The book Our Decline and Its Causes was written in response to the following two questions posed to Amir Arsalan:
The book is a thoughtful work that seeks to look inwards into the condition of the Muslim communities and understand the reasons for their downfall. Written in 1944, the context of the book is the recently destroyed Ottoman caliphate, rapid westernisation taking place in Muslim lands and the reactions of the various Muslim groups.
The author starts by painting a dismal picture of the Muslims’ condition and comparing it with non-Muslims. He compares and contrasts some of the associates that plagued the Muslims and the corresponding virtues embodied by non-Muslims. Among other reasons, he attributes the advancement of non-Muslim nations to a passion for excellence, willingness to sacrifice and striving in the nation’s name.
Using examples of a few Muslim countries like Morocco, Syria, etc., the author then identifies the reasons for the downfall. He mainly blames the downfall on the exhaustion of the Muslim masses, the deceit of the Muslim rulers and inaction. The author then concludes with the overall point that the Qur’an, being the perfect word of God, is still capable of reviving the ummah only if Muslims embrace the qualities of sacrifice, action and hard work.
Arsalan has a moving and persuasive style of writing. Being of a literary background, his choice of words is excellent. The author also has an excellent command over the Qur’an and expertly quotes verses relevant to the point he makes. This makes his arguments very piercing and convincing.
Any discussion on the condition of the Muslims and their downfall without a reference to western foreign policy, colonialism and neocolonialism is deficient. On that ground, this book fails because the author is trying to wake the community up by pointing out the mistakes within without highlighting the power dynamics of the Muslim countries.
The cause of the advancement of Muslims was Islam. Its birth consolidated the scattered tribes of Arabia, brought them out of barbarism into civilisation, replaced their roughness with mutual love and sympathy, eradicated idolatry and restored the worship of Allah. It was the new life imparted by the Holy Qur’an, which had infused the Arabs with a new vitality and sent them forth from the Arabian Peninsula with an inspiring enthusiasm to preach the divine commandments to others.
Muslims vs. Non-Muslims. Can anyone point out a single Muslim nation of modern times that has sacrificed men and money as determinedly and unhesitatingly for their country as the nations of Europe have done for theirs? Only after they have done so can they ask why God has given these nations comfort and prosperity, greatness and honour and why the same has been denied to the Muslims of today.
Take the case of Palestine (for example) as a recent example. There have been several clashes between the Arabs and the Jews. From every corner of the earth, the Jews began to help their brothers in distress in Palestine. The Islamic world too roused itself to help the Arabs.
The Jews collected one million pounds in no time for their brother in faith. The collection made by the Muslims amounted in all to 13,000 pounds, about a 1/100 part of the sum collected by the Jews.
The worst enemies of the Muslims are Muslims themselves. No sooner does a Muslim set himself to the service of his religion or country than his enemies get wind of it through his own brother. On the pretext of helping the traitor who trades in tale-bearing with the enemies for his own selfish and personal ends, the enemies persecute the Muslim who started the good work and all his efforts by placing impediments in his way.
Of the victories, the foreigners have won in Muslim countries, more than half they owe to the cooperation and assistance of the Muslims themselves because it was they who furnished their enemies with the secret intelligence regarding their own community.
In Syria, during the anti-French agitation and in several other Islamic countries, one section of the Muslims in like manner betrayed their own brothers, joining hands with the foreigners who tried to subjugate them.
Without the assistance obtained by the foreigners through the disloyalty of one section of the Muslims and the passion with which the latter rendered them help against their own countrymen and brothers, these foreigners would have neither usurped their sovereignty and established their rule over them nor acted in such a manner as to contravene and supersede the Islamic laws.
Ignorance: Being unable to give fitting replies to the wrong arguments and sophistries of superficial ultra moderns, Muslims accept them as gospel truths. Lack of adequate knowledge is one of the major causes of the downfall of Muslims.
A civilisation that is regulated and controlled by religious laws is sometimes suddenly shaken and subverted by violent external forces; its foundations get undermined and the whole structure tumbles down. In such cases, too, religion is not answerable for its ruin. The backwardness of Muslims in the modern era is due not to their religion but the ignorance of their religious teachings and neglect of its principles.
As long as Islamic laws held swinging, the Muslim nations remained great and glorious. However, the noble qualities taught by Islam are fading among them. Gone are the strength of character and all other virtues from their midst which the early Muslims had acquired for themselves and by the scrupulous observance of which they achieved their glorious victories.
In so far as the conditions leading to the welfare, progress and decline of nations are concerned, a character has a higher place than all the wealth of learning and knowledge.
Degeneration of the Leadership: Except a few, all of them think that the people have been created for their benefit and service and that they can deal with them howsoever they will. This thought is so deep-rooted in them that if anyone tried to bring them to account, they feel no scruples in terrorising them into abject submission to serve as a lesson for others.
Corruption of Scholars: Also, there has sprung up a species of scholars who ingratiate themselves with these rulers and roll themselves gleefully in their luxuries. By way of grateful service for this, they, on their masters’ behalf, sit in judgment upon anyone who makes bold to tender sound advice to the rulers and sentence them to death as a heretic and a rebel.
The cowardice of the Muslims: A single Muslim of that time could stand up to 10 non-Muslims, and sometimes more. But today, Muslims have become victims of fear, fear which cannot exist in the same heart simultaneously with the spirit of Islam.
The Muslims see before their eyes how the Europeans are crossing deserts holding their lives in the palms of their hands and how they welcome dangers and difficulties for the love of their countries and nations. This spectacle does not arouse the spirits of the Muslims. It does not touch their pride. That they should beat them in daring, the thought does not even cross their mind.
“And loosened not In following up the enemy: If ye are suffering hardships, They are suffering similar Hardships; but we have Hope from God, while they Have none.” (4:104)