There is a great deal of gloom and despondency among Muslims. This, despite the fact that we have a tremendous human potential of some 1.3 billion, and are leading the world in growth - especially in productive youngsters. We are also blessed with an abundance of natural resources such as petroleum and natural gas, while inhabiting the most strategic areas of the globe. Place these factors in the context of Islam's uniquely transcendental message, alongside the testimonials of a glorious historic past, and you have all the ingredients for a respectable place in the comity of nations.
Given this, especially in the post-colonial era, we should have taken off on sound footing, building a grand society on our traditional Islamic principles of justice, freedom, peace and prosperity. Yet we did not. And our masses are among the world's poor, hungry, and illiterate. With over a 60 percent illiteracy rate, our people are held backwards and have few avenues of gainful productivity. As a result, nearly 40 percent live below the poverty line (less than $2.00 a day). And while our masses continue to suffer, corrupt autocratic dictators plunder our resources and loot the public treasury. And when they finally leave thrones of power, billions are taken with them to be stashed in foreign banks.
These dictators have perfected the tools of corruption through deceit and nepotism; silencing and terrorizing the masses through coercion, detention and murder, maintaining their status quo by subservience to foreign masters, attending to their interests, rather than the interests of their own people.
In addition, the current havoc wrought on Muslim lands amply demonstrates that it is past time that our masses and genuine leadership take affairs in their own hands; they can no longer afford to leave them to autocratic rulers or their cliques and protgs, and the circumstances that necessarily result. Each and every one of us has to be earnestly committed and involved in all our affairs.
First and foremost, we must acquire knowledge. Indeed, the era of inquiry, inquisition and application started with the first word of Iqra revealed to the Prophet , and he made it incumbent on every Muslim, male and female, to acquire it from the cradle to the grave. This mandate created a great civilization unparalleled in the history of humankind. Unfortunately, this enlightened culture weakened because this noble tradition of scholarship was neglected by rulers of the day, only to be subsequently followed by subjugation by colonialists. And the failed states of the Muslim world today pay no heed to this tradition.
Public education and accessibility to knowledge must now constitute our primary concern since there is no lack of talent among Muslims within and without Muslim countries. And in this age of the Internet, with the free flow of information, one less barrier is breached. Essential is organization by dedicated individuals at the local level. And each and every one of us should be involved in one form or another, in attending or promoting it. Those with means should loosen their purses wide open, for that is best that can be done to uplift their people, while ensuring rewards with the Creator in the Hereafter.
However, it is important for those involved in this endeavor that the information imparted be relevant to our crucial understanding of Islam, offering Islamic solutions to the exigencies of our times, while adopting modern means for their usefulness.
Muslims in the West, while promoting Islamic understanding among them, must develop necessary institutions, and simultaneously play their due role in this effort in Muslim countries. American Muslims, in particular, coming from almost every nation, are in a unique position, representing a microcosm of the Ummah, who can offer solutions for the Ummah's problems as they gather together their large pool of talent and advanced educational resources. American Muslims should develop requisite institutions in the U.S., as well as get involved in collaborative efforts in Muslim countries.
Among the primary institutions to be established and strengthened are those that serve as rights and civil liberties watchdogs; preserve and protect public funds against misappropriation and corruption; maximize public scrutiny and debate; and work for the unity and solidarity of the Ummah.
We must utilize the above means as committed Muslims. It means that we are committed to Allah, our Lord and Creator, put our trust in Him, and know that success will come if we are true believers - that we are conscious of our accountability and answerability to Him for all our actions. Our approach must be in conformity with the maxim - "seeking the good of this world and the good of the Hereafter." This commitment necessarily entails that we root out any and all selfishness, and work hard for the collective good of the community, the Ummah, and humanity at large.
Unfortunately, while we are good at concentrating on our individual salvation, we waste much time on issues that are peripheral and not of much significance to our collective existence which is at stake. Differences in seeing issues from different perspectives are a healthy sign, but only to the extent that they are not exaggerated to become detrimental to the community. Thus, while welcoming differences in views and ideas and encouraging diversity for the greater good, any sectarianism, discord and conflict must be shunned, and all of our issues resolved through discussion, amicably. Islam places its utmost emphasis on the unity of Ummah, second only to the submission to Allah; and condemns in the strongest terms any willful attempt that causes splitting of the Ummah.
Pursuing the above, Muslims must also be committed human beings, because Islam ascribes nothing more than a sublimation of human values. All it seeks is the good for humanity, in Toto, so we should embrace good wherever it is, irrespective of whence it emanates. This role is in accord with the Quranic message, for example, "You are the best Ummah evolved for humankind; you enjoin what is good and check what is wrong and evil for humankind while having faith in Allah" (Quran, 3:110). Its other characteristic is Ummatan Wastan, a median or balanced community given the responsibility of exemplifying as "witnesses (to the truth) before humankind" (Quran, 2:143). The greatness of Islamic Ummah is contingent upon carrying out this great role for humankind that it is assigned.
Therefore, Muslims must form alliances and coalitions worldwide, especially in the West, with likeminded people and organizations that stand for causes in common between them.
Muslims cannot remain on the sidelines of this movement or only get earnestly involved with a holistic, transcendental vision taking the lead and guiding role. This is because Islam, literally and purposely, is peace, and takes an unreserved stand for justice humankind as a whole. The Quranic injunctions are clear; such as, "Allah commands you to render back your trusts to those to whom they are due; And when you judge between humankind, that you judge with justice: Verily how excellent is the teaching, which He gives you! For Allah is He who hears and sees all things" (Quran, 5:58). Then, further on in the same chapter, it instructs, "O You who believe! Stand firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it is (against) rich or poor; for Allah can best protect both. Follow not the lusts (of your heart), lest you swerve, and if you distort (justice) or decline to do justice, verily Allah is well-acquainted with all that you do" (Quran, 4:135).
Siraj Islam Mufti, Ph.D. is a researcher and a free-lance journalist.
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