Social problems are abound and have become the order of the day everywhere in the world, whether at the local, national, regional or international levels. Undesirable social conditions, cultural shocks, political turmoils, environmental problems, and economic uncertainties are affecting individuals, families, communities, and societies at large, whether Muslims or non-Muslims worldwide. People in general are trying to make sense of the radical changes in the global environment and grappling with the many socio-cultural, technological, political and economic challenges of the 21st century. Even the most basic concept of “family” which has been traditionally understood, is being challenged by so-called human rights activists lobbying at the level of the United Nations for the concept of ‘family’ to include homosexual couples as well as men and women living together and having children out of wedlock. The family institution is further weakened by domestic violence, mental and physical abuses, incest, juvenile social problems, poverty, and social crimes among the neglected and attention-deprived children of poor and/or broken families.
Explanations offered for the seemingly irreversible crises faced by the ummah in the present millennium vary depending on the perspectives used for the analyses. Muzaffar Iqbal (2008) gave two broad categories: Firstly, that Islam is responsible for the dismal state of affairs. Secondly, abandonment of Islam by Muslims is the root cause of the malaise of the ummah. This paper focuses primarily on the diagnosis and the solutions of the problems as provided by the Holy al-Qur’an, and specifically on the Quranic remedies as expounded by Bediuzzaman Said Nursi 100 years ago in his Damascus Sermon that he lectured in Umayyad Mosque.
Typification of Social Ills
In 2004, Jessica Williams identified 50 types of alarming problems plaguing the world in the 21st century, referring to them as “50 facts that should change the world”. Here are some of her statistics:
- Teen pregnancy
The U.S. and Britain have the highest teen pregnancy rates and that 1.25 million teenagers become pregnant each year in the world’s richest countries. This means millions of children are born out of wedlock each year.
- Domestic violence
More than 12,000 women have been killed each year in Russia as a result of domestic violence. One estimate says that 3 million women are physically abused by their husbands or boyfriends each year; another estimates one in three women will be beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused during their lifetime.
- Drug addiction and drug trafficking
The world’s trade in illegal drugs is estimated to be worth around US $400 billion, almost the same as the world’s legal pharmaceutical industry. Almost half of Britain’s fifteen year-olds have tried illegal drugs.
Some 300 million people in Africa are reported to be HIV positive; that in every 14 seconds, a young person becomes infected by the HIV virus; that by 2050, the disease would have claimed as many as 280 million lives.
More people die each year from suicide than in all the world’s armed conflicts; that suicide rates have grown by 60 percent worldwide between 1959-2004. The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates a million suicide cases in 2000 with 10-20 times more attempted suicides. It is now the third biggest cause of death among people aged 15-34 worldwide. The former Soviet states of Belarus, Kazakhstan, Latvia and Lithuania all showed alarmingly high rates of suicide.
70 percent of adult movies are made in Los Angeles, LISA; that Americans spend LIS $10 billion per year on pornographic materials — the same amount spent on foreign aid.
- Military spending
Every hour of the day, the world spends more than LIS $90 million on the military with USA being the biggest spender. In 2003, USA’s military expenditure was US $396 billion, which is 33 times the combined military spending of the ‘rogue states’.
Other identified “facts” include homosexualism and same-sex marriages, abortions, divorces, irreli- gion, crimes and social problems, poverty and malnutrition, depleting natural resources, and wars. Similar problems, dilemmas and crises were also identified by paper presenters from various non-governmental organisations of the Islamic world at the recent International Conference on Family organised by The Commission of Women, Family and Youth, UNIW, in Bandung, Indonesia, on May 7-8, 2011.
On the detestable spread of homosexual behaviour, the Family Watch International (www.familywatchinternational.org) also revealed the following data:
• High risk of HIV/AIDS among homosexuals who repeatedly and pathologically continue to indulge in such practices.
- Homosexuals represent the highest number of sexually transmitted diseases (STD) cases
- More than one-third of homosexual men and women are substance abusers.
- %40 of homosexual adolescents report suicidal histories
- Homosexuals are more likely than heterosexuals to have mental health concerns.
- Homosexual relations are more violent than heterosexual relationships.
Discussing the dismal state of affairs, a prominent Islamic scholar, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, expressed the following in his book “A Young Muslim’s Guide to the Modern World” in 1994:
It is especially during the last few decades with the generation that grew up after the Second World War, that the sense of the meaninglessness of life and nihilism set in along with distrust of the older generation, opposition to the many hypocrisies which the youth saw in the generation of their parents, the breakup of the family, the loss of the traditional roles of men and women, and their relation with each other and the loss of authority of any kind, not only ethical and spiritual, but even to some extent political.
Another well-known Muslim scholar and sociologist, Akbar S. Ahmed, described quite vividly the common problems facing humanity today in his book, “Islam under siege” (2003, 158):
The common problems in this shrinking world …: drug and alcohol abuse, divorce, teenage violence and crime, ethnic and racial prejudice, the problems of the aged and the poor; the challenge of the growing sense of anarchy and rampant materialism; the sexual debasement of women and children; the depletion of our natural resources and ecological concerns.
Why are these abuses occurring? What is wrong with the world? What is wrong with humanity? Are there ways to mend these human sufferings and man-made calamities? Are there ways to come out of these black pits?
Root Causes According To Al-Qur’an & Hadith
The causes and effects of human frailties and many social ills have long been addressed directly and indirectly in the Al-Qur’an and Hadith. Among the causes include the following external and internal factors:
1. External Factors — Domination by Jews and Christians
Since the fall of the Uthmaniyyah Empire in 1924, it was the external factors that contribute largely to the malaise of the Ummah. The Qur’an highlighted this phenomena (Al-Baqarah 2: 120):
Never will the Jews nor the Christians be pleased with you (O Muhammad Peace be upon him) till you follow their religion. Say: “Verily, the Guidance of Allah (i.e. Islamic Monotheism) that is the (only) Guidance. And if you (O Muhammad Peace be upon him) were to follow their (Jews and Christians) desires after what you have received of Knowledge (i.e. the Qur’an), then you would have against Allah neither any JVali (protector or guardian) nor any helper.
2. Internal Factors — Muslims’ Blind Imitation of the West
As the result of years of subjugation and colonisation, there are Muslims who are inflicted by what Malik Bennabi termed as ‘colonisibilite’, which refers to Muslims who are colonised by the West and wholeheartedly accept the Western way of life without any reservation. They proudly discard all Islamic values and teachings, dismissing them as irrelevant and out of date with modernity. They unashamedly follow the West blindly without even thinking of its relevance to the Muslim society. This phenomenon is aptly mentioned in a Hadith (Sahili Muslim, Chapter 3, Book 34, and No.6448), as follows:
Narrated by Abu Said al-Khudri: The Prophet s.a.w. said, “You will follow the ways of those nations who were before you, span by span and inch by inch so much so that even if they entered a lizard hole, you would follow them.” We said, “O Allah’s Messenger! (Do you mean) the Jews and the Christians ?” He said, “Who else?”
Ibn Khaldun, a well-known Muslim historian and sociologist, rightly observed the behaviour of the conquered in Ms book ‘Al-Mukaddimah”, p.147:
The subjugated person is always infatuated, and imitates the conqueror in his motto, his clothes, his religion and all his conditions and habits as well. The reason is that the human personality always thinks that the power, the priority and the excellence are always with the one who conquered it, so it glorifies him in imitation.
All these social problems reflect mankind’s increasing irreligiosity and spiritual weaknesses, but it would not help change things merely by wringing our hands in despair and being blind to the Truth.
Allah has given the ummah the Al-Qur’an more than 1430 years ago through our Prophet Muhammad the Elect of God (Upon whom blessings and peace). There are verses in the Qur’an that refer man to his reason, saying: Use your intelligence! Think! Consult your mind and your heart! Confer with them so that you may know this fact!” The Al-Qur’an has all the remedies, but since we have been looking elsewhere for the cure, the crises and dilemmas of the world have escalated. Despite our blindness, we are kept reminded by Allah, our Creator, “Do not despair of God’s Mercy” (QS 39: 53).
Solutions for Humanity From Bediuzzaman Said Nursi’s “Damascus Sermon”
Imam Bediuzzaman Said Nursi (1877-1960) lived to witness the decline of the Islamic world and the weakening of the Islamic faith as a result of colonisation and the ensuing interest in materialism as well as atheistic agnosticism, using science as the material yardstick. He was gravely concerned about the social ills that were destroying mankind, in particular the Ummah, of his time. In the Risale-i Nur, he re-emphasised the fact that true happiness can only be found in the belief and knowledge of Allah <SWT>, both in this world and the hereafter. On the contrary, the act of unbelief would cause grievous pain and unhappiness, often reflected in heedlessness and escapism.
When Ustaz Said Nursi was invited by the religious authorities in Damascus, Syria, to give a sermon in the Umayyad Mosque in 1911, he not only addressed a gathering of close to 10,000 people (including 100 religious scholars of the time) but he also left behind a valuable legacy, a prophetic sermon that transcended geographical boundaries and time.
At the Damascus Sermon, Bediuzzaman Said Nursi diagnosed some of the fundamentals ills afflicting the Islamic world and gave the remedies from the everlasting “pharmacy of the Quran”. He addressed six “dire sicknesses” and described the medicine to cure each one of the sicknesses in what he termed as a lesson in mankind’s social life (See Table l). He reached out to Muslims to pay heed to the truths of the Al-Qur’an and to rebuild society based on the foundations of the Islamic faith, in order for man’s civilization to become a true civilization.
In the Damascus Sermon, Imam Said Nursi expounded on “the veils that had eclipsed the sun of Islam”, preventing it from illuminating mankind in the past. Most impactful of all, he gave Muslims hope with his optimistic convictions that the true dawn of Islam will be witnessed soon because of the following signs:
1. The virtues of knowledge and civilization have removed three obstacles — the Europeans’ ignorance, their barbarity, and their bigotry in their religion.
2. The idea of freedom and the desire to search for the truth have begun to erase two obstacles — the domination and arbitrary power of the European clergy and religious leaders.
- The great upsurge in Islamic zeal has begun to erase two obstacles — despotism and degeneracy that arose from opposing the Shari’a.
- Opposition to Islam by scientists and philosophers have instead highlighted the miracles of the Qur’an, thus setting forth the elevated truths and compelling them to submit to Islam.
Fifty years after the Damascus Sermon, Said Nursi added to the Addendum of the Arabic text of the Damascus Sermon:
Man in this 20th century has perceived that his greatest need is for moral and spiritual strength, solace, and fortitude. Therefore, for him to abandon Islam and the truths of belief at this time, which are a point of support and secure the moral strength, solace and happiness he needs, and, instead of benefiting from Islamic nationhood, under the pretext of becoming westernized, for him to rely on misguidance, dissipation, and lying politics and diplomacy, which completely destroy and annihilate all moral strength, solace and fortitude, are acts far from all benefit and profit for mankind. Just how far they are from benefiting mankind, foremost the Islamic world, and all mankind, will realize. They will be awakened to this truth, and, if time has not run for this world, they will adhere to the truths of the Quran.
What Said Nursi prophesied in his Damascus sermon 100 years ago has become increasingly significant in this decade of the third millennium.
Rise and Fall of Nations
The rise and fall of nations has followed a set of rules as explained in the Qur’an in various ways, three of which are as follows:
Such days (of varying fortunes) We give to men and men by turns: that Allah may know those that believe, and that He may take martyrs to Himself from among your ranks martyr-witnesses (to Truth). And Allah loveth not those that do wrong (the zalimun). (Ali Imran, 3:140)
That those who died might die after a clear Sign (had been given) and those who lived might live after a Clear Sign (had been given) Andverily Allah is He who heareth and knoweth (Al Anfal, S: 42).
(Such was) the practice (approved) of Allah among those who lived aforetime: No change wilt thou find in the practice (approved) of Allah. (Al-Ahzab, 33:62)
As stated by Muzaffar Iqbal (2005), there is no reason for these rules to be changed in the 21sl century merely because one part of humanity has developed spaceships and cruise missiles. Historically, Muslims ascend to Global Leadership when they adhere to Islamic Ideals. There are countless role models in all areas of expertise—medicine, science, engineering, technology, philosophy, military, education etc.
History also shows that Great Muslims came from God- conscious homes. Homes are of primary importance in Islam where remembrance of Allah and the Prophet (Peace be upon him) takes place. Prophet Muhammad (May Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him) said that homes where the recitation of the Qur’an takes place are like shining stars for the angels that reside in the skies. On the contrary, when Muslims forsake and abandon Islam, the home loses the central function it used to have. Instead of love and nurturing, there is violence, abuse, quarrels and intolerable sufferings. Children are exposed to innumerable risks, including loss of faith in Islam. They become weak and easily dominated by others. In order to produce any change in Muslim societies, a change has to occur in the moral, spiritual and material state of individuals who make up members of the Muslim society (See Muzaffar Iqbal, 200S).
The maps in Figures 1-11 reveal the rise and decline of nations in world history; each with its records of narratives that revealed the lows and peaks experienced respectively because of transformational leaders who governed in accordance with noble virtues, or illiterate and narcissistic leaders who did not have the people’s interest at heart.
After the death of Prophet Muhammad (Peace be Upon Him) and the four Rightly Guided Caliphs, Islam came under the Umayyad Caliphate. The most well-known Umayyad Caliph was Umar ibn Abdel Aziz, a pious and able ruler. The rise of the Abbasid Caliphate represented a true social revolution. It did away with distinctions of aristocracy and the basis was laid for the eclectic and tolerant Muslim society of the golden age of Islam. The apogee of Abbasid power came under the famous Caliph Haroun al-Rashid, when Baghdad became the cultural centre of the world at a time when Europe was lost in the darkness of the early middle Ages. Works of science and philosophy were translated from other languages into Arabic. Soon after this Golden Age, the Arab empire began to disintegrate and a period of successive chaotic invasions followed, including the invasion by the Mongols. The Mongols eventually accepted Islam and were integrated in the Muslim domains.
The Muslims were challenged by the Crusaders who arrived in the Middle East in 1096. The Crusaders eventually captured Jerusalem in 1099, but they were later defeated in 1291.
The Uthmaniyyah Turks gathered strength in the Asia Minor and parts of Europe around 1293. Their success was attributed to good organisation and early exploitation of the power of fire arms. The Uthmaniyyah State continued to flourish in the 16lh and 17lh centuries but began to decline in power and importance when the British and the rest of the Allied forces began to dismantle it.
“Verily! Allah will not change the good condition of a people as long as they do not change their state of goodness themselves (by committing sins and by being ungrateful and disobedient to Allah” (Al-Ra’d, 13:11)
Cultivating Islamic Leaders: The Sultan Muhammad Al-Fatih Model
When Sultan Mehmet II led the Turks in the conquest of Constantinople in the wee hours of 20 Jamadil Awal 857 Hijrah (May 29, 1453), it was a victory not only for the Ottoman Turks but also for the Muslim ummah in general, a feat that seemed impossible in the years before his reign. Sultan Mehmet II or Muhammad Al-Fatih (1432-1481), was the epitome of a leader with an Ummatic vision and Qur’anic mission; one who was highly disciplined and salat-centric. His personal qualities did not happen by chance but strategically planned even before he was born.
He was nurtured by an illustrious and visionary father. Sultan Murad II, and personally tutored by two of several murabbi, including Syeikh Muhammad bin Ismail Al-Kurani and Sheikh Ak Samsettin (Syamsuddin). He was taught Al-Qur’an, Al-Hadith, Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence). Linguistic (Arabic, Persian and Turkish), and other disciplines including Mathematics, Astronomy and War Strategies. He became a multi- linguist who mastered world languages including Turkish, Greek, Hebrew, Arabic, Persian and Latin; and also a great knowledge of the state-of-the-art in the technology of the period.
From young, his mentors reinforced the fact that he was the Muslim leader whom Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon Him) mentioned in his Hadith.
“Verily you shall conquer Constantinople. What a wonderful leader will her leader be, and what a wonderful army will that army be!”
When Sultan Muhammad Al- Fatih ascended the throne, he devoted himself to strengthening the Ottoman Navy and prepared his army of 250,000 mujahid spiritually, mentally and physically for the war. He built a fleet of about 400 ships in preparation for the great onslaught. Finally, he personally led the army into Constantinople through seemingly impossible means by the Grace of Allah.
Bediuzzaman Said Nursi’s words ring loud and clear despite the fact that he departed over half a century ago. As what Ustaz Said Nursi said:
If you want success, conform to the Divine laws! Otherwise you will be unsuccessful. For the fact that all the known prophets appeared in the lands of Islam and the Ottomans is a sign of the progress of the country’s people is religion.
Religion may not be sacrificed for the sake of this world. . . . This nation’s heart disease is weakness in religion; it will regain its health through strengthening it.
The way of our society is love for love and enmity towards enmity. That is, assisting love between Muslims and routing the soldiers of hostility.
Our way is also to adopt the morality of Muhammad (Upon whom be blessings and peace) and revive his practices. Our guide is the Illustrious Shari’ah, our sword its decisive proofs, and our aim to uphold the Word of Allah (SWT).
Islam has begun making a comeback, true to what Bediuzzaman Said Nursi believed 100 years ago when many were in a mental state of utter despair. He said then that “Our future will be with Islam, and this century will be a century for Islam”. However, we cannot merely dream a world of peace and harmony without working for it. Nurturing our youth with Islamic ideals is the only way to ensure that Islam regains its place in the world. We need more leaders with the vision and mission and qualities of Sultan Muhammad al-Fatih to lead Islam back on a high pedestal.
If the world’s crises escalated because of man’s false obsession of science and technology, the world is now witnessing more scientific discoveries and technological advances that have revealed the truths of the Qur’an. Islam is becoming more apparent, and evidence shows that the spread of “the healing light of the Qur’anic teachings” is being witnessed by mankind. It will be a matter of time before Islam claims its rightful place in the world and the truths of Islam, as revealed in the Qur’an, will be the only means to deliver mankind from the low and debased degree to which man has fallen. We await with hope.
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