A Lie


If there has been a debacle, it is not the `Ulama, or the clergy, or Islam, which bear the responsibility for lack in progress, but the elites, elitists, and the classes educated on Western patterns – who have traditionally laid the blame on Islam and its representatives, writes SYED IQBAL ZAHEER.

This refers to the talk criticizing a Mufti for saying that he keeps “science at the tip of his shoes.”(Editorial, July 2019). The criticism is apt. Such statements send the message to the common folk that – Islamically–this is how science is to be treated. The critic’s statement that if the Mufti Saheb rejects science, he may, as well, abandon his car and ride a horse –is also apt. To say that the statement of the Mufti is a scandal, is, to say the least. It is his status that prevents us from going any further.

The critic (of the Mufti’s statement) goes on to assert that neglect of modern knowledge is the main cause of this Ummah’s backwardness. He does not define either knowledge or backwardness. We do not agree with the definition of backwardness commonly given. But of that, further elaboration might come from us, some other time, Allah willing. Further, the statement about knowledge is, perhaps, only partly true. Partly, because it is not ‘any knowledge’ that can be counted as a factor in the life of a people. The presence, or absence, of Islamic knowledge, plays a vital role. What is known to the thinkers of Islam as the ‘mundane’ knowledge, (or the profane knowledge) cannot be regarded as the determining factor. But about this, too, we might write a line or two later.

As for ‘backwardness,’ then, taken for granted that it is material backwardness that is meant, this statement is, again, only partly true. There are other factors which have played their role. We shall not go into the details for the moment, instead deal with another remark of the critic, namely: the religious class is responsible for Muslim’s material backwardness. It is hard to accept this opinion.

A few questions arise. The opinion that Islam and its representatives are the cause of Muslim backwardness is as old an allegation, as old the Muslim power decline has been. A date is hard to fix. But a couple of hundred years seems to be reasonable. That was the time when guns were introduced for the first time into the armed forces of the Turkish Khilafah. Muslim soldiers refused to use them against their enemies (well-armed with the new fire-weapons) on grounds that it was cowardice to kill someone from a distance. They believed that the demand of chivalry was that you met the enemy face to face, to clash in a fair fight, and then, only after overpowering him you took his life, or he overcame you and did you off. They preferred to fight with traditional weapons.

It was after several defeats that the Turkish soldier felt convinced that it was the ‘coward’ who was winning the battles. They realized that the enemy had introduced the strategy of distant-killing as a weapon, as against their own strategy of observing rules of chivalry. But the realization came late.

The late acceptance of the importance of guns in place of swords was a costly delay. By the time guns came to be accepted, their enemy had increased the range of its guns, in addition to introducing larger artillery that could kill in mass. The advantage of time gained could never be overcome, and chivalry never came to be mentioned again. With the removal of the word from dictionaries, no one could put the word to use. When the Americans started to bomb Iraq, doing it for thirteen years, killing everyone in range, civilian men, women, children, and animals, before its ‘brave’ soldiers would set foot on Iraqi soil, no one would use the word to say that this was no chivalry, but rather, barbarism.

Now, what was the role played in this by Islam or of its scholars? They were unaware of the enemy’s removal of many other words from their dictionaries along with ‘chivalry’ such as, ‘fair play, gallantry, disapproval of killing women and children in warfare, of bombing hospitals, places of worship,’ and so forth. Muslim scholars were– to be precise– ‘old-fashioned’ – to be using these terms.

Since then, piercing the heart of atoms in atom-smashers for developing nuclear bombs, space research for star-wars, study of the behavior of gasses for mass killing, and a variety of ‘distant-killing’ methods has been largely funded – in the West– by the military. The technological progress is only a byproduct of the sciences. It has gone on ‘progressing’ in weaponry and mass-destruction methods, while, try the Muslim world however much, it could never catch up, apart from the fact that without the military-funded research they have denied themselves technological progress also. Backwardness, as understood by the critic, and sometimes even by the religious leaders also, is a natural consequence.

Islam has had little role to play in this struggle of leadership. It has been denied its role for centuries. Little has been learned from the Prophet’s struggle and his statement that, “(In matters of warfare) we do not seek help of the pagans.” Instead, a section of the Ummahtoday prefers to sub-contract its war efforts to its enemies. Many others ignore the Qur’anic direction: “And prepare for them (and their crusades) so far as possible with power…”

To revert to the role of the scholars, we may look behind the slogans that ‘the scholar are responsible for,’ as the critic alleges, ‘the backwardness of the Ummah.’ This is only an imaginary allegation, notwithstanding the Mufti Saheb’s personal choice of phrases and idioms, for expressing his disapproval of ‘love of this world.’ He speaks the language of the masses. This allegation is about two centuries old, and to correct the situation, Sir Syed concluded (in 1890s), that whatever in the past, presently it was neglect of modern education which has played an important role in Muslim decline.

Accordingly, he set up a college to offer modern education to the new generations. The Muslim youth hastened to join. Soon, the college became a university. Batch after batch, graduates started pouring out. Other institutions followed. By now, there are hundreds of these colleges and universities in India alone, and thousands over the Muslim world. Their options have also expanded. In addition, the young enroll in government-run universities also. There is no discipline in which one or another university does not offer as a course of study.

The madrasas that offer higher Islamic education, on the other hand, suffered reversals (not Maktabs for children, which have multiplied). Enrollments into higher Madrasas have declined. The quality too, of students in madrasas has suffered loss. Talented, promising young men refuse to enroll with Madrasas.

The enrollment in these Madrasas is now limited to the kind the Prophet (saws) had predicted:

“Knowledge will be with your evil ones (or rogues).”

A harsh statement, but true.

By now, not thousands, but millions, have come out of universities as graduates. Among the middle class, there is no home but boasts of at least one graduate. Doctors, engineers, architects, and so on, have been produced in such numbers, that they are now in good surplus.

So, the question that can be legitimately asked is: after the leadership of the Ummah has been wrested away by the so-called modern educated classes, leaving only rituals, mosques and Madrasas to the `Ulama, then, why is it that the Ummahis still backward? Is the defunct religious leadership responsible for this, or the modern educated class which handles all affairs that matters most?

Politics, finance, military, administration, education, research, agriculture, industry and the media are firmly in the hands of the university-educated, while religious leadership is denied any control. Far from playing any role, the religious leadership now plays their role: their own children enroll in secular educational institutes; while the father works in a Madrasa, the sons study in universities.

Leaving out the slum-dwellers, the rest of the classes are recruited for the cause of material progress. But progress is still dangling before him, her, and, everyone.

If there has been a debacle, it is not the `Ulama, or the clergy, or Islam, which bear the responsibility for lack in progress, but the elites, elitists, and the classes educated on Western patterns –who have traditionally laid the blame on Islam and its representatives.

So too, the suggestion, often heard, that, if the religious leadership is also educated on modern lines, the Ummah will progress, is false. If the system did no good to the millions, it will do no good to the thousands.

We need then, to search for true causes of Ummah’s decline. In the meantime, weneed to admitthat the allegation that the Maulavi class is responsible for the Ummah’s backwardness, is a lie.

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