Thursday, May 10, 2012

Cultural Malaise

According to Ibn Khaldun’s ( theory on the philosophy of history, a civilization at one point in time gains momentum in terms of social cohesion and vitality and displaces the dominant civilization of that time. Until the new civilization stagnates and loses its cohesion and vitality due to the effects of “refined culture” in terms of the luxurious lifestyle that it enjoys as the dominant civilization. Ultimately this cultural malaise leads to its downfall and displacement by another budding civilization of “barbarians”. History is full of such cyclic phenomena as confirmed by historic evidence and the Holy Scriptures.

Muslim societies in the East have been more or less stagnant for centuries. They have lost their social cohesion and vitality. They have not been contributing to the world in terms of ideas or inventions – rather they have become net consumers or replicators of products mainly originating from the West. As confirmed by my recent visit to the Museum of Islamic Art ( in Qatar, there was once a time when this was not so and Islamic civilization led the world.

It is interesting to note that Ibn Khaldun's observation applies not only for a set of people but also their beliefs displacing others; since beliefs form the ideological basis of any civilization. History has shown that whenever Muslims have been faithful to their beliefs they have achieved supremacy. So the Arabs conquered almost all of the known world in the 7th century and when they became stagnant in belief and action they were displaced by those more adherent to the religion; like the Ottomans, Safavids and Mughals. Until they themselves slacked off and became colonized by technologically advanced Western powers.

It is often eloquently argued that what the Muslim world needs to cure its cultural malaise is more secular education, research, poverty eradication, justice, social reforms, democracy, personal freedom, technology, economic reforms, etc. It is true that our societies are greatly lacking in these areas, but the only thing that can truly transform society is correct belief followed by right action. Any action not emanating from correct belief will never genuinely reform our societies from its inner core. At best we can only hope to be poor copies of our Western masters.

It is the responsibility of each one of us, with the help of real scholars of Islam, to learn and apply Islam in our lives, no matter what our training and profession. We must apply it in ourselves, in our families, in our communities, in our workplaces, in our neighborhoods and in our societies if we wish to see the fruits of reform at a macro level. We have among us the original Quran and the authentic traditions of the Prophet (SWAS) as well as some genuine teachers of Islam. With these resources if we are serious about reform and getting rid of centuries of cultural malaise, we can once again take our rightful place as a Civilization of Faith.