P.K. Abdul Ghafour | Arab News
Muslim civilization has experienced an overall decline during the last five centuries after a long period of prosperity and development. This raises a number of questions such as what factors enabled Muslims to become successful during the earlier centuries of Islam and what led them to their present weak position.
M. Umer Chapra, a leading Muslim economist who is presently working as a research adviser at the Islamic Research and Training Institute of the Jeddah-based Islamic Development Bank, tries to answer these intriguing questions through his book “Muslim Civilization: The Causes of Decline and the Need for Reform,” published by Islamic Foundation in Leicester, UK.
While discussing in detail the reasons behind Muslim decline and the nature of Muslim contemporary crisis, the book spells out major elements of a comprehensive strategy for reform. It also explains some crucial factors responsible for the rise and fall of societies in the light of the Qur’an and Sunnah, most importantly justice and moral upbringing.
A winner of the King Faisal International Prize for Islamic Studies in 1990, Chapra has used the explanatory model of the great 15th century Muslim philosopher of history, Ibn Khaldun, who applied the scientific cause and effect analysis to explain the rise and fall of nations or civilizations.
Instead of relying on a single variable, Ibn Khaldun used a multidimensional analysis incorporating a number of variables including the moral, social, political, economic, demographic and historical. This makes it a powerful model capable of answering the questions raised above. Since Ibn Khaldun’s model is 600 years old, Chapra has introduced a number of changes into it, taking into account the changed realities around the world.
The most important factor in the rise or fall of a civilization, Chapra says, is the human being himself. The Qur’an clearly states: “God does not change the condition of a people until they change their own inner selves” (13:11). Human beings are themselves the architects of their fate. They are not only the end but also the means of their development. Unless they possess the right kind of moral and mental qualities, it will be difficult for any country to accelerate development. Toynbee was presenting the same idea when he said that, “Civilizations die from suicide, not by murder.”
Human beings do not, however, operate in a vacuum. There are a number of factors that influence them and affect their performance. The most important of them is their own motivation and ability, Chapra explains. According to him, justice plays a big role in motivating people while their moral strength along with their proper upbringing, education, health, training, socio-economic and political environment, and access to finance improve their performance. Islam has laid maximum stress on these requisites to bring about a revolutionary change in society.
Chapra underlines the importance of establishing justice for the development and progress of any society. Justice is the primary purpose for which God sent His Messengers to this world, he says quoting a verse from the Qur’an (57:25). Justice demands all individuals be treated with dignity and respect in keeping with their status as khalifahs or vicegerents of God. This, in turn, demands that all their basic needs be adequately satisfied and that there be equitable distribution of income and wealth, he points out. “Any society that does not create an environment for the realization of justice is bound to experience socio-political tensions, instability and decline.”
This point leads Chapra to discuss the factors that help ensure justice and development. Some of these include the worldview and values of the society concerned, proper upbringing of children, moral uplift, high quality of education, family and social solidarity, freedom of thought and expression, development of the society’s knowledge and technological base, incentives for hard work, enterprise and innovation, opportunities for earning an honest and decent living, and, above all, good governance.
One of the factors, which hurt the Muslim world most has been the lack of good governance. Illegitimate rulers taxed the productive sectors of the society heavily and, instead of using the resources thus collected for the wellbeing of the people and the development of the economy, they used them for enriching themselves as well as a large group of unproductive sycophants, he says. The trigger mechanism in the decline, in line with Ibn Khaldun’s model, has been bad governance resulting from a lack of accountability of the rulers before the people and the inability of the people to remove them peacefully through the electoral process. Chapra has, however, not stopped at this. After having discussed the causes of decline he has addressed the need for reform. He has discussed a comprehensive reform program for the Muslim world — a program that will help create not only all the requisites for development but also greater internal solidarity and better harmony with non-Muslims.
Consequently the book gives valuable insights into the kind of reform that the Muslim world needs to reverse the cycle of decline and to ultimately fulfill the Qur’anic vision of making Muslims a blessing for mankind. Chapra ends his book urging Muslim countries to carry out moral, political and institutional reforms and work for the promotion of justice, alleviation of poverty, and proliferation of education and microfinance. Muslim heads of state, politicians, technocrats and academics have much to learn from this important work in order to bring about constructive changes in their countries and societies.
Source: Arab News