Problems of the Ummah: Role of Ulama & Intellectuals

Shah Abdul Hannan

The world of Islam today is passing through a critical period of its history. We are confronted with many problems. The situation is in between hopes and despairs. We, therefore, need to identify the key problems faced by the Muslim nation (Muslim Ummah) and find out our duties.

What we need today is cooperation between the different sectors of the Muslim society, if we are really sincere and determined to overcome the existing ills of the Muslims spread over the entire globe. What is particularly needed is teamwork and dialogue between the religious scholars (Alims  in Arabic pl. Ulama) and thinkers (Mufakkirs) of Islam. This is because the Alims know better whether certain act is permissible or forbidden and the Mufakkirs, on the other hand, are advanced in the field of ideas even if they are not fully conversant with the Islamic Law (Shariah). They (Mufakkirs) think and deeply contemplate over the problems faced by the Muslim Ummah. The Alims very much need the opinion of the thinkers. The thinkers, on the other hand, require the opinion of the Alims. We don’t say, Dr. Muhammad Iqbal was an Alim, we say, he was a Mufakkir of Islam. He was a great thinker of Islam. In the same way, we can say that Dr. Ali Shariati of Iran was a far greater thinker than many Alims. Syed Qutb was a great thinker of Islam. He is considered a Mufakkir rather than an Alim. Likewise, Dr. Khurshid Ahmed of Pakistan, Dr. Hasan Zaman and Dr. Syed Sajjad Husain of Bangladesh are Mufakkirs or thinkers. What we need is interaction of such thinkers (Mufakkirs) with those of the scholars (Alims). The Alims will identify the limits of Islam that cannot be crossed in matters of permissibility and prohibition (Halal and Haram) and the Mufakkirs will try to find out solutions within the limits of Islam. The Alims, at the same time, must realize that the Mufakkirs are well aware of today’s world problems; they know the depth and dimension of today’s problems. If synthesis of ideas of the scholars (Alims) and thinkers (Mufakkirs) can be done, only then, it is possible to arrive at a pragmatic and realistic solution of the problems. We, therefore, need close cooperation and collaboration between them.

If we really want to play positive and meaningful role for the cause of Islam today, then we must know the problems of the day. We are trying to cure the ills of the day and, therefore, we must know today’s problems. The philosophical problems the earlier Muslim generations faced, notably the conflict among Mutazilah and Asharites, which continued for about 200-300 years, are no more relevant today. During the last 100 years we ideologically confronted socialism, capitalism, secularism, and the ideas of Darwin and Freud and these are the issues even now. .

But our seminaries (Madrasas) still teach the philosophy of the Mutazilah and Asharites and other old philosophical issues. They do not teach current philosophical issues. The old issues are no more required. The books of such topics can remain in the Madrasa libraries as reference books. Such topics should be no more in the Mardasa textbooks. The textbooks should contain and discuss the contemporary problems, the burning philosophical questions and difficulties of the day as mentioned above.

Today, a great deal of change has become apparent in the realm of politics. Parliamentary system has been introduced. The ballots are now being cast secretly. The issues like the decentralization of power, federal structure of government which shares powers with the autonomous units, the delegation of power to the local government etc. have come to the forefront. These issues and concepts are completely new which the old Fiqh books (books on law) do not discuss. The earlier Fiqh books do not contain any discussion on separation of power, as this is also a new concept. Previously the elite used to dominate politics and people had no role. The situation has now changed. Today, the people play the most dominant role, which is reflected through the election though the elite also play a role.

Likewise, a good deal of change has taken place in the economic arena. Before concepts like Central Bank, Monetary Policy, Inflation etc. were absent. If we don’t properly realize the development in this field, we shall not be able to arrive at correct decision. In this backdrop, it is most essential to attain the knowledge of modern Economics and modern Political Science.

Here, we may mention the name of eminent thinker (Mufakkir) Dr. AbdulHamid A. Abu Sulayman. He has discussed in great detail about the prevalent crisis of the Muslim World. The crisis today has become more critical than it was 10-15 years before. Dr. AbdulHamid is associated with International Islamic University Malaysia and International Institute of Islamic Thought USA. He, in his book Crisis in the Muslim Mind opined that blind imitation of the West is not desirable from Islamic perspective. This will also not be accepted by the common Muslims. If the Muslims at all try to copy the West, it will be nothing but blind imitation and no nation can become great by emulating others. Such a nation cannot be world leader.

One view is that we must copy our earlier generations, the way Abbasid and the Umayyad solved their problems, the way jurists (Fuqaha) some 1200 years ago solved their problems. Dr. AbdulHamid is of the opinion that this is neither possible nor practicable. A lot of change has taken place in the society- in politics, economics, administration and communication- and the solution of today’s changed problems cannot be found in the practices of the earlier generations or opinions of earlier Fuqaha. He is of the opinion that we have to find out solution afresh of today’s problem in the light of the Quran and Sunnah. We have to identify the problems of the Muslim Ummah and properly evaluate its nature, depth and dimension and find out solution keeping the precepts of Islam uppermost in our consideration. We must utilize our intellect and must resort to Ijtihad to arrive at the solution. This is the most appropriate and correct way, Dr. Abdul Hamid pointed out. This he, in his book, calls the Asala approach or the original approach.

We should accept the ideas of Dr. Abdul Hamid for this is the correct approach. He has underscored the importance of the understanding of time and space factors. With the passage of time, circumstances change. Circumstance or context, on the other hand, is also an important factor in deciding matters. We should, therefore, realize the significance of time and space. It is also important that we understand the difference of the time and space. We must try to find the ruling of the Quran and Sunnah on a particular problem or issue giving due importance to time and space.

Bangladesh, today, is facing scores of problems. One of the major problems facing Bangladesh is poverty. We have to alleviate poverty. This job is very difficult. We must not think that alleviation of poverty is very easy. Some consider it very simple and think that poverty can be removed by establishing Zakah. Really, it is not that simple. In my article Poverty Alleviation: Islamic Perspective I have emphasized that we have to establish Zakah, restore endowment (Wakf), and at the same time, we must regulate our monetary policy and banking system in harmonious way and coordinated manner and make overall economic development.

The Madrasa (religious schools / colleges of the sub-continent) education will carry great weight only if it plays meaningful role in preparing people who can run administration and economy. We have to think afresh over this, if we really want to make Madrasa education part of the mainstream general education. The students now coming out of the Madrasas are not capable of running the economy of a country successfully. The students who have passed from the Madrasas have not studied Business Administration and Economics. They have also not studied and learnt Public Administration. How then will they run these sectors successfully?

Another problem the Muslim Ummah is facing is that of extremism. Extremism is not the way of Islam. The way of Islam is the middle-path, balanced way. Some twenty years after the death of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), the Khawarij emerged as an extreme current among the earlier Muslims. They had been extremists in religious belief and political thinking. They were rejected by the mainstream of the Ummah. Even today, there are groups who hold extreme views on political and religious issues. We have to be very cautious about these extremist groups and make Muslims aware about their activities and thereby save the Muslims Ummah from the negative effect of the extremist approach.

Extremism breeds when people become preoccupied with very small matters, minor and side issues, forgetting or ignoring the core issues. These problems arise when we take no lesson from history. Such problems are created when we do not have sufficient deep knowledge and understanding of Shariah and other related essential subjects. Everything has a sequence or a cycle; Allah has His Own Laws. We have to understand all these; otherwise people are likely to take aggressive stand, hard line. The welfare of the Ummah, therefore, lies in avoiding the extreme path. The Muslims have indeed become victims in different countries because of extremism.

The position of women in the society is a major issue. Many eminent Alims have spoken about the rights of women. We can mention here the names of a few eminent Alims and Islamic scholars who have spoken eloquently on this issue. The notable among them are Prof. Dr. Yusuf Al Qaradawi, Dean of the Faculty of Shariah, Qatar University, Dr. Jamal A. Badwi, Chairman, Islamic Information Foundation, Canada, Sheikh Abdul Halim Abu Shuqqah, eminent leader of Ikhwanul Muslamun (Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt), Dr. Hasan Turabi, ideologue of the Sudanese Islamic Movement to name only a few. They are of the view that Muslims cannot advance unless women are given the due honor and respect. It is not possible to make progress keeping half of the members of the society in dark. They, therefore, emphasized the importance of involving women in Islamic activities. They have stressed the need of giving women all rights. People still debate about the rights of women to attend mosque, whereas if women can attend mosque, they shall be able to acquire much knowledge of Islam, know much about the teachings of Islam. We should, therefore, try to understand the problems of the women and the Alims should take initiative to help women so that they can move forward.

Misinterpretation is another big problem before us. Large number of translations of the Quran and Hadith compilation are available in the market. Naturally people read them and many questions arise on different issues in the minds of those who read and study translations, particularly when it is a question of interpretation. They themselves, therefore, try to give explanation to these issues, whereas the problem is that these people do not know the underlying principles and the methods of interpretation (Usul). Those who want to judiciously interpret Quran and Hadith must, therefore, learn Usul al Fiqh. They have to read books on Usul al Fiqh that is easy understandable. High-quality authentic books on the subject need to be translated in the local language from Arabic and circulated and publicized in the society, the teachings of such books must be disseminated to all those who intend to study Islam from the original sources and acquire the capacity of interpretation. Otherwise, individual efforts to interpret will create confusion in the society, particularly by those who try to interpret by reading only the translations. The Alims need to give attention to this matter and disseminate knowledge of Usul.

Likewise, we should also try to bring an end to the debate over democracy. We know that there is no place of dictatorship and autocracy in Islam, also no place of monarchy in Islam. Almost all Islamic parties and movements in the world are struggling for democratic rights. They consider election as a legitimate instrument to change government. They all want that they be given legal rights so that they can enjoy the fruits of civic and political rights. If any restriction is imposed on the functioning of Islamic parties, they take recourse of the law, file petition in the Court so that they are allowed to function an as legitimate and law abiding organization

The Islamic parties in different countries are trying to form government by participating in democratic elections. All eminent Islamic political scientists think that subject to the sovereignty of Allah, democracy is the proper way, the method of establishing Islamic state. The modern democratic process is in fact an elaboration of the principle of Shura and Khilafah. What is the Khilafah? Khilafah means representation. It means representing the people, representing Allah. We are all vicegerent (Khalifh) of Allah. And the Khilafah means the government of the people. We all must realize and understand this. We must all comprehend that when we talk of democracy, we mean government under the suzerainty of Allah. This is the Islamic democracy about which we are discussing. This is not exactly the prototype or the model of Western democracy. If this concept and notion is not made clear, some people, by creating confusion, will provide opportunities whereby dictatorial party will be able to seize power. This will benefit the enemies of Islam.

[Writer is a retired Secretary to GOB. Speech delivered before the major Ulama of Bangladesh from among the members of the Shariah Council of various Islamic banks. The function was organized by the Central Shariah Board of Islamic Banks of Bangladesh in 2003]

2 Responses

  1. শাকিল মামুন
    শাকিল মামুন at |

    At first we should change our education system. Madrasha has great value of moral but they have little knowledge about current issues what you said in your article. Mowlanas are not ready to take suggession from general people. They think what they know it is enough to enter zannah. They pray all time, they try to surround them in religious mater and they think it is enough for short time of life. How it is possible that we give them advices? It is likely impossible. But at present some mowlanas think differently. They realize they should change their maxim think.
    I know it is difficult but we should try. Dialogue may be brings solution. Another way is that we should establish new kind of madrasah. It will teach students properly.

  2. মুহসিন আব্দুল্লাহ
    মুহসিন আব্দুল্লাহ at |

    গুরুত্বপুর্ণ আলোচনা ।


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