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Healing the ills of the Muslim public life

29th Nov 2019

Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari

The days of Muslims being at the pinnacle of every field are long gone. Muslims had previously formed an Ummah of purpose – with core beliefs, basic rituals and values of Islam. For a thousand years, they created a civilisation which helped reshape the old world and usher in a new era of human progress. Although not free from faults, their successes could be attributed to following universal human values which were blended with the Islamic principles of pluralism and welfare for all.

Today, the Muslim world is in a different shape. Even after the retreat of European colonialism in the mid-20th century, many Muslim countries have become riddled with social division, economic mismanagement and political strangulation.

The corrupt, incompetent and often despotic rulers – having little regard for ordinary people or respect for the rule of law – have made life miserable for their citizens. Rulers use the garb of nationalism or even religious piety despite being far removed from any meaningful loyalty to national interest or Islamic ethics of public life.
The post-9/11 “War on Terror” resulted in the invasion of Muslim countries with horrible consequences.

At the same time the scourge of bigoted secularism, ‘political Islam’, tribalism and sectarianism has brought people to their knees. This has presented the perfect recipe for global powers to ‘fish in troubled waters.’

The need for repair and a renewal

Muslims must take ownership of resolving their issues themselves. Islam’s balanced ‘structure’ of beliefs and action, centred on its five ‘pillars’ and the due rights and fairness for all, need to be reclaimed. Practitioners and activists should go back to the root purpose of the Islamic Shariah and its five foundational goals – the preservation of life, religion, progeny, intellect and property.

This public good (Maslaha) was fully grasped by the first generations who possessed deeper intellectual and spiritual capital to manage their challenges with dignity and remain a force for good in the world. As Muslim public life became gradually led by those with moral and spiritual weaknesses the followers began losing their role as a ‘community of purpose.’

The absence of a right level of religious, political and intellectual leadership subsequently gave rise to a vicious cycle of impotence and backwardness in the masses.

It is time for Muslim leadership across the world to go back to its roots and bring sustainable changes in their public life. This can be achieved through a 3-step process:

1 A meaningful unity among religious scholars on core teachings

“Scholars are the inheritors of the Prophets.” (Tirmidhi, Abu Dawud). Today’s religious scholars must understand the complexity of the needs and challenges of our time. The text must be connected with context. A public declaration on practical cooperation with a solid commitment not to undermine one another is a strong beginning. This will assure and unite people and reduce the power of those who seek to fragment.

Scholars hold huge authority over ordinary Muslims, so the former has a higher degree of responsibility to preserve religious ethics and public morality. There will be natural disagreement amongst people, but Islam has established rigorous principles in managing conflicts; scholars should be the first to do this with piety, humility and effective steps.

2 Making a truce between secular and religious politicians for the national interest

The emergence of despotic regimes whether through family or military dictatorships on one hand or confrontational politics and sham elections on the other have created hatred and division in some Muslim countries. Muslim social reality cannot be ignored: there are nationalists, secularists and “Islamists.” While many are proud of their religious beliefs and heritage, conscientious leaders from all sides should work together as political colleagues, not enemies.

Leadership is a trust (Amanah) in Islam. The key is the integrity and competence that help serve people effectively. “The leader of a people is their servant” symbolises a core quality epitomised by Prophet Muhammad (p). Amid a global scarcity of ethics and morality now, this will bring a breath of fresh air. “The best of your leaders are those that you love, and they love you, you supplicate for them and they supplicate for you. The worst of your leaders are those that you hate, and they hate you, you curse them and they curse you.” (Sahih Muslim)

3 Creating a robust non-partisan civil society to stand up for the people

A weak civil society in many Muslim countries has given rise to a small group of powerful elites that wield almost unlimited power in politics, economy and the media.

This widespread debauchery has rendered Muslims virtually impotent and brought the near-collapse of public ethics. Active citizenship is needed to strengthen the social capital of a society. From an Islamic standpoint, civic responsibility is a necessity from each member of a society as it builds a nation’s future. It starts with investing in children so that generations of citizens armed with knowledge, enterprise, character and spirituality are successfully raised.

A society cannot be run by moral guidelines alone; it needs continuous checks and balances to rein in the powerful elite and lift the dispossessed. Moral uprightness of citizens, ethics in public life and the rule of law go hand in hand in a thriving society where individuals flourish and nations rise. In a civilised society, the government and civil society work in harmony.

Conclusion

Every human being is God’s steward on Earth and a stakeholder in society. When citizens act on their conscience, they come to work together for a better cause. Only weak individuals blame one another for collective predicaments. A people with the right focus, determined effort and planned action can make a change within a generation.

It is time Muslims everywhere, particularly those with a degree of authority, rise above the challenges and ‘take destiny in their own hands.’
‘Everyone will bear the consequence of what he does, and no one shall bear the burden of another.’ (Qur’an: 5:164)

‘Verily Allah does not change a people’s condition unless they change what is in themselves. ‘(Qur’an: 13:11)

Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari
Educationalist, Parenting Consultant & Author

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