In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful
Grande Strategy

Reviving the Ummah: Chapter 2 The Fundamental Problem

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If in fact, Islam is under threat, its empire vanquished, its culture and way of life being attacked at every level, and that this threat is an existential threat to our civilization of great magnitude, the question may be asked, what exactly is the nature of this threat and how has it reached such a critical and prominent position?

The West is of course, the first and most easily identifiable culprit. Their enmity against Islam is long standing and they had progressed rapidly, making our defenses against them obsolete. However, at a second glance, it becomes clear that this did not happen overnight. That it took them centuries to industrialize and create a renaissance, accompanied by a civilization. Yet, we Muslims were apparently unable to adapt to the challenge for all those centuries. To this day, the Muslim world remains backward and obsolete, unable to progress while many others have sped past us. Clearly, there is more to the problem.

Many scholars, thinkers, activists, religious groups, organizations and politicians have come and gone, each trying to grapple with what the fundamental problem is and how to fix it. While we cannot do complete justice to the thoughts of these thinkers in such a short space, let us attempt to summarize what some of them have said:

Muhammad Iqbal

Muhammad Iqbal considered Islam to be the key to uplifting Muslims and reviving us. However, he considered the Islam that we have today and preached by the religious scholars to be of little relevance to the Ummah. He uses the word "Magian crust" to describe the state of Islam being covered by something impure, a theological impurity over the purity of Islam. He advocated a complete rethink through ijtihad. He wrote famously "Khirad ko gholami sey azad kar, jawano ko peero key ustad kar" which translates to “free the mind from slavery, make the young masters of the old,” perhaps to remove this crust. One can thus say that Iqbal was of the view that the fundamental crisis was within us – that we have to look beyond blaming the West – who surely have done their part in harming us – but that they would not have been put in that position had we not had another internal crisis within.

Ibn Khaldun

This arguably one of the greatest Muslim scholars spent his life studying why Muslims are declining. He considers a number of issues including:
1.The original group feeling was for Islam and later on this group feeling became tribal and finally even this group feeling would be lost in a particular dynasty. In simple words, solidarity and unity was lost.
2.That the scholars today are not like the scholars of yester years, but are salaried and "weak" individuals who are practicing a "craft" or a "trade". i.e. they have turned Islam into a business/subject and lost Islam as a way of life.
3.The proper way of educating our children has been lost.
He brings many other problems and issues, perhaps too many to list. We leave him here have already considered his warning earlier.

Syed Naqib Al-Attas

A Sufi-inspired scholar, Al-Attas thinks that Muslims lack adab (respect) today and particularly respect for knowledge. He believes that the West is the fundamental instigator of this lack of adab. He means to target those who do not show adab to the “great scholars” or to traditional Islamic knowledge. Implicit in his statements is blame of the Salafis, who for instance, have issues with many of Islam’s traditional scholars such as Al-Ghazali.

Sufis in General

Blame materialism and lack of spirituality. Their very inception can be traced to the increasingly materialistic lifestyle after the ruler-ship of the four rightly guided Caliphs. They originally wished to correct this materialism that had crept into Muslim life.

Ulemas in General

A very wide range naturally but usually revolving around blaming akhlaq (character), lack of eman, adab (manners), lack of knowledge, lack of respect for the deen, lack of respect of the ulema (predictably), not praying, not reciting / memorizing Quran, "fasad", etc. And of course the West, secularism, politicians and more.

Muhammad Abduh

A prominent Egyptian scholar, Abduh blames not practicing Islam and not being willing to learn from the West. He talks about re-opening ijtihad, making Islam less restrictive to man. He famously says that he found Islam in the West but no Muslims and Muslims in the East but no Islam. His focus was on theological issues, reformation through ilm al Kalam, loosely defined as theological and philosophical argumentation for and against doctrines and dogmas. He was thus focused on reformation of dogma and doctrine as a means to reforming Islam. This is important in the sense that he was looking at the problem as an internal theological problem.

Hasan Al Banna

Al Banna blames the West and the secular elite in our countries that they have engineered. He saw revival through political activism, including through reviving the Caliphate and jihad.

Hizb-ut-Tahrir / Taqiuddin Nabbhani

Again, blames the West and the collapse of the Islamic caliphate. Finds solution in reviving the Islamic state, no faults are seen internal to Islam.

Malek Bennabi

Bennabi criticizes the above perspectives for blaming the West. He notes that Britain could colonize 400 million Hindus in India on the other side of the planet but could not colonize Ireland, a tiny populace living right next door. He coins a new word: colonizability. That is, Muslims are very easy to colonize, it is almost as if we were merely waiting to be colonized. As a vindication of this view, we note that even with nuclear weapons and a powerful military, Pakistan today behaves like a vassal state of the West...

He points out that if the West alone is the problem, why were Yemen and Mauritania, parts of the Ummah never invaded by the West, the least developed and the least progressive? He also notes that the problem is systemic and afflicts the entire Ummah - noting that for instance, snake charmers are found from Morocco to Central Asia, everywhere in the Muslim Ummah but nowhere in the West. The systemic nature suggests the problem cannot be answered by simple answers.

He found fault with Muhammad Abduh and other reformers in that theological questions and aqeedah were not the direct cause of the decline but he thought that rather, the social function of Islam had been lost and that Muslims were stuck in a world of things and people rather than living in a world of ideas. He thought that arguing about theology and dogma would harm the Ummah by creating divisions. Rather, he felt that the problem was more related to a “psychological problem”.

Bennabi discusses a civilizational life-cycle where the world moves from things (such as idols in pre-Islam Arabia), to people, to ideas, and then as civilization wanes, back to people and finally again to things. He believes that returning to the world of ideas, and ideas derived from our core of Islam is the solution to be aimed to revive the Ummah.

Mahathir Mohamad

Mahathir notes that after the Mongol invasion, Muslims decided to separate "worldly" knowledge and "religious" knowledge and focus on the latter. He blames this, and those that caused this (ulema) for the decline of Muslims and our backwardness.

Muhammad Asad

Asad blames the complication of Islam (Ibn Khaldun also indirectly writes about this). He notes that Islam was complete when the Prophet (peace be upon him) recited the verses "This day have I perfected for you your religion and completed My favor on you and chosen for you Islam as a religion." (Qur'an 5:3)
However, various scholars have added to this, and over time fiqh has become increasingly complex, so that today it is only known and knowable by specialist scholars. Thus, Islam has been taken away from the people and become nearly impossible to implement because of its complexity and contradiction of views between various scholars’ opinions. This also creates the well-known symptom of schisms and division within the Ummah. Muhammad Asad wants to restrict analogical reasoning and restrict the Shariah to the original injunctions clearly articulated in the Quran and Sunnah. Ijtihad is to be relegated more to a political and individual capacity. Everything is not to be turned into an issue of legal ruling on a subject. We shall look more closely on his views when we consider the Legal System.

Ibn Hazm

Ibn Hazm’s views are similar to Muhammad Asad’s as described above and opposed to the fiqh created by scholars through analogy. However, he also perhaps inadvertently adds a small amount of literalist interpretation of Islam to replace the theology of fiqh. This makes the Salafis consider him to be one of them.


Salafis blame Sufis (and others) as those that have corrupted the religion and that a return to a pure and pristine form of Islam (as defined by them) will solve the problem of the Ummah. Internal problems they find are related to shirk (violation of Oneness of Allah) and poor aqeedah (basic tenets of the faith). They see the solution in a literal interpretation of the text based on the opinion of a given set of their scholars.
While Ibn Hazm wanted to go back to the original and then put a full stop but somehow managed to add a small quantity of his own literalist perspectives, the Salafis, go further and create a comprehensive literalist theology typically based on the teachings (and interpretations) of Ibn Taymiyya, Shaykh Bin Baz, Shaykh Ibn Uthaymeen, and Shaykh Al Albani.

However, like Muhammad Asad and Ibn Hazm, they are nominally against the fiqh of the scholars, yet, a literalist approach to Islam itself can be considered a form of fiqh, and they have gone ahead and refined that literalist approach to an entire theological construct. This contradiction and denial of the subjectivity involved has nevertheless resulted in multiple competing brands of Salafis, including Jami or Madkhali Group, Sururi Group, Ma'ribi Group and Jihadi Group, among others, where everyone is claiming they have the “correct” interpretation and implying that they are not creating subjective interpretations. Logic suggests they all can’t be right. Some Salafi leaders of one group sometimes condemn another group of Salafis as deviant while at the same time are conscious of how this subject “hurts eman” or their belief in Islam and studiously try to avoid it, particularly to those outside their group.

Taha Jabir Al-Alwani

Al-Alwani and others are part of the Islamization of Knowledge movement which will be described later. For now, we want to note that Dr. Alwani considers that the problem must be seen as a sick man who needs to be diagnosed. Everyone is looking at the symptoms but not trying to figure out what is causing the symptoms. Thus, while a lack of eman, akhlaq, etc. are the symptoms, but the question still remains, what is causing this? He also puts the analogy that a medication such as an antibiotic can often mutate and create an even greater ailment. Thus, a medication can become a problem in and of itself.

Tariq Ramadan

Generally, there is a thought group such as Tariq Ramadan and Taha Jabir Al-Alwani and even certain ulema from Al-Azhar who recognize the need for a revision and they are trying to progress the shariah. Tariq Ramadan calls for, what in actual fact would be creating a new madhab. This has to be based on reflection of the world around us and thus different from the interpretations of early scholars. The factor to be considered important for this reformation of fiqh is contemporary and regional/cultural relevance.

The similarity between Ramadan et al, Muhammad Asad and the Salafis is that they all reject taqlid and want to review the theology created over and above the Quran and Sunnah’s direct commands. The difference is that Ramadan et al and the Salafis want to return to the original and basic framework and then create a new theology. Ramadan et al want this theology to be reflective and attuned to the present circumstances of the world while Salafis want to pretend that they are not creating a theology above the original and that their literalist interpretation is part and parcel of the original. In practical terms, the Salafis want to severely restrict analogical reasoning and create a literalist viewpoint while Ramadan et al want to create a new fiqh with full use of analogical reasoning centered on maqasid al-Shariah (the purpose of the Shariah), making bold new analogies based on the present world circumstances.

Muhammad Asad et al on the other hand want to put a full stop after returning to the original Shariah and delegate the rest outside legal theology. We shall look at his views more closely in the chapter on the Law of Islam.

Modernist/Progressive/Secular Perspective

They see Islam in general to be the problem. They want to restrict Islam to the masjid in contravention to direct commands of the Quran which calls those who do not live by Allah's laws as "kafirun". They have a point that it is the more Islamic parts of society that are the most backwards, i.e. they see the systemic problem but blame it on "religion" openly or implicitly. They however have failed in their attempt to modernize the Muslim world for the last 50-60 years by copying from the West; given the experience of the secular states that litter the Muslim world today.

The Islamization of Knowledge Movement

This is the big thing among academics and has two dominant perspectives, namely Al-Faruqi and Al-Attas (as noted above). What they are basically saying is that the problem is a matter of bringing back a synthesis of Islamic and modern "worldly" education together and blending them in a mixer, essentially a solution to the problem earlier identified under Mahathir’s views. What that mixer will be and how exactly the elixir will be administered is the point of dispute among the various scholars of this paradigm.
The problem basically is that even some of the leading scholars of this movement have stated what can be construed to mean that the movement has failed in the last over 30 years to make any real change and are stuck in the "pre-methodology" stage. This is a ridiculous situation and only academics can continue congratulating each other on a train journey that appears to never reach the next station and in fact, standing more or less stationary with the illusion of speed coming from other trains passing by.
The first such attempt was Aligarh University and the latest such attempt is the International Islamic University Malaysia (and various other International Islamic universities in the Muslim Ummah). The problem is, the entire Muslim Ummah is still producing very little actual research, and no discernible difference to the Ummah can be noticed from these efforts. They can more or less be summed up as a storm in a tea cup helping create and progress academic careers.


All attempts thus far have been a colossal failure. We have reached a point where the situation is getting desperate. Bennabi notes: the Muslim world today is at a risk of being overwhelmed by the West, at the very moment that the West is in decline. He thinks that if we seek to follow in the footsteps of Europe, we will always lag behind the West as it has to go through the same steps that the West has already long passed; which is precisely the mistake the modernist leaders of the world have been making for the last half century or more.

This author thinks that all these perspectives have some valuable input: that at least some of these thinkers have a piece to contribute to the puzzle. At the same time, since each of them only has a partial solution, taking Al-Alwani’s analogy, their antibiotics could not kill the virus, have mutated the problem and made it worse. And since we Muslims like to live within our own little schools of thought, way of thinking and comfort zones where 72 out of the 73 sects are going to go to hell and “we” are going to go to heaven, we are unable to compare notes and come up with a universal solution.1

1 Sheikh Totonji has an interesting take on the 73 sects hadith – that it is not an authentic hadith, that two other versions of the hadith say different things, including one which says that one will go to hell and the others to heaven and another hadith version which makes no mention of how many will go to heaven or hell. 

He notes that this hadith goes fundamentally against the Quran in that the Quran repeats in all but one Surah “In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful”. Why would the Most Merciful send all but 1 of 73 sects to hell? We shall return to the problem of hadith classification later in the chapter titled The Law of Islam.

There is also two other issues, the political tact of implementing the solution and the sequence of the antibiotic administration to be followed. If for instance, we start by condemning the traditional theological structure, we would achieve nothing other than a spiteful reaction. If we try to implement an education system or an economic system without first having control over the state, we will fail miserably as our efforts will not have the scale necessary to compete against the alternative dominant systems.

This book is insh’Allah an attempt to create such a universal diagnosis. We will not attempt to make everyone happy or build a false consensus, but rather build a true synthesis, insh’Allah that finds an optimal solution. The first task it to assign primary blame and we will agree with both broad sides – that the problem is both an external threat and an internal mess simultaneously. We do not know which one is greater and will not go into a debate about it. Practically speaking, we need to deal with both of them simultaneously; our past generations have left us with no breathing room to deal with each at a time.

Dealing with the external problem, simply arguing with them, talking about how great we are and how evil they are will not do anything. It is mere stupidity to think otherwise. Our enemies are exactly that, our enemies. They are meant to be our enemies. They are not going to go away just because we burnt an effigy of some leader of theirs, told them how evil and uncivilized they are and how great we are / were. They are amoral and immoral, our moral arguments sound silly to them. They will only treat us right if we are strong and can hurt them back in case they hurt us; through viable deterrence. Our solution must therefore involve political and economic strength and military prowess. Through our models, particularly the political, economic and education models we intend to achieve the former and the chapter titled “Defense Policy” focuses on how the latter can be achieved. The chapter “Islamistan” is also related and linked to the vital importance of viable military technology and a military-industrial complex.

Coming to the second part – our internal problem – it is safe to say that we have multiple internal problems. Education, our theology, the control of our religion by a theologian class, lack of unity, lack of a viable political model, loss of the social function of Islam and living in a materialist, thing-based world rather than a world of ideas are all problems, not necessarily in that order of priority.

The solution is to first have a clear idea what each of these problems are and how to deal with each. It is then vital to, rather than keeping this as an academic exercise, to propagate and create awareness about the nature of these problems and their practical solutions. The methodology here should be the same as the method of propagation by the Prophet (peace be upon him). Share your ideas as far and wide as you can, practice them and call people to it, both organically and strategically. One of the fruits of the Prophet’s (peace be upon him) dawah was Medina. We are today at a point in time where, because of the political conditions, we have a chance to do political dawah like at the time of the delegates from Yathrib. Pakistan is ripe for such dawah, both to the movement for reform led by Imran Khan and to junior military officers, insh’Allah. This has been the thrust of this author’s activism to the best of his ability.

In terms of sequencing the solutions, the author believes that the economic model outlined in this book would be the easier to sell, given the global circumstances. The solutions outlined in the chapter “Revolution” should also prove most attractive to a frustrated Pakistan. The questions raised and the solutions sought in the legal system should be implemented only at a later stage otherwise they would prove most controversial as was demonstrated by other movements and thinkers who attempted to deal with these issues only to find controversy and a psychological firewall. They should only be implemented when an Islamic government is in power, the people have been taken into confidence and the entrenched theologians make a strategic blunder, which happens rather frequently.

Education is a vital reform factor that should be implemented on the first possible chance of an Islamic / friendly government, or at an individual level even before. This is the key tool for moving our world to a world of ideas and in correcting many of the problems we face. After all, a child can be taught the right way to do something from the get-go, but a grown adult is set in his or her ways and needs to unlearn before learning, and often our egos are too big to unlearn what we think we know.

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