Both decline and revival are products of the intellectual momentum which people initiate. The revival is expected to occur if such an effort or momentum is built upon a comprehensive thought and the people proceeded accordingly. On the contrary, the decline is expected to prevail if this comprehensive thought is absent and the people fail to consider any such thought as their frame of reference.
Therefore, any discussion or research related to the factors resulting in the current decline the Ummah is facing must address this issue. By surveying the intellectual history of the Muslim Ummah, one discovers that Muslims during the first three generations maintained Islam as the sole frame of reference. They adopted Islam the way the Prophet (saaw) instructed them to – by scrutinizing the reality through a deep and comprehensive thinking process. The Islamic Aqeedah, built through this intellectual process, became a reference for the thinking of Muslims. This Aqeedah would serve as the foundation upon which the Sahabah would build their understanding of the Islamic rules and systems to govern their lives with.
Muslims were particularly concerned about this process, and the Prophet (saaw) kept a vigilant eye in correcting any diversion in this approach. He would immediately correct the Sahabah and censor any misunderstanding that arose, regardless of its magnitude. For example, when the Prophet (saaw) told the Sahabah that the people of Jannah were created for the Jannah, and the people of Jahannam were created for Jahannam, the Sahabah asked him, “Then why would we work?” He (saaw) told them, “You should work, and each one will proceed towards what he was created for.” In this incident, the Prophet (saaw) detected a problem in their thinking when the Sahabah sought to connect their actions in a negative fashion with the Ghaib, in this case what they perceived as the being the Knowledge of Allah (swt).
The Prophet (saaw) immediately corrected this misunderstanding by explaining to them that the Muslim should connect his actions with what he can comprehend and perceive, which is the Hukm Sharii, rather than with what he cannot fathom or comprehend, which is the Ghaib.
In another incident, an eclipse occurred after the death of Ibrahim, the son of the Prophet (saaw). Some people began to mistakenly connect the occurrence of the eclipse to this incident. The Prophet (saaw) immediately corrected their understanding by explaining to the people that they should not connect any natural phenomenon with the process of life and because there is no relationship between the two. He told the Sahabah, “Both the sun and the moon are signs of Allah, and they do not have their eclipse due to the birth or death of any individual.”
This correction process did not just happen during the time of the Prophet (saaw) but also continued during the Era of the Sahabah. It was reported that Abu Bakr corrected the people when they incorrectly understood the following ayah:
“O You who believe. Guard your own selves. If you follow guidance, no harm can come to you from those who go astray. The return of all of you is to Allah.” [TMQ 5:105]
Some people misunderstood this ayah to claim that a Muslim should care only for himself and not have any concern for others. Abu Bakr explained to them that the ayah is not an indication to stop enjoining the good and forbidding the evil (Amr bil-Ma’ruf wa nahy anil-Munkar). Instead, the ayah is ordering the Muslims not to follow such persons who commit mistakes. The ayah further mentions that the mistakes committed by such individuals will not harm the Muslims unless they follow them and commit the same mistakes. Abu Bakr, after explaining the ayah’s correct meaning, also quoted a hadith in which
the Prophet (saaw) said:
“You will continue performing Amr bil- Ma’ruf wa nahy anil-Munkar, and you will continue to hold the oppressor accountable and force him to cease his oppression. Otherwise, Allah will send a punishment, and you will make Du’a to Allah but your Du’a will not be answered.”
In another incident, Umar ibn al Khattab was reciting the ayah:
“and fruits and abba.” [TMQ 80:31]
A sahabi asked him, “What is this ‘abba’?” Umar noticed that he was asking about something related to the Ghaib and instructed him not to do so and to be content with the ayah’s general meaning of describing the bounties of the Jannah. Also, Umar realized that the general meaning of the text is clear and can be understood without understanding the meaning of the word “abba.”
Another example which illustrates this corrective process occurred when the Muslims faced the Romans in the Battle of Yarmuk. A Muslim who was overwhelmed by the numbers of the Roman Army stated, “Arabs are too little and Romans are too many. How great the Romans are and how little the Arabs are.” Khalid ibn al-Walid replied, “You should say, ‘How great Muslims are and how little the Romans are,’ since the soldiers will be great by the victory and will be little by the defeat.” In this incident, Khalid corrected the entire criteria of the balance of power between armies, and explained to that individual that the measure of an army’s greatness should be based on its victories and not on its size.
These examples illustrate that the Prophet (saaw) as well as the Sahabah after him were very concerned about the thinking process. They would correct the misunderstanding of a certain concept in addition to addressing the way of thinking of anyone whom they needed correction. Therefore, Muslims always strove to eliminate any alien idea from Islam in order to preserve the correct understanding of Islam and eliminate the possibility of any divergence emerging. Muslims paid careful attention towards maintaining their point of view towards the life in addition to preserving their understanding of the Aqeedah, the Islamic thoughts and rules, and the mechanism through which they understood Islam.
However, by the third generation, patterns of divergence began to appear in the thinking of some Muslims when they incorporated some alien ideas into their thinking. Consequently, the understanding of Islam among Muslims gradually deteriorated. Even though Muslims are expected to maintain a high level of understanding, they failed to do so as a result of an accumulation of several factors. The three most significant factors which contributed to the decline of the thinking among Muslims were: Greek Philosophy, the Oriental or Eastern Philosophies, and the recent Western intellectual invasion.