Turning the pages of the Qur’ān and the Prophet’s Seerah as well as Islamic History, Shaikh Mirza Yawar Baig accentuates the importance of organisation and institution in ideology-led organisations.
It is perhaps not too much of a stretch to say that no ideology-led movement sustained and succeeded over an extended period. At least, I can’t think of a single one that did. Especially a Muslim one. The reasons are not difficult to identify and understand but the solutions seem to be almost impossible to implement. We have too many examples of failures, some quite spectacular and bloody to boot, and so I am not going to list them here. I will leave you to think of them and ask, “Why did it happen?” As I say, ‘The truth is not difficult to see. It is difficult to swallow.’
Allah sent us, human beings, to establish a system of governance that is good for all inhabitants of Planet Earth based on three cardinal principles: Justice, Compassion, and Accountability to Allah, from whom nothing is hidden. In order for us to do this, He sent his Book, the Qur’ān and the best of teachers, Muhammad ﷺ, to teach us the Book and demonstrate how to live by the system that Allah prescribed for us. Allah’s concern for us arises out of His infinite Mercy and desire that we should have a life of contentment, harmony and prosperity. Not for a small group of moneybags but for all humanity and all those who share this planet with us.
That is the reason that Islam has a complete system of instructions to deal with the entire gamut of human experience, civil, criminal, social, marriage, inheritance, finance, war, government, food, clothing, prayer, sacrifice, charity; what did I miss? Islam therefore is not an ideology alone but a practice. Its power lies in living by it. Not merely knowing about it.
This gulf between knowledge and practice is our trap. To live by it we need tools. To give you an example, we are like people who own a library of automobile engineering books. Every morning we walk to the library, read about automobile engineering all day, and in the evening we walk home. Why do we need to walk to the library and back home? Because if you sit on a book of automobile engineering, it won’t take you anywhere. If you want to use automobile engineering, you must build a car factory. Then not only will you ride, but you will take the world with you.
Now, if someone argues and asks, “Why do we need auto-workers, mechanical and electrical engineers, drivers and so on, when we have these wonderful theorists who know all about the intricacies of the internal combustion engine,” you will say to them that the knowledge of how the engine works will do nothing until you build an engine, put it into a body that can convert the energy that the engine produces into motive power and drive that vehicle on the road.
Therefore, to ask who is more important, the theorist, the scientist, the engineer, or the driver, is an oxymoronic question. Each of them is important in his place and time. In my opinion, the reason ideology-led movements didn’t succeed is because the theorists didn’t respect the expertise of the ‘technologists’ and vice versa. The reason for failure lies, not in the theory or the technology but in something entirely different, perhaps more important than both i.e., human behaviour. It lies in our inability to deal with dissent, with difference of opinion, with respecting knowledge, experience and expertise different from our own. It lies in our failure to appreciate that we truly need the ‘other’ person, because without him, we and our ideology will fail. It is time to learn from our traditional mistakes and do something about this and not repeat the mistakes.
The questions that I was asked are below with my answers.
1. Is the task of the movement with the aim of Iqamat-ud-Deen also to establish institutions to fulfil different types of needs?
A. That depends on whether the movement is serious about implementing its ideology or not. The question is like asking, ‘Should a movement dedicated to healthcare, establish or support hospitals?’ Organisations are tools. They are the ‘How’ to the ideology’s ‘Why’. The ideology provides the reason for the effort. The organisation provides the means for the reason to become a reality.
For example, one of the objectives of Iqamat-ud-Deen would be to implement Allah’s command prohibiting dealing in interest-based transactions. How are you going to do that without creating Islamic banks? If you don’t have a way for people to borrow money in an Islamically correct way, you can proclaim the prohibition on interest all day, but nothing will happen. In the words of Westminster Fuller, “In order to change an existing paradigm, you do not struggle to try and change the problematic model. You create a new model and make the old one obsolete.” Organisations are the means by which ideology can be implemented in real life in a sustainable way. Without organisations, implementation will be momentary and sporadic.
Take another example. Allah made Zakat Fardh and prescribed laws for the division of spoils of war (Surah Al-Anfaal) by 2 AH. But it was only after Omar ibn Al-Khattab established the Baitul Maal as an institution that systematic social welfare schemes could be implemented. Until then charity was spontaneous, sporadic and incidental. The institution of Baitul Maal was the key to ensuring that financial help was given, to every person who needed it. This was also the case with the first standing army with soldiers on payroll instead of booty and the formalising of land holdings which soldiers owned because of distribution of Ghaneema.
This resulted in thousands of square miles of fertile land, especially in Iraq and Shaam (Syria) lying fallow because the soldiers, who became its owners, had no idea about cultivation. The old owners/farmers abandoned the land. Omar ibn Al-Khattab took back the land in the name of the State in the face of great opposition and returned it to its erstwhile owners and established a system of taxation based on what Rasoolullah ﷺ had decreed with respect to Zakat on crops and produce. This was a huge benefit to the State which otherwise was cash strapped despite having conquered huge territory.
Another example of how the lack of organisations and systems sabotages good intentions, is as follows. Every Muslim and his grandmother will agree on the need for Tazkiyyatun Nafs and Tarbiyyatul Akhlaaq. But look around you. Do you see any sign of either, in Muslim society? Do you see any sign of it in your own home? Or even in yourself? If you do, all power to you. But the reality is that the majority of our social and interpersonal problems stem from a marked absence of both these essential elements of Islamic teaching.
Ask why? When everyone is agreed that it is essential, why doesn’t it happen? It doesn’t happen because we have no institution or organisation to implement it. We have ignored this for so long, sufficing ourselves with simply talking about it passionately in our Bayans, that we have lost the skills to do Tazkiyya for ourselves or anyone else.
Another case in point is the split in the Tablighi Jamaat, the result of an ego clash that split the ideology-led movement across the world. Despite speaking about the importance of Ikram-ul-Muslimeen from the Mimbar for a century, when it came to showing some Ikram to each other, the leadership failed and continues to remain in its completely self-destructive stance. There is no system of conflict resolution or body to arbitrate and everyone suffers.
It is not the absence of ideology but the absence of organisation, which has brought us to this calamity.
2. Does the establishment of institutions hinder the work of Iqamat-ud-Deen? Or does it help and why?
A. Not only does the establishment of institutions not hinder the work of Iqamat-ud-Deen but their absence will ensure that Iqamat-ud-Deen never happens. Please see the answer to Question No. 1 above.
3. The success of organisations depends on professionalism which requires experts while the direction of organisations is determined by ideology which requires theorists. How to meet these two requirements simultaneously?
A. The way to do this is for each to respect the other’s expertise. Historically, this has been our biggest failure and continues to be so. We have zero tolerance for dissent and difference of opinion. We treat difference of opinion as rebellion and treason and treat it accordingly. This effectively destroys the basis of cooperation and ensures that the project fails. Our history is replete with examples of this, and this continues to this day. Those who want to succeed must learn how to succeed. Or they will become another statistic of failure. Change must begin with the self.
4. What is the ideal form of accountability of the institutions established by the movement to the movement discipline?
A. The process of accountability starts with collaborative goal setting, deciding on measurement metrics, and performance assessment. I say ‘collaborative’ because accountability must be based on mutual respect for the different talents, knowledge and skills that each brings to the table. This is not an employer-employee or boss-subordinate situation. Rather it is a collective collegiate assessment of progress. The process must be free of blame and must have only one goal: the success of the mission. Therefore, before accountability, a culture of mutual professional respect must be established.
5. Why do a large number of movement-run institutions fail to perform well? What are the real obstacles? What are the ways to overcome them?
A. As mentioned above, they fail because they don’t develop the tools to succeed. Passion, enthusiasm, and sincerity are not a substitute for expertise and skill. Rasoolullah ﷺ didn’t appoint Abu Bakr Siddique or Omar ibn Al-Khattab or Ali bin Abi Talib, all of whom were highly learned in Islamic knowledge, dedicated, passionate and even skilful at personal levels, to head the army. He appointed Khalid bin Waleed, who didn’t match the others in either knowledge or passion but had the skills and track record of being an exceptional army commander. It was merit that drove his decision, not friendship, relationship or even liking. The need is to always keep the purpose in mind and not allow our ego, personal likes and dislikes, affiliations or anything else in the way of success. Let’s ask what our decisions are based on, especially if the person who is fit for the position is someone, we may have a difference of opinion with or don’t really like very much.
6. Is there confusion among us regarding the need for and importance of institutions? What is the path to moderation?
A. There is tremendous confusion. The reason is that most if not all those who are in top management positions in Muslim ideology-based movements have no organisational experience. They don’t understand hierarchies, authority, delegation, professional collaboration or teamwork. Most come with a Madrassa background which is totally authoritarian, with a premium on blind obedience and questioning being a capital crime. To change this is an upcliff task, not only uphill. But unless we learn to respect each other (not merely pretend to do so), we can never work together productively. Most of our ideologues, who head ideology-based movements are arrogant and fearful of others like themselves and disdainful of those who differ. The egos of those in positions of authority are the main problem, without correcting which nothing can be solved.
The bottom line to all this is for the heads of ideology-based movements to ask one simple question. “Do we want to succeed or not?”
[Shaikh Mirza Yawar Baig is the Founder President, Imam and Khateeb of MHMIC (Mahmood Habib Masjid and Islamic Centre, Hyderabad) from 2009, until he moved to the US in 2019. In 1994 he founded Yawar Baig & Associates specialising in Leadership Development, enabling technical specialists transition into leadership roles. In 35 years, consulting with Multinational Corporations, Government and Business Entrepreneurs on three continents he’s taught more than 200,000 managers, administrators, teachers, technologists and clergy.]