All nations of the world have witnessed both glory and downfall. But nothing rises or falls without a cause. Many scholars including Ibn Khaldun and Gibbon in the past, and Spengler, Schweitzer, Sorokin, Toynbee, and a number of others in modern times have discussed the rise and fall of civilisations. While such intellectuals have varied either largely or slightly in their analyses of the causes of the downfall of civilisations, they have nonetheless agreed upon the fall of character and social values as one of the major causes. Man can turn fortunes in his favour or invite his own doom.
According to Quran, the most important factor in a society or nation’s rise or fall is the human being himself. The Quran states, “Allah does not change a people’s lot unless they change what is in their hearts” (13:11, 8:33). The rise and fall of nations/ societies can thus be explained by the motivations, efforts, characters and capabilities of its men and women. Arnold Toynbee suggested the same idea when he stated: “Civilisations die from suicide, not by murder.”
The emphasis of Islam on Maqasid al Shariah (higher objectives of Shariah) requires to be accompanied by the greater significance attached to character building, in keeping with the Prophet’s sayings: “The most perfect of Muslims is he who is best in character.” Or, “Mankind is the family of God and the most beloved of them before Him is one who is most beneficial to His family”. Do not say like a characterless person that if people are good to us we will be good to them and if they are bad to us we will be bad to them; instead, be good to them when they are good to you but not ill-treat them when they are bad to you. The important thing for Muslims to realise at the moment is that the shortcomings in their lives are attributable to the way they think, perceive, and reason. They have abandoned the values, objectives, and purposes of Islam. If we may talk of Muslim revival in learning and glory, we must be speaking of thought and the mind.
What really needs addressing is how the Muslim mind applies the values and principles of Islam in society and organisations, and in specific situations and under various circumstances. The crisis in the Muslim mind is one related to the achievement of Islam’s higher objectives and the embodiment of Islamic values. It is therefore a crisis of thought in its essence and its effect is the lack of a sound methodology in the Islamic social sciences. The solution lies in innovative application of original Islamic principles to the changing circumstances. An academic and intellectual approach based on knowledge of the laws of nature and experience is greatly needed. The experience referred to here is the one springing from the real issues, problems, and possibilities as viewed from the perspectives of Islamic thought, principles, purposes, values, and teachings.