ethics: for, a Muslim's notions of good and evil flow in their entirety from the Qur'an and the teachings of the Prophet. And not even a political ideal: for, the only political ideal which has distinguished the Muslims from the rest of mankind was the revolutionary concept of a brotherhood of men united not by ties of blood or race but by their consciousness of a common outlook on life and common aspirations: a concept realized nearly fourteen centuries ago in the establishment of the Islamic ummah - a community open to every man and woman, of whatever race or color, who accepted this common ideal, and closed to everyone, even one's nearest kinsman, who refused to accept it : in brief, a real "social contract".

Thus, if the shari'ah is removed from our day-to-day endeavors ; if we begin, in the manner of Western nations, to make a distinction between practical life and religion, our civilization, or whatever remains of it, is bound to forfeit not only its identity but also its historical justification - because everything that contributed to its growth in the course of many centuries was connected in one way or another with the creative force of religion.

As I have already pointed out, not all civilizations were thus simply and clearly motivated. In most of them, religion was but an accompaniment to other, equally or even more decisive cultural forces - for instance, in European civilization, where Christianity was always only one of several factors of development. This being so, one can well imagine that the West might one day throw Christianity (or, for that matter, every kind of institutional religion) overboard, and nevertheless retain the living identity and continuity of its culture. A pointer in this direction is supplied by Soviet Russia, where Christianity has been definitely rejected as a fount of social ethics: and, in spite of this rejection of Christianity, the communist experiment in Russia cannot be said to be less "Western" then the conservatism of, say, America, where institutional Christianity  still retains its honored - albeit merely theoretical - position.

But whereas in other civilizations, of which the modern West is only one example, it may be theoretically possible (although I personally doubt it) either to retain institutional religion or to discard it outright without destroying that civilization's strength and continuity, we Muslims have no such alternative. For us, religion has never been just one of the contributing factors of cultural development : it has always been the very root and source of that development. So far as we are concerned, an elimination of religious thought and, specifically, of Islamic Law from the realm of economics, politics and social life would imply more then a mere change in cultural direction. It would imply the loss of all cultural direction. Hence, in the measure that Islamic Law ceases to be a practical proposition in our day-to-day life, Islamic civilization must necessarily become a contradiction in terms, and Muslim society a society of cultural mongrels and spiritual half-castes.

As soon as we come to realize this, we begin to understand why it is that in our days the general run of Muslims do not follow Islam in spirit or even in form, and follow only a number of customs vaguely associated with Islam. With most of our contemporaries, "faith" has become a figure of speech, a mare empty word devoid of that spark of enthusiasm which in the early days of our history inspired the Muslims to imperishable deeds of cultural and social achievement. No doubt, Islam is still alive as an emotion. It is alive in the instinctive love of countless millions of people who vaguely feel that its principles are "right": but only very few of them grasp those principles intellectually and are able, or genuinely prepared, to translate them into terms of practical life. We must not, therefore, wonder that Muslim civilization has arrived at the end of a blind alley and now persists only by virtue of its dumb, unconscious vitality. It cannot forever persist in this state.

This article is from Muhammad Asad's book "This Law of Ours" which is a collection of his essays he wrote in the 1940's and 50's


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  16 Comments   Comment

  1. Asif from US

    Allen: a few comments

    1- Jews were in Medina because they knew the next prophet would be coming from there. The only problem was he came from prophet Ismail's (pbuh) lineage - which the Jews could not accept

    2- Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) did not move out Jews from Medina - it was in fact Omar (ra). I will never second guess him, because of the time he lived in there were circumstances in what he did. If this was a general policy, he would have done the same when we, Muslims, took over masjid Al-Aqsa during his reign. Infact, all the other religions were able to function and prosper - something which cannot be said at present.

    Judging from the other posts, my history may be wrong. I will have to reverify.

    3- You have got to be kidding if you think Muslims are anti-Semites - prophet Muhammad and most all the other prophets are Semites. This trick of making people guilty will not work on Muslims - it may work on sitcoms, news media but not with Muslims who follow Quran and Sunnah.

    4- As for Quran being anti-Semitic, plz refer to point above and read Quran and learn about Islam. If you are talking about being anti-xxx, plz read the Old Testament where in the version edited by man, it clearly says to deceive, kill gentiles (non-Jews). So lets be a bit humble before we criticize. Look in the mirror

    5- Also, plz remember if it wasn't for us Muslims, the Jewish community would have been extinct courtesy of Europeans

    6- Europeans do the crime and we, Muslims, have to suffer because our land (Masjid Al-Aqsa) is occupied. What perverse logic !!

  2. Ron Mulcahy from Canada

    As a child of the ex-Jewish parents, our existence as a Jewish race was contingent upon the Muslim gracefulness. When we were kicked out of Europe with disgrace, Muslim spain protected us for 800 years and then we were again kicked out from Spain by Christian Barbarians. Thanks to Othman Empire, again, we got the lease of another 600 years. Every honest Jew will admit that. Today, in the west, Jewish power protected them instead of Christian gracefulness.

  3. Zaheer from USA

    To Allen Kaplan

    Today, I went to visit the Holocaust Museum in my city. I went there out of curiosity to learn what the point of view of the creators of such a museum might be.

    Unlike most Muslims, I credit myself to be open minded enough to be able to hear someone else's point of view and try to understand it, even if I feel I may not agree with it.

    This is the conclusion that I came up with.

    I do not have any problem accepting that all the misfortunes that are being claimed that happened, actually happened. Some people tend to believe that it has been exaggerated quite a bit in order to gain sympathy from the "significant world". I was very careful in the selection of my words because I feel that is what the founders of this museum evidently think.

    They have created a sense of victimization so that the world that is significant would continue to feel sorry for them so that when the very victims victimize others, they are not questioned. Keep in mind that the ones that are being victimized by these "survivors of holocaust" have nothing to do with the sufferings of these survivors and victims.

    It is like a weak child was beaten up by a bullying child and the parent not only beat up the bully but to overcompensate (since they continue to feel sorry for the weak child) they take the possession of a third child (who has nothing to do with the entire dispute, by the way) and give it to the weak child. Now that this third child feels he is strong enough to take care of the business himself tries to take the possession back, the parent strengthens the weak child by providing with its continuing support. The conniving (previously victimized weaker) child has now become the oppressor.

    Beware, God is watching us.

  4. Ben from USA

    Yes, Islamic civilization was built on the religion and not any particular race or culture-but that has been lost. It seems the Ummah doesn't care about Muslims who aren't Arabs. Everyone gets up in arms about Palestine and/or Iraq, but no one protests what goes on in Chechnya or how Muslims are treated in China. If 100,000 Muslims were killed by the Israelis, all Muslims would be in a rage, but 100,000 Muslims HAVE been killed, by the Russians, and I see no protests, no outrage, no Muslim country severing relations with Moscow. Its time Muslims take back Islam and not just think that support for Arabs equals support for Islam.

  5. Enigma from USA

    ... Religion ought to be personal to each individual, i.e. a society should not dictate what you should believe. Islam in it's truest form should be doing good to others, dispite their raligious inclination, and allowing everyone else the freedom to worship however they feel is right between them and Allah.

  6. seguner from Tr

    Dear Kaplan;

    You must firstly have read Koran to be able to reach such a decision. The very fittest example for this in practice is the Andalucian (Spanish) Califat; and the Ottoman Empire as you may well have known. After the Reconquista the muslims as well as the Jews of the Iberia had been supposed to quit due to the inacceptable rage of the Catholics. Where to? To Smyrna, to Thessalonika and to Canakkale (antic Troy) and to Constantinople (Istanbul) in order to safely continue their lives. Here is the theory and here's the practice: What more one may expect?

    Lastly you have to reconsider the so called anti-jewish tendencies in the Islamic world: It has become wide after the 40s which means the foundation of Israel. So the opposition is versus Israel -the State; not the Jewry -which is the members of a sacred religion...

  7. Adam from Nigeria

    Sorry Mr. Allen (or Prejudiced allen), Semite does not imply Jew. Arabs and Jews of the time of the Prophets are the Semites. So how can someone be anti-himself?

    You see the bottom line is that anybody (Muslim or Semite) that wants to undermine Islam, within a Muslim State should be banished from the populace so as not to pollute them. That was what happened to the Jews of Medina then and it could happen to anybody now (as I said be you Jew or "Muslim"). Your Western govts define this as "treason" and even stipulate death sentence as its punishment. Therefore the Jews of Medina were even lucky that they had a merciful leader as the Prophet (SAW) to have simply asked them to leave instead of having their red necks chopped off.

  8. Allen Kaplan from USA

    If Islam is truly a religion of brotherhood and of peace, then it must deal with it's decidely anti-Jewish strain. The Qu'ran is loaded with extremely anti-Semitic statements. When the Prophet needed allies to return to Mecca and take it away from the pagan idolators, he turned to the Jewish community of Medinah, a community that had lived in peace for centuries after the destruction of the First Temple. When the community helped the Prophet conquer Mecca, he then broke his hudna with them and rid Medinah of its Jewish population. This is not brotherhood and the reign of love. Modern day Muslim scholars and Muslims of good will must attempt to do what the late Pope John XXIII did, rid Catholicism of its anti-Semitic teachings. Is Islam brave enough to follow suit?

  9. The Mad Mullah from Ethiopia

    Salaam all,

    love reading asad's work due to its great insight. However, I just wanted to reply to Sahr Lamin's comments. Well, my bro/sister in Islam I just wanted to say that u are a testimony to Allah's promise that if the prior generation of Muslim's abandon the deen of Allah, then they will be replaced by better Muslims. I want to congratulate u on finding your way back to your original home, Islam. May Allah give you Jannah and may Allah awaken our fellow Muslim brothers and sisters... ameen.

    Salaam

  10. C Riaz from Pakistan

    I agree with all that is in the article. The question now is, what are we to do about it? How will the Muslim Ummah regain its identity and unity, for that is of paramount importance.

  11. Babandi A. Gumel from U.K

    Who are given the trust of Government as Amanah Trust the answer is Of course the Righteous people.So the basis of our civilisation is winning the pleasure of Allah.Therefore rule does not simply refer to the socio-political sense of it only, it also refers to the ruling of one self.Since this is a trust and a big responsibility we are therefore expected to shoulder this great task applying Sharia on ourselves first before imposing it on others.We tend to talk more and act less criticising others finding faults with them and we don't want find fault with ourselves.Yet we want gain success like the Sahabah while our Amaal is no where near the Pleasure of Allah.Therefore in order to succeed we should concentrate in the self reformation and rectification rather than criticising or condenming one another.Our aim is solely to please Allah and bring mankind to the worship of Allah so they may become successful in both Worlds Duniya and Akhirah.

  12. Adam from Nigeria

    Yes, brother Muhammad Asad Muslims can'not just afford to be in the state they find themselves now, or else it will be an invitation to doom. But what do we do?

    We can return in retrospect; and go back to basics. How did the Prophet (SAW) and his companions did Islam? How did the first three generations of the time of the Prophet (SAW) and immediately after that, did Islam?

    The Prophet (SAW) said that the best of his Ummah (which include us) are the companions then the generation after them followed by the generation after that. He (SAW) equally said that those who stick to his way and the way of the companions are the only ones that will prosper both here and the hereafter. But what do we see today? Shi'ism, Sufism, Naqshaabandism, Jama'at-tableegh, ahmadiyya and all the isms even sunnism you can find spread all over the world (including the Arabian penninsula; wal'iyazu bil-Allah, all saying they are on true guidance! Hiding under cover of innovated ideas (which have come to be accepted as the true aqidah) to perpetrate that which Allah and His messenger have warned us against vis shirk and denial of the messengers!

    Shirk as in worshipping (or sharing worship to) beings other than Allah and denial as in obeying (total obedience) of other humans (saints and Imams) other than the beloved Prophet Muhammad Sallal-Allahu 'alaihi wa sallam (SAW).

    Let us all have a rethink, or we will all be wash away into the basket of history as the stubborn ones once were, like the 'add people or thamud or people of madyan, or people of Lut (AS) or even the traitors at the time of Moses including the jews of the time of Jesus (AS). It may not be 'bagtatan' as it happened to them but certainly it could happen!

    SO BE WARNED!

  13. Chris from Australia

    What a sad,sad story Islam is, if it really needs to rely on a law. Isn't religion something between you and your God, no matter whether there is no more person involved or millions?

  14. S. Muhammad from US

    Brother Asad writes a beautiful & informative article. His statement "a Muslim's notions of good and evil flow in their entirety from the Qur'an and the teachings of the Prophet" is food for thought.

    It's timely for me because I planned to write in defense of the brothers who wore the suit of the Nation of Islam, & in particular of the sisters in white, blue, brown and other forms of what we knew and know as 'the garment.'

    For years, many sisters took harassment & the brunt of being 'Black Muslims,' 'Nationalists,' 'Black Moslems,' & other followers of 'the hate that hate produced.' In addition, they took jibes from their own Afro/Black communities for avoiding pork, alcohol, cigarettes, the Arabs in their neighborhoods, & for fasting to avoid Christmas.

    More importantly, they have watched their men drop out of Islam, or leave its representation to the elderly & those few bold enough to proclaim their 'holy' names (Muhammad, Shabazz, Karim and other names given by the late Honorable Elijah Muhammad).

    Considering that under this form of Islam, as we knew it, families cleaned up - though sisters were subjected to God in the persons of their male relatives - it is no wonder that many Muslim African/Afro/Black women are militant in bearing & action. Nor is it shocking that as men dropped out of open representation of Islam, the Black community has split apart.

    As the recognizable male presence of the Nation has diminished, the trademark beard of eastern oriented Muslims has become a source security for many Black Muslim women. I don't know if they are sunni, shi'ah, ismaili, ahmadiyya or following other taditions, but the beards seem to be a proclamation of Islam as obvious as the scarves and kufis worn by multiple Muslim and former Muslims.

    Inshallah, Muslims who strive to be 'strict/Orthodox' will revitalize Islam in North American Black communities while keeping the continuing struggle for African identity in mind.

  15. Sahr Lamin from USA

    I strongly agree, nowadays, espacially in America, Most of our Muslim brothers and sister are becoming more Americanized more and more everyday. Indualging in the life of this world and its deception. "Faith" has become a firgure of speech, people say more with their mouths then there hearts not knowing that actions speak louder then words. Surah 2 Al-Baqarah: 8. And of mankind there are som e(hypocrites) who say: "We believe in Allah and the Las Day" while in fact they believe not.

    9. They (think to) decieve Allah and those who believe, while they only decieve themselves, and perceive (it) not!

    10. In their hearts is a disease (of doubt and hypocrisy) and Allah has increased their disease. A painful torment is theirs because the use to tell lies.

    I became Muslim (hamdu Allah) a year and 2 months ago and i follow The Qu'ran strictly and I turned away from all the desires of this worldly life which I was originally brought to. It is sad to see most of our brothers and sister decieved by the life of this world but our duty is to remind them dayly.

  16. Bohari Bin Mashli from Malaysia

    We don't need strong and ruthless muslim leaders. We need those who can implement the shariah law. But the problem is, they will come to divide and rule.