The Modern Mu’tazila

In the name of Allah, The Beneficent, The Merciful []

Introduction: The Shock-and-Awe of Western Knowledge, created by their global conquest, colonization, and apparent success, has created a deep sense of inferiority among the Muslims today. This is what I have called the Second Crisis of Knowledge in the Islamic Civilization. This crisis is all encompassing, and requires a massive and multi-dimensional effort on many different fronts to counter-act and cure. Some aspects are discussed in the post below. This post is the FIRST of a series designed to develop and articulate an Islamic World-View, to counteract the poisons of a Eurocentric worldview which we all imbibe during the course of a Western education.  I plan to make weekly postings on different aspects of this problem on this blog, which I have re-named to An Islamic WorldView — for subsequent posts on this topic, see: Re-Learning Islam

The Second Crisis of Knowledge in the Islamic Civilization:

There is universal agreement that the teachings of Islam created a revolution in history. The Quran emphasizes the importance of the final message of God, the greatest Gift of God to humanity, in several verses; for example:

This day I have perfected for you your religion and completed My favor upon you and have approved for you Islam as religion

The message of Quran, planted in the hearts of men, transformed ignorant and backwards Arabs into the leaders of the world. The civilization that they created dominated the Earth for a thousand years. The Enlightenment Quran (by Ziad Al-Marsafy) documents how Islamic teachings, acquired via the re-conquest of Andalus, ended the Dark Ages of Europe. Thomas Jefferson’s Quran (by Denise Spielberg) describes the deep influence of the Quran on Jefferson, and on the shaping of the Constitution of the USA. A large amount of recent research shows both the strong influence of Islamic ideas on shaping modern civilization, and also, the suppression of this fact in standard Eurocentric accounts of human history.

The burning question of central importance is: Does this message have the same value today as it did 1400 years ago? Can it create a revolution within the hearts of men, and can it turn the tides of history, like it did once before?

The European answer is a clear and definite NO – The message of Islam was perfect for its own time, but is now seriously obsolete and out-of-date.

The position of the Modern Mu’tazila is similar to that of the Europeans. They argue that if Islam had solutions to offer to our modern problems, then we would not see the Ummah in the desperate conditions that we find it today. They argue that all that was good and perfect in the teachings of Islam has already been incorporated into the Western corpus of knowledge. Furthermore, the West has made substantial progress and advances, while we have slid back into ignorance, and today our salvation lies in following them. We Muslims are living in the Dark Ages of Jahilliya again, and the only path to our enlightenment lies in learning from the West.

The problem of the Modern Mu’tazila (MM), like that of the Ancient Mu’tazila, is that they have become deeply impressed by a corpus of knowledge alien to Islam. The MM have accepted the knowledge claims made by West, that their knowledge is JTB – Justified, True, Belief. It is objective, factual, based on solid reasons, and undeniable. Once this is accepted, then at all points where Islam conflicts with Western knowledge claims, Islamic teachings have to be modified to match them. The MM cannot accept claims that Islamic teachings conflict with Western knowledge, since that would mean that Islamic teachings are wrong. Thus, their energies are spent in harmonizing the two bodies of knowledge. This is the explicit goal of many groups of Muslims seeking to align Western and Eastern Knowledge. In particular, some of work on the “Islamization of knowledge” creates the false impression that Western knowledge is more advanced, and the Quran and Hadeeth must be brought into line with it.

The idea that the Knowledge of the West on par with, or superior to, the Quran in terms of providing solutions to the problems facing the Muslim Ummah today, is what I have called the Second Crisis of Knowledge in the Islamic Civilization. As per Hadeeth, Islam came as a stranger, and will become a stranger; the original teachings of Islam are strange and unfamiliar to most Muslims today. HOWEVER, most Muslims and especially the MM, believe the OPPOSITE: that we are already very familiar with these teachings, and, since they do not find anything in these teachings which matches the brilliance of the West, they consider these teachings to be obsolete and out-of-date, not relevant to our contemporary problems, except in a marginal way. A 10 minute video-talk on YouTube which summarizes and explains this further is linked below — Also, the problem is articulated and discussed in the remaining portion of this post after the video link.

(Continuation of Post on the Modern Mu’tazila — DIFFERENT articulation from the 10 minute summary above. For the full hour-long video, see: Second Crisis)

Allama Iqbal, Poet Laureate of the Islamic Civilization, has expressed this problem facing the Ummah as follows:

My eyes were not dazzled by the brilliance of the West – (Kheera na kar ska mujhay, Jalwa’ Danishe Farang)  They were protected by the dust of Medina & Najaf – (Surma hay mairy ankh ka, Khak-e-Medina o Najaf)

Although Iqbal was protected from it, the rest of the Ummah was not. The superficial dazzle of Western knowledge has blinded them to the depths of wisdom hidden in the Quran. This puts in the Ummah into Double Darkness, termed Jahl-e-Murakkab (or compound ignorance). Not only are the teachings of Islam strange and unfamiliar, but the Ummah believes that they already know these teachings – so that have no incentive to try and learn them; that would be useless Tahseel-e-Hasil (acquisition of that which is already owned). Ignorance can be cured by learning, but there is no cure for Jahl-e-Murakkab, since people will not make effort to learn that which they believe they already know.

In fact, the teachings of Islam are just as revolutionary, fresh, original, and unfamiliar to the world today as they were 1400 years ago. They have the same potential today to change the tides of history. They are indeed complete and perfect, sufficient for our guidance today [see: The Quran: Complete and Perfect Guidance]. HOWEVER, MM believe them to be seriously incomplete, since our guidance today requires heavy supplementation of Islamic teachings by the latest Western knowledge. MM also believe them to be imperfect and in need of updating – For instance, Islam allows polygamy, slavery, brutal punishments, and prohibits interest. In these areas, and many others, we can improve on the original teachings of Islam.

The claim that teachings of the Quran are sufficient for our guidance today, baffles, frustrates and severely angers and annoys the Modern Mu’tazila. This is because they believe that it is precisely this type of sentimental attachment to the past, and a refusal to face the realities of the modern world, which led to the decline of Muslims. Furthermore, to remain engaged with contemplation of the Quran and the faded glories of the ancient Muslims, in face of the pressing need to modernize and catch-up, making up for lost centuries, is a beyond-hopeless ostrich-strategy, doomed to failure.

The Quran warns us not be deceived by the apparent success of the non-Muslims. Even though the West has been tremendously successful on the front of material wealth and power, they have been spectacularly un-successful on the front of human development. The Final Message of Allah, brought to mankind by our Prophet Mohammad SallAllaho Alaihe Wa-sallam, teaches us how human beings can achieve the full potential buried within the hearts of all humans. It tells us that we all have the capacity to rise above the angels, as well as the capacity to be lower than the beasts. It teaches us the spiritual, mental and emotional practices requires to transforms the seeds of humanity within out hearts into the tree of Eeman, which is solidly planted in the ground and has branches reaching out to the skies. This message — how to develop our human potential — is contained nowhere within the teachings of the West. By learning physics, chemistry and mathematics, we can acquire power over the external world, but we cannot acquire self-control, discipline and spiritual progress. Islam teaches us how to use the material world to make spiritual progress, while the West teaches us the reverse — how to damage our souls, in order achieve material gains. Man is the greatest creation of Allah, and the spectacular progress of Islam occured when our civilization learned to cultivate and nurture the potential of human beings to be fully human. Decline occurred when we lost this skill, and the associated institutional structures. Today, our progress again depends on learning to be human beings, which only Islam can teach us. If we can learn to do this, we can show the world the way out of the current morass, where greed for riches has led to destruction of millions of lives of humans and animals, destructions of treasures of environmental resources, and brought the planetary ecology to the brink of collapse. May Allah T’aala help us to accomplish the mission that the Ummah was created for, which was to guide all of Mankind towards to good, and to prevent them from the evil. Ameen.


A one-hour video on “The Second Crisis of Knowledge in the Islamic Civilization” which expands further on the themes discussed briefly above.

Islamic Approaches to Knowledge This links to the first, 90-minute, lecture in the course: Introduction to Statistics: An Islamic Approach, which explains how and why an Islamic approach completely changes our approach to education. The meaning of “knowledge” is different within the Islamic and Western traditions. Acquisition of knowledge is the highest form of worship, but this acquisition must be done with the correct intentions, obeying the orders of Allah, and the Sunnah of the Prophet Sallallaho Alaihe Wassalam. The Western methodology of teaching and learning must be replaced by Islamic methods, which requires radical changes in the educational process.

See also, The Ghazali Project: Revival of Deen and The Greatest Challenge Facing the Ummah.

An e-book which provides a lot of details and a collection of various articles on different aspect of the Islamic WorldView is available from: An Islamic Worldview: Essays on the Conflict between Islam and Modernity.



Pakistan Economy in the Domestic, Regional & Global Context:

[] Training Session in 24th Mid-Career Management Course, National Institute for Management Islamabad, Monday 24th Oct 2016

Brief Summary: Today’s world is dominated by wrong ideas. Every party spending time and effort on using media to propagate ideas IS AN INTERESTED party — no one spends time and money to spread PURE TRUTH. THis makes job of sorting out truth from falsehood very difficult. Many dominant, widely believed ideas are simply not true. For example, deaths due to Islamic terrorism in Europe and USA are about the same as deaths due to strikes by lightning — but perception is that these are much more. Similarly, the Corruption PERCEPTION index says that Pakistan is highly corrupt, but empirical evidence shows the USA is much more corrupt. — see my article: Corruption: Measuring the Unmeasurable, for more details

Ideas are far more powerful than is commonly realized –( See the Power of Ideas). In particular, good expectations about the future are self-fulfilling, because if people have confidence in Pakistan, they will invest in it, and help bring about a better future. Today. some people are talking about high deficit and debt of Pakistan as being signs of a weak economy. In fact, as explained in detail in the video lecture below, the two-gap model says that we need to have high deficits and debt in order to have high growth. Many bad ideas which economists have given us are the greatest obstacles to growth. Among this is the idea that growth is caused by machines and FDI and exports. Actually growth is caused by investing in our own people. This was realized by Mahbubul Haq after he applied the false growth theories from Harvad, and found that they did not work. He then created a radically new approach based on Human Development. This approach is of great value even today, since our policy makers are still using imported and failed foreign ideas, instead of tested and true domestic ideas. Among the main bad ideas is that WE the elite must carry out development, and then we will share the fruits with poor people of Pakistan. Instead, we have a large number of un-sung heroes who have actually created revolutionary, community driven, approaches to development, which are now being emulated all over the world. If we can liberate our minds from the shackles of colonization, and empower our people, giving them lives with security and dignity, our people will change the future of Pakistan.

Download PPT Slides for this talk.

1. Living in a Post-Fact & Post-Truth World
We’re living in post-fact and post-truth world. Today, there are so many truths available that it’s very hard to know what is true and what is false. Islam gives has the responsibility to not forward anything without verifying it ourselves. Reality is not made of bricks, stones and mountains but we can see only reflection of reality which is inside our mind. Lot of things that we know is not part of our experience but we get to know by narration instead of direct observation.
This interesting problem is capsulated in story called, ‘Lady and the Tiger’. It gives us very important fact that all parties that give information are interested parties in fact. There is no dis-interested party in the world. So, it’s very difficult to find out the truth.
2. Ideas are Powerful Shaper of Reality
According to Keynes, the practical men feel themselves quite away from philosophy. But actually what they are doing is based on philosophy without their knowledge. It is true as lot of people without any knowledge of modern economics or philosophy they are living their lives but even then these things profoundly shaping our world.
“Practical men who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back”, John Maynard Keynes.
Number of deaths by terrorist attacks, in EU, are slightly larger than people killed by lightening. But people killed by homicide, consumer products, walking in traffic, sporting accidents, heat wave, traffic accidents, suicide, respiratory illness, heart disease and cancer are much larger, respectively, than by terrorist attacks. By this information one can easily decide that how much resources should be spent to stop terrorist attack and how much for cancer, heart disease and other things. Reality is that billions are spent on terrorist attacks and very little money is spent on all of the other causes. Same thing is happening in USA where right wing extremist (white people) are committing about 120 terrorist attacks compare to 60 by Islamist and 20 by left wing extremists (black people). Total number of incidents is negligible but department of Homeland security spends billions of dollars on fighting these but other causes of deaths, those are more harmful, are completely neglected.
3. Pakistan is among the most Corrupt Countries
Most of the facts that we know are not the reality like Pakistan is 116 out of 176 countries in corruption but it’s an appearance. It doesn’t have connection with reality of corruption. In fact US government pays CIA to fabricate the reports. Corporation generate huge sum of profits by wars so they do lobbying and finance campaigns for wars. Projection to the public was that Iraq has weapons of mass-destruction but it was known that it’s not true. Similarly big pharma finance the politicians to pass the laws in their favor like to stop importing cheap medicines so that they can sell at high price.
Global financial crisis is another trillion dollar scandal. Vast number of banks and financial agencies were involved in fraud at large scale. Book, ‘When Pentagon was for Sale’, describes the scandal of massive overbilling in Pentagon and also giving contracts on favoritism and so on.
But despite all these huge scandals, US is at 18 in list of most corrupt countries out of 176 countries. If only dollar value is calculated of these fraudulent activities then it will be cleared that there is highest level of corruption in USA.
There is difference between perception and reality. It is perception that Islamic terrorists are destroying the world but reality is entirely opposite.
4. Two Gap Model of Growth
There is well known Two Gap model of growth which states that if country wants to grow then investment should be made in future of country. For it money is needed to invest today to get results in future. Now there are two type of money. Some of the money is domestic and for imports of machinery etc. the foreign currency is needed. There are two gaps here of which one is domestic saving gap that how can we raise money to invest in domestic market and secondly how can we raise foreign exchange to finance imports. Standard recommendation is that public should have lot of savings from which investment can be made and secondly high exports are necessary to generate foreign exchange earnings. These two gaps leads to low growth of countries.
The solution to these problem is to borrow to finance domestic investment and to fulfill exchange requirements. There is a problem with this solution that if country borrow money and misuse it then it’ll cause great damage to the country. On the hand if borrowed money is invest efficiently then there is no harm in borrowing revenues can be generated by it.
Pakistan has lot of borrowing but there is no harm as all money is invest on power plants, roads, capital goods etc. These investments are massively important for growth of economy in long run. Pakistan will achieve self-sufficiency in electricity through these investments and it’ll help industry to increase exports in near future. Domestic borrowing is done a lot by Pakistan but it’s going in right directions. Fixed capital investment in Pakistan is very strong which requires confidence in the future.
One sided scare story is Pakistan is drowning in in huge debt and economy will collapse soon. But the reality check is that economy is projected to exceed 6% growth which is maximum that can be seen in decades.
5. Who is Circulating False Facts? Why?
Now the question is who is circulating the false facts and why are they doing it?
The reality is that majority of people are simple minded dupes. For instance, Taliban were created by RAW, but lot of simple minded Muslims have been misguided into thinking that Taliban has something to do with Islam. Pakistan has got huge diplomatic achievement when support Iran against KSA and President of Iran visited Pakistan. The relations were becoming good that could also be helpful for increasing exports to Iran. But all of this was sabotaged when all headlines were about Kalbhushan Jadav instead of Iranian president even though he had been caught 40 days earlier. Iranian President returned and relations with Iran went even worse instead of improving as one specific group didn’t want Pakistan to develop good relations with Iran.
6. Quran: Leadership is circulated among the People
Quran says that leadership of the world is circulated among the people. Giovanni Arrighi, famous sociologist, analyzed the trend in world power and see that after every seven or eight decades the world power shifts. For past few centuries the European powers are in lead but he says now Asian countries will take lead on Europeans. He predicts that China is going to be next hegemon as GDP of Chine, on the basis of purchasing power parity, exceed the USA.
Pakistan is lucky to have China as trade partner but India and now USA are opposed to it.
There is strong pro-US, anti-Chine lobby within Pakistan and doing everything to derail the CPEC. Investment in future requires confidence but if the confidence is shattered in the economy then it destroys the investment. Confidence is state of mind which can be disturbed by false facts. There is a self-fulfilling prophecy that if we believe in the future it generates the strong future but if we doubt ourselves it also weakens the power. So the importance of soft power is huge to manipulate the public opinion now a days.
Can we take Pakistan to top 10 economies in 2050?
Some outsiders have predicted it’s possible. If we look at physical resources and all the material facts then we’ll see that it’s not impossible but biggest difficulty is due to mindsets as out of the box thinking is needed to achieve this goal.
7. Obstacles to Rapid Growth
One obstacle to rapid growth can be the debt trap. When debt is taken for wrong purposes and used by corrupt politicians then the people has to pay interest on loan. Such debt proved to be burden on economy and it’s possible but difficult to lessen this burden. However, it is important to differentiate clearly between “good” and “bad” debt. If debt is taken for the right purposes, it can substantially help improve the economy. In Pakistan, currently, most of our newly acquired debt is being put to productive use, but there is a burden of bad debt from the past, so the picture is mixed. In general, most of the poor countries are caught in the debt-trap, but for Pakistan, more important issue than debt is the wrong theories of economic development used by policy makers.
8. Blocking All Paths to Development
East Asian Countries (EAC) achieve miraculous growth from agrarian economy to industrial economy. Everything that these countries did was against the World Bank’s (WB) policies. EAC had the big industries guided by the government whereas WB policies restrict the interference of government in the economy. EAC had industrial policies to create coordination and subsidies the favorite industries. It means instead of being out of the market the government play crucial role which is against the WB policies. There were also price controls and restrictions on FDI whereas WB suggest to promote free market movement. In EAC there was also tight government control of money but WTO strictly against the influence of government on monetary policy.
After the East Asian miracle the WB rules closes all these paths to growth for its member countries. In all of such policies there is half-truth but there is also element of half-falsehood. For example WB restrict the involvement of government in economy as it causes harm but it’s half-truth as good government intervention can also put the economy on growth path.
9. Liberating Our Minds
We need to liberate our minds from piousness economic theory. Export led growth says if we just focus on increasing exports that will lead to growth but it’s simply wrong. But it’s part of agenda of foreigners to promote export led growth policies. Actually to create growth we’ve to increase the productive capacity in domestic economy so correct theory is growth led export instead to opposite.
Privatization is recommended as solution to inefficient government but reality check negates this as China has 75% of all its industry in the public sector. So there is issue of improvement of management whether it’s private or public sector. Deception is created in our minds that we should for high life style and luxuries. But recent research on happiness shows that high standards of living causes unhappiness as we’ve to work very hard to maintain a high life style and real drivers of happiness are family, friends and social circle. Striving for luxuries is opposite of Islamic teaching of simplicity.
It is thought that high growth rate will change the future of Pakistan but actually it’s not right methodology. Right approach is to help the poor people because they’re the people who will drive country ahead.
10. Pak Development Experience: Mehboob-ul-Haq Phase-I
In 1960’s Harvard group came to Pakistan and implement the economic theory that is applicable currently. According to this theory growth occur by building factories and by putting saved money into machines to produce more. What happened as a result was that all the money accumulated in hands of 22 families. So growth did occur but it didn’t go to the people. Same kind of policy has been implemented in the world. Russia planned to adopt free market ideology but they were planning to adopt implement is gradually. But Sachs go for shock therapy and as a result the economy of Russia collapse and millions of people became poor except few billionaires. All the Washington-Consensus policies had the same result everywhere.
11. Pak Development Experience: Mehboob-ul-Haq Phase-II
Mehboob-ul-Haq created the Human Development Index and focused on humans instead of growth. He focused on education and health instead of machine led growth. These things were not part of economic theory before he created HDI. Even today economists target the GDP growth per capita but discourse must be changed. Instead of GDP growth the focus must be on malnutrition, unemployment, health, education etc.
12. Pak Development Experience: Mehboob-ul-Haq Phase-III
In phase III of MH development he came to the realization that human beings are means and ends of development. Conventional wisdom is to use human beings for the production of wealth but MH says the opposite of it and said wealth should be used for betterment of human beings. Conventional wisdom, currently being followed in Pakistan Planning Commission, is to first produce wealth and then distribute it to the poor. But we must do the opposite of it as first we’ve to help the poor and then they’ll produce the wealth. According to conventional economics the social development is burden but in actual the social development is essential for development. So development is all about human beings but not about factories and roads.
13. Key Lessons from Experience
One of the major lessons from alternative economics is that if we want development then millions of engines of growth are needed but government itself can’t do it. So, investment in local productive capabilities leads to growth. We’ve to create agents of change who are we but nobody else. We can’t wait for external forces to make planning for us and to develop us. We’ve to unlearn the dependency on foreigners for policy making and also in other fields. We also have to overcome the inferiority complex because it prevent us from thinking about our own problems. If we go to WB then can provide 20 things to follow to achieve growth but unfortunately the solution of our problems is not available in these recommendations.
Basically our bureaucratic system is designed to rule people but not to serve people. We need to change this thinking of bureaucrats and to motivate them to work for service of people as Islamic teachings taught us that leader of the people is actually servant of the people.
14. From Outcome to Process
One of the major problems with modern economic and social thought is they focus on outcomes. It’s not how change happens because change happens when we focus on process and on how we play the game. Islamic teachings are also similar that outcomes are not in our hands but what we do is in our hand. So, if we do the right thing right now then we’ve achieved success whether or not it leads to the word success. We should not think about consequences but do what is in our power.
Instead of external goals like how can I change governments and other people we must focus on internal goals like change in myself, home and neighborhood.
15. We’ve many Un-Sung Heroes
Pakistan has produced lot of thought leaders like we mentioned Mehboob-ul-Haq who changed the word Development and had massive impact on the world. Akhtar Hameed Khan created the idea of community development which is now very strong and powerful concept all over the globe. Similarly Muhammad Yunus created the Grameen Bank which is first viable model for microfinancing and it’s now being implemented all over the world. Fazle-Hussain Abid who is leader of BRAC had recommend the first intervention in poverty which has been successful in graduating people out of poverty. Adbus-Sattar Edhi has done huge service to society similarly Indus hospital gives free health treatment to poor. Education and health are responsibility of society to poor. Except these big heroes there are many other un-sung heroes in our society who has done great work for society in their capabilities.
This concept has been practiced for centuries in Muslim societies in which education was free for all children and give health care to everyone.

POSTSCRIPT: Slides for Above Talk. Other talks regarding Development Policies for Pakistan:

  1. Impact of Colonial Heritage on Economic Policy for Pakistan – The colonial heritage converts our ruling classes into oppressors and exploiters of the public. Changing this mindset to public service is required for progress.
  2. Privatization of SOEs: Islamic Views — It is not state ownership but putting personal power and benefits over the public interest that is the source of our SOE problem
  3. Re-Defining Development: Talk at NIM on 6 Apr 2016 on the issue of how West understands development to be accumulation of wealth, but Islam teaches us that this word refers to human development — if we make progress towards learning to be human beings
  4. What is Development? — Similar talk to the one above
  5. Achieving High Growth – how we can remove obstacles to growth in Pakistan