Challenges Facing Islam and the Muslim Ummah

Columnist Col (Retd) GHULAM SARWAR discusses the difficulties facing Muslims in today's world

It is a fact, universally acknowledged that current world crises have assumed alarming proportions, leaving everybody in a state of utter awe and fear. The US and its trusted ally, Britain, are seen hell-bent on ensuring world domination through means fair or foul. Yesterday, Sudan and Afghanistan were brutally targeted. Today it is Iraq, which is the victim of their blatant aggression. Who knows which other Muslim country will be their next victim. Their avaricious eyes are closely riveted on the Muslim World.

Chain of events go to prove beyond doubt that protagonists of the New World Order as envisaged by George Bush, have very cleverly planned to undermine, cripple and (if possible) annihilate the Muslims from the planet. These powers are already working in this direction and they have partially succeeded in their nefarious designs as well. Some of the Muslim countries have been rendered totally ineffective and they are seen dancing to the tune set by 'Champions' of the New World Order. On the other hand, those Muslim countries who have seen through their cunning game, are being dubbed as fundamentalists. They are denigrated as bigots and reactionaries and listed as rogue states. A strange irony of fate, indeed!

Events of recent world history go to prove beyond doubt that Western World is in the grip of a nervous fear with regard to the resurgence of Islam. To subvert this gushing wave of Islamic revivalism, the West has mustered all its resources to destroy all ideological-oriented Muslim countries. As a result, these countries are falling victim to their aggression in quick succession. Iran, Iraq, Bosnia, Chechnya, Kosovo, Malaysia, Sudan and Afghanistan have been subjected to acts of brute aggression. Their only 'Sin' is that they are the followers of a 'faith' which challenges their hegemony in categorical terms!

Recent most victim of their aggression is Iraq. Both America and Britain have let loose hell on the helpless Iraqi people and they are persuading France as well to join hands with them for its complete destruction. Sudan, too, is a constant eye-sore for them and for the past many years, they have been working desperately hard to 'teach' the Sudanese people a lesson, but thanks to the heroic struggle of this great nation that their ugly designs have come to a naught. Sudan has fully seen through their clever game and is determined to resist their designs.

Pakistan, too, is a source of constant discomfiture for the West. Successful demonstration of its nuclear capability has left the West in a state of total bewilderment. The atomic blast has come to them as a rude shock. No doubt, America and other Western nations had some indications about Pakistan's nuclear preparations but they were not yet mentally prepared to hear this news. India, too, had thought that it would take a long time for Pakistan to catch up with them. On successful display of our nuclear capability, Indian Prime Minister, Vajpayee had to admit openly that by carrying out a successful experiment, Pakistan had set all those doubts at rest which had been lurking in the minds of the Indians.

It is a matter of serious concern that after the end of the Cold War, balance of power has glaringly tilted in favour of the United States and the West. Russia is faced with a series of grim crises and is no longer in a position to challenge the US hegemony. In fact, Russia is virtually perched on the horns of dilemma, as it is on the verge of bankruptcy. Its ailing President Yeltsin is trying desperately hard to cling to power despite his failing health. Judged by any standard, he is unable to govern the huge monolith that is Russia. In fact, Russia is currently characterised by multifarious paradoxes. On the one hand, we see the extreme paradox of the falling ruble and acute food shortages, plaguing the people, while on the other hand, a new breed of the affluent class is mushrooming all over the country. The entire situation is somewhat farcical. This sharp difference between the 'haves' and the 'have-nots' is likely to foment revolution. The entire situation is outrageously alarming. Political analysts are of the view that in case Russia succeeds in overcoming its domestic problems, it may as well stage at least a partial comeback on the global scene. In that case, it will be able to pose some threat to the West, which is currently coercing all the Third World countries.1

Russia's Prime Minister, Yevgemy Primakov visited India immediately after the cessation of air strikes on Iraq. This visit was significant in the sense that it came out with a new proposal of striking a triangular alliance between Russia, India and China. Although China has summarily dismissed this idea, yet some of the Third World countries are feeling somewhat relieved. They feel that in times to come, Russia may be in a position to take up cudgels on their behalf, in case America continues browbeating them in future as well as it is doing today. China, however, is very wisely maintaining its neutral stance.

Regrettably in the past, some of the Pakistani governments have played second fiddle to US designs. The results have been quite disastrous. Now that it is abundantly clear that it is extremely naive on our part to rely on its false promises. Currently, America is targeting other Muslim nations, but under a calculated strategy, it is wooing Pakistan, in view of its geostrategic location. America is fully conscious of our strategic importance, and as such, is toying with us for the time being. This is, however, just a temporary phase. God forbid, sooner or later, our turn would also come. Under these circumstances, the wise course of action for us would be to first set our house in order and then strike strategic alliance among various Muslim countries. Emotional outbursts and empty rhetorics would not help us for long. Under a planned strategy Muslim countries should forge unity among themselves first, on regional basis and then in the second phase, extend its base so as to encompass all the Muslim countries in its fold. Towards that end, we must work consistently and with a spirit of devotion.

The 'begging bowl' syndrome that has gripped many Muslim countries including Pakistan and the economic disparity between the masses and the ruling classes, is a source of grave concern. Taking Pakistan as a case study, we see that due to ill-conceived policies of our governments (both past and present), the country is bordering bankruptcy and its inflated debts have tarnished its international image. In order to salvage our lost prestige and rehabilitate our economy on sound footing, we must take drastic remedial measures. Half hearted efforts will not bear any fruit. The cancer is rather deep rooted and warrants immediate major surgery.

We must not lose sight of the fact that the US is proverbially a fair-weather friend. It acts as a friend only when its own interests are well served. Viewing Pakistan's position, we see that we have been living on American help for the past many years, and no wonder, America may now expect us to toe its line and help her in furtherance of her global agenda. This will be hard choice for Pakistani leadership because following America's dictates means annoyance of the Muslim World. How Pakistan acquits itself from this crisis is a question which is agitating every Pakistani's mind, today.2

Now a few words about the current trends in Far East. The states hit hard economically in recent years are Indonesia and Malaysia. Needless to say, both these Muslim states were showing such spectacular progress in the economic field that America and her allies could not reconcile themselves to the fact that the two Muslim countries should win such a respectable place in the comity of nations. So through clever manipulations of exploiters like George Soros, the economies of both these states has been virtually crippled. Mahathir Mohammed who had brought economic stability to his country is now being maligned so cruelly that his reputation is touching the lowest ebb.

Recently, in Pakistan, two successive governments have tried to emulate the policies of these Asian Tigers, but their outcome has been virtually nil. Main reason of their failure is that the entire nation is a victim of corruption, mismanagement and moral bankruptcy. The IMF and the World Bank have taken Pakistan in their inextricable coils and these financial wizards are now telling us the technique to manage our economies. This, in fact, is a snare, cleverly laid to cripple our economy. By following this pattern, inflation would certainly rise and there would be food shortages as well. At this, naturally, people would feel discontented and there would be a political turmoil. This in turn, would push the country into the vortex of lawlessness, anarchy and thus peace and progress would be inevitably disturbed. 3

And now a few words about recent state of affairs in Iran. We see that for Americans, Iran is not an unknown entity. The Iran-Contra affair had made headlines in 1987 and if we go a little further back to 1985, storming of the American embassy in Tehran and taking of American hostages in an event which Americans are not going to forget so soon. 4

Here, we may point out that if the West wants to stir up things in Iran, it will do so at its own peril. It may try to use Pakistan against Iran, but we are sure, this strategy won't work. Despite differences of some peripheral nature that exist between the two countries, Pakistan and Iran are tied together in bonds of perennial brotherhood. Surely, Pakistan will not allow itself to be used as a tool for furtherance of American designs. Iran, as we all know, is oil rich. Its Caspian oil is a tantalizing target for the Western World to control its resources. Placed in a difficult situation, Pakistan has to tread very carefully in its dealing with its immediate Muslim neighbours. We need all the support from various Muslim countries in implementation of our agenda. Let us hope that this Muslim World shows its unswerving solidarity with us for frustrating our enemies' designs.5

II  Global Islamic Renaissance

Islam, as we all know, is the majority religion in some 52 states, but in view of its universality, it is not tied to any geographic landscape. As such, it is not a religion in the literal sense of the term but is an ideology, a civilizational approach, and a message. Followers of this dynamic 'Deen' are spread all over the globe and they number about 800 million in Muslim majority areas. In addition, there are over 400 million Muslims, spread over in various parts of the world.

It is, however, unfortunate that Islam, through the ages, has remained the most misunderstood religion in the West. No doubt, it is a religion that stands for peace and justice but the jaundiced eyes of the West see it as a religion of war and fanaticism. It is a matter of common knowledge that Muslims had exercised dominance in the world for a very long time, and happily all through this long span of time, the Islamic civilization had invariably provided peace and security to all the citizens, including non-Muslims. In fact, it was the Muslim World that had provided shelters to all those non-Muslims who were persecuted in different parts of the world, particularly in Europe.

Here, Professor Khurshid Ahmed quotes Robert Briffault who examines in his monumental work 'The making of Humanity', the record of the Muslim state and society. He observes: 'Theocracy in the East has not been intellectually tyrannical or coercive. We do not find there the obscurantism, the holding down of thought, the perpetual warfare against intellectual revolt, which is such a familiar feature of the European world, with Greece and Rome at its back'.6

Another reputed historian, William Muir also admits that 'the Islamic leniency towards the conquered and their justice and integrity presented a marked contrast to the tyranny and intolerance of the Romans. The Syrian Christians enjoyed more civil and popular liberty under the Arab invaders than they had done under the rule of Heraclius and they had no wish to return to their former state'.7

Under the Western colonial rule, the situation, however, changed drastically. The Muslim World remained virtually colonized for over three centuries and during this period, nations in the Third World in general and the Muslim World in particular were brutally persecuted at the hands of the colonial powers on one pretext or the other. Here, Arnold Toynbee's candid remarks merit serious attention: 'in the encounter between the world and the West that has been going on by now for four or five hundred years, the world, not the West, is the entity, that upto now, has had the significant experience. It has not been the West that has been hit by the world; it is the world that has been hit - and hit badly by the West. The West (the world will say) has been the arch aggressor of modern times'.8

It is ironical that this very Muslim World, which has suffered at the hands of the West in the past and which remains very weak even today, is now being projected as a threat to the West. Muslims only 'fault' is that they are trying to rediscover their identity and set their own house in order. This awakening on their part is taken as a challenge to the West and Muslims are denigrated in the loudest possible terms and their activities are seen as a big threat to the West.

West's deep rooted prejudice against Muslims is highly regrettable. Nothing could be farther from the truth than branding Muslims as terrorists. Granted that there is a world-wide wave of Islamic revivalism, Muslims have no aggressive designs against anyone, at home or abroad. Presently, their main effort is to seek technology and then improve their lot, so that they could shape their lives in the light of their faith, values and traditions. They do not want to isolate themselves from rest of the world. Instead, they want to live with others with respect and honour, not as their chattel slaves, but as respectable members of society.9

It will not be amiss to mention here that spirit of Islamic renaissance is future-oriented and as such it has nothing in common with the fundamentalist approach of the Christian groups. It has shown great awareness of the problems of modernity and the challenges of technology. Its emphasis on the original sources of Islam, imparts to its approach a flexibility to innovate.

The point to note here is that awakening among Muslims is a reaffirmation of Islamic morality and a rededication of the resources of the Ummah - material as well as the human to the achievement of social justice and self-reliance. Muslims, by and large, have been inspired by a 'new vision' to rebuild their industrial and social life in accordance with the ideals and principles of Islam. They are now striving to establish a new social order, ensuring peace, dignity and justice to all oppressed people of the world. Islamic upsurge, in no way, stands for bigotry or obscurantism. It is a dynamic movement which is in complete harmony with the callings of modern sensibility.10

The real competition between Islam and the West is, in fact, at the level of two cultures and civilizations. One is based upon the Islamic values and the other draws its sustenance from the values of materialism, rationalism and the so-called liberalism.

Muslims may be branded as fanatics or fundamentalists but, in fact, there is no going back in history. Muslims want to go ahead in a much more creative way than their recent predecessors. They may reconcile themselves to accept nation-state as a starting point, but all the same, it is not the Muslims' ideal. The concept of nation-state constitutes the present-day reality and as such, Muslims do not want to dismantle their political system in an arbitrary manner. In fact, they are eager to bring about a greater sense of unity in the Islamic Ummah and greater cooperation and closer integration between the different Muslim states. Under Islamic idealism, every nation-state would gradually become an ideological state and in the final analysis, these would go to make up the commonwealth of Islam.11

It is unfortunate that the West has turned a blind eye to the strength and potential of the Islamic movements. Instead, it has embarked upon denigrating it as fundamentalist, fanatic, anti-Western and arrachronistic. Viewed in this context, the West seems once again committing the fatal mistake of looking upon others, belonging to different faiths, through their jaundiced eyes. No doubt, this increases the divide between the two cultures.12

Through this ill-advised approach of the West, great damage is being done to humanity. Tarnishing Islam's image is bound to misinform the Western people and policy-makers about the true nature of Islamic resurgence, as they are being forced to see Islam in the light of a particular unhappy chapter of their own history.

With regard to Islamic resurgence, we must keep in mind that there is also a political dimension to the situation, which must not be ignored at any cost. We must keep in mind that there is nothing anti-Western in the Muslim resurgence. It is neither pro-Western anti-West on the political relationship between Western countries and the Muslim World, despite the loathsome legacy of colonialism which has the potential to mar these relationships. We must keep in mind that if China and the United States can have friendly relations without sharing common culture and politico-economic systems, the West and the Muslim World must also learn to co-exist. Much depends upon how the West looks upon the phenomenon of Islamic revivalism and wants to come to terms with it. If in the Muslim mind, Western powers remain associated with efforts to impose the Western model on Muslim society, then of course, the tension would inevitably increase. Differences are bound to multiply. And if things are not resolved peacefully, through dialogue and understanding, showing respect for each other's rights and genuine concerns, they are destined to be resolved otherwise. But if, on the other hand, we accept that this is a pluralistic world, the Western culture can co-exist with other cultures without expecting to dominate them; that others need not necessarily be looked upon as enemies but as political friends, then there is a genuine possibility that we can begin to live peacefully. If we follow this approach, we can discover many a common ground. This is the key to the future world order. The question here arises if we are prepared to accept co-existence of all cultures, religions and nations. If the answer is in the affirmative, the future is sure to be bright, otherwise pall of gloom will engulf our entire planet.13

III   Towards the reality of Islam

Muslim Ummah has passed through many vicissitudes during long history of its existence. Its conflict with the West, has, however, varied dimensions. It is certainly far more significant as compared to other conflicts it has experienced in the past. Western civilization has affected about all aspects of Muslim life. As a result, impact of its ideology and philosophy is more deeply ingrained on the Muslim mind than that of the political domination and military supremacy of the western power over the Muslim World. In fact, the intellectual domination of the West has influenced the thought pattern, culture and even the religious attitude of the Muslims.

To offset the negative influences of the West, our first step must be on shedding off the spirit of 'apology' which is only another name for intellectual defeatism. And the next stage must be our conscious and deliberate effort to follow the footsteps of the Holy Prophet (SAW). We must keep in mind that Sunnah alone mirrors the true teachings of Islam. By applying this as an ultimate test to the requirements of our daily life, we can easily recognize which impulses from Western civilization might be accepted and which might be conveniently rejected. Instead of meekly submitting Islam to foreign intellectual norms, Muslims must learn to regard Islam as the norms by which the world is to be judged.14

Muslims of the world must realise that only by regaining their lost self-confidence, can they expect to turn their way upwards once again. They must not forget that they will never be able to reach their goals, if they committed the folly of destroying their own social institutions and imitate a foreign civilization - foreign not only in an historical or a geographical sense but also in a spiritual sense.

Currently, when the influence of Western civilization is making itself more and more felt in Muslim countries, the attitude of our intelligentsia is quite intriguing in this matter. They are of the opinion that it is impossible for the modern man to simultaneously follow the Sunnah of the Holy Prophet and also follow the Western mode of life. The dilemma of the present generation of Muslims is that they are ready to adore everything that comes from the West. They primarily adore the foreign civilization because of its foreign, powerful and materially brilliant posture. This 'Westernisation' is the strangest reason why the whole structure of basic Islamic fundamentals have become almost redundant today.15

The tendency on the part of Muslims to imitate a foreign civilization is the direct concomitant of a feeling of inferiority. This, and nothing else, is the matter with the Muslims who imitate Western civilization. They contrast West's power and technical skill with the sad misery of the world of Islam. At this, they start believing that in present times, there is no way but to imitate the western way. They, then, start blaming Islam for their own shortcomings and then adopt the apologetic attitude.16

In order to achieve the regeneration of Islam, it is our considered view that the Muslims must free themselves entirely from the spirit of apology for their religion. rather, they must live with their heads lifted up. They must realise that they, as Muslims, are markedly different from the rest of the world, and as such, they must be proud of their being different. They should endeavour to preserve this difference as a precious quality and pronounce it boldly to the world. this does not, however, mean that Muslims should seclude themselves from the voices coming from within. They must always be prepared to receive new, positive influences from a foreign civilization without necessarily destroying their own. An example of this kind was the European Renaissance. There, we see that Europe had accepted Arab influences in the matter and method of learning. But it never imitated the outward appearance and the spirit of Arabian culture. They never sacrificed their own intellectual and aesthetic independence. We must never forget that no civilization can prosper, or even exist, after having lost this pride and the connection with its own past.17

Regrettably, the world of Islam, with its growing tendency to imitate West and to assimilate Western ideas and ideals, is gradually severing bonds which link it with its past. It is losing therefore, not only the cultural but also its spiritual grounds.

It is pertinent to note here that Islam is not only a 'belief of heart', but also a very clearly defined programme of individual and social life. It can be destroyed by being assimilated to a foreign culture which has essentially different moral orientation. Equally, it can be regenerated, the moment it is brought back to its own reality and given the value of a factor determining and shaping our personal and social existence in all its aspects.18

Under the impact of new ideas and conflicting cultural currents, so characteristic of the period in which we are living, Islam can no longer afford to remain an empty form. We must, therefore, revert to the reality of Islam. It is this road alone which can appeal to those who believe in their past and in the possibility of the transformation into a living future.19


Col (Retd) Ghulam Sarwar has Masters Degrees in English, Urdu and Islamic Studies. He has been awarded Sitra-e-Imtiaz. He has also the Editor of several publications both in Urdu and English. He has written more than 1500 articles/book reviews in sarious magzaines/journals/newspapers. He has actively been involved in research/literary activities. He carries with him 37 years of teaching experience. Presently he is Director (Research) Friends, Rawalpindi.



1. Abid Ullah, 'A War on Islam', The Frontier Post, 09-10-1997
2. Dr. Ikram Azam, 'Islam and Ummah in 21st Century', Pakistan Observer, 10 October, 1997.
3. Mohammad Abdou Yamani, 'Islam and the World: The Need for Mutual Understanding', The Friday Times, April 24-30, 1998.
4. John Espisoto, 'The Islamic Threat, Myth or Reality', Oxford University Press, pp 1-9.
5. Clarence J. Bouchat, 'A Fundamentalist Islamic Threat to the West', The Friday Times, 2-9 May, 1998.
6. Prof. Khurshid Ahmad, 'Islamic Resurgence Challenges, Directions and Future Perspective', Institute of Policy Studies, Islamabad.
7. Prof. Khurshid Ahmad, 'Islam and the New World Order', The Muslim 26-11-95.
8. Abdullah al-Abge, 'The Concept of Ummah', Dawn 29-03-96.
9. Richard Falk, 'Geopolitics and the exclusion of Islam', The Muslim 18-04-96.
10. John Shephard, 'Building Bridges between Islam and the West', The Frontier Post, 09-03-98.
11. Prof. Jamil Wasti Syed, 'Islam and Secularism', Dawn 07-08-98.
12. Farish A. Noor, 'The Forgotten War against Aceh', Impact international, January 1999, pp 22-23.
13. Prof. Jamil Wasti Syed, 'Islam's Impact on Europe', Dawn, 13-03-98.
14. Muhammad Asad, 'Islam at the Crosswords', Dawah Academy International Islamic University, Islamabad.
15. Dr. Nasim Ashraf, 'Islam and the West', Radiance View Weekly, February 2-8, 1997.
16. Amanullah Vadakkangama, 'Islam's Universal message', The Frontier Post,
17. K.M. Azam, 'Islam's Conceptual Framework', Dawn, 26-06-98.
18. Salan Al-marayati, 'Extremists do not define Islam', The Frontier Post, 15-08-98.
19. Prof. Khurshid Ahmad, 'Islam and the West - Partners in Antiquity', The Frontier Post, 20-12-95.