The book, "Our Decline & Its Causes" was written in response to the following two questions posed to Amir Arsalan:
What are the causes that led to the decline and fall of the Muslims? Honor belongs to God And His Apostle and to the Believers.(63:8) These are the words of Allah, which we read in the Qur'an. But today, where is the honor for the Believers ?
What are the causes of the great advancement made by the Nations of Europe, America and by Japan ?
About the Author:
Shakib Arsalan was a reformist, activist and writer who played an important role in Arab/Islamic politics between the two world wars. Served as Ottoman administrator and in the Ottoman parliament in 1914 . Loyalty to the Ottoman Empire led him to oppose Sharif Husain's revolt in 1916 , warning of the advent of European imperial powers. Exiled after World War I to Geneva, where he founded the anti-European journal Le Nation arabe. Died as an advocate of the Axis powers.
The book is an introspective work that seeks to look inwards into the condition of the Muslim communities and understand the reasons for their downfall. Written in 1944, the context of the book is the recently destroyed Ottoman caliphate, rapid westernization taking place in Muslim lands and the reactions of the various Muslim groups. The author starts off by painting a dismal picture of the Muslims' condition and contrasting it with non-Muslims. He compares and contrasts some of the vices that plagued the Muslim community and the corresponding virtues embodied by the non-Muslims. Among other reasons, he attributes the advancement of non-Muslim nations to a passion for excellence, willingness to sacrifice and striving in the name of the nation.
Using examples of a few Muslim countries like Morocco, Syria, etc. the author then identifies the reasons for the downfall. He mainly puts the blame of the downfall on the lethargy of the Muslim masses, treachery of the Muslim rulers and inaction of the ulama. The author then concludes with the overall point that the Qur'an, being the perfect word of God, is still capable of reviving the ummah only if the Muslims embrace the qualities of sacrifice, action, philanthrophy, Jihad and Ijtihad.
(+) Arsalan has a moving and persuasive style of writing. Being of a literary background, his choice of words is excellent. The author also has an excellent command over the Qur'an and adeptly quotes Aayahs relevant to the point he makes. This makes his arguments very piercing and convincing.
(-) Any discussion on the condition of the Muslims and their downfall without a reference to western foreign policy, colonialism and neocolonialism is deficient. On that ground, this book fails because the author is trying to wake the Ummah up by pointing out the mistakes within without highlighting the power dynamics of the Muslim countries.
(-) Like many self-studied scholars of the past and present, the author's focus is exclusively on the Qur'an. Throughout the book, he does not use any hadith and the only one he uses is fabricated, "Seek knowledge even if you have to go to China.
(-) On a few occasions, the author conflates "effects" of the downfall with "causes". Some examples could be found in the notes below.
Selected Notes from the Book:
Cause of the Advancement of the early Muslims
The cause of the advancement of the Muslims was Islam. Its birth consolidated the scattered tribes of Arabia, brought them out of barbarism into civilization, replaced their hardheartedness with mutual love and sympathy, eradicated idolatry and restored the worship of the one God. It was the new life imparted by the Holy Qur'an, which had infused the Arabs with a new vitality and sent them forth from the Arabian Peninsula with an inspiring zeal to preach the divine commandments to others.
Sacrifice - Muslims vs Non-Muslims
Can any one point out a single Muslim nation of the modern times, which has sacrificed men and money as unstintingly and unhesitatingly for their country, as the nations of Europe have done for theirs? Only after they have done so can they ask why God has given these nations comfort and prosperity, greatness and honour and why the same has been denied to the Muslims of to-day.
Take the case of Palestine as a recent example. There have been several clashes between the Arabs and the Jews. From every corner of the earth the Jews began to help their brethren in distress in Palestine. The Islamic world too bestirred itself to help the Arabs. The Jews collected 1 million pounds in no time for their brethren in faith. The collection made by the Muslims amounted in all to 13,000 pounds- about a hundreth part of the sum collected by the Jews.
Some may say that in the Turko- Greek War, the Turks, who are a Muslim nation, spent as much as they could and that they are behind none in the matter of sacrificing men and material. That is indeed a remarkable thing. Among the Turks some have sacrificed one-third and some others even half of their wealth for the sake of the war. Thereby their defeat was transformed into victory by the grace of God and they became independent, great and honored. If, therefore, the Islamic nations, following in the footsteps of their illustrious forebears, act as they have been commanded, or at least like the Europeans sacrifice their persons and properties for defending their honour and heritage and for resisting the aggressors, they will certainly be entitled to the same blessings as others have enjoyed.
Most of them are under the impression that they are true Muslims by virtue of such observances as prayer and fasting, which do not involve any exertion of body or expenditure of money. But Islam is, on the contrary, not confined to prayer, fasting, meditation or supplication. Without making the sacrifices the Europeans make, without courting the sufferings they court and without incurring the expenditure they incur, the Muslims cannot have the same sovereignty and powers as they possess.
The worst enemies of the Muslims are Muslims themselves. No sooner does a Muslim sets himself to the service of his religion or country, than his enemies get wind of it through his own brother. On the pretext of helping the traitor who trades in tale-bearing with the enemies for his own selfish and personal ends, the enemies persecute the Muslim who started the good work and thwart all his efforts by placing impediments in his way.
Of the victories the foreigners have won in Muslim countries, more than half they owe to the co-operation and assistance of the Muslims themselves, because it was they who furnished their enemies with the secret intelligence regarding their own community.
In Syria, during the anti-French agitation and in several other Islamic countries one section of the Muslims in like manner betrayed their own brethren, joining hands with the foreigners who tried to subjugate them. Without the assistance obtained by the foreigners through the treachery of one section of the Muslims and the zeal with which the latter rendered them help against their own countrymen and brethren, these foreigners would have neither usurped their sovereignty and established their rule over them nor acted in such a manner as to contravene and supersede the Islamic laws.
Same Justifications Since 1940s:
If they (rulers and scholars) are told that they are betraying the cause of their own religion and nation, their excuses will be : "We haven't got the power to resist these foreigners." "We are shielding ourselves against their wrath." " Of two evils we are but choosing the lesser one," and so forth.
But there is not an atom of truth in what they say. They could defend their religion with their swords; or else they could at least have defended it with their pens. If even that was not possible, could they not defend it with their tongue ? They can do none of these. The truth is that they prefer to curry favour with the foreigners-their national enemies-as against their own nation. They prefer to work as spies for the foreigners in their own country and to serve as beasts of burden for foreign cargo in opposition to their own fellow countrymen. Though this is their state, they feel no qualm of conscience about it. They appear to enjoy with complacence the evil fruits of what they do. They seem to sleep in comfort and enjoy with relish all that they get by selling Muslim rights and spilling Muslim blood.
Causes of Downfall (Here you will see some *effects* of downfall being conflated with causes):
Ignorance: Being unable to give fitting replies to the fallacious arguments and sophistries of superficial ultra-moderns, Muslims accept them as gospel truths. Lack of adequate knowledge is one of the major causes of the downfall of the Muslims.
Weakening of National Character: Degeneration of the national character is the true cause of a nation's decadence and religion cannot be held responsible for it. A civilization which is regulated and controlled by religious laws is sometimes suddenly shaken and subverted by violent external forces ; its foundations get undermined and the whole structure tumbles down. In such cases, too, religion is not answerable for its ruin. The backwardness of Muslims in modern times is due not to their religion but to their ignorance of their religious teachings and neglect of its principles. As long as Islamic laws held sway, the Muslim nation remained great and glorious. The noble qualities inculcated by Islam are waning among them. Gone are the strength of character and all other virtues from their midst, which the early Muslims had acquired for themselves and by the scrupulous observance of which they achieved their glorious victories. In so far as the conditions leading to the welfare, progress and decline of nations are concerned, character has a higher place than all the wealth of learning and knowledge. " Nations are only as long as their character remains ; When their character vanishes, they also disappear." How true are these words of the great poet Showqi!
Degeneration of the Leadership: With the exception of a few all of them think that the people have been created for their benefit and service and that they can deal with them howsoever they will. This thought is so deep-rooted in them that if any one tried to bring them to account, they feel no scruples in terrorizing him into abject submission to serve as a lesson for others.
Corruption of Scholars: Also there has sprung up a species of scholars who ingratiate themselves with these rulers and roll themselves gleefully in their luxuries. By way of grateful service for this, they on their masters' behalf sit in judgment upon anyone who makes bold to tender sound advice to the rulers and sentence him to death as a heretic and a rebel. It is one of the glorious traditions of Islam that scholars often weaned the rulers from their erring ways, rectified the errors of their rulers and even forced the Caliphs from sinful living. They could do such thing in those days, because they were those who knew the truth and justice of things, by leading absolutely unselfish lives ; they were those who had risen to a position of universal adoration by their devotion to Allah. In consequence of the great influence they commanded among the people and the faith the people reposed in them, the Caliphs stood in constant dread of'them and hesitated to do anything in contravention of their wishes. But in course of time the scholars made their learning a means of livelihood. The poor innocent laymen 'were deceived by their huge turbans and glowing titles and believed that the verdicts they pronounced on religious matters and 'the views they expressed about religious laws and commandments were in conformity with religion itself. What were the consequences ? The mischief grew; Islam began to sink lower and lower; its enemies began to rise higher and higher; and their insolence, malice and cruelty began to grow ever more. It is at the door of these learned men that the responsibility for this change and the resultant evils rest.
Cowardice of the Muslims: A single Muslim of that time could stand up to ten non-Muslims and sometimes more. But today, Muslims have become victims of fear-fear which cannot exist in the same heart simultaneously with the spirit of Islam. The Muslims see before their eyes how the Europeans are crossing deserts holding their lives in the palms of their hands and how they welcome dangers and difficulties for the love of their countries and nations. This spectacle does not arouse spirits of the Muslims. It does not touch their pride. That they should surpass them in daring, the thought does not even cross their mind. "And slacken not In following up the enemy: If ye are suffering hardships, They are suffering similar Hardships ; but ye have Hope from God, while they Have none." (4:104)
Ultra modernists and Ultra conservatives: Serious are the dangers to a nation from men who condemn everything old as absurd and worthless, without giving thought to their intrinsic value, simply because they are * old '; no less serious are the dangers that arise from the conservative scholars who insist that no change can be permissible in anything. If anyone endeavors to introduce suitable reforms in the system of Islamic education, they would oppose it, saying that all these modern systems are the discoveries of the unbelievers and that emulation of unbelievers will amount to un-belief. Thus the " ultra-moderns " and the conservatives both are ruining Islam. The modernists persist in destroying the individuality of the Muslims and making them disown their traditions and want them to lose their national identity by becoming absorbed in the western civilization.
The book can be downloaded from the following link:
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