How to Inspire and Motivate Students

Lecture for Teachers by Dr. Asad Zaman on 24th Jan 2017 at PIDE, Islamabad. This lecture is for teachers; See “The Ways of the Eagles” for a lecture directly addressed to students, to motivate and inspire them, A detailed 3300 word summary of the lecture in English is given below. The video-taped one hour lecture in URDU on YouTube is also linked below.

Lecture for TEACHERS on how to inspire and motivate students

Mesmerized by the spell of Western expertise, we are trapped by the illusion that they are the experts in every field, and the best we can do is to be second-rate followers. In fact, the educational methods in use in the West are extremely bad, and it is possible for us to make dramatic improvements in substance and style of teaching. By increasing the efficiency of our educational methods, we can change the world. Imagine producing world class experts of Nobel Laureate calibre at PIDE!

Can it be done? Can we create world-class experts, despite meagre resources and students with weak background and preparation, in Pakistan?  YES: It can be done.

What is needed is INSPIRATIONAL TEACHING. Every student is precious, and has within him/her all the genius of Al-Ghazali, Ibn-ul-Haytham, Ibne Sina, al Farabi, Ibn-e-Khaldun and others. If we can light the fire of the thirst for knowledge in their hearts, they can do the rest – we only need to create motivation and inspiration. So the question of primary importance is: How can we become inspiring teachers?

Since I am addressing teachers here, my first task is to explain what they (the teachers) will gain by improving their teaching? Some of the answers to this very important question are:

  • I will acquire mastery, expertise and depth of knowledge! I will be able to transmit this knowledge to students.
  • This knowledge has the potential to change my life, and to change the life of my students. Nothing is more precious than the opportunity given to me in form of time of students eager to learn. Nothing is more deeply satisfying than utilizing this opportunity to transmit the treasure of knowledge, the most valuable gift in the collective heritage of mankind.

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Three Generation of Islamic Economics

The terminology of the three generation of Islamic Economists was first introduced in the  Forward  to the Special Issue of the International Journal of Pluralism and Economics Education (IJPEE) on The Challenge of Islamic Economics. VOl 6, No. 4, 2015, p313-323 Co-Edited by Asad Zaman & Jack Reardon. This brief introduction was expanded upon in my paper on Reviving the Promise of Islamic Economics. which was presented at the 11th ICIEF in Malaysia in 2016, and subsequently published in the IIUM journal. This post describes and explains these terms, and their historical context.

The first generation of Islamic Economists accompanied liberation movements in Islamic societies in the wake of the World War II, which weakened the European hold of power over the globe. The first generation (1950-75) saw the Islamic system as a radical and revolutionary alternative to both Capitalism and Socialism, which promised equity and justice. For many reasons, the dreams and visions of the first generation could not be implemented in the liberated colonies, which chose to continue colonial and capitalistic economic systems, rather than create a revolution based on Islamic ideals. The second generation (75-2005) realized that no Islamic revolution was coming and sought to change and modify existing capitalist systems to make them conform to Islam. This generation was forced to study capitalist economics, in order to modify it, and was FOOLED by the claims of neoclassical economics to be objective, scientific and factual. Once the second generation ACCEPTED these claims, it took mainstream ideas as being on par with the laws of gravity: indisputable. As a result, Islamic Economics became a minor branch of mainstream neoclassicals, adopting nearly all of its frameworks, methodologies, and ways of thinking about the world. This was a MAJOR MISTAKE.

Neoclassical economics is a detailed working out of the religion of worship of the Nafs, which is explicitly prohibited in the Quran. It starts with the premise that ALL human beings have (or should have) as purpose of life the maximization of utility of consumption — that is, pleasure derived from the life of this world. All human action is rational if and only if it is directed towards this purpose.  All the mathematics and analytics so fondly developed in neoclassical is based on this premise which is directly in conflict with Islam. For three fundamental flaws in the formulation of modern social sciences in the West, see my talk on Economics for the 21st Century, which explains how Islamic teaching, and only Islamic teachings, can help us overcome these flaws to create a radical and revolutionary approach to a new type of economics so desperately needed today. I have already constructed several courses which take an Islamic approach to teaching conventional subjects like statistics, micro and macro, and I have recorded lectures and put course and reference materials on openly accessible websites.

The distinguishing feature of the third generation, as I see it, is in the REJECTION of the knowledge claims of neoclassical economics to be a positive science. Third generation is defined by the idea that EVEN TODAY, the Quran offers us far better guidance about managing our economic affairs than a Ph.D. from Harvard in Economics would do. In contrast, the second generation rejects this idea, and believe that “reason” (that is, Ph.D. from Harvard) is on par with “revelation”. This general and widely accepted view among muslims — the parity between certainty and confidence we can place in Western systems of knowledge and the WAHY or revealed knowledge — is what I have called the greatest  problem facing the Ummah today — The Second Crisis of Knowledge Facing the Islamic Civilization.  The DEFINING characteristic of the second generation is that when they see a conflict between Samuelson and the Quran, then they re-interpret the Quran to make it conform to Samuelson. As opposed to this the DEFINING characteristic of the third generation is to REJECT Samuelson and accept the Quran.
See my paper on “Islam Versus Economics” for many examples of second generation efforts to create harmony between neoclassical economics and the opposite concepts in Islamic economics. For example, the first and third generation rejected the idea of scarcity as being in conflict with the frequently mentioned bounty of Allah, but the second generation accepted it. Similarly, the second generation accepted the idea of utility maximization and sought to find Islamic support for it, while the first and third generations rejected this idea. Today, Islamic ideals based on generosity and cooperation offer us a radical alternative to the tried and failed ideas of selfishness and competition of capitalist economics. It is unfortunate that most Muslims have been blinded by the glare of Western wisdom and neglect their own precious heritage, which offers us solutions not available in Western books.
These are my views, and Allah T’aala knows best

Memorial: Mohammad Masihuzzaman

My father, Mohammad Masihuzzaman, died over an year ago. But the love and education that he gave me will last me a lifetime. I gave a talk at PIDE in his memory. It was very short, and could not possibly cover many of the lessons that I had learnt from him. The most important lesson he gave me was the fruit of his lifetime of experience, wandering many different paths and ideologies. He asked me to spend four months in Tableegh, as a return for everything that he had done for me. Of course this was also something he was doing for me, but it was framed as a gift I was giving to him. This experience of four months changed my life and my ways of thinking and made me what I am today.

Does God Exist?

Unfortunately, Muslim youth is widely exposed via social media to the modern secular worldview, which leads them to question the existence of God. Interestingly, the efforts of Western philosophers and scientists to discredit the idea of God and religion have only succeeded in doing the opposite: providing stronger and more solid evidence for His existence. Because this evidence has been discovered by secular atheists themselves, they have not publicized it. Some of this new evidence, which emerged in the 20th century, is briefly sketched in the article below. This is addressed to the large numbers of youth who have started to have doubts about this matter.

published 3 July 2016 in Express Tribune with title:  Seeking God

For thousands of years, the question of existence of God has occupied a central place in philosophy and theology, because how we structure our lives depends so heavily on the answer. The existence of God provides meaning to life, and assurance that despite the rough and tumble we see in the world around us, perfect justice and mercy will prevail in the end. God watches over us, and we are responsible for our actions. On the other hand, the stark consequences of non-existence of God have been vividly portrayed by arch-atheist Bertrand Russell: “(Man’s) origin, his hopes and fears, … are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system … only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.”

Despite the central importance of this question, it became marginalized in the 20th century due to a major philosophical blunder. The philosophy of Logical Positivism, which became widely accepted, denied any meaning to sentences containing unobservables, and hence discussions of existence of God fell out fashion. Logical Positivism had a spectacular crash when it was realized that electrons, gravity, magnetic forces, etc. etc. were all unobservable but nonetheless meaningfully discussed by physicists. So in the recent times, the question of God’s existence has once again become a topic of interest. Here we briefly review a few of the main arguments.

New life has been breathed into the ancient cosmological argument which asks “Who created the universe?” Atheists used to answer by saying that the universe has always been there, and so it was not created. An alternative answer was “Who created God?”. However, these answers are no longer tenable in the light of the discovery that the universe came into existence with the Big Bang. The creation of the universe requires a Creator. At the same time, since God is eternal and uncreated, He does not require a cause.  Current atheist response to this is that they do not know who created the universe; they think God is not a plausible answer, and they are confident that they will find a better answer in due time.

Another major argument for God says that if we find a perfectly designed watch with beautifully inter-meshing gears, which work together in perfect harmony, we can infer the existence of a watchmaker. Similarly, our beautifully designed universe proves the existence of a designer.  Even atheists like Stephen Hawking have acknowledged that “The laws of science, as we know them at present, contain many fundamental numbers, like the size of the electric charge of the electron and the ratio of the masses of the proton and the electron. … The remarkable fact is that the values of these numbers seem to have been very finely adjusted to make possible the development of life.” The simplest life form, the cell, is so fantastically complicated that there is universal agreement that it could not have emerged through chance, as an accidental collocation of atoms. Currently, scientists do not have a clue as to how the cell could have originated without having been created by a designer.  Similarly, confirmed atheist Crick, who discovered the double helix structure of DNA, was led to remark that ‘An honest man, armed with all the knowledge available to us now, could only state that in some sense, the origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle, so many are the conditions which would have had to have been satisfied to get it going.’ Crick’s fierce commitment to atheism, combined with his realization that life was too complex to have originated spontaneously, led him to the bizarre theory of “panspermia”. Apparently advanced extra-terrestrial alien life forms with a desire to propagate life sent out rocket ships with microbes to provide seeds for the origins of life on our planet! If the heart does not want to believe, no amount of evidence for creation can convince us.

Let us, therefore turn to the ‘reasons of the heart’ which provide evidence for God. Throughout the ages, the primary reason for people coming to believe in God has been the trustworthy character of the messengers. As the Quran states, our Prophet was sent as a Mercy for all Mankind, and it was his kindness which attracted people towards him. Today, as always, people will be attracted to religion if they see the effects of these beliefs in the form of an extra-ordinary character. To the extent, that religion fosters character and creates spiritual growth, hearts will be attracted towards it. It is a sad truth that one can find extremes of corruption among people who are supposed to be religious leaders in most faith traditions. To counter this, one can easily find equally corrupt people among the secular leaders, who have bombed and killed millions of innocent civilians for the sake of profits, politics and power. However, this is hardly an argument to favor religion. More convincing for modern secular mindsets are the arguments of Aldous Huxley in The Perennial Philosophy.  Huxley shows that transformational experiences of unity and harmony with all of the Creation and God are the common goals and outcomes of all spiritual traditions.

Awareness of thousands of cases of medical malpractice does not prevent us from seeking medical help. In an exactly similar fashion, malpractice of religion should not prevent us from pursuing our own quest for answers. Perhaps the best way to find convincing evidence for God is to ask Him directly for guidance, as Ibrahim AS did. It is a promise of God to those who seek Him with sincerity and humility, that He will surely respond to their prayer in a way which will eliminate all doubt.

Posts on Diverse Topics:My profile on LinkedIn. Other works: GUIDE . More material on Islamic Topics.

The Central Importance of Knowledge

 

Abu Bakr RA reported: I heard the Prophet (SAAW) saying:“You should be a scholar, or a student, or a listener, or a lover of ‘Ilm and scholars, and you should not be the fifth which makes you perish.– (The fifth type hates ‘Ilm and its people)(At-Tabarani; Al-Bazzar)
There are so many Ahadeeth which stress the importance o seeking knowledge. The Final Message of Allah to mankind started with the words “Iqra” the command to read. In this first revelation, Allah T’aala describes Himself as the One who gives knowledge to man of things which he did not know.
The message of Islam inspired a desire for learning in the hearts of the Muslims, and they gathered knowledge from the four corners of the world — from Greece, China, India, Africa, — all types of knowledge were gathered in the libraries of the Muslims. It was this knowledge that led them to leadership of the world.
This desire is no longer present in the hearts of most Muslims. When teachers try to teach something, the students ask: is this going to be on the exam? This means they are not interested in knowledge, but only in passing the exam. However, this is not the fault of the students. Today, the Islamic concepts of knowledge have disappeared from view — this is one of many serious problems created by the decline of Islam (for a more detailed list, see famous book, translated into eighteen languages, by Syed Abul Hassan Ali Nadwi entitled: What the World Lost Due to the Decline of Islam) . The knowledge currently taught in universities is mostly about how to make money, whereas the knowledge brought to us by Islam was about how to make human beings develop their character and spirituality. All human beings are born with amazing potentials, and it requires training of the heart to enable the realization of this potential. As stated in Ahadeeth, useful knowledge enters the heart — this type of knowledge is not available within a Western education.
My video lecture (42m English) , linked below, explains some of the distinct features of the Islamic approach to knowledge
Similarly, an Urdu Video Lecture (63m) on the nature of Knowledge in Islam.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Power of Ideas

Among the many misconceptions and misunderstandings that are created by a Western education, materialism is central. We are taught that materials matter — our success or failure depends on our material acquisitions. Newton’s laws show that a small piece of matter, like our body, cannot exert any calculable effect on the massive planet, leading us to believe that one person cannot create any significant change. To counteract this poison, we must learn of the great power of the spirit, and superiority of mind over matter. Ideas can, and have, changed the course of history. Men, and Women, can exert influence over millions of lives. This article was written as an antidote to materialism. It was published in Express Tribune on 20 May 2010.

Materialistic theories of history suggest that geography and material resources determine the destinies of nations. Karl Marx went further to suggest that even our ideologies are strongly influenced or determined by changes in economic and other material conditions. A delicious irony of history is that, entirely contrary to his theories and expectations, the ideas of Marx went on to change the lives of millions of people in Russia and China for more than half a century. Without any material resources or compelling historical necessities, the vision of a classless society which promised to look after every member “according to their needs,” inspired Russian and Chinese leaders. The reality of communist Russia was so different from the idealized vision that there is a legitimate dispute as to whether it was a force for good or evil. However, there can be no dispute that the ideas of Marx, without any material resources to back them up, changed the course of history.

It is only because materialist views have become widely accepted that something as obvious as the power of ideas to change the world needs to be stated, argued and demonstrated. The terrifying flash of the nuclear explosion in Hiroshima in which “Practically all living things, human and animal, were literally seared to death” is highly visible. Even more powerfully destructive than the ideas of mathematics and physics which led to the creation of the bomb, are the invisible ideas which allow us to calculate the value of human lives in terms of barrels of oil. Far more than an interplay of material resources, this world is a battleground of ideas, good and bad, which shape our lives and history.

Historians have searched the history of the nomadic Arabs in vain for material causes to explain their sudden rise to world power after the coming of Islam. The ideas of Islam, explicitly preaching the equality and brotherhood of all men, which turned the tides of history. In the words of the brilliant historian Marshall Hodgson, “Muslims succeeded in building a new form of society, with its own distinctive institutions, its art and literature, its science and scholarship, its political and social forms, as well as its cult and creed, all bearing an unmistakable Islamic impress. … (Islamic civilization) came closer than any had ever come to uniting all mankind under its ideals.”

Today powerful media are spreading many ideas antithetical to the central Islamic messages. Ads, movies, magazines and the internet encourage us to enjoy life to the fullest, by adopting a luxurious lifestyle. Islam encourages us to adopt a simple lifestyle, as modeled by the Prophet (s.a.w.) who ate one day and went hungry the next. Ads encourage purchase of goods to “be the envy of your neighbors.” Islam teaches us to bury fruit peels so as to not incite the envy of the neighbor’s children, if we cannot afford to share fruits with them. The Quran (59:9) praises those who give to others even though they are themselves needy. This is in stark contrast with promotion of luxury products at a time when millions are hungry and homeless.

The most important battles of today are for minds and hearts, not the ones for power and oil. Our common enemy is the message of supreme self-interest, combined with complete indifference to others, crystallized in the popular “Gestalt Prayer”: “I do my thing and you do yours … if by chance, we find each other, it’s beautiful. If not, it can’t be helped.” Many western analysts have expressed their dismay at the dissolution of the social fabric and breakdown of families caused by individuals “doing their own thing,” without concern for others. The consequences to society in terms of divorce, depression, suicide, crime, alcohol and drugs, random shootings, and myriad others, have been documented in many thick research reports.

We must actively engage in the battle against slick ads and Hollywood movies, which make material goods and pursuit of pleasure appear far more attractive than they really are. We must teach our youth the ancient wisdom that feeding the poor bring more memorable and meaningful pleasure than the finest meal at the most luxurious restaurant. Love, honesty, commitment, trust, sacrifice and service are needed to build families and communities, which are far superior to lonely lives covered by glamour, glitter and luxury. Strong forces are pushing materialism, hedonism, and individualism, but we still have the cultural resources to win the battle if we try.

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Napoleon Bonaparte: There are but two powers in the world, the sword and the mind. In the long run, the sword is always beaten by the mind.

See also, a collection of article on  Power/ Knowledge; as Napoleon quote states, the power of materials is always inferior to the power of ideas in the long run.

Spirituality and Development: Part 2, Development

Contemporary economic policy focuses purely on aggregate material growth, mistaking a means for an end. Material growth is valuable only to the extent that it can nourish and enrich human lives. Human have hearts and souls, in addition to stomachs, arms, and brains. This talk, outlined below, explains how spirituality matters for economic development

WEA Pedagogy Blog

Part 2 of Lecture on Spirituality and Development: Friday, 27th Jan 2017 by Dr. Asad Zaman, VC PIDE — for Students of Religion & Development Paper, Center of Development Studies, University of Cambridge. Link for part 1: Spirituality . 50m Video lecture:

OUTLINE OF LECTURE:

    1. The meaning of development has varied dramatically across time, space, cultures.
      1. When Britannia ruled the Waves:
        Development definition suited Britain: Sea-Power, Coal Mines, Industry, Climate, Race
        No entry for “democracy” in Encyclopedia Brittanica, 1930
      2. Post-War Rise of USA
        Initial Definition: Democracy, GNP per capita – both criteria serve to ensure leadership of USA.
      3. Later, some Oil Economies had Higher GNP/Capita than USA
        So REDEFINE Development to include Income Distribution, so as to keep US on top
      4. Later, Switzerland, Japan and some other Scandinavian countries had Higher Wealth + Lower Gini. How to measure development to ensure USA is on top? Answer: Redefine Development to include Infrastructure

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