ISLAM IS ON the rise in the world today. This is ironic, but a truth beyond doubt. Islam is on the rise at home, in the Muslim world, and it is on the rise in the West. Those who can see far, and see beyond the deceptive veneer of media and arrogance of power, can see it well and clear.

However, it is perhaps misleading to say ‘Islam’ is on the rise, as if it has its own will and mechanisms to grow. It does not. It is its carriers, its devotees, its believers, its Muslims, who carry it forth. This is the Sunnah of Allah. If a certain group of Muslims fail in their task, they are reminded, reproached, shaken, and even replaced. But it must be the believers, one group or another, who carry it forth:

O you who believe! If any from among you turn back from his faith, soon will Allah produce a people whom He will love as they will love Him – (who will be) lowly (and kind) with the believers, mighty against the rejecters of faith, struggling in the way of Allah, and never afraid of the blame of the blamers. That is the grace of Allah, which He will bestow on whom He pleases. And Allah encompasses all, and He knows all things. Sûrat Al-Mâ’idah, 5:54

The Right Balance

This sense of over-arching hope based on solid reality and farsighted vision is perfectly justified and in fact necessary for Muslims to continue their struggle for Allah’s Dîn. Allah’s Book and His Messenger’s aâdîth are full of promises of good days to come, days of victory for the truth and the believers. These promises, like all other universal statements of the Quran and Ḥadîth, are true forever, for any group of believers. Believing in them is believing in Allah and His message.

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However, this well-justified sense of hope should never blind us to the dangers and pitfalls lying ahead, nor should it make us neglect the invincible laws (sunan) of Allah. Hope must always be balanced by constructive and realistic caution. Muslims should be neither pessimistic nor capriciously optimistic. The right balance is being realistically optimistic in all views: tying our camel, yet believing in Allah’s help, and knowing that Allah’s help is tied to our sincere efforts. Nothing is so practical as a good theory, says K. Lewin, 1945. This balanced way of thinking is in fact the way towards fruitful an effective action.

Muslims of the West: Pessimism V. Optimism

For instance, with regard to the future of Islam in America, the Muslims of the West today are torn between overly pessimistic views on one hand, and overly optimistic views on the other. The pessimist and cynical extreme views Muslims as all-time low in faith and power, and non-Muslims as all arrogant, blind and hopeless enemies of Islam. The openness of our many non-Muslim neighbors, their support of Muslim human rights, and their willingness to embrace Islam when presented in its true light, are all disregarded by the pessimists. Such views when taken to extreme, engender hopelessness, fanaticism, despair and even at times disbelief.

The wishfully optimistic extreme on the other hand would assume that all America or all Europe is dying to embrace the word of Allah as soon as they hear it, all the trouble is because the poor people simply do not know or understand it. Or that the much desired peaceful co-existence of the Islamic world with the West is a manifest destiny, just because the Muslims and some understanding Westerners want it. Just because we do not want a ‘clash of civilizations’, does not mean it is not going to happen; in fact, it is already happening and we are caught in crossfire. Denying it is unrealistic. America, for instance, is not all ‘up for grabs’, a ripe fruit waiting to be picked by Islam. Rather, it has its own culture, thought, civilization, based primarily on two strands of complex traditions: Greco-Roman tradition on one hand and Judeo-Christian heritage on the other.

The dominant philosophy of life in the West, secular-humanistic, capitalism, is directly and in many ways irreconcilably at odds with Islam. Islam is preeminently theistic, that is God-centered, with humans as bearers of a trust and honor with Allah. While fundamentally at odds, I do not mean that  the two philosophies of life cannot co-exist in the worlds, or even in the same geographical space. In fact, it is even possible for the Islamic theism to influence and win over the secular thought peacefully, through dialogue and arguments. The two already do not co-exist in fact, albeit with conflicts and grievances, both in the West and the Muslim world. The Western secularist philosophy, however, is the de facto supreme ruler today, even in the majority of Muslim countries.

Islam Wins in Peaceful Atmospheres of Dialogue and Exchange

What peaceful co-existence of Islam and the West promises the Muslims is a fair playing field of ideas. Rather than military conflict, occupation, or colonization, Muslims should be very happy to engage in a debate of ideas, of facts, of intellect, and of good models for humanity. Nothing is better for the truthful religion of Islam to prosper and win than a peaceful atmosphere of dialogue and exchange.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the treaty of Hudaybiyyah, when the Messenger of Allah accepted some apparently humiliating terms in exchange for this atmosphere of no-war, of peaceful negotiation. Of course, this did not mean any compromise in faith, only some material disadvantage for Muslims, which later turned out to be a great advantage.

Realizing the Potential of Evil and Hypocrisy

However, we must not be deluded to think that the other side, the enemies of truth and of Allah, are simply going to sit quietly and wait for us to spread the word of Allah, or explain our philosophy of life. A realistic view of our situation requires that we realize fully the potential of evil, of the power of the tâghût, the enemies of Allah and of Islam, in the world. We must differentiate, consequently, between simply non-Muslims, those who are not Muslims simply because of lack of knowledge about Islam, from those who are clear rejecters of faith after the truth has become clear to them, termed as non-believers in the Quran.

Part of being realistic is that we recognize and in fact anticipate the rise of hypocrisy among Muslims in these tumultuous times. There were ‘sellers of the verses of Allah for a short price’ among the Muslims before us, and they got to be among us. It is natural and expected, especially when being a true believer is too hard and being a traitor and a hypocrite is so rewarding, at least in the short term. To say Muslims are bad, intolerant, violent, or the Islamic tradition is all lost and deviated, or the Islamic scholars are all backward and narrow-minded, and that the new Islam should be such and such, peaceful and boneless, compliant with the aghût’s desires, etc., is the most profitable and politically correct line to adopt. From leaders of the masâjid to Muslim academicians in the West, many are vying with each other to curry favors with the powers-that-be. And this is no surprise.

Not All Criticisms of Muslims are Hypocritical

However, it would be quite unjust and incorrect to say that all Muslims, who disagree with you or who criticize Muslims or some Muslim traditions are hypocrites or sellouts. In fact, even among the severe criticisms of Muslims, by Muslims and even by non-Muslims, there are often some valuable insights, which true believing Muslims should pay heed to and learn from. Wisdom is a believer’s lost property; he takes it from wherever he finds it. We must remember the Prophetic insight that “Allah strengthens this Dîn even by (means of) an open sinner [fâjir].” (Bukhâri)

Similarly, we should seek deep, balanced understanding of all critical issues and challenges, both internal and external, facing the Muslim community today.

A profound sense of hope and trust in Allah, a balanced and realistic understanding and uncompromising, ever-renewing faith are our means to victory from Allah in both  worlds.


Dr Ovamir Anjum

Uwaymir Anjum is the Imam Khattab Chair of Islamic Studies at the Department of Philosophy, University of Toledo. He is also professor of Islamic Intellectual History at Qatar University. He studies the connections between theology, ethics, politics, and law in classical and medieval Islam, with a subfocus on its comparisons with western thought. Related fields of study include Islamic philosophy and Sufism. His dissertation, published in 2012 by Cambridge University Press, is entitled Politics, Law, and Community in Islamic Thought: The Taymiyyan Moment. His translation of Ibn al-Qayyim's Madârij Al-Sâlikîn is forthcoming.

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