Quran: Complete and Perfect Guidance

Because a Western education trains us to believe in wrong definitions of knowledge and success, Muslims today find it very hard to understand — let alone believe — the Quran:
Qur’an, 5:3 :This day have I perfected for you your religion and completed my favor on you and chosen for you Islam as a religion.
The standard interpretation of this verse is that the Quran offers us complete and perfect guidance — for all times to come. But eyes dazzled by the brilliance of Western knowledge will immediately object to this interpretation. The Quran does NOT teach us any mathematics, chemistry, physics, computer science, or any of the branches of knowledge we are learning in our universities — how can it possibly provide us with complete guidance?
To answer this question, it is first necessary to understand the meaning of “guidance”. Guidance refers to knowledge of the GOALS — where we need to go. It does not refer to the struggle and effort required to get to the goal — this part has been left up to the human being. To illustrate this point, suppose I ask someone about where should I go? There are many possible destinations, and I do not know which one to choose. Suppose he tells me that the best possible destination is Rome, and he tells me that it is due North. That is complete guidance as to the goal. I been saved from a tremendous amount of effort. I do not need to travel to Timbuktu, Shanghai, Bogota, or New York to learn about the different destinations and evaluate their merits — this is guidance.  Now the specific details of how to get to Rome have been left up to me. If there is a river in the way, then I need to figure out how to get across it.
Another way to understand the same point is that the specific details vary with time and place, and these have been left up-to us, while general time invariant principles for guidance have been completely given to us. For example, we are suppose to defend the Muslims against attacks from others. In a certain era, this might involve learning the use of bows and arrows, in others, use of guns and artillery, and in others it might involve learning how to build forts and castles.  These details are not provided in the Quran because, as a part our test in this World, we have to struggle to meet these challenges on our own.   As another example of this logic, consider the Quranic order to feed the poor. This tells us what we need to do, but does not tell us how. It might be that hydroponics, or genetic engineering of crops, would be needed to do this job. In that case, we would be perfectly justified in studying these techniques from Western educational institutes, in the process of carrying out the orders — we could even consider learning these techniques as being something REQUIRED by Islam at this time, in order to fulfill the commands of the Quran.
Once we understand this, then the importance and value of the message of the Quran becomes much clear. The FIRST question all of us must struggle with is “What is the meaning of life?” The few moments that we have on this Earth are extremely precious — HOW should we spend them, to make the most of this time? Without answering this question, the chances are we will end up wasting our lives, not knowing what we were supposed to do with it. If you will reflect upon your Western education, you will see that there is NO MENTION of purpose in all of it. No matter how much chemistry, biology, physics, or mathematics you learn, it will not teach you how to live. This is why “Islamic Knowledge is Still Revolutionary After 1440 Years !” — it teaches us what is worth living for and what is worth dying for — whereas Western education does not give us any clue about these questions, which are of central importance in our lives.
Very briefly, Islam teaches us that all human beings have been created with infinite potential to achieve amazing heights — that is why the Quran tells us that human beings have been created in the best of molds, and that saving one life is equivalent to saving the lives of ALL human beings. This means that POTENTIALLY, we all have been built with the capability to change the tides of history, and affect the lives of billions. SO the purpose of life is to achieve this potential, and all our struggles and sacrifice should be focused on how to develop this potential within us. Unfortunately, our Western education gives us no hint of this — instead, it teaches us the harmful and poisonous lesson that the goal of our life is to earn money. In particular, economics is all about the accumulation of wealth, as the goal of life. This sells our lives too cheaply, and is extremely harmful as a goal.
It is only in the light of this understanding that we can understand Islamic Economics. Before we discuss economics, we must consider what the PURPOSE of an economic system is. In particular, we are supposed to use the material wealth that we have been given to create positive change within ourselves and within others. For our own spiritual progress, we are supposed to give away the things that we love the most. Conventional Western economics CONFLICTS with the primary commandments and instructions of the Quran. The Quran tells us NOT to follow our idle desires, and NOT to take our Nafs (desires) as a God. However Economics teaches us the OPPOSITE lesson.  The concept of Consumer Sovereignty says that we are not allowed to question the source of wants — Economic does not differentiate between idle desires, wants, and needs.  Similarly, the Quran emphasizes the feeding of the poor, and ensuring that no one is hungry. But conventional economics does not deal with poverty, inequality, or injustice. In fact, the lessons it teaches us are actually quite harmful to the poor. Economics tells us NOT to take the wealth of the rich to give to the poor because this would reduce the utility of the rich, while increasing that of the poor. This would NOT be a Pareto improvement. Bias towards the rich is built into the foundations of economics — see “ET1%: Blindfolds created by Economic Theory.
If we wanted to implement the Quranic commands in the economic realm, we would shift emphasis from accumulation of wealth to the feeding of the poor.  Instead of scarcity, we would consider removal of hunger as “The First Fundamental Economic Problem: Feeding the Hungry“. Using the QURAN for GUIDANCE about how we should construct the discipline of economics, we would come up with a framework radically different from conventional Western economic theory.This is why I am saying that we need to reject the entire framework, and re-think the entire subject from scratch, STARTING from the complete and perfect guidance provided by the Quran.
Brief summaries of a lecture I gave on this topic — about how the message of the Quran transformed ignorant and backwards Bedouin to the leaders of the world — and how this message has exactly the same power today — but Muslims no longer believe in this power – instead, they believe that the solutions to our modern problems of backwardness and ignorance lie in the books and education of the West.  Of course, I started out in the same position, extremely impressed by the power and glory of the West, and their complex and sophisticated systems of knowledge which had given them world leadership. These posts describe, very briefly, my intellectual journey, which gradually led me to the realization that the gifts we have been given, in the form of the Quran, are far superior to anything that they can gather. This post expands and clarifies one point made very briefly in the lecture on Re-Learning Islam — the discussion of the lecture will be continued …
1. Re-Learning Islam: How Islam created a revolution in the world, and how it still has this same potential — but Islam has become a stranger, even to the Muslims. Muslims no longer believe that the teachings of Islam have the same revolutionary power today, to revive and recreate the Ummah.
2. The Modern Mu’tazilah: The main reason for the current failure of the Muslims is that we have come to believe that Western knowledge is superior to the traditional knowledge given to us. As a result, we have come to believe in many fundamental falsehoods and lies that are at the foundations of Western knowledge.
2. The Myth of the White Man’s Burden: Among the many myths that Western education teaches us, the most fundamental is the myth of the White Man’s Burden. Understanding what this myth is, and why it is false, is a key to liberation from the colonial experience which still enslaves our minds and thoughts.
3. The Great Divide: Heart and Head: This continues the discussion of Re-Learning Islam, explaining the contrast between Western knowledge, which is purely intellectual and does not affect the heart, while Islamic knowledge centers on the heart, but is also intellectually sound.

The Great Divide: Heart and Head

This is a continuation of a summary of a talk with title  “The Nature of Knowledge As a Guide to Action” — a Keynote Address by Dr. Asad Zaman, VC PIDE, at the International Entrepreneurship Educators Symposium (IEES) 11 Aug 2018 – venue: IBA Center for Entrepreneurial Development (CED), Karachi.  The first part of the summary: “Re-Learning Islam“.  The central question under consideration in this talk is the following: How did Islam launch a revolution in world history 1450 years ago, and does Islam have the same potential today?  The first part of the talk explained that today Muslims no longer believe in the idea that the message of the Quran provides us with complete and perfect guidance for a our modern problems. Today, most Muslims believe that the message must be updated and modernized, and also supplemented by a generous dose of teachings from the West. This misconception arises because today Islam has become a stranger in nearly all dimensions of the lives of the Muslims, who follow economic, political, social, judicial and educational systems developed in the West. Because we are immersed in frameworks for thinking developed in the West, it is impossible for us to understand the true teachings of Islam. This state of affairs has resulted from the past three centuries of the dominance of the West, and the process of the colonization of the globe. What most people do not realize is that current Western dominance is primarily based upon their conquest of knowledge. Today we have all learned to see the world using Western frameworks, theories, ideologies, philosophies, aesthetics, and conceptualizations of the good and the bad. These frameworks imprison our minds, and blind us to the beauty of the revolutionary message of Islam.

In this second part of the summary of my IBA talk, I explain briefly my own experiences, which permitted me to break out of this box, and led me to the understandings that I would like to share in this talk.

After my Ph.D. from Stanford at the age of 22, I spent one year on a post-doctoral fellowship at Center for Operations Research and Econometrics in Louvain-La-Neuve Belgium. During that period, I was offered an Assistant Professorship at the Economics Department of Univ of Pennsylvania, which as Ivy League university and ranks among the top ten departments. I spent one year on a visit to the California Institute of Technology Economics Dept, and was eventually recruited to Columbia University, again Ivy league and top-ranked, as an Associate Professor. At that point, I had settled down comfortably into an academic life, having absorbed the lesson that success in life means having a strong professional academic career, and achievements correspond to publications which are admired by colleagues. All of these beliefs were rudely shaken by my encounter with the movement of Tableegh and Da’wah.

Revolution of Tableegh & Da’wah

The powerful faith of the simple men who invited me to spend some time in the path of Allah touched my heart, and made me aware that conviction of the heart was radically different from the intellectual striving that I had learned to consider as knowledge. I realized what Imam Al-Ghazali wrote about, that the knowledge of the Sufi’s is based on experience, and cannot be distilled into books. Intrigued by this dimension of life and faith of which I was completely ignorant, I spent four months learning the methods of Tableegh and Da’wah, based on the center for the work in Raiwind, Pakistan ( for more details, see Remembering My Father). For the first time in my life, I experienced an extremely simple lifestyle, with a single minded focus on one purpose: revival of the faith in my own heart, using the tool of inviting others towards the experience of deep faith as means of opening my own heart to this message.

The experience of Tableegh launched a revolution in my ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving, which eventually transformed all dimensions of my life. Stripping ourselves of worldly possessions and engagements to bare essentials, we learned to devote our lives to a single purpose: reviving the light of faith buried within my heart, and fanning the flames of the love for Allah in others.   I learned that, contrary to my misconception, life is not about material comforts and luxuries. The work of reaching the people with the Message created a life rich in social contacts and in spirituality. I came to understand that Life is about creating connection – M’aarifat – with God. Purifying the heart of the love of worldly satisfactions, and filling it with the love of Allah, His Prophet and His Deen, is the goal of life. This requires struggle and sacrifice but also brings great rewards.  Through the entire course of my Western education, I had received no hint or clue that there was such a thing as the “knowledge of the heart” — all we had been taught was the knowledge of the mind — rational, logical, but not about love, courage, trust, compassion, nor about the purification of the heart. For the first time, I got a hint, a clue, and an inkling, there were oceans of knowledge of a type simply not available, not even dreamt of, in the West — see “Islamic Knowledge: Still Revolutionary after 1440 Years.

Deep Dilemma: Head VS Heart

The experience of Tableegh created a deep dilemma and perplexity. It was clear that the quality of Eeman — deep faith — was a property of the heart. As the Hadeeth says, USEFUL learning enters the heart. From experience, it became clear that there was such a thing as spiritual progress, and that learning of the heart was entirely different from the learning of the head. But the two types of knowledge seemed to be in conflict with one another. Things that I had learned to value deeply in my Western education appeared to be on no value from an Islamic perspective, while actions of tremendous value in Islam were worthless from the Western perspective.

As a first attempt at trying to reconcile the conflict, we can think that Western education trains the mind, while Islam provides training for the hearts. But is this really so? Can we divide knowledge into two compartments like this? This head/heart divide DID NOT MAKE SENSE to me, and seemed like a pretty unsatisfactory compromise.  The Quran says that  “it explains all things”, and that  it provides “complete and perfect guidance” (for all times), and that   “What you have been given (Quran) is much better than anything that anyone might gather” and that “Those with faith will be guided to the Noor (of Knowledge) and those without faith will go from light to darkness”. It seems clear that when Adam AS was taught the names of all things, this was not purely a spiritual and religious knowledge. The testimony of history shows that the Muslims made spectacular advances in all fields of knowledge, not just in spirituality. So it seems that, at least in the Islamic tradition, the two types of knowledge are complementary and in harmony with each other.

BUT Quran does not teach calculus, physics, chemistry, biology, how to prove mathematical theorems. Nor does it teach us how to build industries, machines, technology, rocket ships. THEN the question arises: How did Islam create a revolution in world history? Was it just due to spiritual practices? Historical evidence does not support this idea. Ignorant and Backwards Muslims became leaders of world, launched a civilization which flourished for a thousand years.

PUZZLE: 1400 years ago, early Muslims were way behind in technology, which was far more advanced in China, Persia, Greece, and Egypt. But Islam did not teach them technology or science. How did they catch up? If Islam teaches us about spirituality only – Then HOW did Muslims develop science, technology, philosophy, literature, sociology, economics, and a wide variety skills we have since forgotten?

It is indeed true that “Islam came as a stranger, and has become a stranger.” Allama Iqbal has answer to puzzle:


My eyes were not dazzled by the brilliance of Western Wisdom, They were protected by the dust of Medina and Najaf.

In my own case, my eyes had indeed been dazzled by complex and intricate structures of training I had received in the West. The Quran states the Allah T’aala is the friend of those who believe, and brings them out of the darkness, and into the Noor — (the light of Knowledge, or the Light of Allah T’aala) — while the Shyateen are the friends of those who do not believe, and they take them out of the light into the darkness. What this Aya of the Quran said was directly contrary to what my eyes showed me. According to my perceptions, all the knowledge was in the hands of those who did not believe — the West — while the Muslims were shrouded in darkness and ignorance. It was the training of Tableegh that enabled me to reject what eyes were showing and accept the idea that the Quran was right — BUT, I did not understand how it could be so. I prayed to Allah T’aala for guidance in this matter — where was the darkness in the brilliance of Western knowledge, where was the Noor in Eeman of poor and ignorant Muslims.

Fulfilling His promise, Allah T’aala led me to the realizaton — and the process took many, many, years — that nearly everything I had been taught in the course of my Western education was deeply flawed, and seriously defective. Furthermore, the most important things that every human beings needs to learn were not even part of the syllabus. On the most important questions we face in our lives, Western education either does not provide an answer, or it provides the wrong answers. Furthermore, these questions are the foundations on which all knowledge is built. If the house of knowledge of the West is constructed on flawed foundations, than the entire structure of knowledge becomes defective. In particular, any study of human lives and societies must grapple FIRST with the question of PURPOSE: What is the meaning of our lives? What should we live for? What should be the goal of our struggle and sacrifice, our living and dying? It is only AFTER we settle this question that we can ask whether a particular type of knowledge is useful to us for achieving these goals, or not. It is not possible to evaluate the worth of any action, or of any type of knowledge, without clarity about the purpose of our existence.  (To be continued)


The first post in this sequence is RE-LEARNING ISLAM, which explains how myths we learn in our Western education make it difficult for us to understand and absorb the true teachings of Islam. The second post was “The Myth of the White Man’s Burden“, which confronts one of the myths which are at the heart and center of a Western Education. This post on “The Great Divide: Heart and Head” discusses my personal experiences with Tableegh and Dawa, which led me the understanding that Islamic teachings address the heart, while Western education is addressed to the rational faculties of the mind. My life experiences led to the very uncomfortable position that the two types of knowledge — head and heart — are separate, and may even be in conflict. Eliminating these conflicts, and integrating and harmonizing the two types of knowledge will be discussed in later posts. Three articles/talks on the insights which came out of this experience are listed below:

  1. Three fundamental mistakes at the heart of modern economics, and how they must be corrected, in order to create an “Economics for the 21st Century”.
  2. The Search of Knowledge: Talk explains how Islamic conception of what Knowledge is differs radically from Western concepts. As a result, “research” — or the search for knowledge — must also involve radically different methodologies in the two different traditions.
  3. Overcoming Shock-And-Awe of Western Science: Post explains how we can overcome the complex created by colonization regarding the superiority of Western knowledge to that of our traditional Islamic sciences.

The complete talk in English is available from YouTube Video: “The Nature of Knowledge as a Guide to Action.“. A very similar talk in URDU is available from the following link: https://vimeo.com/295087466

The Myth of the “White Man’s Burden”

[[Continued from previous post: Re-Learning Islam — the post argues that the message of Islam is just as powerful, radical, and revolutionary today, as it was 1450 years ago. However, most Muslims fail to understand this because our minds have been shaped by a large number of myths that we have swallowed in our Western education. To re-learn the message of Islam, we must undo these blindfolds. Among the most important of theses is the myth of the White Man’s Burden. This phrase, coined by Rudyard Kipling, is explained in the first paragraph below.]]

Myth  of White Man’s Burden: European Conquest of Globe was motivated by the selfless desire to share their advanced civilization with the rest of humanity

By the late nineteenth century, people of European origins had control of about 90% of the planet Earth. Why and how did this happen? The answer to this question is crucial to understanding the world we live in today.  The standard story told in European histories can be given the title of the White Man’s Burden story of global conquest. This story can be stated as follows: After having been given the gifts of reason, science, technology, democracy, and other treasures, the Europeans looked around them and saw that the entire world was in darkness. Ignorance, cruelty, superstition, despotism, and all kinds of evil were spread throughout the world. The Europeans had grown up, while all other human beings were in the stage of infancy. Europeans felt burdened by the heavy responsibility of taking these gifts to the entire mankind. Out of this sense of responsibility, they sacrificed the comforts and luxuries of their homes, and undertook the hardships of strenuous journeys to all corners of the globe in a noble effort to spread these benefits to all of mankind. Ignorant barbarians who resisted these advances were eliminated in the “savage wars” to bring peace  and enlightenment to the planet.

We must counter this myth by its opposite TRUTH:

Truth: European Conquest of Globe was motivate by desire to for loot and pillage — destruction and enslavement of other people for enrichment of Europe.

To understand this truth, it is sufficient to look at an example from recent history. The announced purposes of the US Invasion of Iraq were to free the populace from the clutches of an evil dictator, to bring them democracy and good governance, as well as to protect the world from Weapons of Mass Destruction in the hands of a madman. Senior White House officials like Henry Kissinger, Paul O’Neill and Alan Greenspan have stated that Iraq war was planned for the control of the vast oil reserves of Iraq; see Weissman (2007) and Cohn (2013). The discrepancy between the announced goals, widely believed by the USA public, and the (not-so) hidden agenda corresponds closely to the discrepancy between the story of the White Man’s Burden and the real objectives of colonization of the globe.

Finding overland trade routes blocked by powerful Islamic empires, Europeans sought sea routes to fabled lands of India, China and others. However, these European explorers were indifferent between murder, theft, piracy and trade as means to make a profit. When Columbus failed to find the gold he had promised to the financiers of his voyage, he captured slaves instead. When the East India trading company conquered Bengal using treachery and a hired army, they imposed heavy taxes leading to death by starvation of 10 million Bengalis. To bring them the benefits of European civilization, Belgian King Leopold taught the Congolese Western work ethics: the Belgians took wives and children hostage and kept them in subhuman conditions until their African husbands fulfilled their quotas harvesting rubber. Soldiers would torture, chop off hands, or kill the inhabitants if they faltered in their work. This resulted in the deaths of 4 to 8 million Africans in the Belgian Congo. This dirty work was advertised as a Christian charity for the benefit of the Congolese natives by the Belgians.

In the mid-eighteenth century, Bengal was the most prosperous region in the area, with abundant crops and advanced industries in textile and steel. Following the British conquest at Plassey, within a period of ten years, rapacious tax polices led to death by starvation of more than one third of the population. The annual transfers of about 30 million pounds from India to the Empire, and prohibitions of development of industry, led to de-industrialization, and repeated famines in a once prosperous land. In real terms, revenues extracted from British India were far larger than those provided by the US to Europe under the Marshall Plan, which permitted European Economies to recover from the complete devastation created by World War II.

Similarly exploitation of Africa, led to complete destruction of several native empires and cultures. To the misfortune of Africa, they had no natural resources. As a result, the human beings were made the objects of a devastating slave trade. Numbers are in dispute, but over 10 million human beings were transported to serve as slaves in Europe and America. It is estimated that for every person transported, about 10 died in the brutal processes of capture and transport. The social fabric of the cultures that constituted Africa was destroyed beyond the hope of reconstitution. Because materialists cannot see social capital, thousands of pages of contemporary journals research the mystery of exceedingly poor rates of economic development in Africa, without touching on its root causes. Similar fates met the indigenous peoples of Latin America, North America and Australia. The world was enslaved to serve as a production factory for European capitalists.

The incredibly barbaric savagery, violence, death, and destruction that occurred during the global conquest have been suppressed and covered up, in order to preserve an image of a Western “Civilization”. From the beginning up until now, this “civilization” has killed and destroyed millions of innocents without any compunction or mercy. As the US Ambassador to the UN, Madeleine Albright stated on public TV, killing half a million Iraqi children was a price worth paying for obtaining control of Iraqi oil. In French, the idea of the White Man’s Burden is expressed as the “mission civilisatrice” – the mission of West to civilize the Rest. Of course, first one has to be civilized, in order to be able to civilize others! The following clip about Columbus reveals how the West civilized (genocided) the natives of the Americas

For more on this theme of incredibly barbaric and savage conquest of the globe by the West, see

  1. Colonial Atrocities: Details of some of the amazing atrocities committed in the process of colonization
  2. History is the Conquest Song of the Victors: Since the victorious Europeans got to write the history, they painted the picture of glorious conquest. The defeated would have written a very different story.
  3. Re-Learning History: Provides more details about the conquest of Columbus, seen from the point of view of the natives.

Re-Learning Islam

This post is a summary the first part of a talk with the title: “The Nature of Knowledge As a Guide to Action” — a Keynote Address by Dr. Asad Zaman, VC PIDE, at the International Entrepreneurship Educators Symposium (IEES) 11 Aug 2018 – venue: IBA Center for Entrepreneurial Development (CED), Karachi. I will post a summary of the second part later. A You-Tube Video of the full 55min talk is also linked below.


The main message of this talk is as follows. Today, the world as a whole is mired in the same Jahilliyya – ignorance and darkness – as it was 1450 years ago, when the Sun of Islam rose and enlightened the world. The radical and revolutionary message of Islam has the same power today as it did 1450 years ago to turn the tides of history. Unfortunately, the greatest obstacle in the path of this revolution are the Muslims themselves. Muslims no longer trust the Message as being the complete and sufficient guide that it claims to be, and think that it must be corrected and adapted for modern conditions, and it must be supplemented and updated to include the knowledge acquired by the West in the past few centuries. As prophesied, Islam came as a stranger, and has become a stranger, even to the Muslims themselves. Only the names, the writings and rituals remain with us but the spirit behind the forms of Islam is no longer present in the lives of the Muslims. The reason for this ignorance of our own heritage is the Western education we receive, which indoctrinates us to believe in Eurocentric ideas about knowledge, history, and the purpose of life. To combat this, we must confront the materialistc message of the Western with the spiritual anti-thesis revealed to the Muslim fourteen centuries ago. This talk provides some guidelines on how to proceed in this direction. The 54m talk is linked below. A 1250 word summary of the first part of the lecture is also provided below.

  1. The Central Importance of KNOWLEDGE in Islam

The coming of Islam 1450 years ago created a revolution in World History of a magnitude which has never been seen before or after. Inspired by the message of Islam, ignorant and backwards Arabs rose to become leaders of the world, and launched a civilization which enlightened and inspired all of humanity for a thousand years. We want to think about HOW and WHY this revolution took place?

The key to the revolution was the KNOWLEDGE that was given to the Muslims. It is easy to see that Knowledge is Central to Islam. See “Islamic Knowledge: Still Revolutionary After 1450 years

The message starts with “Read, in the name of Thy Lord” and goes on to say that Allah “taught man that which he did not know”. Throughout Quran and Hadeeth, Knowledge and Seekers of Knowledge are highly prized. We cite a few sayings – complete collections of such sayings and their interpretations fill books and libraries.

  • The ink of scholars is more precious than the blood of martyrs.
  • Seek knowledge from cradle to grave.
  • Angels spread their wings for the seekers of knowledge
  • The merit of the ‘alim (the learned) over the ‘abid (the devout) is like the merit of the moon over the stars on a full-moon night.

What is of great importance is the fact that Islam characterizes knowledge in a way that is radically different from how the West defines knowledge. This is the central reason why people in general, and Muslims in particular, are unable to understand the tremendous value of Islamic knowledge — they judge the value by the Western criterion of how much money it can make, or how the knowledge can be used to change the external world. Islam provides us with knowledge of how to transform and purify the hearts of men, a goal which is not even conceptualized in a Western education — see “Countering European Myths About Knowledge” for more details.

  1. Islam launched a revolution in history

The book by Syed Abul Hassan Ali Nadwi: What the World Lost Due to the Decline of Islam is of tremendous importance.  The author paints picture of the world in Jahilliya, the age of ignorance. Evil, Brutality, Ignorance, spread all over the globe. As the book shows, the Coming of Islam Enlightened the World, and saved it from the brink of disaster — currently, the world stands on the brink of another disaster, and the teachings of Islam are desperately needed.

Contrary to the Eurocentric story that the Dark Ages of Europe ended spontaneously, the European Enlightenment was actually caused by transmission of knowledge from the Islamic civilization. Hundreds of Thousands of books in libraries of Andalus were acquired via the re-conquest of Spain. However, this fact is suppressed in European History.

Copernicus was just a translator of Arabic texts, but he is counted as a Revolutionary in European history. The giants on whose shoulders Newton stood were Muslim scholars like Ibn-ul-Haytham whose Optics he translated.  Suppression of the sources of European discovery of science creates the widespread misconception that rational thinking, mathematics, technology, medicine and the modern sciences all originated in the European Civilization. See “Enlightenment: Myths and Truths” for more details.

  1. Critical Question: Does Message of Islam have SAME power today?

Today, the darkness of Jahilliya is spread throughout the world, including among Muslims, who appear just as backwards and ignorant as they were in the olden times. Can the message of Islam lead us, and the whole world, out of the current days of darkness?

By words and actions – Muslims say NO!

Quran claims to be COMPLETE and PERFECT guidance: This day have I perfected for you your religion and completed my favor on you and chosen for you Islam as a religion. Qur’an, 5:3

Quran tells us that what we have been given is far better than anything that they can gather: “In the Bounty of Allah, and in His Mercy (i.e. Islam and the Quran) let them (the Muslims) rejoice.” That is better than all that they (the non-Muslims) gather. (Quran 10:58)

Unfortunately, Most Muslims believe – at least by their actions, if not words — that Quran no longer provides us with complete and perfect guidance. Instead, they believe that today, some aspects of the message need to be updated to match the requirements of modern times, and the message needs to be supplemented by the knowledge acquired by the West over the past few centuries.

This belief illustrates the Hadeeth that:  Islam came as a stranger, and will become a stranger.

In all dimensions of life, we are following the ways of non-Muslims. Our politics is Parliamentary not Khilafa, our Laws are copies of Western Laws ( which were copied from the Muslims), Our Economic systems, Social Systems, Educational Systems are all borrowed from the West, and have no resemblance to Islamic systems. Even our purely religious institutions like Masjid, Madrassa, Salat, Hajj, Sacrifice, have become empty forms without the original spirit which lay behind them. The true teachings of Islam create a way of life which is no longer visible as a living model, which is why it appears strange. Within the context of the modern life devoted to pursuit of comfort and money, the teachings of Islam do not make sense, and seem strange and awkward, because they are out of context. As Iqbal has said: Rah Gaiee Rasme Azan, Roohe Bilali na rahi (The ritual of the Azaan remains, but the spirit of Bilal is gone).

  1. My Personal Experiences

I came to these insights via a very long route – I did not start out with these ideas, which I am trying to express here in this lecture. I started out with the same thoughts that everyone picks up, because they are in all of the media, books, novels, movies – everything we see, hear, think. These are that the West is incredibly advanced, and we Muslims are incredibly backwards. It follows immediately from this observation that the teachings of Islam have failed us – these teachings could not protect us from this state of degeneration that we find among the Muslims today. It follows that today, the path to progress lies in a Western Education. Equipped with these thoughts in my youth, I followed the trajectory that ambitious Muslim youth of today set as their goals for academic achievement.

Pursuing the finest education that West has to offer, I got three degrees in a short span of time BS Math MIT 1974, MS Stats Stanford 1976, Ph.D. Econ Stanford 1978, completing my education at the age of 22. In my first year in the Stanford Ph.D. program, I took three sets of Ph.D. core courses –  Econ, Math, Stat – all were required for a really deep understanding of econometric theory – my chosen field. As a result of this deep training in multiple fields, I came to the view (standard among Muslims) that: Western knowledge is deep, complex, would require many lifetimes to learn, and no one person can master it. As Newton said, after writing books which advanced the state of the entire human knowledge: I have just picked up some shiny pebbles on the beach by the huge ocean.  It took me a long time to UNLEARN these lessons, as I now explain in greater detail.  … (to be continued) …

See: Reaching beyond the Stars — for a talk on how we need to unlearn the Western idea is that life is about the pursuit of comforts, luxuries, pleasure, and wealth, to understand the message of Islam.

Transforming Human Behavior

Zaman, Asad, Transformation of Human Behavior as a Central Strategy for Islamic Economics (August 24, 2018). Paper prepared for the 12th ICIEF (international Conference on Islamic Economics and Finance) at Ummul-Qura University, 5-6 Feb 2019, Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3237870


I have just finished writing up the draft for my paper on “Transformation of Human Behavior as a Central Strategy for Islamic Economics”,  for presentation at the upcoming 12th ICIEF to be held in February at Ummul Qura, Mecca.
The paper (attached below)  starts by stating that all social science consists of THREE elements — a positive element which describes the existing state of affairs, a normative element which described the ideal, or desired state of affairs, and a transformative strategy for changing current situation to move towards the ideal situation.
This idea itself is NEW, because Western social scientists and economists would DENY this. They think, and state, that the teachings of economics, politics, etc. are PURELY POSITIVE — they do not contain the other two elements. It is very important understand WHY the West says Economics is positive, when in fact it contains the normative idea that human welfare is based on maximization of utility obtained from consumption, and it also contains the transformative idea that to improve economic affairs, we must allow greater freedom to markets, move towards perfect competition, and remove government regulations.
This state of affairs arises because, early in the 20th Century, Max Weber said that normative and transformative elements (which USED to be part of social science) CANNOT be scientific. This idea of Weber had a dramatic impact on Western understanding of social science. Social Scientists in early 20th Centure were activists — they thought that the goal of social science was to change society — to remove evils and to work to create a better society (Amr Bil Maaroof and Nahi Anil Munkir, in Islamic terms). However, Weber said that the job of the social SCIENTIST was just to observe and describe – he was not supposed to be emotionally involved, and he was not supposed to intervene, in order to improve outcomes. So the transformative element was removed from Social Sciences — It is important to note that this attitude is contrary to the teachings of Islam: If we see something wrong, we are supposed to intervene to improve it, by actions, or by talk, or at least by feeling — if someone stays neutral and detached on observation of evil, then he is outside the boundaries of Islam. Similarly,the normative element was also removed from Social Science. Thus, the job of judging whether some social situation was good or bad — discriminating between good and evil — was considered to be un-scientific — Even if something horrible is being done, we simply observe and describe it with neutral detachment, without making judgments or becoming emotionally involved.
The views of Max Weber became widely accepted, and this created a dramatic change in way academics and intellectuals thought about and did social science in the West. Effectively, the heart was removed from the picture, and only the head was allowed to analyze humans and societies. The disastrous consequences of this change in ways of thinking has been described in detail by Julie Reuben in: “The Making of the Modern University – Intellectual Transformation and the Marginalization of Morality“. Thereafter, the normative and transformative elements were HIDDEN within the framework of economics, to make it APPEAR scientific. However, anyone can easily look through this deception and see that the “free market” is idealized, and strategies for removing “market imperfections” are part of the transformative (policy) teachings of economics.
My paper analyzes all three elements of modern economics briefly, and shows that all three elements are WRONG. That is, as a description, economic theory is faulty. Homo Economicus does not describe actual human behavior. As a normative theory, economics is wrong, because maximization of lifetime utility obtained from consumption of goods and services is NOT a good goal for us to follow, even from the simple perspective of maximizing our happiness in our worldly life, let alone the considerations of the Akhira. The transformative strategy of pursuing growth to increase material goods is also wrong, because it cannot remove scarcity, the fundamental problem ACCORDING to modern economic theories.
The paper goes on to analyze all three aspect from the Islamic point of view. The answers in all three dimensions are radically different from anything currently available in Western teachings anywhere in the social sciences. These teachings provide us with a solid foundation to construct a genuine and radically different alternative to modern economics, based on Islamic foundations, solidly grounded in the Quran and Sunnah.
The paper itself is available from SSRN:   https://ssrn.com/abstract=3237870
Here is a diagram from the paper which explains the central idea briefly. Both Homo Economicus and Homo Islamicus are IDEALS — extreme forms which do not actually represent the behavior of vast majority of people, who lie in between. Modern economics deals ONLY with a world consisting purely and entirely of homo economicus. Islam deals with people in between these two stages, and consists of transformative strategy which lead people from the primitive stage of homo economicus to the spiritually advanced stage of homo Islamicus.
Because we have all been indoctrinated into the Western Worldviews, Islamic Economists have been puzzled by the “ideal” form of homo islamicus — which we all realize does not exist. So according to Western theories — there is no point in describing an ideal type of behavior which no one actually follows. There are two valid responses to this objection.
1: Western Economics theory — even though it pretends to be positive and descriptive — actually describes and “ideal” – the homo economicus does not actually exist. As behavioral economists have discovered, people have bounded greed, bounded rationality, bounded will-power, while homo economicus has infinite amounts of these qualities. Real human beings are not like homo econoomics who is cold, calculating and callous.
2: The normative ideals set the GOALS towards which we are suppose to move. Since Islam is mainly concerned with the TRANSFORMATION of human behavior, it is essential to have a CLEAR DIRECTION towards which we are supposed to move. Islamic Economics does not ASSUME that people behave in an ideal way. Actual behavior can be anywhere between Asfala Safeleen (lowest of the low: homo economicus) and Ahsan-e-Taqweem (highest of the high: Our Prophet Mohammad SAW, who embodied the perfect model in all dimensions of life). Islam teaches how to move towards the good, and it is the movement, this transformation, this effort and striving to achieve the good, and to remove the evils, which is the essence of Islam.

A conversion story

This conversion story, like many others, is based on a Dua to Allah, under desperate conditions. The man, who was an atheist, made the prayer that Oh God – if you exist — help me now, and I promise to search for the path that will please you. This resembles the prayer of Ibraheem AlaihisSalam, who was also looking for God and after thinking about the Sun and the Stars, he prayed to God that Unless you guide me, I will be unable to find guidance. At the time that I was searching for God, I was also inspired by this prayer – see my Interview with Insight Magazine, for more details of my own conversion experience. This half hour talk details the inspiring conversion experience of Dr Brown.


The story is inspiring, but there is a deeper message we need to learn — as Iqbal says: Dil say jo bat nikalty hay, asar rakhti hay — par naheen Taqat Parvaz magar rakhti hay — We need to learn to talk to Allah T’aala with our hearts — if we can learn how to do so, we will find that He also listens to us. As the Quran says: Therefore remember Me, I will remember you, and be thankful to Me, and do not be ungrateful to Me. [Quran, 2:152]. This is such and AMAZING promise of Allah T’aala —  It is only our loss if we do not take advantage of this great offer — The Quran instructs the Prophet to cut off all relations with everyone else, and connect solely with Allah, in the middle of the night — Similarly, we can sit alone and connect our hearts with Allah T’aala, secure in the promise that if we remember Him, He will reciprocate by remembering us.


Mocking the “Gora” Complex

Visions and Inspiring Dreams can change the fate of nations, as has been demonstrated by many visionary leaders. In my own experience as a teacher, I find that the greatest obstacle to producing great students is their own sense of inferiority — generated by centuries of colonialism. There is a broken mentality that we are so far behind the West that it is not even worth trying, to make the effort to learn. In this connection, I have many talks and lectures which attempt to inspire and motivate students to achieve great heights. I attempt to teach students that they can reach for the skies, and soar like eagles — according to Iqbal: Woh Faraib Khorda Shaheen — you are the children of eagles, who changed the course of history, and you are born with the capability and potential BUT living in the company of crows, you have lowered your own eyes to eating dead meat, and lost your high visions. We all set our own price, and education in a capitalist society is designed to produce laborers, who think that they are commodities for sale in the labor market, and their worth is determined by the amount of money they can make. Capitalism teaches us that the purpose of life is to make money. All of these are POISONOUS lessons which kill the soul, and must be combated to revive the souls of the students which have been deliberately crushed by the educational process. Some of my lectures which are directly relevant for this purpose are listed below:

  1. Reaching Beyond the Stars: Why the students should aim high, set goals beyond the stars. and HOW they can do this.
  2. The Ways of the Eagles: How false messages given by the educational system of the crows poison our minds and prevent us from realizing our true potentials. How to get rid of these poisons and replace them with the water of life, the true message of Islam.
  3. History: The Conquest Song of the Victors. Since the West dominates the world, it has told us false stories of Western greatness and glory, and suppressed all other points of view. We, as the vanquished and defeated, have come to believe these stories. We have to learn to see through these deceptions, and to learn the true story of the barbaric and savage wars of conquest done by the West, killing and destroying millions in a mad search for gold and glory. See Colonial Atrocities
  4. What the World Lost Due to the Decline of Islamic Civilization: Syed Abul Hassan Ali Nadwi’s book is a must-read for all Muslims. The accomplishments of the Islamic Civilization in terms of excellence in conduct, a culture of peace and harmony, equitable treatment, justice, tolerance, provision of free social services — has never been equalled, not even in the West of today. How the world today resembles the Jahilliya of pre-Islamic Times, despite technological progress, and why Islamic teachings are desperately needed by the whole world today.
  5. A Deep-Seated Inferiority Complex: In a TV Interview, Hassan Nisar displayed an extreme form of the inferiority complex, arguing that in every dimension, the brown man is so inferior to the white man that no comparison is possible. Whites always tell the truth, while we are always lying. There is no corruption in the West, while everyone here is corrupt, and so on. The article provides evidence against these misconceptions.

All of my posts are serious attempts at undoing the damage done by a Western education, which brainwashes us into believing the absolute superiority of the West. Recently, I came across this 6m YouTube clip called the “Gora” Complex. This just LAUGHS at the inferiority complex. Urdu proverb is that “So Sunar Ki to Ek Lohar Ki”. 100 blows of the goldsmith are nothing in comparison with one blow of the metal-worker. Similarly, this clip which does no analysis but just ridicules the Gora Complex may be much more effective than lengthy analyses.