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|The West's Power & the Causes of Muslim Decline (good article)|
|01/17/02 at 00:22:36|
|The West's Power & the Causes of Muslim Decline|
One common thread in Muslim debates worldwide, which has been current since at least the 17th century and up to the present, is the decline of Muslims and its causes. The themes are the same, and, interestingly enough, the causes identified have not changed much either. When considering the multitude of contemporary Muslim political analyses, we find at the core an attempt to provide an explanation of why and how to overcome this perceived or real decline. Often, analysts begin with this thesis of decline and weakness and then offer their own ideology as the only solution to overcome it at the exclusion of all others.
From the 17th century and onward, two main views explain the causes of Muslim decline. One view, for the main part, attributed the decline to internal factors, while the other pointed to an external one, which was identified as a resurgent Europe and its new found military prowess. This second view is the one that won the day, and it continues to dominate Muslim thinking on the question of decline and the ways and means to overcome it.
To be more precise, according to this view, the ascending power of Europe and its material power and development was and sill is seen as a cause of loss of power for the Muslims, thus causing a slow process of decline which eventually lead to the total collapse of the Caliphate system in 1924. The proposed remedy devised to overcome the decline and European material power called for the importation of military technological know-how through which it is suggested that the power gap will be narrowed and the decline itself reversed.
The project gained momentum in the mid-18th century and continued to be the main feature of interaction between the Muslim world and Europe (which represented the West at the time) in general. It began with basic-level military training for the Ottoman army by German officers and continued to the present level with wholesale importation of every conceivable technology available in the West. Clearly, the process is an imitative model of development, which lacks depth and creativity, to say the least, and fails to recognize the basis on which Europe or the West reached its material "progress." However, underlying this view is the idea that Western technology (which includes the technology of Europe, Russia, and North America) must be adopted, which, in the long run, may be used to advance and overtake the West in its own material power base.
What we must notice is the crude material foundation of this proposition and its sole dependence on power and an un-ending quest to acquire it. The end result of this wholesale adoption of the material power and modes of behavior congruent with the given imported technology is the loss of basic Islamic understandings, including the basic relationship between the material and spiritual. Note the lack of critical critique of technology and the existing assumption of it being value-free by several modern Muslim analysts. Furthermore, notice the simple-minded association between technology and power, as if one necessarily leads to or is necessary for the other. Yet, power by itself is not sufficient to reverse the fortunes of a society, civilization, or religious community. Associating power with progress and decline with its absence is fundamentally flawed and is at best an ignorant solution for a problem that is deeper and more complex.
Nevertheless, I do not deny that the quest for power is a legitimate undertaking of any society as a means of collective self-defense, a means to stopping aggression, or a logical deterrent against hostile intentions. Also, we must take into account that societies seek power and use it to extend a sphere of influence upon neighbors and far away nations, which is often buttressed to show the veracity of the ideals of such a society. However, my concern is not with technology itself per say; rather it is with the assumption that technology can serve as the foundation upon which a society is built and that it is the instrument that defines and expands power. Technology has an embedded social value: it comes out of a particular social order, and power is not an independent cause or variable; rather it is an outcome of a number of forces, the chief among which is the force of the legal and moral structure prevalent in any given society.
The failure of the above mentioned contemporary Muslim approach to reversing the decline (whether this is possible or not is another topic, but let us suppose it is possible) is that it lacks an understanding of the field of legal and moral ideas that make it possible for the West to acquire the tools and to secure power. The Westıs development is based on an existence of a legal structure that charts the relationship between individuals and the state on the one hand and between each of the individuals on the other. The scope of the legal system makes it possible for the individual to explore his/her ideas without having the state intrude on the possibilities before it is realized. The classical Islamic model was vested on such a legal system and on providing a structure that made it possible for technology to emerge based on a spiritual social value. The current Muslim approach, depending on the belief in power and the quest to secure it through technology absolved of spirituality, is nothing but a form of idolatry disguised as a quick road to salvation.
Power is a dependent variable; it is an outcome of a societal structure and emerges as an end result of a process. Thus, once power is achieved by a society or a group, then by necessity, the process of decline must also set into motion, for nothing in creation is eternal. No power, past or present, has the capacity to maintain its hold on power, for it is one of the foundations of Godıs Law in creation that "everything that raises must be debased at one point in time." A pre-occupation with power will always lead to a heavy emphasis on its material manifestations and the tools used for its exercise. Decline or prosperity is directly related to justice and the extent of its implementation in every society, for injustice leads to imbalance, imbalance leads to excess, excess leads to violations of the rights of others, and violations of rights leads to unattended grievances which are the foundation of internal societal collapse. To understand Muslim decline and that of other societies for that matter, we must look at justice and its distribution at all levels of a given society. Modern Muslims view the problem to be external rather than internal, a function of our own justice system falling into a state of imbalance due to own lack of implementing just laws.
The older and more correct view, which lost the battle and which continues to be resisted, is the one that considers decline and its causes to be a function of internal factors. Decline begins at the individual level before it is manifested across various levels of a society. That is, it begins first inwardly in a person living in a particular society in such a way that the spiritual state is no longer in control of determining his/her actions.
A healthy spiritual state moves one to act in a just and virtuous manner toward oneself and in relation to all others in a given society. The loss of this inwardly state, in due time, manifests itself outwardly resulting in a loss of the notion of the collective public good. This in turn leads to the setting in of corruption, nepotism, lack of accountability, lack of adherence to the law, and having a bad opinion of all others.
Hence, the perfect law cannot function in a vacuum without human beings struggling to live perfect lives by their own choice inwardly first and then outwardly The journey toward decline or prosperity begins at the individual level first and the development of a sense of responsibility for ones actions that once is collectively adhered to a common good can/may emerge. Power and technology for their own sake are of no use if the human being that is endowed with this sense of responsibility is not present for the outcome of such an occurrence would be a structure heavily vested in absolute authoritarianism. Islam is a spiritual journey for the human being and an attempt to bring about a just and virtuous inward state of being that can be nurtured collectively in the society at large. Power emerges from this collective, and technology is but one material representation of it and is not its total value.
Justice and many other virtues are now largely absent in the Muslim world on the individual and collective levels. We can easily point out that our governments are corrupt, but we often neglect the individuals. However, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, "Your leaders are but a reflection of who you are." Furthermore, the Qurıan states, "God does not change the condition of a people until/unless they change that which is in themselves." What we understand from these two statements is that decline or its cause is internal rather than external and that the way for change is self-reflection: we must ask ourselves the serious questions of who we are, what we are doing, and why are we doing what we do? We have to be honest with ourselves before we can begin to chart a course of correction, and how can we begin a course of correction before we know where we are ourselves?
Muslims should not seek power for powerıs sake; rather our quest is to call to people who want to hear about how to live a just and virtuous life for the benefit of all of humanity. While Muslims often feel weak and sometimes act upon a feeling of weakness, if we reflect upon this, we find that the Muslim weakness is a function of material conditions only and is not one based on a lack of a reservoir of law and virtue. While it is true that these rich sources of Muslim heritage are not in use and are often forgotten and neglected, however, it is nonetheless possible to re-connect with our rich tradition if appropriate course of action is undertaken.
The strength of Muslims is in the realm of spirituality and the help that we can offer anyone seeking salvation. According to our teachings, the salvation of the human soul is more worthy than the heavens and earth and that which they contain therein. What we are most in need of is a spiritual renewal and a foundation of spiritual power. While this may lead to worldly power, it will be only an outcome rather than being the end in itself. For Muslims, power should not be an idol to pursue, for we have more urgent business at hand, such as the curing of the injured human spirit and giving human beings hope at a moment whence despair seems to be declaring victory all around us.
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