Muslims Must Determine The Course Of Their History
Why is the Muslim world currently at the mercy of foreign powers if we claim to possess the Truth? Why are the Muslims currently in a state of disarray?
Internally the contemporary Muslims have been progressively weakened in mind, body and soul, which is becoming more pronounced in recent times, although its roots can be traced centuries earlier in the history of the Muslims. Such progressive weakening of the Muslim world had made possible the Western colonization of a significant part of that world from the 17th century onwards.
These colonization were often supplemented with cultural control of strategic areas of the Muslim world which involved naturally, the projection and inculcation of the colonizers’ own vision of truth and reality, or worldview, in the Muslim mind. This encroachment and projection of a foreign worldview upon the Muslim peoples came gradually beginning through the scientific and industrial revolution in Europe (whose inspiration were derived from Muslim lands), and its gradual growth in military and economic power.
The projection and inculcation of the Western worldview upon Muslim mind happens through the tampering with the Islamic family languages (Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Urdu, Malay-Jawi) whose key vocabularies were derived from the Holy Qu’ran, and the introduction of an education system based upon that worldview which would ultimately bring about the secularization or deislamization of the Muslim mind. For example, if the term knowledge (‘ilm) is restricted to the physical sciences, this is limiting it from its broader meaning understood unanimously by learned Muslims throughout the ages which includes the metaphysical sciences (‘ilm haqa’iq or tasawwuf).
By the beginning of the 19th Century, Western presence had been growing in the Muslim lands from North Africa, Middle East, Khorasan region, Indian sub-continent, and right to the Malay World. Certainly, the people of discernment did not stand still during this imperialistic onslaught. The names of Emir Abdkader al-Jazari (d. 1883) of Algeria, Imam Shamil (d. 1859) of Caucasus, Umar Mukhtar (d. 1931) of Libya, and Tok Kenali (d. 1933) of Malaya were among the names that would be conjured up in our collective memory who saw the challenge posed by the imperial powers and attempted to defend the integrity of Muslim lands rooted in their profound grasp of the traditional Sunni teachings of theology, law and spirituality (tasawwuf).
At the same time, the emergence of the modernist movement in the 19th century which sought to respond to the growing Western presence on Muslim lands pioneered by Jamaluddin al-Afghani (d. 1897), Muhammad Abduh (d. 1905) and Rashid Rida (d. 1935), heralded the widespread and systematic undermining of past scholastic authorities instead of a Muslim religious and intellectual awakening and sobriety, leaving the Muslims to inherit today, a legacy of cultural, intellectual and religious confusion.
In the Malay Archipelago for instance, this can be seen in the romanization of the Malay language set in motion initially by the colonial administrators and continued by certain ‘modernist’ Malays who thought it would contribute to the advancement and progress of the Malays. Whereas in reality, the shift was from a scientific language of the Malays (as in the case with the rest of Islamic languages) to the romance-oriented language of English (by virtue of the romanization and shifts in meaning).
On top of this, in crucial places like the vast Ottoman State whose people were inspired by the love of God and His Messenger for centuries through the teachings of luminaries such as Jalaluddin Rumi (d. 1273), Sadr al-Din Qunawi (d. 1274), and Aziz Mahmut Hüdayi (d. 1628), among others, saw the gradual disintegration of its economic, political and military prowess, and a deterioration of its cultural and spiritual refinement through the eventual control of the Committee Union and Progress (CUP) and Young Turks.
The Young Turks propagated the foreign notions of ‘freedom’, ‘equality’, ‘justice’, and ‘fraternity’ in Turkish guise, gradually causing the secularization of Muslim minds in their bureaucracy. It was these kind of thinking that infiltrated the highest decision-making apparatus leading to great injustices towards Muslims and people of other faith as they pursued a nationalist path inspired by the ideas of social Darwinism. It was during the Young Turks rule that the Armenian genocide and oppression towards the Arabs were committed.
The emir of Hejaz and custodian of the holy sites then, Sharif Hussayn bin Ali (d. 1931) was outraged by this so-called revolution in the Ottoman State such that he proclaimed in 27 June 1916, “The result of this new administration was that the State suffered a loss of territory which destroyed its prestige, as the whole world knows, was plunged into the horrors of war and brought to its present perilous position, as it patent to all. This was all done for certain well-known ends, which our feelings forbid to dilate upon.”
This period of upheaval in early 20th century Muslim world also saw for the first time after more than 900 years that the descendants of Prophet Muhammad through the lineage of his grandson were banished as custodians of the Hejaz and holy site of Makkah through British assistance by the Ibn Saud household, a tribe from the Najd area with the support of the followers from the school of Muhammad ibn Abd Wahhab (d. 1792), whose interpretations on Islam have been consistently refuted by majority of the Sunni scholars (for an early refutation, see the piece by the last Mufti of Makkah under the Ottomans, Sayyid Ahmad Zayni Dahlan (d. 1886), titled Fitnat-ul Wahhabiyyah (The Wahhabi Tribulation)).
The Ibn Saud household found themselves fighting against the descendants of the Prophet in the Saudi–Hashemite War between 1917 to 1924 which saw many fighters and civilians dead. By the end of 1924, Sharif Hussayn’s army was disintegrated, and gradually the Ibn Saud household took control of Makkah and the Hejaz. This coincides with the year of the abolishment of the Ottoman State after five centuries by the Young Turks led by Mustafa Kamal (d. 1938), and the severance of the Turkish people from their Islamic past. Mustafa Kemal’s program to romanize the Turkish language from the Arabic script was in reality a severance of the Muslims mind from the worldview of Islam, just like it would happen in the Malay Archipelago.
These historical accounts all point to several issues in contemporary times that we should pay attention to: firstly, that Muslims must do justice to their past scholastic authorities if they want to produce a religious and intellectual awakening and sobriety and that simplistic slogans such as returning to pristine Islam will not contribute to such goal; secondly, the contemporary educated Muslims must maintain the integrity of concepts projected by the worldview of Islam if they wish to avoid being held responsible for the widespread confusion in their community; and lastly, Muslims must be able to delineate the root problems from the symptoms, and focus more attention and energies on the root problems to be able to truly solve the multifaceted problems they are facing in modern life.
If we are not careful with the inward (metaphysical and spiritual) aspects of the Muslims affairs, we will be condemned to repeat the mistakes of the past. Muslims must therefore recover the inward aspects that will ensure the entire Muslim community will be able to truly negate false notions and affirm truth in their hearts and minds, thereby allowing the entire community to function harmoniously and realize its vast potential.
It has therefore become a religious obligation, or a fard ‘ayn, according to contemporary Muslim thinkers such as Professor Dr Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas, for the educated Muslims to re-acquire an understanding of the vision of reality and truth projected by Islam (worldview of Islam) and knowledge of history understood through that worldview to understand why something happened the way it happened in history. For it is we who must determine the course of our history, and not let others force their history upon us.