Locating the Rise and Fall of Muslim Intellectualism

Decadence of Muslim Intellectualism: Reasons, Ramifications and Remedies, Tauseef Ahmad Parray (New Delhi: Viva Books, 2019) ISBN:9789390054930 Pages:224

By Mir Basit

TODAY’S world is one with global Islamophobia justifying violence against Muslims all over the world. Owing to this, our world is filled with semiotics and representation that inevitably justifies anti-Muslim racism. This predicament is so rampant that even Muslims may inadvertently internalise such misrepresentations and ultimately sabotage their own identity. Amidst this climate, Dr Tauseef Ahmad Parray’s book “Decandence of Muslim Intellectualism” (2021,Viva Books) serves as a timely intervention in engaging with the history of Muslims but more importantly, at the level of Knowledge.

Dr Parray’s book deals with the contemporary challenges that Muslims face in the philosophical circles that are predominantly western. In this intervention, he plays a pivotal role by first identifying the rich global period of “Muslim intellectualism”. He goes onto the address the contemporary intellectual challenges, internal as well as external,  that the Muslim world is facing at the global level. The transition of "Muslim Intellectualism" from its golden period (till 13th century) to the darkest days of decay that have persisted, have been discussed at length in the book. The reasons for this transition such as the fragmentation owing to external factors and internal strifes have all been predicated as the primary reasons behind the grim situation that the Muslim world is facing today.

However, this critique and lament is not without the acknowledgement of the fertile history of Muslims and their contribution in every sphere and their monumental achievements.

The book contains eight chapters: The first three chapters focus on the importance of attaining knowledge ('Ilm) in the light of the Quranic Text and Prophetic Traditions and Muslim Intellectual contribution from its formative to Golden Age in different spheres of life, viz. science and technology, philosophical sciences and various other branches where Muslims excelled at par. It was during the ' Golden age' that an immaculate and strong education system was established, of which even the west was full of acknowledgement. Major Islamic centres like Baghdad, Spain were considered as the great centres of learning or 'Centres of the civilised world' which illuminated the world through its reasoning, knowledge and inventions and discoveries.

What happened after this?

This is answered in "What (and Where) Went Wrong", a significant chapter of this book that explains in detail the causes of intellectual decadence and the fall of the Muslim empire. The end of the golden era resulted in the shift of intellectualism and transfer of power to the west and kept receding away from the Muslim ummah. The primary reason which gave a serious blow, as the author points out, was the" bifurcation of knowledge into religious and worldly science, though neither the Quran nor the prophetic traditions used such terms". He also mentions on the authority of various scholars that Islam does not admit the division of education into religious and secular;  it is a misconception and such a division is "against the spirit of Islam". Therefore, the solution lies in merging both as an indivisible whole" (p.35).

It was the fragmentation, as a result, which aided in widening the gap between intellectual development and backwardness of the Muslim ummah, along with intellectual collapse. After that, the events of colonialism didn't do a favour too.

The distorted position of ummah led to less interest and minimal resource allocation for the educational setup and research field, which exclusively worked against their favour and the author puts it as: "A lack of financial resources and incentives has been a major barrier to research except in some oil-rich states. Whereas Japan, the United States, Germany, and other Western countries spend 2 per cent or more of their gross domestic product (GDP) annually on research, no Muslim country spends more than 0.50 per cent of its (much lower) GDP on research." (p. 53)

Another significant chapter provides a description of some "Islamic research institutes" & "Think tanks" working all over the Muslim world while contemplating it with the facts of the west, whose expenditure on this field is immense and the results are quite evident where the USA owes a maximum number of think tanks in the world and ostensibly the whole Islamic world doesn't even come close to half of its numbers.

The sad state of affairs is their low count. Ironically, what is being done is only the tip of the iceberg, while the demands are enormous. The dearth of these Institutes present a fair view of our backwardness and at the same time ringing an alarm bell of 'what needs to be done' on a concrete basis.

The concluding part of the book comes with some 'remedies' and 'hope' which have been voiced by dedicated scholars and researchers all over the globe as "remedial measures" to be implemented on an immediate basis. The author also throws light on internal issues prevailing in the ummah, and to counter the contemporary challenges he puts forth his 'Five D's theory'. Lastly, He sums up the remedial measures with the '5 points remedial formula', which he believes will prove as a light at the end of the dark tunnel, provided we are determined to move out of the tunnel and adamant to see a shift from a deep slumber to rich intellectualism.

The book elucidates the author's emancipated and unbiased outlook, deep research and analysis which is evident from various references and quotes of renowned intellectuals(Muslims and non-Muslims). It deserves due credit and accolades for being fearless and pointing to the bundle of blunders owning to the shift towards Muslim backwardness in intellectualism. The road to ramifications, which he mentions is tough but at the same time equally prominent and vital in bringing the ummah from backwardness to excellence.

Therefore, the book is a necessary read insofar as it provides muslims a chance to relook the past that they were indoctrinated to believe as though it were a vacuum. This is poignantly summed up in this statement which endorses the book as a manifesto of change for muslims world over: "The need of the hour is to learn lessons from the past legacy, to give a rethought on 'what went wrong', and to take steps for a 'Radical reform' in academic and intellectual aspects--the backbone of a civilization"

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