Intellectual Crisis of the Muslim Ummah
Thinkers, intellectuals and academicians gathered in Aligarh to discuss the decline and decay within the Ummah.
By A Staff Writer
Aligarh: The Aligarh Muslim University organized a two-day International Conference on April 6-7 under the aegis of the Centre for Promotion of Educational and Cultural Advancement of Muslims of India (CEPECAMI). It was the first of its kind of seminar to analyse the Muslim situation and find out the factors and reason that have led to disarray in and decline of the community and caused schisms among them. The conference was held in a situation when the thought process among the Muslims shows all symptoms of being moribund and a paralysis afflicts the intelligentsia. It was aimed at opening the channels of communication within the community.
Prof. Rashid Shaz, Director, CEPECAMI and noted author and thinker was the convener. The Conference drew nearly 200 delegates, 40 of them from destinations abroad and outside Aligarh in India.
We report below excerpts from welcome address by Prof. Rashid Shaz, Presidential address by Vice Chancellor Lt. Gen. Zameeruddin Shah and a few other important speakers:
Lt. Gen. Zameeruddin Shah
Vice Chancellor, Aligarh Muslim University
Every crisis presents an opportunity. The present crisis gives us an opportunity to reflect what went wrong. There have been wars, social and political wars. Iran-Iraq war, the two Gulf Wars have taken huge toll of human lives. Now Yemen is under the throes of war. Something terrible has happened to the world of Islam. We need to probe what really ails the Muslim mind. We need to know where exactly lies the rot and how to stem it.
Twentieth century was consumed in maintaining bipolarity. It was the bloodiest in the history. One percent of the world’s population is controlling the world’s entire wealth. The United State’s war on terror was to camouflage its intention and design to control energy resources. We must stop this bloodshed.
Some disturbing question stare into our face: Who are we? Are we some sects? Why should we identify ourselves as Shia, Sunni, Barelvi, Deobandi etc. It amounts to blasphemy, shirk (polytheism). We are destroying ourselves with internecine conflict. We must not allow the women to be powerless. The Aligarh Muslim University is playing a stellar role to bridge the gap knowledge. Around 40% of the students are women. Our students should tell others the inclusiveness that pervades here.
Prof. Rashid Shaz
We are a crisis nation and since our crisis has global ramifications, we are looked at as a source of all crises. This contemporary image of ours is quite contrary to the Quranic image wherein we are portrayed as Khaire Ummah, the chosen people of God raised specifically to enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong.
Contrary to our Quranic image, we are a nation in ruins. From Iraq to Syria and further down to Lebanon, from posh urban centers in Pakistan to the rugged hills of Afghanistan, and from the devastated lands of Libya and Egypt to Yemen, Muslims are pitted against fellow Muslims. Imagine the chaos! Muslims are bombing Muslims. They are flying drones against fellow Muslims. The Ummah of the last prophet is on a suicide spree.
We are facing an Islamic meltdown. The Muslim world is being depopulated and at an alarming rate. According to a conservative estimate, the two wars in Iraq and the sanctions in between has claimed a million lives. A civil war has gripped the neighbouring Syria where some 250,000 people have perished so far. Eleven million of the country’s 22 million people had to leave their homes, of them four million have taken refuge in neighboring countries. Some 10 million people inside Syria do not have enough to eat. Imagine the scale of devastation!
Muslims are killing Muslims, and with the help of foreign weapons and advisors, has become such a huge and established industry that today we have specific websites devoted to counting our dead bodies. Taliban and other sectarian groups have created havoc in Pakistan. Afghanistan, which lost 1.5 million Muslims during the Afghan Jihad, has become a festering wound. Now, an all-out war is raging in Yemen. And there are all indications that the flames of war will spill over to the entire region. A Shia-Sunni sectarian frenzy lies at the heart of the conflict.
Make no mistake. It is our internal contradiction that allows others to occupy our lands, grab our resources, dishonor our women, kill our children, and depopulate our villages. They hire us for our own killing. Call it sunni al-Qaeda or Shei Hezbollah, or be they Taliban or Da’esh, Jaish al-Mahdi or Sipah Sahaba. We Muslims are strange mercenaries hired to kill our own sons and daughters. This is sheer madness, cannibalism of the worst kind.
The rise and fall of a nation is no big deal. But extinction of the Muslim Ummah is no ordinary concern. They are the upholders of the last message of God to the humanity. Simply put, they are the continuing legacy of all the prophets and seers, and by virtue of being deputies of the last prophet they have been entrusted to lead history till end times. We acquired ungodly identities, gave in to sectarian loyalties.
Today the agony that we are in is God’s judgment on us who had very clearly warned us: “Verily, as for those who have broken the unity of their faith and have become sects – thou hast nothing to do with them. Behold, their case rests with God: and in time He will make them understand what they were doing”.
To get back to the God’s abounding mercy once again, we need to return to the fold of original Islam, the fold of one Ummah. Today, the Muslim mind is terribly confused. A vast gap exists between what the Quran enjoins and what our sectarian preachers and cult leaders preach. The crisis is a reflection of the crisis in the Muslim mind. We know of the Sykes-Picot treaty, a secret deal that fragmented the world of Islam into many nation states leaving no room for any future unification of the Ummah, but we are not aware of the many ideological, fiqhi and maslaki Sykes-Picots that took root in course of time, which have become sacrosanct and thus have made any future unification of the Ummah impossible.
No Pope in Islam
A new beginning cannot be made unless we reopen the Book of God and let God’s voice speak to us without any human mediation. Remember! Islam is a gift of God to humanity. It is our collective heritage. If it gets blurred or adulterated it is everybody’s concern. We cannot leave it to any group of specialists or clergy to tell us what God really wants from us. In Islam everybody is his own pope. Our Prophet came to liberate us from the shackles of clergy.
This conclave is for collective introspection. The conference is a befitting tribute to our beloved founder who always used his head for hard thinking and rarely as a cap-stand. To quote Iqbal: “Sir Syed Ahmed was the first Indian Muslim who felt the need of a fresh orientation of Islam and worked for it. We may differ from his religious views, but there can be no denying the fact that his sensitive soul was the first to react to the modern age. The extreme conservatism of Indian Muslims which had lost its hold on the realities of life failed to see the real meaning of the religious attitude of Syed Ahmad.”
Brig. Syed Ahmed Ali
A paradox characterizes the Muslim in the current world. If we are chosen ones, why cannot we arrest the decline. We have ben undergoing for eight centuries. We have all the resources but then why the crisis. Duality of duniya (worldly life) and Aakhira (life after death) seeps the Muslim mind. The Quran strikes a fine balance by using the two words in equal number i.e., 115 times.
Knowledge was indivisible. Quran laid a ndew framework of knowledge. Islam wanted man to explore the Nature not to worship. No other holy lays so much stress on tadabbur (strategy), tafakkur (contemplation) and ta’aqqul (wisdom). But we abandoned reasoning. All best intellectuals survived or thrived till 10th century. The situation was such till then that if you did not know Arabic, you will not be recruited in any universities. Teachers of Roger Bacon’s (father of modern science) were all Arabs.
But then we declined as we gave up contemplation. The Taquiuddin Observatory in Istanbul was demolished dubbing it as the source of plague, hence the reason for inviting the curse of God. Reasoning and revelation are two sides of the same coin. If you do not question, no solution will emerge. Newton and James Watt questioned what they saw and experienced. Let us question as to what happened to us in history.
Ijtihaad is the catalyst for Islam’s resurgence. The holy Prophet stressed on reasoning. We should develop rational thinking. There should be no hesitation from learning from other when we do not possess knowledge. Didn’t the Prophet ask the non-believers taken captive in the Battle of Badr to seek their release by imparting literacy to illiterate Muslims?
Swami Lakshmi Acharya
Muslims ruled this land for 550 years but could not conquer the hearts of the local people. At the end of their rule, only 20% of the people of India were Muslims. Muslims only ruled, they did not do Allah’s work. Only non-violence has succeeded in India. Do not think of anything that hurts people. Muslims have abandoned the Prophet’s approach to people with love, no revenge. His general amnesty on the cnqeust of Makkah is a model for the entire humanity. How beautifully the Quran puts it: Whoever killed an innocent person, he killed the entire humanity. And anyone who saved one from being killed, it is as if he imparted life to the entire humanity.
Writer, Social Activist
Nothing can happen in this world without commitment, passion. If your commitment is weak, there will be hesitation on your part. If you fail, do not blame others.
We are at the crossroads of history. We had lousy hundred years. Let us not cheat ourselves by just thinking of Aakhirah. Let us live our life fully.
Fox News has made a particular image of Muslims in the United States. It took Himalayan patience on my part as a panelist and some years to convince the anchor Shaun to change the idiom from “Radical Muslims’ to “Radicals among Muslims’. I have been the only panelist among 20 of them who was not a right-winger. The power of engagement should be such that people should not hate you. You will see that your presence will dilute what others say.
Prof. Israr Ahmed Khan
Muslim ummah is in critical urgency of intellectual growth for which educationa institutions can play a role by making both teachers and students revisit and rediesgn the religious studies, including Tafsir studies.
Tafsir is a sacred task. It needs highly careful and deeply conscious approach on the part of mufassirun. The four principles of Quranic interpretation (1-The Quran interprets the Quran, 2-the prophetic traditions elaborate the Quran, 3-views of the companions and the successors unfold the Quran, and 4-Judeo-Christian traditions help understand the historical narrative in the Quran)remains sofar undefined and unspecified as to their scope and modes. Hence those principles need to be defined.
The Tafsir works have so far created schisms among Muslims. In order forge unity among Muslims, the Quran is to be be interpreted appropriately in the light of the Quran,the most reliable traditions and intellectual acts, tadabbur, tafakkur, ta’aqqul, tadhakkur and tahassun. Universities and colleges in the Muslim world need to introduce a new subject “critical analysis of Tafsir methodology” or include critical dimension in the already available subject Manahij al-Mufassirun.
Maqbool Ahmed Siraj
Muslims are a disunited lot today. Their societies are wracked by civil wars, feuds, displacement of people, militancy, terrorism, gender disparity, famine, illiteracy, unemployment and corruption. All vital indices of development are negative. Yet the rhetoric “Islam means Peace” rents the air. Peace does not mean absence of war, but it implies availability of justice.
Colonial rulers created Muslim states without any regard to historical, ethnic, religious homogeneity and propped up dictators all across them. The Islamic opponents of these regimes were uncouth and bereft of of any modern vision. Now the West finds it convenient to stall democracy in the Muslims world by kicking up the chimera of militant and primordial khilafat and Islam.
The seven decades of independence have not really brought any cheer for Muslims in the Muslim countries even while within the same period China became a thriving economy and India grew up as a thriving democracy. Germany and Japan wriggled out of the shadows of the past.
Muslims tend to idealize the past as glorious, authentic, perfect and desirable. Internally, taboos abound within Islam and ever new anathemas add to the misery of the people and made the entire populations uncreative. Speeches extol rationalism of Islam but when it comes to practice, reverence of conventions rules the roost. They take no cognizance of pluralism, nation-state, secularism, social complexity of new nations. The essence of the Quranic values such as truthfulness, justice, accountability, transparency eludes the Muslim societies. Women are subordinated and excluded from vital spheres of collective life.
They show extreme resistance to change, inasmuch as Muslim youth in democratic societies or the new converts themselves turn away from Islam. The holy Quran was the main fulcrum of Islamic teachings. But the axis gradually shifted to traditions of the Prophet, and then to Fiqh and then again to opinion of specific imams. But there is hardly any attempt and effort to creatively interpret the traditions and old formulas.
It is time Muslims engaged themselves in thoughtful and courageous interpretation of the sacred text and carry forward the principled enshrined in them, rather than the old formulas which are out of sync of the new circumstances.