بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
The Prophet of Allāh sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam said whilst interlacing his fingers, “Verily, the believer to another believer is like a structure, parts of it reinforce the other” [Al-Bukhārī].
Points of benefit
I. Imagery is ample in religious scripture. Vivid and descriptive language appeal to the human senses, deepening our understanding of a text. It serves to create a mental image/experience of ideas.
II. Imagined pictures of the world’s people influence how we group and relate to them. Our identities are partly constituted in terms of perceiving ourselves as belonging to a group. Membership to civilization, empire and community exists in the mind as much as it does in scripture and land borders. Subsequently, each member of the group lives with an image of communion and comradeship despite having never met or known the majority of its members. This image is then sustained through institutionally-reinforced practices and cultural reiterations.
III. The picture of a self-contained structure. The faithful are imagined to be an organised, independent and self-determining community. The community’s management and interests should not be so readily outsourced. It should deliberately structure (organise) itself through institutions and bodies—including regulatory boards responsible for monitoring, guiding and controlling various sectors in the interests of the community as a whole—thus aggregately uniting community members that fall under their circle of influence.
The Islāmic mind is not limited to personal pieties; it is never divorced from civic life and ideas of (local) authority, power and hierarchy.
IV. If our imaginings influence what we conceive of the world and its challenges, then appreciate that the role of imagination is equally crucial in conceiving practical resolutions.
The role of human imagination, ingenuity and resourcefulness is integral to our ability to adapt to new and unfavourable conditions. In fact, Islām—between ijtihād and bid‘ah—is capable of addressing contemporary challenges whilst preserving authentic continuity with the past.
In many cases, the challenges we face locally whether socio-political or economic lay beyond the scope of bid‘ah and therefore encompass the broader meaning of ijtihād which is more inclusive, more exploratory and more experimental. However, many of these challenges require competencies of various disciplines that are beyond the capacity of any one individual and therefore are group undertakings.
Furthermore, when formulating actionable solutions whilst referencing our past we must bear in mind that the thoughts/practices of our predecessors did not arise in a vacuum, but shaped within a socio-political milieu. Institutional and other discrepancies between our context and theirs are to be taken into account.
It is the opinion of this author that much more needs to be done with respect to the ‘structure’ of the local Muslim community in different areas of social life. This includes community organisation (hierarchical and collaborative), further development of infrastructure especially by ‘practising’ Muslims (regulatory boards, advocacy groups, think tanks, banks, media outlets, training centres, clinics, community and welfare services, businesses and social enterprises, schools, mosques etc.) and most importantly a rethink of some educational practices and a shift in mindsets and cultural values.
In closing, this author believes that imaginings are central to how we picture ourselves as a local Muslim community, the types of endeavours we undertake, and the future we hope to create.
والحمد لله رب العالمين
وصلى الله وسلم على نبينا محمد