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Muslim Predicament in the post-colonial era - 3
by Dr. Habib Siddiqui
2012-03-17 10:10:19
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So, where shall Muslims start? What should be their strategy or game plan towards rejuvenation, let alone arresting their decadence in the 21st century? In what follows I propose three major areas that need to be prioritized for transforming the pathetic state of the Muslim world.

1. Education

The main reason behind the success of early Muslims rested in their seeking knowledge where it was evident and also from places where it was hidden. In this regard, the attitude that they instilled was a never satiated thirst, which followed the Prophetic Traditions: “A Muslim is never satiated in his quest for good (knowledge) till it ends in paradise.” [Tirmizi: narrated by Abu Sa'eed al-Khudri (RA)] “One who treads a path in search of knowledge has his path to Paradise made easy by Allah thereby.” [Muslim: Abu Hurayrah (RA)] “To seek knowledge for one hour at night is better than keeping it (night) awake.” [Darimi: Abdullah ibn Abbas (RA)]

Those Muslims did not shy away from translating and learning from others in the best of the Prophetic Traditions: “The word of wisdom is [like] the lost property of a wise man. So wherever he finds it, he is entitled to it.” [Tirmizi: Abu Hurayrah (RA)]

When others were hesitant to do experiments to check their hypotheses, they courageously filled the vacuum. In that they were true to the Prophetic dictate: “Knowledge is a treasure house whose keys are queries.” [Mishkat and Abu Na’im: Ali (RA)]

At a personal level, all Muslims must act upon the celebrated hadith of Prophet Muhammad (S): “The search of knowledge is an obligation laid on every Muslim.”

He (S) also said, “A learned person is superior to a worshipper as the full moon is superior to all the stars. The scholars are heirs of the prophets and the prophets do not leave any inheritance in the shape of dirhams and dinars, but they do leave knowledge as their legacy. As such a person who acquires knowledge acquires his full share.” [Abu Dawud and Tirmizi]

Sadly, today’s Muslims seek wealth more than they know how to even spend it.  In spite of all the wealth that Allah (SWT) has bestowed on them, they have failed to create a single respectable institution of higher learning. Ali (RA) was once asked what was better: wealth or knowledge. He said, “Knowledge is superior to wealth for ten reasons:

(i) Knowledge is the legacy of the prophets. Wealth is the inheritance of the Pharaohs. Therefore, knowledge is better than wealth.

(ii) You are to guard your wealth but knowledge guards you. So knowledge is better.

(iii) A man of wealth has many enemies while a man of knowledge has many friends. Hence knowledge is better.

(iv) Knowledge is better because it increases with distribution, while wealth decreases by that act.

(v) Knowledge is better because a learned man is apt to be generous while a wealthy person is apt to be miserly.

(vi) Knowledge is better because it cannot be stolen while wealth can be stolen.

(vii) Knowledge is better because time cannot harm knowledge, but wealth rusts in course of time and wears away.

(viii) Knowledge is better because it is boundless while wealth is limited and you can keep account of it.

(ix) Knowledge is better because it illuminates the mind while wealth is apt to blacken it.

(x) Knowledge is better because knowledge induced the humanity in our Prophet to say to Allah, "We worship Thee as we are Your servant," while wealth engendered in Pharaoh and Nimrod the vanity which made them claim Godhead.”

What wisdom! Yet, most Muslims these days are dispassionate about seeking knowledge. Why? Do they know what Imam Ibn Hazm (R) - the great Spanish Muslim theologian, jurist and poet - said? He said, “If knowledge had no other merit than to make the ignorant fear and respect you, and scholars love and honor you, this would be good enough reason to seek after it… If ignorance had no other fault than to make the ignorant man jealous of knowledgeable men and jubilant at seeing more people like himself, this by itself would be reason enough to oblige us to feel it… If knowledge and the action of devoting oneself to it had no purpose except to free the man who seeks it from the exhausting anxieties and many worries which afflict the mind, that alone would certainly be enough to drive us to seek knowledge.

I only wish that his remarks would wake Muslims up to seeking and mastering knowledge.

Muslims should also ponder over the statement made by Mu’adh ibn Jabal (RA): “Acquire knowledge for the pleasure of Allah, for learning engenders piety, reverence for one’s Lord and fear of wrongdoing. Seeking knowledge for Allah’s pleasure is an act of worship, studying it is a celebration of God’s glory (lit. Zikr), searching for it is a rewarding struggle (lit. Jihad), teaching it to someone who realizes its worth is a charity (lit. Sadaqa), and applying it in one’s home strengthens family unity and kinship. … Knowledge is a comforting friend in times of loneliness. It is the best companion to a traveler. It is the innermost friend who speaks to you in your privacy. Knowledge is your most effective sword against your foe, and finally, it is your most dignifying raiment in the company of your close comrades.” [Hilyat’ul Awliya Wa Tabaqat’ul Asfiya]

Similarly, Sharafuddin Maneri (R) said, “Knowledge is the fountainhead of all happiness, just as ignorance is the starting point of all wretchedness. Salvation comes from knowledge, destruction from ignorance.” [Maktubat-i Sadi]

The next series of questions Muslims must ask is – what kind of knowledge should they seek? Is it only science/ engineering/ medicine/ technology – in which they lag badly? Or, is it in the area of social sciences? What kinds of skills should they develop? Is it desirable to have a brilliant and yet a Godless psychopath behind a nuclear button? I fear not.

The Muslim community must ensure that their educational system allows for grooming of a conscious human being first before turning him/her into a scientific genius. Scientific discoveries and technological breakthroughs must be dictated by Islamic ethics and morality.

As such, they must ensure that their children are raised properly and that they learn from role models of piety, honesty, self-sacrifice and generosity.

2. Quality of leadership and shared responsibility:

The quality of leadership on the top matters. In the early days of Islam, Muslim rulers were not only the great patrons of learning they were great scholars themselves. They surrounded themselves with learned men: philosophers, legal experts, traditionalists, theologians, lexicographers, annalists, poets, mathematicians, scientists, engineers, architects and doctors. Scholars held high ranks in their courts.

In the post-colonial era, sadly, most governments in the Muslim nation-states have been despotic who did not practice the Qur’anic dictum about ‘shura bainahum,’ requiring consultation and/or representation from the people. Worse yet, these governments have often times been puppets of foreign powers. With the Arab Spring that started in Tunisia, things are, however, changing for the better. People have overcome their fear of the murderous regimes. It is only a question of time when Bashar al-Asad will also be toppled by the Syrian people.

Muslims must ensure that they have responsive governments that are honest, just and mindful of their obligations, and are held accountable for their deeds. They must ensure good governance, safety and prosperity of their people. They must see to it that their governments promote meritocracy and not sycophancy.

Like agriculture, education sector should be prioritized high in the state budget so that they can build world-class institutions of higher learning.

Many a time Muslim students can’t apply the skills/knowledge that they learned in schools. This is especially true in the field of science and engineering where scientists and engineers always seek environments conducive to their research, and this gives an enormous advantage to places where academic freedom is guaranteed. Because of such a flawed environment today in the Muslim world, the brightest minds naturally are draining out of their respective countries, only to settle (with very few exceptions) in more prosperous western countries, where they can apply their talents and skills appositely. Unless Muslim governments can stop this ‘brain-drain’ phenomenon they will never be able to catch up with more developed and prosperous nations. It is worth noting here that the post-World War II technological success and ensuing prosperity in the USA owes mostly to its brilliant immigrant scientists and engineers.

Let me again quote here from Carli Fiorina, who said, “Leaders like Suleiman [the magnificent] contributed to our notions of tolerance and civic leadership. And perhaps we can learn a lesson from his example: It was leadership based on meritocracy, not inheritance. It was leadership that harnessed the full capabilities of a very diverse population - that included Christianity, Islamic, and Jewish traditions. This kind of enlightened leadership - leadership that nurtured culture, sustainability, diversity and courage - led to 800 years of invention and prosperity.”

Will Muslim leaders take heed and amend their actions? If they can’t attract their expatriates to return, let alone outsiders, can they at least stop the brain-drain phenomenon by retaining the best? Are they committed to creating a society that attracts the good ones and filters out the bad ones?

While the Muslim governments surely have a foremost obligation towards patronizing academic institutions from primary to tertiary levels, their wealthy ones should not be oblivious of their own duties towards creating prestigious private institutions like the Stanford University. There, too, the quality of education must take precedence over profit motivation. In today’s America, outside UC Berkeley, all the top 10 schools are private universities. The Muslim world needs its Warren Buffets and Bill Gates to step forward to pay their dues to the very society that has enriched them.

3. Going beyond the expected:

As I hinted above, Muslims are far behind in every field of learning. While their counterparts have gone to the moon and have sent the Hubble Telescope to provide information about our universe, most Muslim governments in poor countries are finding it hard to reach to their villages. Simply going with the flow or doing just the bare minimum is not sufficient to close this widening gap, especially in the area of technology. If their counterparts are going at a speed of a bike, Muslims must try to go at a speed of a motor car; if they are going at a speed of a motor car, Muslims must try to go at a speed of an airplane to close this gap. Simply put, Muslim strategy ought to be - going beyond the normal call of duty, doing extra things. To elucidate this point, let me here close with a story from the Prophet’s time.

Talha bin 'Ubaidullah (RA) narrated that a man from Najd with unkempt hair came to Allah's Apostle and we heard his loud voice but could not understand what he was saying, till he came near and then we came to know that he was asking about Islam. Allah's Apostle said, "You have to offer prayers perfectly five times in a day and night (24 hours)." The man asked, "Is there any more (praying)?" Allah's Apostle replied, "No, but if you want to offer the Nawafil (extra) prayers (you can)." Allah's Apostle further said to him: "You have to observe fasts during the month of Ramadan." The man asked, "Is there any more fasting?" Allah's Apostle replied, "No, but if you want to observe the Nawafil fasts (you can.)" Then Allah's Apostle further said to him, "You have to pay the Zakat (obligatory charity)." The man asked, "Is there any thing other than the Zakat for me to pay?" Allah's Apostle replied, "No, unless you want to give alms of your own." And then that man retreated saying, "By Allah! I will neither do less nor more than this." Allah's Apostle said, "If what he said is true, then he will be successful (i.e. he will be granted Paradise)." [Bukhari]

Here in this hadith lies the formula for rejuvenating the Muslim nation.

Are they ready to take up on this arduous task to reclaim their lost heritage?


Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3

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