The Necessity of Change and Intellectual Enlightenment


Also published on The News Blog


From east to west, the primary and most important source of jurisprudential ruling and guidance for Muslims is the Holy Qur’an. Without an atom of doubt, the basis of change whether on a national or global scale commences with individual change. This change is based on awareness and intellectual enlightenment. The fore-mentioned predicate is based upon Qur’anic injunctions in addition to being a principle witnessed throughout history prior to the changing fate, destiny and direction of nations. It is asserted in the Qur’an that “Verily, Allah does not change the state of a people until they bring about a change in themselves”.[1]

This short paper aims to place emphasis on the necessity of change as a natural phenomenon and to assess the importance of revolutionary intellectual enlightenment as the basis of change.

As a fundamental principle, the primary stimulant to changing the state of a nation is dependent upon individual change. Thus it would be appropriate to deduce that if the state of an individual remains stationary over a period of time, such a state will be reflected by the society at large and as a whole. However, if there is a motion in the state of an individual, be it positive or negative, any individual change will also be respectively portrayed by the society. Therefore the change in direction of a society is dependent upon an exported change from an individual level.

This is further elaborated by a Hadith of the Prophet (Peace be upon Him). “If people does not stop a tyrant, Allah will punish the people through that tyrant”.[2] Hence, a lack of change (inaction) is a major factor for the downfall of a nation whereas the change from one state of inaction to another state of action is the key to survival of nations. Either way, the absence of change results in the lack of development of nations which inevitably threatens the very survival and existence of society as a whole due to insufficient change by individuals.

Change is also a natural consequence of time. The flow of time involves change and can be described like a stream moving towards the future from one moment to the next—something in which events float down to the past. Allama Iqbal, like the great thinker Thomas Bergson denied permanence altogether and held that reality is ever-changing and always in motion. Nothing is constant. It is not possible to step twice in the same river. The waters of the river have already changed when you plunge into it a second time. The fact that the stone on which drops of water fall for years wears off at the point of contact, shows that a change is effected in it with the fall of each drop. Effectively, change is unchangeably natural consequence of time and thus everything within the realm of reality is also subject to change. In accordance with the principles of time, any lack of change is contradictory to time and reality and thus against the norms of the universe.

Biological development also makes the nature of change evident. From the moment of birth, time in the cradle until the moment of death; every individual undergoes biological development of bone structure, limbs, muscles, tissues etc. Furthermore, the development of man is not limited to biological and stretches to emotional, spiritual and intellectual development over various stages of life. Thus a correlation is exhibited between ‘Man’ and ‘Change’ as a rule of nature as opposed to mere theory or philosophical maxims.

History also teaches us that many a nation or state has developed socially and economically over a period of time. The foundations laid by the Prophet (Peace be upon Him) through the Medinan constitution later led to a vast empire spanning the shores of Morocco to the huge Himalayas in the east with the fruits of a welfare state being reaped by the citizens. Another example is that of Japan and Germany and their socio-economic revival following the Second World War to become leading economies in the modern world of the 21st century.

Following the discussion of change in light of different perspectives, it is also of the utmost importance to shed some importance on the basis of change and in particular a change of a particular nature. The basis of movement or change is knowledge which stems from self-awareness.

Self-awareness is a major force behind the change of individual state which leads to a change in direction of entire society. The importance of self-awareness is stressed by the famous saying, or according to others, a hadith of the Prophet (Peace be upon Him), “He who knows himself knows his lord”. Therefore, as the spiritual journey commences with the awareness of ones relationship with God; the journey and perceived destination for an individual which consequently acts as a destination and objective for society also commences with awareness of the current state and the requirements needed to attain the goal.

Following centuries of being part of an era regarded to merely as the ‘dark ages’, Europe underwent a transformation throughout the course of the 17tth, 18th and the 19th centuries. This period is known as the period of the renaissance or the European enlightenment period. Revolutions in America, France, Russia and China were based upon the revolutionary thoughts of great intellects and philosophers such as Voltaire, Rousseau, Lenin, Marx and more recently Chairman Mao although their thoughts were put into practical action decades later in some instances.  What remains evident is that practical movement and change is determined by awareness and the thought process which replicates collectively as an intellectual revolution and enlightenment amongst the masses.

Also, If we ponder over the Iranian Revolution of 1979 and the process leading up to mass revolt against the Shah, intellectual enlightenment has a pivotal place that cannot be denied. Both Imam Ruhullah Khomeini and the thinker Ali Shari’ati had revived Islamic thought and philosophy since the 1950s which brought fruits after almost three decades in the form of the Islamic Revolution. The importance of a revolutionary form of intellectual renaissance and enlightenment cannot be denied. It would be foolish to do so.

The golden period of the Islamic world was also no different. A process of intellectual enlightenment which commenced with the first revelation of “Read! In the name of your Lord who created![3] Followed by the ocean of knowledge in the form of the Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet (Peace be upon Him) resulted in the establishment of revolutionary educational institutes such as Darul Hikmah, An-Nizamiyyah and Al Azhar in Cairo. Inevitably, the success of the earlier generations was fuelled by an intellectual force contributed by thinkers such as Ghazali, Rumi and Ibn Arabi which translated into the movement of society as a whole towards positive change and motion in the form of creativity.

At this stage, it would serve as an appropriate reminder to quote a couplet of the great Muslim philosopher of the 20th Century (Allama Muhammad Iqbal):

‘Agarche Buth Hein Jama’at Ki Aasatinon Mein

Mujhe Hai Hukm-e-Azaan, La Ilaha il Allah’[4]

(If the folds of the Muslim community contain idols

I am commanded to call out, there is no God but Allah!)

A revolutionary intellectual of Iqbal’s calibre deems it necessary for himself, other intellectuals and the general Muslim world to identify reasons for their downfall and to call out for collective success; not based upon ethnicity, sect or social individual entites rather a collective Muslim struggle to herald the dawn of a golden Islamic Civilisation in the modern world. The basis of such a struggle is laid through attaining awareness of the ‘idols’ leading to our downfall followed by the commandment to call out that ‘There is no God but Allah’, a symbolic metaphor hinting at a struggle for change.

One must also remember that change and intellectual reform does not necessarily come about through staunch criticism. Wisdom is paramount in the modern age. A great example is that of Imam Hasan and Imam Husayn (May Allah be pleased with them both) who correct a man who made mistakes during the performance of ablution. They corrected him by asking him to watch If they (May Allah be pleased with them) were performing ablution correctly. Indeed the Prophet (Peace be upon Him) said: ‘A Believer is the mirror of another believer”.[5] Wisdom is the key to change and intellectual reform, an utmost necessity for the revival of the Islamic civilisation.

As for concluding remarks, it would be fair to assert change is a universal phenomenon that is evident in every aspect of human life or the universal in general. Time is movement, human life is entwined in biological, intellectual and emotional development. Likewise, without such change, Allah does not change the state of a person or nation which consequently lead to the destruction, backwardness or at best the lack of development of societies.

However, such change does not come ‘cheaply’ and requires self-awareness of individuals which evolves collectively to form and intellectual enlightenment. It is an intellectual enlightenment that leads to revolution, or change, as evident in history from the time of the Prophet (Peace be upon Him) or more recently in America, France, Russia, China and Iran.

Doubtlessly, the need of the time for the Muslim world is hidden in the need for self-awareness which may be replicated as an Islamic intellectual enlightenment which can, God Willing, transform into a global Islamic revolution and movement of change. Such change will only occur if every Muslim plays their role. Without self-awareness or self-change, the expectation of Islamic revival is but an illusion.

Muhammad Umair al Qadri

The author of this paper is a postgraduate student of law.

[1] Al Qur’an, 13:11

[2] Jami Tirmidhi; Musnad Ahmad bin Hanbal

[3] Al Qur’an, 96:1

[4] Muhammad Iqbal,, Bang-e-Daraa (Khudi Ka Sirre Nihaan, 1924)

[5] Bukhari; Abu Dawood

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