[bit.do/az3p] A portion of The First Lecture on Islamic Economics on 15th Feb 2019 at IIIE, IIUI by Dr. Asad Zaman, VC PIDE
The lecture covered a lot of different topics. It was done in an interactive way, with students encouraged to participate, think about answers to questions asked, and debate alternatives before arriving at agreement or consensus. This format cannot be replicated in a post. However, I would encourage readers to pause to consider answers to questions before going on to read what the post has to say.
This outline covers only one important FRAGMENT of the issues discussed in the lectures. It explains how a Western education poisons our minds, so that we are unable to see the value of the teachings of Islam. In earlier posts, I have deal with this same theme, about how a Western education poisons our minds — see: “The Second Poison: Secular Knowledge“ and also “Recovering from a Western Education“ If I get the time later, I will post other equally important aspects of the first lecture later.
Fundamental Question 1: Do Islamic Teachings have same power today as they did 1450 years ago?
Background: !450 years ago, the coming of Islam created a revolution in world history. See What the World Lost Due to the Decline of Islamic Civilization. The Arabs were living in Jahilliya – period of ignorance. They were backwards, uneducated, and uncivilized. In comparison, Romans, Egyptians, Chinese, Persians had advanced cultures, with literature, philosophy, arts, sciences, technologies, and military power.
The teachings of Islam created a revolution, taking the Muslims from the bottom rank of civilization to the top. The Muslims launched a civilization that dominated the world for a 1000 years.
Today, once again, the Muslims seem to be at the bottom rank of civilization, uneducated, and backwards in all dimensions This leads to the Fundamental Question 1: DO Islamic teachings have the same power to change history TODAY?
Answer to this question is surprisingly complex. The whole lecture is about how we can answer this.
To answer this question, we need to do some SELF-ANALYSIS — learn to understand our own thoughts, feelings, and actions better. In particular, we need to see that there is conflict between what we SAY about our own beliefs, and our REAL beliefs. Just to achieve clarity about this point, tt will be useful to name some of these beliefs:
Word-Belief: What we SAY about our beliefs – If asked about the purpose of life, all Muslims will say that our purpose is to please God, and to win the Jannah.
Thought-Belief: When we think about how we should act, what considerations do we take into account? For example, in choosing between career X and Y, do we think which one is more likely to please God and get us into Jannah, or do we think about which one is likely to earn more money? Our thinking about life choices reflects our real thought process which we use to make decisions, and not what we SAY about our thoughts to OTHER people. One is the FACE we put on to show the world who we are, and the other is the real face that we have.
Heart-Belief: How our hearts respond to the actions we take. Hearts are born with generosity, compassion, love for others, courage, and all natural good qualities. But then we are trained away from these qualities. Whenever we take a wrong action, our hearts become black. To assess the state of our heart, we need to check how it feels when we do something wrong. Initially, a pure heart feels sad and unhappy when we do something wrong (Nafs-e-Lawwama) and our conscience blames us. Later, when we get into bad habits (like lying, or selfishness) then it stops blaming us, and becomes accustomed to doing bad deeds.
Action-Belief: We are trained to act in ways by how we see others acting, the dominant cultural norms. These may be very different from our thoughts and feelings (Head and Heart Beliefs). For example, my thought may be that I am very generous, and my heart may feel a lot of pain for a poor beggar, but if everyone says NO! Dont give him any money! I will obey the social command, and learn to change my heart-feeling and head-thinking to match my action.
There is a Dramatic Conflict between FAITH (heart-belief), IDEAS (thought-belief) and ACTION-belief among Muslims !!
Thought-Belief: YES! Islam provides Complete & Perfect Guidance until the day of Judgment.
Action-Belief: NO! Western Knowledge needed for guidance and development today. Western knowledge developed over past three centuries. Islam is Incomplete & Imperfect – not sufficient for our guidance today. Teachings of Islam can be barriers to progress.
Question 2: WHY is there such a big difference and contradiction between THOUGHT-Beliefs and ACTION-Beliefs of Muslims Today?
Answer to Question 2: Muslim Thoughts Are Shaped by Western Education
Western Education POISONS our Minds – For more details and discussion of this point, see: Recovering from a Western Education. Because of this, our thought processes deviate from Islamic ways of thinking, which are also the natural ways of thinking and feeling that all humans are born with (because Islam is the Deen of Fitrah).
QUESTION 3: HOW does a Western Education distort our ways of thinking? HOW does it prevent us from thinking clearly? How does it prevent us from seeing that Islam DOES offer complete and perfect guidance today, just as it did 1450 years ago?
Before we can answer question 3, we must think about a SEPARATE question:
What is the First Question we must all answer, before any others?
What is the most important Question we face in our personal and social lives?
It is obvious, upon reflection, that this most important question is:
What is the PURPOSE of my life? Everything else depends on PURPOSE. Very importantly, the answer to “What is useful Knowledge?” also depends on this purpose.
Question 4: What does a Western education teach us about the purpose of our LIFE?
ANSWER: We are taught that the purpose of Life is: Enjoyment, Pleasure, Power, Recognition, Fame, Career. We are also taught that all things are made possible by MONEY
So, in short, the Purpose of life is to EARN MONEY. This is the Third Poison: We are taught the Worship of Wealth via a Western education.
It is important to note that this is NOT an explicit message. The textbooks do not state this. RATHER, it is built into the WAY that we are taught. If the textbooks wrote this clearlyh and openly, we would reject it. But because it is a hidden message, we accept it, and then our heads, hearts, and actions become full of conflicts, because Western education teaches us one thing, while Islam teaches us the opposite things. Now that the source of conflicts between our thoughts, feelings and actions is clear, we can answer the following two questions:
Question 5: How does Western Education Poison Our Minds?
- The PURPOSE OF LIFE is never explicitly discussed. Here we might question, debate, argue, provide alternatives.
- INSTEAD, purpose is hidden beneath the surface, where it cannot be seen.
- We learn that the value of education lies in the career we can follow, and the salaries we can get in that career.
- We learn that our lives are a commodity for sale in the labor market. That we are human resources, to be used by others for the production of wealth.
- We learn to measure the value of our lives in terms of the amount of money we can earn – this becomes an explicit calculation in economics.
Question 6: Why are these ideas POISONOUS?
These ideas are poisonous because they are in conflict with Islamic teachings & also with our built-in Human Nature.
Human Lives are Infinitely Precious, not Commodities!
Quran: If you save a life, it is as if you have saved the entire humanity è Human lives are extremely precious: cannot be brought or sold for money
Our NATURAL Thinking: Our few moments of life on this planet are unique and precious,
Natural & Islamic thinking is THE OPPOSITE of Market Thinking, which makes human being into resources which should be used for the production of wealth:
- Humans are NOT resources to be used for the production of Wealth.
- Wealth is a resource to be used for enrichment of human lives.
Question 7: Has Western Education ALWAYS been poisonous? NO !
READ: Julie Reuben: The Making of the Modern University – Intellectual Transformation and the Marginalization of Morality –
- In the 1930’s, college catalogs in the USA claimed that their main job was building character. They taught leadership, civic and social responsibility, integrity, and moral virtues.
- Through a complex historical process, part of which involved a CHANGE in the DEFINITION OF KNOWLEDGE, character building was removed from the college curriculum
- Today, universities ONLY teach technical skills, like building bombs, and DO NOT teach about the morality of using bombs to kill millions of innocents.
Question 8: Why did West Take Character-Building out of their educational process?
Answers are deep and complex, and here we will give only one small part of the story.
There were massive conflicts between different religious denominations – different types of Protestant faiths, as well as Catholic. So it was difficult to build character according to any particular religious definition. Various types of secular approaches to character were tried and they all failed.
Another important reason for removal of MORALITY from the curriculum was the emergence of the philosophy of logical positivism. According to this philosophy, knowledge can only be about objective and observable facts. The inner nature of man is not observable, and hence not a proper part of scientific knowledge. In particular there is no scientific and logical basis on which we can know about morality.
Question 9: What has been the EFFECT of removal of character-building from the curriculum?
Essential aspect of our lives are completely ignored in a modern education – see “Blind Spots of Modern Education” or “The Marginalization of Morality”.
Graduates of the finest western educational institutions have made choices which have destroyed millions of innocent lives cold-bloodedly, for the sake of corporate profits, or national power. The Global Financial Crisis was caused by greed of highly-educated financiers, who wiped out the life-savings of millions, for corporate profits, leading to highest rates of hunger and homelessness seen in the USA since the Great Depression.
Modern education lead to highly immoral behavior by people who seek to make profits without any moral restraints – including destroying the future of the planet, and massive, ruthless, and cruel exploitation of all planetary resources.
Question 10: Is there a deeper reason for Why has all this happened?
Why was Knowledge Re-Defined to be about the External World Only?
Why were Human Lives Reduced to Commodities for sale on the Labor Market?
Why was the Purpose of Life made into Earning money and enjoyment of pleasure from consumption of commodities?
ANSWER to question 10 requires deep study of European history; As discussed by Karl Polanyi, there was A Great Transformation in European Thought : from a traditional – paternalistic, regulatory – economy, to a Market Economy, where everything is for sale.
This was the result of the rise of Capitalism. This economic system was created by Industrial Revolution which created the possibililty of Massive Over-Production, far beyond the needs of the society.
Doing this over-production required the creation of a Labor Market; It was essential to be able to hire human beings in factory, and this requires human labor available for sale in the market
Because human beings naturally object ot this treatment, we must condition human minds to accept being turned into human resources.
Object of a capitalist education: To turn out standardized parts for use in production processes of capitalism. Designed to smooth out rough parts, and remove individuality.
This is why education is based on standardized curriculum – all human variation removed. For more details on this point, see “Teaching Fish to Fly” — post explains how an Islamic education is adapted to the needs of the individual, and develops each student along the lines of his/her natural capabilities. In contrast, a Western education is a “Brainwashing (versus Meta-Level Analysis)” – it ensures that all students learn to think exactly the same pre-packaged thoughts, without any individual variations, discussions, debates being allowed.
In a Capitalist Economics system: Knowledge is redefined as knowledge useful to production of wealth
Life Purpose: re-defined to be acquisition of wealth – required to create a labor market.
AFTER all this preparation, Now we can answer the INITIAL Question: Is Islam relevant today?
According to our Western education – knowledge is that of the external world. Islam provides us with knowledge of our inner world, our soul, spirit, and after-life. It explains how we can make spiritual progress. NONE of this is KNOWLEDGE according to our Western training.
According to our Western education – purpose of life is to make money, and to enjoy this worldly life. Purpose of Islam is to achieve success on the day of Judgment. This requires COUNTERING our worldly desires (HAWA). Islamic education is NOT valuable to maximize money and pleasure.
This is how a Western education poisons our minds into believing that Islam is not relevant to our modern needs. A Western education is designed to turn us into “human resources” for sale in the labor market. An Islamic education is designed to turn us into “human beings”, which is the most precious of the creations of God, and worth more than all the gold on the planet. There is a huge conflict between the two ideas. Learning to become a human being will make us useless as a human resource, an inter-changeable machine part. Therefore a Western education teaches us that an Islamic education will make our lives worthless, because we will not be able to sell ourselves for a high price in the labor market.
For posts related to the topic discussed here, see:
Recovering from a Western Education: My personal experiences with a Western education, and how it poisoned my mind. For a description of the “bait-and-switch” tactic used at MIT to distract us from the central question (What is the Purpose of our Lives?), see my post on “Islamic Knowledge: Still Revolutionary After 1440 Years“. For a post on how I came to realize that everything I had been taught about economics at Stanford University was wrong, see “The Education of an Economist“.
A Western education poisons our minds in many different ways. One of them is the complete neglect and disregard of the meaning and purpose of lives, which is the central question we all must answer, in order to learn what our lives are about, and how to make the best of our few precious moments on this planet. The strategy for doing this is to avoid discussion of purpose, and to avoid discussion of what is Useful Versus Useless Knowledge. When we cannot differentiate between them, it become possible to teach us a lot of useless garbage, without our realization. Some other poisons are discussed in the posts linked below:
The First Poison: Central Myths of Eurocentric History — European textbooks teach us that the entire world was enveloped in darkness until the sixteenth century, when European learned to reason and think, for the first time in human history. It is essential to debunk this idea, that all good things known to man today were invented by the West.
The Second Poison: Secular Knowledge: In order to able to teach us false ideas, a Western education STARTS with the idea of secular knowledge — there are domains of knowledge which are OUTSIDE the reach of religion. Subjects like mathematics, chemistry, physics, have no relation with religion. Actually this is wrong, because all ideas come from God, and the natural sciences SHOULD teach us to appreciate the wonders of the creation of God — There are SIGNS (Ayat) of the creation all around us, but the way a Western education works is that it BLINDS us to these signs by teaching us all about the miraculous ways that the world works, WITHOUT mentioning God.
The Fourth Poison: Homo Economicus– The idea that men have no hearts and souls is central to Western social science. This leads to a stupid definition of “rationality” as being short-sighted greed and the search for pleasure. This idea influences people and prevents them from achieving the spiritual development which is essential to developing our hidden capabilities and potentials for excellence. In this connection, see “Islam’s Gift; An Economy of Spiritual Development“.
In fact, there are many other poisons, too many to be listed. But after understanding some of the central wrong and harmful ideas, it becomes easier to pick out other problems and errors, and learn to see the brilliant light of Islam. Some more posts which are helpful in this effort are:
Exploding the Myths which block our Minds: The process of colonization created a Deep Seated Inferiority Complex, which requires work to overcome.
“The Ways of the Eagles“: As Iqbal wrote, an eaglet raised with the crows – that is a Muslim child who receives a Western education, cannot learn to soar high in the skies, as he/she was meant to do.