Islamic Perspectives

Five suggestions for the Islamic World - i

There is no doubt or debate that Islamic world is lagging far behind others in several important fields including education, science and technology and except a few oil rich Arab nations, it is facing poverty and illiteracy. Also, it lacks sense of unity as some Muslim countries are closer to the West while some are hostile to them. There are grave ideological differences too. Also, Muslims have poor record about human rights situation and especially towards status of women.
Here we propose five suggestions which can be debated and discussed by Muslims. A few can be added or deleted so that Muslims could achieve high status among the nations of the world in all the fields. Muslims have a tendency to invoke past glory what they had achieved during the Abbasid period in the fields of philosophy, science and technology. It is quite natural that when we have nothing to show in present, we, in order to hold our head high, invoke past glories. However, it does not help. 

Before we discuss these suggestions, I would also like to stress here that we are too pre-occupied with theological issues and rush to ulama for fatwas even in fields where they have no skills to guide. Unfortunately the ulama that are trained only in purely theological issues, theology which was evolved during medieval ages, dominate the Islamic world.

That is why so many fatwas are issued and even the Saudi King had to issue an order restraining ulama from issuing fatwas which become subject of controversies and media focus. Too many fatwas of mutually contradictory nature are issued which hardly help resolve modern complicated issues. Islam does not encourage priesthood and certainly not institutionalized priesthood. Despite this it is thriving in the Islamic world.

The first suggestion: Our first suggestions thus in this respect is that the Islamic world commit itself to spread and consolidation of education. The Muslim nations must compulsorily spend at least 2 to 3 percent of its gross national product on education. The very first aim should be universal literacy. Investment in primary education later on pays very rich dividends. Higher education is not possible without primary education. Also, here should be especial emphasis on female education as generally literacy among women is far less that among men.

Also, Muslim nations are far behind in the field of science and technology. At one time west used to learn from Muslims. Today it is Muslim world which is totally dependent on the western world. This needs to be reversed. It would be no exaggeration to say that Muslim world is the most backward as far as progress in science and technology is concerned. Today every nation tries to build centres of excellence. No Muslim country can boast of such centres of excellence in academia and especially in the field of science and technology.

Today oil-rich Arab countries spend billions of dollars buying weapons from America and other western countries but shy away from spending on education of their own people.

The western countries exploit these oil rich nations in two ways; they make super profit by selling these weapons to them and also use these weapons ultimately for their own security in the middle east by establishing military bases. One does not understand why do these Arab nations need such sophisticated weapons? Who are they securing themselves against? Do they expect fellow Arab nations to attack them? If not, why do they need such weapons on which they spend such massive amounts?

Buying such weapons is not only criminal waste of precious resources but also amounts to helping western countries and their arms industries which in turn gets stronger and ultimately helps west to tighten its noose around the Arab world and help Israeli Zionists. One has to break this vicious circle by refusing to buy these weapons and develop weaponry indigenously what is absolutely essential for minimum defence. Also, this money should be spent, instead on fighting illiteracy and on higher education.

Let us remember no Muslim country has won Nobel prize in sciences whereas when Muslim scientists like Abdus Salam, when go and work in US they get the Nobel. There is no research worth the name in science and technology and no facilities for talented scientists in these countries. Let it be resolved by these countries that in the coming quarter of a century at least one of their citizens would be at least nominated for Nobel in the field of science. Also, that at least one of the countries in the west Asia would develop centre of excellence in learning and attract people from all over the world for studies.

If Dubai can become huge international market, why can’t one of the countries in that region also become excellent centres of learning and attract students, researchers and teachers from all over the world?

Unfortunately, for Muslims ‘ilm in Qur’an has come to mean only theological and other worldly and not ‘ilm about this worldly matters. In Qur’an here is invitation for believers to think about Allah’s wonderful creation, about nature, about earth and whole universe and it also emphasizes inductive, as against deductive methodology. Deductive methodology hardly adds to our knowledge whereas inductive one which was used by Francis Beacon in the west developed a lot of new knowledge of nature. In 21st century the Islamic world should consider it its duty and commitment to Qur’an to develop centres of excellence in knowledge and come out of its obsession with theological controversies. Its commitment to Qur’an has to be much deeper and wider than theology, tafsir and hadith.

Religious freedom and tolerance: Qur’an is perhaps the first revealed scripture which made freedom of conscience as divine attribute. Allah, as the story of Adam is narrated in Qur’an mentions, gave freedom even to Satan to mislead human beings and gave freedom to Adam and his progeny to choose between what is right and what is wrong and only warned both of the consequences either way. It is only for Allah to punish or reward not for any human being. However, today we find Muslims most intolerant in matters of religion.

Fatwa culture in Islamic world has become a curse for Muslims. On petty matters of theology or jurisprudence fatwas of kufr are issued and even injunctions are issued to renew one’s Islam and even renew one’s nikah. There are acute prejudices against the other both within religious sects and against non-Muslims. This is all, as pointed out above, because of tremendous influence even disproportionate influence wielded by traditional theologians on Muslim masses.
Traditional ulama’s influence must be contained and restricted to strictly theological matters. Religious tolerance should be accepted as an Islamic duty and as mentioned in Qur’an in Adam’s story and repeated in several places, punishment or reward in doctrinal matters should be left to Allah.

No ‘alim should be allowed to pronounce who is kafir and who is on the right and who is on the wrong path. Also, mutual sectarian differences are so deep and wide that every other sect for these ulama is on wrong path and would be assigned to hell. And in countries like Pakistan where terror culture is widespread every kafir should be killed. Shias are being massacred and Ahmadias and Wahabis kill Barelvis. Where will it lead us to?

What is needed is a new breed of ulama who can rise above such narrow sectarian approach and who have themselves deeply reflected on Qur’an in the light of modern developments in different fields. They should transcend and go beyond medieval theology. The scope of theology should not be limited to matters of otherworldly beliefs as life in this world in Islam is equally important.

We must realize that the theology developed by the great theologians of medieval ages was in response to their needs and situation. We should also understand that theology is a human endeavour as if in partnership with divine and human needs and endeavours can never be eternal. The greatest problem of Islamic world today is that we are treating past theology as eternal as Qur’an itself. As long as we do this we will never change and this is one of the challenges before us. We should not remain stagnant.

We must make our theology dynamic and responsive to modern challenges. Today Muslim theologians must come forward and lead the world in this respect by developing new theologies like theology of peace, theology of environment, liberation theology, third world theology and so on for which Qur’an provides immense guidance. This writer has tried to develop theology of liberation and theology of peace. When one reads Qur’an and reflects on its verses in the light of these challenges one is wonderstruck and begins to think Qur’an is indeed a divine miracle. Unfortunately Muslim theologians are so caught in the past that they are unable to realize the importance of Qur’an.

For this what is needed is religious freedom and tolerance. Religious freedom is very fundamental to the Qur’an and no genuine faith (imaan) is possible without genuine freedom of conscience.

To be continued in the next issue

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 December 2011 on page no. 29

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