Future-proofing the Muslim world

OVER the years, there has been growing usage of the term “future-proofing” by decision-makers of the world – from the European Union and Japan to Malaysia – as they seek to progress in a way that anticipates future social, economic and environmental challenges such as unemployment or climate change.

From the viewpoint of Islam, the Prophet Muhammad and his subsequent intellectual-spiritual inheritors – the luminaries of Islam – have always acted in a manner that would “future-proof” mankind from erroneous thoughts and action (batil), base desires (nafs al-hayawaniyyah), and disorder on the earth (fasad).

It is imperative that learned Muslims, when talking about “future-proofing”, take this reality into account, in order to acknowledge the kind of wisdom from religion that ought to be a driving force for an enlightened future.

The Muslim community should aim to ensure future generations do not remain Muslims only outwardly – as in our times, most Muslims have been taught knowledge of the individual obligations (Fard Ayn) but these have been reduced to the external aspects of the religion (Arkan al-Islam).

The external aspects or rituals would not be sufficient for a fulfilling life if there is something lacking in the internal – known as the pillars of faith (Arkan al-Iman).

Thus, for example, a Muslim may appear to be outwardly pious in his performance of prayer, but may be involved in illicit activities in his dealings with others, or he may take advantage of his subordinates.

This may be one of the reasons why there is a growing number of Muslims who are suffering inwardly or spiritually – commonly termed today as depression or anxiety, leading to, in some cases, suicide.

Although challenges posed by emerging new phenomena such as the Fourth Industrial Revolution may appear to be real and concrete, our decision-makers often miss the more subtle internal challenge experienced by the modern generation which worsens the aforementioned so-called “more pressing challenges”.

Unless we address this subtle internal challenge experienced by the modern generation, all the best practices and transformation agendas will be rendered void and meaningless when the rates of suicide, depression and other modern ills continue to rise.

Our situation is made more challenging with the unconscious and conscious rejection and side-lining of the rich repository of wisdom in the thoughts of past Muslims and their inheritors in the contemporary world, which would prepare the ground for the arrival of sound faith.

This in turn leads to a disconnect of a Muslim’s reasoning and consciousness from their primordial covenant (Quran, 7: 172) and natural inclination of their human selves (fitrah).

One striking example of side-lining such a rich repository of wisdom is when universities restrict the purpose of education to just the acquisition of facts geared towards producing marketable graduates, at the expense of the cultivation of virtues and perfection of the soul.

As a result, a graduate may be competent in his professional affairs, but may lack the ability to use his intelligence and govern his soul properly, leading to abusive behaviour, emotional instability, or other psychological conditions.

Such a state of affairs would encourage the degradation of human dignity, and individuals would feel that life is no longer worth living, as indicated in this remark written in a suicide note by a young Japanese executive: “My physical and mental state has been stretched to its limit, and there is no other way out.”

It is imperative therefore that the educated and professional Muslims in various sectors do not easily dismiss what is commonly considered to be “theoretical” or “philosophical” but in reality is knowledge of a higher degree – or wisdom – critical for “future-proofing” our nation from psychological suffering, erroneous thinking, animalistic tendencies, lopsided policies, and disorder on earth.

In these current circumstances, if the educated and professionals in all sectors are not sufficiently informed about these matters, it is their duty to entrust these matters to those who know – in the case of Malaysia, by properly optimising and harnessing for instance, the strengths of the Institute of Islamic Understanding Malaysia (Ikim) as a think tank.

It is also productive to recognise and acknowledge the important and creative work that the group of scholars at the Centre for Advanced Studies on Islam, Science and Civilisation at Universiti Teknologi Malaysia’s Kuala Lumpur branch campus is undertaking towards empowering educated Muslims to regain the great repositories of wisdom from Islam to answer some of the most pressing challenges in the contemporary age and the future.

Once a critical mass of educated Muslims has recovered the centrality of their repositories of wisdom to enlighten and guide their practical affairs, they will be more intelligent in benefiting from the wisdom and commendable contributions of other civilisations.

The future of the Muslim world as well as mankind is dependent on the extent the current generation devote themselves to acquire the great treasures of wisdom of their intellectual-spiritual forefathers through their foremost contemporary representatives, whom we are fortunate to still have in our midst.

Muhammad Syafiq Borhannuddin is Senior Research Officer with Ikim’s Centre for Economics and Social Studies. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.

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