Personal Shahadah: A ‘Muslim’ Reverts to Islam (Part 3)

Muslims in the world, living as majorities, are basically divided into two groups. One which is greatly impressed with the material and technological advancement, desires to completely follow the present Western civilization. This group is apologetic and plays into the hands of the superpowers being fully associated with them. These are the people who dominate in socio–political and economic realms. The other group in the Muslim world consists of those who are emotionally and ideologically connected with Islam. Uneasy, discontented, and always wanting to do something to better their condition, they feel that Islamic values and the modes of living in the present society do not match, writes DR. QAZI ASHFAQ AHMED, in this third part of his inspiring autobiography, and quest for the truth. The first two parts in this series were published in the January-February 2009 issues of YOUNG MUSLIM DIGEST.


Personal character essential

Experience and analysis have convinced me that knowledge, wisdom, statesmanship, methodology and techniques all help in changing the situation for betterment, but the most essential characteristic is one’s own noble and pious character. Any wrong-doing whether of sex, money, position, or religion, somehow or other, imprints a question mark in the hearts and minds of the public, and thus full confidence is lost. However secretive these wrongdoings are kept, one way or another, sooner or later people come to know, and thus gradually achievement is lost. Hence, I have made it my motto to keep myself at a distance and associate only with people who will assist me to undertake successful projects, small or large, for the community.

Islamic Renaissance

For a long time Muslim intellectuals have been divided into two diametrically opposed groups – the traditional
Ulema and the modernist scholars. The traditional Ulema appear to be left-overs from a bygone age. These
are the ones suffering from nostalgia for Muslim past-glories. For them, Western culture and wealth are quite
antithetical to the spirit of Islam. They completely shun, and emphasize aloofness towards, the West.

The modernist scholars are the product of the colonial period. They place no real value on Muslim tradition and
history. They do not even have the full knowledge of the basic sources of Islam, embracing the West in totality.

The Islamic movements in this century

Nursi, Muslim Brotherhood and Jamaat-e-Islami, have shown the clear picture of Islam. They have established
the concept of the Islamic way of life among Muslims and non-Muslims. It is a great service, and it has paved the way for the proper use of Islam in the present world. But it is only the beginning, which unfortunately is not continued by these movements.

There are two very important things that are lacking in them.

1. Islam has actually an integrated, holistic worldview. There is no integrated methodology in action in Jamaat Islami or Muslim Brotherhood even to date.

2. The Islamic way of life, propounded by these movements, is a very atomized and segregated one. The various
aspects of human living, economic activity, political behaviour, and educational development are considered in isolation from each other. No doubt, the remarkable task accomplished by these movements is the development of an ethical system examining every thing from its perspective. But reducing Islam to one denominator, that is, ethics is still very confusing and illusive. Excessive concern with ethics generates an illusion of moral superiority.

Present direction of my efforts

My attitudes toward others: I feel great blessings, happiness, and contentment, by having contact with numerous
people of different religions, ethnicity, cultures, and shades of ideas and behaviours.

I feel proud of adopting the career of a student, a learner, throughout my life. I have full belief and act upon the
premise that, a person, if really insistent and willing, can learn from each encounter.

“One impulsive from a vernal wood
May teach you more of man,
Of moral evils and of goods
Than all the sages can.” – (Wordsworth)

Precaution before speaking to others:

“O you who have attained to faith! Why do you say one thing and do another? Most loathsome is it in the
sight of God that you say what you do not do!” (Holy Qur’an, Al-Saff, 61: 2-3)

I have kept this golden advice as my motto. Whenever I have to give advice to others, I first examine myself. If I, somehow or other, do not practice, I excuse myself from giving such advice, declaring that I am not a ‘Mufti’, that I am not entitled to present a decree to the public.

Propagation of concepts and community service: To prepare a conceptual framework, and to educate oneself and others, is also required in addition to solving the problems of the community. Hence, any involvement in the upbringing of society requires a two-prong methodology: education and service. I aspire to serve in both of these capacities, at least for the Muslim community in Australia.

Muslims in minority a more important group than the Muslims in majority

After long deliberation, analysis and synthesis of the historical events, I have been convinced that Muslims in minority, especially those in Western countries, can serve Islam and the world as the best of all communities. These are the groups that can save the world from chaos, turmoil and disorder and help in bringing global peace by cementing Islam and the West. Co-ordination between Islam and West is the most important task of the day, and that can best be done by the proper education and noble practice of Muslims in minority. The environment in Western countries is much more congenial and encouraging than that of the Muslim world for this purpose.

Islam and Global Society: Change during my time

The global society: Every society influences and becomes influenced by the mode and norms of the civilization of which it is a component. There is a material change in the civilization that brings out different types of society at different times, and even at different places. In the age of empires, societies were of different types to those in the age of nationalism. Nationalism evolved the strategy of colonialisrn, which enriched the nations and their occupied territories.

This brought the era of industrialism, which in turn, brought the era of internationalism. With the advancement of Science, Technology and Information Systems, especially within the last two decades, we have tripped up on the era of globalism. These different eras of globalism, internationalism and nationalism have resulted in different elements of society.

The present global society has the most unique characteristic, that of multiculturalism. No other society before has had the understanding and appreciation of multiculturalism. A new dimension of mutual respect and understanding has been developed in the present global society. For me, this is a big journey from an imperial society in my childhood to the global society of the present. In my childhood, the Moghul Empire had already collapsed and the British Empire was extending and consolidating its domain.

The two empires were basically of the same nature, but from my point of view, one was of the same culture to which I belonged and the other was alien. The result was that our generation was completely confused. On one hand was our culture and religion, which did not have much impact on our lives, and which had not provided us with any substantial direction for spiritual or material development; while on the other hand there was an empire which was imposed upon us without our will, but which was willing to open the door for progress and material benefit at the cost of our freedom and self-determination. We were forced to have the British system of education without understanding both sides, the good and the bad, of the system. We were made to believe that the culture and manner of British people were superior to that of the Indo-Muslim culture. There was another group of religious-minded persons who did not like the material progress, as it was contaminated with irreligious tenets and practices.

The present global society is a great blessing for humanity. We have now been provided with the freedom to adopt any type of culture we like, any religion, or any custom. Thoughts of supremacy of one culture over the other, such as the dominance of Western culture over that of the East, or the supremacy of Euro-American style of living over the Asian, are fading.

Islam and Muslims observed by others in the Contemporary age

Up to the beginning of the twentieth century, there was no awareness of the teachings of Islam, even among the Muslims. With the advancement of education, and contact with the outer world, the people of Muslim majority countries realized the burden of the colonial yoke and attempted to become liberated. Everywhere awareness about Islam, about self-rule and freedom, increased. Islamic movements, small and large, began preparing Islamic literature for education of the Muslim masses. Saeed Nursi in Turkey, Hasan al-Banna in Egypt, and Maududi in India, wrote many booklets and books and mobilized Muslims to understand and follow true Islam from 1930. The Muslim Ummah was made to realize that a person is not a Muslim by birth. One can become a Muslim only when one studies Islam, becomes convinced about its teachings and practices and then follows them.

The outer world continued in having a tarnished image of Islam till the middle of the twentieth century. Islam, as depicted during the crusades, was set in the mind of Non-Muslims. The political conditions of the Middle East since 1960, and the downfall of Shah of Iran, with the simultaneous rise of Imam Khomeini in Iran, triggered the realization that the world ought to know more about Islam and Muslims.

The world powers came to know of the importance of Islam and the rational and emotional relationship of Islam with Muslims. Euro-American civilization considered two important opponents which could challenge its dominance over the world – communism and Islam. After the downfall and the control of Soviet Russia, the seat of communism, Euro-American civilization began to actively engage with Islam, Muslims and Muslim-majority countries.

The world is now much more aware of the different interpretations of Islam and the different types of Islamic activists. Islamic thinkers are now alert as to analyzing the different shades of Islam, which may contribute towards global peace and justice in the world. Non-Muslim thinkers are now taking interest in the study of Islam and Muslims, and are trying to influence Muslims to interpret that which suits them for the status quo.

Most of the Non-Muslim thinkers have started realizing the difference between Islam and Muslims. A born Muslim is not necessarily the follower of Islam. Muslims around the world, in conceptualizing and practicing Islam, are in variance. On one hand, the comprehension and interpretation of the resources of Islam towards daily living are innate while, on the other hand, daily life is coloured by the culture and traits of the society in which one lives.

It has also been observed by non-Muslims that, unlike other religions, Muslims, in spite of differences in detail, have strong emotions about Islam and are not willing to discard it or undermine its fundamentals and resources.

Generally, it is Islam; not Muslims, that is taken seriously by Non–Muslims. A pragmatic approach adopted by some non–Muslims of vision and seriousness, about making efforts for global peace, is to study Islam and advice, or at least persuade, Muslims to adhere to the golden principles of Islam.

Muslims’ views about the present civilization

Different derivations of Muslims have different feelings about the present civilization, and hence, different interactions. Muslims in the Muslim world, living as majorities, are basically divided into two groups. One which is greatly impressed with the material and technological advancement, desiring to completely follow the norms and steps of the present Western civilization. This group is apologetic and plays into the hands of the superpowers being fully associated with them.

These are the people who dominate in socio–political and economic realms. The other group in the Muslim would consist of those who are emotionally and ideologically connected with Islam. They feel that Islamic values and the modes of living in the present society do not match. They are uneasy and discontented. They are anxious and want to do something. This group can be further divided into three subgroups.

The first subgroup is reactionary and confrontational with the present civilization. It considers other ideologies and religions as enemies of Islam. And wishes to destroy them by some means, even by terrorism, if need be. It immediately reacts to any wrong done against Islam, or Muslims, by the Non–Muslims. The terrorism carried out by the present civilization dominated by the Non–Muslim world, is answered by the terrorism of these reactionaries of the Muslim world. Islam does not justify this. By terrorism it is meant here to take revenge for any atrocity by performing atrocity to others, not necessarily involved, but belonging to the group that originally committed the atrocity.

The second is the one who ‘pro-acts’ against the ills of the present civilization, and makes attempts to rectify the situation with patience and perseverance. This group tries to make the Muslims knowledgeable; keeps their thinking and actions on the right track, on the one hand, while attempting to reform the present society as much as possible.

The third is the one which silently observes what is going on in the world, but does not possess the courage or thinking ability to react, or to ‘pro-act’. As far as the Muslims in minority countries exist. They constitute groups of very few, appreciable, or quite a large number of Muslims. The groups of very few do not have any impact or any significant interaction with the present civilization. They are just part and parcel of society, having the same norms and traits. The groups of appreciable numbers interact with society in a very safe manner, without having much confrontation. This group adopts the policy of give and take. The third group of a large number of Muslims lives consistently in tension and confrontation. There is no hard and fast rule. This group swings between reaction and ‘pro-action’.

The Muslim Ummah Itself Muslims among themselves – salient transformation: In the second half of the century a tremendous transformation has taken place among Muslims themselves. Though Muslims throughout the world can still not be termed a Muslim Ummah, as envisaged and defined by the Islamic concept, yet Muslims are marching ahead towards becoming an Ummah. Following are the indications that point towards their destination:

  • Awareness about their relationship with Islam. Although they are still not the total followers of Islam, awareness about Islam and appreciating some aspects of Islamic life have already increased greatly.
  • Realization of their helplessness – being caught between the dichotomy of Islam and the West has become more intense.

Thinking in terms of making Islam as a way of living in the present world is taken seriously to the extent that they try to practice Islam.

Following are the deterrents in the path of their becoming an Ummah:

  • Illiteracy and lack of sound knowledge about Islam. And even about the present civilization, make for them to have large differences among themselves, thus forming numerous small islands in the ocean of the world population.
  • Superfluous analysis of the West, hence multifarious behaviours and dealings with the present civilization have torn themselves apart.
  • Lack of development of a pragmatic conceptual relationship between Islam and the West, and a healthy relationship, among Muslims and the Western civilization.

Muslims all around the world are undergoing great strain. First, the superpowers exploitation of Muslim countries has been aggravated to the extent of creating an enmity against them. Secondly, the general subjugation of the rulers of Muslim countries has been aggravated to the extent of creating an enmity against them.

There is also the general subjugation of the rulers of Muslim countries to the superpowers, and the lack of interest in Islam, as demonstrated by these rulers, have disheartened the Muslim Ummah. Thirdly, the Ummah desires to stand, respectfully, in the present society by becoming modern, but is unable to specify Islamic modernism or evolve a mechanism for its achievement. All these make the Ummah confused. The problem becomes acute because of the absence of a sound and strong leadership, which can reliably lead the Ummah. The situation is worsened by not having a clear perception about Islam and its application in the present world.

The result is that the Ummah is undergoing a complex situation whereby superiority in considering Islam, as a peerless way of life is one extreme, and inferiority in realizing that there is no mechanism to use Islam for material and spiritual development, is the other extreme dominating at this time.

The strains and tensions have compelled the Ummah to wake up from the slumber, which has prevailed to the end of the nineteenth century. This awakening took place in the first half of the twentieth century by interest being taken in the relevant events around the world and analyzing the situations. The latter half of the 20th century has generated many activists and thinkers who are serious in optimism about the 21st Century. Some ambitious activists have coined the slogan ‘21st century of Islam’. There is a high hope that something positive and just will be expounded and acted upon by the Ummah for peaceful global living of humanity in the coming century.

There are two diametrically opposing trends in the Muslim Ummah. One lays stress upon total political freedom of Muslim countries. For this, it pursues and adopts modern tactics and strategies for the offence and defense of their homelands. This trend assumes that the time has come to act upon the injunctions of ‘Jehad’ which may include all the forms and activities of suicide bombs, hijacking explosive devices. The other trend attaches more importance towards education and economic development. It is strongly in favour of avoiding any confrontation at the moment, even against the enemies of Islam and Muslims.

It is very difficult to envisage and predict which group is going to be dominant and more effective in the twenty-first century. The future will be determined on the role that Euro-American superpower will play award and also on the interaction between the West and the Muslim masses of the world including the ones living in Muslim–minority countries.

(To be continued)