Islamic Perspectives

Ulama - a strategy for change - ii

Theology and scientific knowledge are not antagonistic or mutually exclusive in Islam, Instead, one leads to the other and strengthens the other.
By Yawar Baig

If the sequence that the Qur’an teaches is followed, then Mankind has no alternative but to recognize Allah in His creations and to exclaim in wonder and amazement at the Majesty of the Creator:  “O Our Lord! Not for nothing have you created this. Glory to You. Give us salvation from the penalty of the Fire.”

On the other hand, when science is taught from an atheistic or secular perspective, as if there is no Creator, then it perpetuates this lie. Students get confused. Their basic questions can’t be answered. They confuse the “Why” with the “How”. They fail to learn the purpose behind the created thing and remain engrossed in its nature. This can lead to an irreligious attitude and an alienation from Islam and the message of Allah. Unfortunately our Ulama due to their own ignorance of science and technology looked at these branches of knowledge with suspicion and did not even think of becoming its teachers in the Qur’anic way. Secularists on the other hand taught science from an atheistic perspective and the division between the average Muslim and Ulama widened.

Strategy for the future: The time has come, however, where it is essential for Ulama all over the world to realize their real responsibility and arise to take up the mantle of leadership once again. This paper is respectfully submitted for consideration and lists the changes that I believe are necessary to make if the Ulama of Islam are once again to get the prominence and influence that they had in early Islamic history.

1. Change in mindset:
Accept the burden of leadership of the Ummah and the world in all aspects of social, economic, political and personal life. This will involve a lot of soul searching and a major change in the way of thinking and ownership of collective responsibility. I believe, however, that no matter how difficult this may seem to be, without a conscious decision to change our positioning, nothing can be achieved.

2.   Change in image:
Thoughtfully and aggressively change the current image of Ulama as being people who have nothing to do with this world. Become au fait with international norms, etiquette, behaviour. Network globally with other Islamic and secular universities and research bodies. Participate in teacher exchange programmes with them. Network with the media and become spokespeople for the global media. Actively work to create media channels to promote Islamic interests. Become visible in the media in all social interest activity. Make our seminaries and Madrasahs centers of excellence in all aspects; scholastically, socially, environmentally and in terms of their facilities. Demonstrate excellence in all aspects of life and behaviour in our teaching institutions which must become role models for all teaching institutions.  

3. Correcting the Aqa’id of Muslims:
No good can come to a people who are steeped in bida’at and shirk. So the first action step will be to establish Tawheed in all aspects of life and to eradicate all shirk and bida’at from the life of the Muslims. Muslims must be brought to the Qur’an and Sunnah and a clear strong message must be sent out against all that goes contrary to this. Ulama need to stand up for what is wrong and un-Islamic in all aspects of social and family life, especially in customs relating to marriages, birth and death ceremonies and other customs that have crept into Muslim society. They must speak out against israaf and wrongful spending and work towards the disbursement of wealth through zakat and sadaqaat to the poor.

4.   Focus on the Core Purpose of teaching.  We must make two inalienable rules:
1.  All teachers will have a Teachers Training qualification
All current teachers must be put on a time-bound development plan to acquire a TTC or a B.Ed degree. In most secular schools this is already the rule. But it is not applied in any of our Madrasahs. It is a strange and sad fact that to teach in a government village school a teacher must at least have a TTC but to teach in the most prestigious Islamic school he needs nothing.

Our network of Madrasahs and seminaries across the country which are all run by funds generated internally within this poor community are an unacknowledged and unappreciated service to the Indian Nation. Instead of being appreciated, this effort is laughed at by people who have no understanding of what goes on. The Ulama who literally sacrifice their careers and dedicate their entire lives to stay in inaccessible villages to teach the children of parents who are often too poor even to feed their children, are abused and maligned, most cruelly at the hands of our own Muslim intellectual community. So what do these Ulama do? They not only teach the children, but they also feed and clothe them. It is an amazing system where these poor children are completely taken care of in every respect, taught and raised and then at age 15 or so, they either go to a higher school of learning or they go into the world.

I challenge all those who criticize Ulama and Madrasahs to come with me and I will take them to Madrasahs in places where they would not dream of spending one single night and show them Ulama who are spending their entire lives so that some children may learn to read and write. But nobody can do more than his own capability. So they teach what they know. And since others only criticize them without any real offers of help, the situation does not change.

The Government of India owes an enormous debt of gratitude to the Muslims and their scholars who spend scarce funds and work in unimaginable conditions for salaries that are lower than the lowest in the regular school network. Nobody to the best of my knowledge has seen these facts of the Madrassa education system in this light nor presented it in this way to the world. It is high time that we made this clear to all concerned that Madrasahs and the Ulama of Islam are doing a huge service to the nation for which they must be given at least a standing ovation in Parliament and more fairly compensated and helped with all resources. There is a converse side to this, however. It is something that is a clear indicator of the lack of cooperation between the intellectual/business community and the Ulama. If we could get this cooperation going in a meaningful way (not simply by giving of donations but by active involvement) it would change the face of the Indian Muslim community worldwide.

It is amazing that 4% of our population (12 million Muslim children) study in Madrasahs but not a single one of them is exposed to a trained teacher who understands child psychology or is exposed to new teaching methods and tools. No wonder that the quality of teaching is so erratic and in most cases very poor and the only “teaching tool” that the teachers and children are most familiar with is the stick. I’m not surprised that every occasion that I have, to address teachers from our Madrasahs and I make the comment that in the West in general and in the USA in particular it is legally a crime for a teacher to hit a child and the teacher will immediately be arrested, I get looks of incredulous disbelief. Most of us simply don’t seem to know how else to teach without abusing the self-esteem of our children.

On several occasions I have been invited to address the graduating class of students in several ‘big name’ Madrasahs in India and other countries (run by Indian Ulama) with these words: “Please help them to get some self-confidence. They seem to have an inferiority complex.” My unasked question is, “Did they all come to you with inferiority complexes or is it 7-10 years of your tarbiyyah which has done this to them?” But being more interested in making a positive impact on them than on scoring a point with their teachers, I never verbalize this comment and try to do what I can to undo 7-10 years of damage in a couple of hours. I dearly wish I did not have to do this. In contrast when I address students from secular universities, especially in the West, I am struck by their high level of confidence. And indeed that is what should happen. We want our young people to believe that they can do great things. We want them to dream big dreams. We want them to change the world. And they will never do that if they live in an environment that destroys their creativity, talent, confidence and self-esteem. All our schools, religious and secular do this to some degree and this must be stopped.

How we teach is, if anything, more important than what we teach. I don’t want to juxtapose one against the other as both are important. I just want to emphasize the importance of the one which tends to get discounted.

2.  There must be practical classes for every subject
Move the current focus from preservation of knowledge to application of knowledge. We are currently like a library of automobile engineering books. But we all walk to work. We need to create the factories that can actually translate the knowledge in the books into cars on the street. Our focus has to shift from mere memorization of ahadith to their application in real life today. Our challenge is to show by actual practice how our Islamic Way of Life is superior to every other way and makes a person a winner in both this life and the next. We have to show how practicing the Islamic Way is actually superior in this life. We have to demonstrate the superiority of the Islamic Way to non-believers and to ordinary Muslims. Like sugar which is sweet no matter who uses it, the Islamic Way must be shown to work wonders for all those who use it even if they are not believers.

Continued in the next issue

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-30 June 2010 on page no. 36

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