Monday, May 11, 2009

The Impact of Neglecting the Islamic Method of Thinking

The following is an extract from the book 'The Islamic Way of Thinking' by Hasan Abdullah:

The different approaches and methods mentioned all characterize the thinking of Muslims today. While they may not exist in each and every Muslim, all of these characteristics exist in the Ummah at different levels. These incorrect approaches could be one of many reasons that led to the intellectual decline in addition to being a product of the intellectual decline. Thus, it is not surprising to see the state of the Ummah today and its intellectual apathy. The Ummah has devolved to such a level that the total amount of literature published in Israel exceeds the amount that is published in all the Arab countries combined. And the quality of most of what is published in the Arab world amounts to no more than copying the Western culture in arts, literature, politics, economy, and other disciplines. The same applies to the amount of reading. The percentage of those who read in the Muslim countries is very little compared to other nations. And those who do read restrict their reading to the curriculum or popular newspapers and magazines, or to books that present issues in an emotional way.

This state of affairs has culminated in the absence of Islamic thinking in the Ummah. While some individuals may possess correct Islamic thinking, the Ummah as an entity lacks this method of thinking, the absence of which has resulted in two outcomes:

Absence of the Public Awareness

Any progressing nation which adopts its ideology in an intellectual way will form a public awareness, which means that the public’s outlook towards the major issues and problems will be unified. This unified public awareness materializes when the point of view towards man, life, and the universe, is consistent and is built upon a fundamental conviction that is arrived at intellectually. Without such public awareness or a unified outlook toward life, the Ummah will lose its intellectual unity, and, as a result, will come under the influence of many conflicting thoughts and emotions. Even when presented with one case or issue, its perception will vary, and the efforts to deal with this case will be scattered. Thus, what any group may build or achieve may be destroyed by the function of another group. At the end, animosity will spread, which will dissolve any attempt to establish a unified entity. Allah (swt) warned the Muslims about such a dispute when He said:

وَأَطِيعُوا اللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ وَلَا تَنَازَعُوا فَتَفْشَلُوا وَتَذْهَبَ رِيحُكُمْ وَاصْبِرُوا إِنَّ اللَّهَ مَعَ الصَّابِرِينَ

"And obey Allah and His Messenger, and do not dispute (with one another) lest you lose courage and your strength departs, and be patient. Surely, Allah is with those who are patient." [TMQ 8:46]

Furthermore, Allah (swt) states that the unity of the Fikr that unifies the hearts is one of the greatest favors that Allah gave to the Muslims:

وَاعْتَصِمُوا بِحَبْلِ اللَّهِ جَمِيعًا وَلَا تَفَرَّقُوا وَاذْكُرُوا نِعْمَةَ اللَّهِ عَلَيْكُمْ إِذْ كُنْتُمْ أَعْدَاءً فَأَلَّفَ بَيْنَ قُلُوبِكُمْ فَأَصْبَحْتُمْ بِنِعْمَتِهِ إِخْوَانًا وَكُنْتُمْ عَلَى شَفَا حُفْرَةٍ مِنَ النَّارِ فَأَنْقَذَكُمْ مِنْهَا كَذَلِكَ يُبَيِّنُ اللَّهُ لَكُمْ آَيَاتِهِ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَهْتَدُونَ

"And hold fast, all of you together, to the Rope of Allah (the Qur’an) and be not divided among yourselves. And remember Allah’s Favor on you, for you were enemies to one another, but He joined your hearts together so that, by His Grace, you became brethren (in Islam), and you were on the brink of a pit of fire, and He saved you from it.Thus Allah makes his Ayat (proofs, evidences, verses, lessons, signs, revelations,etc.,) clear to you, that you may be guided." [TMQ 3:103]

However, Muslims lost their public awareness and lost their unified outlook and became controlled by different outlooks. This is because of the lack of the Islamic way of thinking and because of the failure to adopt Islam in its correct way, as well as because of the efforts of the Colonialists and their tools in propagating the Western culture. Nowadays, there are Capitalist Muslims who call, intentionally or unintentionally, for the separation of the Deen from the public life. Similarly, there exist Communist Muslims, Nationalist Muslims, Socialist Muslims, Muslims who are concerned solely about their interests, Pragmatic Muslims, Muslims who justify the acts of the rulers, and careless Muslims, each one having a distinct point of view. If they meet to discuss any issue, they will immediately differ with each other, and the discussion will either escalate to a level where each side will hurl insults at one another or label each other with derogatory names and depart with animosity towards each other. As a result, societies in the Muslim world live in different camps, each one of them having their own distinct outlook or point of view. And each camp isolates itself from the others, meeting only to acquire a specific interest or as a formality or to clash with one another.

The intellectual division is the worst disaster that struck the Ummah. Muslims today approach any issue, even critical or clear-cut issues that leave no room for divergent understandings, from a distinct angle according to each individual’s unique point of view. For example, the issue of unity, and the specific steps towards this objective, are clear-cut and well defined. Yet the multitude of scattered opinions and divergent understandings regarding this issue reflects the fractured public opinion of the Ummah. Some would approach this issue carelessly or, out of lack of concern or apathy, would not even consider it an issue. Others would approach the issue with great enthusiasm, but carefully scrutinizing their enthusiasm will reveal that it is based purely on slogans without any intellectual basis. One will find the Social Nationalists calling for unity based on Socialism, and the Secular Nationalists calling for unity based on the separation of the Deen from the public life. Also, one will see the Islamist Nationalist calling for each country to be united based on Islam but separated from the other countries, claiming that each country has its own unique circumstances. And the Ultranationalist would reject the unity outright because he views it as a threat to the sovereignty of his own homeland. And there are people who call for unity for each region, such as North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, Subcontinent, and the Turkish Regions. Thus, the Muslims cannot even agree as to the scope of unity, let alone what steps to take towards achieving it.

Even regarding the nature of unity itself, there are differences. Some define unity as cooperation between the different governments on some issues, such as cancelling the visas or lifting customs dues. Some would call to establish a league among the people while maintaining the political entities as they are. Others would call for a confederation or a federation, and still others would call for a total unity. Some would call for some sort of economic integration centred on establishing common markets, while others would call for unity only in the foreign policy through political organizations such as the Arab League. Ironically each camp would speak about unity, but with each other, they will immediately disperse and achieve nothing.

All of these differences exist regarding the objective of unity alone. Regarding the methodology, the differences are much worse. The Pragmatists will leave the method to the situation to determine. The Gradualists would call for the states to agree on the minimum level of unity as a first step while working for the next stage. One will see the officials who want the rulers to decide upon the methodology as well as revolutionaries who want to reach the unity based on mass revolution. And some will call for annexation, even if done by force. These differences exist in each camp that calls for the unity. In the Nationalist camp alone, there exist revolutionaries, gradualists, pragmatists, and others.

All of these differences exist regarding the concept of unity in the general sense. Examining the details will reveal even further differences. What exasperates the problem is the existence of some who are not serious in their discussion and discuss simply to discharge their emotions. And in addition to such individuals, there exist others who are connected to the Imperialists, either directly by coordinating with them or indirectly by acting in a manner that serves their agenda. The former would deliberately collaborate with the Imperialists in working against any notion of correct unity, while the latter would unknowingly draw the Ummah into repeated conflicts and events that would serve the agenda of others at the expense of the Ummah’s resources.

Such a situation reflects the hadith in which the Prophet (saw) described the situation of the Muslims nowadays: "At that day, you will be great in number, but you will be like the scum on the sea."[1]

In spite of the tremendous number and resources, the Muslim Ummah has no value without any unified public awareness or unified outlook towards life. Some would claim that the differences that exist is a natural and healthy phenomenon. They will go further by claiming that the West is progressing despite the differences that exist in their pluralistic societies. This argument fails to distinguish between differences in the way of thinking, which will lead to dismantling the public awareness and spell disaster for any nation including the West, and the differences resulting from understanding certain issues while maintaining the unity of the public awareness, which is natural.

The West already solved the problem of building a specific frame of thinking after decades of struggle in Europe. The separation of State and Church, and the subsequent adoption of Capitalism, caused the West to unify the public awareness along a common outlook towards life. By doing so, a distinct way of thinking emerged among the people, and the entire society was reorganized based upon this focal point. Even the feelings and attitudes of the people existed within this frame. Political parties, different associations such as think tanks and labor unions, various individuals such as academics, journalists, intellectuals, jurists, and even some clergy, all became just different outlets of expressing this common unified outlook. The nature of life under Capitalism facilitated the creation of these differences of opinion within a common ideological framework.

Some would think that the existing currents in the West conflict with one another and even with this common framework. However, the Socialist or Nationalist movements that call for integration of their people into the European Union, religious movements who espouse "Christian values," and extreme leftist and rightists, do not conflict with this Capitalist framework because all of these movements and currents work within the existing framework. For example, the Communist parties in many European nations call for change through public votes and not through the class struggle as laid down by the Communist ideology. Furthermore, such parties establish coalitions and fronts with other movements like any other pragmatic movement would. The same applies to all other movements and parties in the West. Therefore, the West is not progressing because of the differences but rather because of the unity in their way of thinking which refers to a specific point of view.

Contrary to the West, the Muslims did not yet settle any critical intellectual issue, and they have not yet conclude the intellectual struggle. To this day, Muslims as an Ummah have yet to take a stand towards issues such as: The revival and how to achieve it; technological advancement and how to approach it, and whether it occurs through transferring technology or through other means; the unity and how to build it; and the priorities of the Ummah and where to start. All of these issues remain unsettled and dangling before the Muslims waiting for someone to address them. Although some movements may have resolved such issues, the Ummah as an entity has not. It must be noted that having different groups that reach distinct conclusions in these issues while keeping their findings and research to themselves and banning the members of the group from communicating with other groups for fear of losing their members, is not enough. In fact, this phenomenon will not succeed in unifying the public awareness and actually exasperates the already-existing division.

As a result of this intellectual division in the very point of view of life, the platform exists for any issue, even small issues, to result in multitudes of opinions and approaches if discussed among Muslims. For example, even the issue of removing a small munkar such as a bar will result in a vast array of diverging opinions that sometimes will conflict one another. The regimes take advantage of this situation and even work to maintain it by emphasizing this type of difference and market it as a sign of openness and progress. They would present case after case to the Ummah, one after another, to create more confusion and intensify the differences. To facilitate this process, the media keeps presenting issues to the public either without solutions or, at best, with conflicting solutions. And when the people are on the verge of settling one issue by arriving at a specific understanding towards it, the regimes present a new issue to keep the masses busy and, as a result, prevent the Ummah from ever settling any issue intellectually. At the end, the masses will keep thinking that they are in need of this ruler to help them and to maintain the integrity of the country, regardless of his record of atrocities and crimes against the people.

Therefore, the Muslims must work to build the public awareness based on Islam by adopting Islam in the correct manner as a distinct way of thinking and establishing the Islamic Aqeedah as the intellectual reference point. This is the most important challenge facing Muslims nowadays because unifying the public awareness will maintain the existence of the correct way of thinking. Once the intellectual unity is achieved, the thoughts, the agenda, and the reference point for the Ummah will unite, and the general frame within which the Muslims can discuss issues with focus and clarity will materialize. Within this frame, having different opinions in detailed issues is a healthy phenomenon that will contribute to the intellectual growth and dynamism of the Ummah. As a result, the path for the revival will be clear, and the Ummah will proceed towards it utilizing its resources in an effective and coordinated manner. Simply calling the people to "Get united," or to "Coordinate your efforts," or to "Help each other in whatever you agree upon," will not suffice. Such a unity can never materialize unless the thinking of the Ummah is united.

The Western Colonial powers and their tools realize the danger of those who are working to establish the public awareness of the Ummah, and they consider them more of a danger than anything else. For this reason, many attempts are made to prevent the establishment of a unified public awareness based on Islam. These efforts include: Harassing those who work for such an intellectual unity by intimidation, torture, and deprivation of basic rights; isolating such individuals from the Ummah by barring them from using any means of mass communication such as television; trying to divert them; and using some tools to attack them and to distort their image. On the other hand, any call that magnifies the division and erects barriers between the Ummah and a unified public awareness will be encouraged. As a result, any individual that calls for remaining general and avoiding specific or deep discussion regarding the issues, not looking at things comprehensively, or not discussing any issues at all, nor avoiding any opinion different than what the individual carries, are given the spotlight to present their ideas. Such individuals are not only committing a crime against the Ummah but against themselves as well.

Absence of the Intellectual Sensation

The Nahda (revival) is the intellectual progress because the thought is what defines the point of view toward life, and this basis will serve as the foundation for man’s behaviour in this life. In the absence of this fundamental thought, the Ummah will decline. Thus, the revival does not refer to the material objects or the circumstances but refers to the human being, his behaviour, and his nature. Once this intellectual revival occurs, it will result in material progress in areas such as industry, science, and technology. The mere existence of such material progress is not necessarily an indication of the intellectual progress.

The feeling associated with the revival is not a physical or material feeling like the pain that a person feels when afflicted with a physical injury, but an intellectual feeling akin to the pain which a Muslim feels when he sees a person committing a haram. The human being manifests three type of sensation or feeling: the physical or material sensation caused by external factors such as fire; the instinctive sensation that results from one of the instincts or organic needs such as the sensation of hunger or sexual desire; and the intellectual sensation such as feeling of the grave consequences of Kufr. While the first two types are common to some degree between the human being and the animal, the third type exists only in the human being and, more importantly, is a manifestation of the intellectual revival.

The human being is not born with this intellectual sensation but acquires it through adopting specific thoughts towards man, life, and the universe, based on total intellectual conviction. The more this conviction is instilled in the individual, the more the individual will build corollary thoughts toward life which will gradually establish themselves more firmly until they become concepts for that individual. Such an individual will see the reality of these concepts as well as their connection with the fundamental thoughts, and the intellectual sensation results from such a process.

However, if the fundamental thought is adopted emotionally or through superficial information, then it will fail to produce this consistent intellectual sensation. The sensation of such an individual could be physical, instinctive, or an inconsistent intellectual sensation that mirrors the inconsistency of his thoughts because of the influence of other thoughts hidden beneath the layer of superficial Islamic thought he carries. For example, if the person believes in Maslahah, his feeling will be based on it. If he believes in Capitalism, his feeling will reflect the Capitalist thought he carries. And if he carries no thought at all, he will manifest a haphazard pattern of feeling. Should such individuals mix Islam with all of these external thoughts, then the sensation or feeling will sometimes reflect Islam and at other times reflect something else.

Islam places a special emphasis in establishing this intellectual sensation among Muslims. The Qur’an orders Muslims to take their Aqeedah in an intellectual manner through extensive research in order for the Iman to produce its results, among them the intellectual sensation and the Islamic way of thinking. Allah (swt) says:

زُيِّنَ لِلنَّاسِ حُبُّ الشَّهَوَاتِ مِنَ النِّسَاءِ وَالْبَنِينَ وَالْقَنَاطِيرِ الْمُقَنْطَرَةِ مِنَ الذَّهَبِ وَالْفِضَّةِ وَالْخَيْلِ الْمُسَوَّمَةِ وَالْأَنْعَامِ وَالْحَرْثِ ذَلِكَ مَتَاعُ الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا وَاللَّهُ عِنْدَهُ حُسْنُ الْمَآَبِ

"Beautified for men is the love of things they covet: women, children, much of gold and silver (wealth), branded beautiful horses, cattle and well-tilled land. This is the pleasure of the present world’s life; but Allah has the excellent return with Him." [TMQ 3:14]

In this ayah, Allah (swt) states that the intellectual sensation takes precedence above the material sensation regarding the beauty. The ayah mentions that the beauty of the Iman, which can be felt only by the Muslim, is much higher than the material beauty which can be felt by all people.

In another ayah, Allah (swt) illustrates the distinction between the intellectual sensation and the other types of sensation when He mentions regarding the act of shirk:

إِنَّ الشِّرْكَ لَظُلْمٌ عَظِيمٌ

"The shirk is a great oppression." [TMQ 31:13]

The physical or instinctive feeling may cause the person to sense the physical oppression which deprives their basic rights or abuses them. However, Allah (swt) in this ayah is directing the Muslims to look to things from the Islamic perspective, which would lead to the realization that associating anything with Allah (swt) in any aspect of Tawheed, whether in the creation, in obedience, or in submission, is far greater than any other type of physical or instinctive oppression. Only Muslims who believe in Islam can feel the seriousness of this type of oppression.

The Prophet (saw) built this type of intellectual sensation based on the Iman among the Sahabah. It was reported in a hadith that the Prophet (saw) one day asked his Sahabah, "Do you know who is bankrupt?" They answered, "The bankrupt from among us is the one who does not have money or belongings." In response, the Prophet (saw) replied, "The bankrupt from my Ummah is the one who comes on the Day of Judgment with Salat, Zakat, and fasting, yet he is coming while he used to abuse this person or beat that person or take the money of the others. These people will start taking from his hasanat (good deeds). And if his hasanat are extinguished before he can fulfill his dues towards them (those he abused), then some of their sayyi’at (bad deeds) would be taken from them and given to him. Then he will be thrown into the Hell-Fire."[2]

While the people in general may view bankruptcy in the material sense and feel it as such, the Muslim, after reading this hadith, will look to bankruptcy from a different perspective and will sense its severity.

An extensive survey of the situation of the Ummah shows that the Muslims either lost this intellectual sensation or possess it in a very distorted context. As a result, Muslims cannot feel the severity or magnitude of any critical issue. Any feeling that exists towards such issues will primarily consist of instinctive or material feelings as a result of sensing some tangible or material effect of such an issue. For example, Muslims would feel the issue of occupation of any Muslim land only if the occupation resulted in oppression of Muslims, influx of refugees, killing and raping of Muslims, or other material effects. However, if the occupiers respected the "individual rights" of Muslims, and Muslims prospered under their occupation, then the masses would be heedless towards the gravity of the occupation.

How the Muslims feel the decline also illustrates the lack of intellectual sensation in the Ummah. Material parameters such as poverty, illiteracy, the spread of disease, the prevalence of technological backwardness, and the oppression of the ruler and his regime, govern the feeling of the Muslims towards the decline. Thus, when Muslims debate the issue of revival, the debate would focus on the end result of the decline. As a result, Muslims present their solutions towards the decline from a material perspective which deals only with these outward symptoms of the decline, such as removing the ruler without changing the system, opening schools, increasing the standard of living, or preaching morals. Such an approach is superficial because a person does not need a high level of sensation to feel the material manifestations of the decline, nor does he require an intellectual capacity to realize the existence of such symptoms in the Ummah.

If Muslims concentrate their efforts in dealing with these symptoms by suggesting solutions thinking that they are the problems, they will soon realize that all of their efforts dedicated to this end are in vain. However, if a person sensed the decline in the correct way based on the decline of the thinking level, the absence of the Islamic way of thinking, the lack of the common awareness, and the absence of any common idea that can bind Muslims, this individual will realize that the problem is much deeper than the poverty, the illiteracy, or even the occupation.

Whatever remains of the intellectual sensation became distorted due to the existence of conflicting ideas among the Muslims. For example, some may think that a problem exists in the "occupation" of Iran to some Arab-dominated lands, or a similar problem exists in the "occupation" of Turkey to some Arab-dominated territories in the country’s southern regions. In addition, some may sense the Pakistani existence in Bangladesh as a problem. The sensation that exists among such individuals is heavily influenced by Nationalism. On the other hand, those who look to the people as Muslims would not concern themselves with what regime controls which territory inhabited by Muslims because none of these regimes rule by Islam. Thus, a Muslim would not waste his or her time lobbying for any of these regimes but would work to address the setup of the society, including the regimes themselves.

In conclusion, the real crisis facing the Muslim Ummah is an intellectual crisis. No one will feel the magnitude of such a crisis except those who possess this Islamic intellectual sensation. Those who possess this type of sensation will see and feel things that the rest of the masses fail to notice. The Prophet (saw) described the situation of such individuals who hold onto Islam in all aspects, intellectually as well as emotionally, by saying as narrated by Abu Hurairah: "Islam started as strange, and it will return as a stranger, so give glad tidings to the strangers.” (Muslim)

These two outcomes the lack of the public awareness in the Ummah, and the absence of the intellectual sensation are the two most dangerous consequences of neglecting the Islamic way of thinking because they are spearheading the decline of the Ummah.

[1] Abu Dawud: Book 37, No. 4284
[2] Sahih Muslim, Book 32, ‘Kitab Al-Birr was-Salat-I-wa'l-Adab’, No.6251

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