Pakistani academician’s situation is reflective of the moral and intellectual crisis prevailing in most parts of the Muslim world
THE genesis of Western Civilization lies in the religion of Israel, culture of Greece and laws of Rome. Western Civilization has continuously experimented with institutions, ideas, new scientific beliefs, new forms of political order. This continuous tradition of reinvention and experiment led to enlightenment, to democracy, to social orders which believe in freedom of speech and opinion, freedom of religion and clear distinction between religious clergy and politics.
Pervez Hoodbhoy, a well known physicist in Pakistan was recently caught in controversy. Some of his statements of late were asking for trouble. I knew something was brimming underneath. Finally the apprehension came true. His university refused to renew his contract for next year. Happens often in our part of the world. Ultimately, however, it’s the state’s own loss and that of its people. Hoodbhoy will be welcomed by any top university in the West. He will be another addition to Sub-continent’s growing forced immigration.
Why have Muslims closed the doors to reason and science. Why is that a civilization which rose with such abundance of energy in the seventh century Hejaz, and which spread across Africa and Far East to produce universities, libraries and a rule of law, in so many places is mute and resentful. Averse to ideas of science and civil liberties.
If the heart of Islam looked towards Mecca, its brain looked towards Cairo, Istanbul and Tehran. In that case, any development in Egypt’s political capital has far reaching consequences on entire Muslim world. When in 1981 Anwar Sadat was assassinated by his own guards, it was a triumph of takfiri Islam, which declares impious or unjust Muslims to be deserving of death- a basic precept behind many of today’s militant groups. The actual story though goes a little back in time.
The downfall of Islamic civilization started almost around 12th century. By then many factions had developed, none more bigger than the Shias with the rise of Safavid dynasty in Persia in later centuries. Cataclysmic events like the Crusades, the Mongol invasion led to doubt and turmoil in Muslim world. A consequent internal struggle led to defeat of Islam’s philosophical thinkers at the hands of their purist opponents. Rationalism was seen as a culprit. In the words of Imam Ghazali and Ibn Taymiyyah, the goal of the believer was not to know God, but to obey him. It was a master-slave relationship, far different to what earlier Muslim thinkers like Ibn Rushd and Ibn Sina saw it as.
The moral and intellectual crisis in the Muslim world led to its turning back on philosophy and taking refuge in dogma. The Ash’rite sect in Muslim found a potent voice in Imam Ghazali (died in 1111), a brilliant philosopher and theologian. As per him the human reason teaches us to ask questions, discover things, and to make new laws for better governance. For Al Ghazali the reason was enemy of Islam. In his celebrated tractate, The Incoherence of Philosophers, al Ghazali set out to show that reason, enshrined in the writings of Western philosophers like Plato and Aristotle leads to nothing but darkness. His arguments were soundly refuted by Ibn Rushd in his The Incoherence of the Incoherence, but it was that moment of reckoning where Muslims turned to Ash’rite doctrine. Ibn Rushd was sent from Andalusia into exile, and the voice of reason was heard no more in the courts of Sunni Muslim rulers.
The assault on philosophy went hand-in-hand with an equally determined assault on law and jurisprudence. The early Islamic jurists had sought to arbitrate Quran and Traditions with demands of justice, and had developed a system of law which could be applied in developing circumstances of social life. The interpretation of the law was subject to study and amendment by individual effort called Ijtihad. However, in the 11th century of our era, it became accepted that ‘the gate of Ijtihad is closed’ – as al-Ghazali himself declared. Since then no new interpretations of the law can be entertained and what seemed right in 12th century Baghdad or Cairo, is right for 21st century as well.
Over time as Islamic civilization was taken over by European Renaissance in 14th century, the decadence was visible in Muslim world. While West was advancing on ideas of reason and science, by early 20th century, the last Muslim Caliphate fell in Turkey sending Muslim world again in introspection. Following the credo of cause and effect, there rose a movement of Islamic revivalism in Cairo, led by Hassan-al Bana. He and later his disciple Syed Qutb, were fundamentally students of Imam Ghazali and Ibn Taymiyyah. They believed Islam as a total system, meaning classical Western concepts of separation of church from state did not apply to Muslim world.
In his seminal work Milestones, Syed Qutb widely criticizes West, blaming it for complete annihilation of humanity and vital values. He stressed on new world leadership. His growing obsession with ‘Jahiliyah‘- the non-Muslims and calls for renunciation of everything that belongs to Jahili environment was problematic from the onset.
However, like in 12th century, Syed Qutb found followers in abundance across Muslim world and to the day continues to pull weight among young Muslims. His works are widely distributed among Muslim diaspora in the West- whose existential crisis is fed by likes of Syed Qutb.
By drawing the curve of Islamic civilization, it is very clear how its medieval glory proved its ability to generate new ideas, leading to wider cause of human development. Science and experiments were at the core of its civilization. By reading Prophet Muhammad’s life, it becomes clear on many occasions that this was his purpose. Unfortunately the later decline owes to the shunning of those basic ideas. This was not what Islam had taught. There is in fact a Quranic verse that shows God’s displeasure at an inactive mind. “The worst of creatures for Allah are deaf, dumb, those who will not reason.”
- Faheem Gundroo is a ICT Engineer based in Dubai, with interest in travel, history and current affairs and can be reacher at [email protected]
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