Q. 2. Now about the Islamic banks and other Islamic establishments and organizations: some would regard them as representing a new and unprecedented era of Islam. So do you find such establishments and organizations as having brought about a major change to the Ummah's status quo?
Or do you think that they are no more than a change in form rather than content?
A. 2. The Islamic banks have come into being on the basis that the interest of other banks is the Islamically prohibited usury. The interest, however, is no more than one of the tools of the capitalistic system, and you can never change any system by changing a mere detail of it. Now, as for the Islamic legal rules, and with reference to the Islamic economic philosophy, 'riba, or usury' is not confined to usury collected on loans; 'riba' rather encompasses in the Islamic conception all kinds of economic injustice.
Now for an objective attitude towards any economic issue, we need first to be cognizant of the philosophy we are dealing with, and all the economic, social and political systems it encompasses – which collectively comprise the system itself. The unique nature of the basic system will determine the kind of techniques and tools required for concretizing it and the philosophy that those techniques and tools stand for.
One may cite in this connection an incidence in which the Prophet, peace be upon him, called the sharecropping, the paying of the rent of a land in the form of its crops, riba – That was when the Prophet, peace be upon him, passed by Rafi' bin Khudaij, a Companion of the Prophet, and asked him to whom the land belonged and to whom the crop belonged. Rafi' replied: "What I grow I reap; part of which I put aside as seeds, and some will be mine in wages for my work. Half of the crop will belong to the so and so family, owners of the land; the other half will be due to me." But the Messenger, peace be upon him, said: "Now claim only what you have spent on the land, and return the land to its owners: for both of you two parties have committed riba."
And hence, the main problem about the Islamic banks is that they consider riba not within the economic context that it belongs to – they rather take it to be a legal issue, related to the technicalities of transactions. The outcome is that some people are resorting to subterfuges to accept or give loans involving this kind of profit under the designation of money-work profit-sharing transaction 'murabaha'. This and many other transactions and dubious dealings result from this kind of rigid approaches. All such practices are really diminishing the straightforward profit-sharing transaction, to maximize the banks' profits. One kind of transaction by the Islamic banks comes in the form of the so-called loan-purchase, which involves the raising of the value of a loan, which is a transaction used by those banks to increase their gains – and yet it is no more than another 'application' that is precipitating the debtor into accumulative loans, to a point that he/she cannot pay back. It is such transactions which have ushered the world into the present global recession. The Islamic banks have gained much at the expense of the debtors.
It is no wonder then that the Western banks hasten to open Islamic branches and so called Islamic loans – meaning thereby to ride the wave of Islamic zeal. And they are sure to reap the lion's share of a Muslim's money and Muslims' financial dealings.
The point here is that Islamic economy as a discipline has been long neglected. It has for sure not received the scientific research that is required to bring out its various aspects: for instance, so much rigorous work is needed to establish a system of cooperation and integration, not for Muslims alone, but for all humans. Quite a few researches must direct efforts to tapping the verses of Qur'an, and benefiting from the wisdom of the Prophet, peace be upon him – and the same researchers must, at the same time, have the necessary skill to adapt those texts to their community in as realistic manner as possible, and to be fully aware of the constraints of time and place. All this is inevitable for establishing a Muslim society, and is a necessary first step to demonstrating that Islam is indeed the religion of justice and consolidation, realizable and fit for all humans – and not a utopia.
One instance of adapting Qur'anic values to the temporal situation is what Umar bin al-Khattab, the second caliph, did concerning the 'Sawad' a region of Iraq, when he decreed that it should be a kharaj, or tax-payable territory, with the revenue to be deposited to the public treasury – and in this way its benefit would reach the whole nation. It may be noted that this novel decree was enacted quite close to the Prophet's time. Umar's edict had to be different from the policy during the Prophet's time, for what existed around the Medina, the Islamic capital, were, at the Prophet's, peace be upon him, time, no more than small lots, each suitable for the sustenance of one family. The 'Sawad' region, in contrast, would result, if handed over to the victorious warriors, in feudalists and feudalism.
This event is especially good to recall, since Umar's 'innovation' took place quite a short time after the Prophet's era, in the ideal period unanimously designated as the 'age of the Upright Caliphs'. The Upright Caliphs' time is the standard towards which Muslims have throughout their ages looked up to, trying to emulate – with of course the necessary adjustment dictated by the particular circumstances of any time and part of the world – and this is the appropriate 'innovation of religion.'
Hence, for any objective approach to the topic of interest and the Islamic banks, and for any practical plan for dealing with these establishments, we need first to work on understanding the Islamic economic philosophy, its system and its tools – all with a view to 'adapting' the revealed Scripture, and the wisdom of the Prophet, together with that of the Upright Caliphate that followed right after the Prophet: real efforts must be given to implementing those texts and directives in our particular age and in light of our potentials and our scientific limits.
It is not in vain that Allah says, addressing believers, that the Prophet, peace be upon him, teaches them, 'the Scripture and wisdom' (the Qur'an, 2:151, and elsewhere); and, says elsewhere, addressing believers, that His Messenger, 'shall rehearse Your Sings to them and instruct them in Scripture and Wisdom, and sanctify them.' (2:129)
The upshot of all the above is that it is the economists who must undertake what is due on them; and then comes the time for the jurists and legislators to translate the above guidelines set down by the economists into instructions, rules and laws – all designed to set up an Islamic system and to manage finance, through the proper establishments: indeed any measures necessary for establishing justice and putting a stop to all kinds of economic injustice (of which riba, or usury, is the prime example.)
Q. 3. How do you view, from a thinker's perspective, the Islamic Ummah's reaction, on both the state and public levels, to the movie that slandered the Messenger?
A. 3. Let me first of all make it clear that the reaction of the Muslim public to the despicable film is no more than an expression of their love for Allah's religion and the Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him. The same may be said of their reaction to previous provocative 'works of art', such as Rushie's novel and the slanderous cartoons.
Next, it must be noted that any violent acts do the Muslim cause a disservice – the opposite is really more likely to happen, i.e. it is the enemies of Islam that are more likely to reap the fruit of such violence.
Another point to note is that this kind of so-called 'art'; whether it comes in the form of poetry, fiction, cartoons, or any other form – is not really freedom of expression. It is rather shameless slander and name-calling; it is really an obscene assault on people's reputation.
To hold a so-called work-of-art of this vulgar kind, with the intention of enjoying the plot and aesthetic elements; to accept to be a passive receiver of vulgar indecency, without any reflection or rational analysis – this would be no more than yielding to a kind of criterion other than rational or scientific writing. It is the sort of work which discourages rational debate, and blurs the right approach. The Qur'an itself never evaded the arguments of persons antagonistic to Islam; it presented their views quite candidly concerning Islam or the Prophet of Islam, most vividly prior to refuting them. It is from the Qur'an that we learn their saying: "this [the Prophet] is indeed an evident sorcerer;" (10:2) their saying: "he [the Prophet] forged it;" (11:13, and elsewhere) and so many other statements of those hostile to Islam.
One may recall in this connection a history of obscene language and name-calling in our culture, which goes by the name of 'art' – whereas it is no more than slandering adversaries and defaming them out of malice. Don't we all know how the poet Jarir lampooned his rival poet, al-Farazdaq? He said of the latter's family: "They are those who, when their dog barks at some approaching person, they would urge their mother to urinate on the fire [so that the prospective guest would not expect a meal]?" Had it not been for the charm of poetic language, any hearer or reader would not pay much attention to a speaker's saying of a certain group that they are so stingy and inhospitable that they urinate on their fire at the arrival of a guest. It is very likely that the hearer would feel disgusted and turn away from such degradation. But it is the poetic language which has changed the effect of the defamatory statements.
Not superior to that, and even more bitter and telling, is the poetry composed by al-Mutanabbi against Kafur al-Ikhshidi, the then Egyptian ruler, out of malice. To be sure, it is merely al-Mutanabbi's forceful poetic expression that has preserved his lines for over ten centuries – and one may say it will survive with the survival of Arabic language and literature.
What is expected of me if someone utters obscenities against someone dear and close to me: a mother, a father, a sister, or a daughter? There are laws against libel that redress the wronged person. For, if the law does not make amends, the insulted person might have to assault the slanderer physically or resort to some such violent way.
And hence we may proceed to say that it does not avail us, in reaction to that torrent of obscenity and malicious slander – justified as 'art' – to seek the support of foreign politicians, and to urge them to apologize for their bad-mannered citizens. The right policy is for Muslims, on state and popular levels, to plead with the concerned countries, and through the proper diplomatic channels, to enact laws that incriminate such false and offensive practices. But having said this, we might as well remember that to just plead with the concerned governments would not cause them to respond, when the Muslim countries are suffering from their perpetual weakness and bickering and inefficiency. The Muslim Ummah will need to exercise effective pressure by every single nation, individually and collectively, upon the concerned counties, a pressure that really touches their interests.
There are of course so many areas where pressure may be exercised; foremost among them is the economic interests.
And hence, in place of the demonstrations, with all that may attend them: the ignorance of some, the ill judgment of others, and the deliberately destructive role of some individuals – it would be better for the multitudes, keen to serve their beloved religion and Prophet, and determined to protect their hallowed entities, to take individual and peaceful initiatives, that no law can ban, and no authority can prevent.
So why not resort to boycotting the products of the concerned countries – when we know well that other friendly countries are all ready to provide alternative products? Some exceptions will of course be necessary, since certain products are not available anywhere but from a certain country. But such exempted products cannot be numerous!
Let me clarify a point here: the effect of one cent on the economy of any country is equal to forty cents; in the same way the effect of one million is equal to forty million, and the effect of one hundred billions is equal to forty hundred billions. So imagine the force that can be exercised by the Muslim nation, that approximates two billions!
Let's also remember that the Zionist movement has succeeded, with its well-known tools, in having similar laws enacted and enforced in the West; and the result is that it is now a crime to insult a Jew or to defame his/her religion.
So it will be right to wonder why should the honor and sacred issues and entities of the Muslim nations be violated time after time? Why should their honor be the butt of ridicule on the part of all!
The Western and many other nations have indeed a lot at stake in the Muslim World: so many of their economic and commercial interests are with the Muslim nations. Therefore, the right thing to do is for our nations to have their legislatures enact deterrent laws that stop any one from trespassing Islamic, or any religious, sacred matters, staining the honor of these nations, or any of their institutions – from the royalty and down to any other institution. Muslim traditions and culture are to be respected and never mishandled. No one must have the audacity to publish disfigured pictures of anyone from our part of the world; no one should be let to get away without legal action when he commits slanderous acts against any individual, entity, or institution.
Q. 4. Do you agree with those who say that the Islamic classical books are partly to blame for the low condition of the Ummah?
Do you see ways of purifying those sources of the impurities that have clung to them, which resulted in the Ummah turning into something like an unthinking multitude – a mass of people that have nothing in life but eating and drinking until the hand of death comes to remove them?
What is your general comment on this?
A. 4. Well, yes, I generally agree that much of the writings of past centuries have resulted in the decline and degradation that have come over the Ummah. It is the culture that has descended to us through those books that has spawned all the superstitions and misconception among all classes of our Muslim nations; it is they that justified the subjugation of the Muslim and the oppressive ways – which took the form of tyranny and corruption.
It is well known that the early generations of Islam relied on the Qur'an alone with the wise application of it in the traditions of the Prophet, peace be upon him, supplemented with that of the Upright Caliphs and some other bright glimpses from later history.
Other than that, what accumulated across time were great masses of worthless impurities that have brought on the Ummah's decline and defeat. It is the main factor behind our succumbing to the dominance of our enemies and our blind mimicry of other nations, in the hope of its bringing us out of the wilderness.
I am not of course denying the glowing moments in the history of our Ummah – for it will not do to bypass great scholars like Ibn Hazm, Ibn Rushd, Ibn Taymiyah, and Ibn Khaldoun. But even those luminaries were marginalized and ignored by the mainstream thinkers and scholars, whose work was characterized by stagnation – it is this latter that has prevailed among the different layers of the public. Otherwise how can we understand the present weakness and blind mimicry of other nations? How can we understand the degree of stagnation and almost absolute absence of initiative that prevails everywhere in the Muslim World; where innovation and professionalism are a rare thing to come across? This has of course led the Ummah to occupy only a back seat among nations, since it has nothing to contribute to the creative and dynamic efforts in the world. What an observer of the Muslim World might see is mostly masses of inactive people who have little to do but eat and drink.
All this must stimulate the Ummah's thinkers to carry out a general review of the Ummah's intellectual and cultural progress (or at some stages lack of progress), especially since the down-turn of its political leadership: this leadership underwent certain deteriorations after the passing away of most Companions of the Prophet. The latter were around during the Prophet's era and the early Upright Caliphate, but then they were no longer there. Their earlier presence had been critical, and their later absence was equally critical, for the Companions had crystallized the pure faith and the Prophet's wisdom; and when that was lost it meant that the original voice was no longer heard, and there came instead cohorts of Bedouins, whose condition was depicted in the Qur'an – for the Holy Writ was directing all those who had some influence to work on reeducating those groups. Their tribes badly needed to be alerted to the basics of Islam, after overcoming their dense ignorance and tribal bigotry: an overhaul that required a great deal of effort, and over a prolonged period.
This reeducation never took place, under the circumstances: and hence, it was the tribal trends, under the Umayyad house, that predominated. The result was of course the long downhill march. The spirit of faith, with all its driving force and the spirit of civilization it inspired, was vanishing and eroding with the erosion of the first generation – in short, it was the beginning of the end for the Islamic civilization.
What Allah says of the Bedouins is very true of the tribal new generation; let's read His words: "The desert Arabs say, 'We believe.' Say, 'You have no faith; but you only say, 'We have submitted our wills to Allah,' for Faith has not yet entered your hearts." (49:14); and, elsewhere in the Qur'an, "The Arabs of the desert are the worst in unbelief and hypocrisy, and the most fitted to be ignorant of the command which Allah has sent down to His Messenger: but Allah is All-Knowing, All-Wise." (9:97)
With the expansion of the Muslim state, the disease of racist attitudes was bound to take a turn to the worse, and it spread to non-Arab nations. It is this same disease that lingers to this day, and it is more or less the same disease anywhere in the Muslim World.
And hence, for the light of Islam to emerge here and there in the world, this will not occur until the light of Islam shines in the minds of Muslims by once again reviewing the values and concepts of the Holy Writ, the wisdom of the Messenger, and the applications of the Companions of the Prophet in general, and the Upright Caliphs in particular. The latter did their best to understand the Prophet's teachings within the context of their own time – they certainly had not memorized texts the way clerics memorized texts later, for the texts that appeared later reflected the deterioration in the Ummah's condition. We have not yet escaped from such conditions, and that is the point of departure for us today.
What we are bound to do, and what is absolutely required of us, is to refer to the values of the Qur'an, which addresses a human's innate nature, and ordains that a human being must work hard and endeavor to earn his living; but it equally ordains that he endeavors to develop life in the earth, where man, individually and collectively, has been placed as a viceroy – man has no existence except as a member of the group, and a group is no more than individuals converging as a small community, and then as a nation.
We have to understand modern designations, like 'modern traditionalism' and 'Islamicization of knowledge' as no more than new designations for a fresh understanding of Islam itself, and implementing it, within the here-and-now context and in a way that adapts it to the human conditions.
It is through properly understanding the innate human nature [fitrah in Arabic] that we can get at the Qur'anic text and the wisdom it bears: it is when we get to the essence of the Qur'an that we are enabled to view the innate human nature in its right perspective. What now falls under 'the social and human sciences from an Islamic perspective' will be transformed into ethical and religious commitment, not in connection with this earthly life alone, but covering the Hereafter, too.
We may learn as much from such a tradition of the Prophet as, "your recompense is equal to your deeds, good for good; bad for bad;" a Qur'anic verse like, "whatever good you send forth for your souls before you, you shall find it with Allah;" (2:110) and "Whoever works righteousness, man or woman, and has Faith, verily, to him We will give a new Life, a life that is good and pure, and We will bestow on such their reward according to the best of their actions." (16:97)
Indeed, when we speak of 'modern traditionalism,' or 'Islamicization of knowledge,' such expressions imply two sides; they will not fly without both wings, so to speak:
One dimension is getting to the essence of the Qur'anic text, and perceiving the 'wisdom' of the Prophet's traditions. This is the first step. And the next step is a review of the Ummah's heritage, to extract any useful insight from the many practices and applications (and the useful may be detected in mature as well as immature practices;) with a view to drawing insight from all that in order to reconstruct the Muslim intellect, in a cultural as well as an educational sense. This is indispensable for ridding the Muslim mind from perversion, superstition, and bigotry which at present permeate the Muslim nations' beliefs, culture and the education of their children: all this is crucial for achieving a 'true innovation', in which the Qur'anic values and concepts are applied in as effective way as possible to the current conditions, to the actual situation, in its temporal and spatial parameters.
The other dimension is to acquire the proper scientific perception of the innate human nature. For this, we need to put to use the findings of all relevant sciences, and especially the social and human sciences, for achieving a 'Qur'anic and civilized worldview'. And when we find the social and human sciences inadequate in their present condition, it is because those sciences run on two tracks:
The first is universal, since they do get to many scientific facts;
and the other is not equally objective, since it puts the above facts at the disposal of the Western 'bestial' worldview.
To bring the above representation within the comprehension of all readers, let's think of the knife. A knife is there to cut; but when we come to decide what to cut with the knife we are considering an aspect that is quite distinct from the knife itself: for the knife is useful for preparing food, but it can equally be used for committing a crime. And hence, when we insist on considering our heritage as a category distinct from the revealed text; when we do not hesitate to pick up its useful insights and leave aside its worthless portion, we are dealing with it in the same way as we must deal with the modern Western legacy. In dealing with this latter legacy we need to separate the scientific facts, which must be claimed by all humankind, from the Western employment of the scientific findings for the West's 'bestial' purposes. We may not disregard the Western behavior when it applies the law of the jungle, and when it wages the world wars, which claimed hundreds of millions of people. We have seen often enough how the West acts on the law of the jungle, most conspicuously in the imperial wars, when it invaded, and still invades, many nations, destroys their social structure, robs their wealth and controls their lives.
Now for the Muslim Ummah to start its reformative and spiritual mission, and to embark on its own civilization, it will have to initiate a drastic change in people's concepts, and their thinking paradigm – until they are crystallized in scientific institutions, in really comprehensive establishments for all branches of knowledge: in the same way as the West has developed and is developing its sciences. Only such organized and institutionalized work can guarantee the building up of Islamic intellectual, scientific, educational, and social cadres in an effective and sustainable way.
It is true that the universities in South-East Asia, especially in Malaysia and Indonesia, have gone some way in adopting the principle the 'Islamicization of knowledge' and 'modern traditionalism'; and that is a good first step, for those universities have produced ripe fruits that both the near and far acknowledge.
It will transpire from the above that the Arab and Muslim Worlds have no alternative but to adopt the above design: for one thing it embodies the desired system; and because taking up the legacy of past centuries for analysis and sifting will not take place in an efficient way, without a scientific society in an Arabic context, independent and autonomous in thought and language.
I pray the Almighty Allah that He guide this Ummah: to restructure the universities of the Arab World, as others have preceded them, to develop the progress of education and scientific research, from an Islamic and human perspective. I pray Him to support them in taking major strides in restructuring the Ummah and reactivating its role in serving all humankind.
I have personally had to take up such intellectual and educational issues; and that meant facing so many negative concepts in faith and grappling with the clinging to superstition and mythology. I have of course done my share in reviving the idea of a believer's viceroyalty on earth – a principle that provides a Muslim's life with meaning; and sets before his/her eyes a destination towards which his/her spirit will strive. This is in my view the kind of life that is worth endeavoring to realize, for both this earthly life and the life to come – the opposite of a bestial and low kind of life.
When I speak of my humble efforts, I am referring to some books of mine which are accessible free of charge at the site of the "International Institute of Islamic Thought" – some of which are: The Crisis of the Muslim Mind; The Crisis of the Muslim Conscience and Will; The Qur'anic Worldview of Civilization; Current Islamic Reformation. There are more books and writings on the site, which a reader may check and judge for himself/herself how helpful he/she finds them.
Q.5 . Being one of the foremost Muslim thinkers, what in your view are the major challenges that the Muslim Ummah is facing in the twenty-first century?
A.5 . This is a topic that I have often handled in my attempt to analyze the conditions of the Ummah – its past glory, when it gave humankind, at the peak of its productivity, the best that any civilization can give – which stands out most sharply when contrasted with the present deplorable conditions – the backwardness and retardation; the acute inability to contribute anything at all to the advance of civilization; the resultant misery of the Muslim nations, when they have descended to the level of slaves as far as mental attitude is concerned. One result of our ignorance and passivity is that almost the only thing that we can offer the world is our exporting some raw materials which, as everybody knows, are really extracted from the earth by those very powers, under licenses favorable to themselves, since it is they who have the expertise. Later we reimport some of these products in the form of manufactured goods at exorbitant prices. The end result is that the Muslim Ummah is – in creed, in thought and in culture – almost totally devoid of creativity and contribution. Instead, what preoccupies its multitudes is earning their bread, and waiting for the inevitable demise.
Should we not be asking ourselves how it happens that the national income of this one nation, Japan, with a population of about a hundred and twenty million, with no more than three islands as its national territory – and let's remember that it is often rocked with volcanoes or earthquakes, and with almost no resources or natural wealth – has a national income that is approximately eleven times the collective national incomes of all the nations of the Muslim World!
Do you find it hard to believe that? Well, in fact there is no need to be much amazed, since the majority of the Muslim nations' exports go in the form of raw materials – and one ton of these is worth hundreds or thousands of 'dollars', and that very ton is reexported to us in the form of electronic appliances or any high-tech machines and sold for millions of 'dollars!'
The only way for our Ummah to overcome its miserable conditions is to set right its thinking system, to adopt 'modern traditionalism,' and the 'Islamicization of knowledge,' to restructure its educational and research on this basis, including the establishments of translating academic journals into Arabic, so that Arabic is not only the language of faith but that of science. Otherwise what an Arab, the same as a non-Arab, will need Arabic for is the Chapters of 'al-Fatihah,' and 'al-Ikhlas' of the Qur'an [the minimum requirement for performing the enjoined prayer.] It will not avail us much that we keep repeating that Arabic is the cornerstone of the Arabic identity, and the medium of communication for the Arab nations.
Now, if this all-crucial project is to be launched, we shall find that the cost of starting it is quite inexpensive: Indeed, the cost for setting up a translation college, a translation establishment, and a press for publishing the translated material is less than that for one of the hundreds of universities of the Arab World; and definitely less than the billions that are spent on any of those universities, with or without any use.
Once this translation work gets underway, and once the medium employed for teaching, at all stages, becomes Arabic, rich and well-adapted for the academic purpose, the publishers will be sure to sense the lucrative chances and hurry to commission translation projects.
All that is required of us is to get to work in earnest, and with sincerity; the thinkers and the intelligentsia will have to fulfill their duty in enlightening the public, both about the prevalent conditions and about the way to rid ourselves of the ignominy and weakness, and how to overcome our shortcomings and passivity. Once we move towards such targets, the Ummah will definitely be closer to a better life; things will get straight, and this will pave the way for many nations' taking a better attitude towards Islam: they will be more likely to accept its message and the 'Qur'anic worldview of civilization'; people will be much nearer to adopting Islam's system of knowledge and the society of justice and integration, caring and peace.
The main thing in all this is that Muslims should crystallize in their life a really Islamic society that embraces the Islamic concepts and the values of truth. It is this which really guarantees the saving of the Ummah, which promotes successful da'wa work and being sure that the others will accept Islam. There is no place among the world's nations for the type of community whose culture is overburdened with superstitions and fanaticisms and idle talk – people are quite aware of our shortcomings, and this reflects badly on our faith. It takes a quite erudite non-Muslim scholar at present to probe and discover Islam, although many nations, who were persecuted and downtrodden by the West, need to know about Islam where they may find the lost dignity.
We say they need Islam and its pure faith for good reason – for the West, together with many materialists around the world, no longer believe in the doctrines and faiths they formally belong to – such doctrines and systems are more myth than truth. We need only mention how the EU officially refused to have it stated that their culture was a 'Christian' culture. It is so since those nations are, generally speaking, no longer Christian, but agnostic. No wonder then that their life is governed by the law of the jungle, by bestial and aggressive materialism. They do realize that a great Power dominates the universe: hence they are not atheists. But at the same time they are not 'believers', since they bear in their memory a religion tarnished wit superstition. Religion is also associated in their minds, and they are right there, with persecution, ignorance and corruption. As an escape, they have turned whole-heartedly to the gratification of desires. They collaborate together as a wolf pack, united in their aggression against others. No one who knows the West but knows this – how under such designations as 'nationalism' and 'globalism' it does not care if, in its endeavor to secure its purposes, it tramples upon nations: we all know well how destructive the colonizing West has proved itself to be.
It is equally important, in our endeavor to reconstruct our thought, culture, and institutions, to be well cognizant of our present world, and to benefit all we can from the present world's sciences, knowledge, applications and institutions. 'Reformation' is not optional for us, but indispensable: for how can we hold on to applications which, though they worked well in the past, can no longer work after things have changed most drastically in the present?
We do admit that Muslim da'wa workers and thinkers have done their share by being alive to the Ummah's degradation and decline – since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the so called sick man of Europe, the empire which the British-French coalition totally vanquished in the course of the European 'colonizing' struggles. But having acknowledged the efforts of some distinguished workers for Islam, we must add that they do well by perceiving that there is no resuscitation of past history. We may not wish for a revival of the past, even at its greatest. The Arab and Muslim nations have really labored under that rule, for it was characterized with autocracy and backwardness – which still thrive in our region up to this day.
The Qur'anic term 'viceroy, khilafah in Arabic', used in specifying man's role on earth – this role really covers a sense that is more wide-ranging, and more comprehensive, than any political system in the world: it signifies man's being empowered in the earth; that, in his endeavor to earn his livelihood, he would be directing life on earth: in a fair and just and constructive way. The alternative is adopting the way of injustice and mischief. But man will have to face the recompense for the way he chooses, to reap good fruit for good deeds, and bad fruit for bad deeds.
Reflecting on such ideas should teach us to utterly give up the idea of resuscitating a caliphate, like the Ottoman one – let's move at once to the idea of modernism, creativity and taking the initiative: in whatever we undertake, but let's keep most loyal to our 'civilized and Islamic perspective', through which we aim to realize the maximum efficiency that is feasible within the present horizons of knowledge.
Q. 6: With reference to the recent events in some Arab countries, how does the call to an 'Islamic caliphate' sound to you?
What do you generally think of such calls?
A. 6: Let us be clear about one point – in the relationship of Arab and Muslim nations today, there is nothing like centre and periphery; there is no room for a central authority that monopolizes advantages and prestige; that marginalizes, manipulates and subjugates the other constituents.
It must equally be clear that, in our striving to reconstruct the Ummah's systems, we should be aware that each Islamic nation has its peculiar characteristics – hence each nation must be left to establish its own kind of rule. On the other hand, all these nations must lift all obstructions across their borders so that they exchange the benefits.
Another thing to note is that it is possible, and also desirable, to set up some kind of federation or confederacy, on the likeness of EU or the American union, without neglecting the above-mentioned peculiarities of individual nations. In such unions, the domestic affairs of nations are left in the hands of local administrations. On the other hand, the federal administrations must control defense, foreign affairs, currency, and such general affairs – i.e. any system that concerns all member nations, and serves all member nations. The crucial elements here are maintaining justice and choosing people for their merit and qualification. It is the union's responsibility, too, to protect the public Islamic constitutional principles, so that they are not abused or trespassed.
It is also crucial in a modern political system for the Ummah to keep the da'wa work separated from political action.
We say this because the task of da'wa work should aim to enlighten the Ummah's citizens concerning Islam's values, concepts, worldview and purposes.
The political work, on the other hand, is an arena for the diversity of visions; and the Ummah must here have full freedom in choosing the program that serves the causes which it believes will realize its interests and uphold its values.
Should the Ummah, in any detail, opt for something that is incompatible with the exalted values of Islam, this in no way justifies that the political authority imposes on the nation something that clashes with its free choice. We say this because should nations connive at the authority's imposing something that is right for once, that authority will impose so many things that are bad and unjust, which further consolidates tyranny and corruption.
The right policy for correcting any deviation of the Ummah is by doing more in the way of da'wa work – certainly not by abolishing nations' freedom, and never by withdrawing their right to choose their way – for that very freedom is the essence of man's existence on earth, as we read in a tradition, 'let man reap good for the good he does, and reap bad for the evil that he does.' This says that man can choose a life of justice and felicity in this world, and hence on the Last Day; or a life of perversion, injustice, corruption and bloodshed in this world, and the consequent misery and dejection in the Hereafter. And in the Hereafter, things will not be on the scale that we have in this world.
But the interested person may wish some more elaborate discussion of this issue, and I would refer him to a booklet of mine, The Problem of Tyranny and Corruption in Islamic History, published by Dar al-Salam Publishers, Cairo; or he/she may read the same for free at the site of "The International Institute of Islamic Thought".
Q.7 Whose responsibility is it that Islamophobia is widely spread in the West in the first place, and in many other regions in the second place?
And what is the best method for Islam to be well-received by others?
A.7. Islamophobia is the outcome of the events that take place in the Muslim World; and these events, in their turn, are really acts of 'resistance' to the aggressive behaviors and the injustice of the Western forces; as the West does all it can to exploit the Muslim World, to prolong and deepen its backwardness and its fragmentation; some perpetrate such 'terrorist' acts against this Muslim nation that do not differentiate between the 'resistance' and the underprivileged and innocent.
What will check the spread of this phobia, this horror of Islam, is to suppress the elements that have an interest in perpetuating the outrageous politics of imperialist powers, like Zionism; and which instigate some local elements, directly or indirectly, to perpetrate 'terrorist' acts.
For the Muslim countries to succeed in dealing with the 'terrorist' activities, the West must effect a general modification to its unjust policies; and must put a stop to its support or even inducement of those activities against Muslim peoples. This will enable the Muslim states and people to convict terrorist behaviors. It will also be necessary to train the Muslim states and peoples to never condone or connive at any activity that may be designated as 'terrorist.'
Q. 8. Do not you agree that opening up the channels of economic cooperation among Muslim nations must be the first step towards effecting closer ties among Muslim peoples and states?
A. 8. There is no doubt that all kinds of cooperation, economic first of all, are required, and they pay well for the Muslim Ummah and its nations. They will enable those nations to initiate industrialism and, more ambitious, a common market that represents the basis for development and resisting unemployment, and for raising the per capita income.
It is unfortunate that most Muslim countries, and especially the Arab ones, have signed all kinds of cooperation agreements, but have failed to act on any of them.
One reason is that those nations interfere in the affairs of each other, maybe out of greed for the resources of the other – and they do that in the name of nationalism, religion, or racism. And the outcome of this is generating a lot of hostility, a halting of cooperation or, maybe, even the interference of a foreign power or foreign powers, at the expense of the nations and peoples of the region.
The right thing of course is to have mutual respect and joint enterprises: this is the way to proper development and cooperation. And that is how we must understand unity; for any other approach to change is some kind of chaos and a search for illusive goals which have brought on the Ummah a lot of suffering.
Hence, it is no wonder that after all the above foolhardy adventures, the Ummah looks forward, at the present critical stage of its development, to never having to be ushered into any other similar misguided movements.
Q.9. Do you believe that globalism and the new world order, though neither has yet taken a solid shape, will influence the level of cooperation among Muslim nations?
A.9. Well, as for globalism, anyone who knows enough about world economy must be aware that it is the biggest industrial and economic powers which support the idea of free economy. The less competitive industries, on the other hand, opt for economic protection.
Therefore, the call to globalism that we keep hearing about nowadays essentially serves the interests of the major industrial countries. From this it must be evident that the Muslim countries, and all other countries in similar positions, should work hand in hand for protecting their interests: they really need to work in unison for realizing their development, protecting their interests, and raising their industrial competitiveness. They must take all the necessary measures that safeguard them from being exploited by the big powers – for the latter would fain have this region as no more than a consumer's market and a source of raw materials.
We have a manifest example in the south-east Asian nations, as a model for achieving amazing development in record time. They prove that when there is the right will, the right perceptions, the right education, and when nations are determined to acquire the industrial skill and scientific creativity – they will be sure to realize their goals.
If the nations of the Muslim World, together with other nations in similar conditions join hands, on a scientific basis, and in a spirit of honest cooperation – their economies will grow and evolve: they will be competitive, their peoples and their economies will be protected from frustration and exploitation.
In view of the above, it is a wonder that those very big powers are the side that pleads for protection, in disregard of the concept of globalization; they must have their cause for seeking to protect several sectors, all with the intention of protecting their industries, markets and their economic interests.
So we may understand in the light of the above that those big powers, who have been supporting globalization and the lifting of all obstacles to trade, are themselves urging a halt to the application of free open-door policies; and they demand that in an attempt to protect the weaker aspects of their economic and industrial systems; the sides which are less competitive in facing countries like China, Japan, and other south-east Asian countries.
Let's hope that both the peoples and leaders of the Ummah comprehend this; let's hope that they perceive the interests behind those policies. This will ensure that these countries protect their markets and interests, the interests of both state and people; it will also ensure for their economies and industries the conditions and policies favorable to attaining their objectives of development and promoting their nations' lives.
To conclude, it is important to mention some of the Ummah's priorities. They are:
First: Reforming education.
Second: Cooperation among partners.
Third: Proper planning.
Fourth: Seriousness of execution.
Let's put a stop to those agreements that do not see light. It is when we act on these principles that the Ummah's interests are protected – its nations will occupy a position of competitiveness and regain their right to human dignity. This will surely usher us into the arena of competing for civilization – but on the basis of Islam's worldview, which sets for its goal the realization of human brotherhood, justice, cooperation and peace.