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The Role of the Human Being

Even though the removal of khilafah and the setting in of authoritarian rule served as the trigger mechanism of Muslim decline, the Muqaddimah makes the human being the center of analysis. This is because, as stated earlier, the human being is the end as well as the means of development. If he is right, all socio-economic and political institutions tend to work properly. However, if he is not right, nothing may work properly. The rise and fall of societies is, therefore, closely dependent on his well-being or misery. This is exactly a reflection of the Qur’anic teaching that:

God does not change the condition of a people until they change their own inner selves) (Ar-Ra ’d 13: 11).

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This takes us to the reform of the human being. What does it require? This is where justice plays a crucial role -justice in all spheres of human life, including the family, the society, the economy, and the polity. Justice demands that the human being should be provided with all the facilities that are needed to realize his maximum potential so as to enable him to serve himself and his society to the optimum extent. Some of the most indispensable requisites for his reform are proper upbringing, training and education, combined with a proper moral, social, economic and political environment, along with effectively enforced incentives and deterrents to ensure socio-economic justice.

These requisites for reform do not exist in the Muslim world at present. As we saw earlier, there are 426 million illiterate people. A great deal of injustice has been done to them by not teaching them even to read and write. Literacy is, however, not enough to make a person able to contribute adequately to his own development as well as to that of his family and society. It is also necessary to provide him proper moral as well as technical education so that he not only becomes a better Muslim but is also able to earn enough in keeping with his needs and potential and fulfill his obligations towards others.

Even worse, Muslim women have been deprived of the rights given to them by Islam. In the classical Islamic period, female members of the society were also provided with education and seem to have enjoyed a respectable status. They are well represented in the bibliographical literature devoted to the Prophet’s companions. According to Ruth Roded, a scholar at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, roughly 10 to 15 percent of the entries in these bibliographies are of women. After reading the biographies of thousands of women in 40 bibliographical collections dating from the 9th century, she draws the conclusion that they were not secluded or marginalized. While studying awqaf (charitable endowments) in Ottoman Aleppo, she finds that 41 percent of the endowments were established by women and that women’s endowments differed little from those of men.

As a result of the educational and research facilities available in the past, Muslims were able to make substantial intellectual contributions to the world. According to George Sarton in his Introduction to the History of Science, Muslims made path-breaking contributions to mathematics, science, medicine, philosophy and literature for four hundred years from the middle of the 8th century to the middle of the 12th century. They, therefore, enjoyed supremacy in these fields. Even after losing the top place, they continued to make substantial contributions for two more centuries from the middle of the 12th to the middle of the 14th century. After that, we hardly see the name of any Muslim in the list of scientists making path-breaking contributions.

M. Umer Chapra


Source: Essays on Muslims and the Challenges of Globalisation, Institute of Policy Studies, Islamabad. Republished with permission.