Living in a New Age: Reflections on the Muslim Predicament
By Maulana Wahiduddin Khan for New Age Islam
The problems faced by the Muslim community in the present age have, directly or indirectly, only one cause—that is, unawareness of the advantages of the present age.
The modern age is, in every respect, a new age. If the previous age was a traditional one, the modern age is non-traditional. However, Muslims of the present times are not cognizant of this fact. This is why their planning, done along traditional lines, proves to be fruitless. In other words, the case of present-day Muslims is one of anachronism that is, living in the present age while still clinging to the mindset of the previous age. Any kind of effort towards the revival of Muslims can be successful only if it effects a change in their way of thinking. It must make them emerge from the past and lead their lives in the present.
During the Italo-Turkish war of 1911-12, Libyan fighters famously used this slogan:
(“Die a respected death today, before you have to die a disrespected death tomorrow.”)
The banner on which this slogan is imprinted, and which I have personally seen, is still on display in the museum in Tripoli. This slogan may express exactly how present-day Muslims feel, but it goes against the creation plan of God. The right slogan should be: ‘Life is a divine gift. It should be utilized for a creative purpose.’
Every human being having been endowed with unique qualities, it is against the creation plan of the Creator for a man just to fight and get himself killed. Every human being must rather live and make a healthy use of his abilities. All the progress seen in the world was not achieved by those who fought and were killed: it was achieved by those who made good use of the life given to them by the Creator. Had people all over the world engaged in warfare, there would have been no developments in human life; even the modern-day resources which are made use of by militants today would not have come into existence.
Even today, innumerable Muslims are influenced by the kind of thinking which inspired the Libyan fighters. Indeed, Muslim violence in the present age stems from this turn of mind. The Muslim groups that perpetrate terror are very well aware that the other side is so strong that their violence cannot seriously affect it in any way. Yet, they continue to engage in acts of violence. The motivation behind this violence is that Muslims falsely believe that if they indulge in violence in the name of jihad, and in the process get killed by their enemies, they will become martyrs and be led straight to heaven.
This is a false belief. No person or group wants to kill Muslims. Rather, Muslims have themselves developed the theory that there is a conspiracy to harm or kill them. This unnatural and unfounded fear causes them to engage in violence, the result of which is but a further deterioration in their own situation. All such cases are instances of attacks being carried out by Muslims causing others to retaliate.
The well-known Syrian poet Khairuddin al-Zirikli (d. 1976) prepared a multi-volume compendium of famous Muslim personalities of the past, titled al-Aʿlām. He imagined that Muslims could experience a new revival if such great men could be born again. In a couplet of his poem, he expresses this sentiment thus:
Jaddidihittin aw shibhhittina
(“Bring back Salahuddin in our midst
Let there be a revival of the Battle of Hattin or battles of similar vigour”)
These lines of al-Zirikli reflect the general thinking of Muslims today. Muslim literature chronicles the victories of Salahuddin Ayyubi and Muslim war commanders of earlier Islamic history in great detail and at great length, all of which leads Muslims to think that if a man like Salahuddin were to be born again, he would bring them the kind of victory which was achieved in the twelfth century.
This kind of thinking is the result of a lack of precise knowledge about the present times. Muslims are unaware of the fact that a victory such as Salahuddin’s in the twelfth century is simply not possible today. In the present day many leaders, the like of Salahuddin, have been born among Muslims—such as Yasser Arafat, Sayyid Qutb and other mujahid leaders—yet, they have not been able to make any notable headway in furthering Muslim affairs. Yearning for the return of Salahuddin is the result of a regrettable unawareness of the realities of the modern age. Muslims need to bear in mind that in the present age, power and strength are determined not by fighting but through advances in science and technology. In this day and age, giving encouragement to the latter factors is the surest way to success.
It is due to the Muslims’ failure to take into account the compulsions of the age in their planning that their endeavours by and large have gone awry.