Skip to main content

Ideas- Decline/Revival of Islamic Civilization

  bismill2.gif (1891 bytes)      
              Ideas and the Decline/Revival 
                    of Islamic Civilization

M. A. Muqtedar Khan

Human existence has always been dependent on the power of ideas. It was our capacity for ideas that allowed us to take over this planet from other beasts far more powerful than us. It is safe to say that in the very beginning of human life, the fact that ideas are more powerful than power itself was established.  The impact of ideas can be felt in three different ways; one, ideas can transform our understanding of life and through that transform the very conditions of our existence (Iman). Two, ideas can transform our conception of ourselves and begin a new reconstruction of the self (Tazkiyyah Annafs). Three, ideas can alter the balance of power between communities and lead to freedom from slavery and oppression (Islah).
But we must remember that all ideas have an expiry date. Once ideas become stale they lose their emancipatory capacity and become oppressive. Ideas that once liberated and transformed a society, if allowed to become dogma, will cause stagnation and decline of that society.  Yes, you read me correctly. The same idea can liberate and imprison the individual/collective mind as well. The key to utilizing the power of ideas is to ensure that the human will is always in charge and never subordinated to any old idea.
Ideas are meanings. Without ideas nothing is meaningful. All individuals and civilizations have an idea of the self and an idea of the big picture. These constitutive ideas are essential not only for the existence but the continued growth of the self. If we allow foundational ideas to stagnate then we will lose our vitality and our strength and look like yesterdays pasta.
This is what, I believe, has happened to the Islamic Ummah. Our genesis, our phenomenal and explosive growth and all our past glory, was the sole expression of a divine idea – Islam.  The idea of Islam transformed our vision of ourselves, gave us a new meaning of life itself, and as it unfolded we gave birth to one of the most glorious periods in human history.
Before we go any further with this discussion, let me make it clear that there are basically two types of ideas -- pure ideas and contingent ideas. Pure ideas are solely the province of the supreme divine being – Allah -- and in that sense the unfolding of creation is a continuous flow of ideas from the divine fountainhead. Human beings are only capable of producing contingent ideas.  Contingent ideas are nothing but the outcome of the human processing of pure ideas. Pure ideas confront us in the form of revealed texts, material creation itself and as  insights garnered through connections with the divine.
The glory of the Islamic civilization emerged as a consequence of the enormous flow of contingent ideas from Muslim thinkers processing the pure idea of Islam. It led to the emergence of several streams of ideas (discourses) fiqh (Islamic legal thought), Falsafa (philosophy), adab (moral science), tasawwuf (spirituality), and Kalam (metaphysics).  Islamic science that included mathematics, physics, geology, chemistry, astronomy, anthropology, sociology and historiography developed as the handmaiden of Islamic philosophy.
These streams of contingent ideas continued to flow and enrich not only the Islamic World but also the entire human civilization. Every new stream of ideas added a newer, deeper and richer dimension to the Islamic world. In its time it manifested the zenith of human achievements in both corporeal as well as spiritual sense. This great epoch in human history was essentially the outcome of the human mind processing the pure idea of Islam.
Today, the Islamic Ummah is in disarray. It has not only lost its past glory, but has also lost the capacity to comprehend the virtues and the causes of its past glory.   It is in decline and unable to defend or take care of itself. After nearly 100 years of Islamic revivalism in the Sunni world, the best we have to show is the Taliban in Afghanistan! Let us hope that like Iran, Afghanistan too will turn towards moderation and freedom. 
I believe the singular reason for this state of affairs is the transformation of a people from processors of ideas to recyclers of ideas.  On the moral and spiritual front we are trying to recycle the ideas of our forefathers and on the material front we are just consumers of Western ideas.

Muslims, thanks to their obsessions with contingent ideas like the fiqh literature, have become estranged from the pure idea of Islam, and have also been deprived of their capacity to generate contingent ideas more meaningful to their times. It is this alienation from the creative process of idea generation that has stripped the Islamic civilization of its vitality and its brilliance leaving behind an embittered, insecure and clueless Ummah.

The sooner we realize the absence of ideas and encourage, freedom of thought, creativity, and intellectual self-determination, the sooner will we recover some semblance of our past glory and fulfill our God given mandate of universal moral leadership.

Popular posts from this blog

A historic moment in the Arab world

لحظة تاريخية في العالم العربي
As a democratic revolution led by tech-empowered young people sweeps the Arab world, Wadah Khanfar, Al Jazeera's director-general, shares a profoundly optimistic view of what's happening in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and beyond. In the first talk posted online from the TED 2011 conference in California, Khanfar describes the powerful moment when people realised they could step out of their homes and ask for change. "كما ثورة ديمقراطية بقيادة الشباب التكنولوجيا ذات صلاحيات تجتاح العالم العربي ، وضاح خنفر ، الجزيرة المدير العام والأسهم وجهة نظر متفائلة بشكل كبير ما يحدث في مصر وتونس وليبيا وخارجها. وفي اول حديث له نشر على الانترنت من مؤتمر تيد 2011 في ولاية كاليفورنيا ، خنفر يصف لحظة قوية عند الناس أدركت أنها لا يمكن الخروج من منازلهم ونطلب من أجل التغيير." This talk was given on March 1, 2011 in Long Beach, California. TED 2011 is taking place between March 1 and Mar…

Our Captured, Wounded Hearts: Arundhati Roy On Balakot, Kashmir And India

With his reckless “pre-emptive” airstrike on Balakot in Pakistan, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has inadvertently undone what previous Indian governments almost miraculously, succeeded in doing for decades. Since 1947 the Indian Government has bristled at any suggestion that the conflict in Kashmir could be resolved by international arbitration, insisting that it is an “internal matter.” By goading Pakistan into a counter-strike, and so making India and Pakistan the only two nuclear powers in history to have bombed each other, Modi has internationalised the Kashmir dispute. He has demonstrated to the world that Kashmir is potentially the most dangerous place on earth, the flash-point for nuclear war. Every person, country, and organisation that worries about the prospect of nuclear war has the right to intervene and do everything in its power to prevent it.  Keep reading  >>>>

India has built around itself an aura of a global power whose time has come. For at least the last t…

Kashmir Jihad - Analysis & Options


Kashmir is an incomplete agenda of partition of India. Since 1947, India and Pakistan have fought three wars on this issue. According to UN resolutions, Kashmiris have to decide their accession to Pakistan or India through impartial plebiscite, which could not take place due to Indian reluctance. Recently, India revoked Article 370 of the Constitution, which granted special autonomous status to Kashmir, it was done to unilaterally integrate occupied Kashmir. This is a violation of the UN resolutions and the Simla bilateral agreement, which demands to maintain status quo until the final settlement. The US and world powers are emphasizing that Kashmir should be resolved bilaterally, though India has refused to hold talks with Pakistan. In the present scenario, while India has turned Kashmir into the largest prison of 9 million people, denying basic human rights and oppressing the Kashmiris' who want freedom from India, Pakistan cannot watch as a silent spec…