Contemporary and Social Issues

The Superpowers Are Self-Destructing: How Qur’anic Principles Can Bring About World Peace

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By Hafiz Yunus Omotayo

Things are gravely wrong currently with our global human family. Our world is presently beleaguered and stuck in the whirlpool of a precarious state of affairs: world order, peace, security and harmony are increasingly assuming an extremely volatile state, with clouds of tensions pervasively hovering over our minds, while winds of uncertainties are blowing vehemently across regions. 

Could it be that things are, ultimately, about to fall apart utterly, globally? How can humanity liberate the present from the past and the future from the present? 

This piece will briefly assess the present state of affairs and explore some Qur’anic teachings and guiding principles – particularly Al-Istikhlaf (succession) and Al-Tidwal (alternation) – which are especially imperative for world powers and leaderships, for the advancement of world order, harmony, peace and security.

Our Beleaguered World and the Faultline of the Great Powers

Unarguably, in any given age, the state of global affairs is invariably determined, influenced and shaped by the policies, decisions, positions, interests, relations, actions and inactions of the global superpowers and major powers that hold global leadership hegemonies. In this context, the contemporary world powers can, therefore, be said to be largely accountable for the overall current state of the world’s situation and our troubled time.

However, before proceeding, and for the purpose of clarity and understanding, it is necessary to briefly dissect the concept of superpower and major power and what situates them as agents accountable for the state of world affairs. 

According to scholars of political science and international relations, such as André Munro, a superpower connotes a state that possesses military or economic might, or both, and general influence [political, diplomatic, cultural and technological, etc.] vastly superior to that of other states. A superpower is a state that cannot be ignored on the world stage and without whose cooperation no world problem can be solved. During the Cold War, for instance, the United States could not intervene in world affairs without taking into account the position of the U.S.S.R., and vice versa. [More current examples are the cases of the ongoing Israel-Hamas War and the Russia-Ukraine War, where the two powers, namely, the US (1) and Russia (2), have used their veto power, respectively, to subvert United Nations resolutions for ceasefire.]

The possession of highly superior military capabilities is generally considered to be the most important element in distinguishing a superpower, such as the United States, from a major power, such as France or the United Kingdom. A robust nuclear deterrence and the capacity to project military power anywhere in the world are key components of this. A superpower also draws its power from a superior economy, as well as the capacity to influence other states and international institutions (soft power). Superpowers conceive of their own interests in global terms and directly shape world events. While the term superpower is most often used to describe a state whose overall power is preeminent, it is sometimes used more restrictively to designate a state whose power is preeminent in one specific area (e.g., a military superpower, an economic superpower, etc.).

According to realist scholars, such as Hans Morgenthau, and neorealist scholars, such as Kenneth Waltz, the number of superpowers is the major determining factor in international politics. The existence of one, two, or multiple superpowers (a unipolar, bipolar, or multipolar world) determines the stability of the international order, as well as the prospects for war and peace. 

During the Cold War, scholars generally used this concept to refer exclusively to its two main protagonists, the United States and the U.S.S.R. In the 1990s, following the end of the Cold War and the diminished power of Russia, the United States gained a position of global dominance that it had not enjoyed since the beginning of World War II. However, with the transformation of China into an economic powerhouse, there have been continued debates on whether it can be expected not only to dominate Asia but also to compete with the United States as another global superpower. (3) 

It is, however, important to keep in mind the words of His Holiness Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad (aba), the Supreme Head of the Worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim Community:

“It may seem as though the two major blocs that existed in the world in the past have broken up, but, in reality, they never broke up, but instead became dormant. In the current emerging political and economic landscape of the world we find that, once again, these blocs are very clearly shaping into formation. In reality, a major factor underlying the political circumstances of these countries is the current international economic situation, which is pulling us towards another world war.” (4) 

Firstly, in light of the foregoing analysis, it is obvious why mutual rivalry, envy, suspicion, conspiracy, mistrust, distrust, hypocrisy, nuclear armament, manipulation, exploitation, feud, domination and struggle for supremacy are characterizing the political, economic and military power plays among the powers and deepening the unhealthy, feudal international relations among states. It is this development that is causing and/or fueling conflicts or wars (military, diplomatic, political, economic, cultural, and cyber) at local, regional and international levels. This is all evident from the Cold War, to the Vietnam War, the Iran-Iraq War, the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, the NATO-Russia face-off and the ongoing Russia-Ukraine and Israel-Hamas wars, among others.

Ultimately, today, the global human family has reached the crossroads where the possibility of World War 3 breaking out is palpably frightening and worrisome. This is far from an overstatement. It is an observation that is being increasingly made by many a world leader and commentator on international relations and politics. For instance, the Supreme Head of the worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad (aba), has oftentimes declared that:

“The severity of the situation is such that a Third World War could begin at any time – in fact in reality a Third World War has already begun on a small scale. I have been warning of this for a number of years but only now analysts and world figures have started to agree.” (5)

Even many political leaders are beginning to realize this, including Dmitry Medvedev, deputy chairman of President Vladimir Putin’s security council, who recently told a conference in Moscow that: “The world is sick and quite probably is on the verge of a new world war,” (6) 

Secondly, it is again clear why, as it stands today, the United Nations Organization has never been so acutely disunited and divided along the line of the vested interests and dictates of the world superpowers and major powers. As Hassan bin Youssef Yassin noted:

“The UN is in distress, disunited and prone to conflict. Guterres admitted to having no power, as it lies in the member states. The UN seems to be on life support, gasping for a chance to recover. This is not a strong or effective position to be in… The world has shifted toward smaller alliances focused on their own interests, leading to conflicts and instability.” (7)

Today, vast sections of the world watch, albeit, with dismay and disillusionment, how the dictates of UN charters, conventions, international laws, treaties and resolutions are being blatantly violated by the world’s great powers. (8) These trends are not only dangerous for the stability of world order, peace and harmony, but also detrimental to the continued existence of the UN itself. In fact, it is indicative of its looming collapse. Hence, evaluating the dimensions of the ongoing wars between Russia and Ukraine as well as Israel and Hamas, His Holiness Masih V (aba) remarked:

“It appears that if this conflict escalates further and acquires the form of a World War, then, after its conclusion, the UN might also come to an end… May Allah grant wisdom to the world.”  (9) 

This has been further corroborated by a sentiment expressed by the President of Turkiye, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, following America’s veto against UN ceasefire resolution on Israel-Hamas war. He declared:   

“Unfortunately, the ceasefire was rejected due to America’s negative vote alone. Is this justice? Does such a fair world exist?… We have no hope or expectation left from the United Nations Security Council… The United Nations and its Security Council cannot be reformed. It is essential we believe that, with the atrocities in Gaza, the ineffective and dysfunctional structure of the United Nations will be questioned worldwide. Look, I’m stating it very clearly: after Gaza, nothing is as it was before. It can’t continue.” (10) 

Thirdly, it is also palpable why, emboldened by their superior military, political and economic powers and diplomatic strengths, these great powers and their power blocs can be seen committing war crimes, crime against humanity and genocide (through direct or proxy conflicts and wars) across the world with impunity. (11) Often, the gravity of these horrendous developments is outrightly justified or oversimplified or downplayed by these powers, using diplomatic euphemisms. It is rather disheartening observing how the dictates of the dictum of “might is right” are increasingly undermining the principles of rule of law in contemporary local, regional and international political and economic relations.

Fourthly, one can also realize why the world has continued to experience rising inequalities, as disparity between the rich and developed countries and the poor nations continues widening so sharply. Aid, grants and loans have been flowing from these powers and through their sponsored world financial institutions towards the poorer states, but they are often tied with stringent conditions. Hence, while prosperity and luxuries continue to be the hallmarks of those occupying the Global North, those in the Global South continue to wallow in abject poverty, where hundreds of millions of people are facing acute hunger, starvation and death.

True, while it is easily discernable that the political upheavals, economic turmoil, regional conflicts and inter-state wars being witnessed across the world in the contemporary time are not unconnected with the policies and actions of these superpowers, it is extremely strange that these same powers have continued to maintain that they are the promoters and keepers of world peace and security. This scenario evokes the Qur’anic declaration:

“And when it is said to them, ‘create not disorder in earth’. They say, ‘We are only promoters of peace.’ Behold! They are the mischief makers but they realize it not,” (12) 

The Way Forward 

Importantly, there is no doubt that the current challenges confronting our global human family evoke multi-sectoral approaches to be properly addressed. In this respect, the faith sector, indeed, has a significant role to play. Of course, as a human institution, right from the evolution of human civilization, religion has always provided the fundamental blueprints for world order, peace and harmony and the advancement of humanity. This, perhaps, is what Dr. Yvette Reisinger had acknowledged when he declared that “the foundations of major civilizations are the world’s major religions.(13) And in contemporary times, as Martin Palmer has noted: “Where once science and the state were seen as having taken over the traditional role of faiths as guides through social and ecological upheavals, now increasingly, religion is being included as a partner once again,” (14) 

In light of this, it is gratifying to present the following guiding principles and teachings of Islam for world order, peace and security.

Istikhlaf – The Principle Guiding World Succession and Ascendance 

“Istikhlaf” literally means establishing “successorship” in the earth. The Holy Qur’an declares:

“He it is Who has made you successors of others on the earth and has exalted some of you over others in degree of rank, that He may try you by that which He has given you,” (15)

“We made you their successors in the earth after them, that We might see how you would act,” (16) 

This verse puts in context a number of implications, namely, that the whole of humanity living in a specific time has been established in the earth as successors of the preceding humans. That within the global human family, some people and nations are exalted in degree of ranks, for instance, as developed, superpower or major power respectively. That the essence of this social stratification, however, is rooted in the sublime intention of the Divine to try them – testing their character and ability to sustain their greatness by making good use of their endowed world prosperity and ascendance for the pleasure of the Lord of Providence and the betterment of all humanity.

Commenting on the second verse quoted above, the Second Caliph of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Hazrat Mirza Bashirudeen Mahmud Ahmad (ra), stated:

“Good works are of two kinds: (1) those that bring about and lead to the glory of a people; and (2) those that are needed to maintain that glory. There are people who acquaint themselves excellently in the acquisition of greatness but, once they have attained it, they fail to maintain a high standard of national morality and fall victim to sloth and lack of discipline… By adding the clause, “that we might see how you would act,” the Qur’an means to say that God made you heirs to His favours on account of such of your initial good deeds as were needed to merit greatness, and now He will see how you do those deeds which guard and perpetuate your good actions. The truth is that the latter kind of good deeds are far more difficult to perform than the former…” (17) 

Clearly, the principle of Istikhlaf reminds the developed and the great powers that their global ascendance is for probation and responsibility.  That, if God grants superpower status and supremacy to a nation or state and places them on the pedestal of regional or global hegemony, they would continue to enjoy the legitimacy of such a position as long as they lead the world by the standards of a righteous world order, absolute justice, equity and fairness in international relations and the adoption and entrenchment of policies that seek to share prosperity, exchange development and foster and strengthen the bond of human brotherhood, peace and harmony within the global human family.

It is worthwhile to note that, for many years, this has been the key issue on which the Worldwide Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community His Holiness Hazrat Khalifatul Masih V (aba) – in his capacity as the Caliph that represents Islam at the global level in contemporary times – has been providing imperative guidance, principles and teachings of Islam especially to the world superpowers and major powers from the USA, to Russia, China, UK and France, and as well as international organizations, like the UN and the European Union, among others. For instance, on 27th July, 2012, at the U.S. Capitol Hill, Washington D.C., His Holiness addressed the US’s leading congressmen, senators, ambassadors, White House and State Department Staff, NGO leaders, religious leaders, professors, policy advisors, bureaucrats, members of the Diplomatic Corps, representatives of think-tanks and the Pentagon and journalists from the media in a historic speech titled The Path to Peace: Just Relations Between Nations. In the address, he declared:

“What does Islam say in relation to international relations that are based on justice, and so a means of establishing peace? …It is a clear teaching of Islam that the people of all nationalities and all races are equal. It is also made clear that all people should be granted equal rights without any discrimination or prejudice. This is the key and golden principle that lays the foundation for harmony between different groups and nations, and for the establishment of peace.

Today we find that there is division and separation between powerful and weaker nations. For example, in the United Nations we find that there is a distinction made between certain countries. Thus, in the Security Council there are some permanent members and some non-permanent members. This division has proved to be an internal source of anxiety and frustration and thus we regularly hear reports of certain countries protesting against this inequality. Islam teaches absolute justice and equality in all matters and so we find another very crucial guideline in Chapter 5, Verse 3 of the Holy Qur’an. 

Powerful and rich countries should not usurp the rights of the poor and weaker countries in an effort to preserve their own rights, and nor should they deal with the poorer nations in an unjust fashion. On the other hand, the poor and weaker nations should not seek to inflict harm on the powerful or wealthy nations whenever the opportunity arises. Instead, both sides should endeavour to fully abide by the principles of justice. Indeed, this is a matter of crucial importance in maintaining peaceful relations between countries.

Thus, Islam has drawn our attention to various means for peace. It requires absolute justice. It requires truthful testimony to always be given. It requires that our glances are not cast enviously in the direction of the wealth of others. It requires that the developed nations put aside their vested interests, and instead help and serve the less developed and poorer nations with a truly selfless attitude and spirit. If all of these factors are observed, then true peace will be established.

If despite all these aforementioned measures any country transgresses all limits and attacks another country, and seeks to unjustly take control of its resources, then other countries should certainly take measures to stop such cruelty – but they should always act with justice when doing so. The circumstances for taking action, based on Islamic teachings are detailed in the Qur’an, in Chapter 49.2 … 

In circumstances where a third-party government seeks to bring about reconciliation between two parties, then it should act with sincerity and total impartiality…

Thus, for the requirements of justice to be fulfilled, it is essential that the countries that are negotiating a settlement should themselves not seek to fulfil their own personal interests, nor try to derive benefit unduly from either country. They should not interfere unjustly or pressure either of the parties unfairly. The natural resources of any country should not be taken advantage of. Unnecessary and unfair restrictions should not be placed upon such countries, because this is neither just and nor can it ever prove to be a source of improving relations between countries.” (18) 

Why Do World Superpowers Fall and Others Replace Them?

Over 1400 years ago, at the formative stage of the Islamic State that would later become a superpower, the Holy Qur’an addressed a challenge to the Muslims of the time with a view to building their mindset as an emerging world power towards avoiding negative exercises of power less they fall and become replaced by another world power. It rhetorically queried:

“Would you then, if you are placed in authority, create disorder in the land and sever your ties of kinship? It is these whom Allah curses so that He makes them deaf and makes their eyes blind.” (19) 

This verse enunciates the principle that whenever the superpowers begin to become overbearing, unjustly exploit humanity, cause disorder, entrench injustice and corruption, subvert the bond of human brotherhood and cause rifts in international relations among states, then they would fall under the wrath of God, with the consequence that they decline in power and influence, leading to their displacement as superpowers and replacement by other emerging world powers. 

As Hazrat Khalifatul Masih (aba) declared, “If governments and organisations in power, or indeed international organisations do not fulfil their roles to establish peace in the world, then despite holding power, such powers are ultimately rendered useless.” (20)

At-Tidwal – The Principle of Alternation of World Power and Prosperity among Nations

In the verse 141 of Chapter 3, the Holy Qur’an enunciates this principle where it declares:

“These are the days which We cause to alternate among mankind.”

The Arabic word used in this verse and translated as “alternate” is derived from daawala (داول) (he caused to alternate), from which comes the infinite noun tidwaal (تدوال ) or mudaawalah ( مداولة ), Daawala Allahu al-ayyaam bain an-naas ( داول الله الأيام بين الناس): God made days to come round among men by turns i.e. sometime some people were in good circumstances and sometimes other. (21) Hence, explaining the word ‘days’ as it occurs in the above passage of the verse, Hazrat Mirza Bashirud-Din Ahmad (ra) wrote that, “the word ‘days’ is used both for the ‘days of success’ and the ‘days of misfortune,’ which God causes to alternate among world peoples and nations. (22) Thus, Tidwal literally signifies the circulation or alternation or transition of wealth, fortunes and power from one people to another.

At-Tidwal is a Qur’anic sociological principle that implies the swinging of the pendulum of greater political, economic, socio-cultural and scientific prosperity and superior technological and military power and influence from certain people, nation, state or civilization to another. It refers to the rise and fall of nations, particularly the world powers, and their displacement or replacement by other big powers that have emerged.  

It is imperative that the contemporary superpowers and major powers should realize the phenomenal reality of Al-Tidwal. They should note how regional or global supremacy, dominance, hegemony has shifted from certain past superpowers to other powers throughout the ages and regions in the world; and, therefore, restrain themselves from becoming overbearing and unjust as they wield their hegemonic power in the world. Thus, we have seen the examples of historical superpowers including Ancient Egypt, the Hittite Empire, the Neo-Assyrian Empire, the Neo-Babylonian Empire, the Achaemenid Empire, the Macedonian Empire, the Han Empire, the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, the Carthaginian Empire, the Sassanid Empire, the Maurya Empire, the Gupta empire, the Russian Empire, the Tang Empire, the Umayyad Caliphate, the Mongol Empire, among others.

Moreover, history tells us that the Portuguese Empire was replaced by the Dutch Empire that made much of the 17th century part of the Dutch Golden Age. Soon, the Spanish and Dutch Empires were joined by the French colonial Empire from the reign of King Louis XIV until the defeat of Napoleon in the Napoleonic Wars. The Spanish Empire lost its superpower status after the signing of the Treaty of the Pyrenees (but maintained the status of Great Power until the Napoleonic Wars and the Independence of Spanish America). After 1688, with the end of its Golden Age, the Dutch Empire was replaced by the British Empire, after this country went through its Glorious Revolution in 1688 and for its pioneering role in the industrialisation process in the 18th century that would lead to global hegemony in the 19th century and early 20th century (before World War I). (23)

Therefore, the contemporary superpowers of the West and the East are advised to use their superior military, political, economic, cultural, and technological prowess to influence the world in constructive, righteous, just and peaceful ways. 

Perhaps a good starting point to changing the current appalling narrative of global disharmony and lack of peace and salvaging the world would be for the leading world powers to shift paradigms and chart the course of absolute justice and peace with regard to the ongoing Russia-Ukraine and Israel-Hamas wars. 

In this regard, this piece would again refer to the guidance of Hazrat Khalifatul Masih V (aba) to the world powers and the international community. For example, regarding the Russia-Ukraine conflict, he declared that:

“For many years, I have warned the major powers of the world that they must heed the lessons from history, particularly in relation to the two catastrophic and devastating world wars that took place in the 20th Century. In this regard, in the past, I have written letters to the leaders of various nations urging them to set aside their national and vested interests in order to prioritise the peace and security of the world by adopting true justice at all levels of society. Most regrettably, now a war in Ukraine has started and so the situation has become extremely grave and precarious. Furthermore, it has the potential to escalate even further depending on the next steps of the Russian government and the response of NATO and the major powers. Unquestionably, the consequences of any escalation will be horrific and destructive in the extreme. And so, it is the critical need of the hour that every possible effort is made to avoid further warfare and violence. There is still time for the world to step back from the brink of disaster and so, for the sake of humanity, I urge Russia, NATO and all major powers to concentrate all their efforts on seeking to de-escalate the conflict and working towards a peaceful solution through diplomacy. (24)  

In the same vein, in respect of the Israel-Hamas war, he stated:  

“We urge the United States and other influential nations to abstain from any actions or statements that may further inflame the volatile situation. Instead, alongside the relevant international organisations, they should make every possible effort to urgently de-escalate the conflict and secure peace as soon as possible. Justice and equity are of paramount importance in achieving lasting and sustainable peace. Thus, all the major powers must focus on establishing long-term and sustainable peace based upon the principles of fairness and true justice. (25) 

Conclusively, it is hoped that these powers will heed the foregoing imperative messages of God conveyed to them by His Holiness (aba). Otherwise, one can only remind them of the following Divine declarations:

“Have they not travelled in the earth so that they might see how evil was the end of those who were before them? They were stronger than these in power, and they tilled the soil and populated it more and better than these have populated it. And their Messengers came to them with manifest Signs. And Allah would not wrong them, but they wronged their own souls. Then evil was the end of those who did evil, because they rejected the Signs of Allah, and mocked at them.” (26) 

“Verily, the earth is Allah’s; He gives it as heritage to whomsoever He pleases of His servants, and the end is for the God-fearing.” (27)  

“It is We Who will inherit the earth and all who are thereon; and unto Us will they all be returned.” (28) 

References

  1. https://news.un.org/en/story/2023/12/1144562 
  2. https://news.un.org/en/story/2022/09/112910 
  3. https://www.britannica.com/topic/dominion-British-Commonwealth
  4. https://www.alislam.org/articles/recognition-of-creator-required-for-world-peace/ 
  5. https://www.khalifatulmasih.org/press-releases/head-of-ahmadiyya-muslim-community-warns-of-risk-of-third-world-war/ 
  6. https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/putin-ally-we-are-probably-verge-new-world-war-2023-04-25/ 
  7. https://www.arabnews.com/node/2381011/united-nations-disunited 
  8. https://qz.com/emails/quartz-weekend-brief/1850864037/the-disunited-nations 
  9. https://www.alhakam.org/un-faces-collapse-amidst-world-war-palestine/  
  10. https://www.facebook.com/share/v/frahnTK9yCBeVB9S/?mibextid=HSR2mg  
  11. https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2022/04/15/war-crimes-icc-us/ 
  12. The Holy Qur’an, Chapter 2 verses 12-13
  13. Yvette Reisinger, International Tourism: Cultures and Behavior (Elsevier Ltd., USA, 2009), p. 101
  14. Martin Palmer, World Religions, (Times Books Ltd. USA, 2004) p. 10
  15. The Holy Qur’an, Chapter 6 verse 166
  16. The Holy Qur’an, Chapter 10 verse 15
  17. The Holy Qur’an, English Translation and Commentary (Islam International Publications Ltd, UK, 2019) vol. 3, p 1230
  18. https://www.alislam.org/articles/the-path-to-peace-just-relations-between-nations/ 
  19. The Holy Qur’an, Chapter 47 verses 23-24
  20. https://www.alislam.org/articles/recognition-of-creator-required-for-world-peace/ 
  21. Malik Ghulam Farid, Dictionary of the Holy Qur’an (Islam International Publications Ltd., UK, 2006)
  22. The Holy Qur’an, English Translation and Commentary (Islam International Publications Ltd, UK, 2019) vol. 3, p 455
  23. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Superpower 
  24. https://www.pressahmadiyya.com/press-releases/2022/02/statement-of-world-head-of-the-ahmadiyya-muslim-community-regarding-russia-ukraine-crisis/ 
  25. https://www.pressahmadiyya.com/press-releases/2023/10/statement-of-the-ahmadiyya-muslim-community-on-recent-escalations-in-the-israeli-and-palestinian-conflict/ 
  26. The Holy Qur’an, Chapter 30 verses 10-11
  27. The Holy Qur’an, Chapter 7 verse 129
  28. The Holy Qur’an, Chapter 19 verse 41

About the Author: Hafiz Yunus Omotayo is a Missionary and Journalist of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jama’at of Nigeria. He currently serves in Muslim Television Ahmadiyya (MTA)

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