Ibn Rasheed, UK
Are those who have abandoned God prospering whilst Muslims are perishing? It certainly seems so when one takes a glance at how Muslim nations are being overpowered both economically and militarily by Western countries. But this question needs to be scrutinised in more detail.
What defines success and progress? And what aspect of human endeavour can this statement be examined against? And why, despite Muslims praying five times a day and believing in Allah and the Prophet Muhammadsa, are things not quite going their way?
In the countries with the highest GDP (a calculation of the economic health of a country), Muslim nations do not appear anywhere near the top ten, nor do they in the countries ranked the best in education.
Militarily, a few make it in the top 15, according to some rankings. But which Muslim country has given us any significant scientific discovery in the past century? The first recognised Covid-19 vaccine was developed by Turkish-German Muslims, yes. Not with the resources of any Muslim nation, but under German facilities. The UK, US and even Russia were quick to develop it.
In terms of worldly progress, there’s little doubt that non-Muslim nations are far superior in terms of military might, economic prosperity, freedom and democracy and science and technology. But that’s not to say Muslim nations are totally in the dark ages.
Muslim nations have given us Nobel Laureates, world renowned leaders, academics and scholars. But it’s few and far between compared to those who seem to have abandoned God altogether. Does this mean religion and belief in God subverts scientific and worldly progress? And is the Western approach the best way to progress, develop and succeed in this life?
Imagine living in the Middle Ages, otherwise known as the Dark Ages. This was 900 years of European history marked by steep decline in culture, science and progress, following the collapse of the Roman Empire.
The Islamic Empire, on the other hand, was in full swing – at the peak of its power and glory. Baghdad was the de facto capital of the world. The centre of learning, arts, culture, innovation and sciences. Street lighting and sanitation were found on the streets of Islamic Spain long before Christian nations adopted them.
The question that would have been asked then is, “Why are Muslim nations succeeding and progressing whilst our Western nations are regressing?” The fact that Islam had its golden era and Muslim intellectuals paved the way for many modern inventions, shows that religion and belief in God itself is not a barrier to progress; rather, it can be argued that it was Islamic teachings emphasising research, discovery and education that contributed to the advancements and innovations in the Muslim world during the Middle Ages. Not only that, but recent Muslim Nobel laureates have attributed their successes to their faith, not in spite of it.
Dr Abdus Salam quotes verses of the Holy Quran in his speech when being awarded the prize. Tawakkol Karman, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011, is quoted as saying that her hijab “represents the highest level of thought and civilisation that man has achieved”.
So what’s happened now? Does belief in God and being a Muslim not guarantee one success in both this world and the Hereafter? Are Muslim prayers not answered? Is there no difference between one who places faith in God and one who does not?
The first thing to be remembered is that God is not just the Lord of Muslims but the Lord of all mankind. Hence, He has equally given all His creation means, provision and the ability to progress within their given faculties and intellectual potential.
If anyone strives to the full extent of his God-given faculties, then the law of nature which God has appointed will not fail them. They will be rewarded for their action, be they Muslim, Hindu, atheist or Christian. Actions and striving will always have its effect.
Part of what led to the dissolution of the Christian Roman and Islamic empires was actually deviation from true religious principles, a descent into religious bigotry, literalistic interpretations of the holy books and succumbing to avarice. When religious clergy, having become morally corrupted and devoid of the spirit of faith, interfered in political and secular matters, they labelled any scientific innovation or advancement a curse and deviation from God.
Until somewhat recently, Muslim clerics deemed the loudspeaker as an illegal innovation and not permissible. Now those same clerics use it to spout their harsh and hate-fuelled rhetoric.
Similarly, the Catholic Church suppressed free thinking in the Middle Ages, illustrated by the trial and condemnation of the Italian astronomer, Galileo. So it can be argued that deviation from the true spirit of religion and its harsh and forceful implementation, suppressing research and knowledge results in a decline of progress.
Religion itself is a friend and ally of scientific progress and research, hence earlier Muslims contributed vastly to the arts, medicine, science and education, and many still do today.
Atheist nations who have abandoned God fare no better merely on account of their distance from religion. Stalin’s Russia and Mao’s China – both communist atheist states – are not exactly remembered in history as the epitome of human progress. Both resulted in extreme tyranny, economic deprivation and a lack of general progress and development.
Both world wars – the worst human tragedies in human history – were started by Europe, not by any Muslim or religious figure – not exactly a glowing endorsement of the contributions of the West. What we see happening today in the Muslim world is not due to Islam being anti-science. It is due to politics of self-interest, abandonment of religious values of justice, plurality and unity.
Muslims have succumbed to the lure of oil wealth and allied themselves with non-Muslim powers with vested interests and allowed religious extremists to take the helm of governments and even knowledge. This is a political issue disguised as a religious one. It’s the same with all terrorist groups – they hold political ambitions, falsely motivated and justified using religious texts and terminology.
Religious bigotry and blind following is given precedence over free-thinking, research and exploration, something the Quran frequently encourages. Apart from that, Muslim theology is vastly superior to any other philosophy of life one can find.
Hence, Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world and its arguments for the unity of God, the universality of religions and cogent principles of life, are second to none. A study in 2019 found that Muslims feel the most satisfied with life because they feel the highest level of “oneness”.
So while non-Muslims nations have overtaken Muslim ones in terms of worldly advancement, there was a time it was the other way around. And worldly success doesn’t always translate into spiritual success or life satisfaction.
However, there are also other reasons why at times it seems as though disbelievers are succeeding, whilst believers are not, which shall be discussed in part two.