Crisis in the Muslim World


It is meaningless to blame the West or the international system for the ill fortunes of the Muslim world without first stopping the internal bleeding in Muslim societies

The Muslim world is in a state of crisis. The crisis is not so much political or economic, though both have their share in the current state of affairs, as existential and intellectual. Neither sure of itself nor engaging the globe constructively, the Muslim world cannot manage to be an agent of its own acts. It vacillates between the glory of a brilliant past and the apathy and misery of the present. Many Muslim countries suffer from political crises, economic backwardness, weak infrastructure, bad education, lack of competitiveness in science and technology, polluted and badly managed cities and environmental hazards. They are paralyzed by social inequality, injustice toward women, sectarian conflict, extremism, violence and terrorism. Islam's core teachings of peace, justice and compassion are lost in the brutal races for worldly power. Political leaders, religious scholars and intellectuals have mostly failed to stop the internal bleeding in the Muslim world. They have either succumbed to the temptations of power or become irrelevant. While the world powers and the current international system have much to blame for, Muslims themselves have failed to take care of their own.

As I've written before, "the legacy of imperialist interventions, failed states, poverty, illiteracy and the sense of dispossession and alienation has created deep wounds in the social and political landscape of the Middle East. A divisive identity politics has become a powerful ideological tool. In the name of religion, nationalism or anti-imperialism, political opportunists and extremists have used the longstanding grievances of ordinary people to advance their political goals."

This is all true, and more: Western democracies have betrayed their own values and principles. They have watched the occupation of Palestine and its expansion for almost 50 years, supported a bloody coup in Egypt, created disastrous conditions in Iraq, failed to support the Syrian people, turned a blind eye to the suffering of millions of people in Myanmar, Somalia and other places. As the largest polluters of the world, they have destroyed the natural environment. They are the biggest producers of the deadliest weapons in human history and sell them to poor countries. They run an economic system that favors the rich and keeps the poor at the bottom. They use international law to secure their own interests without regard to others. Some justify discrimination and racism against Muslims in the name of fighting religious extremism. These are all true, and the list goes on.

But blaming others does not solve our problems; rather, it leads to intellectual laziness and moral conformism. It is one thing to take pride in the great achievements of the classical Islamic civilization; we should all do and learn from it. But it is an entirely different matter to reproduce them today, which should be the task of an effective educational system. It is meaningless to blame the West or the international system for the ill fortunes of the Muslim world without first stopping the internal bleeding in Muslim societies. A moment of reflection reveals the bitter truth: Just like the powerful countries of the world, Muslims have betrayed their own tradition. They have allowed injustice, inequality, poverty, extremism and terrorism to fester in their midst. They have failed to address legitimate grievances in morally sensible and rationally effective ways. Instead of working to resolve their problems with wisdom and patience, they have resorted to intolerance, fanaticism and violence. The result is the spread of such extremist groups as al Qaida, ISIS and Boko Haram.

As we approach the end of the holy month of Ramadan, the Muslim world needs to have a moment of reflection and reckoning. This needs to start from within. The Islamic intellectual tradition insists on the complementarity of the "inner" (al-batin) and the "outer" (al-zahir): what is out there is a reflection of what is within you, and the good within you needs to come out and establish peace, justice and mercy in the outside world. As the Quran says, "God will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves."

Muslim leaders, scholars, and men and women of letters, business and community work need to step forward and build a culture based on faith, reason and virtue. They can and should re-establish the self-esteem of the Muslim faith without arrogance and without discrimination against those of other faiths. They can show the way to engage the world in a creative and constructive manner just as al-Farabi and Ibn Sina did in philosophy, Biruni and Ibn al-Haytham did in science, Ibn al-Arabi and Mawlana Jalal al-Din Rumi did in spirituality, the Andalusian rulers did in southern Europe, and numerous Muslim rulers, scientists and artists did in their respective fields.

Blessed with rich natural resources, Muslim countries need to invest in poverty eradication, education, good governance, urban development and youth and women empowerment. There are only a handful of Muslim countries that seriously invest in these fields. More countries need to make better use of their resources so that Muslim lands once again become regions of peace, justice, faith, reason and virtue. This requires better governance, better politics and better planning. But above all, it requires a revolution of the mind whereby we redefine our relationship with the world and treat it as a "trust" given to us. And all this starts with purifying our inner state and take care of God's creation with intelligence and compassion.

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