In many countries, a yearly address is given to highlight the current status of society such as the State of the Union address delivered annually by the President of the USA. These addresses tend to focus on economics as economics is the largest factor in voting and politics, as though money is not a measure of happiness in life, it correlates with political satisfaction. Yet, as Muslims striving in the cause of Allah , we should have our own criterion to determine if our society is in a positive state or in a decline. We should not depend on rulers or mass media which are not always honest or may be under coercive measures and far from independent, to avoid bias or false perceptions.
We should not depend on rulers or mass media which are not always honest or may be under coercive measures and far from independent, to avoid bias or false perceptions.
An analysis of history and especially Islamic history can be conducted to investigate this subject. Yet more importantly, the Prophet has provided us with many of these barometers in his statements and actions, that provide a wonderful criterion to judge our neighborhood or even the world as a whole.
The Observed Trend of History
History shows that society is cyclical by nature and would cycle not only economically between a strong economy and weak economy but between spiritually hostile conditions to ones which are positive generally with a prophet mercifully sent by Allah whenever things deviated. Now that He has sent the final Prophet , the cycles will continue with the positive cycles always being times where Islam is supreme under a righteous ruler as no other system or message can suffice for a genuinely positive spiritual environment after the final message has come.
The Delay Factor
During periods of growth, society tends to focus on growth and during periods of positive stability, society tends to focus on maintaining that stability. It is not until the start of a decline that motivation and reaction to that decline, that often some of the most great achievements and works are produced. The transition periods are also vital here as even if a negative transition takes place, the momentum of the last good generations will still be ridden like a wave to its dispersal. The negative times will motivate the works of the brighter periods as it creates a need to prevent history from repeating itself. The 4 possible stages of historical cycles are visualized and labeled below:
“The concept of the self is expressed by four terms in Arabic [as conceived by the Qur’an] , according to Al – Ghazzali. These terms are: Qalb ( heart ) , Ruh (soul) , Nafs (desire-nature), and Aql (intellect, reason). Each of these terms signifies a spiritual entity.” – 1
Allah alone can allow spiritual advancement through divine guidance, the greatest gift a person could ever receive. Since revelation is no longer possible nor something we are capable of achieving by our own will, our greatest advancement spiritually is to purify the heart and soul by controlling our desires and using our intellect for this purpose.
During the time of the Prophet , the Quran was revealed which was a miracle in itself and appealed to people’s intellects as it reformed them spiritually and a strong society grew about. During the time of the Righteous Caliphs , there was not a need for much scholarly achievement as all of the companions were blessed with the statements and actions of the Prophet from being in his presence. Yet, after this time, the decline generated some brilliant works and new sciences and schools of thought in Hadith, Tafseer, Fiqh and others appeared in reaction to the decline. Each successive period can thus be looked at through the lens of scholarly works which can appear in any part of a cycle but not in the abundance seen during the start of a decline.
The Positive Signs – People emulating the Prophet and His Statements
If in a society, you see people following the Sunnah, then clearly a spiritual dimension must already be present. Further the Prophet left us with many statements that can be used as a barometer for how good our society is.
Often the Prophet would give us hadith where he enumerated types of righteous people and righteous acts which are to be studied if one wants to know what a positive spiritual environment would be blessed with. For instance:
“There are seven persons whom Allah will shade on a Day when there is no shade but His. They are a just ruler, a young person who grew up in the worship of Allah, a person whose heart is attached to the mosques, two persons who love each other who meet and depart from each other for the sake of Allah, a man whom a beautiful woman of high status seduces but he rejects her by saying I fear Allah, a person who spends in charity and conceals it such that his right hand does not know what his left hand has given, and a person who remembered Allah in private and he wept.” – 2
The Negative – Signs of the Day of Judgment
There are many signs of the Day of Judgment in Hadith listed and all of them are signs of a decline or stagnation period. The Quran reminds us dearly in the oft-repeated 7 verses of the opening chapter that Allah is the only Master, Owner, Possessor and King of the Day of Judgment 3
In fact, the signs of the Day of Judgment is the 4th part of the religion after Islam, Iman (faith) and Ihsaan (excellence) and are generally forgotten as such despite being in the Hadith of Gabriel where the Prophet taught the pillars of each aspect.
He said: “O Messenger of Allah, when will the Hour be?’ He said: ‘The one who is being asked about it does not know more than the one who is asking. But I will tell you about its signs. When the slave woman gives birth to her mistress that is one of its signs. When the shepherds compete in constructing tall buildings that is one of its signs. And there are five things which no one knows except Allah.’ Then the Messenger of Allah recited the Verse: “Verily, Allah, with Him (Alone) is the knowledge of the Hour, He sends down the rain, and knows that which is in the wombs. No person knows what he will earn tomorrow, and no person knows in what land he will die. Verily, Allah is All-Knower, All-Aware (of things).” 4
‘Indeed, among the signs of the Hour are that knowledge shall be raised up, ignorance shall be rampant, Zina shall abound, Khamr shall be drunk, women shall increase and men shall decrease such that fifty women will be supported by one man.” 5
So there is an easy way to judge our times and any Islamic society throughout history. It ties right to the great scholarly works of each time and the forces behind them. When society is strong and ruled by those who are upright, the intellectual resources are freed up to advance a society with new spiritual works, when a necessity for them occurs generally at the start of a decline. Thus, the reader can judge our current times as this conclusion does not even need to be stated given the almost absurd and profound spiritual and intellectual decline that has been suffered over recent times. We should be looking for growth and foundation in the future and make sincere supplications to Allah to get out of the darker times.