By Khurram Jah Murad
The topic requires us to establish, at the outset, what we understand by an Islamic society: what characterises an Islamic society in terms of its objectives and values. For, unless we are clear and sure of what we mean by an Islamic society, the problem of reconstruction does not arise. Once we have set down in clear terms what we understand by an Islamic society, then secondly we must investigate what has gone wrong with it and where. Because we wish to reconstruct an Islamic society this would imply that the Islamic society now exists in some form which is not desirable and that we would like to reconstruct it in some more desirable form.
Therefore we must know we must realise and identity the defects-what has gone wrong and where-which we would like to correct in order to reconstruct it on the pattern and scheme we think would make it a truly Islamic society. Lastly we should come to the actual task before the Muslim intelligentsia in correcting those defects and reconstructing the society on the lines that we have investigated.
The primary characteristic of an Islamic society is that it is an ideological society. This society is not based on an allegiance to any particular race, language, territory, or culture, but on an allegiance to a certain idea, the idea of Islam, the idea of submission to the will of Allah. This idea transcends all the boundaries of language, region and race. Anyone who subscribes to the idea can become a member of the society, and that society must subject all loyalties to the loyalty to the Supreme
Creator of the Universe. This is the primary characteristic of the Islamic Society-that it is an ideological society based on a certain idea, the idea of Islam. The second characteristic one must appreciate about an Islamic society is that it is entrusted with a certain mission, a mission of leading mankind to a certain goal. That mission has been clearly laid down in the Noble Qur’an when God said to lbrahim, ‘I appointed you a leader of mankind’. Leader- ship of mankind, guiding mankind towards a certain destination; this is the mission, the basic duty which has been entrusted to the Islamic society. This mission has always been very clear from the beginning when the Islamic society was first established.
There is a very famous incident from the life of the Caliph Umar ibn Abdul Aziz when “in answer to a letter from a Muslim governor complaining that conversion to Islam among non-Muslims was badly affecting the income derived from jizyah, the Caliph said: ‘Our Prophet was sent as a messenger and called for truth, and not as a money-collector’ “.
Thus clearly illustrates that the basic function of the Islamic society is to guide mankind. It is a society which has been created for mankind: not to live for itself but to live for others, not to die for its own sake, but to die to lead humanity towards the goal which has been laid before it.
If we keep these points in view then we can arrive at more characteristics of the society, the foremost of which is that this is a society based on justice.
“Indeed, We sent Our Messengers with the clear signs and We sent down with them the Book and the Balance so that mankind might uphold justice . . .” (The Qur’an 57:25)
A clear objective of sending the prophets, of revealing the books, is to present a system of life in which the entirety of man- kind’s relations, individual and collective, its whole life in fact, may be established on the basis of justice. Therefore this is a society which is an epitome of justice in every sphere, in all walks of life. Between individuals, between one set of people and another set of people, between one region and another region. This will establish a balance and a system of justice.
This was also declared by those who led the Islamic society in its early period. In the opening speeches of both the Caliphs Abu Bakr and Umar after they assumed office it was stated that whoever was oppressed would be the strongest in the state, and one who was the oppressor would be weakest in the state unless he stopped oppressing and restored the rights he had acquired from others. It has always been clearly understood that justice, fair play, balance will be the foremost characteristics of an Islamic society. This was also very clearly amplified by the Prophet, peace be upon him, when in the early days of the Meccan period some of the Companions approached him and said, ‘Oh Prophet, pray for us for we are being subjected to much harassment and oppression’.
The companion who narrated this incident, Khatab ibn Arath said that the Prophet’s face turned red with anger, and he replied that the people who were entrusted with the same mission before you were tortured, buried alive, and yet continued in their mission. And my mission will also be fulfilled, and the day will come when an old woman, unprotected, will go from one end of Arabia to another and there will be none to touch her or molest her. Again, talking to Adi ibn Hatim, he, God’s blessings and peace be upon him, said that the time will come when a man can go out with gold in his hand and find none to take it.
This means the establishment of the supremacy of law, equality before the law, and economic justice and prosperity, where none would depend on another for charity, and where every one would receive what is due to him. These incidents, from the teachings of the Qur’an and from the founder of Islamic society, clearly indicate that justice and equity are the foremost characteristics of the society which has been destined, commissioned, and entrusted to lead and guide mankind.
The fourth characteristic which comes before us is that this is a society which gives full importance to the individual. In most societies the individual is subjected to systems-he becomes a mere cog in a wheel and moves with the system itself. He is actually subjected to the tyranny and oppression of the system. But God says in the Qur’an that the basic element of the Islamic society is the individual.
Each person will come alone, as an individual, before God to answer for his actions-the state, the society, the whole system is constructed to produce a happier individual who has a harmony inside himself and outside. This importance of the individual and this harmony between the individual and the society is the fourth important characteristic of Islamic society.
The fifth characteristic I indicated in the beginning also; that it is a society which believes in the unity of mankind: a society which is based and rooted in the unity of an idea, not in blood or flesh, not in territory or geography, not in race, colour or language but in the unity of an ideal, which a man can accept and become part of or can discard and leave. It does not believe in insurmountable artificial barriers within the concept of mankind; the barriers of language, the barriers of geography, the barriers of race, can never be crossed, they can never be surmounted, but the barrier of idea can always be bridged. If someone says,
“There is no God but God, Muhammad is the Messenger of God”, this is enough to make him a part of the Islamic society. If somebody rejects it, it is enough to drive him out of the society. But if a society is based on language or colour, then this is something which is insurmountable. A person who has been born a Frenchman can never make himself into a German. The Islamic society was one where people came from Rome, Iran and elsewhere and amalgamated and welded themselves into a society which was unified for ever.
These are the important characteristics of the Islamic society, which indicate, for the present time, the goal and destination towards which we should lead mankind. The basic purpose and objective is the establishment of a society based on justice. As God says in the Qur’an,
‘so that men might uphold justice’. And again God says,
‘and we sent down iron’, which is a symbol of power, of political power.
Justice cannot be established, the truly Islamic society cannot be established, merely by sermons and merely by preaching; but it will require power, political power, and struggle, only through which a society based on justice can be established. Now we come to the second part: to try and find out what went wrong with the Islamic society and where. Unless we know what went wrong we cannot begin the task of reconstruct- ion. In my opinion, the first thing that went wrong was that we lost the real meaning and import of the terminology that was given to us. Every society, every ideology has its own set of terminologies. This terminology has some significant meaning behind it, and people who accept the ideology accept the terminology with it. But once the meaning and spirit of the terminology is lost then even if we use those terms and ideas, we are not able to grasp their real significance. The decay of Islamic society started, and the first thing that happened was that all the terms which initially signified a revolutionary concept for all mankind were either lost or neglected or misinterpreted.
Another thing that happened to Islamic society was that we lost our scale of priorities and the sense of proportion. Every ideology, society or community has a certain scheme of things, in which some things take precedence over others, some points are more important than others. When the process of decay starts, that which is less important becomes more important, and that which is more important becomes less important. There is a famous incident from the life of the Prophet; peace be upon him, once in the Masjudu-n Nabawi when people were praying, a person prayed his Salaatu-l Fard and then he stood up and without moving he began to pray naflah in the same place.
‘Umar ibn al Khattab immediately caught hold of him and told him that earlier nations had been destroyed because of that. The Prophet said to Umar, that he had really grasped its significance. The significance is that when important things get mixed up with less important things, what is unimportant becomes elevated to being important, because it is easier to perform. What is more important such as the struggle (jihad)- which is difficult, is given less importance, and then the whole scheme of things becomes topsy turvy, and we lose the scale of priorities in society which was established by Islam.
Once the scale of priorities is lost, then we become concerned more with rites and rituals, with durouds, and nawafil. But the real duties enjoined upon Muslim society such as the duty of jihad or the duty of establishing a society based on justice, are pushed into the background, and the forms, which were there merely to train us become the purpose and objectives of life. So the second thing that happened was that the sense of proportion about various aspects of the whole scheme of the ideology, and the scale of priorities were destroyed.
The third thing was that the very conception that Islam is an ideology which has come to the world and those that adhere to it have to struggle to make it supreme-this concept of a sense of mission was also lost, with the result that we entered into compromises with many things. For example, sometime ago the President of the United States of America, President Eisenhower, went to inaugurate a mosque in Washington. Now this would have been unimaginable in the earlier era of Islam: that the head of a non-Muslim state would personally inaugurate a mosque which was in fact a challenge to the whole system of which he was the leader. But this happened because the sense of mission among Muslims was lost.
The mosque has become a place of worship, and Islam a religion, consisting of certain forms. It has lost its challenge to the other systems of life which are based on rebellion against Allah. These compromises arose and this is the third aspect of decay which set in Islamic society.
In the citadels of batil you can raise Adhaan and no one will object, because the slogan Allahu Akbar does not present any challenge to any one, as it has lost is meaning and importance. Those who raise the slogan have lost the sense of mission, that they were destined to establish the sovereignty and supremacy of Allah on earth.
These were a few aspects of our decay which began to happen from the very early days of Islamic society. Then about two to three centuries ago we came in contact with developed Western civilisation which made a tremendous impact on the Muslim world and Islamic society. Western civilisation in itself is diametrically opposed to all the values, norms and objectives which are of importance in Islamic society. Its very temperament, atmosphere, philosophy, concept of life, and its universe, everything is antagonistic to what Islam preaches and Muslims believe.
Once these two civilisations came into conflict naturally the West made inroads as a political conqueror into the decadent Muslim world. One by one the Muslim countries fell, and were politically subjugated by the West. But the Western attack was not like the attack of the Tatars and Mongols who came, killed, laid waste and went away-or embraced Islam. The West itself came with a sense of mission that their own civilisation and ideas were superior and wanted to convert all those over whom they ruled.
Unfortunately for them it was very difficult to convert the Muslims and to make them change their religion. They could not make Muslims change their name or renounce their Kalimaatu-shahaadah. They could not convert them to Christianity. The most that they could do successfully was to create generations of people who became doubtful about their own beliefs, sceptical about what the Qur’an and the Prophet, peace and blessings of God be upon him, taught them, and who lost confidence in their own future. These generations which were products of Western rule created a host of problems where Muslims lived, and were even able to gain political power. The first effect of these generations who were outwardly Muslim but inwardly westernised, was that individuals and the Muslim society as a whole, suffered from a split personality.
Schizophrenia it is called in psychiatry, where an individual’s personality ‘splits’. On the one hand were the teachings received from the cradle and on the other hand what were received at school and college and the centres of learning in the West. They were working at cross-purposes within each individual self. Belief pulled him in one direction, and the knowledge gained from the western system of education dragged him in another.
This meant that every member of Muslim society who came under the influence of Western civilisation became a victim of an inner conflict. Outwardly as well, in the whole society, the disease has set in, There is a conflict between the rulers and the ruled. Every Muslim country has a permanent conflict between those who rule and those who are ruled. The rulers cannot get rid of their subjects, and the subjects cannot get rid of the ruler. The result is that the energy and resources which could have been used to build strong states in the world are all being wasted in inner conflicts and contradictions. This is a direct result of the impact of the western civilisation.
The second curse given by the western civilisation to Muslims was that of nationalism: a concept which was unknown to Muslims for centuries. Muslims never conceived of themselves in terms of geography or language or race. But after the contact with the West they began to think in these terms. Nationalism in itself is a religion which is opposed to the religion of Islam. Very few people realise that once somebody adopts nationalism he cannot remain a true Muslim. Because in Nationalism the place of God is occupied by the nation. If we go through the evolution of nationalism in Western society, one finds that once the powers of the Church disintegrated and God was driven out of collective life, man still required a focus where he could direct his love and affection, which he could worship, and to which he could subjugate all other loyalties.
Because unless you have a centre like this, no human society can develop in a harmonious and coherent way. This place was taken by the nation.
One reads in the Qur’an, ‘Sustainer (Rabb) of mankind’, ‘Ruler (Malik) of mankind’, ‘God (Ilah) of mankind’*…. Once the West adopted secularism, the place of Allah was taken by the nation-state, the place of Malik was taken by the sovereignty of the people and the place of Rabb was taken by science and technology and the whole trinity welded into a new religion, that of nationalism. Now the Prophet, peace and blessings of God be upon him, himself said that Muslims would never worship again idols, idols of stone, but they would commit this shirk.
This shirk was ‘asabiyyah (nationalism); it crept into the body-politic of Muslim society and set Arabs against Turks, and its spreading continuously in every part of the Muslim world. And, unfortunately, the very country which was established as a rebellion against the idea of a nation based on race or language (i.e. Pakistan) in now passing through its worst crises because of this curse based on language and territory. This again is the result of the impact of western civilisation.
The third thing which happened to Muslim society as a result of western influence was that the objectives of the whole society and of the individuals were completely changed. Before the objectives of the Muslims were to seek the pleasure of Allah and to seek His mercy and reward in the life hereafter. But after coming in contact with the materialistic civilisation of the West there ideas changed drastically. In every independent Muslim country, their leaders have placed before the people the dream of economic development. More factories, more roads, more industries,- these were the objectives to which the whole society was directed.
I have before me the experience of Pakistan. Once the struggle for Pakistan was launched, the slogan was: Pakistan means Laa ilaaha llla Allah; once we achieve Pakistan we will make of it a laboratory for Islam. But once we achieved Pakistan, Pakistan meant the First Five-year Plan of development, the Second Five Year Plan, the Third Five Year Plan … This was the sum total of the whole effort of the society and the government-to make it achieve economic development.
This again led to fissures and conflicts within the society, because for a noble ideal, people can make their own desires subservient to it. But once you take economic development as the objective of life, then the priorities would be my development, then my village, then my province, and finally the country comes last.
This is what happened to Pakistan. Once the ideal of Islam was forsaken and that of economic development was taken up, each region was set against each other. The idea of economic development as a means of some ideal is welcome in any Muslim society. “Our Sustainer give us in this world fair things and in the next fair things”-this is the motto of Islam. But economic development in itself cannot become the objective of any Muslim, individual or society.
Lastly the blue-print of economic development that has been given to the Muslim world is completely different from its own interests. The entire Muslim world possesses two types of resources- human and natural. But it is short of capital; it does not possess much money (loanable funds). Now the blueprint- of economic development which was suggested to the Muslim World and blindly accepted it every place, was to borrow capital from abroad, to leave its own human resources unutilised and get into the tangle of loans and aid to the extent that even its political sovereignty and freedom were jeopardised.
Again before me the case study is that of Pakistan. Here after twenty years we find that our very integrity must be sacrificed if we want to continue economic development where we have spent billions of rupees on economic development, the common man remains as poor and as deprived as he was before. We have factories, shipyards steel mills, fertiliser factories, but 95% of the people, the agricultural masses, have gained nothing.
This was the blue-print of economic development which was handed over by the western world to the Muslim countries. They blindly followed it and are now on the verge of destruction. They have not been able to gain any place for themselves in the world economically and on the other hand neither have they succeeded in bettering the lot of the common man. This has created a class conflict, and given scope for socialism to make inroads in Muslim countries.
These aspects of the decay are problems which face the Muslim world and must be faced and solved by the Muslim intelligentsia. The role of the intelligentsia in the reconstruction of Islamic society is of paramount importance because Islam is an ideology which started its very existence with the word “lqra!” -Read! The whole book of Islam is full of invitations to think and ponder, to make use of one’s intelligence. In my opinion, the first task before the Muslim intelligentsia should be the reconstruction of the entire educational system. Most of the problems that face the Muslim world today and which are impediments in the reconstruction of an Islamic society are the results of the Western educational system, which has been implanted indiscriminately in each Muslim country without any transformation.
Again before me I have the example of Pakistan where we are struggling to achieve an ideological state. I think that the first task in 1947 should have been to reconstruct the educational system so that we could have raised a generation which believes in Pakistan’s ideology and which would have been capable of leading Pakistan to its goals. But unfortunately our emphasis was on technology and science, although we have even failed to produce a scientist of world repute in those twenty-four years.
The first time I had the chance of meeting the President of Pakistan after 1968, 1 told him very frankly that the billions of rupees that have been spent in the education of the people have actually been digging the grave of Pakistan. Because we have been turning out group after group of people who do not know why Pakistan was established, who are secularist or socialist, who do not believe in Islam and are unaware that they are part of a larger Muslim millat, this can never keep Pakistan united.
They have realised this now and yet they are still not prepared to act. Unless the educational system is reconstructed on lines where the generations which are products of the system are firm believers in Islam, are proud of their heritage, have an unshakeable faith in their destiny and who have the capability and competence to live by Islam in this world with all its complexities and problems, one cannot aspire to have an Islamic society.
The second task before the intelligentsia is to mount an intellectual counter offensive against the West. Everywhere the West has realised that its main rival is Islam. The civilisation which the West replaced as the dominant civilisation in the world was Islamic. They took power from the Turks and Arabs, and in India from the Mughals; everywhere they faced Muslims. They know Islam is a force and Muslims are returning to it. Their whole intellectual offensive has been against Islam. They have never forgiven a community or a country for the crime of being Muslim. And they have always tried to corrupt the minds and the thinking of young Muslims everywhere. Unless we can mount an intellectual counter-offensive against the West, unless we can expose its hollowness, and indicate to the world that the curses of secularism and humanism have lead the world down alleys of destruction, that mankind is capable of destroying itself in seconds; unless we can convince the world that the West has given little to humanity, we cannot hope that living in our own enclosures in the Muslim world, we could reconstruct an Islamic society.
The reconstruction of an Islamic society has impediments both from within and from without, not only are there hostile forces within the countries; there are international intrigues and conspiracies, there are forces outside a country which are always working to prevent the re- construction. And unless our ideas can permeate into the West itself, and we can convince the people that it is Islam and Islam alone which can solve the problems of mankind, we cannot aspire to success in constructing an Islamic society.
The third task before the intelligentsia is to chalk out a new blue-print of economic development, because economic problems have come to assume a fundamental position in every Muslim country. And the politics, the social currents, the thought currents all are being influenced by economic problems. The economic problem has two aspects.
One: that we can become prosperous, we can live in this world without becoming reliant on aid and loans from foreign powers.
Two: whatever economic development we make, the fruits are to be distributed equally among the people. The difference between the rich and poor must be reduced to a minimum. The rich should not get richer and the poor should not get poorer and the burden of taxation should not become unbearable for an ordinary man. Unless we can prepare a blue-print for economic development where the Muslim masses can be assured that they will be rid of poverty and hunger, of ignorance and disease, we cannot, just by preaching sermons on morals and ethics hope to construct an Islamic society.
We will have to chalk out an imaginative blue-print for economic development which will assure that we can get rid of foreign aid and still develop ourselves by our indigenous resources, and further we can develop in a way in which the fruits of development will reach the common man.
Again my experience is perhaps confined to East Pakistan where millions and millions live in sub-human standards. Even animals would not live in conditions in which human beings live. Similarly in many areas of West Pakistan. Thus unless the fruits of economic development can reach the common man equally and they can improve their status, at least so that they can live as dignified human beings, we cannot hope to reconstruct an Islamic society in any Muslim country.
The fourth task before the intelligentsia is to build up a rapport with the masses. so far all those who have been working for Islam, in most of the countries, have failed to communicate with the common man. The language which the intelligentsia uses, the terminology that it uses, and the way it explains things cannot penetrate deep into the hearts of the masses. That is why when the masses got the chance to vote and give their verdict, they were so bewildered that they could not opt for an Islamic society in clear and unequivocal terms.
This was neither the fault of Islam, or the fault of the masses. It was the result of the deficiency of the intelligentsia who were working for Islam. They could not build the channels of communication whereby the ideas and ideals which imbue the intelligentsia could also permeate to the common man. We must devise a language and develop techniques and methods through which the ideals of an Islamic society can also inspire and enthuse the “man in the street”.
If we are convinced that an Islamic society will be established through democratic means we cannot hope to build it unless we can carry the masses with us. The intelligentsia must be capable of transmitting their message in a language plain enough to be understood by and inspiring enough to fire the common people who live in villages and huts, who work in industries and factories, who do not have high ambitions and high standards of knowledge, but yet have the right to cast their votes on each and every important issue which faces a Muslim community everywhere.
In this twentieth century one of the redeeming features is that for the first time in two or three hundred years you can find in every Muslim country a movement for the reconstruction of society. From this fact stems the fifth task which faces the Muslim intelligentsia. Even forty or fifty years ago one would not have found young men who would have sacrificed their lives for the sake of Islam.
For example in East Pakistan, since 1947, the whole aspiration of young men and women, has been a nationalism based on territory and language. But only eighteen years later, the same universities began to produce young men who were prepared to lay down their lives for Islam also. The same I think has happened in other Muslim countries. There are people in every Muslim country who are now struggling to make Islam supreme in their own country. But it is the task of the intelligentsia, particularly those who are living in the citadels of western civilisation such as in Europe and America to help movements in their own country by their thinking, by their intellectual efforts and by their help and guidance, by providing counselling and advice, and also by participating in the struggle as much as they can.
If those of the people who believe in the ideals of an Islamic society and who are living and being educated in the western world cut themselves off from the mainstream of life in their own countries, they would not be able to do anything of importance for their own country.
For, after all, the struggle for reconstructing a truly Islamic society will have to be made on the soil where Muslims live and where they have the right and political power to mould their lives according to their own wishes. If the intelligentsia becomes cut off from the main- stream of thought in their own countries they cannot contribute to the Islamic movements there which are facing really serious problems.
I think that while it is true that during the past thirty years there has been a resurgence of Islam and there are again thousands of people who are prepared to lay down their lives for Islam, it is also true that in each country the Islamic movement after a period of struggle is passing through a crisis of unpopularity. This crisis may be due to dictatorships, popular verdicts or because of economic or international factors, but yet it is a fact that they all face serious problems and if they have to move ahead, if they have to obtain political power, and if they have to harness the resources of the State to develop an Islamic society, then they need the assistance of all the intelligentsia who are living abroad, who have gained the experience of living in the West and who have built a rapport with western civilisation, who are aware of what the West teaches, and where the West’s weaknesses lie, Their experience, their education, their knowledge can be of immense value to the Islamic movements because they need the talents and the capabilities which such people can provide.
God says in the Qur’an:
“Indeed, We sent Our Messengers with the clear signs, and We sent down with them the Book and the Balance so that men might uphold justice. And we sent down iron, wherein is great might and many uses for men, and so that God might know who helps Him and His Messengers, in the Unseen. Surely, God is All-strong, All-mighty.”(57:25)
The Islamic Society cannot be achieved merely by intellectual efforts, because no ideology and no system of life has ever taken root in the world by mere books and speeches. Even to get one seed-grain of wheat, a farmer has to struggle for months and months, and only then can he plant it in the soil. If one wants to plant the roots of society firmly into the soil this cannot happen unless there is a determined struggle for it. Enough indication of this has been given in the Qur’an. Unless there is a struggle and unless an idea can be backed by the power to bring it to fruition, this will not happen.
An ideology may be established by preaching and by obtaining the consent of the popular will, but the popular will can be frustrated if the power of the state is not behind it. No ideology can take root unless it is backed by a determined struggle, and by political power which itself can only be gained through a determined struggle.
The intelligentsia should not be content merely with writing books and delivering speeches. They must participate as best as they can in the struggle which is being waged throughout the Muslim world to reconstruct an Islamic society.
‘Transcript of talk delivered at FOSIS Eighth Annual Conference.