[bit.do/azris] This post provides an outline and a summary of my paper on “Rebuilding An Islamic Society”. A Video-lecture on the topic (L5 of CIIE 2012) in urdu, split into four segments can be viewed at: CIIE2012 L5A, CIIE2012 L5B, CIIE2012 L5C, and CIIE2012 L5D. This was also L12 of IE 2019. An Urdu Translation of this paper is also available with the title: Islami Muashere ki Tameer Nau ( سلامی معاشرے کی تعمیر نو ). Below, we provide an outline of the key points made in this paper, and links to related videos and articles. See also, The Road to Madina, which discusses this same problem, along many different dimensions.
A 30m English Video-Lecture of this talk, with some more discussion, is available in “The Third Path: Evolutionary and Revolutionary Strategies for Reform”
As prophesied, “Islam came as a stranger, and will become a stranger”. The teachings of Islam were revolutionary, bearing no resemblance to Jahiliyya, nor to dominant Persian and Roman civilizations of the time – see (The Prophet SAW as our guide for revolutionary change). But today, we cannot find these teachings realized in the lives and societies of Muslims. In all dimension of life – political, economic, social, judicial, educational, etc. – Muslims copy Western institutions, instead of using our Islamic heritage. Even purely Islamic Institutions like Madrassah, Mosques, and Awqaf, do not fulfill the functions that they did when Islamic Civilization was dominant (see What the World Lost Due to the Decline of the Islamic Civilization). The world today strikingly resembles the Jahilliyya – the pre-Islamic age of darkness and ignorance, even to the extent of “Mothers Who Kill their Children”. Muslims have become rigid, intolerant, divided into sects, and fighting each other over trivialities; the concept of Ummah as one body has been lost. The capitalist values of the dominant West, pursuit of wealth, power, comforts, and luxuries, have been absorbed by Islamic Societies via the poisons of Western Education.
The teachings of Islam transformed ignorant and backwards Arabs into world leaders, launched a civilization which enlightened the world for a thousand years, and changed the tides of history, fourteen centuries ago. These teachings have the same power today (see Islamic Teachings: Still Revolutionary after 1440 Years!). This post discusses ongoing arguments among Islamic thinkers about how we can rebuild an Islamic Society, to launch the same revolution today. (A different approach to the same problem is spelled out in “The Road to Madina”, which integrates a lot of research I have done on this issue over the past decade.)
The revolution of Islam operates on two fronts – the internal world of our hearts and souls, and the external outer world. These can be called the Makki and Madani efforts. Both of these efforts can be done simultaneously. When we try to feed the poor, out of the love of Allah, our efforts on the world create a change in our hearts. Also, the noor of guidance in the hearts makes it easier to make efforts on the world for the sake of the pleasure of Allah. Since all dimensions of Islamic societies are full of un-Islamic models, huge amounts of efforts on diverse fronts are needed. By the grace and mercy of Allah T’aala, there are many signs of an awakening among the Muslims. Efforts are already being made on many fronts. Insha Allah the time has come for the fulfillment of the promise that:
وَيَأْبَى اللّهُ إِلاَّ أَن يُتِمَّ نُورَهُ وَلَوْ كَرِهَ الْكَافِرُونَ
Western ideologies have been proven disastrously wrong in all dimensions, and the whole world is looking for the solutions which Islam provides in the best possible way. To create the required change co-ordinated effort on many fronts is required. We first examine the nature of current, on-going efforts to re-create the “Riyasat-e-Madina”. There are two basic paradigms currently in use by various Islamic groups working for change. One is the Evolutionary paradigm, which advocates making gradual changes to existing systems to bring them in line with Islamic ideals. The Other is the Revolutionary Paradigm which says that existing system must be overthrown and destroyed, and an Islamic state must be established on different foundations. We suggest that neither effort is likely to succeed, and propose a third alternative. We first briefly examine the two dominant approaches.
- Evolutionary approach to Reform
Groups which favor making gradual adjustments to existing institutions fail to understand that social institution are not ethically neutral. They embody secular values. Whereas the Bible teaches that ‘love of wealth is the root of all evil’, the Great Transformation in Europe to secular modern societies led to the pursuit of wealth becoming a desirable goal. As Polanyi has noted, this radical change cannot be created by evolution – it requires a battle which destroys traditional social values and replaces them with radical and opposing values. Once accumulation of wealth became acceptable, then the institution of banking was created to facilitate this. In Islamic societies, the emphasis was on spending wealth on others. As a result, those with excess wealth used to construct Waqf, and this was the principal financial institution, which embodied the spirit of charity and generosity at the heart of Islam. There is no way to make gradual transition from institutions designed for accumulation of wealth to institutions designed for spending wealth on others. Another problem with evolution is that all institutions of a capitalist economy – politics, social, market, insurance, interest, money, etc. – are linked together by the spirit of accumulation of wealth. One cannot replace any one piece while the others are in place. For example, banning interest within a capitalist economy will cause a collapse in the system, since all parts work together. So again a step-by-step approach to radical change does not appear feasible.
- The Revolutionary Approach:
The evolutionary strategy fails because an Islamic society is founded on principles of social responsibility, cooperation, and generosity, while a capitalist society is founded on individualism, competition, and selfishness. But we cannot erect an Islamic super-structure on capitalist foundations. This is a why revolutionary approach would not work either. Syed Ahmad Shaheed found this out when the people rose up and murdered his agents when he imposed the Shari’a. In modern times, Khomeini in Iran, and Taliban in Afghanistan had a clear opportunity to construct an Islamic system. But both of them failed to create any significant alternative to modern capitalist economy, because no one has a clear idea of what such a system would look like today. It is useful to step back and consider WHY the problem of creating an Islamic Society is difficult, even if we manage to achieve the power to be able to do so (as in the case of Afghanistan and Iran).
- What would Madina look like in Modern Form?
It is not clearly realized that while Islam gives us a set of principles which are universally valid, the application of these requires continuous change in accordance with evolving needs. The principle that we need to defend the Ummah remains universally valid. It required training in horse-riding and archery in the times of the Prophet, cannons and forts in later times, and airplanes and nukes today. We cannot directly imitate the institutional structures of Islam societies of a few centuries ago, which were destroyed by colonization. Had these institutions continued to exist, they would have evolved and adapted to remain in tune with modern needs. Today we need Islamic institutions as they would have been, if they had evolved – the shape they would have taken would have been based on three centuries of adjustments to evolving conditions. We cannot just go back to earlier times and adopt ancient institutions for use today, just as we cannot adopt archery and horses for defense today. We need new institutions which embody the principles of Islam (social responsibility, cooperation, generosity) but are adapted to modern needs.
- Diverse Modern Islamic Movements:
In fact, Muslims are responding to the need for creative application of Islamic principles to solutions of modern problems. For example, there is no concept of an Islamic political party in our tradition. Similarly, there are a large number of movements on different fronts, which address modern needs using creative adaptation of Islamic principles. We mention some of them below:
- Tableegh & Da’wah: works on re-invigoration the faith, using a unique metholodgy
- Salafi Movement: Cleanse the faith of innovations.
- Political Islam: Take control of government to enforce Shar’iah
- Khilafa & Jihad: Groups advocating these branches of the faith.
In addition to these, and many other Ummah level movements, there are many smaller movements, like innovative banks, hospitals, other service organizations, built along modern lines, but built on Islamic principles of cooperation, generosity, and social responsibility. All of these movements attempt to implement ancient principles of Islam in a form adapted to modern times; exactly the effort which is required. Occasionally, some members of these groups feel that their efforts take priority over all others, which leads to a competitive stance alien to the Islamic spirit of accommodation, tolerance, respect. Note that in Islam we have sharp differences among the four established schools of religious thought, but with mutual respect. So the Islamic attitude of different modes of service to the Deen is to realize that there are 72 branches of faith and all of them are in need of work. No one group can cover all bases, and specialization is necessary. People working on any particular aspect of Deen should regard all other groups as their helpers. We are all engaged in the cooperative effort for the revival of the Deen, though we may be working on different branches.
- An Analysis of the West
This section of the paper presents an analysis of Western thought. Why is this necessary? If we have the complete and perfect Deen, we need not engage with Western thought. We can just create an Islamic Society following the prescriptions of the Quran and Sunnah, without any concern for what modern Western institutions look like, or what Western philosophers think. Unfortunately, life is not that simple. Centuries of colonization, dominance and hegemony of Western powers, and Western educational systems everywhere, ensure that Western philosophies are deeply embedded in Muslim minds. In fact, the central problem of the Ummah today is the problem of the “Modern Mu’tazila”. The majority of muslims are so impressed with Western thought that they take it being on par with the Quran and Sunnah, or even of higher authority. Before we can understand the message of the Quran, it is necessary to UNLEARN a lot of poisonous messages which we absorb during a Western education. An effective tool to understand Western thought is to trace the evolution of Western thought through the past few centuries. Understanding how these changes were driven by the rejection of religion leads to the understanding of how secular modern thought is opposed to Islamic ideas, and makes it easier for us to reject these ideas. The paper discusses these ideas in some detail. In this summary, I will list the Western ideas, and provide links to detailed explanations of why they are wrong.
Origins of Western Social Science: The authority of the West, and the use of the label “science” deceives Muslims into believing that Western Social Sciences are just as reliable as the Physical Sciences which have produced airplanes, computers, and nanotechnology. In fact, use of the word “science” is a deception, and the Western Social Sciences are based on fundamentally flawed assumptions about the nature of human lives, and societies. I have many posts explaining how Western Social Scientists deceive us with the claim of scientific authority, even though their theories are fundamentally wrong. See for example, “The Thousand Snakes: Image and Reality of Western Economics“.
European Transition to Secular Thought: European history was full of religious warfare, which led them to abandon religion, and create a society on neutral secular ground. Even though European historians portray this as “progress” – abandonment of superstition, and learning to reason – the truth is very different. In fact, loss of religious values has led to a dramatic decline in morality, and this is responsible for the injustice, inequality, wars, environmental collapse, and many evils currently facing mankind. From the point of view of “Rebuilding An Islamic Society”, it is extremely important to understand that what the West calls progress, is actually a decline in Islamic terms, which consider development of character and conduct, rather than the accumulation of Wealth. It is essential to “Re-define Development” in order for us to be able to benefit from our heritage, the revolutionary teachings of Islam. As long as we think of progress as accumulation of wealth, we will not be able to understand the message of Islam.
The Great Transformation in European Thought : We need to understand modern European thought, in order to be able to liberate ourselves from its influence. For this purpose, it is essential to study how traditional European society, based on Christian values, was transformed into modern secular European society. How did pursuit of wealth, condemned by Christianity, change from being a vice into a virtue? How did human lives become commodities for sale in the labor market? We must study the history of the revolution which created capitalism in the West, and the underlying anti-Christian values of capitalism, to understand how our minds have been shaped by living in a capitalist economy.
- The Action Fronts
Because dominant values of a market society are diametrically opposed to Islamic values, we cannot make gradual changes towards Islam. Living in market societies shapes our minds, and without individual reform, a top-down approach to reform via revolution cannot work either. Instead, we need to work on un-contested grounds. We have to revive the spirit of cooperation, the ties of love, that were the basis of the Islamic society in Madina. The Ummah is like one body, where all parts feel for each other. We have collective responsibility for the needy. Strength is given to us to protect the weak, and wealth is given to us so that we can give it to the poor. We have been given unique institutions for governance (shoora) and for justice (shari’a). Some of the revolutionary principles of Islam are summarized in posts on “Modern Miracles of our Prophet Mohammad SAW” and in “The Prophet as our Guide for Revolutionary Change“. Some practical steps which need to be taken are listed below:
The First Responsibility of the Government is Amr Bil Ma’roof: My article on “Higher Goals of Education” shows how character building was removed from the Western educational syllabus. This is the crucial missing element in our attempts to find the “Road to Madina”. We must “Build Character, to Build Nations”.
Revival of Waqf: In Islamic Society, taking care of each other was the social responsibility. Today, all social welfare is left to the government, because that is how secular Western society works. Modern Banks embody the spirit of accumulation of wealth that is at the heart of a capitalist society. The Islamic spirit of spending on others, for the love of Allah, is embodied in the Waqf. We need to “Build Genuine Islamic Financial Institutions”, to rebuild an Islamic society.
The key to miraculous transformation created by Islamic teachings was the knowledge – both spiritual and intellectual – given to the early Muslims. Today, this knowledge has the same revolutionary potential (see Islamic Teachings: Still Revolutionary after 1440 Years). We need to use them to strengthen the basic institutions of Islamic society, which are the family, the neighborhood community, the mosque, the Friday prayers, the two Eids and the Hajj. These are collectively larger circles of unity which can be used to create strong bonds of brotherhood within the Ummah if they are revived in their true spirit. Today, they exist in form, but the underlying spirit of unity, community and love is lacking.
The way forward lies in working on building institutions based on Islamic ethos of cooperation, generosity, and social responsibility in areas where there is no opposition. The struggle to create these institutions will also create the ethos and culture on which they are based. With some social fabric, and institutional structures in place, it would be possible to move up to the second level, where more complex institutions, which require backups, can be launched.
- Creating Counter-Narratives
The greatest threat to the Ummah today is the flood of falsehoods which is poisoning our minds against the teachings of Islam via social media and other educational channels. One of the key weapons which has been used against us is the Divide and Rule strategy, which has led to countless fratricidal wars, where different groups of Muslims are fighting each other, with both sides being funded and provided weapons by the wealthy corporations which rule the world today.
We need to combat the “Central Myths of Eurocentric History” by providing an alternative: “An Islamic WordView”. The foundations for building this counter-narrative have been created by Syed Abul Hassan Ali Nadwi’s landmark book “What the World Lost Due to the Decline of the Islamic Civilization”; this book has been translated into 18 or more languages, and is essential reading for every Muslim today. But this is just the beginning, we need to develop a complete framework, a different way of looking at the world. This requires launching an “Islamic Revolution in the Social Sciences”. Recently, I have created the “Ghazali Group” for volunteers who wish to participate in the enormous amount of work that needs to be done, to create this new way of looking at the world.
The key to unravelling the false narratives which have shaped our minds is to focus on the question of the purpose of our lives. The standard Western education is designed to turn us into human resources for use as standardized parts in the capitalist machinery for the production of wealth. This is done by omitting all discussion of the larger questions, like the purpose of life, from our education. Indirectly, we are taught that the purpose of our lives is to enjoy luxuries, and this is made possible by pursuing careers, and making acquisition of wealth the goal of our life. To counter this, we must tell our students that human beings are the best of the creation, and our lives cannot be purchased by all the gold on the planet. We are all unique and infinitely precious, with each single life being equivalent to the entire humanity in the eyes of God. The purpose of our lives is to develop the potentials for excellence which each soul has been equipped with. This requires an education tailored to each individual (see: Teaching Fish to Fly), instead of our current Meaningless Education, designed to turn us into inter-changeable machine parts. The message of how we can learn to be human beings, instead of human resources, appeals to the hearts of the people, and this is an education which is not available in Western textbooks, but is the central message of Islam.
The English Version of the Article is linked below:
The Urdu Version of the Article is linked below:
Video Lectures on this topic in CIIE 2012 (Current Issues in Economics) at IIIE, IIUI:
1. CIIE2012 L5A: Rebuilding Islamic Societies
2. CIIE2012 L5B: Rebuilding Islamic Societies
3. CIIE2012 L5C: Rebuilding Islamic Societies
4. CIIE2012 L5D: Rebuilding Islamic Societies
Audio Lecture on Rebuiliding Islamic Societies (Maybe Faculty Lecture at IIIE in 2011? or reversed the two)