Converts to Islam

Is it permissible to write down prayer words when learning how to pray (salah)?

hey, I'm struggling with myself. I want to start praying , but i don't know how to pronounce the things. And the other thing is if I can't remember the sayings can I write it down and read it or is it not focusing on Allah and the praying then and when do I have to say sws?

It is universally accepted that a person can read from a book of Quran during the prayer, so I see no issue with reading the other parts of the prayer from a piece of paper until you learn them (but I cannot find official opinions on this). There is no issue with having difficulty pronouncing the words as it takes time to learn them, the Prophet says in regards to reciting the Quran (but it can be applied to the rest of the prayer as well):

The one who is proficient in the recitation of the Quran will be with the honorable scribes (the Angels) and he who recites the Quran and finds great difficulty in reciting it, doing his best to recite it in the best way possible, will have a double reward. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Book 65, Hadith 4937)

On an agnostic’s marriage to a Muslim

So I’ve been seeing a man for about 4 years now (I’m a agnostic woman) and he’s Muslim, however we started off dating and I thought it was ok in the beginning till later on he told me it wasn’t and our relationship is just a friend based thing. The thing is he wants me to convert and get married to him to make it work but I don’t feel the need I have to convert to love him and respect his faith. I really would like to have a life with him but I know deep down that may not happen Your thoughts

It was wrong of him not to tell you in the beginning that he is not allowed to marry an agnostic. As for your question, in Islam marriage is not about the happiness of the husband and life alone. It is about the happiness of everyone around you, and the fate of your children and grand children. Marriage is about socially integrating your relationship into society’s life. It is possible that you would make a great wife the way you are and would be capable of respecting your husband’s relatives and creating a happy and functional family. But the probability of a non-believing woman making a great wife is lower than the probability of a believing woman. There are always exceptions, but this is the general rule. A woman who believes in God and feels herself bound by His commandments is going to have a much stronger force on her making her act kindly and responsibly than an agnostic who is only morally responsible to herself and her close friends and relatives.

There is also the spiritual side. God’s believers are like a separate race of their own. Part of a successful life for them is the bringing up of children and grand children who have an equally strong belief in God. We consider ourselves part of one single line of prophets that go back to Muhammad, Jesus, Abraham and Noah until Adam. We do not want this line to go extinct by our children abandoning our faith. And since a mother has an important role in forming her children’s worldview, a believing mother is more likely to bring up believing children than an agnostic woman is.

Religious laws and regulations are there to take account of these probabilities by prohibiting the types of relationships that are less likely to be successful. It is possible, but not very probable, that an agnostic woman will make a great wife and will bring up strong believers in God, so to increase the probabilities of successful marriages and the survival of the believing community, marriage with agnostics is prohibited.

This is not a judgment on you as a person. It is about the long-term good of the community. In Islam personal fulfillment has to be balanced with our social duties. In the West the belief is that one should seek fulfillment as long as they do not do any harm to others. In Islam one is required to reach a compromise between their personal fulfillment and their duties toward their families and communities. We are neither slaves to the interests of society nor are we individualists who turn our backs on it. For more on the logic of marriage in Islam please see my essay: The Point of Marriage in Islam (and the Problem with Romantic Relationships Outside of Marriage)

As for your personally, you could try reading multiple translations of the Quran and watching lectures about Islam to find out if there is more to this religion than you thought previously. You could also watch videos about converts to Islam (such as this one) to find out what made them convert. If you are serious about your relationship, it is only reasonable to find out as much as you can about whether there is any chance at all that you could become a Muslim.

Of course, converting to a religion is a very heavy decision to make and it can sometimes take years. Your only way forward, as far as I can see it, is to explore Islam deeply to find out whether a chance you could convert or not. If you convert, then your relationship will work out for you, and if you conclude that you could never convert, then, in that case, maybe you would be able to make a firm decision about whether to continue the relationship or not.

Best wishes.

How to know which Islamic scholars to follow

salaam alaykoum. I'm wondering which shaykh or scholar should I listen to? Because they differ and it's very confusing for me who's trying to understand islam . How did you do to find reliable scholars? How should one do to avoid extremists one, or the ones who don't have evidance for their claims etc. Jzk

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

A powerful criterion is to see which scholars are respected by the kind and decent people you meet. People with similar hearts are attracted to each other. You will never find a kind and sweet person following some crazy fringe scholar. This means that any Muslim you meet, if you find their behavior and thinking acceptable, can teach you about a number of scholars that might be worth listening to.

Muslim countries have their own “national” scholars that are respected by the majority of the mainstream Muslims of that country, for example Mohammed al-Ghazali (not to be confused with the more famous la-Ghazali) and Ali Gomaa in Egypt, Said Nursi in Turkey, Salman al-Ouda in Saudi Arabia, and so on. These scholars are all worth listening to. We also have globally respected classical scholars like Imam al-Ghazali that are worth reading.

You are not required to agree with everything some scholar says or to belong to their school. You should make your own way by taking in all the knowledge you are able.

An important criterion for distinguishing between scholars is the Quran. Read it many times to learn the worldview behind it, then use what you have learned to judge what others say about Islam. We call the Quran a “guide” because it is designed to help you find the way, it is designed to help you make sense of all the conflicting information you receive so that you can find the middle road between them.  A person that says something that clearly clashes with the Quran’s teachings is clearly taking a narrow and extreme position. The Quran tells us that Abraham (Prophet Ibrahim) argued with God’s angels to save the people of Sodom and Gomorrah from punishment, despite their being great sinners. Someone who takes pleasure in the idea of sinners being punished has clearly failed to take Islam’s teachings to heart.

On dealing with anti-Muslim parents and siblings as a convert

I’m a convert and my relationship with my Mother and her husband has been horrible lately. When we meet they only talk about how Islam is evil and I’m in the wrong path. They openly look for anything bad to say, especially about my husband. Recently my younger sister even went through my phone when I was using the restroom. They do not want any good for us and say bad things that happen are God’s punishment in us. It’s very stressful. Is it ok to cut off contact at this point? It’s been years.

Regarding parents that try to turn us away from Islam, the Quran says:

But if they strive to have you associate with Me something of which you have no knowledge, do not obey them. But keep them company in this life, in kindness, and follow the path of him who turns to Me. Then to Me is your return; and I will inform you of what you used to do. (Verse 31:15)

Our default attitude toward our parents and relatives should be one of kindness and forgiveness. However, this does not mean that we should put up with their behavior regardless of how it is. The Quran says in another place:

O you who believe! Do not ally yourselves in close friendship with your parents and your siblings if they prefer disbelief to belief. Whoever of you allies himself with them—these are the wrongdoers. (Verse 9:23)

What I recommend is try to keep up polite relations with them, and if one of them is in need or is sick you should try to be there for them. But you can also tell them that they are not allowed to talk about religion or your husband to you and that if they do that you will cut contact with them until they change their behavior. If they agree to be civilized, then you can continue keeping up with them. And if they break the rule and, for example, email you an article by an Islamophobe, try to forgive and ignore it. But if they break the rule in a major way, inviting you to a dinner with the intent of lecturing you about Islam, you can respond to it as you would respond to any other insult, for example leaving the scene immediately, telling them they should apologize, and avoiding them unless they promise to be well-behaved next time.

But if you avoid them for their misbehavior, you should be willing to make an exception if one of them is in need or ill, if they genuinely need you then it is best to be there for them to the best of your ability.

Best wishes.

Making sense of all the different versions of Islam as a convert

Is it ok if I don't worry about the shariah issue. All I want to focus on is my rituals and improving my character. All this confusion of difference in opinion , that people who are for or against khalifah, which madahib, etc is just tiring and I find myself more confused. Many people say "salaf" is the truth or this is the truth. Some say we should reject ahadith while others say that it's equal to Qur'an etc. For someone who has just turned to the Deen I feel drained from all this turmoil

Imam al-Ghazali, who defined mainstream Islam for most Muslims, said that our focus should be on developing our relationship with God, everything else is merely a tool toward accomplishing that. Most born Muslims grow up with this view. They do not feel overwhelmed by all the disputes and arguments because they grow up in a balanced culture that tells them what is important and what is not, and when it comes to the majority of disputes, they leave it to the scholars to argue about and go on with their own lives, following the scholars they like and respect.

But it is different for converts since they are overwhelmed with raw information coming from all directions and do not know who to trust and what to prioritize. Your lifeline in this turmoil is to hold onto the Quran and read it constantly. Never let anyone define Islam or God for you when you have the Quran to tell you about these things.

You can then listen to the opinions of respected mainstream scholars who do not creep you out by their extreme or immature views, people like Sheikh Yasir Qadhi, Hamza Yusuf, Suhaib Webb and Umar Faruq Abd-Allah. You can rely on their opinions on most issues, except when you are not satisfied with their opinion in which case you research the matter for yourself.

As time passes, you will develop an intuitive sense of the shape of the Islamic intellectual landscape so that it will become easy for you to know which things are important and which things are just splitting hairs, and which opinions are respectable and which ones are not.

“Why are Muslims so judgmental? Muslim men’s expectations of women are too high.”

Why are many Muslims so close minded and judgmental. I feel like I can't keep it up. The expectations (especially from Muslim men) is way too high. Sometimes I feel like giving up . Especially the issue of modesty etc I don't feel like we are being given the space and time and freedom to make our decisions. I've gotten many cruel comments and it's hard.

Whether the Muslims around you are judgmental or open-minded depends very much on the society and culture in which you love. I grew up among my Hawrami relatives (a Western Iranian Sunni minority) and most of the people around me were extremely kind and open-minded.

Each race and culture has its own flavor of Islam, if you find a certain Muslim demographic not to your liking, try to connect with a different one if possible.

Many British converts do not find the cultures of their mosque communities satisfying and may end up mistakenly thinking that the problem is with born Muslims vs. converts or with Middle Eastern Muslims vs. converts. The problem in reality is that each race, culture, class and personality type practices Islam in the way that makes the most sense to it. You just have to find the right people to socialize with, as I mention in my answer What to do if you cannot find interesting and like-minded Muslims to befriend.

Regarding modesty, you are right, it is that way because people judge things by culture, not by lines of scripture. If you dress in a way that is culturally inappropriate, people may condemn you even if Islam does not condemn you, and in fact you will find that devout, spiritual Muslims are the least judgmental.

The Quran’s greatest focus is on spirituality, on developing the proper relationship with God, and on being kind and constructive when dealing with people. A person who is cruel toward you because of how you dress has not understood the first thing about the Quran’s teachings.

Read the Quran and develop your relationship with God. This is Islam’s first priority, and it has nothing to do with other Muslims. It is between you and God. Do not let other people define Islam for you or ruin your relationship with God.

As for dealing with other Muslims, you can act in a way that they find culturally appropriate to avoid their judgmentalism, many of them focus on appearances and do not care about what is in your heart. But if you wish to be able to make your own choices without being judged for it, then this unlikely, because most humans are judgmental and prefer cultural practices to spiritual ideals.

It is a choice between either fitting in and getting people’s approval, or being different and being judged for it. This applies to most things in life, not just dress code. If you wish things were different, that Muslim men saw you as a human and did not reduce you to how you dress, then such men exist, but they are more common in some places and cultures than in others.

If your idea about how Muslim men think comes from the internet (tumblr, Facebook, Islamic sites, etc.) and not real life, then that idea may not be accurate, since extremist Muslims are often a lot more active on the internet compared to moderates.

Muslims may use “God” instead of “Allah”, and why most converts to Islam should keep their pre-Islam names

They say in our doctrine that the word "God" is way different than "Allah", and shouldn't be said as long as the Kuffar use it. We as Muslims differ from what they came with.. Similar to what happened when Adan was first confirmed. What's your take on that?

The Saudi scholar Ibn Uthaymeen says there is no issue with using foreign words to refer to God if the meaning of the word is commonly known and well-understood and not confusable with pagan deities.

I try to use the word “God” wherever I can if I am speaking or writing in English, because it sounds more natural than using “Allah”. My wife is a native English speaker and we always say “God” when we speak.

I come from a Kurdish culture and we always use Khwa and Khoda when we speak about God. It sounds highly unusual if someone says Allah in the wrong context, it is like saying “thou” and “thee” in English to refer to someone.

You will find some Arab-centric opinions on the internet that say to use “Allah” instead of other words, acting as if the cultural choices of hundreds of millions of non-Arab Muslims around the world are of no importance.

Using the word God in English is recommendable because it shows non-Muslim English speakers that we are not speaking of some foreign deity like some of them mistakenly think. It shows that we are speaking of the same God that they know of, the God of Abraham and Jesus, peace be upon them.For similar reasons I recommend that converts to Islam keep their pre-Islam names. A convert to Islam named Christopher is going to have a far easier time befriending and approaching non-Muslims, putting them at their ease and showing them that Muslims are just like themselves. If he chooses some foreign-sounding name, this will always act as a barrier.

Ultimately it comes down to personal choice whether a convert chooses to change their name or not. But it is a big mistake to tell them this should be one of the first things they should do after converting. This should be one of the last things they do, by choosing a foreign name they separate themselves from their local community and make it far more difficult on themselves to get their conversion to Islam accepted by others on the one hand, and to get others to have a friendly view of Islam on the other.

Additionally, converts to Islam who have children have the right to continue using local names, as long as these names do not have a meaning conflicting with Islam. Irish Muslims can continue using common Irish names, the way that Kurdish Muslims use Kurdish names, and Turkish Muslims use Turkish names.

What happened to Islamic civilization? Why did Muslims fall behind in science and technology?

I wanted your in depth opinion on a particular observation. Muslims, historically speaking, have been responsible for hundreds and thousands of scientific discoveries. What happened to us? Why are we in the stage we are?

Only 100 years ago, which is just a little more than one human lifetime, the Ottoman Empire was a sovereign Muslim nation that could stand up to any Western power. No Jewish colonizer would have dared to terrorize and massacre Palestinians when the Ottoman Empire was there to protect its citizens.

While many Muslims, including scholars, think that Muslims were always powerful, capable and thriving throughout history until modern times, this is mostly a romantic fairy tale told to console and encourage.

The Crusaders were able to take Jerusalem and other parts of the Levant from the Muslims in 1099 CE and ruled it for nearly 100 years. Where were the great Muslim powers in this time that they couldn’t take it back? The Middle East was a mix of weak and fractured “Muslim” powers, who were only Muslim in name but in general acted like any modern power, using religion to justify their actions while being under the influence and sometimes control of foreign non-Muslim powers.

The current weakness and powerlessness of Muslims is similar to their state during the Mongol invasions. Some Muslims thought the end of the world had arrived, thinking the Mongols were the promised Ya’jooj and Ma’jooj (Gog and Magog) mentioned in the Quran. The Mongols utterly destroyed the Sunni Muslim Khwarezmian Empire which controlled nearly all of Modern Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and parts of Afghanistan and Kazakhstan, and which had existed for 150 years, through the wholesale slaughter of men, women and children. After that, they went on to destroy Baghdad and Damascus, although the Abbasid Empire had been in decline for centuries before the Mongols arrived.

On the other side of the Medieval world, Muslims ruled nearly half of Spain for nearly 800 years, until 1492 CE (which is also the year the Americas were discovered). Just as they threw Muslims out of Spain, Christians went on to conquer two continents, spread Christian rule all over them, and eventually built the world’s most powerful nation there.

The Myth of Continuous Power Increase

There is a myth among Muslims that since they belong to God’s chosen religion, they should have been able to establish a globally dominant power that ruled the world forever. But God doesn’t promise us that. He promises that we will be tested:

You will be tested through your possessions and your persons; and you will hear from those who received the Scripture before you, and from the idol worshipers, much abuse. But if you persevere and lead a righteous life—that indeed is a mark of great determination.1

God also threatens us with His ability to remove us from power and replace us with others if we do not follow His guidance:

131. To God belongs everything in the heavens and everything on earth. We have instructed those who were given the Book before you, and you, to be conscious of God. But if you refuse—to God belongs everything in the heavens and everything on earth. God is in no need, Praiseworthy.

132. To God belongs everything in the heavens and everything on earth. God suffices as Manager.

133. If He wills, He can do away with you, O people, and bring others. God is Able to do that. 2

Verse 131 above mention’s God’s warning to the People of the Book. The Old Testament contains many promises by God that if His people disobey, He will abandon them to whatever that may happen to them, and that He will make others dominant over them. In the Book of Deuteronomy (part of the Old Testament, and part of the Torah), prophet Musa (Moses) says:

25 When thou shalt beget children, and children's children, and ye shall have remained long in the land, and shall corrupt yourselves, and make a graven image, or the likeness of any thing, and shall do evil in the sight of the Lord thy God, to provoke him to anger:

26 I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that ye shall soon utterly perish from off the land whereunto ye go over Jordan to possess it; ye shall not prolong your days upon it, but shall utterly be destroyed.

27 And the Lord shall scatter you among the nations, and ye shall be left few in number among the heathen, whither the Lord shall lead you.3

The Quran, too, mentions prophet Musa saying similar things:

6. Moses said to his people, “Remember God’s blessings upon you, as He delivered you from the people of Pharaoh, who inflicted on you terrible suffering, slaughtering your sons while sparing your daughters. In that was a serious trial from your Lord.”

7. And when your Lord proclaimed: “If you give thanks, I will grant you increase; but if you are ungrateful, My punishment is severe.”

8. And Moses said, “Even if you are ungrateful, together with everyone on earth—God is in no need, Worthy of Praise.” 4

Our relationship with God is not one where He constantly supports us just because we say we are His nation, unlike some Muslims and many Jews think. Here is the Jewish feminist author Naomi Wolf expressing her surprise at finding out (by reading the Hebrew Bible) that unlike what many Jews think, God does not promise them never-ending support just because they are “His chosen people”:

He never says: "I will give you, ethnic Israelites, the land of Israel." Rather He says something far more radical - far more subversive -- far more Godlike in my view. He says: IF you visit those imprisoned...act mercifully to the widow and the orphan...welcome the stranger in your midst...tend the sick...do justice and love mercy ....and perform various other tasks...THEN YOU WILL BE MY PEOPLE AND THIS LAND WILL BE YOUR LAND. So "my people" is not ethnic -- it is transactional. We are God's people not by birth but by a way of behaving, that is ethical, kind and just. And we STOP being "God's people" when we are not ethical, kind and just.5

She is not quite correct when she says “my people” is not ethnic. Jews are God’s chosen, but being chosen does not necessarily mean one is chosen for a good thing. Jews are God’s chosen in that He gave them many scriptures and throughout the centuries continuously sent them new prophets to guide them back to the Straight Path. He chose them for a specific test. Their being chosen is not just a privilege, it is both a privilege and a heavy burden. If they reject God despite being chosen, God sends the most terrible punishments on them, like He has done many times throughout history. Many Jews forget the burden and choose to enjoy the privilege of thinking of themselves as God’s chosen elite.

Our relationship with God is contractual. If we obey, He supports us. If we disobey, He stops supporting us and subjects us to unfriendly powers.

The story of the Jews is a good lesson for us. Many times in their history they were extremely powerful. After they left Egypt, they entered Canaan around 1446 BCE. They disobeyed God when they were about to overtake a city and live in it, so God punished them by having them wander in the desert for 40 years. They finally entered Canaan in 1406 BCE and completely conquered it by 1399 BCE. Once they become a sovereign power, they soon start to do evil, abandoning God, worshiping Baal or the Calf, practicing usury or allying themselves with irreligious foreign powers like Egypt. For this reason, as they rejected and sometimes even killed their prophets, every few generations God would send a powerful foreign power to destroy many of their cities and slaughter many of their people.

When they continued to reject God, He sent Babylon to conquer their lands and sent them into exile for 70 years. After that the Persian emperor, whose empire had conquered Babylon, allowed the Jews to return to their lands and reestablish themselves there. Their story continued the same as before, with them doing evil and being punished for it. In 70 AD, a few decades after they rejected Jesus and tried to kill him, they tried to escape the rule of the Roman empire. In return they had their city of Jerusalem utterly destroyed and hundreds of thousands of Jews killed.

The Arch of Titus, which commemorates the Roman victory over the Jews, among other things, still stands in Rome.

Titus, the Roman commander who was in charge of the Roman victory over the Jews, is supposed to have refused to wear a wreath after the victory, saying that he was only acting as a tool of God’s wrath over the Jews. Perhaps this was God’s punishment on them for their rejecting God’s prophet Jesus.

In Jewish history there is an important historical lesson; that just because a nation associates itself with God and claims to be His people does not mean they will always have God’s support.

Muslim nations have had a history similar to that of the Jews. Many powerful Muslim states have risen and fallen throughout history, and this process is not going to end. If we establish a caliphate like some Muslims dream about, and even if it rules the world for 1000 years, if most of the population abandons Islamic values and Islam becomes largely culture and tradition and not faith, then that caliphate too will fail. God will enable another Mongol invasion, or another invasion by the British and the French, to come and divide their caliphate and do with it as they please.

Christianity’s Place in Islamic History

Just as Islam faded in the Middle East and became little more than cultural tradition and ceremony, Christianity rose in the West. The Christians who conquered the Americas thought they were doing it for God’s sake. They read the Bible daily, they established Biblical law in their colonies, and they braved many dangers in order to establish families, villages and cities in empty and hostile lands.

God’s promise in the Quran came true for them for their deeds:

65. Had the People of the Scripture believed and been righteous, We would have remitted their sins, and admitted them into the Gardens of Bliss.

66. Had they observed/enforced the Torah, and the Gospel, and what was revealed to them from their Lord, they would have consumed amply from above them, and from beneath their feet. Among them is a moderate community, but evil is what many of them are doing.6

While it is common for many Muslims to think of Christians as nothing but heathens who should magically disappear now that Islam has come, Christians are as much God’s people as Muslims are, that is, they too have a contract with God, and if they uphold their contract with God, God will uphold His contract with them. If a Christian nation is more faithful, more eager to serve God, and more observant of God’s laws, then we shouldn’t be surprised if God gives them His full support.

This was the case in the Americas and much of Western Europe until 1900 CE. With all of the corruption present, the average person’s actions and thinking were still largely controlled by Christian ideals.

Today, things are different. The West has finally abandoned the religion that made it great. The only reason the West is great today is the momentum of the past. A Muslim may lose hope when they look at the United States and see its immense capacity to dominate and do evil throughout the world. But the United States is already past its prime. It is desperately trying to hold onto its past power, constantly threatening Russia, China and Iran, but incapable of doing anything about them as they continue to rise.

The United States has had a below-replacement fertility rate since the 1970’s. If it wasn’t for their continuous importation of immigrants, their population would have been shrinking by now. A decades-long below-replacement fertility rate is all that is needed to illustrate that a nation is failing.

It is a country’s population that gives a nation its economic, technological and military power, and once the population starts to shrink, its power will decrease, because there will be fewer people to innovate, and fewer people to consume the fruits of these innovations and in this way pay for further innovations. Today the United States can afford to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on military spending every year, and it is this spending that enables various military companies to continue innovating. But as the American tax base and economy both shrink, with this its power to spend will shrink. America is on a trajectory to become the next Portugal, once a global superpower, now almost a complete non-entity (unless it continues to import immigrants, but this cannot go on forever).

One illustration of the continuing fall of the United States is that of the world’s top 15 skyscrapers (those higher than 350 meters) finished in the past 3 years, 10 are in China, and only one in the United States. China continues to rise, the United States continues to stagnate and fall. America’s failing economy has no need for new office buildings, hotels and restaurants, since it already has more than its shrinking economy needs.

The answer to the question of why Muslims are so powerless compared to the West these days is that Islamic history ran into Christian history. Christian power was still rising when it clashed with an Ottoman Empire that was already past its prime, so the Ottomans didn’t stand a chance.

Today, Christian powers too are past their prime, and great change is coming.

The United States is unlikely to become a Portugal any time soon, and if Islam continues to spread, it might change into a new type of superpower without becoming irrelevant.

It should be noted that while China’s rise will probably be a good thing in the short-term, as its rise to power will probably prevent further significant US excesses for the next few decades, once it is firmly established as the world’s most powerful country, it could start acting like the US, forcing every other country to either become a de facto client state or get turned into a war zone.

The Long View of History

Even if Muslims establish a new global superpower that lasts for hundreds of years, it too can eventually fail and get conquered by non-Muslim powers. Imagine if this world continues to exist for the next 100,000 years. The story of Muslims being powerful then weak then powerful again might play out fifty or a hundred times more.

We humans want safety and security. We want to establish Paradise on Earth once and for all and then go on living in it. But that is not the purpose of this world, and dreams of establishing a Paradise on Earth are naive and futile. We are taught over and over again in the Quran that this world is worthless, that it will soon be over, that none of our deeds done in this world will last. The Quranic character Dhul Qarnain shows his appreciation for God’s message when he says the following right after completing building a structure for God’s sake:

He said, “This is a mercy from my Lord. But when the promise of my Lord comes true, He will turn it into rubble, and the promise of my Lord is always true.”7

For us Muslims, it is always about the journey, not the destination. It doesn’t matter what we accomplish in this world, because nothing we do will last. Everything we think we can accomplish, if God is really all-powerful, God can accomplish it in an instant if He wants. The point is not accomplishment in itself, the point is to follow God. What matters is the record of our deeds. No matter what we build, no matter how much power we have, we could see it all destroyed tomorrow. This has happened over and over again in history, though sadly we continue to fail to learn the lesson.

Why did God let the Mongols destroy Baghdad and Damascus if our purpose was to continue to gain power, wealth and fame in this world? Why did He let the Ottoman Empire, the last truly sovereign Muslim power, be invaded and destroyed? Why did He not allow the Arab powers to defeat Israel during their multiple wars?

Because this world is a test. It is not our purpose to build Paradise on Earth. Our purpose is khilafah, literally “to be stewards”. We are stewards of the earth. Our purpose is to take care of it by enjoining good and admonishing against evil, so that humanity continues, and so that the the earth does not become entirely corrupted.

A steward takes care of a farm until the owner returns, continuing the running of the farm as best as they can. It is the owner’s business what they do with the farm. In the same way, our job in this world is to continue be God’s stewards, God’s agents for good in this world, but it is His business what He does with this world, and whether He gives us power or takes it away from us. All that we can say is, “We hear and we obey.”

We are not seekers after power. The Prophet did not seek power, it was given to him. Neither did any of the righteous Rashidun caliphs. We do not seek to establish global dominance, or to carry out global war. Our job is to be God’s stewards, to walk on the Straight Path.

Being on the Straight Path does not require gaining power, and in fact the seeking of power is directly opposed to it, for the seeking of power always requires that one abandon one’s moral integrity. This is the story of every political party that starts out with high moral ideals only to become a nest of corruption and evil.

It is God who gives us power if we deserve it, and if the time is right, for His own purposes, and as long as it pleases Him, until He takes it away from us. As for us, we must be thankful and content throughout all of this:

No, but worship God, and be among the thankful ones.8

It is God who manages history for us. We are not in charge, God is.

No calamity strikes except by God’s permission. Whoever believes in God, He guides his heart. God is Aware of everything.9

No calamity occurs on earth, or in your souls, but it is in a Book, even before We make it happen. That is easy for God. That you may not sorrow over what eludes you, nor exult over what He has given you. God does not love the proud snob.10

God does not change the condition of a people until they change what is within themselves. And if God wills any hardship for a people, there is no turning it back; and apart from Him they have no protector.11

God has promised those of you who believe and do righteous deeds, that He will make them successors on earth, as He made those before them successors, and He will establish for them their religion—which He has approved for them—and He will substitute security in place of their fear. They worship Me, never associating anything with Me. But whoever disbelieves after that—these are the sinners. 12

Our job is to do good wherever we find ourselves, to worship God, to be kind and just, to follow His commandments as best as we can, and it is God who will establish us on Earth when He pleases:

God has promised those of you who believe and do righteous deeds, that He will make them stewards on Earth, as He made those before them stewards, and He will establish for them their religion—which He has approved for them—and He will substitute security in place of their fear. They worship Me, never associating anything with Me. But whoever disbelieves after that—these are the sinners.13

We can, of course, be political activists and social critics. We can constantly work toward social justice and the lifting of poverty. But instead of doing these by seeking power first, we do them without seeking power. We do what is right and just and kind toward everyone, and God, if He wishes, can give us power any time He wants.

Ibn al-Jawzi says in his Sayd al-Khaatir (“Quarry of the Mind”):

I reflected upon the envy that exists among scholars, and saw that its source is the love of the worldly life, because the scholars of the afterlife engage in love and do not envy others. What separates the two groups is that the scholars of the worldly life seek power and leadership in it, and they love to accumulate wealth and praise, while the scholars of the afterlife live in seclusion from these things, they fear them and have mercy toward those who are being tested by them.

Truly good and kind people, who fear God and take the afterlife seriously, do not seek power in my experience. Sometimes the right situation arises for a good person to rise and become powerful, as it happened with Saladin. Saladin wasn’t a revolutionary who grabbed power or a politician. He became powerful as part of his job as a military commander, and one thing led to another until he became a powerful ruler.

The writer Frank Herbert says the following in Chapterhouse: Dune, and I find them true from all that I have seen:

All governments suffer a recurring problem: Power attracts pathological
personalities. It is not that power corrupts but that it is magnetic to the
corruptible.

Power attracts the corruptible. Suspect all who seek it.

Scientific vs. Divine Explanations for Islam’s Decline: Islam, Christianity and Indo-European Genes

A mistake many people make, both religious and irreligious, is that when they discover a scientific explanation for something, they start to think that it means that thing is not from God. But it is a principle of God that He will never allow us to have direct evidence of His existence, therefore when God does something, it is always through scientific means, or He makes it appear to be that way. God will not carry out miracles that can be recorded and published on YouTube. The only time that we will have direct proof of the existence of God and the rest of the Unseen is at the end of the world. When the pagans requested that they see an angel before they believe in God, God’s reply was this:

Had We sent down an angel, the matter would have been settled, and they would not have been reprieved.14

If we ever had direct evidence of God’s existence, then there would be no need for faith in God. God does not want that to happen, therefore everything that happens to us must have logical scientific explanations. We can examine Islamic history to find out where things went wrong. But even if we discover every single cause and try to cure it, our success is not guaranteed.

The divine reason for the fall of Muslims is that they abandoned Islam in their hearts, while the scientific reason might be the demographic collapse of the Persian population after the endless flood of Turkic and Mongol attacks that devastated the great Persian-speaking cities of Central Asia (over 90% of Islam’s greatest scholars, thinkers and scientists came from these cities). The divine reasons precede the scientific reasons. If we disobey God, God will bring about logical and scientifically-explainable reasons for our destruction. And if we obey God, and carry out our stewardship in the best manner possible, God will inspire us toward whatever will give us success and power in this world.

Conclusion

As Muslims, our goal in life is not to acquire power, glory or supremacy in this world. Our goal is not to establish Paradise on Earth. We can appreciate technological and scientific accomplishments, and we can work toward them as part of our stewardship on Earth, but we must never lose sight of the fact that ultimately, everything we do is meant to serve God, and that a day will come when all of our worldly works will be destroyed as if they never existed.

In this world, we are stewards of a temporary farm, a farm whose Owner has promised to destroy in the end. We must never get attached to this farm, or seek its improvement or power over it as a goal in itself. We must never get attached to the idea of establishing a global power. Even if we establish one, it too can come and go like every other Muslim power in history. History will continue going in cycles, Muslims will rise to power, fall, and rise again. The only people who achieve success are those who fear God and serve Him in the best way possible. It is only the record of our deeds which lasts forever, everything else is temporary.

If Muslims are weak today, look again in 500 years, and they may be the strongest and most technologically advanced power on Earth. Look again in 1500 years, and they may again be weak,  oppressed and backward. It is God who gives and God who takes. If we are thankful and obedient, He will increase us and improve our station in life, and if we are ungrateful, He can always take it all away from us and subjugate us to others.

Note that I am not saying that Muslims should turn their backs on science and progress. I love science and technology and eager follow its news, and I look forward to Muslim societies catching up to Western ones. Last year Muslim-majority Malaysia overtook Japan in its scientific research output per capita, as the graph below shows, and that is a very hopeful sign for the growth of scientific knowledge among Muslims:

The graph shows the number of scientific research papers published by each country divided by its citizens in millions. In 2017 Malaysia produced 936 papers per million citizen, while Japan produced 892.

Other Muslim nations are shown tremendous growth in scientific research as well. Egypt today produces five times more scientific and scholarly research compared to a mere 15 years ago. Iran is on track to catch up with European countries before 2030. These are things to look forward to, but we should not lose sight of the bigger picture.