Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Revolution or Evolution

“Whether it is nobler in the mind to suffer the arrows and slings of outrageous fortune or to take up arms against the sea of troubles and by opposing end them” Shakespeare

We hear of revolutions everyday. We read about revolution in technology, revolution in communications and revolution in electronic media. But the revolution which never came and yet is affecting our lives the most in the present era is the Islamic revolution.  The struggle for bringing about an Islamic revolution somehow somewhere through political or military means started with the jihad movement of Syed Ahmed Shaheed in the beginning of nineteenth century. Two hundred years hence it is still going strong with the Osama of Alqaida and Mullah Umer of Taliban in the lead. This struggle for bringing a change in the destiny of Muslims through revolutions, which took different shapes and adopted different modus operandi in different backdrops has cost Muslims not hundreds, not thousands but millions of lives. Even than, today it is as far away from achieving its objectives as it was one hundred and fifty years ago, when Jamaludin Afghani was traveling to different countries, trying to develop a sense of Pan Islamism to bring Muslims together and over throw the yoke of foreign slavery.

The Muslims revolutionary movements adopted different means in different times. People like Syed Ahmed Shaheed thought that by establishing a rule in a far flung area inhabited by die hard Muslim traditionalists would provide them a platform. He intended to use that platform for operating and driving the foreigners and non believers out form his homeland and thus bring back the glory of Islam. Jamaludin Afghani was of the opinion that that Pan Islamism was the answer to this riddle. Intellectuals like Syed Qutab and Maulana Moudodi thought that by developing a cadre of righteous and trained Muslims, they would be able to get the political power. They believed that only by getting hold of political power they would be able to bring about that long awaited revolution. With advent of Alqaida and Taliban it seems that wheel has completed the full circle and came back from where it all started. In Osama, Mullah Omer and their allies, we see the re-incarnation of the thought of Syed Ahmed Shaheed. I.e. if an Islamic sanctuary can be established in a far off place where local inhabitants are die hard Muslims, it can be used as a launching pad for Islamic revolution throughout the world. What a coincidence it is, that the area chosen by Alqaida and Taliban is the same, which was chosen by Syed Ahmed Shaheed.

All these movements and efforts of the past have one common feature i.e. failure and the fate of the present movement is going to be no different. All these movements of past and present operate on the premise that revolution is the only way to bring an end to woes faced by Muslims. But by now, they should have realized one simple truth, ‘By and large revolutions and revolutionaries don’t work’. The world has progressed this far on the basis of evolution and it is the only course of action which nature and history accept.

Islam itself, though revolutionary in spirit, nature and concepts, is very evolutionary in its approach. It is a religion which always emphasizes a practical and gradual approach. Instead of revealing the whole Holy Quran at once, God deemed it appropriate to reveal it small peaces over a period of twenty three years, preparing the people step by step for what was to come next. Many things were not decreed Haram immediately, but were gradually declared Haram. The Holy Prophet (PBUH) himself preferred to suffer the arrows and slings of outrageous fortune for thirteen years before deciding to take up arms against the sea of troubles. The approach of Holy Prophet, which should be a guiding principle for all of us to follow, shows that he did not attempt a sudden revolution and change of system. Rather, he adopted a very practical and guarded approach very similar to the evolutionary process. The revolution came by itself when the time was ripe.

The history of sub-continent also bears testimony to the same fact. When the British established their rule here, the response of the Muslim leaders reflected two different approaches. On one side, we see the struggle of heroes like Syed Ahmed Shaeed, Prisoner of Malta Maulna Mehmood ul Hassan and Obaidallah Sindhi. All of them refused to accept the foreign occupation and tried different methods for bringing an Islamic revolution and restore the days of Muslim glory. On the other side we see leaders like Sir Syed Ahmed Khan who knew that no revolutionary movement would be able to do what an institution like Aligarh University could. The results are there for every one of us to see as who was right and who adopted the wrong path in spite of all the sincerity of purpose and commitment and whose efforts in the end bore fruit. Revolutionary leaders and activists like Subhash Chandra Boss, Maulana Qasim Nanotavi, Maulana Mehmoodul Hassan and Bhagat Singh won the praise of the people but freedom was won by visionaries like Iqbal, Jinnah and Gandhi.

If we leave Islamic history and history of sub-continent aside and take examples from the recent world history, we would not come across different results. The 20th century saw many revolutions and revolutionary leaders. The revolutions usually fizzled out like the Russian revolution or had to change course dramatically like the Chinese revolution to stay alive. Revolutionary leaders like Nehru, Jamal Abdul Nasir, Mao and Lenin left their people with their ears full but stomachs empty, because rhetoric has never proved as effective tool for fulfilling the basic needs of people. On the other hand some very non charismatic, non revolutionary rather traditional leaders like Menzies of Australia, Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore and Deng Xiaoping of China spoke little, pursued practical and pragmatic policies and left their nations in a state where they could hold their head high in the comity of nations. They also had one thing in common, they were visionary leaders no revolutionaries.  

When Lee took over Singapore in June 1959, it was still suffering from the after effects of the 2nd world war. When he left in 1990, despite being very small in size, Singapore had attained the status of an Asian Tiger. Its economy had grown bigger than accumulative economy of many bigger Asian countries. All this was done very quietly and without any rhetoric. When Deng Xiaoping was finally able to wrestle complete control in 1979, the devastating effecting of the Cultural Revolution introduced by Chairman Mao had brought China to its knees. Chairman Mao was no doubt a great leader who had led a gigantic struggle to bring about a revolution. But his efforts to keep the revolutionary spirit alive through experiments like Cultural Revolution had shattered the Chinese economy. Had Deng not entered the scene at that juncture with his visionary approach, the fate of China might not have very different from the fate of Russia.

In the world of today, the only Muslim country enjoying international respect, political stability and economic strength is Malaysia. The leader who did all this was no revolutionary but a visionary.  Mahathir bin Muhammad held the post of Prime Minster for 22 years from 1981 to 2003 and is credited for engineering Malaysia's rapid modernization and progress.  Despite being highly critical of American polices and western civilization, he did not advocate a policy of conflict and collision. The United States was the biggest source of foreign investment, and was Malaysia's biggest customer during Mahathir's rule. On the other hand, loud speaking leaders like Qaddafi who claimed to be revolutionaries are nobodies in today’s world. Despite having the immense wealth of oil at their disposal, they have not been able to elevate the status of their country and their people.

If we continue our search, we can find hundreds of such examples both from history and present day world. But all that would only prove the point which I have already made. All efforts for restoring the lost Muslim glory through revolutions, either armed or political, have proved futile in the past and have no hope of succeeding in future as well. Muslims have already lost countless precious lives and wasted immense resources in these misdirected endeavors. We can not afford to continue following this dream which is never going to materialize. We don’t need Osmas and Mullah Umers. We need people like Sir Syed Ahmed Khan and Mahathir bin Muhammad who can guide the Muslims on the path of evolution. Indeed it would be a very slow journey of progress which would require continued commitment and devotion. This journey is usually so long that those who start it are often not being able to taste the fruit of success. That is why revolutions are sought by those who want shortcuts and want to enjoy the fruits of success and credit in their life time. Vision and Evolution require patience and self sacrifice. Sir Syed founded Aligarh but was not around when the students of his university were leading the Pakistan movement from forefront. But this by no means mitigates his contribution in Pakistan movement which has been acknowledged by history.  We need movements for improving and developing systems of education, governance system and systems of accountability. We need people who can guide us on the path of science and technology. We need leaders who can understand the requirements of changing times and help us change accordingly, not the leaders who refuse to change and want to keep us that way as well. This is the only sure shot way of restoring the lost glory of Muslim ummah, albeit a long one, and only by trading the path of evolution we shall be able to achieve which Islamic revolutions will never be able to do.

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