It doesn’t take much thought to realize that the Muslim Ummah today is in a declined state intellectually, spiritually, and politically. Once being the world’s hyperpower, the center of enlightenment and education, and the best when it came to their understanding of their deen and what it asked of them, living in a society which was in accordance to all the rules of Islam, it has fallen so far as to be merely a shadow of its former self. Presently, the Muslim world is destitute, downtrodden, and barely retains its identity with Islam as cultural and secular influences plague the minds of the populace and corrupt leaders alike. Its civilians are being massacred daily and the rest of the world stands by idly as they sink further and further. When looking back to the “Golden Age” of Islam, and comparing it to the sorry state Muslims are living in today, it really makes one wonder: “Why did this happen? How did this come to be?” Determining what exactly the differences are is the key to comprehending the cause.
To start with, many Muslims seem to be aware of the fact that we as an Ummah are oppressed. What they may not realize, however, is that it is not simply physical oppression taking place; through laws, conditioning and control over the flow of information, there is a strong intellectual suppression that has been in effect. The very fact that Muslims are forced to live under laws other than the ones set forth by Allah (swt) is a form of oppression itself (for only Allah is “al-‘Adl”, the just). Nationalistic ideals and loyalty to the nation rather than Islam are enforced. There are kings and dictators in power when Islam accepts neither. People are told to identify as “Palestinian” or “Indian” or “American” first, and the deen inevitably comes second, if at all. Islam is treated as an abstract concept, a generic set of guidelines that determine one’s relationship with God and nothing else. Attempts to learn or speak about it in any other sense results in a “dangerous” label and many Muslims (overseas in particular) end up disappearing. Being divided and ignorant makes any sort of physical oppression easy, for without knowing and understanding a cause to strive for, Muslims will never be able to unify and resist. A very telling example is the recent failed “revolution” in Egypt wherein people demonstrated their ability to fight for change, but because they never had any clear change in mind, everything relapsed.
For us here in the West, some of us do in fact realize the spiritual and intellectual decline of the Muslims, but our approach is unfortunately rather self-centered. We tend to focus solely on bettering ourselves as individuals, treating our deen as our personal connection to Allah only. The concept of the Islamic connection which spans the entire world is lost in our isolative practices. While we ought to acknowledge that reviving one’s heart and one’s intellect is key to bettering ourselves as Muslims, focusing only on the individual aspects of Islam (such as personal ibadaat) while neglecting the socio-political realm of it will ultimately prevent us from ever getting back to the supreme state we were once in.
One of the main aspects of Islam that sets it apart from other beliefs is the fact that it is an ideology: a way of life. It covers every aspect of one’s life, which includes the way our society should function. Therefore, it naturally presents laws that range from individual aspects of worship and laws that are meant for the Muslim body at large. We, as Muslims, should realize that it is expected of us to not only ensure that we are fulfilling the individual obligations upon us, but that we are also carrying out our obligations (fard’ kifayah) when it comes to being a part of a Muslim Ummah. There is no “bettering ourselves first”; we need to work on ourselves while simultaneously taking an active role in changing the situation of the Muslim world and fixing the injustice that our brothers and sisters are facing on a daily basis.
Many of us are familiar with the hadith in which the Prophet (saw) said: “The Muslim Ummah is like one body. If the eye is in pain then the whole body is in pain and if the head is in pain then the whole body is in pain.” We need to analyze, however, what this really means for us. Are we just supposed to feel bad about that pain, or are we supposed to do something about it? We must actually treat ourselves as one unit and challenge the oppression of foreign ideologies and systems that surround us and that are forced upon us worldwide. In order to move forward as an Ummah and to revive Islam, we must have an active role in society. Islam has all but become a mere set of rituals now, and we must do everything we can to fix that. For those who claim we should “fix the nafs” first, we need to think: we can “work on ourselves” forever and the need for it will never end, so at what point would we declare “we’ve worked on ourselves enough, let’s work on the Ummah next?” How long are we going to limit ourselves to the individual efforts in order revive this Ummah? Let’s truly see ourselves as one body and start the Islamic awakening of not only the heart and mind, but of society as well.