Muslim Renessiance

If Islam Is So Great, Then Why Are Muslims In Dire Straits?


Critics often pose an innocent question to the faithful. “You people of faith blow your own trumpet. You claim that your religion is the best that there is, and that it has the solution to the problems of humanity. Then why is it that we see those who claim to be believers in dire straits, struggling for basics of life?”

They raise the question that: “after all, there are many Muslim countries in the world, where people may say that their religion is Islam and where they identify with the belief, and may even claim to have experienced Islam for a millennium, how come the faith has failed to eradicate their social ills and make societal advancements?” I believe the questioners have raised a valid point which needs addressing.

Justify Yourself

If we claim that ours is the best, then how do we justify our own backwardness? After all, the Muslims are not leading the world in science and technology, their countries are not having a good record of human rights and democratic freedoms, in fact tales of cultural oppression and backwardness are abound in the press concerning them. Then what right do we as Muslims have to say we have the panacea to all ills?

The Logical Fallacy of Backwardness of ‘Muslims’

However, there is a fundamental flaw in the argument. And that flaw is based on an assumption. The outsider thinks that those who label themselves as ‘Muslims’ are perfectly ‘Islamic’ in their conduct.

That whatever happens in their societies and environments is a result of Islam being put into practice. This is the grave error that they commit. That these societies have experienced Islam (the true religion based on the Qur’an) is an assumption. One experiences Islam, not through cultural osmosis or by inheriting the faith from ancestors, but through personal effort (see Qur’an 29:69), thought and reflection (47:24), a personal study of the Qur’an (54:17) and a life of action based on its inspiration (6:19).

The Authority For All Things Islamic

The authority for what is Islamic to what is not lies with the Qur’an, which is the word of God and the actual divine injunctions given to believers. Until or unless Qur’anic injunctions are put into practice in society, any claims of it being an Islamic one do not warrant any serious response. This is stated in not one, but numerous Qur’anic verses, and it is by passing through this very process that one truly experiences Islam. One is not a Muslim merely by being born into a Muslim community or being raised up in a community that labels itself as Islamic, but one attains the status of a Submitter (which is what the word Muslim means) through conscious and willing submission to the Qur’an and a life of action based on its teachings (see 2:128).

Critics are quick to say that many of these societies have experienced Islam, but they fail to pin point which “Islam” have they experienced, or whether what these countries have experienced throughout these centuries really is Islam, or is something very different but using the label of Islam to justify itself. When critics are able to prove that the societies they bring as evidence of Muslim backwardness have experienced Islam based on the Qur’an for a millennium and not an adulterated form of the faith, and yet remain unchanged, then their assertion would be valid. However, as they fall short of proving that these societies are truly Islamic i.e. based on Qur’an as supreme law and social order, their question about the faith being failed to eradicate social ills is out of mark.

Superficial Criticism

But the critic won’t stop just there. He expresses his dissatisfaction on Islam’s holy text. Some even go to the extent of declaring that they had been horrified upon reading it, but what exactly was it that they found horrifying, they don’t say. Are they uncomfortable with the exhortation to extend justice to all, even one’s own enemies (4:135, 5:8) that didn’t go down well with their own agenda? Or was it the injunction to ensure a just and equitable distribution of wealth, so that resources of the land “do not remain in the hands of only the wealthy among you…” (59:7), that horrified them, as it went against granting privileges to the rich at the expense of the poor? So what exactly was it?

But we need to agree on one point with the critics, where they suggest that  many in the West (or even the East for that matter) are at loggerheads with Qur’anic values. After all the Qur’an is calling them to change, to mend their ways, to give up racism and policies based around regional and national interests, to extend justice and equity to all, to keep a check on their personal and carnal pleasures and share their wealth with the unfortunate for the sake of God, all this is definitely what they don’t want to do.

So why wouldn’t they express their horror at such a text, which asks them to move out of their comfort zone. Why wouldn’t they treat it as a ‘foreign’ ideology’, instead of a serious manual for reform of life mandatory for a sincere quest for truth? Indeed righteousness is a foreign element in the mind of the malicious!

Islam is not a foreign import, but a part and parcel of Western Society

And they are definitely not correct in generalizing that there is a long tradition about Western incomprehension of the Qur’an. I am sure that people are aware that there are many in the West who find the Qur’an perfectly comprehensible! I am not talking of immigrants or second  generation believers, but native, Westerners, who have studied the book of their own accord and appreciate it on its own merit. E.g.

“Quran takes the responsibility of man prosperity alone. I hope it will not be too late that time which I can unite all the scholars of all the countries together and establish a monotone society based on principles of Quran only which will guide people to prosperity.” Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1721)

“Everything made so much sense. This is the beauty of the Qur’an; it asks you to reflect and reason… When I read the Qur’an further, it talked about prayer, kindness and charity. I was not a Muslim yet, but I felt the only answer for me was the Qur’an and Allah had sent it to me.” (Yusuf Islam [Cat Stevens], British pop star)

Do people accept such individuals as Westerners? Some claim that they find Islam to be foreign an incomprehensible, and one whose study requires qualifications in foreign culture and language for a better grasp of the text, but what will they say to the fact that many outsiders to the faith have very well grasped the essence of its message, and that too without the qualifications suggested? Is not the actual existence of such individuals and their growing number in the west a living rebuttal to the claim of Qur’an’s incomprehension?

They expresses their concern about the Qur’an being in a frame of patriarchy but the culture and society in which they live themselves, would they say that it is matriarchal? They consider the Qur’an to be an old and outdated text, a product of its  its time. Indeed the Qur’an is a text of its time, but its time frame is not 7th century Arabia, but day one of human existence. Since ever humankind has existed or will exist, Qur’anic era is in place with its values providing the divine guiding light. The problem with most critics of the Qur’an is the very motivation with which they approach the book. What is the purpose? Why do they wish to study the text? Is it to explore its truthfulness? Or is it to find a reflection of their own likes and dislikes?

I think, the type of motivation one has, that type of results he or she will get in the end.

“..He causes many to err by it and many He leads aright by it! but He does not cause to err by it (any) except the transgressors…” 2:26


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