Maza Khasiral Alam bi Inhitat al-Muslimeen, roughly translated as”Islam and the World: The Rise and Decline of Muslims and its Effect on Mankind” was written by the Hanafi scholar and thinker Sayyid Abu’l Hassan Ali Nadwi in 1950. At first glance, some may be intrigued by what the author is alluding to in the title, others may be alarmed. Regardless, Dr. Nadwi does wonders in unravelling the seemingly endless layers of the topic at hand.
Despite being just shy of two hundred and fifty pages, the nature of the topics covered in this book is marvellously unpacked by the author. Nadwi sheds light on a myriad of subjects, many of which are as sensitive to discuss today as they were when this book was first published in the 1950s. Although the book journeys through Islamic history, Nadwi bypasses the usual romanticized recount of our history and instead, draws upon the unprecedented social and spiritual ascendancy of Islam in shaping the trajectory of a civilization that was otherwise of no real geopolitical significance, and in turn establishing its presence and influence on the global stage.
What makes this book such a refreshing read is the author’s illustration of Islam not merely as a scriptural revelation from God All-Mighty. Rather the author, as summarized by the translator, describes Islam as an all-encompassing way of life that acknowledges and embraces the reality of the human experience, including spiritual, moral, material, political and social. This statement is the founding premise in which Dr. Nadwi forms his argument; that in losing this guidance that is Islam, not only did the Muslim world witness its own demise, but humanity as a whole was plunged into a world of spiritual and moral depravity.
The last chapter of this book is notably the most profound. The Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ), who brought to us God’s final testament to mankind, established a faith community unlike the world has ever seen. The world, the author argues, was given a new lease on life with the advent of God’s final messenger. The resilence of the faith of the first believers was nurtured by the Beloved Messenger himself (ﷺ), raising up men and women who, despite the storm of persecution and a seemingly bleak future ahead of them in the hostile Arabian peninsula, willfully submitted themselves to the Will of the Creator. With fortified souls and unwavering faith, these believers increased in moral and spiritual stature until the Lord Most-High brought the whole world in submission to their feet, and in turn, established them as the protectors of this faith and of humanity.
The reader can detect two steady undertones throughout this book; one of awe and nostalgia, the other of great sadness and lamentation as the author narrates the state of Muslims in the modern world. As the Muslim world began to decline as a result of factors including over-expansion, materialistic indulgence, and the decline in both industry and literature, the west began to rebuild a civilization left in shambles. As western influence began to spread, as did their standards of morality and ethics. Ideals of nationalism, materialism, and exaggerated patriotism were planted into the minds of the masses. Dual standards of ethics were introduced by western thinkers such as Machiavelli, a proponent of separating religion from state affairs. Religion was no longer the essential medium to govern the moral and ethical standards of public life. Rather, religion was watered down to personal conviction and was to be confined to the private quarters of one’s home. Western civilization established its legacy as one led by power, pride, and glory. Divine Approval had no footing to stand on.
At this moment in time, we are facing an era unlike ever before in history. A world of international laws, nation-states, and western economic, military and ideological hegemony. Behind the veil of materialism, this globalist culture, whose values are deeply rooted in Greek and Roman ethics, is eating away at the bedrock of spiritual stability and moral guidance in our world. Any custom that appears even remotely ‘traditional’ is deemed archaic. Individualism is of the utmost value in this self-absorbed culture of instant gratification. All this has led to a degeneration of moral values and a spiritually bankrupt world.
Yes, the Muslim world suffered incredible amounts of material loss. However, the spiritual and moral loss of the Muslim world served a catastrophic blow to the world as a whole. Islam, as the author argues, poses the greatest challenge against the secular, God-less, material culture which the western world champions. As aggrandized as one may feel this statement is, the truth of it cannot be denied. Islam is God All-Mighty’s Divine call to moral uprightness, God-consciousness, and altruism. As such, Muslims hold the mantle of moral guidance to all of mankind. Collectively as an ummah, we are failing in this regard.
This classic work by Dr. Nadwi is a must-read, especially for Muslims who wish to seek palpable change in our ummah. The seemingly timeless nature of the issues discussed in this book is more relevant today than they were nearly seventy years ago. The author’s diagnosis of the ailments our ummah suffers from is a bitter truth we are reluctant to face. Despite the radical changes that may have unravelled in our world in recent history, mankind remains the same and God’s revelation to humanity remains unchanged. The message of Islam is just as capable of transforming the hearts and minds of people today as much as it transformed the hearts and minds of people aforetime. The author urges that the world of Islam must rediscover its spiritual roots, to rekindle our faith in our cause in order to brave the storms of the materialist, God-less culture that threatens to overcome us. Nadwi further elaborates that we cannot oppose the ways of this globalist culture through imitation. Rather we must revitalize and reconstruct our religious frameworks, that is the Qur’an and Sunnah, in the lives and hearts of Muslims. It goes without saying there is a lack of maturity in thought and weakness of faith among us. At the core of our illness is the ever-decaying spiritual and intellectual tradition of Islam. At this moment in our history, we are tasked to revitalize this tradition. It is there that we will find the antidote to our ailment.
May Allah (SWT) grant Shaykh Abu’l Hassan Ali Nadwi eternal peace and tranquillity. May his work continue to be of benefit to those who seek the pleasure of their Lord.
Written by Ilham Ibrahim