By Maulana Dr. Waris Mazhari
A great many Muslims firmly believe that a fundamental cause of the current problems of the Muslim Ummah globally—economic, cultural and political—is what they decry as a ‘Western conspiracy against Islam and Muslims’. As they see it, over the last few centuries, Western countries have reduced Muslims to such a state of utter helplessness that the latter can hardly do anything to change their own conditions, try as hard as they might. The ‘hidden hand’ of what they call the ‘enemies of Islam’, they believe, will simply not allow Muslims to get out of the unenviable situation in which they find themselves today. The Arabic and Urdu religious and politically-oriented press is replete with stories of ‘conspiracies’ of non-Muslims, particularly the West, against Islam and Muslims. The only topic that a great many self-styled Muslim thinkers and writers can write about is such ‘conspiracies’.
Anwar al-Jundi, a well-known Arab writer, once commented, ‘The renaissance of the Muslims will begin when they will properly understand the conspiracies of the West.’ What Mr. al-Jundi should be asked is, ‘Are we Muslims still at the stage that we haven’t even begun to understand these conspiracies?’ If Muslims have not as yet been able to even discover the ‘conspiracies’ that have been allegedly hatched against us over several centuries, then when, we must ask ourselves, are we ever going to get down to plan to do anything practical to counter them?
The simple fact is that this way of thinking only reveals our extreme intellectual crisis. The well-known Algerian thinker Malik Bennabi very rightly commented that the crisis that Muslims are facing does not have to do with material resources. Rather, it is a crisis of thought. Whatever Muslims might have faced, or are facing today, at the hands of others is plain enough to see—but it is all the price of the Muslims’ own weaknesses, which they try to conceal by blaming it on the immorality of others. This is despite the fact that our own moral condition is woefully lamentable—this being so obvious a fact that it needs no elaboration at all.
Thinking in terms of the ‘conspiracy theory’ is absolutely un-Islamic. If this theory were accepted as true, it would mean that the collective fate of Muslims is not in their hands, but, rather, in the hands of their supposed enemies. It would mean that their supposed opponents, rather than Muslims themselves, are writing their fate. If this is accepted, one would have to invent a new meaning of the following Quranic declaration (13:11):
God does not change the condition of a people’s lot, unless they change what is in their hearts.
It is not completely untrue to say that Muslims have been the victim of Western conspiracies. But the way that this is sought to be generalized and exaggerated completely out of proportion is utterly nonsensical, indicative of deep-rooted and widespread intellectual bankruptcy.
If you survey the 1400-year history of Muslims, you will notice that they have gone through numerous ups and downs. One of the most tragic developments in Muslim history was the enormous devastation wrought by the Tartars in the 13th century, who rampaged through many Muslim lands. The Tartars brought widespread slaughter and destruction in their wake. They seemed so utterly invincible that people thought it impossible that they could ever be defeated. Yet, even in such a trying situation, the ‘conspiracy theory’ did not seem to have had many takers among Muslims of that period. Generally speaking, the Muslims believed that whatever had befallen them was a result of their own misdeeds, in accordance with the Quranic teaching: ‘Whatever misfortune befalls you is of your own doing’ (42:30). That is why not long after the Muslims had been militarily crushed by the Tartars, the Tartars themselves became Muslims.
There are several reasons why the ‘conspiracy theory’ has so many takers among Muslims today. One basic reason is the marked tendency in Muslim intellectual circles to refuse to engage in self-criticism and introspection. A second reason is the failure of movements and parties that arose in the 20th century in the name of defending Muslims and reviving Islam in securing their basic goals. This led to mounting frustration in their ranks, accompanied by extreme emotionalism, fear, suspicion and confusion—all of which were conducive to making them prone to thinking in terms of conspiracy theories.
Thinking in terms of conspiracies is entirely opposed to the teachings of the Quran. It is a result and a symbol of a defeatist mentality, of a destructive, not constructive, mind-set.
This issue needs to be understood in the light of the teachings of the Quran. The Quran mentions conspiracies (secret planning) against Muslims on the part of their enemies. The Quran relates:
And they schemed but God also schemed and God is the Best of Schemers. (3:54)
Remember how those who bent on denying the truth plotted against you to imprison you or kill you or expel you: they schemed—but God also schemed. God is the best of schemers (8:30)
They are planning a scheme, and so am I (86:15-16)
From these Quranic verses one learns that for one’s enemies to make conspiracies or secret plans against one is to be expected. Another important point that emerges from these Quranic verses is that God has made a natural arrangement to cause the conspiracies of enemies to fail. No party, community can subordinate or destroy Islam or its followers on the basis of a conspiracy. This is why in numerous Hadiths reports that foretell about the weakness and disgrace of Muslims, the responsibility for this is placed on Muslims themselves. For instance, it is related that the Prophet said: "The nations are about to call each other and set upon you, just as diners set upon food." It was said: "Will it be because of our small number that day?" He said: "Rather, on that day you will be many, but you will be like foam, like the foam on the river. And Allah will remove the fear of you from the hearts of your enemies and will throw wahn (weakness) into your hearts." Someone said: "O Messenger of Allah! What is wahn?" He said: "Love of the world and the hatred for death." (Abu Daud, Hadith No.4297).
The notion that other communities have reduced Muslims to a state of utter helplessness and weakness through their conspiracies and that they have, as it were, sealed the Muslims’ fate, is nothing but an absurd escapism and an excuse not to do anything practical to remedy the situation. Vast numbers of Muslims rant and rave against the West’s conspiracies, but a huge proportion of these very same people pine to get to live in those countries and lead a life of luxury. I have met numerous Muslims who never tire of expressing hatred for the West, but who, with the very same passion, also long to get an American or British ‘green card’ for themselves or their children. This is a very obvious and regrettable case of double-standards.
By constantly harping on their perceived victimhood, weakness and vulnerability at the hands of others, Muslims are certainly not helping themselves. This attitude does nothing to get them out of the situation they find themselves in, at the same time as it makes others also believe that Muslims are a spent force, a people who are capable only of agitating, protesting, wailing and shrieking.
The fact of the matter is that in this world, an individual or community’s progress or regress, prosperity or degeneration, victory or defeat, rise or fall are all linked to the laws of nature. The principles on which these laws are based are one and the same for all people. They are unchangeable. As the Quran (35:43) says, ‘You will never find any change in the ways of God’.
These principles and laws apply in exactly the same way to Muslims as they do to other people. There are simply no short-cuts specially made for Muslims. Nor can any exceptions be made for them.
The conspiracies of one community simply cannot block the path of another community. If, as a result of a conspiracy, a person or community finds one door closed to it, there will be other doors that are, at the same time, open to it. But it needs to look for these doors and then set out on the path that these doors lead to, instead of banging against the one blocked door and destroying itself in the process.
Maulana Dr. Waris Mazhari is a graduate of the Dar ul-Uloom Deoband, and a Ph.D in Islamic Studies from the Jamia Millia Islamia. He presently teaches Islamic Studies at the Maulana Azad National Urdu University, Hyderabad. He has written extensively on madrasas and madrasa reforms.