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Nasim Hassan, Delaware, USA



During the course of human history, various characteristics have propelled nations towards greatness or oblivion. Certain principles however have been essential for survival. The nations that ignore these basic principles become fossilized in thinking and get stuck in rituals while other nations continue their march towards progress.

Muslims around the world believe in the glory of past achievements. Religious leaders continue to remind their audiences about great periods in Islamic history. They collectively ignore to emphasize those aspects of Islam that launched Muslim nations towards greatness and hark back to times when the World was very simple and challenges required simple solutions. Till such times that Muslim nations understand and correctly diagnose problems, they will continue to belong to the so-called Third World. I would like to highlight the aspects of Islam, which have been ignored and still have not received due importance and recognition. While the problems can be identified with relative ease, the solutions will require an in depth understanding to face the challenges of the 21st century. If we do not understand the far-reaching implications of the basic message, then the Muslim nations will continue to stay back in somewhere in 16th to 18th century.


In this day and age, at the threshold of 21st century, the leadership in Muslim countries must emphasize the following tenets of Islam. Once the due importance has been placed on these aspects, then institutions will have to be developed or improved to implement these aspects of Islam.


1. Pursuit of knowledge.


The teachings of Holy Qur’an and Hadith place a high importance on the acquisition of knowledge. Knowledge meant all kinds of scientific, technical, social and political information. It was never meant to be only the knowledge of religious rituals. If it were only religious knowledge, then Prophet would not advise his followers to travel even to China to seek knowledge. He would have asked them to stay in Makkah and Medinah and master the details of Islam. The earlier Muslims, up to the 15th century, understood the true message of Islam and advanced the knowledge acquired from earlier civilizations. Then Europe translated the works of Muslim scholars and scientists and started the process of renaissance. Gradually, Europe and other western countries continued to advance and Muslims stopped learning from outside. The Muslims continued to believe that anything discovered by Europeans or knowledge gained by Western people should not be learned or assimilated to avoid cultural influences that will come with it. This gradual decline, starting from the sixteenth century continues today.

The importance of knowledge in Islam is underscored by the following sayings of the Prophet (s): • "The ink of a scholar is more holy than the blood of a martyr" • " To listen to the instruction of science and learning for one hour is more meritorious than standing up in prayers for a thousand nights." • "An hour’s contemplation and study of Allah’s creation is better than a year of prayers"


At present, the literacy rate in most of the Muslim countries is way below Europe, Americas or even some Asian countries. It reflects that education and quest of knowledge receives a very low priority in Muslim countries. In India, when Sir Syed Ahmed Khan started the process of establishing educational institution for Muslims, many religious scholars opposed him for polluting the minds of Muslims with western ideas and education. It is observed that many Muslim scholars mentioning knowledge only in the passing and not do highlight it as a critical issue for propagation of Islam. This has been projected as a personal choice issue. In Islamic centers and Mosques any discussion about science, technology and economics is discouraged. Even in America, there are a number of Muslim families who do not send their daughters to school. The fear is that the girls will learn bad habits and bring disgrace to the family. The girls are sent back home to stay and marry after a certain age. Islam not only emphasized knowledge but also asked its followers to explore and think about the whole universe. In Surah Rehman, the Muslims were given impetus to study and explore the universe, moon, sun and stars. Based on these Qur’anic injunctions, the young Muslims must be exhorted to seek knowledge and education as a religious duty and excel in these areas.


2. Philanthropy and Charity One of the common sights in many Muslim countries is the presence of a large number of beggars. If the common Muslim understands meaning of Zakat and the idea behind it, then there should not be any beggars. The concept of charity has become outdated. In many Muslim countries, it means throwing small amounts of money to the beggars. In India and Pakistan, lots of people go to the tombs (Dargahs and Mazars) and feed people as an act of charity. In Islam charity begins with close relatives, orphans, and neighbors and then extends out to other deserving segments of the society. Currently, the modern states in Europe and America have a complete system of social welfare. In addition to government programs, there are countless organizations that cater to all kinds of deprived segments of the society. These kinds of institutions can be improved upon in line with Islamic values. Since Allah Almighty ordained that charity would bring wealth to the people, it is no wonder when we find out that the wealthiest nations in this World are the most charitable as well. The prosperity of America is perhaps due the charity of its people. The people in the United States help not only fellow citizens in the USA, they also contribute to every country that has a natural disaster or needs help. The wealthy people have established charitable trusts and have contributed large amounts of personal wealth to the deserving public and private institutions. No country in the present world has so many charitable organizations as the USA. The concept of Zakat is very explicit but requires modern institutions to reach out to the really needy people. Even if the most basic form of Zakat is implemented in Muslim countries, there will be a great benefit to all society.


3. Human Rights Islam is the first religion that started the concept of human rights and equality. The Prophet of Islam preached the equality of mankind and gave a criterion to judge human beings. If we look deeply, the whole struggle of Islam centered on challenging the status quo in a society where the infant girls were buried alive and people were divided into various tribes. The ruling class in Makkah asked the Prophet (s) for a separate status from ordinary Muslims which he declined. Islam was the first religion that preached equal treatment under the law without discrimination based on race, color and gender for all Muslims. Islam also outlined the rights of fellow human beings and placed it before other obligations of Muslims. The Islamic history is full of events wherein human rights were given great importance. The Prophet (s) in his last sermon explicitly declared; "An Arab is not superior to non Arab or vice versa". The concept of human equality is given only a lip service in most of the Muslim countries.


4. Mercy and Forgiveness Whenever Islam or Islamic Sharia is mentioned, an image emerges of a system where there is no room for forgiveness. This image is not farfetched. The defining aspect of Islamic Sharia that has been propagated and also practiced is an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. This image has been enhanced by Islamic revolution in Iran, harsh penalties in Middle Eastern countries and currently highlighted by events in Afghanistan. Although this has been blown out of proportion by western mass media, there is no Islamic country or a party that has emphasized the role of mercy and forgiveness in Islam or the life of our Prophet (s). Whenever anyone talks of implementing Sharia law in any country, the first thing that comes to mind is the cutting the hands of thieves and lashes for the drunken people. Islam combined the mercy and compassion of Christianity with the concept of punishment proportional to the crime in Judaism. The life and times of prophet Muhammad (s) is full of numerous historical events where he has shown mercy for his worst enemies and forgave the people who had committed war crimes against Muslims. The events during the conquest of Makkah by Muslims highlight the importance of mercy and forgiveness in Islam. The Prophet (s) explicitly ordered that women, children and old people should not be killed. The people who lay down their arms should not be harmed. The Prophet (s) forgave all of his sworn enemies such as people who killed his companions and beloved uncle Hamza (a).


5. Cleanliness The cleanliness in Islam has been described as half Iman. The Muslims have been time and again reminded about cleanliness, as they have to perform ablution before prayer. Islam enunciated the principle of cleanliness. However, the concept of cleanliness has to be extended from personal hygiene to clean home, streets, neighborhoods and environments. The issues of environmental pollution, global warming, clean air and clean water are perfectly Islamic and need resolution. Knowledge and cleanliness go hand in hand. The illiterate masses cannot understand the problems of chemicals polluting the underground water reservoirs or the depletion of ozone layer causing a number of diseases. The problem is so glaring that it does not require any elaboration. A visit to neighboring countries such as Morocco and Spain can easily show the contrast between a Muslim and a non-Muslim country. The first and foremost criterion for judging a civilized society is the level of cleanliness. The Muslims around the World have either forgotten Islamic teachings about cleanliness or completely ignore them. If we really believe in Islamic injunctions, then Muslims should be in the forefront of understanding the issues of global warming, pollution and the impact of massive deforestation on environments.


6. Simple and honest living The great prophet of Islam has left a shining example unparalleled in the history of mankind of a simple and honest living. After the conquest of Makkah, the World lied before his feet. He could have lived a lavish life and still receive all the admiration of Muslims. However, it is still inspiring and awesome to think that prophets lived an austere life without any luxury. One time Omar (r) saw him in his house and asked why the leader of Muslims is living such a simple life whereas Kings of Rome and Persia live in palaces. The Prophet (s) remarkably replied that theirs is a life for this World and for me the kingdom of hereafter. The companions of the Prophet (s) were inspired by his example and became legends in their own rights. There are a number of documented events of the lives of Prophet’s companions living simple honest lives and sacrificing everything in the cause of Allah Almighty. Looking at the Muslims of today it appears that Muslims in general and our rulers in particular want to live a life of luxury. The authoritarian regimes and kings still exist in Muslim countries. Even the rulers of poor Muslim countries live like kings. The example and teachings of Prophet (s) are not really understood or followed.


7. Unity among believers Before the advent of Islam the people in the Arabian Peninsula were divided into various tribes and clans. Islam cut across all ethnic and racial divisions and gave the Muslims a concept of brotherhood and one Ummah. After a brief period, Islam united the Arabian people and Islam eclipsed the major empires of that time. In Surah Al-‘Imran-103, Allah Almighty ordained Muslims as "Hold firmly together to the rope of Allah, and be not divided among yourselves, and remember the favors Allah bestowed on you when you were one another’s foe and He reconciled your hearts and turned you into brethren through His grace" Looking at the ground reality, Muslims across the World are divided as never before in the history. In Pakistan there are violent reactions of racial, ethnic and religious divide. Even in America, where the lessons can be learned the divisions are obvious. There are three classes of Muslims in America. The Arabic speaking people consider themselves as first class Muslims because they can read Qur’an (not necessarily understand it) with proper pronunciation. The second class Muslims comprise of people coming from the subcontinent (India, Pakistan and Bangladesh). All other Muslims coming from Africa or local African-American Muslims are considered as a third class in most of the Muslim communities. There are Turkish, Egyptian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi Islamic centers in the USA. In addition to ethnic origins, there are divisions like Sunni, Shia and Salafi. A difference in opinion and interpretations of certain details should be acceptable. However, the division goes beyond the normal levels. The Muslims must remember the Qur’anic injunctions and limit the differences to a lower level.




 In conclusion, the Muslim Societies around the world will stay behind the civilized world if they do not understand and appreciate the principles behind the message of Islam. The ideas require reinterpretation in all ages at different times. This new century has many new challenges. Even America is continuously updating their laws and methods to face the new problems of information age and beyond. Islam ushered in the age of reason. Our Prophet (s) struggled and worked very hard in spreading the message of Islam. We as Muslims have to understand the spirit behind the rituals and follow the spirit and not get bogged down in the differences between various sects and national customs. The Muslims can reclaim the heritage of learning, charity, kindness and generosity again by following the tested principles of Islam with the understanding of underlying universal truth.

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