Respecting and Trusting the Group Intellect – Pt. 1
“While the European renaissance was a result of the intellectual power of Al-Islam, the Muslim community struggled under its periods of intellectual repression. I believe after review that the beginning of the decline of the Muslim empire after the 13th century, although attributed to various secondary causes, resulted from a fundamental error committed by many Muslim governments: the rejection of the group intellect as a governing authority in Al-Islam.”—Genesis of New American Leadership, p. 95.
[This is part one of a presentation delivered in April 2004 before visiting dignitaries and leaders from Afghanistan as part of an official U.S. State Department visit. The presentation’s purpose was to compare the elements of democracy established in Islam with the compatible values of representative democracy established in modern American society. The issues of diversity, tolerance, and pluralism are pragmatic characteristics of a more fundamental issue for all: How society values, respects and utilizes its group intellect. The remarks include how our U.S. Constitution and other founding documents reflect Qur’anic principles of leadership and responsible government.]
When we talk about faith, we normally have the discussion within the context of faith in the Creator. For Muslims and Christians whose native tongue is Arabic, we say faith in Allah (the Most High). But there is another component of faith that is essential to group dynamics and progress at every level of human relations…and it is that the leaders and the followers must have faith in the group intellect.
And when this faith component is absent, the group’s progress will be stifled.
How important is trust in the group intellect? To answer the question, it is helpful to ask first, how important is trust in the individual intellect?
“G-d has not created anything better than Reason, or anything more perfect or more beautiful than Reason. The benefits which Allah gives are on its account, and understanding is by it; and Allah’s displeasure is caused by it; and by it are rewards and punishments. Verily a man has performed prayers, fasts, charity, pilgrimage, and all other good deeds; but he will not be rewarded but in proportion to the sense he employs.” (Prophet Muhammed, pbuh)
Another word for trust is faith. I may say I trust you, or I can say I have faith in you. But trust is a bit more nuanced and goes beyond faith. Trust can be a noun or verb and the fact that it can be turned into an action is the difference I am referring to. If I say I trust you, it means I am willing to demonstrate my faith in you in a tangible way:
1. Allowing your voice to be heard.
2. Allowing you to contribute your knowledge, skills, abilities, and proposed solutions.
And not only allowing you, but trusting that you have the sensitivities, the sincerity, and the capacity to contribute as well or better than me. And unless you demonstrate some flaw in character or competency that endangers the group, I should help create the environment or shared freedom space, as Imam W. Deen Mohammed (ra) phrased it, for you to contribute.
And I should believe in the fruits that will occur from your contribution. I should believe that G-d will bless your contribution to be beneficial. I should have that expectation, just as I have that expectation of my own contributions.
This idea of trust in the group intellect is a theme that occurs throughout the Qur’an and the Life Example and Recorded History of Mohammed the Final Prophet (peace be upon him). The benefits of trusting in the group intellect has also been proven in human history as an advantage in societal development. Groups, organizations, institutions, societies, etc. that do not value trust in the group intellect cannot build long-term sustainable civilizations today. I say today because like the individual soul and intellect that develops over a period of time, the group intellect also develops over a period of time. The collective intellect of man today is not the collective intellect of man a thousand years ago. One thousand years ago, the biggest problem facing the human intellect was literacy.
Now literacy is still an issue in certain places of the globe, but the biggest problem facing the collective intellect today is a voice crying out like sounding clay tempered with the heat of frustration in that those very voices are not being heard. Today the problem facing the collective intellect is how best to structure evolved systems of leadership, governance, and accountability that trust in the group intellect and respect the voice of the common man. It is also the biggest problem in our masajid, the biggest problem in our national Islamic community, in our nation, and in the world.
Consider this for a moment: What was the catalyst of the struggle against the human being and the attempt to bring about the destruction of G-d’s man from the very beginning? In Islamic and biblical theology, the source of the destructive prejudice and unfair discrimination against man began with a creature who felt man did not deserve the leadership role. In the Qur’an, Iblis becomes the satan that challenges G-d’s plan for man and humanity, not on the basis that Iblis did not have faith in G-d.
The Satan did not express disbelief in G-d, he expressed by default a disbelief in the Plan of G-d, because of his arrogance that he was better than man. Satan or shaitan was blinded by his own arrogance, in his belief that he was better than man. Remember we have been taught that man means mind. In Islam, Iblis approached the collective Adam and tried to get him to disobey his Lord. Iblis by default was also ignorant of G-d’s plan and by extension the ability and capacity of man to carry out great work. Satan did not believe in man, even though he believed in G-d. Now the odd thing about this conundrum of belief is that one can say he believes in G-d, yet fail to trust in Him with all his heart and soul and faith.
We as believers have to trust that the Word of G-d is true and that G-d, since He created us, knows us better than we know ourselves; and we can know only by His Grace and ultimately, He knows best. In Al-Islam, one of the attributes of the Creator is that He is Al-Mu’min, The Believer. He is the first to believe. Believe in what. Believe in what He has created and in the capacity of what He has created to fulfill its role…to live up to its potential. In Al-Islam, G-d believes in man.
Now it was G-d Who gave the gift of the intellect to the individual. Didn’t He also give the gift to the group both implied and explicitly?
We are cautioned in Qur’an on two personalities (types) who lived during the time of Jahilliyah or the Period of Ignorance that refers to the devolution of human civilization following the mission of the Christ (peace be upon the noble Messenger and his mother) until the advent of the Revelation of Qur’an. The two persons are Abu Jahl (father of ignorance) and Abu Lahab (father of arrogance); the arch enemies of Al-Islam.
In reality, Abu Jahl and Abu Lahab have been around much longer than the Dark Ages, and they are mentioned in the Qur’an for all times as arch enemies of Al-Islam and the Life Example of Muhammed (pbuh) to warn humanity that if we want darkness, backwardness, and ignorance, and if we wish to be so arrogant as to reject what G-d has given us as a gift, then
1. Deny the right of the group intellect.
2. Lose faith in the group intellect.
3. Don’t trust the group intellect.
And what are some of the actions that typify a loss of faith in the group intellect:
1. Subjugating half of the group intellect by gender and denying them even the right to literacy, much less an education.
2. Subjugating other parts of the group intellect and denying them a voice in the affairs of state based on a color, caste, or religion.
3. Failing to prioritize the allocation of the public treasury to make education affordable at all levels (from pre-school through graduate education) to all citizens.
4. Succeeding to governing leadership by genetic birth right and essentially espousing the de facto declaration that only those who come from my loins are wise and sincere enough to lead.
5. Investing more in prisons than you do in education.
The list above is not all-inclusive. Are there signs in your masjid or other institution that the group intellect can’t be trusted? Are there signs in our national Islamic community life that the group intellect can’t be trusted? Are there signs in the international ummah that the group intellect can’t be trusted?
–To be continued.
Left open for further thought and research…Peace until next time.
Sincerely & respectfully,
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