Why Have We Stagnated?

by Arfaque Malik

You can take the horse to the water, but you cannot make it drink. This statement is good insofar as a living horse is concerned. "Impossible" is the word for the dead horse! The Ummah of our day is worse than a dead horse and has no value. It has nothing to contribute to humanity. We proudly highlight from every pulpit and platform the contributions made to science, medicine, and philosophy by our forefathers. We are proud of them - and justly so - but the question is: what have WE as their descendants, contributed to the betterment of the world as they had done?

We ceased to be creative when we discontinued to act on the Qur’anic injunctions to use our REASON and INTELLECT. The whole machinery is jammed. Our "rational faculty" lies buried in the antiques room. Our Imaams in the mosques, who should have been the disseminators of knowledge and torch-bearers of an advanced civilization, are the most ignorant creatures on earth. They are DEAD to the spirit of the Holy Qur’an, but very much ALIVE to the infantile issues that have no bearing on Islam; such as keeping their trousers at the correct length above their ankles or growing a regulation-size beard. They have, however, not been able to invent even a measuring ruler in order to measure their own beards!


In scores of places the Holy Qur’an lays great emphasis on knowledge and rationality. The Holy Prophet (s) is also on record as having said: "Seeking knowledge is an obligatory duty of every Muslim."(Muslim) We have forgotten that message. We consider the findings of our past scholars binding. We believe that their interpretations of the Qur’an are final. It is considered a heresy to attempt to understand the Qur’an. We are taught that no new interpretations are called for. Has the Qur’an now become obsolete? Are its injunctions now null and void? Are the interpretations of our past scholars sufficient? This explains why we have left the Qur’an and now rely solely on books containing colourful fantasies.

During the first five centuries after the Holy Prophet's time, Muslims were the exponents of science and culture. The Islamic civilization was supreme. Why? Because the Qur’an gave them the incentive by saying YES to intellect and NO to obscurantism; YES to action and NO to quietism; YES to life and NO to asceticism. Muslims became great by following QUR’ANIC principles. They did not make Islam great... Islam made them great! But soon their faith, which was full of ACTION, became a habit and ceased to be a programme of life to be pursued consciously. Gradually the creative impulse waned and gave way to indolence, sterility, and cultural decay. Those who used to reason and used their intellect gave way to the enemies of common sense.


The main cause of our decay is that we have divorced the Qur’an from our lives and have become blind followers of past scholars. We are told that whatever there was to be thought and researched has been accomplished by our predecessors. The Qur’anic injunctions requiring us to employ our intellect have been rendered nugatory by our faith in the infallibility of our past theologians and jurists. The doors of ijtihaad have been sealed. How unfortunate! Is this not a conspiracy against Islam?

Ijtihaad in Islam means to exert with a view to forming an independent judgement on any given question. It is true that the theoretical possibility is admitted but in practice it is totally denied. As a result, our scholars have committed intellectual suicide. Our past scholars were certainly great servants of their time. They interpreted the Qur’an in the light of knowledge available AT THAT TIME. Our time is different. Their understanding was a human understanding. Their interpretation is not, and CANNOT, be final.

There is always scope for new thinking and development. Did our predecessors claim finality of their view? Muhammad Asad has answered this question beautifully: "Those ancient Islamic thinkers would never have dreamed that after so many centuries, their thoughts, instead of being continued and developed, would only be repeated over and over again, as if they were the ultimate and infallible truths. If there is to be any change for the better, then THINKING must be encouraged instead of present thought imitation!"


The ONLY solution to our problems is to go back to the first principles embodied in the Holy Qur’an. We have to make a fresh start. We HAVE to go back to the Holy Qur’an, study its message, and apply its principles to our lives. We have to rediscover the meaning of the Qur’anic concepts, and in so doing, re-discover Islam!

Posted January 25, 2001. This article was printed in the November-December 2000 issue of "The Message," a United Islamic Association (UIA) publication, London, England.