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Enemies of progress

The Muslim mind has been caught in a tragic time-warp. There is an urgent 
need to extricate it, argues Md. Zeyaul Haque


In the second half of the 19th century the great Sir Syed wrote an article in which he said "the sun moves around the earth". Somebody told him that the geocentric (earth-centred) idea of the universe had long been discarded and Pltoemyís Almagest was no longer the standard text. He was told that the universe was now heliocentric (sun-centred) as Coperincus saw it. To his eternal credit, Sir Syed made appropriate changes in his argument, accepting the fact that it was not the sun that moved round the earth, but vice-versa.
That episode shows two points. First, Sir Syedís farsightedness and his insistence on the urgency for Muslim society to change. The second point is that what was known to every educated European for nearly three and a half centuries (Coperrnicus died in 1543) was not known to even the elite among Muslims of 19th century India. 

A hundred years after Sir Syedís death, the knowledge gap between the Muslim world and the West is even wider than it was in Sir Syedís days. At least in his time there was the eagerness to learn and catch up with the West. On the contrary, today we witness a strange phenomenon all over the Muslim world in which a huge number of books are being produced which are written on the assumption that all kinds of knowledge could, and should, be found in scriptures.

As the world moves from progress to progress, we are busy writing books like Environmentalism in Islam, Human Rights in Islam, and Civil Liberties in Islam. Needless to say, these books and these "studies" donít advance knowledge, donít help the cause of environmental protection, and have nothing whatsoever to do with the promotion of civil liberties.

There are nearly 58 Muslim countries. If books like Civil Liberties in Islam were of any consequence, we would have civil liberties at least in ten Muslim countries. But how many of them have full-fledged democratic system of governance, where civil liberties matter? None.

Same is the case with human rights on which we have quite a few books, all quoting scripture, all declaring that we can teach a lesson or two as an Ummah to all other people on human rights. But where do we find full protection of such rights in the entire Muslim world? Nowhere at all. It is Amnesty International in London and Human Rights Watch in New York that works to protect the rights of Muslims in their own countries from their own rulers. Even at national and local levels Muslims are conspicuous by their absence. 

People writing books like Human Rights in Islam have nothing to do with human rights movement at all. They donít have the statistics of even their own localities, districts and states, much less of the wider world. They are not aware of the national laws and international covenants, do not participate in seminars and protests, have never been jailed or beaten up for the cause. These people have nothing whatsoever to contribute to the cause, except quoting scripture. But, as the saying goes, even the devil can quote scripture.

Small wonder that such "authors" are never referred to in any discourse, and nobody consults them as experts. Dr Johnson said, "The essence of knowledge is having it to apply it." The knowledge that these self-proclaimed groups of Islamicisers are producing cannot be used, is unusable. 

The situation that prevails in human rights is also there on the environmental front. Ask somebody working on a book like Environment in Islam what is the groundwater situation in his locality or the level of lead in his cityís atmosphere, or the water harvesting technique being used in his ancestral village, he will not be able to say anything, much less be part of the seminar circuit, activist groups, or field research. He too is living in his own little world.

The result is that if you have to find the latest situation in global or regional groundwater, foodgrain production, milk, livestock, forests, plant and animal extinction, fisheries, rainforests, state of environmental pollution locally and globally you have to refer to the comprehensive State of the World annual. If you want to know some other significant fact, you have to consult useful publications from Worldwatch like Vital Signs, rather than authors of Environment in Islam.

The same situation prevails in all fields, including economics and political science. One example is a "learned" article by a "learned" Islamist economist (or Islamic economist) in a "learned" journal that said the habit of saving was marked in Muslim societies. Instead of real groundwork, he quoted the Quranic injunction "Eat and drink, but donít be extravagant." That was about all that he had to substantiate his claim about saving habit among Muslims.

The most important part of it is that his theory runs counter to all hard data, all statistics painstakingly gathered by actual researchers. A look at the savings of India and Pakistan, for instance, makes it clear that despite nearly double of Indiaís per capita GDP, Pakistan has much lower per capita savings. A comparison between India and Egypt, for instance, would present the same picture. There are quite a few reasons for Saudi Arabiaís per capita GDP coming down to about $7,000 from a far more respectable $ 15,000 over the years. However, one thing is sure, the blame cannot be put on the alleged saving habits of Muslim societies.

The situation in political science studies of the Islamicising variety is far more pathetic. A fine example of this ivory tower scholarship is a much-lauded book Islam bainal ulama wal salatin by one Allama Badari, tomtomed as "a great political thinker." In short, it is a travesty of not only scholarship, but plain common sense. The ideas propounded in it are so out of step with the spirit of our age that non-Muslims reading it might begin to wonder at our sanity and our ability to grasp even the fundamentals of political science.

Some of the gems from this "greatest political thinker in Muslim World" are here for the readersí consideration and amusement. This "political thinker" disapproves of democracy and favours khilfat. That means he does not trust Muslimsí capability to decide what is in their best interests. No wonder, a few dozen people like Saddam, Assad, Musharraf and Mubark are taking all the decisions on their behalf as the 1.2 billion Muslims look on like morons.

The "political thinker" prefers khilafat even without bothering for a second to think that politics is said to be "an art of the possible" by the best of its practitioners and theoreticians. This man insists, sitting in his ivory tower, that a khalifa has to rule Muslims, unmindful of the fact that not even the Islamic country where he lives is going to entertain it for a second. The best part of it is that a khalifa has to be an Arab and, preferably a Quraish. Then he goes on to declare that "four people" should elect him, and there must never be a general election. But which four people? And what are the rest 1.2 billion Muslims supposed to be doing? Clap in unison?

The horror of horrors is his advice about the defeated candidate. "If there are two candidates for khalifa, take the oath of loyalty (baiíah) on the winnerís hand and execute the defeated one." Only after reading this great piece of political thought one could have some idea of why on earth have we been cutting each otherís heads with such gusto over the centuries. Just imagine for a while, if you cut the loserís head, will his followers allow your head to remain on your shoulders for any length of time?

Around the time Clintonís first presidency began, I was reading this book. An amusing thought crossed my mind: if the Americans get hold of a copy of this "greatest political thinkerís" book they would start implementing his ideas by first cutting George Bushís head. Supposing if they did that to defeated Bush, what would happen to America? The thought was too horrid to ponder.

In short, this allegedly great political thinkerís ideas like those of other Islamicisers are monumentally stupid and unrelated to reality. Such people are a threat to our wellbeing. Anybody who lauds them should have his head examined.

Finally, it is time to stop this fantastic nonsense and get down to real hard work. The way others are doing it, without Islamic, Islamist or Islamicising pretensions. 
q

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