The Duty of the Muslims in the West


Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV

masalah prayerNote: Shaykh Abul Hasan Ali Nadawi’s opinions below do not necessary reflect the opinions of the author or SuhaibWebb.com. To view Andrew Booso’s discussion and review of Shaykh Abdul Hasan’s positions, please be sure to visit the 4th part of the series: Part IV

Shaykh Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi had a clear idea of the role that the Muslim world should play in relation to “the West,” and it was one framed by first understanding the “permanent role of the Muslim world” in light of its “fundamental outlook on life which gives rise to societies and civilizations.” Primarily, “the Muslim community (Ummat-i-Islamia) is the bearer of the Last Message which controls all its deeds and actions. Its place is that of guidance and leadership and its mission is the superintendence of the world…It is, therefore, out of the question for the Muslim Millat to be the camp-follower of any other community and to resign itself to submission and imitation.” Instead, “the Muslims possess a definite purpose in life:” “a message for mankind and their culture and civilization, endeavor and struggle and all other activities are subordinated to their creed and ideals.”

This distinctiveness included:

“Knowledge for the sake of knowledge, power for the sake of power and unity for the sake of unity are meaningless concepts. The conquest of the forces of nature and the triumph of man over matter are nothing but sport and vanity, from the Islamic point of view, if it is intended only for the display of one’s might or intellectual or material superiority…Islam allows, within proper limits, striving and endeavor in the path of life and knowledge provided that it is for a noble purpose and in the interest of mankind…Islam does not regard the earthly life and the present world to be the highest goal of man and the pinnacle of his advancement…The Qur’an asserts that the life of this world is the bridge of the Hereafter and an opportunity for action…The Qur’an condemns those who prefer this perishable, transitory, and imperfect world to the eternal and everlasting, unbounded and faultless Hereafter which is free from every kind of evil and meanness, grief and distress, fear and loss and disease and ill-health…”

Shaykh Abul Hasan lamented that the Islamic world has failed to duly guide the West to the path towards attaining the Divine, and he possessed a clear perception of the consequences of that failure:

“This country [the USA], in brief, seems to be taking a new turn and a new ray of hope is appearing. Due to our shortsightedness and internal dissensions we, in the past, lost the opportunity to come to its aid. Had Islam been propagated in Europe when the Ottomans had established their rule over a part of the Continent, or, even earlier, when the Moors had swept over Spain, the West, today, would not be finding itself in this predicament. It would not have been caught in the quagmire of materialism.

“But, unfortunately, we did not rise to the occasion. How much do I wish that the Muslim evangelists had reached here when they had set out into the world in the early centuries of’ Islam. It is said that the Muslims had discovered America before Columbus. How wonderful it would have been had they taken advantage of it and given the message of Islam to the New World. But it was not to be, and the Islamic countries have been paying the penalty for the last two hundred years. I believe that the way the Muslim countries have, today, become the lackeys of the West and the treatment they are receiving at its hands is a punishment for the failure of the Muslims to convey to it the Message of God at the proper time.”

He was to detail the general principles of the “role of Islamic countries” in propagating this message in the modern age:

“At a time like this when the Western Civilization seems to have attained the highest stage of its evolution and the Islamic countries, because of their peculiar circumstances and reasons of history, cannot hope to participate in it on terms of equality, and, even if it were possible to adopt such a course, it would neither be wise nor proper for them to do so for it would mean the end of all the things they cherish and hold precious in life, their faith, their ideals and their distinctive way of individual and social existence, there is open for them an avenue of endeavour which leads neither to slavery and imitation nor to denial and isolation. To pursue it with all their might and sincerity will be both safe and honourable for Muslims. It will not only be in keeping with their destiny and natural role in the world but also be regarded as the most revolutionary step of the modern age and the greatest and most sacred undertaking of the time. It consists of the guidance of the modern civilization itself, its rejuvenation and reorientation and its enrichment with Apostolic faith and with basic human tenderness and compassion. The duty of guidance and correction of the Western Civilization can be discharged only by the Muslims but, as a first step, they will have to shed their sickly obsessions and moral and cultural consequences of centuries of political enslavement and intellectual inertia and degeneration. They will have to take stock of their situation and analyse the causes of their present plight before they can seal off the sources of the sceptical beliefs and inclinations that are corroding their cultural and spiritual heritage and making them an easy prey to the corrupting influences of the West. In the place of the Western workshops of the mind and heart the Muslims will have to set up their own Islamic workshops and to give themselves a new set of values and standards which will be fully integrated to their past as also to the challenges of the modern times.” 

His spelled out his vision for the future as one in which the Muslims made

“the fullest use of the physical sciences and technology of the West…and then subordinating them by means of their own intelligence and industry to the lofty purposes which the last of the holy Prophets has bequeathed to them and by virtue of which they have won the distinction of being proclaimed as the ‘Best of People.’ This happy co-ordination between the ends and means from the absence of which both the West and the East are suffering at present can alter the destiny of the world. It can save it from the impending annihilation and put it firmly on the road to all-round progress and felicity. The West has all the resources in the world but it is devoid of a healthy sense of purpose; the (Muslim) East is endowed with the soundest of aims and ideals but is very backward materially…The Western civilization is doomed. It has become rotten to the core, and if it is still surviving it is not at all due to its latent qualities of strength and endurance but because no other civilization is at present ready to take its place…The Muslims, therefore, ought to decide whether it is more honourable to approach the West with a begging bowl or assume the exalted position of stewardship and guidance of humanity more than which there is no greater glory in the world after Apostleship.”

He warned Muslims living in the West to

“not be overawed by this civilization. You are the fruit of the tree of Apostleship. Live here, but keep away from the slavish imitation of the Western Civilization. Derive as much benefit as you like from your stay, but do not be swayed by crude and vulgar materialism. Remember your message and be on your guard against the dissolution of your personality. Do not feel ashamed of your Faith, way of life and culture. Do not imagine that you are the beasts and they are men. No, you are men and they are the beasts. This land is glittering with electric lights; even the night here is bright as day; but it is devoid of true effulgence of blessedness and Divine guidance.”

Part of this advice included having an essentially spiritual disposition and living a wholesome life free of excess and vulgarity:

“You should give the Azan [call to the ritual prayer] which may stir their minds and offer Namaz [the ritual prayer] so that they may see and ponder over it. Lead a clean life in order that a revulsion is created in them for their own degenerate ways of living, practice moderation so that a realization may dawn on them of the foulness of sensuality and excessive self-indulgence, and freeing yourselves from the ruthless domination of the machines, live in a cool, calm and collected manner in order that they may know where peace is. Rediscover the world that lies within you and develop the spirituality which might be felt by those who came into contact with you. I wish that devout bondmen of the Lord, men with an illumined heart, came to live here and told these people who are disgusted with life that Verily in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find rest (Qur’an 13:28).”

Again, he saw the essence of a goodly Islamic character to be one founded on a concentration on spiritual efforts, which were the foundation of reforming one’s character in the most comprehensive sense:

 “First, try to produce Faith within yourselves, observe Namaz and spend some time everyday in meditation; produce the warmth that has been destroyed by the smoke of the factories, refresh your soul, set right the aim of your life, read the Quran daily, study the life of the Prophet [may the peace and blessings of God be upon him] and seek light from it, and, then, convey the message of the Religion of Nature to the Americans.”

Shaykh Abul Hasan warned Muslims in the West against complacency and how they must protect their Islamic character if they were to justifiably remain in the West:

“Your stay here is correct. It is not only justified, but also a worship and a great source of preaching and propagation of Faith. And if it is not that then I have great misgivings. As I have said on various occasions, if you do not take full care to safeguard your religious life and arrange for the religious education and upbringing of your children and make sure that your future generations remain true to Islam then your living in this country is a sin and you are in grave danger.”

In this respect, he envisaged great reward for protecting the faith in such seemingly adverse circumstances: “I say that a man who lives in America and takes the Faith unimpaired with him to the next world will, perhaps, merit a greater reward than him who dies in Arabia because he protects the lamp of his faith against all sorts of storms and tempests.

He stressed, passionately, the tenor of the message that the Muslims in the West were to convey to their non-Muslim fellows:

“We are the adherents of that Apostle. We must summon up courage to give to these people what they need, to make them realise that we possess what they are, regrettably, wanting in, and without which the Western Civilization is doomed. This Civilization is ready to commit suicide. If anything can save it, it is the guidance of the Quran. A harmonious blending has to be worked out between material progress and spiritual values. Disaster awaits the world if materialism gains the upper hand over morality. This is the call our Islamic countries should give. They should tell plainly to the West, “Look here. You are drowning and we can save you.””

Nevertheless, he had fears for Muslims living so far from the heartlands of Islam: “The establishment of an Islamic society so far away from the centres of Islamic faith and civilization is open to grave risks and can lead to catastrophic consequences.” Indeed, he specified those fears:

“I fear the day, in America as elsewhere, when we will withdraw into our shells and get entangled in the labyrinth of study and research, and our connecting links with the real fountainhead of Islam and with the Islamic centres will be broken where, in spite of all drawbacks, Islam is still alive, and the springs of Islamic warmth and eagerness will dry up within us. It will be, then, that the American Islam, European Islam, and the Japanese, Iranian, Indian and Pakistani Islams will emerge, making it impossible to distinguish one from the other. They will be as different from each other as an American is from an Asian, or a Japanese from an Afghan, and Islamic societies will appear whose mental attitudes and natural inclinations and values will be widely apart.”

It is, therefore, unsurprising that he advised the following:

“I will advise you to visit your native countries regularly, every two years or so. Maintain a living contact with the places of your origin. It would be better if you could go to India, Pakistan or the cities of Mecca and Medina and spend some time there in a religious environment and in the company of virtuous and godly men. The wells of religious fervour and God-consciousness would dry up within you if you went on living here without a break. The battery of the heart must be charged from time to time by going to your country and passing a few months in it. I have noticed that there is a marked difference between those who maintain a contact with their native lands and those who do not. People who are out of touch with their home-countries generally develop an insensitiveness towards religious feelings, values and ideals…

“Religious environment is in the nature of a power-house. By the grace of God, this environment still exists in India and Pakistan and men of high moral and spiritual stature are found in whose company the rust is removed from the hearts. I am saying it from personal experience. The same way have I felt even in Saudi Arabia which I visit frequently. There, also, I have observed that families who have remained in contact with India are in a much better shape than those who have adopted the Arab culture and severed their ties with India. Mecca and Medina are, of course, the real centres of Islam, but they, too, have started accepting thoughtlessly the influence of the Western Civilization and the petrodollars are playing havoc with the social and cultural values of the Arabs. What is more, a sort of complacency is created when people take up residence in those blessed cities. We are the inhabitants of Hejaz, we live under the shadow of the House of Ka’aba – this is how they begin to feel. On the contrary, the religious condition of those is, definitely, better who maintain a living contact with India, make regular visits to it, do not lose touch with Urdu in which religious books and magazines are published, and make the theologians and spiritual mentors coming from India and Pakistan their guests and learn the laws and principles of the Shariat from them; they go more frequently to Mecca and Medina, perform the Umra (Pilgrimage to Mecca at any time of the year apart from the days of the Haj) more often and bear a greater attachment for the sacred town of Medina.”

Moreover, he exhorted the Muslims in the West to be wary of nationalism and to see themselves united in one spiritual brotherhood across state lines:

“You are not Egyptians and Syrians, but Muslims. You are one community, one brotherhood. You are Ibrahimi and Mohammadi. Know yourself. You have not come here to lose your identity and get fitted into this monstrous machine, like a valueless part or to fill your bellies like the animals. No. Take the Message to the peoples of this land; wake them up; tell them how they have gone out of the right way.”

Furthermore, the Shaykh – in an address that Abul Hasan gave in England in 1982, transcribed by Sulaiman Kazi (Nadwi Foundation) – encouraged the Muslims in the West to eschew a personalised, isolated practise of the religion and, instead, called for them to exhibit their faith in the streets, markets and daily life; hence a living example of the faith’s purity would help draw non-Muslims towards embracing Islam. He warned that the living of an insular existence in the West provided dangers; and just as the Muslims in Spain were wiped out after great power and building of wonderful feats of architecture, the Muslims of the West could also find their presence compromised if they did not bring the faith to the non-Muslims. Thus he commanded the Muslims to prove the benefit of their presence, and to be noble and principled. Therefore he warned against the Muslims living in isolation, content with their detached lives, places of worship, acts of worship and religious institutions. In pursuit of these goals, he demanded that Muslims master the native language, and prepare orators and writers in such tongues, so that the faith could be effectively propagated. He warned the Muslims against being apathetic towards their non-Muslim fellows, but to treat them like family, and aid them in this life against the future misfortune awaiting in the next world for failing to heed the call to the Divine.

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10 Comments

  1. Michael Gatto says:

    I took a look at this article because of the FB post which made it sound pretty enlightening, about being a principled community. Instead, most of his sayings are the same old supremacist garbage which seeks to somehow “justify” our presence in the West because of our “supremacy” over them. Why do we keep reprinting such statements?

  2. Sarah says:

    I actually don’t mind this statement – I don’t feel it to be one of supremacy, rather, this sheikh’s words seem to be far ahead of his time. We’re not trying to somehow ‘assert superiority’ – rather, the sheikh realizes that ‘Western’ civilization is NOT to be blindly followed. This is perfectly true. I study development, and it is perfectly obvious that the world cannot exist under the materialist principles of the Western standard industrialized form of development – rather, every single value which I see people propagating for ‘sustainable’ development leads back to Islam. We SHOULD have rejuvenated Islamic thought, like what SuhaibWebb propagates – Islam is not for old textbooks, rather it is the best solution for LIFE because it is the truth, no matter in what age or time.

    And I related strongly to the idea of telling non-Muslims, “You are drowning and we can save you.” I have felt this exact, painful sentiment amongst my non Muslim friends, and in speaking to them, they have found themselves agreeing that their sources of pain were the ones I pointed out.

    • ZAI says:

      Sr. Sarah,
      There is no doubt good in the Shaykhs analysis and advice. Muslims definitely should ask the question of whether the Western economic and developmental model is sustainable or even moral/ethical…the answer in many cases being: no. It is also laudable telling Muslims to hold onto their din whatever their environment and to display and preach the din to the West.

      If this was all the shaykh said and he had constructed the entire argument within this paradigm, no problem. It is obvious the Qur’an and hadith call for this and something Muslims must do. Unfortunately he does not restrict himself to that.

      The Shaykh says these things, but he does so within a clearly dichotomous model. It is starkly Manichean, with Muslims portrayed as having the whole truth and the West as being a “dying corpse” in his words. This is absolutely and patently false and comes off as just cheerleading for Muslims.

      He openly tells Muslims, for instance, to be proud of their cultures and disdain the culture of the west. This is ridiculous. There is good and bad in every culture, as culture is separate from pure din. There are good things in Western culture and bad things in Muslim cultures…civilizations do not necessarily reflect the purity of the din as an abstraction.

      For example, there is no longer any social stigma in the West with being a divorcee. In the Muslim world, good luck to any woman who wishes to get remarried(to someone her own age and within her own social status) if she’s divorced. The West is not predominantly Muslim, but who is closer to the din in this specific instance, Muslim culture or the West?

      The pluses and minuses extend into law as well.
      Are we not here because the West allows immigration?
      What Muslim country does? Immigrants are treated HORRIBLY in Muslim countries. Ask South Asian or African workers what life is like for them in Dubai or Saudi Arabia…they are not even treated like human beings let alone allowed to immigrate.

      Or how about freedom of speech?
      You and I can discuss these things thanks to this right. We love Imam Suhaib, and he can interpret the faith for us and speak as he wishes, based on his own conscience. Do you think this web site would have any chance of operating as it does in Saudi Arabia? Could some of the things said on this site be openly said in Pakistan or Afghanistan or anywhere in the Muslim world?

      What is going on in Bangladesh right now with these riots over a blasphemy law? Why was Salman Taseer killed in Pakistan? Why was Bassem Youssef arrested in Brotherhood Egypt?

      The Shaykh’s writing do not reflect these fine nuances. They are either ignorant of realities in the Muslim world or completely outdated and reflect a time when our grandparents perhaps lived in more authentically Islamic societies.

      As it is, his writing are shallow Muslim nationalist cheer-leading lacking discrimination and nuances, or they assume an ISLAMIC IDEAL…which doesn’t exist. It is unfair to compare Islamic IDEALS to Western realities…and as far as Muslim realities go, if the West is a corpse, then we are so decayed only bones are left. I’d love to see the Shaykh visit modern day Pakistan to re-energize his spirituality.

      Muslim society is an absolute disaster. There is a total breakdown in basic akhlaq…civility, humanity and even basic safety. And we’re going to save the West? The very idea, looking at modern day Muslims, is laughable if you mean the Muslim World at large.

      American/Canadian/European Muslims who SHUN the baggage from overseas and native converts perhaps…people who take the best of the west AND Islam…In other words rather than engage in a contest of superiority and cultural paternalistic triumphalism, synthesize an Islam that is vibrant and free of the obvious malaise of both the Muslim world and the West..

      • Kirana says:

        Maybe you have read the full texts, which I have not, in which case you would have more basis for your opinion that me for mine. But, based only on what is provided in this article, I understood ‘culture’ to mean the culture of Islam, rather than the culture of the ‘nations currently hosting the message of Islam’ – I think we all know these are two distinct and often very different things.

        There is probably some truth to the view that the sad state of such host nations is related to the failure to bring the entrusted message wider, at a time when the Muslim peoples had strength. Andalusia – though it hosted a Golden Age – stopped where it did and was later lost because latter rulers focused more on fighting each other than on what motivated them there in the first place. and latter empires like the Mughal and Ottomans – let’s just say they could have done much better and been much better examples.

        I also hope Muslims living in the West really establish a sustained base where positive, empowered outlooks and actual practical deeds emanate from not just to sustain the message in the West, but to re-da’wa the East. Fortunately with modern communications and travel technology (via Western civ) this exchange has commenced. As an example, the thing that modified my outlook the most when I began reading this site and consider the many convert-driven/West-based Islamic community or da’wa groups, is how HAPPY and EASYGOING you seem to be in doing your stuff in spite of frequently dealing with or even seeking out non-Muslims and what might be termed ‘sinners’. and i know from hadith that invariably the description of Prophet Muhammad’s way of day-to-day dealing with people – including some rather questionable and objectionable people – is consistent with HAPPY and EASYGOING. yet from my upbringing, I just couldn’t really picture what that might look like in actual terms, until i saw the example of these converts. indeed, we are created with diversity, so that we may learn from each other.

      • Hyde says:

        I agree with some of what you said, but freedom of speech…a word on the Holocaust or sodomites, and freedom of speech goes down the toilet. Dichotomy is not ideal, but the decadence of the west as filtered to the “Muslim word” and created a paroxysm combustion.

  3. ZAI says:

    The Shaykh makes some good points, but it is too Jamaluddin Afghani or Syed Qutb-esque for my tastes. I don’t buy this clash of civilizations nonsense with these stark caricatures and notions of civilizational superiority…The only people who could claim that on moral/ethical grounds are the Prophet and his sahaba.

    There is good in the west, not just technological…but also in terms of tolerance, rights(RIGHTS…not lamely justified socially constructed “duties”) for women, minorities, etc. Freedom of speech and difference of opinion with no fear of violence or imprisonment(yes, some recent exceptions which are an abuse of the law, but it’s the norm), generally honest government and the ability to replace and criticize it, etc., etc. etc….

    Yeah, there are problems as well like legalized bribery(lobbying), breakdown of some social values, a corrupted economic system, warmongering(the weapons industry) etc…

    In other words it’s a MIXED BAG.
    …and Muslims are PLENTY mixed themselves.
    The Muslim countries are an outright disaster zone with lonely exceptions like Turkey and Malaysia being better than the others.

    I think it’s best to say the West and Muslim world both have their pluses and their minuses…and we should do as the Qur’an says “Get to know EACHOTHER”…not this “Muslims are great” junk where we come teach these “lost” Westerners how to live.

    I agree with Michael above. With all due respect to the Shaykh, just as he advises us to take the best of the West and reject the rest…must take the best of the Shaykhs writing and reject the rest. I have no patience for these rigid, supremacist, ideologically rigid exercises in self adulation….This nonsense has not worked for 100 years and is not going to work now…

  4. Heather says:

    The false dichotomies between “Western” and “Muslim” are worthless and fail to reflect the cultural complexity of the world in which we live. Moreover, they psychologically force reverts like myself to “choose” between one or the other, leading to rifts within the self and within social support networks. The moment we stop subscribing to false dichotomies of any type – let’s say, “if you’re Muslim you can’t be ‘all-American’ and if you’re ‘All-American’ you can’t be Muslim” in the case of Katherine Russel – we can start attending to the most urgent issues of our time.

  5. Sarah says:

    Assalamu alaikum,

    I think that your worries were very well addressed in the article that followed this one. :)

  6. Khadija L. says:

    I think the Sheikh was spot-on. He had pretty good insight unfortunately, it seems a sore spot for some who identify themselves in his speech. Nothing is completely evil & nothing is completely good. Choose selectively & wisely & discard the rest. We should always be moderate in Islam and not cling to the ends of the spectrum.

  7. Hyde says:

    I think what the sheikh was talking about for the west is about to happen sometime in this century and at the same the ideals of the sub-continent as already passed.

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