“Folk” Western Philosophy

This is the 5th in a sequence of lectures at Masid Al-Muzammil. For the previous talk, see Building Islamic Foundations for Social Sciences. In this lecture, we explain some fundamental ideas of Western philosophy which are the basis for modern social sciences. The talk in urdu is embedded below. A detailed explanation in English, split into parts, is given later.

Highbrow European Philosophy:  Q: What is “Knowledge”? A question of central importance, regarding which there is a huge diversity of views. In this talk, I will not discuss the Islamic tradition at all. Rather, I will discuss how the thinking of Western philosophers evolved in directions which are so bizarre,  alien, and far from common sense that they are virtually incomprehensible to the common man. Yet, these philosophies form the foundations of modern Western social science. Because the conceptual framework of Western understanding of human beings and society is built on these foundations, this framework is absorbed by all educated in universities and absorbed by the general public via diffusion of ideas. To understand Western thought today, especially for Muslims, we need to understand these philosophies, and yet the complex and sophisticated philosophical thought, as it evolved over three centuries or more of development, would require many years of study to understand. We have discussed this dilemma in earlier lectures.

The Lowbrow Approach: The approach we take here is to abandon highbrow philosophy and instead study the impact of this philosophy on the general public (this includes highly educated non-philosophers, who are completely unaware of the philosophical foundations of their thought). I will call this “folk” philosophy, to distinguish it from the highbrow version. There are two philosophical terms of central importance which have been debated for centuries. Epistemology or the Theory of Knowledge – What is the nature of human knowledge? What can we know, and how do we come to know it? How can we arrive at truth, and how can we be certain that what we know is true? The second is Ontology, the study of existence. What are the objects and effects which exist in the real world? Does God Exist, Do angels exist? Do atoms, electrons, and gravity exist as real forces in the external world? These are all questions of Ontology. There are centuries of complex and convoluted discussions in nearly incomprehensible technical language of philosophers on both of these topics. However, none of these controversies or debates are taught to non-philosophers. Instead, these philosophies shape the subject matter which is taught and the style and manner in which it is presented. Without knowing the meaning of the words epistemology and ontology, students absorb controversial conclusions of complex debates regarding these matters without any awareness of the philosophy. They learn that “human knowledge” consists of what is taught in the universities, and we acquire knowledge using the methods currently in use in university for imparting education.  What exists is what the textbooks discuss and described, and objects like God and Angels which are never discussed either do not exist, or else, their existence is of no relevance or importance for human knowledge.  Thus folk philosophy comes into existence via the process of education, without conscious awareness or discussion that students are learning a particular epistemology and ontology.

A Lowbrow History of Western Philosophy: Unfortunately, the edifice of Western intellectual thought is built on dramatically flawed foundations. The easiest way to understand this is to study how this thought process emerged and developed over the course of centuries. We will take an outsiders perspective and also hugely over-simplify, because we are concerned with the development of the folk philosophy that lies at the foundations of modern Western education.  Western philosophy begins with the trauma created by loss of faith, reasons for which have been explained in greater detail in European Transition to Secular Thought . This led to a deep examination of epistemology. European historical experience showed their philosophers that widespread consensus on existence of God, and deep heartfelt belief, to the extent that masses of people were willing to die for these beliefs, did not suffice for knowledge. Even though it was nearly universally deeply believed, it turned out that Christianity was wrong. How can we protect ourselves from such mass deceptions in the future? How can we build knowledge on certain foundation? These were the question of burning importance for Western philosophers in the period of the European Enlightenment. The Enlightenment was the name of questioning all inherited and traditional beliefs and subjecting all pieces of human knowledge to the test of reason. Some of the consequences of this elevation of the mind and reason, above all other human faculties, are detailed and explained below.

Trauma of Loss of Faith: Somewhat arbitrarily, we may start with David Hume, who argued that human knowledge came only from what we could observe and deduce from logic – facts and reason. He famously proposed to burn all books which went beyond observations and logic, since they only contained “sophistry and illusion”. Loss of faith in God led Europeans to lose trust in the testimony of the heart, and to deny the unseen. One of the key philosophers in the development of thought was Kant. His philosophy is too complex to be described in any depth, but the lowbrow version can easily be explained. Kant distinguished between the phenomena (which we observe) and the noumena (the hidden reality which generates the observations). He argued that the true nature of hidden reality was forever out of reach. The attempt to deduce what reality is like from the observations was doomed to failure, since we could never know more about reality than what we could observe of it. Instead of this age-old pursuit of philosophers, he proposed to launch a Copernican Revolution in Philosophy by abandoning the search for truth as in illusion. Instead, he said we should analyze how our mind creates coherent structures our of the incoherent surface observations that we see. He argued that many structures that we believe to be part of external reality are actually projections of the human mind onto reality. This point is explained in greater depth in Kant’s Blunder, Errors of Empiricism, and  Beyond Kant. Even though Kant did not deny the existence of hidden reality – in fact, he strongly supported it — he did make it possible for future philosophers to say that we may completely ignore this hidden reality for practical purposes. All that exists is what we observe and what our mind constructs from these observations. After many twists and turns of thought, this eventually led to the development of models in economics which have no connection to reality — see The WHY of crazy models, and Three Types of Models.

Emergence of Logical Positivism:  David Hume argued that religious books should be burnt, and the books of science were the only source of human knowledge. Since then, philosophers struggled to find a way to differentiate between the two, to show that science leads to valid and reliable knowledge, while religion is just superstition. In the 20th century, the Emergence of logical positivism actually accomplished this goal. This philosophy asserted that meaningful sentences must be verifiable by logic or facts of observation. For statements about angels, if no scientific observations could be found to either confirm or deny their existence, then the statements were meaningless. Even though this philosophy was later rejected by philosophers, it spread like wildfire, and continues to dominate thought among non-philosophers. This was because it was the fulfillment of the dream of David Hume, and the culmination of centuries of efforts to achieve this goal, of cleanly and sharply separating religion and science. This is where it becomes essential to separate highbrow and lowbrow philosophy. Among the highbrow philosophers, logical positivism is a thing of past, rejected more than 70 years ago, which the conversation among philosophers has moved on. Among the non-philosophers, logical positivism continues to be the dominant approach, and its central ideas are widely accepted. The foundations of economics and econometrics are based on logical positivism, and even though logical positivism has been rejected and refuted, the foundations have not be re-examined and re-constructed. From the point of view of understanding the mind-set of European intellectuals, and the foundations of modern social sciences, it is essential to understand the philosophy of logical positivism, why it was so attractive, what were its weaknesses which led to its rejection. This is required to cleanse the minds of the general public of the folk version of logical positivism which is automatically absorbed via the process of Western education. For a more detailed discussion of this topic see: Logical Positivism


Building Islamic Foundations for Social Sciences

MaM04: Talk at Masjid AL-Muzammil on Wed 12th Feb 2020Audio recording (urdu). Summary of talk in English is given below. This continues from previous talk MaM03: The Greatest Challenge Facing the Ummah

In the previous talk (MaM03: The Greatest Challenge Facing the Ummah), I explained that the main problem facing the Ummah can be called the problem of the Modern Mu’tazila. In a nutshell, this means that we Muslims are in so much shock-and-awe of the West that they accept everything coming from the West. This is much like the Ancient Mu’tazila, who were so impressed by the Greek philosophy that they argued that we should put these philosophies on par with the Quran and Hadeeth. Today, the Modern Mu’tazila are so impressed by the West that they accept everything coming from the West without question. There are two reasons for this extreme reverence, which leads Muslims to put Western knowledge not just on par with, but actually superior to the Quran. If they see a conflict between Quran and Hadeeth, they accept Western thought, and re-interpret the Quran to conform with Western teachings. See The Spiritual Obstacle to Genuine IE.

Why are Muslims in shock-and-awe? There are two fundamental reasons. One is the conquest and colonization leading to European domination of the globe; colonization is the conquest of minds. The second reason is that all around us we see the fruits of Western knowledge. Our lives are shaped by Western technology. It is impossible to deny the value of Western knowledge.  We need two solutions to the two problems.

First Step: Differentiate between Physical Sciences and Social Sciences – note that this is made more difficult because Western intellectual claim that there is no difference. Both types (Physical and Social) are equally reliable, objective, based on advanced mathematics and analysis of empirical evidence. However, the more perceptive thinkers in the West have understood that there is a great difference between the two. Physical Sciences are about the external world, and the success of the West in this area is manifest in our daily lives. We are surrounded by technology which was created by this scientific knowledge which was developed in the West. So, as a first step, we should concede this superiority – let the West have this field. They have made tremendous advances in the Physical Sciences. We could have a debate as to whether or not these advances have brought benefit to mankind, especially since it seems that climate change created by these human inventions is about to make the planet un-inhabitable for humans. But, it is better to yield this front, because we have other, more important battles to fight.

Second Step: The weakness of the West lies in the Social Sciences. Social Sciences is an analysis of how societies work, and how human beings should behave. This is based on the analysis of Western historical experience. It is also based on the rejection of religion assumption that human beings have no hearts and souls — embodied in famous statement of Rene Descartes, father of Western philosophy: “I think therefore I am”. This restriction of human beings to brains only – no heart or soul — has dominated Western conceptions of what it means to be human, especially in economics. See The Fourth Poison: Homo Economicus, and also a contemporary Western view on What it Means to Be Human, in light of advanced in computational technology. Western Social Science is based on a large number defects, briefly listed below:

  1. It was rejection of Christianity that led to the search for answers to questions about human problems based purely on reason and observation. As detailed in Origins of Western Social Sciences (WSS), the foundations are built on rejection of God, Afterlife, and any unobservable phenomena.
  2. Because of rejection of afterlife, WSS is solely concerned with this life. In Economics, this reduces to maximization of pleasure in this life, which is known as worship of the Nafs in Islam. Rational human behavior is defined as being concerned with this life only.
  3. Even though WSS is derived from lessons learned from European history, it pretends to be universal, and applicable to all societies and cultures. This is manifestly false, and has been noted by many scholars.

The above are intellectual objections but perhaps the main objection to WSS arises from looking at the results achieved by this science. The twentieth century has been full of bloodiest wars in the history of mankind, which continue to this day. Families and communities, the main source of human happiness, have been destroyed.  Encouragement of individualism and hedonism has led to massive increase in loneliness, so much so that a Minister of Loneliness has been appointed in Great Britain. Results of the conversion of human beings to human resources have been loss of meaning in life, resulting in suicides, crime, drinking and drugs, and many other social ills. Massive income inequality has resulted in 50 people owning more than half of the planetary wealth, while more than a billion live in abject poverty.  All this illustrates that, unlike physical sciences, social sciences of the West have not succeeded in bringing peace to the world, and happiness to human beings.

WSS originated when Europeans rejected Christianity and sought to build rules and regulations for creating a good society on the basis of reason along. An elaborate system of rules for creating a good society based on Islamic principles has been created over the centuries, codified in Islamic Fiqh. The rules that Western society developed are based on ruthlessness competition, selfishness, pursuit of pleasure and wealth. These are diametrically opposed to the Islamic principles of cooperation, generosity, social responsibility, self-sacrifice, and pursuit of the Akhirah. What is extremely surprising is that most Islamic economists failed to recognize this conflict. Shock and awe of the West led them to accept Western principles and attempt to re-interpret the Quran and Hadeeth in order to reconcile the conflicts between the two. See Conflicts between Islam and Economics for a lengthier discussion and further reference. It is worth pausing here to provide some examples of this pattern.

The Quran clearly talks about the unlimited bounty of our Lord. As the first generation of Islamic Economists recognized, this is in conflict with the idea of scarcity. However, the second generation received training in the West and learned to accept scarcity as a fundamental principle of economics. They found various ways of reconciling the resulting conflict between teachings of Islam and Western economics. In my Radio Islam Interview: Islamic Economics, I have explained how the fundamental economic problem is Israf and Tabzeer, which is the real cause of scarcity.  However, a defeated mentality on part of Muslims led them to accept scarcity, instead of building new foundations for economics based on Quranic concepts.

Similarly, the idea that rational behavior involves maximization of pleasure that we derive from goods and services has no match to Islamic ideals. However, many Islamic economists argued that utility maximization is an Islamic principle, because of blind acceptance of Western principles. They made the argument that Q2:201 “And there are men who say: “Our Lord! Give us good in this world and good in the Hereafter, and defend us from the torment of the Fire!” teaches us that we should ask Allah for the good things of this world == Utility maximization. In fact, there are many more Ayat in the Quran which teach us that the life of this world is but the pursuit of illusion, and the Akhira is far better and everlasting.

As I have argued in the Crisis in Islamic Economics, Islamic scholars could not develop a new paradigm for economics because they could not reject Western ideas even when these ideas were in conflict with Islamic teachings. In my article on  Reviving the Promise of Islamic Economics and Launching An Islamic Revolution in Economics I have explained that the path is still open in front of us – if we have the courage to reject Western teachings and build afresh on strong foundations furnished by Islam, we can create an entirely new social science, something which world desperately needs today.

Previous talks at Masjid al Muzammil (MaM)

  1. MaM01: Diagnosis and Solutions for Problems Facing the Ummah
  2. MaM02: Origins of Banking (urdu)
  3. MaM03: The Greatest Challenge Facing the Ummah






Shari’a Scholars or Economists?

To what extent are our intellectual efforts relevant to problems facing Islamic societies in particular, and humanity in general? One view is that the answer to this question does not matter. GH Hardy in “A mathematician’s apology” explicitly describes the beauty of “pure” mathematics, unadulterated by any possible application to any human problem. At the other extreme is the Praxis of Karl Marx, where the point of knowledge is to change the world. Among the wide range of scholars struggling to understand the relevance of the revelation, the complete and perfect Final Message of God, to the modern world, the most “praxical” are the Islamic Bankers. These scholars and practitioners have create an institution, meant to embody Islamic ideals in the eminently practical realm of modern finance. There is furious debate as to the worth of this contribution. Some dismiss this creation as a Frankenstein, a complete betrayal of the ideals of Islam to capitalism. Others consider it as a marvelous achievement. Below I report excerpts from an email/WhatsApp conversation among some of the leading scholars who have participate in this movement:

There is a high level of disappointment with the performance of Islamic Banks among many top scholars and practitioners who have worked all their lives in this field. I am reporting below a debate regarding knowledge required by Shari’ah Boards of Islamic Banks – should it be primarily economists or Shari’ah scholars?:

Dr Fahim Khan kicked it off by saying thatBeing involved in more than 40 years of efforts in what I have been calling Islamic Economics, I can not even explain how Islamic Economics differs from Economics as a science not as a faith.

Accordingly, he proposed a change of strategy – this is very lengthy, but I will pick just one element from it. Dr. Fahim Khan wrote that:

I am in the process of drafting a business model for Islamic bank different from the current banking model which is exactly same as conventional interest based banking model. I want to proposal of a business model, not a banking model, for Islamic banks. The main difference in my model is

  1. The CEO will have to be qualified renowned sharia scholar
  2. It will be a business model defining assets, liabilities and target market similar to that of goods and services market as real part of the bank and
  3. It will have a financial part of the bank that will fulfill central bank’s requirement at national level as well as of Basel III requirements at global level.

In response to this, Dr. Mabid Al Jarhi’s commented as follows:
The expertise required in Islamic finance is two kinds. First an expertise in monetary and financial economics to be able to understand and assess the ultimate consequences of actions. For example, the finance of short-term acquisition of financial assets could tern into a Ponzi Scheme. Only an economist can judge that. Second, an expertise in the twenty Islamic finance and investment contracts as well as the products resulting from their use. Shariah scholars would be knowledgable in the formal requirements of contracts. Such knowledge usually presented under “Fiqh Almuamalat,” can be mastered by an economist in few weeks. In addition, Shariah scholars, who are members of Shariah Boards have demonstrated their inability to understand their validity of purpose, which depends on the ultimate consequences, that in turn requires economic knowledge. This has led to increasing convergence of Islamic to conventional finance. Therefore, Shariah Boards should be composed of a majority of Islamic (monetary and financial) economists and a minority of Shariah scholars.

Mohammad Paracha defends depth of knowledge of Shari’a scholars: This is an interesting discussion. I’m not sure if people on this group know but I am a student of ‘ilm at the moment, studying a classical programme under the dars e nizaami framework (I’m in Year 4 of a 7 year degree). I have approached learning fiqh inside down – having practised law for around 20 years now learning the traditional sciences. I used to be one of those people who thought I can draft a ijara or musharakah and learn form scholars and that made me an expert. Boy was I wrong. When you pick up Al Qudoori or Al Hidayah and really drill down on usool and other sciences, it puts you in your place. As an industry I think we need people who are multi disciplinary and have world experience as well. May Allah make it easy for us all.

Dr. Tariqullah Khan – Ancient scholars did not know our modern problems:   Unfortunately the issue indirectly goes back to the original malaise of financialization! I wonder what Al Qudoori or Al Hidaya would have contained, if their authors have seen my 9 seater SUV, most of the time I utilize only one seat to drive to an Islamic Bank where my job is Shariah structuring! Then I keep the engine running just to keep it cool waiting for me and indeed I know it’s external diseconomies of emitting Co2 but that come under minimal ignorable harm! I don’t think those greatest authors despite their unimaginable God given mental capacities had a clue of our individual footprint on ecology for example! I think it will be a great asset to read those precious books in the context of tomorrow instead of reading them looking backward into history where even the most the honorable and affluent elite were barefooted and Sans safe drinking water at convenience. What those great books contain about “forbearance in lending”? In this esteemed forum no one even dares to define forbearance because we all serve lenders and employed by them! Lending was never justified as a business and we can go round and around to find Heela, legal tricks and arbitrage to justify it! I hope after mastering those great books you will be empowered and encouraged to explain “forbearance”, “compassion”, “Rahmah”’ “ihsan”’ etc., values that are integral part of our beautiful system of living but where are these cherished values in our Islamic Finance after 45 years of practice!

My (Dr. Asad Zaman) comment on above discussion: The message of Dr. Tariqullah Khan is valuable. My view is similar – the Revelation is a source of amazingly powerful knowledge – it sufficed to launch a revolution in the world 1400 years ago and it is equally powerful today. BUT, sometime in the past, due to historical circumstances created by colonization, a strategic choice was made to retreat and to construct barriers around this knowledge, to prevent interactions with the modern world. As an analogy, consider a medical school which is forced to abandon treatment of real patients. Graduates would have knowledge of advanced surgical procedures, like kidney or heart transplant, but we would not trust them with a knife on real patients because of their lack of experience. Similarly, the Ulema do not have experience with APPLYING the incredibly valuable knowledge that they have to the problems of the modern world, which has evolved and changed into forms never before seen on the planet. They have never learned about the modern world. Just like economists have superficial knowledge of the Fiqh, which they think is sufficient (and that is a big mistake), so Ulema have superficial knowledge of finance, which is not sufficient to give the rulings that are required. Some aspects of these views expressed briefly above are explained in greater detail in my post on The Greatest Challenge Facing the Ummah.

Causality, Confounding, and Simpson’s Paradox 1

Bitter fighting among Christian factions and immoral behavior among Church leaders led to a transition to secular thought in Europe (see Zaman (2018) for details). One of the consequences of rejection of religion was the rejection of all unobservables. Empiricists like David Hume rejected all knowledge which was not based on observations and logic. He famously stated that: ““If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.” David Hume further realized that causality was not observable. This means that it is observable that event Y happened after event X, but it is not observable that Y happened due to X. The underlying mechanisms which connect X to Y are not observable. In the early 20th Century, the philosophy of logical positivism which says that human knowledge is based solely on observations and logic became widely accepted and wildly popular. Disciplines like Statistics and Econometrics, which evolved during 20th century, were built on positivist foundations. They only deal with measurable and observable (numbers) and ignore immeasurable concepts like causality. A much more detailed discussion of the philosophical background which led to these widespread misconceptions about human knowledge is given in Zaman (2012).

Pearl et. al. (2016, Chapter 2) provide a history of how mistakes by the founders of the discipline led to replacement of causality by correlation in statistics. Pearl (2018, Chapter 5) provides the history of how causal information was dropped from econometric models.  Current econometric techniques do not allow us to distinguish between real and spurious relationships. Excellent and robust fits can be seen between totally unrelated variables like log of number of newspapers published and life expectancy. there is no way to tell if a regression is real or spurious. How do we differentiate between a regression of Turkish Consumption on Turkish GDP, which has a strong causal basis, and one of GNP on Newspapers, which is purely correlation without causation? Many examples like these are discussed in Zaman (2010), which show serious confusions about causality in conventional econometrics, and resulting consequences in terms of defective analysis.

This is an introductory article which explains the importance of explicit consideration and modeling of causality, contrary to current econometric practice, in order to use data set for extraction of meaningful information. One of the easiest to understand approaches to causality is via Simpson’s paradox. We will use this paradox, framed in different real-world contexts, to provide an introduction to basic concepts of causality.

The Berkeley Admission Case

Suppose there are two departments Engineering (ENG) and Humanities (HUM), which have differing admissions policies. Due to these policies, 80% of female applicants to ENG are admitted, while only 40% of the female applicants are admitted in HUM. To understand Simpson’s Paradox, it is essential to understand the relation between these departmental admissions rates, and the overall admit rate for females in Berkeley. Assuming, for simplicity, that these are the only two departments, we ask: What is the OVERALL admission rate for female applicants at Berkeley? The answer is that the overall admit ratio is the weighted average of the two admission percentages (80% and 40%).  Table 1 show overall admit rate of females with different no. of applicants

Table 1: Overall admit rate for Female applicants

  Engineering Humanities Overall admit rate
Situations Applied Admitted % Admitted Applied Admitted % Admitted Applied Admitted % Admitted
A 1800 1440 80% 200 80 40% 2000 1520 76%
B 1500 1200 80% 500 200 40% 2000 1400 70%
C 1000 800 80% 1000 400 40% 2000 1200 60%
D 500 400 80% 1500 600 40% 2000 1000 50%
E 200 160 80% 1800 720 40% 2000 880 44%

If all females apply to HUM and none to ENG then overall admit rate is 40%. If all females apply to ENG then overall admit rate for females will be 80%. The table shows that the overall admit rate for females can vary from 40% to 80% depending upon proportions of females which apply to the two departments.

Now suppose Berkeley systematically discriminates against males. For male applicants to ENG, the admit ratio is only 60%, much lower than the 80% ratio for females. For male applicants to HUM, the admit ratio is only 20%, much lower than the 40% for females. What will the overall admit rate for males be? As before, this will be a weighted average of the two rates 20% and 60%, where the weights will be the proportion of male applicants to the two departments. The table below shows how the overall admissions ratio varies depending on how many males apply to which department:

Table 2: Overall admit rate for male applicants

  Engineering Humanities Overall admit rate
Situations Applied Admitted % Admitted Applied Admitted % Admitted Applied Admitted % Admitted
A 1800 1080 60% 200 40 20% 2000 1120 56%
B 1500 900 60% 500 100 20% 2000 1000 50%
C 1000 600 60% 1000 200 20% 2000 800 40%
D 500 300 60% 1500 300 20% 2000 600 30%
E 200 120 60% 1800 360 20% 2000 480 24%


The table shows that the overall admit rate for males can vary between 20% and 60% according to how the applicants are distributed between ENG and HUM. We have already seen that overall admit rates for females can vary between 40% and 80%. Now consider the scenario created by the highlighted rows in the table. If 90% of the females apply to HUM, then the female admit ratio will be 44%, close to the 40% admit ratio for females in HUM. If 90% of the males apply to ENG then the admit ratio for males will be 56%, close to the 60% admit ratio for males in ENG. Despite the fact that females are heavily favored in both ENG and in HUM, the overall admit ratio for females (44%) will be much lower than the admit ratio for males (56%). Someone who looks only at the overall admit ratio for males and females will come to the conclusion that Berkeley discriminates against females, which is the opposite of the picture that emerges when looking at departmental admit ratios. This is known as the Simpson’s Paradox.

Interestingly, this is not a hypothetical example. I have simplified the numbers to make the analysis easier to follow, but the actual data for Berkeley admissions follows a similar pattern. The overall admit rates appear to show bias against females. Bickel et. al. (1975) carry out a standard statistical analysis of aggregate admissions data. They test the hypothesis of equality of admit rates for males and females and conclude that males have significantly higher admissions ratio than females. A causal analysis of data attempts to answer the “WHY” question. Why is the admit rate for males higher? To try to learn why the male admit rate was higher, Bickel et. al. (1975) looked at the breakdown by department. Note that the data themselves furnish us with no clue as to what else we need to look at. It is our real world knowledge about colleges, admissions process, departments, which suggests that department-wise analysis might lead to deeper insights. This shows how real world knowledge, which goes beyond the data, matters for data analysis. Doing the analysis on the departmental level leads to an unexpected finding – each department discriminates in favor of women. Philosophers call this “counter-phenomenal”. The phenomena – the observation – at the aggregate level suggests that Berkeley discriminates against women. But a deeper probe into reality reveals that the opposite is true. This shows the necessity of going beyond the surface appearances, the observations, to deeper structures of reality, in order to understand the phenomena. This is in conflict with Kantian and Empiricist ideas that observations by themselves are sufficient, and we do not need to probe deeper.

When we discover a conflict between the phenomena and our exploration of the noumena – the deeper and hidden structures of reality – then we are faced with the necessity of explaining this conflict. Because both departments discriminate against males, the explanation that Berkeley admissions process discriminates against females is no longer acceptable.  Bickel et. al. (1975) do the data analysis and come up with the deeper explanation. ENG is easier to get into, and HUM is more difficult. Females choose to apply to the more difficult department and hence end up with lower admit ratios. Males choose to apply to the easier department, and hence have higher admit ratios. The search for causal explanations does not stop here. We can then ask: WHY do females choose humanities? We can also ask: WHY is ENG easier to get into, and WHY is HUM more difficult to get into? For both of these questions, there are several possible hypotheses which could be true, and which could be explored using data or qualitative techniques. In the next section, we will consider some other causal structures for admissions, which lead to radically different answers to the WHY questions, even though the observed data remains exactly the same.

The Greatest Challenge Facing the Ummah

Wednesday 5th February 2020 – weekly talk at Masjid Al-Muzammil. The one hour urdu talk is embedded below. The previous talk in this sequence is: Diagnosis and Solutions for Problems Facing the Ummah

At the start of 20th Century, nearly 85% of the globe was controlled by people of European descent. Colonization is, in the first place, a conquest of minds. The victors created narratives which praise and glorify the conquerors, and diminish the humanity of the conquered. These narratives have been spread globally via powerful Western media, creating a superiority complex in the West, and corresponding inferiority complex in the East. The greatest challenge currently facing the Ummah is to create an alternative to the Eurocentric narrative that we have all absorbed, directly or indirectly, through our Western education. The nature of this challenge, which is also the source of the growing attraction of Western ideas, and rejection of Islam, is not well understood by most. An important exception is Syed Abul Hassan Ali Nadwi, who has clearly recognized and articulated this challenge, and written valuable works challenging the Eurocentric narrative and providing starting points for building a counter-narrative. My one-hour talk in urdu is linked below, following by an English summary of the main points covered in the talk:

Summary of points covered, with links to relevant references

  1. What is our intention in sitting here? You, the ulema are the inheritors of a treasure of tremendous value. The knowledge which was given to man 1450 years ago launched a revolution in the world, and led Muslims to world leadership for a 1000 years. How can we use this knowledge today to launch the same revolution? This is the problem we face. [Islamic Knowledge: Still Revolutionary after 1440 Years!]
  2. Due to a Deep-Seated Inferiority Complex, we have accepted the superiority of the West in all dimensions. Today, most Muslims believe that the knowledge that has been given to the West is far more valuable than the knowledge which was given to Muslims in the form of the Quran and Hadeeth. This is what I have called the problem of the Modern Mu’tazila.
  3. One reason for our confusion is that we believe that Physical Sciences and Social Sciences are on par. There is no doubt that West has made truly amazing progress in Physical Sciences. They claim that their Social Sciences are equally reliable and advanced. Due to our inferiority complex, we have accepted their claims. In fact, their Social Sciences are completely bogus, and extremely harmful. Our Quran and Hadeeth offers far better guidance about how to handle human affairs.
  4. Why is their social science extremely defective? The basic reason is that they do not have any understanding of human beings – who we are, why we were created, how can we realize and develop the enormous potential which is within us? About all of these issues they are completely blind. They deny the existence of the soul, and downplay the importance of the heart – whereas Islam places the heart and soul at the center of our lives. [Home Economicus: Cold, Calculating, and Callous]
  5. We claim that the Quran and Hadeeth provide us with far more advanced guidance about how to live our lives, and how to create a good society, than the West can give us (see Origins of Western Social Science. Unfortunately, today this is just an empty claim. Unless we can prove this by carrying it out in practice, making such claims is actually harmful, because it seems an empty boast without substance. This is one of the most urgent demands of our time. Actually Islam contains complete guidance on how to live our lives and conduct all social affairs — that is, Islam IS our social science, and contains complete and perfect guidance about how to run our affairs. But we do not actually know how to translate this claim into practice. WHY did we forget how to use our Deen to solve our modern problems? This requires some going into history
  6. By early 20th century, the West had colonized about 85% of the globe. Colonization is really conquest of minds – a small number of people cannot rule a huge population without mentally enslaving them. The main battle between Islam and the West is not physical but intellectual. Unfortunately, very few are even aware of the nature of this battle, and of our complete defeat. We do not know the ideological weapons and tactics being used against us, and how to counter them.
  7. The urgent need is to understand the Western intellectual and philosophical heritage which has developed over the past three centuries, and to counter and defeat them on their own grounds. However this is an extremely difficult task which requires a lifetime of effort. It is not enough to study in Western universities; one needs to develop deep insights into the foundations of Western thought. This creates a dilemma – learning our Islamic heritage also requires a lifetime, and one cannot do both – acquire DEEP knowledge of our own heritage and ALSO acquire DEEP knowledge of Western philosophy. This is virtually impossible. [See The Ghazali Project]
  8. The deep dilemma is the need to establish the superiority of Islamic knowledge over Western philosophy, and to show this practically, by showing the value of our knowledge in creating a better society than what they have been able to do. There is an immense effort, requiring thousands of scholars, to acquire depth of knowledge in both Western and Islamic sources of knowledge, and also to convert this theoretical knowledge into practice to show how it works.  But this requires three lifetimes of work. One man has only one life to spend.  For an example of what needs to be done, see: ISOSS: Real Statistics, Islamic Approach
  9. After years of pondering over this problem, I have been guided to a useful solution. We do not need to battle Western philosophers on their home ground.  The general public (in East or West). is completely ignorant of advanced and complex philosophies. It is nonetheless true that everyone is deeply affected by the poisonous philosophies which have been invented in the West. Our primary audience should be the ignorant Muslims who have been affected by these philosophies, without their own knowledge of this. BTW, most of the times this includes our own selves. The cure for the bad effect is NOT to teach the deep, complex and convoluted Western philosophies and then explain why they are false. This is almost surely the wrong approach, which would also require a lifetime of effort. If the vast majority of people in the East and West do not know Western philosophy, then we do not need to do battle with Western philosophy. What we need to do is to counter-act the effect of these philosophies on the minds of the people.This task is much easier, because these effects boil down to certain ways of thinking which are easy to understand and easy to counter. [see PP2 Building Confidence]
  10. To explain this by a specific example, we consider one of the most important ideas which everyone who receives a Western education learns to believe. This is the idea that the sun of reason first rose in the West. Before sixteenth century Europe, mankind as a whole was wrapped in ignorance and superstition. Europeans themselves were also in the Dark Ages. People just believed, without question, whatever their ancestors told them, and did not think for themselves. This process, which brought Europe out of the Dark Ages, and when Europeans learned to think for themselves, is called the Enlightenment. After Europeans learned to think, they made tremendous progress on all fronts of knowledge. They developed science, technology, good government, and also learned how to be civilized human beings. They became so advanced that the rest of mankind was like animals in comparison to them. After a couple of centuries of amazing progress, they looked around the world and saw darkness everywhere. As a result, they realized that they had a responsibility to spread the benefits of their knowledge throughout the globe. They left their comfortable homes and went to the jungles of Africa, and crossed the oceans to America and Asia, to bring the benefits of their advanced civilization to all of of humanity. Today, all of the good things that we see in the World around us are gifts of the Europeans, and products of the European Enlightenment.[see The Dark Side of the Enlightenment Project
  11. This narrative is absorbed by everyone who gets a Western education directly, and by everyone else indirectly. While the story is not explicitly told in this way, and is rarely written down in the books we read in our universities, this message is nonetheless present, and is automatically absorbed. When a child receives sixteen years of education in school, college, and university, where all he studies are subjects and disciplines which were invented in Europe (like Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Economics, Political Science, etc.), then without being told, he learns that all valuable knowledge which exists in the world today was invented by the Europeans. No one else has anything useful to contribute to the solution of modern problems. It through the generosity of the Europeans that we are all able to participate in the benefits of their infinite wisdom. See  The Myth of the “White Man’s Burden”
  12. This message is directly counter to the central message of Islam: Mankind was in darkness, when the final message of God to mankind came and enlightened the world. This message is also contradicted by the world we see around us, where the Europeans have all the power and knowledge, and the rest of the world is, relatively speaking, in darkness. This is biggest challenge currently facing the Muslims, to which we currently have no satisfactory answer, no counter-narrative.  We can say, and many do, that the knowledge of the Europeans is useful only for this world, while Islam will provide us with the eternal bliss in the hereafter. But to say this is to concede the point, and to acknowledge that knowledge of Islam is of no value in this world. See Conflicting Worldviews: Western and Islamic.
  13. The history of the World that we all absorb is “Eurocentric” – it places Europe and Europeans at the center, and marginalizes all others, as if no one else had any significant role in creating the modern world. Creating a counter-narrative, which would provide the basis for an Islamic Worldview, is the most important collective task which is required to defend our youth. When our eyes are dazzled by the power and the glory of the West, then it is natural to accept all their ideas, including the atheism or agnosticism that is favored by their intellectuals. The most important foundations for a counter-narrative have been laid by the writings of Syed Abul Hassan Ali Nadwi. In particular, his book on the What the World Lost Due to the Decline of Islamic Civilization, provides the first steps towards construction of a completely different history of the world. As the African saying goes, until the lions get their own historians, tales of the hunt will always glorify the hunter. We need to develop our own historians.
  14. In the Indo-Pak arena (much like rest of the islamic world) the intellectual response to the West can be divided into three camps. One camp, which currently dominates Muslim thought in the world, can be identified with Sir Syed Ahmad Khan. He accepted all Western thought without question, and modified Islamic teaching to remove any conflicts with the West. The other extreme is represented by the Ulema of Deoband. Their pragmatic assessment of the situation was that at the moment, Muslims did not have the strength required to confront and prevail against Western thought. As a result, they chose the strategy of a temporary retreat to build sufficient strength to return to the battle with greater chances of success. But this pattern of isolation and non-engagement with western thought became a principle, instead of a temporary strategy, among their followers. The middle position was taken by Nadwa, which advocated strict adherence to the fundamentals of Islam, and maximum flexibility in the extensions beyond the fundamentals (the Furoo’). This remains the only viable long-run strategy, but unfortunately, it has remained the least successful in terms of popularity, among the three schools of thought. This accounts for the value and importance of the works of Syed Abul Hassan Ali Nadwi, who was among the most popular exponents of that school of thought. [see The Third Path: Evolutionary and Revolutionary Strategies for Reform]
  15. Let us return to the question of countering the Eurocentric narrative, which is among the most important tasks facing the Ummah. How can we counter the narrative of the spontaneous enlightenment of Europe, where the sun of reason rose in the 16th Century to end forever the dark ages of Europe?   There are many aspects and angles, but let us start with the “spontaneous” nature of the event. What was the cause of the Enlightenment? Did it just happen, without any clear cause, as the Europeans claim? One fine day, they woke up from their Dark Ages. See  Enlightenment: Myths & Truths
  16. Starting with the first crusade in 1095, the European came into close contact with the Islamic Civilization, which was far more advanced. By 1492, when the last Muslim city in Al-Andalus fell, the re-conquest of Islamic Spain gave Europeans access to millions of books in the libraries of Muslims, gathering knowledge from all over the world. The 16th and 17th Century of Europe can be described as the process of the struggle assimilate all of this new knowledge, much of it radical and revolutionary for them, and directly in conflict with Catholic teachings. For more than a century, Arabic textbooks on medicine, astronomy, physics, mathematics, law, philosphy, etc. were in widespread use, and leading intellectuals learnt Arabic to benefit directly from the source materials. Eventually relevant portions of this material was adapted and translated into Latin . See The ‘Arabick’ Interest of the Natural Philosophers in Seventeenth-Century England
  17. Due to the hostility generated by the Crusades, and the conflict with Catholic teachings, translators were unable to acknowledge the sources of their knowledge. The most important example of this is Copernicus. He had access to the work of Al-Shatir, and translated it, copying his diagrams, and became known as a revolutionary. In fact, he published his work on his deathbed, because he had seen a friend, fellow-monk, imprisoned and tortured for “heresy” for ten years, for translation of Islamic works. For details see Is Science Western in Origin?    One of the important goals of the Inquisition, Spanish and Italian, was to prevent the spread of anti-Catholic teachings. Because of this bias, a two pronged strategy was adopted to avoid acknowledging Muslim contributions to knowledge. Whenever possible, discoveries were attributed to “Greece” and claimed for European ancestors (when in fact, Yunan lies in the Middle East). When this was not feasible, then these discoveries were attributed to some European translator. Even though Greek philosophy also came to Europe from Arabic translations, the role of the Muslims was minimized and their contributions were ignored. The lie was fabricated that the Muslims did nothing more than “transmit” Greek philosophy faithfully to its rightful heirs, the Europeans. This rich contributions This has been called the “Theft of History” by Jack Goody, in a book by this title.
  18. Catholic efforts at censorship failed, and the new knowledge led to a battle between “Religion” and “Science” (the name for all of the newly acquired knowledge), which was eventually won by Science. This battle had fateful consequences on European thought. Rejection of God and religion by European intellectuals led to philosophies which emphasized observation and reason as sources of knowledge, and rejected the heart and soul, and hypotheses about unobservable phenomena. The philosophies of empiricism and rationalism continue to dominate European thought and distort their theories of knowledge today. See: The Illusion of Objectivity.

This is the third in a sequence of lectures to Ulema at Masjid Al-Muzammil in Islamabad. The first two are listed below:

1: Diagnosis and Solutions for Problems Facing the Ummah

2: Origins of Banking (urdu)

The next talk in this sequence is: Building Islamic Foundations for Social Sciences

Ethics and Morality in Education

Image Source: https://www.isis.org.uk/tag/moral-values/

Where can we learn the ethics? How do we determine what is moral and what is immoral? Has it always been the same way as it is presented in the modern educational system? The following essay is going to be a food for thought and a better understanding towards the “Ethics and Morality in the Education”.

A driving spirit of the modern age is the desire to banish all speculation about things beyond the physical and observable realms of our existence. This spirit was well expressed by one of the leading Enlightenment philosophers, David Hume, who called for burning all books which did not deal with the observable and quantifiable phenomena: “If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.”

This is a breathtakingly bold assertion. The literate reader may examine his or her bookshelf to see what little, if anything, would survive after applying Hume’s prescriptions. Nonetheless, the spirit of the secular age was very much in tune with Hume, and relegated vast areas of human knowledge captured in literature, history, and the arts, to second-class citizenship. The modern world has been shaped by this downgrading of the spiritual, intuitive, and mystical, and the elevation of the rational as supreme judge and arbiter over all other faculties.

The leaders of the Enlightenment advocated rationality as the sole criterion for establishing an authoritative system of ethics, aesthetics, and knowledge. This has led to a dualism which has become firmly embedded in the foundations of Western thought, and has created a social science incapable of perceiving, let alone solving the problems currently being faced by humanity as a whole. Western hegemony has led to the global and widespread acceptance of this dualism, clearly expressed by Hume, in embracing the quantitative and passionately and violently rejecting the qualitative. Exploring the full range of difficulties caused by this dualism would take several books. In this essay we consider just one of the salient problems. Harvard Professor Julie Reuben expressed it as follows: “Truth was (a united whole) embracing spiritual, moral, and cognitive knowledge. By the 1930’s, this unity was shattered; factual cognitive knowledge (was separated from) moral/spiritual knowledge.”

The Enlightenment project had aimed to provide rational foundations for all human knowledge. However, influential intellectuals like Max Weber, in the early twentieth century, argued that scientific knowledge had to be value-free, because values could not be established empirically. Widespread acceptance of this rejection of morality and spirituality has had dramatic consequences in all realms of human life. The most important questions that we face as human beings were declared to be meaningless, and unworthy of our attention and study. We all recognize that our own life is an infinitely precious gift; the most important question we face is: how should we use this gift? What is the purpose or meaning of life? What characterizes the ‘good life’ and what steps can we take to achieve a lifestyle which embodies the good?

Influential positivist philosophers argued that these questions had no meaning, because there was no empirical or observational evidence which could be used to answer them. All answers were equally valid. We should simply do with our lives whatever we desire to do. There were no ethical or moral standards to guide our behavior. As one of the leading positivist philosophers, A J Ayer, stated: “Moral judgments are as meaningless as a cry of pain”. Centuries of traditional wisdom about life was discarded as meaningless noise, and the new generations were encouraged to work out answers to these deep and difficult questions on their own, starting from scratch. To understand the catastrophic consequences of this, imagine what would happen if we threw out accumulated wisdom in medicine (or any other field of knowledge), and started again from scratch.

The key to the social sciences is an understanding of the nature of human beings. Can we understand human lives without understanding responsibility, conscience, courage, love, heroism and cowardice, trust, jealousy and the enormous range of human emotions? All of these elements of human lives are deeply and inherently qualitative and cannot be measured on any scales. Thus, by definition, these do not qualify for inclusion in the realm of scientific knowledge. The wisdom of the ancients, contained in books discussing these concepts in literary and philosophical terms, without measurement and data, would deserve to be burned according to Hume. But all this book-burning would leave us without any guidance on issues central to human affairs.

The dualism that deified science, and scoffed at that qualitative and unmeasurable, resulted in a tremendous loss of knowledge about the nature of human beings and society. We are living with the consequences of a college education which teaches students how to build bombs, but nothing about the ethics of killing innocents. As a chilling example, consider the changing attitudes towards torture and murder. Japanese soldiers were executed for torturing American POW using waterboarding, and American soldiers in Vietnam were tried for such treatment of Vietnamese prisoners. But recent Presidents have thrown their full support behind the use of extreme torture techniques, officially approving their use. Hollywood movies glorify and justify torture, even though empirical evidence shows that it does not work to obtain useful intelligence. Official reports show that senior officials in the UK and the US concocted evidence to fool the public into supporting the invasion of Iraq, resulting in deaths of millions of innocent civilians, and unnecessary expense of trillions of dollars. But no one has been convicted of any wrongdoing. MBAs are taught that the bottom line is all that matters, and social responsibility should not interfere with the pursuit of profits. Thus, there is no outrage at the deaths of the poor and hungry farmers, caused by millions of dollars spent on research to produce genetically modified terminating seeds, so that rich organisations can make more profits by selling seeds every year. Even justice has been separated from morality; in the adversarial system, lawyers are taught that their responsibility is to win the case for their clients, regardless of whether or not justice would be served by this win. Reform requires deep and fundamental changes in the system of education, which needs to be firmly grounded in all those ideas that have been kicked out of the curriculum as ‘unscientific’.

Originally posted by Dr. Asad Zaman in Express Tribune August 14, 2016. More work by Dr. Asad Zaman: Index

Dilavar Khan: LinkedIn

Origins of Banking (urdu)

[bit.do/azbeu] The story of creation of Bank of England in 1694 has been given briefly in “The Origins of Central Banking“. Detailed explanation of the financial gimmicks used by Banks, which continue to be in use today, is given in a separate post on “Monetization, Maturity Transformation, and MMT“. This material is of great importance for Ulema, to understand the nature of money and banking today. These two posts (English) were discussed and explained in Urdu, in a talk for Ulema at Madrassa Darul Taqwa at Chauburji in Lahore, this morning at 9:00am on 27th January 2020. A 50m audio recording of the talk in Urdu, folliwed by Q&A session is linked below. This covers more or less that materials given in the two posts linked above in English.

I gave another talk on the same topic at Masjid Al-Muzammil, G11/3,  Islamabad — The main focus of the talk was “What do Banks Do?” I explained that the widespread belief that banks are financial intermediaries – they take money of depositors and lend it to borrowers – this is WRONG. When banks make loans, they create money out of nothing. The second topic was the concept of Maturity Transformation. How Banks take a one-year loan and finance it by borrowing required amounts on a DAILY basis, thereby converting a one year loan into 365 overnight loans of varying amounts for each day of the year. The talk in Urdu is similar to the one above, but explains the same ideas somewhat differently and has a slightly different focus:

The above is the second talk in a weekly series. The first talk was on Diagnosis and Solutions for Problems Facing the Ummah  at Jamia Masjid al-Muzammil in G11/3 Islamabad on the topic of the title on Tuesday evening 1/21/20. 

POSTSCRIPT: Additional material in URDU – videos, and writeups, on MONETARY topics, is available from the following webpage: https://sites.google.com/site/mohammadrehmansite/seigniorage/urdu