Recovering from a Western Education

Most people admire and appreciate my educational credentials — BS Math 1974 from MIT completed in 3 years at age of 19, and Ph.D. Econ 1978 from Stanford at age 23.  They would find it difficult to imagine that it has taken me decades of life experience to recover from the damage that this education has done to me. The damage was done in so many different dimensions that it is hard to even catalog the whole list. However, before explaining this in greater detail, I must answer some questions which immediately arise whenever I make such statements.

Q1: Do I regret having had this education? To the contrary, I deeply appreciate having had this chance for training at the finest educational institutions that currently exist in the world. This type of education currently shapes minds and thinking of people all over the planet. Without having it, I would be unable to understand their mindsets, ways of thinking and communicate with them. Those who have not experienced this type of brainwashing would be completely ineffective as critics, or at providing remedies, for the disease which afflicts the vast majority of human beings.

Q2: Would education in Pakistan have been better? Not at all. All over the planet, what we have is copies of Western educational models – second rate, third rate, or even worse. Given that we have to drink of this poison anyway, it is best to drink it at the source, where it is pure and strong — as they say, if it does not kill you, it will make you stronger. Third rate copies are very bad because you do not understand what you are being taught, but you get exposed to the ill-effects anyway — you get all the bad but nothing of the little bit of good elements of the education. Remaining un-educated is also not an option, because the ways of looking at the world created by higher education are absorbed by every one and reflected in our conversations, social media, novels, and news — there is no escape.

Q3: But what about madrassas, or purely religious education — would that not have been better? Currently, our madrassas do not provide the kind of education that was available to Imam AL-Ghazali in Nishapur, where he said that I have now mastered all the knowledge that currently exists, except for that of the Sufi’s who claim that their knowledge is based on experience, and cannot be transmitted by books. The point is that religious knowledge is meaningful only when you know how to apply it to the world you live in. In the past, the Islamic tradition of education provided training in all subjects — math, chemistry, physics, technology, medicine, as well as the Quran and Hadeeth. By confining the subjects to the narrow scope which currently exists, students are ignorant about how the Quran and Hadeeth apply to the study of mathematics. Even worse, they are led to believe that Quran and Hadeeth have nothing to say about contemporary real world affairs — for this, one must consult Western textbooks. This has the immediate implication that Islam is not relevant to our daily lives in the modern world — it only provides information about how we can have a better afterlife, and go  to Paradise.

Q4: People listen to me only because I have these great educational credentials. If I did not have them, no one would listen to the kind of crazy things that I am saying. So am I not being ungrateful, for saying bad things about the education that made me what I am today, and also gives me the respect and admiration of the people?  As I said earlier, I am very grateful to the West for giving me the opportunity, along with many other foreign students, to take from the best that they have to offer, without any prejudice or discrimination. The intellectual tradition of the West has gone astray in many different ways, due to false philosophies which emerged and became widely accepted by everyone. However, people in the West, and in the East, do not realize this. These false philosophies poison our minds, and prevent us from leading rich and fulfilling lives, and achieving the potential for excellence which exists within every human being. This message is equally true and valid for Western and Eastern audiences. Learning about the false and poisonous philosophies underlying the western educational process is of essential importance in solving the tremendous problem humanity as whole currently faces. There is massive inequality — the majority of people in the USA suffer obesity from over-eating, while millions of children die of starvation and malnutrition. The planet is on the verge of an ecological catastrophe. Wars in the past century have taken millions more lives than in any other period of human history. The list goes on and on. Unless we wake up to the defects of modern education, it will not be possible to remedy these problems.

Q5: What I am saying today is a direct product of the education I have received. It is hypocritical, and self-contradictory, to use the education that I have to say that this education itself is bad? First, let me acknowledge that there were some very good things in the training I received. These were mixed in with very deadly poisons, but nonetheless, I did derive a lot of benefit from these good elements. But the ability to understand that this education was substantially harmful, and that it is possible to design far far better ways of training people — these insights came to me after spending four months in Tableegh. During this period, I learned many things which were the opposite of the ideas that I had absorbed at MIT and Stanford, and came to realize that in many ways, the truth was exactly the opposite of what I had been taught. So what I am saying today is an Islamic perspective on a Western education, which does not derive from my Western education.

I had hoped to get to some substantive issues, about how exactly a Western education is harmful, in a point by point way. However, the time I allocated to blog writing has already been exceeded by far, and the post is already quite long, so I will have to leave that for a later post. However, I have expressed this idea, and articulated some of the main serious problems with Western education in many different talks. For example, my talk at IBA, linked below, starts with the claim that a Western education is poisonous to our welfare:


The talk is highly condensed, and a lengthy point-by-point explanation of the ideas discussed in the talk are given in a sequence of posts starting from: Re-Learning Islam. A similar talk in URDU is also available: Comparing Islamic and Western Knowledge.

POSTSCRIPT: A major problem with Western education is that it teaches us the wrong goals for life, and does not teach us the essential importance of learning our identities – who we are. In this connection, see: Learn Who You Are and Three Mega-Events which Shape our Thoughts. Another problem is that there is no mention of morality, character, and other essentials we all need for the development of our personalities. See Getting a Real Education.


Islamic & Western Knowledge Compared

Urdu talk to PIDE Students (25/10/18, macroeconometrics) about the nature of knowledge — what is useful to study and learn. For a similar talk in English, see – Re-Learning Islam

The rise of Islam, 1450 years ago, was the most amazing event in human history. Ignorant and backwards bedouin of the desert rose to became leaders of the world, and launched a civilization that brought enlightenment to all of humanity for more than a thousand years. The foundations of all modern knowledge, and empirical approaches to learning based on the scientific method, were all created within the folds of the Islamic Civilization.

Today it seems that this final message of God has lost the revolutionary power that it once had. Today, Muslims are once again in the depths of darkness, and it seems that only Western knowledge has the power to change our conditions. In accordance with this assumption, the vast majority of Muslims are engaged in a deep study of Western ideas, philosophies, and sciences. Very few think about the possibility that perhaps the Quran contains the solutions to our problems.

In this lecture, I explained to the students why these appearances are an illusion. Why, despite its extremely attractive appearance, Western knowledge actually acts as a poison, and prevents us from the full realization of our capabilities for excellence, which are built into the souls of all human beings. I explained how the the message of Islam today has the same revolutionary power that it did 1450 years ago — it can still transform our lives and change the course of history. I also talked about how I came to these discoveries, which are strongly in conflict with widely held beliefs among Muslims.

Urdu; How the Quran provides Guidance, while Western education provides money from Asad Zaman on Vimeo.

This is similar to an English talk at IBA — “The Value of Knowledge as a Guide to Action” — which is explained in detail in posts starting from “Re-Learning Islam

Transforming Knowledge

Everyday, we see miracles, the signs of our Creator, in front of our eyes, but fail to reflect on them. How does the worm turn into a butterfly? How does the seed, with no moving parts, no brains, no knowledge of chemistry and engineering, manufacture thousands of different chemicals from dirt, and self-transform into a glorious tree, with delicious fruits? Buried deep beneath the ground, how does it learn which direction is up, to send the trunks, and which direction is down, to send the rootes?  Is there knowledge that can produce the same miracle within us —  realize within us the potential to achieve true excellence that Allah T’aala has placed within every soul? This miracle occurred 1450 years ago in the desert of Arabia, when ignorant and backwards bedouin were transformed into leaders of the world, and created a brilliant civilization which enlightened the whole world for more than a thousand years. Does this knowledge, given to man by God, have the same transformational power today? This question is under discussion in the sequence of posts starting with “Re-Learning Islam“. The present post describes some aspects of the nature of the knowledge given to the early Muslims.

Forward to Translation of Imam Al Nawawi: Ādāb al-ăĀlim waĂl-Mutaăallim wa Ādāb al-Muftī waĂl-Mustaftī The Etiquettes Of The Scholar And The Learner, And The Muftī And The Questioner


 All praise and glory belongs to Allāh taʿālā alone, Creator of the Heavens and Earth and all in between, and much more that we do not know anything about.

When, in search of guidance, our Prophet Muḥammad—ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi wassalam—retired to the cave of Hirāʾ, Allāh taʿālā sent him the angel Jibrāʾīl with the words of the first Waḥy, “Read, in the name of thy Lord who created.” Here Allāh subḥānahu wa taʿālā is introducing Himself to the best of the best among His Creations. And how did He choose to introduce Himself? His qualities and characteristics are such that the oceans turned to ink would not suffice to describe them.  Among all of these infinite qualities, Allāh taʿālā chose to introduce Himself as the Creator of Man, the One who gave Man knowledge of that which he did not know.  The Waḥy itself begins with the command to Read, and shows the extreme importance of knowledge, and of the transmission of knowledge by the means of writing and by the heart to heart transmission which took place between the angel Jibrāʾīl and our prophet Muḥammad—ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi wassalam.

What was the impact of this knowledge which was given to the Muḥammad—ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi wassalam—and imparted by him to his followers, the Companions? This knowledge brought them out from the darkness of Jāhiliyyah into the Nūr of Īmān. There was a dramatic transformation, an internal revolution, within the lives of the Companions. From the savagery of the Jāhilliyah they changed to those who were praised by Allāh because they fed others while being themselves hungry. This internal revolution was accompanied by an external revolution. The Muslims spread over the world with a burning message from God, which charged them to become the best of the communities, and to spread good, and to prohibit evil. This was the first time in the history of mankind that swords were used to free mankind from oppression, on behalf of the masses, and not for conquest, looting and luxury.

The dramatic transformation created by the teachings of Islām in the lives of the Muslims changed the tides of history. For a powerful description, see the book, Mā Dhā Khasir al-ʿĀlam bi Inḥiṭāṭ al-Muslimīn by Syed Abuʾl-Ḥasan ʿAlī al-Nadwī. Not only did oppression, darkness, and injustice of all kinds dominate the pre-Islamic world, but these were considered natural and socially acceptable. The radical message of Islām brought concepts which were unknown to the world at the time. The revolutionary effect of the teachings of Islām was foreshadowed in a prophecy which is still contained in the Bible: “I still have much to tell you, but you cannot yet bear to hear it. However, when the Spirit of Truth (Prophet Muḥammad) comes, He will guide you into all truth.” Among the many truths which the world could not bear to hear, central to Islam, is the equality of all human beings before God, of the responsibility of the strong to protect the weak, and of the rightful share of the poor in the excess wealth of the rich.

Our Prophet who was sent as a Mercy towards all the Worlds was the founder of a civilization built around the core values of concern, compassion and service for all of the creation of God. “All creatures are (like) a family of God, and He loves the most those who are kindest to His family.” The Islamic civilization was based on the ideals of generosity, cooperation, good will towards all human beings, kindness towards animals, and care for the environment as a gift of God to humankind. In contrast with dominant ideas about religion at the time, excellence in conduct was declared to be the highest form of worship: “He who cares for widows and the poor is like those who fight in the way of Allāh or those who spend their days fasting and their nights praying.” The motivation for good deeds was not to be fame, glory, popularity or wealth, but an internalized love of Allāh: “And they feed, for the love of Allāh, the poor, the orphan, and the captive …” The prophet Muḥammad—ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi wassalam—was comforted in the Holy Qurʾān and told “not to kill himself with sorrow” because of his concern and compassion for all mankind. This excellence in conduct is to be emulated by all Muslims: “The believer loves and is loved by others.”

The dramatic achievements of the Islamic civilization over more than a thousand years cannot be encapsulated in several libraries, let alone a brief forward. Unique features of this civilization remain unreplicated and are ideals sorely and urgently needed by the world today. As just one example, brotherhood and equality are vigorously asserted in both Ḥadīth and Qurʾān; for example, in the last Sermon, our Prophet declared that:

All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over a black nor a black has any superiority over a white except by piety and good action.

The transmission of these radical ideas from the advanced civilization of Andalus, Islamic Spain, to the primitive Europe of the time transformed their Dark Ages into the European Enlightenment. Among many recent writings, the books, The Enlightenment QurʾānIs Science Western in Origin? and The Theft of History, document both the transmission and the concealment of the Islamic origins, of the revolutionary body of knowledge from the Muslims to Europe. The slogans of Rousseau “Liberty, Fraternity, and Equality” which inspired the French Revolution and ushered in the modern age are directly borrowed from the teachings of Islam, and are strongly in conflict with the previous history of Europe based on aristocracy. Because these Islamic teachings are powerfully aligned with human nature (fiṭrah), they have carved out a place in Western thought. Recent resurgence and rising popularity of racism, the “Black Lives Matter” movement in USA, and anti-immigrant sentiments in Europe, show that these ideas have not yet been fully assimilated.

Today, after a long and complex historical process which cannot be detailed here, darkness has again fallen upon the world, and the spirit of the pre-Islamic Jāhilliyah dominates.  === [[ end of excerpt from forward. Essay goes on to explain how Islamic knowledge is just as revolutionary today as it was 1400 years ago. Complete forward is available for reading and download below]]

POSTSCRIPT: related: Convocation Address to IBL graduating students explains how they were created as best of creations, but have been trained to believe that they are commodities for sale on the market, so that capitalists can use them as human resources, and prevent them from realizing their true potentials.

The Highways of Good and Evil

This is part of a sequence of posts, starting with “Re-Learning Islam“. These posts provide a detailed explanation of a lecture entitled “The Nature of Knowledge as a Guide to Action”, a keynote address at an IBS Conference on 11th Aug 2018. A 55m YouTube Video of the talk  in English: Knowledge As a Guide to Action.  A very similar talk in Urdu, given at PIDE, on The Value of Islamic Knowledge (95m Audio).

Quran (90:10) [Have We not] shown him the two highways [of good and evil]?

Allah T’aala has shown us the two highways of good and evil, and has left us free to choose our path — towards Him, or away from Him:

Quran (73:19) Let him who will, then, choose a way unto his Lord.

So there are two highways, and we have to choose the one to follow. A Western education teaches us and trains us to follow the  Western highway of our personal desires. The Eastern Highway is based on restraining ourselves from following our personal desires. Instead, we must learn what our Lord desires for us, and tie ourselves down, voluntarily, to the commandments of our religion. This is why there is a Hadeeth which states that the World is the Heaven of unbeliever — he is free to follow his desires –

We provide a brief characterization of the two highways.

Western Highway

The goal of life is to enjoy luxuries, accumulate wealth, and exercise power over others. Knowledge is useful if it helps us to achieve these goals.  Wealth and Power are the most important markers of status in the society. Progress and development are measured by the amount wealth you accumulate, whether individually or collectively. According to Economic Theory, rational behavior consists of maximizing the pleasure that we get from consuming goods and services in this worldly life.

Since all people are striving for the same goals, life is a fierce competition with each other (a war of all against all) for scarce resources. The laws of the jungle apply, and survival-of-fittest means that any tactics or strategy which yields victory is permissible.

Eastern Highway

The teachings of Islam are radically different. Allah T’aala created us all in the World of Souls (Alam ul Arwah) and made us recognize Him as the Creator of all. Then He took an oath of fidelity from us. The impress of this oath is burnt into our hearts, so that we are all equipped with the capability to recognize our Lord. Now we have been sent into this Earth for a short time, to see who remains faithful, and who ignores his promise, and gets distracted by the temptations of this world. Those who succeed will receive tremendous rewards, and those who fail will receive a terrible punishment.

In contrast with Economic theory, instead of maximizing our pleasures, and following our desires, we are supposed to restrain ourselves, and NOT fulfill our desires.

(79:40,41) However, those who had feared their Lord and restrained their souls from acting according to its desires. Paradise will be their dwelling.

(Jathiya:23) Have you seen him who takes his own lust (vain desires) as his ilah (god), and Allah knowing (him as such), left him astray, and sealed his hearing and his heart, and put a cover on his sight. Who then will guide him after Allah?

Changing our Goals:

We are all impressionable as human beings, and the pressures of our environment influence our actions. Our main goal and focus is to achieve social standing, respect, and admiration of our friends and family, and the larger social circle that we operate within. If all people within our circle praise wealth, and admire material possessions like cars and houses, our heart also gets filled with the love of these things. Today our heart are full of love and admiration for the West, which admires many things that our religion does not consider important, and considers as unimportant many things which Islam considers very important. This generates the Deep Seated Inferiority Complex that affects and poisons our hearts. The heart is then attracted by the Western Highway, and makes the wrong choices, which further increase our distance from God.

The Quran warns us against this problem:

Quran 3:196 – Do not ever let the (pomp and) prosperity of the unbelievers in the land fool you (or cause you to envy them).

Similarly, the Prophet SAW asked the companions about two passerbys. They said the first one was a rich unbeliever with power, social status, and respect, while the second one was a poor muslim with no social standing. The Prophet SAW explained that the second one, because of his belief, had higher standing in the eyes of Allah than a whole world full of people like the first.

It is this CHANGE in how we see the world that is the requirement of Islam.  We need to CHOOSE the Eastern Highway, in order to travel towards God. In order to do this we have to change our perspective. Instead of valuing what the society values as high status, we have to re-train our eyes to see the things that Allah T’aala values. This requires substantial effort.

A Common Self-Deception:

When we are impressed by the achievements of the West, and our hearts are filled with admiration of their lifestyles, then we are also attracted towards following the Western highway, which leads to the things that they value — like money, luxury, status, power. This creates a conflict between our stated beliefs as Muslims, and our actions. We do not like such conflicts, and usually resolve them by finding a religious justification for our actions. Thus we deceive ourselves into thinking that we are actually following the teachings of Islam, the Eastern Highway, when in fact we are on the Western Highway.

It is very important to do a self-analysis, to understand which highway we are following. One simple way to detect this is to look at our own reaction to those Ahadeeth which please our Nafs, and compare with the our reaction to those Ahadeeth which do not. So for example, those who are striving for more wealth justify this by saying that the Quran tells us to ask for the best things of this world, and so our pursuit of wealth is a form of worship. Similarly, to earn Rizq-e-Halal is a form of worship. Also, a hadeeth says that poverty can drive you into Kuft, or disbelief. Now we have a comfortable package of Deeni sayings which protect our actions. But for all of the Hadeeth and the Quran which support our actions, there are many more which go in the opposite direction. For example, the Quran says that man is strong in his desire for the things of this world, and he seeks to keep accumulating wealth, until he goes to his grave. The Quran says that we prefer the worldly life, even though the life-hereafter is far better, and longer lasting. Similarly, there are many ahadeeth which show that poverty can be a desirable state:

HADEETH: By Allah, it is not poverty I fear for you, but rather I fear you will be given the wealth of the world just as it was given to those before you. You will compete for it just as they competed for it and it will destroy you just as it destroyed them

Similarly, the riches of this world would have been given to the disbelievers, but that would have made our trial too difficult – we would not have been able to resist the temptation.

QURAN: And if it were not that the people would become one community [of disbelievers], We would have made for those who disbelieve in the Most Merciful – for their houses – ceilings and stairways of silver upon which to mount

For a detailed discussion of this issue of whether poverty or wealth is desirable, and how to resolve the apparent conflict between different types of Ayat and Ahadeeth on this issue, see my lecture and notes on Islamic Views on Poverty and Inequality. In this post, our concern is rather different.

Which Highway are We Following?

The deeds which people do are made to seem fair to them — no one thinks of himself as a bad person. Those people who pray only on Fridays are happy because they compare themselves to others who do not pray at all. Those people who get up for Tahajjud think that they have become Wali-ullah. In complete contrast, the Sahaba, after making the maximum sacrifices for Deen, thought that they had done nothing at all. Our tongues will be silenced on the day of Judgment, and our body parts will speak and bear witness against us. Before that day, it is essential for us to HONESTLY understand which highway — Western or Eastern — we are on.

Quran (73:19) Let him who will, then, choose a way unto his Lord.

Have we made this choice? Have we chosen the path towards our Lord? To answer this question honestly, we must think about the Hadeeth regarding Syedna Ali, who was about to kill an enemy soldier during a battle, when the soldier spat on his face. Immediately, Syedna Ali stopped his sword stroke. Surprised, the enemy soldier asked, why did you stop? He answered that initially I was carried out this action solely for the pleasure of Allah. But after you spat on my face, my own anger also became part of my motivation.

We must ask ourselves whether we are following the Western highway, which is that of fulfilling the desires of our Nafs, or the Eastern Highway, which requires us to follow the will of Allah, even when it goes strongly against the desires of our Nafs. Islam asks us to sacrifice and give away the things we love most, for the sake of the pleasure of Allah.

The greater Jihad is the battle against our own desires. Winning this battle leads to the self-transformation which creates a revolution within our souls. Once the candle of the love of Allah is lit within our hearts, it communicates itself to others, and becomes the source of launching a revolution in the World. The promise of Allah remains today, as it has always been:

Ki Muhammad se wafa toonay to ham teray hain
Ye jahan cheez hai kiya lauho qalam tere hain

POSTSCRIPT: The light of knowledge of the heart and spirit, which leads to inner transformation and spiritual advance, is also reflected, indirectly, in the external realms. This relationship is actually the subject of this entire series of posts, but the way to integrate the two has not yet been fully discussed. This will be done in later posts. Previous posts which discuss issue in greater detail are:

The Quran: Complete and Perfect Guidance

The Great Divide: Head and Heart.

Does Islam Teach Only Spirituality?


Urdu: Unlock your infinite potential

9m Convocation Speech in urdu at Institute of Business Leadership —

Outline of points covered in speech:

  1. Although you (students) may not realize it, you are the most valuable assets in the universe, with  infinite potential.
  2. Everyone is out to woo you, to win you over to their missions — they are all deadly serious, and they all promise you the moon and more.
  3. In fact, you are infinitely precious, your value cannot be paid for by all the gold in the universe.
  4. A capitalist/market society creates the illusion that everything is for sale — you are also told to consider yourself as a commodity for sale. This allows people to buy you for money and to harness you to their cause. This is a great gain for them, and a great loss for you, which you do not realize, because you believe yourself to be a commodity for sale on the marketplace.
  5. To realize your true potential, you must break through the prison of ideas that makes you believe that your goal in life is to earn money.
  6. Your value, the worth of your life is in your hands — if you set low goals, your worth will be low. It is up to you to reach for the stars. You are the most precious creation of God, and you can change the world, if you make this your vision.
  7. Instead of pursuing wealth and luxury, seek nothing for yourself, and seek only to serve the Creation of God out the Love of God — with this goal, you will achieve destinations which others can only dream of.

For more lectures on how to achieve your hidden potentials, see:

  1. Reaching Beyond the Stars
  2. The Ways of the Eagles

Another short urdu convocation speech to graduates of Hira, regarding the power of the message of the Quran.

A farewell message to students of IIIE, on occasion of my leaving IIIE to join PIDE as Vice Chancellor.

Talk/Discussion with students of PIDE regarding the bigger questions we face in life.

Does Islam teach only spirituality?

The Great Dilemma under discussion – starting from the post on Re-Learning Islam — is the following: Without question or doubt, the message of Islam launched a revolution in world history, and transformed ignorant desert dwellers to leaders of the world. However, today it appears to have lost this power — modern Muslims are again ignorant and backwards, at the bottom rank in world civilizations — Why is this? Is the message of Islam now obsolete?

We can add to this puzzle by noting that the Quran claims to offer complete and perfect guidance, valid for all time. BUT  Quran does not teach calculus, physics, chemistry, biology, mathematical theorem, sociology, economics, political science, etc. In today’s world, the knowledge acquired by the West over the past few centuries seems to have central importance. But then, How can the “Quran provide complete and perfect guidance?” Today, it seems that progress is only possible if we acquire a Western education, and it seems that studying the Quran and Hadeeth may be beneficial for our life-after-death, and the Yom-ul-Qiyamah, but it is largely irrelevant for progress in the modern world. But if Islam is not relevant for our worldly life, then how did Islam create a revolution in world history? How did ignorant and backwards Muslims become leaders of world, and how did they launch a civilization which flourished for a thousand years?

In a previous post on “The Great Divide: Heart and Head“, we discussed the most common answer that Muslims give to the questions raised above. Modern Muslims think that Islam teaches us only about spirituality  — Islam teaches us about Kalima, Hajj, Zakat, Salat, and Fasting in Ramazan — the five pillars for the worship of God. Islam provides us with the training of the Heart, but the West provides us with the training of the Head — intellectual, rational, scientific reasoning for today must be learned from the West.

Superficially this seems like a good answer. But those who study history more deeply find themselves faced with a puzzle. HOW did the early Muslims develop science, technology, philosophy, literature, sociology, economics, and a wide variety skills we have forgotten, if Islam only taught them about the five pillars, spiritual practices and ways to worship? An EVEN DEEPER study of history requires throwing over the Eurocentric history which says that Science and rational thought originated in Europe and are unique to Europeans — non-whites are unable to think rationally and scientifically.  See my post on “The Emergence of Science” which explains how science originated in the Islamic Civilization, and bloomed in Andalus (Islamic Spain). It was the re-conquest of Islamic Spain by Europeans which gave them access to the Islamic Sciences, which ended their Dark Ages, and started their Enlightenment.

This leads us back to the original question — If Islam is just a set of spiritual practices, than how did it develop a vast amount of scientific knowledge, which created the basis of all modern sciences, and took Europe out of its dark ages?

Truly, it is the case that “Islam came as a stranger, and has become a stranger”, as prophesied. Or, in another Hadeeth: “There will come a time upon a people when nothing remains from Islam except its name, nothing from the Qur’an except the form of its letters” But Allama Iqbal has the answer to all of the puzzles and dilemmas that we have posed above. He says that:


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

The central problem, which is the key to understanding the puzzles posed above, is that our eyes have been dazzled by the brilliance of Western knowledge. Because of this influence, they are blind to the glory of Islamic Knowledge. The West has RE-DEFINED knowledge, so that the word means something VERY DIFFERENT from what Islam tells us about knowledge. The West has also RE-DEFINED progress, so that it means something VERY DIFFERENT from what Islam calls progress. After learning the Western definition of knowledge, we think that what Islam has to offer us is not knowledge at all. Similarly, after learning the Western definition of progress and development, we think (correctly) that the Quran cannot help us in making such progress and achieving such development.

Very briefly, useful knowledge according to the West is that which helps us to control and change the external environment — so-called scientific knowledge. How to control our Nafs, our desires, and our anger and harmful emotions — this does not count as knowledge in the West. Also, progress in the West means acquisition of wealth and power. Again Islam defines progress and development very differently. A “civilization” which declares  that it is worth killing half a million children in order to control the oil of Iraq, and destroys millions of innocents by carpet bombing entire countries is not considered very civilized according to Islamic traditions.

To be continued

For a discussion of the meaning Knowledge within Islamic tradition, and how it differs radically from the Western conception of knowledge, see: An Islamic Approach to Knowledge. Similarly, for a discussion of the meaning of “Development” from the Islamic point of view, and how it differs radically from the Western meaning, see “Re-Defining Development


Quran: Complete and Perfect Guidance

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