Meinhaj Hussain, email@example.com
I want to describe today, in'sha'Allah (God Willing) a problem I have been historically tracing and have found everywhere in the Muslim world I have travelled. I will need to get a little philosophical in the beginning but I promise it will get down to the pragmatic. This problem results in the reason why most major Muslim organization remains inefficient and also unable to innovate. I was positively surprised when a former Ameer (leader) of a rebel group described exactly this problem as the main reason for why their organization was going nowhere (without me leading him to this answer). Let me start by taking a step back though.
A society may be classed of three kinds, one predominantly focused on one of three "realms"; the Realm of Objects, Realm of People or the Realm of Ideas. In the most primitive forms of societies, such as say, a tribe in the middle of nowhere, people's lives are dominated by the Realm of Objects - food, shelter, clothing, basic survival. As a society progresses, it and its accompanying culture increasingly become less about this, and society moves more towards the Realm of People -
my family or tribal chief or tribe is better than yours for so and so reasons... Did you hear what she did? Mein is a bad person because of so and so reasons...
Finally, some societies move on to an even higher level - the Realm of Ideas, where people's focus shift to ideas as being paramount, people are willing to uphold ideas, even if their material wellbeing is affected or they incur the displeasure of their families, clans or tribes. This is often seen as the pinnacle of human progression, one where people become an active and dynamic participant to history.
Now, when Islam came, it came to a people who lived predominantly in the realms of Objects and People. If you open a book of pre-Islamic Arab poetry, you will find it talking almost exclusively about things like:
"So-and-so was a great warrior / chief"
"He is very wealthy, she was the most beautiful woman of her age"
"The horses of so-and-so group are the finest"
Islam came to this society, which had remained static in this position for thousands of years, and turned it completely around on its head, converting it to a society focused on the Realm of Ideas. Thus, family, clan, wealth, status stopped becoming the main criteria, rather, the ideas and ideals of Islam became of the greatest importance.
Thus, the early Muslim society would face battles were people in the same family / tribe / clan would be fighting against each other, or the Caliph of an expanding empire would be wearing patched up clothes, sleeping under a tree with a brick for a pillow.
What mattered now were the great ideals of worshipping One Creator, rather than idols, our egos, money, status, etc. Freedom, equality, justice, love, brotherhood, compassion to the poor, morality and ethics in general, now became the dominant themes of the people.
Yet, over time, as this society slowly degenerated and regressed back towards the Realm of People and the Realm of Objects, and its ideas and ideals became empty chants and ritual, many cracks and fizzures appeared that inevitably accompany decay.
One of these problems I wish to talk about for now - the problem of nepotism vs. merit. Now, when the Realm of Ideas was dominant, merit played the single most important role in selection for positions in all organizations, from the Caliph to the military commander. Now however, selection became about what group you are from and who your buddies are.
Everywhere I go to in the Muslim world, i see this trickle down management problem. One of the most promising rebel groups, and directly from one of its stalwarts - that the organization could not work effectively because the leader chose his buddies for promotion, and they in turn chose their loyal buddies. So, all these lofty talks about jihad boiled down to chuming up with their buddies.
Previously I had gone to Malaysia and studied at one of the best Islamic universities in the world - IIUM. It turns out they started out on merit, then as it gained its fame, Malay racism and a desire to put Malays in important places in the hierarchy destroyed everything.
I remember going from the US to do a PhD there, and being a new student, went to meet the Head of the Dept. I saw a man who was sitting in a dirty office filled with ages old paperwork. He did not greet me nor chose to look at my face, rather kept staring at the computer as he curtly answered my questions in an obtuse manner. After having spent a year, it was clear that racism destroyed a great institution.
Fast forward Brunei and University Brunei Darussalam and everything I saw how Brunei was being run. Again the same disease. Rebel group in Syria with all the promise of victory - destroyed by nepotism and incompetence.
Historically, the royal princes in Muslim Spain and the doom that it spelled. The mismanagement by the Ottomans of Egypt such that it was converted from a developed power of the world to an impoverished backwater with a fraction of its original population and prestige. The very fact that we moved from a meritocratic leadership to hereditary sultanates...
In sum, nothing can change without us moving back to our original ideas and ideals driven Islam, that led to a dynamic and constantly practiced ethics. Until then, we will inevitably suffer from our own demons and monsters, incapable by design to rise again.