By Maulana Wahiduddin Khan for New Age Islam
16 September 2015
Jamal ad-Din al-Afghani (1839 – 1897) was the most prominent Muslim political leader of his time. Due to his excellent qualities, he was offered high positions in several Muslim countries, such as Afghanistan, Iran, Egypt and Turkey. But because of his negative activities he ultimately became unwanted everywhere. He could not achieve his goal and died in frustration, before he was sixty.
Al-Afghani, along with his disciple Muhammad Abduh (1849 – 1905), made Paris the centre of his activities. In 1884 he began publishing a newspaper entitled al-Urwah al-Wuthqa (The Indissoluble Link) from Paris. But, because of his political extremism, Muhammad Abduh could not see eye to eye with him. In Paris he told al-Afghani that they were wasting their time in political activities. They should instead establish an educational institution to peacefully educate the Muslim youth. Al-Afghani disliked the proposal and replied: Innama anta Muthabbit (‘you are saying something discouraging’). Thereafter, Abduh terminated his association with al-Afghani and left Paris for Egypt.
Muhammad Abduh had proposed a low-profile way of working, but al-Afghani considered the high-profile way of working to be the right way. Political struggle was for him a high-profile endeavour and educating people was a low-profile project. In the latter case, one makes one’s plans on the basis of realities. This means placing oneself in a position of low visibility; as proceeding in this way draws little public attention; people do not regard this as a great task. On the contrary, in the high-profile way of working, a person makes big plans and speaks in a grandiloquent manner, and this increases his visibility. However, in terms of results, working in a low-profile manner bears fruit, whereas the high-profile way of working does not. In the former case, one remains steadfast to the peaceful course, whereas in the latter case, one very soon becomes embroiled in confrontation and violence.
The greatest assets to humanity are those who are born with superior qualities such as exceptional brilliance and great firmness and resolve. But it has been the sad experience of history that people with such qualities all too often become the victims of misadventure. This is because they are not ready to undertake anything less than a high-profile enterprise. Therefore, they engage in unrealistic planning for the task in hand, and the result is that they generally fail in life. Neither are they able to do anything of significance for themselves, nor can they enhance the lives of others.
The peaceful method develops modesty. Contrary to this, one who adopts the violent method very soon becomes arrogant. The peaceful method develops one’s personality in a constructive way and it is the only method that yields a positive result. The violent method, in contrast, ruins a person’s personality and destroys the resources at hand.
The low-profile way leads one to success, whereas the high-profile way leads to further deterioration of the situation. The reason is that working in a low-profile way is in accordance with the law of nature. And, in this world success is only for those who follow the law of nature.
Take the example of a tree. A tree begins from a small seed. The seed starts growing, and after a period of about twenty to thirty years it becomes a fully-grown tree. The growth of the tree takes place gradually. This gradual way of growth is analogous to working in low-profile. If the tree went against this law of nature, it would never fully mature as a tree. Similarly, if a person did not follow the law of nature in life, he would never achieve any success in this world.
The truth is that man has to perform his activities within a society or a social system. Therefore, it is essential for him to take into consideration the factors that lie outside himself. In doing so, he will automatically follow the low-profile way of proceeding. On the other hand, one who lives within and for himself and does not take into account external factors is doomed to failure. This is because attaining success is like the functioning of a cog-wheel. When two cogs work in perfect conjunction with each other, the machine will run efficiently. But if either of the two cogs becomes jammed and fails to move, the machine will cease functioning altogether.
This is the secret of success in life. Those who are ignorant of this principle are the ones who become violent. Taking to violence is only on account of a lack of awareness. If one can shake oneself out of one’s unawareness, one will never opt for the violent course of action.