The Old and the New Century
By any measure, the past century was the most eventful century ever. It saw such upheavals, accomplishments and changes in the history of mankind as were never the share of any other one hundred years before.
Most educated people know about the major events. Here is a quick and brief review of the story of humanity through the last century for our young readers. It shouldn’t be thought of as comprehensive or complete. Opinions could also vary over the significance of this or that event. Although the survey has run a bit long, further reduction would have increased the enigmatic quality. Some parts could still be for some. It will be followed – Allah willing – by the prospects for the next century.
The most exciting single event for the entire humanity regardless of race, colour, region or religion, was, of course, man’s landing on the moon. It was a remarkable feat that showed what the aggregate of human efforts could accomplish given the scientific, technological, political and economic backing. The event that took place at the start of the last quarter of the century and happened to be the peak point for science. Since then, science has been having lesser and lesser dramatic successes to announce. Nothing has been achieved since then that could engage the rapt attention of the public in the manner moon-landing did. Even the first flying in1903, no small achievement by itself, did not evoke much reaction. In fact, it was not taken seriously until, in 1927, Lindbergh flew nonstop from New York to Paris.
As if in celebration and elation, the rest of the century has been dominated by music and musicians. Starting with the Beatles, the most popular singing group ever, endless band-wagons have been showing up the stage and marching out. Michael Jackson’s “Bad” sold in millions. Never in human history did a musical production sell in such numbers. Today, probably there are more entertainers all over the world than scientists or engineers. The Western culture has turned into, essentially, that of pop music, fashion shows, foot-ball matches, fast food, and jeans. With pornography, sexual promiscuity and homosexuality having gone stale, and the civilization now in its final days of moral bankruptcy, there is little else that the Western culture can offer.
The past century was also that of the philosophers. Freud tops the list. But his philosophy was entirely perverse and perverting. He is no less responsible for the spread of sexual promiscuity than Russell. Russell was the atheist par excellence and the most outspoken of the century. There were many others. But, like some people worshipping their deities in the morning and then dumping them into the water by the evening, the philosophers too have all been dumped into oblivion. Sartre, the exponent of “Existentialism” would have been remembered more had he accepted the Nobel Prize, than for heroically rejecting it in 1964 (the days we read him as one would read prophetic literature). Toynbee, (“A Study of History”) and Will Durant (“The Story of Civilization” – although better known for the delightful “The Story of Philosophy”) – though not philosophers, but both with their own theories, have already been forgotten by the reading public. A recent 1000-page “History of the World” doesn’t even mention their names. Many philosophers’ fallacies didn’t wait for their death to be proven so. In fact, although not strictly a philosophy, a discipline like psycho-analysis has been more or less dumped by the masses. Literary men were most successful in the abstract techniques. “The Trial” (Franz Kafka), “The Heart of Darkness” (Joseph Conrad ), “Waiting for Godot” (Samuel Becket), “As I Lay Dying”, (William Faulkner), “The Master Builder” (Ibsen), “Lord of the Flies (William Goulding) and the like are truly remarkable literary productions that were discarded too quickly by the sliver screen culture: TV and Internet. But they will climb back in popularity. Although Bernard Shaw dominated in the last century, it is not sure he will ever make a comeback.
On the political front, the destruction of two super-powers, one to ashes, and the other to burning boulders were important events of the past century. Britain was reduced to ashes. And Russia became a huge heap of burning boulders. Interestingly, in both cases, Muslims played important roles. It were the Indian sub-continent Muslims who started the freedom struggle (initially, Hindus stayed loyal to the British). The struggle culminated in the expulsion of the British from the Indian sub-continent, marking the quick decline of their political power despite their courageous military resistance against the Nazi Germany. The break down of the Russian super-power was entirely the work of the Muslims. Afghanistan was the battle-ground. It demonstrated what Islamic power was capable of.
On the economic front, the discovery of oil in the middle of the century was of incalculable consequences. It has meant such material, social and demographic changes as were beyond anyone’s imagination prior to the discovery. It led to a very fast pace of development in science and technology and helped set in the present age of affluence in the West. The ghettoes and slums of India, Mexico and Brazil, in stark contrast to the Western affluence, are a reminder that humanity has not travelled much from the days of the French Revolution.
In the non-Muslim world debate goes on over the personality who mattered most in the century. They don’t have the courage to admit that it was Hitler – destructively. Einstein could have been put on top but for the recent findings that he almost stole the famous idea (although not the equation) that mass is equal to energy (E=mc2), from an Italian scientist without ever acknowledging it. Watson and Crick, the two scientists who made the most famous and far-reaching discovery in 1953 of the structure of DNA, truly deserve to top the list. But the problem is, because of its extreme complexity, this area of biology is so little understood even by the educated to realize the greatness of the achievement. The double helix arrangements of atoms and molecules in the heart of the cell, carrying all the information required to make a man, in a coded message running into the equivalent of Encyclopedia Britannica written 30 times over, all within the nucleus of a tiny cell, invisible to the largest microscopes, is truly incredible. If science could not demonstrate it in the laboratory, no one would ever lend credence to it. Allah’s Power is tellingly manifest in the DNA strands containing the genetic message in a language which uses just four-letter words – the DNA base: the Adenine, Thymine, Cytosine and Guanine. Darwin has a new “bull-dog.” Genes are now portrayed as the omniscient and omnipotent nucleic acid molecules that sit in three-fold darkness controlling, developing and evolving biological organisms. They are selfish, cheat, know a lot of mathematics, calculate cost and benefits, work in unison, and laugh at those who accept such junk because it comes from a high-priest. Paul Davies is his antithesis. Down to earth, honest, who plants faith and removes cynicism with great subtlety. It is a pity Muslim scholars don’t read him. They have much to learn from his style.
The uncertainties of the Quantum world, the unpredictable behaviour of the sub-atomic particles, discovered by Maxwell and others, is another proof of Someone in control but unacceptable to the scientific world. Churchill could have claimed the next position as an outstanding Western personality, but for the Atom bomb which clinched the final victory rather than the ground efforts on the famous D-day and the preceding resistance planned on the board by him.
The two world wars were the most devastating ever. “World War” is a misnomer. The West named the Western Wars as “World Wars” to hide its shame. Some 40 million people died in Europe and Russia during the second world war, 7.5 million dwellings were destroyed in Germany and Russia, and 55,000 km. of Russian railway lines were destroyed by the Germans. Why should it be called a “World War?” Germany was the main aggressor. And, to send home the message to the Germans, an atom bomb was dropped on Japan, another actor in the theatre of war. (A second bomb was dropped on Japan, under the cover of war, perhaps because the scientists had two types of atom bombs to test and experiment). Einstein warned the American government that the Nazis could be developing an atom bomb. So, the Americans quickly made one themselves and dropped it on Japan! The anger has not died down and will last for a while. A wall has been built between the West and the East, to Islam’s advantage.
Another important event of the century was the defeat of the giant Americans, fighting from behind steel in all shapes against the lilliputian Vietnamese. They left 55,000 corpses littered in paddy fields and flew in to Paris to talk peace with a Vietnamese delegation led by a woman. Having learnt their lessons well,the American, in their next venture, rained bombs on Iraq, rather than send foot soldiers to the marshes. The Gulf war was, thank goodness, like the Arab temper, a quick flaring, quick dying one. The pride of beating off the Iranians – no one said, “those Iranians did me no wrong” – exacted a heavy price in Kuwait. No one seems to be clear now, about who is fighting, whom, for whom, and what for.
The experiment with communism, in the manner it was conducted, following the blood-boiling “Manifesto” drawn by Marx and Engels, and as implemented by Lenin and Stalin, led to disastrous results. But the ideology has not died out. It is because there isn’t any other alternative for the world proletariat. With the present day affluence likely to taper off and become in the future a happy memory of the past, Communism is bound to rebound. In ordinary times it promises basic needs to all against the amassing habits of the few.
But, perhaps the most devastating phenomenon of the century was the social revolution brought about by women’s liberation and their mass level employment. Economic changes and individualism are other factors that gave momentum to the women’s lib. But, with individualism replacing collectivism, millions of men and women in West stand alone today. Families broke and social ties disappeared. There are millions of single-parent families in the USA alone. And the number is predicted to grow fast. The future is an abyss for them, and the present a total misery. If the powerful matching Human Rights movement didn’t exist in the West, life would have been too oppressive there.
The thinning down of the Ozone layer, if allowed to continue, promises destruction of an unknown nature. The green house effect, caused mainly by the use of fossil fuel, is already bringing down rains at wrong times, in wrong places and in wrong quantities. Melting of the icebergs in the polar regions threatens thousands of islands and species. What price will the hundreds of millions of cars and trucks will extract for the comfort they provide, is nobody’s business in the race for more and more.
The emergence and rise to power of the media, is another remarkable feature of the last century. Largely controlled by the Jews, it is deft at making Satan of a saint and saint of a Satan. With clever manipulation, it is a body devoted more to the spread of disinformation and distortion, than presentation of plain truth. A section of Western masses has already lost faith in its barks and bangs.
With reference to the Islamic world, it is difficult to nominate a personality as the most influential of the century. Muhammad Ali the boxer perhaps beats many. He, along with Ahmed Deedat, captured the imagination of Muslims of all kinds: the laity, the elite, men and women, young and old, Arab, non-Arab. He pronounced the word “Allah” in public when the Muslims were shy of saying it aloud. (Many are still shy). And he stood up for humanity by refusing to sign up for the Vietnam war, saying, “They didn’t do me no wrong, those Viet Cong.” For the Americans, and for every aggressive state over the planet, he was a traitor. But Muhammad Ali insisted that he was first a human, and then American, with his first loyalty to the humanity, and then to the American government. He stung the white supremacist like a bee, and they were paralyzed.
If Muhammad Ali beat the Christian opponents in style, one after another, then Ahmed Deedat beat the Christian clergy in debates one after another, held right in the heart of the Western world. Both of them won stunning victories. In restoring confidence of the Muslim Ummah, otherwise beaten on all fronts, the two did more than anyone else in the Islamic world. Even in the Arab world, no Da‘wah centre existed until the news of Deedat’s victories reached them. And, all that some of the centres initially did was to display Ahmed Deedat’s video tapes. Thousands of centres have sprung up since then, a happy new phenomenon in the Muslim world.
If any, perhaps a destroyer Kamal Ata Turk and an ideologue Jamaluddin Afghani occupy the next important positions. The mourning for the loss of the prestigious position is going to be long for the Turks who threw away the yoke of khilafah. But, those Muslims who forced the Turks into that situation, did not have the desire and do not have the ability to assume that role themselves. What an irony. It was a tragedy irreparable and which may well haunt the Muslim Ummah until the arrival of the Mahdi. In the meanwhile, Arabiasm is the albatross that hangs by the Arab necks to be perhaps also removed by the Mahdi.
In India, Sheikh al-Hind played his quite but significant role. The Sufi-scholar Ashraf Ali Thanwi was the king of scholars. His influence on scholars goes very deep. His succinct but accurate statements are pearls of expression the like of which the Islamic world has to go back right to Hasan al-Busri to find. After him, Shibli takes the top position. His “Al-Farooq” stormed the Indian Muslim minds. No single work has had such influence in India as his “Al-Farooq.” His “Seeratun-Nabiyy” is the best around biography of the Prophet in any language. He taught scholars research methodology and landed them right into the 20th century leap frogging from the middle-ages. Shibli is followed by Iqbal, the poet-philosopher of the elites, one with penetrating eyes, and penetrating words. In criticizing the West, nobody will write better. His prediction of its self-destruction has come true. If he wasn’t a Muslim, the non-Muslims would have placed his statue on the moon. Syed Sulayman Nadwi, was a man of encyclopaedic knowledge. Compared with any other scholar, including that of the Arab world, he stands tall. He had a sweet style of writing who taught many how to hold the pen. His “Arbone ki Jahazrani” tells the Arabs what their forefathers achieved on the waters. Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi, is the most balanced writer and a chord-striker of the youth over the world. And Mawdudi presented to the lesser educated, in their language of understanding, what the scholars had been writing for the better educated over the decades. He introduced the Qur’an to the common man and inspired many to work for a movement rather than by themselves.
In Egypt, Muhammad ‘Abduh surely takes the leading position because of his rationalism and modernism. He was followed by Rashid Rida, the equivalent of Syed Sulayman Nadwi in the Arab world. The most respected however is Hasan al-Banna, the quiet energizer with Sayyid Qutb the igniter, occupying the leading position after him. The Western world makes much of Khomeini, but, that is because he called them what they are, point blank, and they couldn’t do anything about it except to curse him back through the media. Among the literary men, surely, Yusuf Ali tops the position the world over. His rendition of the Qur’an into English is still the best and the most influential work of the century. Millions still refer to this flowery translation. Albani did for Hadith what no one else did for this discipline during the past century. He gave hadith books to the biologists and street-vendors.
The century also witnessed Urdu language as taking the fourth place in popularity after English, Chinese and Spanish. Today it is spoken or understood in Afghanistan, Pakistan, India (where they speak Urdu but call it Hindi), Bangladesh, Far-East, and even the Gulf. In Bahrain and Dubai, even the Arabs understood Urdu. It is widely spoken in UK, Canada and USA. Trade and migration are some reasons, but the Tablighi movement has done much to spread the language.
In scientific and technological fields the Muslim world is still in the middle ages. (Abdus Salam and Ahmed Zeweil did their work in the Western labs). Therefore, Pakistan’s explosion of the nuclear bomb, was an explosive event. It left many mouths dried. Suddenly, for many the thoughts of redrawing the borders became a distant dream. On the whole, the non-Muslim world has not been slow to assess the importance. No one will anymore threaten any Muslim state with nuclear weapons after this. From now on, economic strangulation is the most successful tool that the West will employ against the masses of the Muslim world ever hungry of material products.
In struggle for freedom, both the Afghan and Algerian struggles were the prominent deadly ones. The French and the Russians exacted a bloody price of one million martyrs each to quit. But it was the Afghan Jihad which revived Muslim Ummah’s faith in Islam. The works done by the “movements” would have come to nothing if not for their convincing victories against the heavily equipped Russian forces. Air force is the pride of any army. The Jihad brought victory without a single airplane at its service. The present day awakening in the Muslim world owes much to the victory against the mighty Russians. Today the Muslim masses are brimming with confidence, except that the successors of the colonizers are sitting on top of the explosive lid in fear of the genii’s escape.
The Gulf Arabs have still to make their contribution. Yet to produce personalities pride of the historians, they couldn’t even give a translation of the Qur’an to the non-Arab world. Arts, science, technology, literature – the Arabs have truly a poor showing in any one of the disciplines. Neguib Mahfuz is a petite writer. He has no message. Maimed after half a century of tyrannic and ruthless regimented rule, the Arab personality awaits some personal freedom for opening up. In the meantime, they can hardly make a pin by themselves. It is estimated that for every 20 Israeli research papers, the whole of the Arab world produces one paper for world-class scientific magazines. The famous middle-eastern good heart does not seem to impress many. (The famous Muru’ah of the Arabs seems to be in its death bed). However, feats of valour still move the Arabs and so Jihad draws its biggest support from the Arab world. (Appreciation of the feats of valour reminds us that the West is increasingly becoming feminine. There was no appreciation in its media of the 2000 Chechnyan fighter’s courage who for months have been facing the onslaught of tens of thousands of Russian soldiers mounted on thousands of tanks and armoured carriers. Many Western males now sport ear-rings, bangles and necklaces).
The past century was also a century of movements, a new phenomenon in the Islamic world. The Black Muslim movement was the most consequential one. Started by a mysterious man, who appeared from the blue, and, having laid the foundations, disappeared in the blue, it caught the imagination of the suppressed blacks in the USA. After helping it expand dramatically, Malcolm X led one half of them to standard Islam. Now, Islam grows at the pace of about 50,000 new Muslims every year in the USA alone. The next in importance is the Tablighi movement. Millions have been affected by this inspiring but simple work of global nature. It appears like it is Islam’s answer to the Western pop music and runs on the fuel of sincerity and sacrifice. Ikhwan al-Muslimun [The Muslim Brotherhood] is the most important intellectual Islamic movement of the Arab world. Untimely indulgence in politics destroyed it. Apart from the old-guard Deobandies of India, Ikhwan men are the holders of most balanced views in religion, and lead a well- balanced life: matching up soul requirements well with the social requirements. The Jama‘at-e-Islami movement of the Indian sub-continent came close next and then shied away. Direct access to the sources of Islam was the advantage the Ikhwan enjoyed over them. Organized with an emphasis on discipline, it shows the tendency now to end up an organization rather than a movement. In one wing, politics could be its undoing too. The call to the Qur’an and Sunnah could easily have become a powerful movement, but for its wrong interpretations. Some people have understood it to mean doing away with the Islamic legal legacy altogether. To others, a revival of ijtihad means working out ablution and sanitary rulings a new.
The colonization of the Muslim world, for a brief period, was another event of importance not because of how the Muslims suffered under the colonizers, but because how much they have been suffering after them. The Muslims were able to throw out the colonizers, but not those the colonizers planted in their stead. These have brought nothing but humiliation to the Ummah. Vigorously supported by those who installed them, there doesn’t seem to be any way to get rid of them. Perhaps, this is the Muslim Ummah’s greatest tragedy ever.
For the Jews and Muslims, an event of great importance was the creation of the state of Israel on Palestinian lands stolen by the British. The recognition by the world community in the UNO of the theft was perhaps out of remorse for killing millions of Jews in Germany during the second World War, and elsewhere in Europe earlier to that. Everyone has however paid a hefty price for the creation of this notorious state. The Arabs paid the price in lasting humiliation. The Americans have spent hundreds of billions of dollars on Israel. The rest of the world, including the USA, also paid a high price in terms of delivery of goods to the Middle-east. It was the Arab defeat in 1967, thanks to the Western aid to Israel, that led the Arabs to realize the value of oil. Since then, millions of tons of material is being off-loaded at the Middle-eastern ports every day, from all parts of the world. At one time it was estimated that one-fourth of the American labour force was working for the Middle-east. Never in the history of mankind has so much wealth been transferred in peace time from one part of the world to another, as since the creation of Israel. That is the price that the world has paid for the creation of the Jewish state. But that is little comfort for the Muslims who lost Jerusalem 30 years ago. But a tragedy greater than that is that there isn’t one Arab scholar who has said anything about its retrieval during the last couple of years. We say Arab scholar because the Arabs are never tired of saying, “Arabs and Islam, Arabs and Muslims, Arabs and the world …” Notwithstanding the dishonest brokerage of the USA, with a carrot in one hand (for the Israelis) and a stick in another (for the Arabs), Jerusalem will remain a flash point since the wishes of a billion people are completely ignored.
(To be continued)