Rethinking the Slogan: “Islam is the Answer for Every Problem”
The present Islamic revival, which has captured the hearts of a large segment of Muslims in our societies, introduced many slogans into the popular discourse. One of the most famous of these is “Islam is the answer for every problem”
This statement certainly has a nice ring to it, but its meaning and implications need to be examined carefully and they must be properly clarified. Are we to understand that Islam is like a manual that can be applied directly to solve our political, economic, and social problems? All that we have to do is follow this manual, and all of our goals be realized?
Or rather, does it mean that Islam provides us with the broad ethical principles that show us how to live a wholesome life in this world and attain salvation in the Hereafter? As for the specific issues of life, we must wrestle with those issues using our good sense and better judgment – and any one of us will be prone to make mistakes, just like anybody else?
What are the areas that Islam provides direct and readily applicable solutions for? What are those issues about which we must turn directly to the Qur’ân and Sunnah to get our answers?
What are the areas wherein human expertise must be sought? And where does this leave us with questions of administration, politics, economic policy and the like?
To answer these questions, we have to make a distinction between matters wherein Islam provides us with specific answers and where it does not. In some matters, Islam gives us specific, detailed, and elaborate injunctions. These include matters of worship, like how to perform our prayers. There are also some areas in civil law where Islam provides considerable detail, like the laws of inheritance.
Then there are other matters – and they are by far the more numerous – where Islam does not provide us with direct and specific answers, but rather leaves to the human intellect the freedom to come up with solutions. In general, this is the case for the matters of our daily lives. The story where the Prophet (peace be upon him) made recommendations about cross- pollinating the date palms and said “You know best about the affairs of your worldly lives” is not far off from what we are saying.
Even when we look at the broad principles that Islam gives us – like the principle of justice and the principle of consultation in governance – we find that serious mental effort is needed on our part if we are to translate those principles into a practical, living reality.
Consider, for example, at the principle of consultation in government. The scriptures address this principle in general terms. Allah describes the Muslims as people: “…who conduct their affairs by mutual Consultation.” [Sûrah al-Shûrâ: 38]
As for the practical application of this principle, the mechanisms of the consultative process, the ways and means of making this principle a reality in our political lives, these are things that Islam does not tell us about. These are matters that are subject to change, depending on the various circumstances of life in different times and places and the ever-changing needs of the people.
If we are to move from the experience of an “Islamic awakening” to one of full wakefulness, we are going to have to find real, practical solutions to the real-world problems that we are facing. And if these solutions are going to have to come from our own thinking and problem-solving abilities, we cannot then go and attribute those solution to “Islam” as if the solutions we have come up are decisively what Islam has to say about the problems of our day! Instead, those solutions are the solutions that, for better or for worse, Muslims have come up with do deal with the issues.
There is a major distinction between the two statements. If we have two experts, both of whom take the principles of Islam as their point of departure, and we present them with a particular problem to solve, we will not be surprised if each of them comes up with a very different answer. It will also come as no surprise if one of those answers turns out to be very much better than the other. When we weigh the merits of their solutions, we are not judging the Islam of the two experts – we are judging their intellectual abilities. It is not necessary that everyone whose perspective is grounded in the principles of Islam can arrive at a viable solution to the problems of our day.
When other people hear us saying “Islam is the answer…” they have the right to ask: “If Islam is the answer, then what is its answer to the failure of the organizations that were founded by ‘Islamists’. If Islam is the answer, then why do we see major efforts being made that are utterly incapable of providing a remedy to the difficult problems that we are going through? Doesn’t Islam provide an answer for those things?”
– Or is the problem rather that our human minds are as yet ill-equipped to rise up to the creative challenges that we are being faced with?
The have a right to ask: “If Islam is the answer, then why is there so much failure in Muslim societies where Muslims are making concerted efforts? Doesn’t Islam have an answer? Then what is that answer?”
Is it right for us to put the blame of our failure on Islam, then? Or should we rather blame the limitations of our own minds, our own lack of creativity and inventiveness? How do we expect to convince the Muslims that Islam will solve the problems in their countries and in the international arena, when what they see with their own eyes is that the Muslims have been unable to provide Islamic alternatives to the acute domestic problems that they are facing?
The answer to all of these questions is that the problem lies with our own mental efforts. Islam is innocent of our failures. Islam, as a religion, is not responsible for the consequences of the solutions that we adopt according to our human judgments after it has commanded us to think and work things out for ourselves.
Muslims need to wake up and realize that Islam, as a religion, must not be crammed forcibly into matters that it does not specifically address. This is a misuse of Islam, and an injustice to our faith.
We need to revise some of our slogans before we bring up another generation to think of Islam as a ready-made manual providing an instant solution for all of our ills.