The other day, Shahid Mahmood, former Pakistan test cricketer and a pioneer in community activism in the tri-state region of the northeast corridor of United States, sent an email vividly illustrated with graphics depicting the Muslim world at a standstill, mired in sloganeering, while the rest of the world during the last 100 years has marched on through motor cars, airplanes, space flights and space satellites. Shahid, today, spends most of his waking hours in prayerful meditation. It is a clarion wake-up call to fill the moral, spiritual and intellectual void in the Muslim world.

It is in stark contradiction to the mighty legacy of path-breaking learning in the Muslim world. Right in the European heartland of Budapest, Hungary, is a shrine of the Sufi saint Gul Baba. It takes a steep climb to get there, but is worth it to see the rose-covered tomb of the holy man, who was declared patron saint of Budapest during the 16th century. In Andalucía, Spain, is the great 12th century Al-Mowahid mosque at Seville. In the mid-13th century, the city was captured and the mosque was Christianised as a cathedral. In it lies buried Christopher Columbus, the discoverer of America.

The scientific achievements of medieval Muslims are too numerous and staggering to be enumerated here. But when coffee is drunk in the West, it is not often realised that it made its way first via Vienna when the Ottoman Turks made their final bid in 1683 to capture Vienna.

The current ‘leadership’ is devoid of inspiration and direction, steeped as it is in passive victimhood, defeatism, grabbing of wealth and preservation of perks and power. To expect leadership, then from those who have none, is absurd. They are incapable of raising the bar. Tariq and Babar accomplished great conquests with a small band of intently committed and motivated fighters. Baba Farid Ganjshakar and Baba Bulleh Shah conquered the hearts of huge swaths of the populace with sheer piety and simplicity. They did so without materiel resource.

Today, the resources are overflowing and so is the size of the Ummah. But all this has not put a dent in the occupation of Palestine and Kashmir nor curbed Islamophobia. In a memorable scene from the Punjabi blockbuster “Maula Jutt” impeccably written by Nasir Adeeb, a shackled jail inmate, Noori Nutt, peerlessly portrayed by Mustafa Qureshi, accosts the burly jail superintendent with the putdown taunt that “despite your huge size, your voice is quite tiny and squeaky.” This can be said with equal relevance to the 1.5 billion Muslim community.

Yet, despite pitiful results, the ruling oligarchy considers itself over-smart when the evidence suggests crushing ineptness. When grit, endurance and foresight are needed, they, instead, have squandered the national energies into the futile quagmire of venality and vendetta. Even the finest formal education has not removed the anxieties and complexes of a defeatist mindset, nor has it instilled an abiding sense of integrity. Often one encounters the rationale of surrender in that “there is no choice.” As the Arab upsurge demonstrates, for too long, the oligarchy has enjoyed a free ride; now some of them have paid and are paying the price.

To make its mark now in the international arena, Muslims have to show that they are twice as good as their contemporaries. Mohammad Ali showed it in America during the 60s and the 70s. Now, the bearded Hashim Amla of South Africa has stamped his class on and off the cricket field without compromising his Islamic convictions. There has been an accelerating slippage of standards. Ashraf Mumtaz, a respected journalist narrated in The Nation a horror story of his Umrah journey on PIA from Lahore to Medina. In it, he cited foul smelling toilets, intolerably hot temperature inside the plane and shoddy service. Similar, too, is the case of Pakistan cricket, which recently has disgraced itself in South Africa and in England, breaking the hearts of millions of their country folks. Both PIA and Pakistan cricket were once a source of joy and pride.

The status quo suits the oligarchy who, through sheer weight of wealth, control the keys to the kingdom and, thereby, act as pliable proxies for vested interests by fanning fissiparous flames. They have kept the gates of intellectual inquiry and of moral audit closed. They may appear strong, but they are inherently vulnerable because they are wrong.

Can the Muslim world stand up and be counted to face its real foes, while they are themselves being kept busy and entrapped in suicidal squabbling? Hate, paranoia and falsehood has a cannibalising impact. The focus remains on ceremonial aspects of faith and not on its vibrant moral core. By wrangling over non-issues, the influentials are doing exactly what the foes want them to do. And in doing so, they are keeping the Muslim world at a standstill.

The writer is an attorney-at-law and policy analyst based in Washington DC. He is the first Pakistani American member admitted to the US Supreme Court Bar.