Learning to Value our Heritage

[bit.do/azvoh] The greatest collective tragedy of the Ummah is not the present condition that we find ourselves in, steeped in ignorance and backwardness in all relevant dimensions. The tragedy is that this is exactly the same situation — the period of Jahilliyyah of pre-Islamic era — in which the teachings of Islam created a revolution. The complete transformation of the pre-Islamic society led the early Muslims from the depths of darkness to leadership of the world in a very short period of time. They launched a civilization which enlightened the world for a thousand years. The burning question is: do the teachings of Islam have the same power today as they did 1450 years ago? Can they change the dismal conditions of the Muslims today, like they did in the remote past? The greatest tragedy is that today, most Muslim do not think so — today most Muslims think that the solution to our problems lies — not in the Quran and Sunnah — but in the acquisition of Western knowledge which the West has acquired over the past few centuries.
A large number of Muslims feel that the cause for our current problems and backwardness is that we remain stuck in the past. We remember fondly the ancient glories of the vanished Islamic Civilization, and refuse to face the modern issues and the changing times. To these people, my message seems like exactly the wrong approach – dangerous lunacy.  People who listen to me will turn away from the solution, and get even more deeply stuck in the past. They will search for solutions in places where it cannot be found, instead of waking up and making progress towards the desperately needed acquisition of Western knowledge and capabilities that (appears to be) the only solution to our current problems. They think that while obviously there are some defects in Western knowledge and some conflicts with Islamic teachings, we should not call for wholesale rejection of it, as I have been doing (see “Questioning all of Economic Theory?
or “ The Search for Knowledge ”  In this post, I try to explain the reasons for my unusual and apparently illogical stand.
  1.  It is obvious to all, and agreed upon, that the Ummah is in bad condition — spiritual, economic, political — This observed reality is the source of a deep-seated inferiority complex  generally found in the Ummah. It appears obvious to all that we are behind the West in all relevant dimensions.
  2. There are sharp disagreements about the CAUSES and hence the REMEDY for this problem. See Rebuilding Islamic Societies  (translation in Urdu: Islami Muashere Ki Ta’meer-e-Nau )for an analysis of some options.
  3. The VAST majority of Muslims feel that we are sufficiently well informed about Islam so that additional  investment of time into studying teachings of Islam will not lead to a radical change. Rather, the reason for our backwardness is our failure to understand and adopt the Western knowledge which was produced in the last three to four centuries. (See Overcoming Shock-and-Awe of Western Knowledge)
  4. The EVIDENCE that this is the generally agreed upon diagnosis is to look at the amount of time collectively that the Ummah is spending in investing on the two types of knowledge. The vast majority of Muslim children study in Western schools and acquire a western educations — this is helpful in getting jobs, money, recognition, status. (see Crisis in Islamic Economics )
  5. I believe that this is a dangerous illusion. Today, as always, the perfect path to guidance is delineated in the Quran. Our collective neglect of the message of Quran is due to our being overly and unduly impressed by the Western knowledge of the past few centuries. Like the Mu’tazila were overly impressed with the complexity and sophistication of Greek philosophy and sought to make it part of the religion of Islam (saying that ‘aql was on par with waHy), so today Muslims are overly impressed with Western knowledge and consider it be on par with WaHy. (see The Modern Mu’tazila )
  6. EVIDENCE that when Western “science” and Quran conflict, Muslims re-interpret the Quran to match Western science is plentiful. I have cited several instances in many of my papers. As one simple example, consider the theory of utility maximization according to which the purpose of our lives is to maximize the pleasure we obtain from the consumptions of goods and services throughout our lifetime. This is the sole standard of rational behavior. While this is obviously in conflict with Islamic teachings, many muslim economists are on the record as defending this and supporting it with Ayat and Ahadeeth like Quran (3:14).(see the Quran: Perfect and Complete )
  7. In accordance with my diagnosis of the disease as being overly impressed with Western knowledge, I offer the antidote that Western knowledge is completely useless when it comes to the central goal of our  life: How to please Allah T’aala and How to succeed on the day of Judgment? For this purpose the Quran is complete and sufficient guidance. Once the awe and reverence of Western knowledge as being equivalent or superior to waHy is rejected — the disease is cured and the heart is purified — THEN the question can be taken up once again in the light of perspective provided by a correct understanding of the Quran and Sunnah as the basis and foundation for all knowledge. (seeAppreciating God’s Greatest Gift to Mankind )
I believe that Islamic knowledge encompasses many paradoxes and that the binary thinking I learned in West — something is either true or false — is just one of many poisons I ingested which I had to jettison to begin to understand the truth (see  Recovering from a Western Education ). Similarly my rejection of the totality of Western knowledge is also contextual, relative to the context which I have explained above. Because we are currently in shock-and-awe of the West, and accept everything that they say without the ability to critically evaluate it, it is best to reject it all and start all over again, on the solid foundations furnished by the Quran and Sunnah.  This is the best that I can do in terms of expressing my own imperfect, incomplete and continuously evolving understanding of a dynamic situation.
And Allah T’aala knows best.

A Lopsided Monetary System

The article below  explains how the current global trading system came into existence after the Bretton-Woods conference, and how it is immensely unjust. It allows the USA to purchase oil and precious commodities made with blood and sweat in return for paper. As the hegemonic hold of the USA weakens, a new global trading order is emerging. At this time, it is essential for the Islamic bloc to understand what is going on, to put aside differences, and to forge unity, in order to have a say in the creation of the new system. As the Quran says (8:46) “… Do not dispute with each other lest you lose your courage, and your strength departs … ” and also (3:103)  “And hold firmly to the rope of Allah all together and do not become divided. And remember the favor of Allah upon you – when you were enemies and He brought your hearts together and you became, by His favor, brothers.” If we are united, and we have a plan, and a voice, it would be possible to create an equitable system which treats the poorer countries fairly. Only a few leaders of the Islamic world, like Mahathir Mohammad and the late Mahbubul Haq, have understood the importance of Muslim unity to counteract to global capitalist order which sucks trillions of dollars of wealth from the poorest countries effortlessly, using the power of the dollar and interest based finance.  The article below provides background information needed to construct a new plan for a global trading system, based on an Islamic bloc.

(Published in Dawn, 7th Dec 2018):   “A Lopsided System“

SADLY, it is true that ‘money makes the world go round’. But, it is also true that very few people understand how. This article is an attempt at explaining the basics of our global trading system.

A good starting point is the Bretton-Woods conference which took place in 1944, while the Second World War was still raging. The two World Wars had drained the treasuries of the European states, making the gold standard impossible to maintain. An entirely new system had to be created to enable global trade for the post-War era. At the Bretton-Woods conference, the most sensible proposal for the global trading system was created and advocated by John Maynard Keynes. Unfortunately, the political power of the United States enabled it to quash this proposal. Instead, gold was replaced by the dollar standard, with the proviso that dollars could be exchanged for gold.

When the Vietnam War forced the US to print an excessive amount of dollars, president Richard Nixon declared in 1971 that dollars would no longer be backed by gold, creating a brave new world of currencies without any backing. Just like a fixed exchange rate is the natural consequence of pegging currencies to dollar or gold, so too a floating exchange rate system emerges naturally when there are no pegs for any currency

Today, the dollar is at the centre of the global trading system, and is as good as gold once was. Everyone needs dollars as reserves to back up their currencies. To acquire dollars, all countries other than the US, must strive to increase exports — this is how one earns dollars. The US can increase imports just by printing dollars, while the rest of world exports goods and services to earn dollars. Because dollars are the gold of the modern financial system, the US can print money without adverse consequences. For instance, the US printed trillions of dollars to finance the Iraq war, and other trillions to bail out the financial sector from the global financial crisis that was created by it. For more details, see “The Petro-Dollar Explained“.

If we pause to reflect, the consequences of the dollar-based global trading system are truly breathtaking. Because of mutual dependencies, no one can opt out of the global trading system. Everyone within the system needs dollars, and must strive to increase exports, in order to earn dollars. Net exports cannot increase, and cannot earn dollars, unless the US increases imports. In this financial colonisation of the world, everyone must strive to pay tributes in terms of goods to the US, while the latter country prints dollars to pay for them.

For anyone who falls behind in their payments of tributes, the IMF is there to ‘help out’ by extending a loan, which puts the borrowers deeper in debt enslavement. The results of this system whereby the US prints dollars in return for tributes in real goods provided by the rest of the world are obvious in terms of the immense disparities between American levels of consumption and those of the rest of the world.

A rough measure of how much tribute has been extracted is the current level the US debt, which is $21tr. About $15tr of this total amount has been acquired since 2000. As a benchmark for comparison, note that the world GDP, excluding the US, was around $60tr dollars in 2017. Many more details are required for a more accurate calculation of benefits which accrue to the US due to this dollar-based global trading system, which requires all of us to work hard at increasing exports, while the US printing presses work hard to print dollars to pay for them.

What can be done to replace this immensely lopsided and unjust global trading system, which gives tremendous benefits to the US at the expense of the rest of the world? The first opportunity was lost — rather, suppressed — when Keynes’ proposal for a symmetric trading system was rejected at the Bretton-Woods conference. Keynes’s original proposal continues to be attractive to this day, but many new ideas for how to structure global trading have also emerged over the past few decades.

There are two main concepts at the heart of all such proposals, which differentiate them from the current system. In any fair trading system which treats all countries equally, the target for all countries would be to balance exports and imports. The second concept is to place the burden of adjustment on countries with excess exports as well as those with excess imports. This is more equitable than the current system which places all the burden on the weaker country. With the emergence of China and the European Union as major players, the time is ripe for the demise of the dollar. With multiple centres of economic power, we may hope for a transition to a more equitable global trading system.

POSTSCRIPT: To understand modern money, it is important to understand the evolution of money over the course of centuries. The posts listed below provide the necessary background and information

  1. Understanding International Financial Architecture I. The Rise and Fall of the Gold Standard, going up to the Bretton Woods Conference
  2. International Financial Architecture Part II: From Bretton Woods to the Nixon Shock of 1971, and the emergence of floating currencies without backing
  3. Understanding International Finance — this is a simplified summary of above two lectures meant for a non-economist audience.
  4. Origins of Central Banking — This post explains the history of the creation of the Bank of England, mother of all Central Banks. This is essential to understanding the nature, role and function of Central Banks today


The Heart and Soul of Islamic Economics

[bit.do/az34agm] Presidential Address by Dr Asad Zaman, VC PIDE at 34th AGM and PSDE Conference. Very briefly, the address explained that European definition of knowledge excludes the heart and soul of man from scientific discourse. This make Western Social Science completely incapable of understanding human behavior, sources of human welfare, and human motivation. As a result, modern Western social science is based on absurd and ridiculous theories of human behavior. This is a deep deficiency which is addressed by Islamic approaches to social science. This approach starts by the consideration of human purpose and the normative ideals for human behavior. Then it considers the descriptive realities of imperfect human behavior, which is determined by the battle between the forces for good and evil. When we come to correct understanding of the purpose of human existence, then all dimensions of buman society – economic, political, social, environmental — must be changed so as to contribute towards achievement of these goals. Such changes will create systems of thought and action radically different from the pathways described by modern economic theory. The video of the lecture is given below.


An outline of the points made in the lecture, based on the ppt slides for the lecture is given below, The slides are also available from links below.

Lecture started by noting the extremely high cost of extremely faulty economic theories which led to the Global Financial Crisis, the environmental crisis which threaten to destroy the entire planet as a suitable habitat for mankind, which has already eliminated huge numbers of other species, and created inequality and misery of billions of lives on a scale never before seen.

We argue that at the heart of these problems is a theory of knowledge which developed in the West which excluded the heart and soul of man as sources of knowledge. On the other hand, the revolution created by the teachings of Islam changed the course of history precisely because it was addressed to the heart and soul. Creating the internal change by purifying the hearts led the ignorant and backwards Arabs to world leadership and created a civilization which enlightened the world for a thousand year. Even the European enlightenment was sparked by the light of knowledge from Islamic Spain so that all sciences that we know today — whether social or physical — originate in the Islamic Civilization. For more details, see What the World Lost Due to the Decline of the Islamic Civilization. This lecture explains the answers to the following questions:

  1. Can the teachings of Islam create a revolution today, like they did 1450 years ago?
  2. If so, then WHY are Muslims unable to see this, and why are the unable to use the teachings of Islam to lift themselves out of their present misery and backwardness?
  3. The answer to (2) lies in the colonization of Islamic lands, and the conquest of minds which took place — due to this, we Muslims see the World from a Eurocentric point of view.
  4. The Europeans, for reasons peculiar to their history (and explained in the lecture) excluded the heart and soul of man as a source of knowledge.
  5. Following them blindly, Muslims ALSO exclude heart and soul as valid producers of knowledge. But people whose hearts are blind cannot see the value of Islamic teachings.
  6. Because Western type education blinds us to the value of Islamic teachings, Muslims are today UNABLE to see that Islam offers a solution to our modern problems

Detailed explanations of this brief outline are given in the video lecture above. It might be worth looking at the slide given below while watching the lecture to see the outline of the points being discussed.



The slides for the lecture can be viewed or downloaded from SCRIBD below





Islamic Approaches to Economic Problems

Paper with title above was eventually published with title “Islam Versus Economics”, as Chapter 2 of Handbook on Islam and Economic Life, Edited by M. Kabir HassanMervyn K. Lewis, Edward Elgar Press, 2014. This draft is longer and covers more topics with more details than the revised version which condensed this 15,000 word paper to 11,000 words. Below we present some excerpts from the paper, and also provide a link to the full paper at the bottom of the post:

ABSTRACT: This paper argues that scarcity is not the fundamental economic problem, but rather distribution is. It also shows that economic growth will not solve our economic problem. Islam offers a radically different perspective on human economic problems and how to solve them. The main difference is that Islam considers human behavior as changeable, and focuses on improving behavior as the key to all positive change.

INTRODUCTION: The most fundamental teaching of economics is that economics is the science of scarcity. Without scarcity, there would be no economics, since everything would be abundantly available to all. The way to remove scarcity is by increasing production of goods. Sufficient wealth will solve the problem of scarcity.  {…}

Several important beliefs … are widely shared by economists:

  1. Even though love of money is bad, it must be encouraged, for this will lead to the accumulation of wealth.
  2. Once enough wealth accumulates (which might take another hundred years), we will leave the tunnel of economic necessity, and emerge into the daylight of plenty for all.
  3. When everyone has plenty of wealth, then there will be a great change in the code of morals. People lie, cheat, steal, only because they do not have sufficient wealth. They will become kind generous and gentle when the problem of scarcity has been solved.

The object of this paper is to show that this conventional approach to economics is fundamentally flawed. Furthermore, Islam teachings on economics explain the flaws of this approach, and offer an alternative approach which is radically different. We will attempt to show that this alternative approach offers a more promising solution to the economic problems currently facing mankind.

Section 2: Does Growth Remove Scarcity? 

If scarcity – that is, insufficient goods available – is the fundamental economic problem, then it seems apparent that producing more goods via economic growth, should solve the problem. Instead of taking it as an article of faith that economic growth will remove the problem of scarcity, let us look at the empirical evidence which can be brought to bear on this matter. There is a wide variety of different types of evidence, all of which show quite conclusively that economic growth as such does not affect scarcity. First we examine this evidence; later, we will look at the reasons why growth does not remove scarcity.   {….see paper linked below for extensive evidence…} The most fundamental issue here is that there are ALREADY in existence enough productive resources to comfortably feed, house, clothe, educate and provide health services to all of the people on the planet. Acquiring MORE resources is NOT necessary for this purpose. When we do try to acquire more, the extra wealth only ends up with those who are already wealthy and does not help in terms of solving the problem of scarcity for the poor.

Section 3: Why Growth Does Not Remove Scarcity

The Quran teaches us that the reason for scarcity is not the lack of goods. Allah T’aala is bountiful in provision of resources, which are sufficient for all living creatures on this planet:

11:6 There is no moving creature on earth but its sustenance dependeth on Allah.

Allah T’aala has promised to provide food for all on the planet. Figure 4 shows that global per capita food supply has been increasing slightly – quite contrary to Malthusian predictions. This graph shows clearly that food is available for all, as promised by Allah. If scarcity was the problem, then a solution would be to increase food supplies, and this is the line being taken by economists. But if current food supplies are already adequate to feed the planet, then further increase in food supply clearly does not address the problem. We must look elsewhere to find the reasons why this food is not reaching the poor. Similarly, as we have shown earlier, resources being wasted on wars and destruction are enough to provide adequately for all human needs. Again seeking growth to add to these resources will obviously not solve the problem of scarcity – they are already present in sufficient quantities for our needs.

==Paper discusses how economists believe that economic growth will solve all problems, including poverty. Concentration of wealth at top is not their concern because they believe it will trickle down to the poor. This is why economists focus on increasing GDP per capita, and economic growth, and pay no attention to distribution===

Section 3.2: Quranic Explanation of Failure of Trickle-Down

Contradicting the economists views that growth is the solution to all economic problems, the Quran informs us that the opposite is true:
42:17 And if Allah were to enlarge the provision for His slaves they would surely rebel in the earth, but He sendeth down by measure as He willeth. Lo! He is Informed, a Seer of His bondmen.
If people get more than enough, they become rebellious and spread corruption on Earth. This is exactly what we see today, when the richest and most powerful countries of the world combine forces to exploit and bleed the poor and powerless. Over the past decade, the poorest countries in the world have made interest payments of over $500 billion to the richest countries, without making a dent in the principal of the loan. If we follow the Keynesian prescription of encouraging greed, then the rich and powerful will accumulate wealth. However, greed will prevent them from sharing the gains with poor.

Indeed, the Quran predicts that they will use this wealth and power in bad ways. This is clearly illustrated by the recent war history of USA. The wealthiest and most powerful country in the planet invaded and occupied poor and helpless countries to capture their natural resources. Trillions were spent on these wars, which would have been sufficient to solve the problem of scarcity. If wealth is further increased, it will not solve the problem of scarcity, since it will only increase the rebellious behavior of the wealthy. As an illustration, according to the data for 2005, the combined wealth of the top 125 persons was greater than the GDP of all the LDC’s put together. However, they were not
motivated to solve the problems of feeding the poor. The Quran points to a solution radically different from the Keynesian solution of the accumulation of wealth, which is currently being pursued with vigor all over the planet.

=== This solution involves creating compassion in the hearts, and inviting the wealthy to share their wealth with the poor, as strongly encouraged in the Quran. ===

My Spiritual Father

We are all from Allah and to Allah we shall all return. My father made this journey towards his Creator on 10th Muharram in 1438 (see Remembering My Father). More recently, on 9 RabiulAwwal 1440, Haji Abdul-Wahhab, the head of the movement of Tableegh and Dawa, also returned to meet his Creator. Like millions of others, I consider Abdul-Wahhab Saheb as my spiritual father — The work to which he devoted his life, completely changed the life of my father, and later, the lives of his five sons — that is myself and my four brothers. It is impossible to exaggerate the influence of the work that he did. Everything I know about life and religion is the result of the extraordinary work for which he was the leader in Pakistan.

After the battle of Uhud, in which Muslims suffered heavy losses, there was much sadness and mourning in Medina. Even our Prophet Mohammad SAW was saddened by the Shahadat of his beloved uncle Hamza RA. Allah T’aala consoled the Muslims in the following amazing ayah of the Holy Quran:

(33:23) Among the believers are men true to what they promised Allah. Among them is he who has fulfilled his vow [to the death], and among them is he who awaits [his chance]. And they did not alter [the terms of their commitment] by any alteration

Instead of mourning their loss, Allah T’aala asks us to celebrate the fulfillment of their promise to Allah, and encourages those who await to follow their footsteps. There is no question in my mind that Haji Abdul-Wahhab fulfilled his commitment, devoting everything he had to Allah, and showing millions of people the path to leading meaningful lives as Muslims:

(6:162) Say: Lo! my worship and my sacrifice and my living and my dying are for Allah, Lord of the Worlds.

Even though I am sad that, soon after the loss of my physical father, I also lost my spiritual father, I am also happy that Haji Abdul Wahab lived a life which is an example and a model for all of us to follow. He was the source from which the amazing Deen of Islam reached me, and his teachings cleared away the cobwebs of cultural and traditional Islam, which had no attraction for me. Under his guidance, the efforts of the Tableeghi teams which wander the world, carrying the message of Islam in their lifestyles, and in their struggle and sacrifice, I came to understand the revolution that Islam brought to the world.

Indeed it is true that the message of Islam came as a stranger, and, as prophesied, has again become a stranger. Even though I was born and bred in an Islamic atmosphere, taught Quran, Namaz, and listened to sermons and read books, I had no understanding of Islam until I spent 40 days in Tableegh. Unlike the traditional Peer-Mureed relationship, the path of Tableegh is itself the teacher, the experience of travelling for the purpose of igniting the flame of the love of Allah in the hearts of the people, is the training. Whereas traditional Sufi methods develop the love and reverence for the Peer, as a stepping stone to the love of the Prophet SAW and the love of Allah, However, the method of Tableegh strongly de-emphasized personalities, and instead focuses on the WORK of the Prophet SAW, which was to spread the Deen of Islam to the entire humanity. There is so much that I have learnt from this work that it is impossible to encapsulate it in multiple volumes, let alone a short blog post. Perhaps the most important of these lessons has to do with the purpose of live.

How we should live our lives depends entirely on the purpose for which we live. Before I encountered Tableegh, my purpose was a successful career, sufficient wealth for comfortable living, good family life, acquisition of knowledge as a means to getting respect and recognition from my academic peers, as so on. The religion of Islam was a set of constraints — rules and regulations that I was supposed to follow, while I pursued goals set by myself. More accurately, the goals were those that my peers were following, and like a sheep, I was also following along with them.

The call by Haji Abdul-Wahhab to make this work the purpose of my life woke me up to the fact that it was possible to have a higher purpose than individual success.  The “Maqsad” towards which we were being invited was breathtakingly bold, unimaginably ambitious. We were being asked to devote our lives, every breath of it, to the mission of our Prophet to take the Message of Allah to all of humankind currently living as well as everyone who would come to the planet until the day of judgment. We were to do this work, utilizing all the gifts given to us by God — our energies, our health and our wealth — until the Deen was restored to the state that the Prophet Mohammad SAW left it in.

How can an insignificant, ignorant, and talentless person like me even THINK about such a huge goal? It was explained to us that we are completely powerless. Even when I want to lift my hand, the movement can only happen with the will and the power of Allah — I have no power at all. Once we understand that the effect of anything I do is created by Allah T’aala and is completely out of my power, then we understand that I can make the intention and undertake the actions required — the effect will be put in it by Allah T’aala, who is ALL POWERFUL. Just like the CALL towards the House of Allah issued by Ibraheem Alaihissalam was conveyed to all of mankind till the day of judgement, so Allah T’aala can choose to create the effects of our actions on a much larger scale than we can imagine.

Allah T’aala has said that man can have nothing but that which he strives for  (53:39). As explanation, Allama Iqbal writes that — you were the simpleton who settled for a few flower petals, when the Garden contained the secrets of life itself. I realized that I had settled for a very low goal, when much higher goals were possible. It was clear that the highest goal is the goal of our Prophet Mohammad SAW: —

(12:108) Say (O Muhammad SAW): “This is my way; I invite unto Allah (i.e. to the Oneness of Allah – Islamic Monotheism) with sure knowledge, I and whosoever follows me (also must invite others to Allah i.e to the Oneness of Allah – Islamic Monotheism) with sure knowledge.

The change of purpose and IDENTITY created a revolution in my life. From thinking of myself as a professor with a mission to teach economics and econometrics, I learned to think of myself as an ordinary person, but one who belongs to the extraordinary Ummah of the Best of the Prophets, tasked with the mission of taking the Message of Allah T’aala to all of mankind.

The consequences of this transformation ramify in all dimensions of my life. The central problem of life was how to convert all of our actions into worship, and how create the best of deeds, ones which will receive the greatest weight on the scales on the day of judgment. How to transform my work into worship was a difficult task. Learning how to teach courses as an Ummati, how to make it an act of worship, created a transformation in both the subject matter and style with which I taught statistics and econometrics  (See: Statistics: An Islamic Approach?. I hope discuss some of these dimensions in later posts.

Let me end with the prayer that Allah T’aala may grant His special favors, blessings, and mercy to the soul of Haji Saheb, and all others whose lives were touched by Haji Saheb, and who have returned to their Creator. As for those who remain behind, let us pray that Allah T’aala transforms our struggles and sacrifice, our living and dying, and accepts them as part of the mission of the Prophet Mohammad SAW to convey the message of Islam to all of mankind.

Conversion Story: Imran Khan

My Generation grew up at a time when colonial hang up was at its peak. Our older generation had been slaves and had a huge inferiority complex of the British. The school I went to was similar to all elite schools in Pakistan, despite becoming independent, they were, and still are, producing replicas of public school boys rather than Pakistanis. I read Shakespeare which was fine, but no Allama Iqbal.

The Islamic class was not considered to be serious, and when I left the school I was considered amongst the elite of the country because I could speak English and wore western clothes. Despite periodically shouting Pakistan Zindabad at school functions, I considered my own culture backward and Islam an outdated religion. Amongst our group if any one talked about religion, prayed or kept a beard he was immediately branded a Mullah. Because of the power of the Western media, all our heroes were western movie or pop stars. When I went to Oxford already burdened with this hang up from my school days, things didn’t get any easier. In University not just Islam but all religions were considered anachronism. Science had replaced religion and if something couldn’t be logically proved it did not exist. All supernatural stuff was confined to the movies. Philosophers like Darwin who with his half-baked theory of evolution was supposed to have disproved the creation of men and hence religion.

Moreover, the European history had an awful experience with religion, The horrors committed by the Christian clergy in the name of God during the Inquisition had left a powerful impact on the western mind.

To understand why the west is so keen on secularism, one should go to places like Cordoba in Spain and see torture apparatus used during Spanish Inquisition. Also the persecution of scientists as heretics by the clergy and convinced the Europeans that all religions are regressive. However, the biggest factor that drove people like me away from religion was the selective Islam practised by most of its preachers. In other words, there was a huge difference between what they practised and what they preached. Also, rather than explaining the philosophy behind the religion, there was an over emphasis on rituals. I feel that humans are different; to animals whereas the latter can be drilled, humans need to be intellectually convinced. That is why the Qur’an constantly appeals to reason. The worst of course, was the exploitation of Islam for political gains by various individuals or groups. Hence, it was a miracle I did not become an atheist.

The only reason why I did not was the powerful religious influence wielded by my mother on me since my childhood. It was not so much out of conviction but love for her that I stayed a Muslim. However, my Islam was selective, i.e. I accepted only parts of the religion that suited me. Prayers were restricted to Eid days and occasionally on Fridays, when my father insisted on taking me with him. If there was a God I was not sure about it and certainly felt that he did not interfere with my life. All in all I was smoothly moving to becoming a Pukka Brown Sahib. After all I had the right credentials in terms of the right school, university and above all, acceptability in the English aristocracy, something that our brown sahibs would give their lives for. So what led me to do a lota on the Brown Sahib culture and instead become a desi? Well it did not just happen overnight. Firstly, the inferiority complex that my generation had inherited, gradually went as I developed into a world class athlete. Secondly, I had the unique position of living between two cultures. I began to see the advantages and the disadvantages of both the societies. In western societies, institutions were strong while they were collapsing in our country. However, there was an area where we were and still are superior, and that is our family life. I used to notice the loneliness of the old-age pensioners at Hove Cricket ground (during my Sussex years). Imagine sending your parents to Old Peoples’ Homes! Even the children there never had the sort of love and warmth that we grew up with here. They completely miss out on the security blanket that a joint family system provides. However,I began to realise that the biggest loss to the western society was that in trying to free itself from the oppression of the clergy, they had removed both God and religion from their lives. While science can answer a lot of questions, no matter how much it progresses, two questions it will never be able to answer: One, what is the purpose of the existence and two, what happens to us when we die? It is this vacuum that I felt created the materialistic and the hedonistic culture. If this is the only life then one must make hay while the sun shines and in order to do so one needs money. Such a culture is bound to cause psychological problems in a human being, as there is going to be an imbalance between the body and the soul. Consequently, in the USA, which has shown the greatest materialistic progress and also gives its citizens the greatest human rights, almost 60 per cent of the population consult psychiatrists. Yet, amazingly in modern psychology, there is no study of the human soul. Sweden and Switzerland, who provide the most welfare to their citizens, also have the highest suicide rates; hence, man is not necessarily content with material well being he needs something more. Since all morality has it roots in religion, once religion was removed, immorality has progressively escalated since the 70’s. The direct impact of it is on the family life. In UK, the divorce rate is 60 per cent, while it is estimated that there are over 35 per cent single mothers. The crime rate is rising in almost all western societies, but the most disturbing fact is the alarming increase in racism. While science always tries to prove the inequality of man (recent survey showing the American Black to be genetically less intelligent than whites) it is only religion which preaches the equality of man. Between ’91 and ’97, it was estimated that total immigration into Europe was around 520,000, and there were racially motivated attacks all over, especially in Britain, France and Germany. In Pakistan during the Afghan war, we had over four million refugees, and despite the people being so much poorer here and in the NWFP, they suffered a considerable loss in their standard of living as a result of the refugees yet, there was no racial tension, No wonder, last year in Britain, religious education was reintroduced into schools.

There was a sequence of events in the 80’s that moved me towards God. As the Quran says: “There are signs for people of understanding”. One of them was cricket. As I was a student of the game, the more I understood the game, the more I began to realize that what I considered to be chance was, in fact, the will of Allah, the pattern which became clearer with time. But it was not until Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses that my understanding of Islam began to develop. People like me who were living in the western world bore the brunt of anti-Islam prejudice that followed the Muslim reaction to the book. We were left with two choices: fight or flight. Since I felt strongly that the attacks on Islam were unfair, I decided to fight.

It was then I realised that I was not equipped to do so as my knowledge of Islam was inadequate. Hence I started my research and for me a period of my greatest enlightenment. I read scholars like Ali Shariati, Mohammad Asad, Iqbal, Gai Eaton, plus of course, a study of the Holy Quran.

I will try to explain as concisely as is possible, what “discovering the truth” meant for me. When the believers are addressed in the Quran, it always says, “Those who believe and do good deeds.”

In other words, a Muslim has dual function, one towards God and the other towards fellow human beings. The greatest impact of believing in God for me, meant that I lost all fear of human beings. The Quran liberates man from man when it says that life and death and respect and humiliation are God’s jurisdiction, so we do not have to bow before other human beings. As Iqbal puts it:

Wo aik Sajda jisay tu giran samajhta hai,

Hazaar sajdon say deta hai aadmi ko nijaat.

Moreover, since this is a transitory world where we prepare for the eternal one, I broke out of the self-imposed prisons, such as growing old (such a curse in the western world, as a result of which, plastic surgeons are having a field day), materialism, ego, what people say and so on. It is important to note that one does not eliminate the earthly desires, simply that instead of being controlled by them, one controls them.

By following the second part of believing in Islam, I have become a better human being. Rather than being self-centred and living for the self, I feel that because the Almighty gave so much to me, in turn I must use that blessing to help the less privileged. By following the fundamentals of Islam rather than becoming a Kalashnikov-wielding fanatic I have become a tolerant and a giving human being who feels compassion for the under-privileged.

Instead of attributing success to myself, I know it is because of God’s will, hence humility instead of arrogance. Also, instead of the snobbish Brown Sahib attitude towards our masses, I believe in egalitarianism and strongly feel against the injustice done to the weak in our society according to the Quran, “Oppression is worse than killing.” In fact only now do I understand the true meaning of Islam, if you submit to the will of Allah, you have inner peace. Through my faith, I have discovered strength within me that I never knew existed and that has released my potential in life: My education programme that I intend to announce in March is far more ambitious than the cancer hospital project.

I feel that in Pakistan we have selective Islam. Just believing in God and going through the rituals is not enough one also has to be a good human being. I feel there are certain western countries with far more Islamic traits than us, especially in the way they protect the rights of their citizens, or for that matter their justice system. In fact some of the finest individuals I know live there. What I dislike about them is their double-standards in the way they protect the rights of their citizens and yet consider citizens of other countries as being somehow inferior to them as human being, e.g. dumping toxic waste in the Third World, advertising cigarettes that are not allowed in the west and selling drugs that are banned in the west. One of the problems facing Pakistan is the polarisation of two reactionary groups. On the one side is the westernised group that looks upon Islam through western eyes and has inadequate knowledge about the subject. It reacts to any one trying to impose Islam in the society and wants only a selective part of the religion. On the other extreme is the group that reacts to this westernised elite and in trying to become a defender of the faith, takes up such intolerant and self-righteous attitudes that are repugnant to the spirit of Islam.

What needs to be done is to somehow start a dialogue between the two extremes. In order for this to happen, the group on whom the greatest proportion of our educational resources are spent in this country must study Islam properly. Whether they become practising Muslims or believe in God is entirely a ;personal choice; as the Quran tells us that there is “no compulsion in religion.” However, they must arm themselves with knowledge as a weapon to fight extremism. Turning up their noses at extremism is not going to solve the problem.

The Quran calls Muslims “the middle nation”, i.e. not of extremes. The Holy Prophet (PBUH) was told to simply give the message and not worry whether people converted or not, therefore, there is no question in Islam of forcing your opinions on any one else. Moreover, we are told to respect other religions, their places of worship and their prophets. It should be noted that no Muslim missionaries or armies never went to Malaysia or Indonesia. The people converted to Islam due to the high principles and impeccable character of the Muslim traders. At the moment, the worst advertisement for Islam are the Muslim countries with their selective Islam, especially where thereligion is used to deprive people of their rights. In fact, a society that obeys fundamentals of Islam has to be a liberal one.

If our westernised class started to study Islam, not only will it be able to help our society fight sectarianism and extremism, but it will also make them realise what a progressive religion Islam is. They will also be able to help the western world by articulating Islamic concepts. Last year, Prince Charles accepted that the western world can learn from Islam during his speech at the Oxford Union. But how can this happen if the group that is in to best position to project Islam gets its attitudes from the west and considers Islam backward? Islam is a universal religion and that is why our Prophet (PBUH) was called a mercy for all mankind.

POSTSCRIPT: This story of Imran Khan resonates with me because I too became deeply westernized first, and then returned to Islam. This process gave me a much deeper understanding of the inner sides of Western culture — unlike most of our westernized elites who only see the superficially attractive front. or a brief autobiography, see Insight Interview:

Two more stories about westerners who converted to Islam:  A Conversion Story, and  Finding Islam: An Atheist’s Story