A crisis ridden mind

When the fundamentals are misplaced, the structure shall sit poorly
A crisis ridden mind
"When I laid my hands on this book by Abdul H.A. Abu Sulayman, it was quite easy for me to understand what would have prompted the author to come up with the title."Special arrangement

In the century past and present one, we have been habitual of hearing oft repeated assertions: Muslims in crisis, Islam under threat, and challenges to Muslim nations, and many such labels that are crafted, fairly or otherwise, to represent the present state of Muslims.

Rarely have we heard of the label this write-up is founded on: Crisis in the Muslim Mind.

When I laid my hands on this book by Abdul H.A. Abu Sulayman, it was quite easy for me to understand what would have prompted the author to come up with the title.

Since long, Muslims have ruminated about lack of action, lack of character, lack of initiative on their part, which, in consequence, gave rise to Islamic movements in Arabian Peninsula, South East Asia and the Far East for the past 200 years.

It seems that the author intends to tell us that we have been striking the wrong cord in our reformatory exertions. When the problem is in the mind there is no point to get on to activist reform. When the fundamentals are misplaced, the structure shall sit poorly.

The book ‘crisis in the Muslim mind’ was first published in 1993 by International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), USA. The author, who breathed his last in 2021, has been an internationally renowned thinker and educationist.

He was the founding member of IIIT, and the founding member of International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM). In addition to the book in question, he has many other works to his credit.

This book was originally written in Arabic and later, due to its usefulness, was translated into English at the time when erstwhile Soviet Union lost power.

The author, in the preface to the English edition, speaks thus: “throughout the world, the adversaries of Islam continue their aggression against Muslims, in places like Bosnia, Kurdistan, Southern Sudan, Somalia, Burma, Palestine, Afghanistan, Algeria…While Muslims may react to these situations in the short term, we must never lose sight of the fact that the malaise lies in our own weakness and incompetency.”

The author all across the book lays emphasis on the point that the significant point in any reform lies in working with the fundamentals. When the crisis lies in the ‘thought’ and ‘mind’ there is fairly less promise for the reform movements, political action, mobilization and activism towards Islamic revival.

The author, without mentioning any reformation or revival movement, highlights how they have failed to produce any desired results, if not failing in their entirety.

Talking about these movements, he emphatically states, ‘the issue is not one of coming to power, or ruling over a locality, or establishing a political party’. He downplays such activism, saying, ‘thought is an element that works at the more fundamental level, one that qualifies any undertaking or program for producing real results’.

Therefore, for him, unless spadework is done to change the thought and mind of Muslims, nothing worthwhile is going to come about in their favour. His assertions have come largely true all these three decades since the publication of ‘crisis in the Muslim mind.’

The author quotes Abdul Rahman Kawakibi’s book ‘Umm al Qura’, which, according to him, was written more than a century ago, where Kawakibi delineates, in clear terms, how the Islamic revival could be brought about, yet, despite such works having been taken up, nothing substantial came out of such treatises because such essays were more superficial than fundamental.

In the very beginning of the book he presents the reader with the solutions available with the Muslims to wade out of the present quagmire. “These may”, the author states, “be classified into three categories: the imitative historical solution, the foreign historical solution, and the Islamic asalah solution.

By ‘asalah’ the author means the innovative application of original Islamic principles to changing circumstances. In this sense ‘asalah’ looks quite similar to ‘ijtihaad’, yet the author does not provide us any further explanation on the term. In imitative historical solution the author acquaints us with the tendency of Muslims to recycle the solutions from traditions into the newer times without regard to spatio-temporal change.

This method, according to the author has failed. It seems he brings many of the revivalist movements under this category. “The main drawback of the historical/traditional approach/solution” the author states, “is that it begins with the pious assumption of its own infallibility, it is intolerant of all parties, approaches and circumstances that do not agree with it”.

According to him the historical imitative solution greatly oversimplifies matters by attempting to establish the soundness of its own principles and inadequacy of all others.

The imitative foreign approach/solution according to the author “entails borrowing solutions which spring, in essence, from the cultural (secular and materialist) experience of the contemporary West. This may take the form of individualism, totalitarianism, secularism, atheism, capitalism, or Marxism”. Here he brings Turkey into the picture by invoking the epithet ‘sick man of Europe’.

“The Islamic asalah solution”, which according to the author, “is the approach which seeks to apply relevant solutions, derived from the authentic Islamic sources, to the Ummahs’s problems”.

In the rest of his book the author delves into various areas which could bring about discernible change in the Islamic world under the Islamic asalah solution. In this approach he talks about Islamisation of humanities and social sciences like psychology, sociology, political science, education, and the exact sciences like technology and communication (ICT in the present day).

He interestingly talks about urgent necessity of theory of Islamic education, which, despite Muslims running Islamic schools world over, have failed to come up with. With regard to the above approaches the author recommends the third approach/solution as appropriate, and comes out with the blue print albeit in a vague manner in his book.

Looking at the present state of Islamic world, it seems the first and second approaches are most prominent.

In fact, the institution of ijtihaad (individual reasoning) is being exercised by scholars falling in the seemingly imitative foreign approach. This kind of group, in fact, is trying to fit Islam into the present circumstance than the first approach group who are more tilted towards taqlid (imitation of the tradition). The third approach, which the author recommends, seems absent from the scheme of the Islamic world.

The author seems to have bitten more than he could have chewed in less than 200 pages. He goes on from one theme to another in a seemingly quick succession without thoroughly dealing with the deeper details of each theme.

The book that way is a broad overview rather than a deeper analysis. It surprisingly misses on the bibliography as well. That way it takes the shape of a philosophical essay yet faltering in the basics of philosophising by being too shallow. Having come at the time when globalization hadn’t gained the firm ground, this book has scant consideration of the diversity and resorts to otherisation all through.

The multitude of themes dealt speak nonetheless about the author’s wide readings in Islamic and western literature and, at the same time, his mastery in bringing the titbits together into a synthetic whole.

This book should definitely help the students of Islamic literature in aligning their thoughts in terms of reform, and in fine tuning their analysis on the pockets that this book sheds a hazy light on.

Fazl illahi teaches in IASE, Srinagar.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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