Muslims must break the habit of thinking inside the box. There needs to be a paradigm shift in their thought process to bring about the desired change in their societies.
It was Albert Einstein who pointed out that if an experiment does not yield the desired result, simply by repeating it would not produce a different outcome. Most Muslims appear to be oblivious of this truism. They are guilty of repetitive folly in their socio-political behavior by indulging in the same process while hoping for a different outcome.
While most Muslims, and indeed non-Muslims, want change in their personal and collective lives, the processes they employ to effect change have profound implications for the end result. For instance, at the personal level, people generally want improvement in their financial situation leading them to seek a better-paying job, acquiring a better car and a bigger house. At the societal level, they want better governance, less violence and corruption in society, and some semblance of social, economic and political justice. This is especially true of Muslims involved in political activities. Human nature is complex and, therefore, often unpredictable, but there are certain patterns that are discernible. For instance, violence against an individual or group would evoke some degree of reaction.
Let us take the case of the Muslim world. It is endowed with enormous wealth — $11.5 trillion — but their overall condition does not reflect this reality. Income inequality and poverty are rampant; so are social and political injustices. Independence from colonial rule has turned out to be a cruel hoax. Incompetent elites (proxies) have made matters worse. Barring a few exceptions, most Muslim countries have made little progress even on the material plane, much less in social or economic fields. People have nowhere to turn to for redress.
If they know the problem, why can’t they fix it? The simple answer is that they are using the wrong tools. Instead of repeating the same experiment hoping to achieve a different result, there is need to think outside the box; there is need for a paradigm shift in Muslim political thought.
Muslim thinkers and leaders of Islamic movements need to re-examine their assumptions about governance and the manner in which power is acquired. Most agree that the only natural habitat for Muslims is the Islamic state (not the “Islamic State” of the murderous thugs operating under the ISIS/ISIL label). Are elections the route to bring about such change? Perhaps a moment’s reflection on the rise to power of Narendra Modi in India and the choice — or lack thereof — between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump in the US would cause a rethink. Adolf Hitler had also come to power through the ballot box, as has Benjamin Netanyahu in the Zionist State.
If elections are not the answer, what options do Muslims have? Some have resorted to violence. Killing the ruler or indulging in wholesale slaughter of innocents is a kneejerk reaction that achieves little or nothing. This has been tried in several countries — Egypt, in particular — with disastrous consequences.
The first priority of the Islamic movement must be clarity of thought. It is imperative to understand that the current systems of governance in Muslim societies are not designed to help them overcome their problems. These are colonial-imposed systems whose ultimate purpose is to benefit the tiny ruling elites and their masters in Western capitals.
It is also important to do proper homework before launching a campaign for change. This is not merely a question of theory. First, there must be clarity of thought and purpose (clearly defined goals); second, there must be a critical mass of people willing to challenge the imposed order and make the requisite sacrifices to bring about change.
Acquiring power is not the goal; it is a means to an end: the establishment of Al-lah’s (swt) laws on earth. This is what we learn from the Sirah of the noble Messenger (pbuh). In Makkah, the Prophet (pbuh) did not participate in the meetings held at Dar al-Nadwa (the People’s Assembly); nor did he accept their offer to share leadership. It was at this time that Surah al-Kafirun was revealed. All of us claim to know this short surah but do we really know it? How can we claim to know this surah unless we are aware of its power and representation context?
This surah was revealed in response to a deal the Makkan mushriks offered to the Prophet (pbuh). The offer consisted of them ruling for a year according to their own laws and norms; and then the Prophet (pbuh) could rule according to Allah’s (swt) law for a year. Allah (swt) rejected this offer from on high; Muslims should likewise reject it for all times to come.
Muslims must turn to the authentic Sunnah and the Sirah of the noble Messenger (pbuh) to bring about the desired change in their lives through a paradigm shift in their thought process.
Zafar Bangash is Director of the Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought (ICIT).