Personal Development Society Ummah

Historical Consciousness and Imagination: Tools for Forging A Brighter Tomorrow

Historical consciousness and imagination provide us the opportunity to engage the world more fully and prepare us intellectually and emotionally to act in the world. Both are essential for understanding ourselves in the present and for being influential actors in the world. Historical consciousness affords us the opportunity to intellectually and emotionally disengage from the constraints of the present. Hindsight allows us to understand how past actions formed the present. History, then, is a story guided by agents, free-will and choices.

What we gain from taking a pause from the present is perspective, scope and range. Combined with imagination, we discover the opportunity to visualize alternate possibilities. It is in the future that we find the space to remake ourselves and in the present that we have a chance to break from the chains of the past. Just as reflection upon history alone is not enough to initiate social and personal change, imagination alone is also not enough to make of tomorrow a brighter day. Historical consciousness and imagination must both be allies in the cause of social and personal change.

Allah captures these ideas when He says in the Qur’an (103:1-3),

إِنَّ الْإِنسَانَ لَفِي خُسْرٍ
إِلَّا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ وَتَوَاصَوْا بِالْحَقِّ وَتَوَاصَوْا بِالصَّبْرِ
  1. By the ages, time (history).*
  2. Indeed (certainly) humanity, with no exception, is at a loss (deeds are of no avail; wealth, status, lineage, power and position all are of no value).
  3. But exempt, from this universal rule governing history, are those people who believe in Allah and perform deeds acceptable to Allah. In addition, they call each other to account, fulfill each other’s rights, are a people of learning and teaching and steadfastness in practice and preaching.

Thus, in order to forge a brighter tomorrow, we need to understand yesterday, remember the mistakes therein, and then move to imagining a tomorrow guided by iman (faith), brotherhood, knowledge, justice, and good deeds. It is only then that we can work for tomorrow, starting now.

*Commentary added to translation by author.

About the author

Yusuf Rios (Abul Hussein)

Yusuf Rios (Abul Hussein)

Yusuf Rios was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. While becoming a Catholic priest, Yusuf discovered the path to Islam. He studied Islamic sciences for a period of seven years, studying with scholars in Cleveland, Ohio before receiving a work-study contract with the Islamic American University. At the Islamic American University, he read Arabic and a limited number of Islamic sciences intensively for one year. He then traveled to Cairo, Egypt where he resided for five years. There, he attended a number of intensive courses at Arabic learning centers. After these courses, he joined various scholarly circles, reading Islamic sciences with a host of scholars of diverse expertise and orientations. Yusuf takes particular pride in having studied intimately with a number of scholars from al-Azhar University. Likewise, he has great love and attachment to Egypt and especially al-Azhar Mosque where he studied for the major portion of his residence in Egypt. Yusuf has a Bachelors in Western Philosophy and Sociology and is working on a Masters in Education. He serves as an instructor in Islamic Sciences with Islamic American University and in local mosques in Dearborn, Michigan and Cleveland, Ohio. His four main research areas in Islamic sciences are in the areas of Usul al-Fiqh, Maqasid ash Shar’ia, Hadith Sciences, and Fiqh.

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  • history, consciousness and imagination construct each other. semantically the latin word, imagination has its root in the hermeneutics of image; where as the sanskrit based languages offer a meaning that is close to ‘fancy’, that subverts the real or original. Ibne-Sina’s argument of knowledge as a-priori concepts or pre-cognition of the existence (wujud) that could not experience the omnipotent essence (mahiat) premised that knowledge of God is a transformed reality, which was later criticized by mulla sadra who thought that creation stood on its own reality and didn’t need the imagination of a part (insaan) to give it necessity to exist. he called it the eternal necessity. our consciousness of perfection is limited to our knowledge of the known, thus our imagining it predicates the unknown to be perfect, even non-muslim scholars in the middle ages took this trope of imagination and reclaimed their consciousness of truth. the medieval imagination of self had a political necessity for the warring tribes of europe to expel the ‘others’ amidst them, in moorish spain against whom they formed their own identity. historian anouar majed writes in his book the crypto-hispanics how that imagination of the other was useful to imagine a perfect antidote against social breakdown. nationalism was born of a separation of spaces, inferior from superior, or provincialism from modernism. the separation of time, preceded that of space, when universalization of social systems were being categorized through the narrative of bourgeois domesticity. poems, treatise, and hermeneutics within the confines of university systems organized a scieticized version of traditional societies and “vanished social formations” theorized by social anthropologists, so the “sword could be our tenure” as William Dole, a historian writes back to his monarch after the fall of Bengal in 1757 in the hands of the British. what the consciousness of middle-class sensibilities document of this time is nothing but the history of their coming into being, as a gendered, social construction of their own inadequacy, lack and incompleteness. the history of most post-colonial society is the meta-narrative of their own inconsistency, between their public and private, constitution and despotic, self and non-self, universal and particular. the binary orientalist vision inherited from our transition narrative from european imagination has become our own nemesis, our socio-historical paradox. it allows us to double-speak, to hang our garbs between the polarized realities of post-modernism; creating a public sphere of our domesticity without an outline of our legitimate interior, we try to fit our particular contexts into modernist universals.

  • Salamun Alaikum -Ustadh Shakib, the thoughtful response is well taken.

    The word imagination in the Arabic language is pregnant with varied meaning and is inclusive of the notion of fancy but not restricted to it. I suspect that the claim that the word imagination in Sankrit is restricted to fancy when in Latin imagination (imago, imagination) in not confined to fancy. We find an overlap in these primitive languages.

    Imagination: (Ar.) تَصَوُّر خَيَال وَهْم

    I recommend that you look at Walter Mignolo as an antidote to postmodernism which poses-presents itself as “liberation” from the tentacles of modernity but in some instances is just as violent is not more.

    In any instance, the Qur’anic reference to history and its imaging of history teaches us how to read it and serves as a platform for learning and reading one which transcends the problem of context. (bird’s eye view)

  • Salam, Ust Abul Hussein, thanks for refering me Walter Mingolo and for providing the arabic root meaning. my position on decolonization is from trying to understand how Europe became part of our transtive narrative of Modernity. I realize that post-modernity is not a place to ponder that, it rather obfuscates one’s vision to a cultural relativism. The way we make sense of ourselves today have much to do with how we learned to normalize our many context-sensitive identities in pre-capitalist societies for a hyphanated identity (agrarian-pre-modern-feudal-provincial-face-to-face-bourgeois) that we still use to explain our dispossession. our construction of a context-free middle-class consciousness by demarcating our (religio/secular) spaces, accepting inconsistencies of ourselves, underwriting common laws, and appropriating technology gave us a falsified sense of citizenship which was never confered upon us by our intellectual masters. our subjecthood persists as indentured labour, plantation slaves, unfree, non-state actors and the hyperboles till today just like our ability to put the blame on our own inadequacies which are impossible to fill. we in the colonial world, exchanged our sense of inferior domesticity (where women had treaty making rights even at war) with mid-victorian values where nobility denied women any claim on herself. during the first war of independence against the british (1857) out of the 12 armies that confronted the colonials in major battles, 5 were led by women. however the existence of our meta-narratives that we stumple upon in distant port-records, or tattered pictures of women ‘coolies’ sold for 5 rupees for 10 years in some polynesian sugar plantation who came back as ‘musalmani’ in their heart, still says that the colonial project could not wear us down completely.

  • AS

    The direction of thought your question sets up is not easy to follow through to reach some an end in sight. This is a question that has occupied my thinking for sometime. It seems that Muslims accepted a historical trajectory that has little to do with their reality and in doing so disalignment from the self was complete. Prior to the acceptance of the trajectory of history of European societies colonialism was geographical occupation but not intellecutual colonialization. Napaleon upon entering Egypt did not instill a sense of inferiority in the Muslims that sense came with time.


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