As Muslims, we are facing new and challenging times. All over the globe, Muslims are confronted with social polarization, economic decline, and political turmoil. Mainstream media has immensely contributed to the negative portrayal of Muslims, creating a narrative that is neither factual nor representative of the global Muslim community.
Today, we find ourselves living in a world where traditionally accepted norms and cultural decorum, which form the bedrock of society, are now under intense scrutiny as people begin to challenge the relevancy of such beliefs in the modern world. Consequently, these phenomena are undeniably shaping how Muslims perceive and contextualize Islam in our world today.
Internal discussions regarding specific precepts related to Islamic thought, law, and creed, as well as external calls for an Islamic reformation, has left many Muslims unsettled about the relevancy of Islam in their personal lives and its relevance in our contemporary world. These challenges are increasing daily and it is becoming exceedingly difficult for Muslims to reconcile our traditional Islamic frameworks and the dynamic context of our world. With the multitude of social and spiritual contentions in our communities, compounded with a crisis of knowledge, Muslims have been left completely disillusioned and are finding themselves in the midst of an increasingly hostile political climate, all the while feeling spiritually strained. What is one to do?
To begin, we must understand that knowledge is what makes us human. It is what elevates us above wild beasts and God’s other creations. In the Islamic tradition, knowledge is the key to man’s understanding of his existence, the cosmos, and ultimately his Creator. Imam al Ghazali (may Allah be pleased with him) said “knowledge exists potentially in the human soul like the seed in soil; by learning the potential becomes actual.” In light of this, it is imperative that traditional Islamic education is revived and made to be an integral part of our human development. The self-evident truths that lay dormant and repressed within us can only come into fruition if we nurture the soul with that which gives it life. That is the knowledge of God.
Young Muslims, particularly in the west, are exceedingly well versed and accomplished in many of the so-called secular fields of study, but lack basic knowledge of the Islamic sciences. In fact, it can be argued that some go as far as viewing the two as mutually exclusive. It goes without saying that said Muslims are not entirely to blame, rather this negligence is deeply rooted in a myriad of socio-political and economic influences. What we find is an imbalanced approach to addressing and countering the growing effects of this void. Thus, causing a stagnation in spiritual, intellectual, and overall communal growth. Just as a bird with one wing can only dream of takeoff, in this condition, we too can only dream of real change.
The most vital measure we can take as Muslims to counter these challenges is empowering a sense of personal spiritual responsibility among Muslims. Needless to say, there are institutions and organizations acting as supportive frameworks in our communities, and in doing so, are holding together the ever-disintegrating spiritual fabric of our communities.
On the other hand, we have a disproportionate number of Muslim apathetically dismissing all forms of religious and moral responsibility. Subsequently, neglecting the accountability which they hold not only to themselves and their communities, but also to the Lord Most High. This oblivion that has set itself upon the minds and spirit of the modern Muslim has devoured our collective psyche, allowing us to shamefully forget that we as an Ummah, have inherited the greatest call to Divine Truth that has ever permeated this world. We walk in the footsteps of the greatest conquerors of hearts and of lands and carry a profound legacy that stood as the counterculture against injustice and tyranny. In his book, “Islam and the World: The Rise and Decline of Muslims and its Effects on Mankind” Sayyid Abu’l Hassan Ali Nadwi concludes that what appears to be the decline of Islam is in fact nothing less than the decay of the hearts of the Muslims themselves rooted in accepting a state of apathy in responding to the Divine Call. This book further goes on to argue that Islam, in its inherent nature, impresses upon its followers the need to potentiate endless efforts regardless of the challenges faced to inaugurate a just and balanced system of order for all. This being so for both Muslims and non-Muslims alike. It is important to note here that the author does not conclude that our objective as Muslims is to herald in a new golden age of power and influence. Rather, our ultimate goal is to illuminate our hearts once again with the light of the Prophetic way. The grandeur of the Muslim world was a mere reflection of the Prophetic light that once resided within our hearts.
Despite the barrage of defamation and alienation of Muslims in the media, the unfortunate reality is that many of us are just as, if not more, responsible for the state of our communities. Our carelessness towards our inward state has manifested in our outward reality. It is each individual Muslim’s responsibility to challenge their own religious illiteracy and to actively seek out solutions to any knowledge deficits they may have. Our reality is only a reflection of our inward state. It is high time that we focus on reviving the decaying hearts of the Muslims. Beginning with ourselves, we must foster just and upright characters, have preference for others above ourselves, show genuine concern for those around us, be accountable for our mistakes and become diligent in fulfilling our promises. We must inculcate within us a deep reverence for sacred knowledge and those who possess it. We must empty ourselves of our self so that we may cultivate a deeper understanding of Islam, and that our hearts are revitalized with love for God and His Messenger ﷺ.
This is not a call for everyone to acquire scholarly levels of religious knowledge. Although these noble stations are to be aspired towards, it is not feasible for the vast majority. However, this in no way negates the personal accountability each and every one of us bears. One must be grounded in the basic articles of the Islamic faith. For anything more complex, one should, at the very least, be able to refer such individuals to resources that would adequately address said questions. And for the love of God and His Messenger ﷺ, do not try to address issues you have no knowledge of. Practice the sunnah of “I don’t know” and leave it to the experts.
The life of the Prophet ﷺ is exemplary in illustrating how to navigate these tumultuous times. The companions of the Prophet ﷺ were men and women whose hearts were burning with a deep desire to serve the cause of Islam. Those who came to Islam first didn’t sit around waiting for the latter converts to take action. It was a collective effort of body, mind, and soul of every individual to advance this call to Truth. What we are obliged to bring forth is not a reformed, watered-down Islam that is sanctioned by the monoculture. Rather, it is the fundamental Truth of Islam. Despite how uncomfortable it may make those around us. The fortitude of our faith will only become evident when we undertake this responsibility of rectifying our hearts and minds so that we may once again become a God-conscious people unfazed by the trials and tribulations of our temporal existence.
Written by Ilhan Ibrahim