Totonji on the Backwardness of the Muslim Ummah

Dr. Ahmad Totonji, Vice President of the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), U.S.A. visited Bangladesh for three days in August 2005. During the visit he addressed four select gatherings of bankers, physicians, educationists and intellectuals. Earlier Dr. Totonji visited Bangladesh in 1978 along with the Imam of Kaaba. The last time he visited Bangladesh was in 1997. This article has been prepared based on his deliberations, comments he made in open discussion forums. The article also contains some remarks Dr. Totonji made in private discussion with the author of this article. The draft article has therefore been forwarded to him by email on 12 September 2005 for necessary editing that he returned on 27 September 2005 with a little modification. The comments contained in this article therefore are his own. The article is also available in website and   

Dr. Totonji, during the current visit, in his speech tried to briefly identify the major reasons for the backwardness of the Muslim Ummah and what should be the our response. Underlining the reasons for which Muslims today are lagging behind Dr. Totonji said: “We do not give much emphasis on research and development (R&D) and therefore we cannot formulate appropriate strategy to defend our rights and are exploited by others”. He called upon the new generation “to be innovative and achieve excellence; to put an extra effort whenever work demanded and become the master of one’s own profession and achieve the best possible”.

Dr. Totonji urged upon the mainstream Islamic movement “to from Shadow Cabinet of Ministers and form Think Tanks, each Think Tank to be headed by a Minister”. “Within three-four years you shall then be able to do a lot of homework in each field that would enable you to formulate appropriate answer for the looming national and international crisis and thereby equip yourself to lead this nation. You shall then be able to mount an effective positive response to the intellectual challenge posed by the West ”, he said. Dr. Totonji regretted that “we always react but do not plan”. “Good ideas shall always be accepted and prevail if it is presented in an articulate and coherent manner”, he said. “If we take one step then the help of Allah will surely come”, Dr. Totonji said.

Dr. Totonji emphasized the importance of “delegating responsibility at every level so that new and alternative leadership might emerge”. “You cannot be successful in this challenging world unless you are able to produce leaders at every field”, he said. Dr. Totonji underlined “the importance of utilizing the services of highly skilled professionals while formulating policies”. 

He emphasized that “the new generation must read the latest Islamic literature”. “It is not enough that you read Syed Qutb and Mawdudi. They are eminent scholars of their time. You must read, side by side with traditional literature, the latest materials that are now available if you really want to face the challenge of the West”, Dr. Totonji said. He underscored “the importance of learning Arabic so that every Muslim can understand the message of the Quran by reading the text directly”.

Some Islamic movements have “failed to make difference between local culture and Islamic culture, which is a reason for the backwardness of the Muslims”. “Covering face of woman is a local culture and has nothing to do with Islam”, Dr. Totonji said. “Some people over emphasize the importance of covering face by woman. This is right to those who choose it for themselves. It is not the only way in Islam. Such people do not believe that woman has a personality”, he said. Dr. Totonji regretted that “some organizations are really working to create bottleneck in the progress of Islam rather than its advancement”. “Sometimes we suppress women and their voice is not heard. This is not Islamic”, he said.

“The other reason for the backwardness of the Muslim Ummah is intolerance”, Dr. Totonji said. “We emphasize on points where we disagree and not on points where we agree. We agree in almost 90 percent areas and disagree on only in 10 percent areas. But still then we highlight on our differences”. “We must shun our differences”, he said. “There is nothing that can be described as the only interpretation, there can be many views and many interpretations. Islamic movement should therefore be ready to allow difference of opinion, otherwise there is no chance of making headway”, Dr. Totonji said. He advised dawah workers “not to mix dawah, the call and guidance of Islam, with politics”. “Politics is the art of possible and the strategy might be required to be changed and adjusted with the changing environment”, Dr. Totonji said. He advised the workers of dawah “not to ignore the minority even when they themselves are majority for Islam is a religion of peace and justice and there is no compulsion in religion”.

In 1997 while addressing a select gathering of Islamic activists Dr. Totonji emphasized in doing things in a perfect manner. “You have to achieve excellence in your performance and unless you do that, you cannot expect success in this world and beat the negative forces that are working against Islam and Muslim Ummah”, he said. “It is not the number of people but their quality that will bring changes”, Dr. Totonji said. He stressed the importance of “raising the quality of manpower, the quality of those who work for dawah, Islamic call and guidance”.

In 1978 Dr. Totonji, (founder of the College of Petroleum and Mineral Engineering in Libya), addressing a gathering of Dhaka University teachers at the Teachers Students Center (TSC) called upon the Dhaka University teachers to submit to Islam. “You are never late in Islam”, he said. Dr. Totonji called upon the Dhaka University teachers “to work for the resurgence of Islam”. “You are the force for guiding Bangladesh and you must fulfill this great responsibility”, he said.

Article prepared on 8 September 2005.