THE Muslim World once again gives the overall impression of having tied itself up in knots. To unravel these knots is the name of the game. Alas, no denouement is visible on the horizon! What a pity that, instead of recognizing the challenges faced by the Ummah as a whole, the World of Islam today presents the sorry picture of a house divided. The Muslim World is living through a somber era – an era of tribulations and crises. The order of sorts that was put in place by the victors after the defeat of the Ottoman Empire appears to be crumbling before our very eyes. This is thanks to the ham-handed intervention of the powers that be, as also the lackadaisical attitude of the Muslim World itself.
The pity is that, far from waking up to the gravity of the situation, most Muslim States appear quite content at playing ducks and drakes with local and regional issues, most of which have long lost their relevance. All of this comes at a critical juncture when Islam and Muslims have once again been pushed on the defensive, facing the terrible onslaught of both physical and psychological genres! Islam, as a religion and civilisation, is by and large dedicated to a regime of peace, amity and tolerance. In common with other “religions of the book”, Islam too is on the side of a just and equitable Social and Economic Order. Aggression is alien to the very philosophy of Islam. Allah does not love aggressors. History bears witness that over the centuries, whenever Muslims have been obliged to take up arms, it has invariably been strictly in defense of what is theirs by right – hardly ever in covetousness of what belongs to others.
History has dealt the Muslim world a terrible hand. From the thirteenth century onward, the defining moments in the world of Islam have been the Mongol invasions and the imperialist intrusion by the West (i.e. the advent of colonial dependency). The Western approach to the Muslim World has changed little since then. Given what passed for normal times over the past few decades, the leadership of the Muslim States has been quite content to continue with their puerile games, in which they and their elders have been indulging in for centuries. Today, the world of Islam is faced with grave challenges – challenges that present it with stark choices. Ironically, Muslims appear to have brought these challenges on themselves. If anything, the Muslim states are guilty of criminal over-indulgence in their dealing with the states of the industrialized West. Even a cursory look at the international economic scene of the past few decades would indicate a net transfer of resources from Muslim states to the industrialized West.
There is no cogent reason why the Muslim World should be in the dire straits that it finds itself in today. What the Muslim World badly needs to do is to cultivate the edifying habit of having a good hard look in the mirror every now and then. How many prosperous Muslim States, for one, can in all honesty claim that they have contributed their due share towards the prosperity and stability of the Muslim World as a whole? The much coveted ‘unity of the Ummah’ should not imply that all differences among Muslim States must disappear overnight. This would, in effect, border on the make-believe. Healthy competition among the various Muslim communities and a reasonable measure of give and take is what it calls for. What needs to be ensured is that internal differences are not of such a nature and magnitude as to expose a chink in the armour wide enough to permit enemies to take advantage of. In this the Muslim states have failed.
Islam today is under flak from all directions. Muslims around the world are being branded as “extremists” and “terrorists”, without even the formality of indictment, trial or proof. The omnibus phrase “Islamic extremism” has been expressly coined to suit vested interests. These vested interests have predetermined that Islam is the “enemy” that needs to be subdued by any means, fair or foul. Responsibility for any and every act of “terrorism” is conveniently laid at the door of “Islamic extremists” or “Jihadis”.
If only the Muslim States would learn to put their act together. In particular, the OIC, an organisation that bears special responsibility, has a lot to answer for. The creation of the OIC did raise the aspirations but these were soon to be dashed. The Organisation has singularly failed to address the issues facing the Muslim World. With a membership of some 57 states, the OIC constitutes the biggest bloc after the United Nations. And yet for all the clout it exhibits, it may as well be non-existent. An Organisation that was viewed by Muslims as a symbol of redemption has ended up more like a millstone around their collective neck.
The Muslim World finds itself today at a unique, though critical, juncture. The deck is heavily stacked against it. The omens are not particularly reassuring. There is a dry wind blowing throughout the Land and the parched grasses wait for the spark. The blaze, if lit, will spread like wildfire and the entire Muslim World will find itself engulfed. It is for the Muslims to read the symptoms and take preemptive measures where they can. To fail now could lead to a disaster of immense proportions. And there may not be another opportunity down the road.
— The writer is a former ambassador and former assistant secretary general of OIC.