Rulers and Thinkers as Catalysts for Imaginative Solutions
“God has not created men equal in knowledge and that in every generation there are only a few to whom the others must turn in times of crisis.” – Shams al-Dīn Muḥammad ibn ‘Abd al-Raḥmān al-Sakhāwi (d. 902H/1497CE)
In the current times of crisis, it seems to me that this fundamental insight that the people of spiritual discernment, sages, and Prophets throughout the ages understood is either forgotten or ignored.
The duty of some sections of mankind, the educated ones, and the possessors of command (ulu al-amr; the rulers and governments) is to recognize that there are such people in every period of history and that we need to acknowledge them and to act accordingly.
This reality concerning humanity is important for us to recognize and acknowledge against the current backdrop of widespread attitudinal tendency of ‘levelling’ of everyone in our society, and in times when we need imaginative and breakthrough solutions to the crisis we are facing which is systemic in nature.
That fundamental insight, aside from what is alluded to by al-Sakhawi in the aforementioned quote, has also been hinted at by Jalaluddin Rumi in his Masnavi as follows:
“If intellects join forces that is best—
More light shines and the path’s made manifest,
While carnal souls when paired, just like the night
Cause darkness to obscure the path from sight.”
For the Muslims, there is a basis in the Qur’an on the fact that some believers would have deeper intellectual-spiritual perception than others: “God raises by degrees those of you who are believers and are granted knowledge by degrees” (58:11), and also, “Can those who Know be of the same level as those who do not know?” (39:9) – two verses which Imam al-Ghazali (d. 1111) draws our attention to at the beginning of his Chapter on Knowledge in his monumental and vastly influential Revival of the Religious Sciences (Ihya Ulum al-Din).
In other words, it is part of God’s customary way of acting (sunnatuLlah) for there to be men and women of deeper perception on the realities of things or wisdom (hikmah) and it is the moral duty for others to turn to in times of crisis.
This is also connected to the question of returning the trust (amanah) to its rightful keepers—a command of God according to Qur’an (4: 58)—and this matter is drawn to our attention in its contemporary context by the luminary, Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas, in his more recent book, On Justice and the Nature of Man (2015). In it he states, among other things, that “it is assumed that the Keeper of trust must possess moral integrity and authentic knowledge of what is entrusted in order to be worthy of the trust”.
In my humble opinion, the habitual neglect of the aforementioned considerations could perhaps be one of the reasons why we fail time and time again to think holistically or systemically about our problems and continue to think in isolation and fragmentation in the major problems confronting us in the world.
The best way to think about any given issue is via the more “systemic”, or interconnected way as how the great luminaries of the past have shown us – instead of the fragmented way of allowing our narrow specializations to dictate the framing and solution of a problem a feature peculiar to the modern secularised mode of thought under the guise of “scientific training”.
The inability to think systemically while being informed with wisdom will result in solutions which maybe ad hoc, piece meal, reductionist or in-effective.
For example when the sagacious in Islamic tradition speak of “justice” (‘adl), they understand it as a condition of things being in its proper place in relation to the “system” it is in.
Such insights is necessary to move beyond superficial, reductionist or pseudo-solutions which perhaps many who are in positions of decision making may tend to adopt uncritically. For example, global health frameworks may sometimes need to be adjusted to local contexts as they may not be addressing local limitations and ethical failures and even indigenous viable solutions.
A pool of select individuals with moral integrity and authentic knowledge of different generations can help to synergize systemic changes which many specialists may tend to overlook.
Considering the views of the sagacious will fill a much needed gap in existing modes of thinking by authonities on “transformation” and “recovery” plans which may mostly be simply process-driven and implementation-based only.
For the Muslims it is particularly urgent considering that the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace, once said: “When authority is given to those who are not the keepers (ahl) of trust, then wait for the Hour.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, 6496)
The Muslims have numerous historical track records where this fundamental insight and principle is made operative: it is well documented in history that the founding fathers of the Ottoman State held close relations with sagacious individuals—the most prominent case in point being Osman Ghazi and Shaykh Edebali, and Sultan Mehmet Fatih and Ak Shamsuddin; and seen from the broader arc of history, such convergence is the reason why we are able to glean a vast yet orderly and harmonious “civilisation-state” which sought to fashion history as an instrument of the Divine Will.