Islamic Econ L02: Review & Scarcity

This lecture, on Friday 22 Feb 2109, covered the concept of scarcity — see the previous post on “The Illusion of Scarcity” which provides the background material. In particular, the key reading for this lecture was my paper on Scarcity: East and West Journal of Islamic Economics, Banking and Finance, Volume 6, Number 1, January-March 2010. p. 87-104. The key argument of this paper is the we must differentiate between Needs and Wants — Islam encourages the fulfillment of needs and discourages the fulfillment of Wants. Needs are limited and can easily be fulfilled with the resources available on the planet. Wants are unlimited and can never be fulfilled — when you fulfill then they increase further — give the man a valley of gold and he will want a second one. Western economics refuses to differentiate between needs and wants, and this creates a problem of scarcity. The Islamic solution is that we do NOT want to fulfill wants, but only needs — this is succintly summarized in the Ayah: Eat, Drink, but do not Waste — fulfill your needs, but do not go to excess. Western economics encourage excessive consumption – maximization, while Islamic economics encourages moderation.

The soundtrack below is split into 6 parts. The first four parts review concepts we discussed in the first lecture. We explain the brainwashing created by the Western education, and how this has poisoned our minds. How we have learned to think thoughts implanted by others, and learned to think that these are our own thoughts — illustrating an urdu verse — main khyal hoon kisi aur ka, mujhay sochta koi aur hai — I am the thought of someone else, yet some other person thinks me.

The last two parts discuss the concepts of scarcity. More details will be provided later. But the audio lecture, in urdu, is given below

If there is any difficulty streaming the audio files on bandcamp above, you can click on the links below to listen to the audio files:

  1. IE2019 L02a – Purifying Intentions — What is our purpose in sitting here?
  2. IE2019 L02b – Normative/Positive distinction – Modern Economics claims to be positive, but it is normative. Islamic Economists are deceived by this claim
  3. IE2019 L02c -Economists say man is selfish and competitive — this is opposed to Islamic teachings, but Islamic economists try to agree with West — Why?
  4. IE2019 L02d – Meta-Analysis: thinking about ideas — how did West come to believe in selfishness? What are the complex Islamic teachings about this matter?

Last Part of Lecture was about scarcity

  1. IE2019 L02p5 : Scarcity part 1 — distinguishing needs and wants
  2. IE2019 L02p6 : Scarcity part 2 – there is enough for need, but not enough for greed. Islam teaches us to NOT fulfill wants. If we do not, then there is no scarcity.

Very interesting article by Jason Hickel on: De-Growth, A theory of radical abundance. Hickel argues that capitalism must massively overproduce. In order to be able to SELL this excess production, it must CREATE the feelings of scarcity using advertising and other techniques to make people unsatisfied with what they have, so that they are persuaded to buy more goods. Thus SCARCITY is created by capitalism.


The Fourth Poison: Homo Economicus

This post provides audio  of the 2.5 hour first lecture in Islamic Economics, delivered on 15th Feb 2019 at IIIE, IIUI by Dr. Asad Zaman. Because the lecture is in Urdu, and is very long, summaries in English of some essential points covered in the lecture have been presented in previous posts on The Third Poison: The Meaning of Development, Teaching Fish to Fly, and Brainwashing versus Meta-Level Analysis. See, also, the previous post on “The Illusion of Scarcity” for a capsule summary of these three posts. In addition to the Urdu lecture linked below,  this post also provides an English summary of a fourth issue which was discussed in the first lecture — the claim of economic theory that every man ultimately acts in a selfish manner, looking out for his or her own interests. Is this really true? What are some arguments which can be given for or against this idea?

Note: If you have difficulty in downloading and/or listening to audio-recording embedded above, go to course website (Islamic Economics 2019) for alternative formats. There is a bandcamp app for mobiles as well.

As discussed earlier, three major points made in this lecture have been presented in some detail in previous posts. Before explaining the fourth point, regarding Homo Economicus,  we explain the framework for this discussion. The fundamental puzzle which is the subject of most of my writings — and this lecture — is the following:

The Quran assures us that it provides us with complete and perfect guidance, valid until the day of judgment. The proof lies in the amazing miracle performed by the teachings of the Quran, which transformed ignorant and backwards Bedouin into world leaders, and launched a civilization which enlightened the world for a thousand years. See  “What the World Lost Due to the Decline of the Islamic Civilization.”

HOWEVER, today, Muslims believe that the only way out of our current ignorance and backwardness lies in acquiring the knowledge and institutional structures developed in the West over the past three centuries. This knowledge and these institutions have little or no overlap with the Islamic heritage.

These two ideas do not seem to compatible — How can Islam be complete and perfect, if today development and progress requires us to learn Western knowledge, and adopt alien institutional structures built on anti-Islamic concepts (like interest, greed, ruthless competition)?  The solution to the puzzle lies in understanding that we have been brainwashed by a Western education into acception definition of knowledge and progress which are dramatically opposed to Islamic conceptions. Once we accept the Western definition of progress as being the acquisition of wealth and power, and knowledge as that which can give us wealth and power, then the knowledge of the Quran, which teaches us how we can learn to be better human beings, seems useless. Actually, as Machiavelli explicitly stated, morality is an obstacle in the path of power and wealth. The teachings of the Quran contain the same power today to transform our lives, and to change the course of history as they did 1450 years ago. However, a western education poisons our minds, and makes it impossible for us to realize this. Many western ideas which are poisonous have been discussed earlier. The list of poisons is almost endless. One of the major poisons is the central of idea of economic theory: all rational human beings behave selfishly. The assumptions about human behavior which are taught to all students of modern economics are summarized in the concept of “Homo Economicus“.  In another post, I have explained how this assumption leads to socially repulsive behavior. In this post, I want to discuss how this assumption is justified by economists, and how we come to believe in this poison, even though it contradicts our personal experiences and ideas.

  1. In our daily lives, we see people helping each other, and making great sacrifices for others. How can economists persuade us to think that people always act selfishly?
  2. When generosity, compassion, caring for others, and sacrificing personal interests for the sake of family or society is so common, why did economists make selfish behavior the center of economic theory?

Why did economists decide that natural human behavior is selfish, even though it is obvious that human beings have far greater complexity than can be captured by any such simple description? The answer is deep, complex, and lengthy, and requires a study of how European thought changed during the process of the Great Transformation, when European intellectuals abandoned Christianity, and created a Secular Society. Here we can summarize these ideas very briefly by saying that loss of faith in God is a very serious and traumatic event, which affects all our thought processes and actions. In particular, if there is no God, and no hereafter, then actions based on generosity and self-sacrifice do not seem to make much sense — there is no one watching, appreciating, and no reward will be given later for such actions. Therefore, it seems natural to say the RATIONAL behavior is selfish — that is, intelligent people, who understand that there is no God and no hereafter, should only focus on their own needs, and completely disregard others. Thus, this theory of selfish behavior emerges from the European historical background, when Europeans lost faith in the Here-after, and decided that the goal of life must be to enjoy Paradise — luxuries, comforts, wealths – in the here and now. This idea is embodied in the heart of economic theory: All rational human beings try to maximize the lifetime pleasure (utility) that they get from consumption of goods and services.

The main goal of this course is to try to get the students to think at the Meta-Theoretical level. This is difficult because students have been trained in the opposite way. They have been trained to accept whatever the teacher says without question. The above paragraph illustrate Meta-Theoretical thought. We looked at the idea of selfish behavior, but instead of asking whether it is true or false, and whether we should accept or reject it, we looked at the history of the idea. We looked at how Europeans lost faith in Christianity, and started believing in wealth and luxury instead. Because students in this class have been brainwashed into accepting economic theories, many of them argued that man is indeed actually always selfish. The arguments that the students gave are the ones that are used by economists to create the brainwashing effect. To do De-Programming, that is to counteract the brainwashing, in order to remove poisons created by Western education, we must look at these arguments and provide effective counter-arguments.

Argument 1: If people do good to others because they believe that they will get rewards — Sawab, or Heaven — then they too are acting selfishly. Argument 2: When people give food to the hungry, they feel happy – they get a warm-glow in their hearts. So they feed others, in order to get this good feeling. Argument 3: People do good to others because they expect that at a later time, they might be in need of help, and unselfish behavior today will actually help them tomorrow — so this is also selfishness, but in the long-run, rather than the short-run.

Economists have put a tremendous amount of effort in defending the idea the all rational human behavior is selfish (only fools help others at their own cost) because after losing faith in God, this seems to be the only sensible thing to do. The success of their efforts can be seen in the opinions and arguments of students of economics, who make these same arguments, and behave much more selfishly than students in other disciplines of study. However, the idea of selfish behavior can easily be proven wrong, by several different methods. The simplest way to is look at the behavior of babies. Psychologists who have studied babies, have found that they are naturally cooperative, generous, and helpful — see “Compassion: Our First Instinct”   Islam is the Deen of Fitra – Cooperation, generosity, and compassion is built into human nature. Experimental evidence of actual human behavior in games like prisoner’s dilemma, ultimatum game, and many others provides convincing evidence that most human beings are generous by nature. When people race into fires to save people burning at the risk of their own lives, they are not thinking about future rewards or the warm glow they will get from doing good. If we look at our own hearts and examine our own behavior, we can easily differentiate the times that we act selfishly from those when we acted generously. From the Islamic point of view, the Quran and Hadeeth contain a lot of praise and appreciation for generous behavior, and condemnation for selfish behavior. So it cannot be that human beings are naturally selfish, even though economists believe it to be so.

There is an even deeper reason why selfish behavior is actually very harmful to us. Our hearts respond to others, and when we act selfishly, this hardens our hearts and makes it difficult for us to feel any emotions. Then, even when we acquire great treasures, we are unable to feel anything because our hearts have turned to stone (as the Quran describes hardness of hearts). In fact, what makes human beings happiest is the act of loving others and being loved by others. But people who are selfish are unable love others and are not loved by others, so they lose the greatest sources of happiness. So it is not rational to be selfish; quite the opposite. Selfish behavior is highly irrational, and cooperation and generosity is the natural basis for human society.

As a motto, we can say that Islamic Economics is built on “Cooperation and Generosity” while Western economics is based on “Competition and Greed”.





The Illusion of Scarcity

A complete recording of Lecture 1 of Islamic Economics at IIIE, IIUI – 15 Feb 2019 is available in the next post on “The Fourth Poison: Homo Economicus”, which is one of the topics discussed in the lecture . The previous three posts also discuss other key topics which were covered in this lecture:

    1. The Third Poison: The Meaning of Development — this explains how a Western education brainwashes us into believing that development and progress occur by accumulation of material wealth, and worldly luxuries. Once we accept this, then we become blind to the powerful message of Islam, which teaches us how to develop the capabilities for excellence which every human being is born with. The teachings of Islam transformed the ignorant and backwards Arabs, into world leaders, and changed the course of history — see also: “What the World Lost Due to the Decline of the Islamic Civilization.”
    2. Teaching Fish to Fly: A Western education has the goal of turning all students into human resources, standardized parts for use in the capitalist machine for the production of wealth. An Islamic education aims to develop the hidden capabilities within each student. Since all human beings are unique, the education must be personalized and made suitable for the capabilities of the student.
    3. Brainwashing versus Meta-Level Analysis: A Western education seeks to inculcate certain fixed beliefs in the minds of students. The “truths” are known to the teacher, and the goal of education is to ensure the student ends up learning exactly the same beliefs. In contrast, an Islamic education seeks to teach students to think about thoughts and analyzed them, without pre-judgment or bias. It is possible in the Islamic tradition to accept the equal validity of two opposite points of view, which is not possible according to the binary logic of the West.


This SECOND lecture will be about Scarcity — supposedly the CENTRAL concept of modern economic theory. Students should come prepared to class after having read this post, and the attached reading on “Scarcity: East and West”. The reading compares and contrasts Islamic and Western views regarding scarcity.

The Illusion of Scarcity

Economists have performed an amazing piece of magic, successfully creating a mass deception which has taken in the vast majority of the population of the world. Seeing through this complex and sophisticated trick requires separating, studying and understanding many different elements which all combine to create this illusion. One of the elements is a binary theory of knowledge, according to which theories are either true or false, and this is the only characteristic of theories that we should study. This prevents us from looking at the historical context in which the theories originate, and the functions that these theories serve, in terms of advancing the interests of powerful groups in the social struggles then going on. Social theories cannot be understood without this context, and hiding this context, and the relationships between knowledge and power, is an essential component of the WMD — weapon of mass deception — deployed by the economists to create a mass hallucination. In this post we analyze briefly the concept of Scarcity, which is at the heart of modern Economic Theory.

According to this concept, which was made central to Economics by Lionel Robbins in 1932 (Nature and Significance of Economic Science), there are not enough resources to satisfy the unlimited needs and wants of all people. Accordingly, solutions require increasing resources, or economic growth.  On the surface, this seems like a straightforward statement of the factual position: we need more resources in order to take care of the needs of the poor. Hidden beneath this simplicity is a strategy which is massively favorable to the interests of the top 1%. We bring out some of these hidden implications below.

1.     Failure to Distinguish Needs and Wants

Food supplies per capita have been steadily increasing over the past century, contradicting the Malthusian idea that population grows faster than food supply. In fact, as Gandhi said, “There is enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed.” Today, there are sufficient resources on the planet to amply take care of the basic needs in terms of food, clothing, housing, health and education.  In particular, the money being spent on treatments for obesity is more than sufficient to provide for all the hungry on the planet. This illustrates the general principle that scarcity for some is caused by excess spending by others, and NOT BY LACK OF RESOURCES.  Concentration of wealth in a few hands is the cause of scarcity, and re-distribution, not growth, is the solution.

My paper on “The Normative Foundations of Scarcity” explains how three separate normative principles are built into the hidden foundations of scarcity. One of these three principles is treating needs and wants as being on par; for example, Samuelson and Nordhaus state the economists must strive to satisfy all needs and wants, whether they are genuine or artificial. This means that the desire of the millionaire for an alligator skin briefcase worth $10,000 dollars takes precedence over the demand of poor hungry children for milk and bread, since there is no money backing the latter demand. Furthermore, while genuine needs are satiable, and there is no shortage of resources to provide for all needs, wants are unlimited, and expand as they are fulfilled.

Islam prohibits, rather than encourages, fulfillment of artificial wants (idle desires, or Hawa). This is in direct opposition to Economists views, which tell us to not question or investigate the origin of wants, and treat them all equally.

ET90%: Genuine needs must be distinguished from, and given priority over, artificial wants. The fundamental problem of economics should be: how can we fulfill the (finite, satiable) basic needs of the entire population, rather than attempting the impossible task of trying to fulfill the insatiable wants of those with wealth, especially since these wants keep increasing as they are met.

Islamic principles are aligned with finding from happiness research that additional consumption over the level of basic needs has no correlation with happiness. Conventional economics embodies the ridiculous view that the purpose of our lives is to maximize the pleasure we obtain from consumption. In fact, consumption is just a necessaity for maintaining our lives, and lasting pleasure and fulfilment comes from pursuit of higher purposes. This is recognized by the Mahbubul-Haq and Amartya Sen theories about Human Development as being the goal of development.  For elaboration, see short post on “the Coca-Cola Theory of Happiness,” or the longer explanation in “Prosperity as Human Development, not Wealth“

2.     Emphasis on Growth rather than Redistribution

By pointing to shortage rather than excess wealth in the hands of the top 1%, scarcity points us in the WRONG direction regarding how to solve the economic problem. It suggests that we need to have additional resources, in order to be able to feed the poor. This ignores the fact the we currently already have enough resources to feed the poor, so the solution must lie elsewhere. It also ignores the fact that amazing growth has taken place over the past century, but the number of the poor has only increased, rather than decreasing. This is because the majority of the fruits of growth are captured by the rich and powerful, rather than going to the poor. For instance, recent research shows that 85% of the gains in growth have been captured by the top 1% over the past decade, while the bottom 50% have not gained anything.

Amartya Sen’s analysis reveals that famines are caused by lack of “entitlement” of the poor to food, rather than lack of food. Thus it is not scarcity, but the libertarian social norms of absolute rights to property, which need to be changed, to solve the problem of poverty.  The fundamental normative choice which must be made is the following: which of the two takes precedence, the right to property or the right to food and basic needs? Economists have sanctified the right to property over the right to food in the form of the Pareto Principle, and assert that we cannot say whether welfare would be improved if we take wealth away from the ultra-rich in order to feed the hungry. However, there are many ways to argue that the right of the poor takes precedence. For example, Cooter, R. and Rappoport, P (1984) ‘Were the Ordinalists Wrong About Welfare Economics?’ Journal of  Economic Literature, 22 (2) June, 1984, pp. 507-530 argue that we can use objective measures of well-being to show that transfers of superflous wealth of the super-rich to those who need it would lead to increased social welfare. Cardinal utility allowed for this type of reasoning, but ordinal measurement led to the idea that we could not compare welfare across persons, which violates both intuition and social consensus to the contrary. We can base a counter to ET1% on this idea.

ET90%: The responsibility of society to take care of basic needs of all members takes precedence over the right to property of the wealthy.

This principle is firmly endorsed by Islamic Economics. The Quran states that the poor have a right in the wealth of the rich, creating the “entitlement” that is identified as the key to prevention of famines by Amartya Sen. The cause of scarcity is the “stoppage” of the circulation of wealth, as commanded in the Quran. When the wealthy concentrate wealth in their banks, instead of allowing its free circulation, they prevent it from reaching the hands and mouths which need it. Islam offers a two pronged carrot and stick approach to the root problem which creates scarcity:

  1. The compulsory payment of zakah at the rate of 2.5% ensures that a small part of the wealth concentrated in hands of the rich should reach the poor.
  2. In addition, generosity is recognized and praised as a virtue, and the rich are encouraged to spend excess wealth on others who are needy.

It is well known that human behavior is strongly motivated by social recognition, and so recognition and praise for generosity create such behavior, which is an essential component of the solution to our economic problem. In fact, as explicitly recognized by Karl Polanyi in the Great Transformation (see also Gertrude Himmelfarb’s The Idea of Poverty), the market society creates poverty as a social problem by removing the entitlement of the poor to social support, so as to  create a labor market. This requires changing social norms so that selfishness and greed become praiseworthy, while generosity become irrational sentimentality. Solutions to problems of poverty require recognition of the subtle inculcation of pro-property and anti-poverty norms, without explicit mention, in ET1%. This conforms exactly to the necessity of deception to fool the poor into supporting ideas which favor the wealthy, which is the hallmark of ET1%.

3.  Scarcity Versus Abundance Thinking

A diverse literature has emerged from different sources which identifies scarcity as a way of thinking, rather than an objective condition. This is the familiar issue of whether the glass is half full or half empty. The insights from this literature conform to the Islamic view that “True richness is the contentment of the heart”. A rigorous analysis of how the psychology of scarcity affects our behavior and decisions, is given in Mullainathan, Sendhil, and Eldar Shafir. Scarcity: The new science of having less and how it defines our lives. Picador, 2014.

A conscious decision was made in Western societies to encourage greed, so as to create the accumulation of wealth. For instance, Keynes said that:

I see us free, therefore, to return to some of the most sure and certain principles of religion and traditional virtue – that avarice is a vice, that the exaction of usury is a misdemeanour, and the love of money is detestable, that those walk most truly in the paths of virtue and sane wisdom who take least thought for the morrow. We shall once more value ends above means and prefer the good to the useful. We shall honour those who can teach us how to pluck the hour and the day virtuously and well, the delightful people who are capable of taking direct enjoyment in things, the lilies of the field who toil not, neither do they spin.

But beware! The time for all this is not yet. For at least another hundred years we must pretend to ourselves and to every one that fair is foul and foul is fair; for foul is useful and fair is not. Avarice and usury and precaution must be our gods for a little longer still. For only they can lead us out of the tunnel of economic necessity into daylight.

Keynes believed that sufficient would remove the problem of economic necessity, and lead to economic bliss. However, both empirical evidence and Islamic teachings show that this is not true. Surveys of millionaires show that they do not feel they have sufficient money for economic security. The Easterlin paradox shows that massive amounts of growth has not led to increased happiness. The reasons are simple. As wants are fulfilled, more are generated, since people seek to improve upon the average level of consumption. As stated in Islamic teachings, if you give a man a valley of gold, he will desire another one. Nothing will fill his stomach except the dust of the grave.

Once the psychological nature of scarcity is understood, the remedies for the problem take a radically different shape from those currently being pursued all over the globe. The following measures to handle scarcity are all in harmony with Islamic teachings and would form the basis of an ET90% designed to oppose ET1%

  1. Encourage Abundance thinking. For example, the Quran says that the Lord has provided bountifully for all.
  2. Prohibit envy, and prohibit conspicuous consumption — both of these steps are contained in Islamic teachings.
  3. Prevent excessive consumption (called israf and tabzeer in Islamic teachings), and encourage simple standards of living. This will prevent the rat-race for ever increasing living standards, which causes harm to all.
  4. Encourage gratitude for the blessings we enjoy, and the feeling of contentment. Encourage generosity, which creates the feeling of abundance.
  5. Encourage social responsibility for each other, fostering cooperation and community, which creates social networks which are the source of comfort and support, creating psychological security.

My paper on “The Normative Foundations of Scarcity“ explains how what economists claim is an OBJECTIVE and Factual reality, is in fact a NORMATIVE position. See also my post on  ET1%: Blindfolds Created by Economic Theory which explains how all the central concepts of economic theory are designed to favor the rich and justify their wealth. All of these concepts allow us to defend the status quo against those people who would like to re-distribute wealth in order to achieve equity and justice.

For a more detailed discussion of Scarcity from an Islamic perspective see Scarcity: East and West Journal of Islamic Economics, Banking and Finance, Volume 6, Number 1, January-March 2010. p. 87-104. This paper can be viewed or downloaded from the link below.


Very interesting article by Jason Hickel on: De-Growth, A theory of radical abundance. Hickel argues that capitalism must massively overproduce. In order to be able to SELL this excess production, it must CREATE the feelings of scarcity using advertising and other techniques to make people unsatisfied with what they have, so that they are persuaded to buy more goods. Thus SCARCITY is created by capitalism.

Brainwashing Versus Meta-Level Analysis

[] This post is a continuation of my two previous posts — Teaching Fish to Fly and The Third Poison: The Meaning of Development.  These posts discuss briefly some of the topics covered in the first lecture I gave on Islamic Economics at IIIE, IIUI on Friday 15th Feb 2019. We have discussed how an education — both substance and process — are dramatically different between West and Islam, because the purpose of an education is different. Because our minds have been conditioned by a Western education, analysis of how it developed is very helpful in liberating our minds from the chains that it creates which binds our thoughts. This UNLEARNING is required as a first step, before we can learn Islamic concepts like the purpose of life, and the substance and methodology of education required to achieve this purpose.

A previous post describes an important book by Julie Reuben with the self-explanatory title: The Making of the Modern University: Intellectual Tranformation and the Marginalization of Morality. The book explains how in the early twentieth century, college catalogs stated that the purpose of an education was to build character. However, conflicts between different denominations of Christianity led to the abandonment of religious basis for character-building. Many secular options were tried, but none of them worked, so the whole idea was abandoned. Another important factor which led to this outcome was the philosophy of logical positivism. According to this philosophy, knowledge could only be that of the external world. This excludes our knowledge about justice and morality, since this knowledge comes from the heart and soul. The influence of logical positivism created the idea that morality is NOT part of human knowledge, and hence must be excluded from the college curriculum. It was prophesied that we Muslims will follow the ways of the Christian and the Jews, even to the extent of crawling into snakeholes after them. Exactly in accordance with this, following Western educational systems, we have also excluded the development of morality and character — the heart of an Islamic education – from our educational processes here in the East.

But this is not all. There are even deeper reasons why the Western educational systems were transformed to become what they are today. A primary shaper of modern Western thought is the loss of faith in Christianity among European intellectuals, which occured over the course of sixteenth to eighteenth centuries. To understand modern Western thought, it is essential to understand the historical process of the European Transition to Secular Thought. It was the weakening of religion which allowed the Pursuit of Wealth to go from being an evil to becoming desirable in the West. A deeper understanding of this is available from Karl Polanyi’s book on The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Times. The industrial revolution created the possibility of massive over-production. To realize this potential, the society had to be transformed in many different ways. People do not naturally pursue wealth, and are not naturally inclined to sell their labor for money. Furthermore, consumption is usually treated as something which is necessary, but is not the purpose of life. All of these attitudes must be changed in order to create a “market society” where massive amounts of over-consumption is not only possible, rather it is desirable and even the goal of life. In a market society, everything must be for sale, and the value of things must be determined by their market price. To change mindsets from their natural mold, “brainwashing” is required. The Market Society created by the industrial revolution needs to brainwash all people into becoming willing participants, by making wealth and luxury the object of life. This is why the fundamental educational process must brainwash intellectuals into accepting certain ideas which are contrary to our natural human inclinations. With this as a necessary preliminary background, we can explain the fundamental difference between Western and Islamic Education.

Western Education as Brainwashing: The fundamental premise of a Western education is that the teacher knows the truth, while the student does not. Education is the process of transferring knowledge from the teacher to the student. The teacher uses all possible methods to ensure that the student comes out believing what the teacher wants him to believe. The teachers beliefs have been produced by the same system, so that they are also in conformity with the beliefs that are necessary for the survival of the capitalist system of production. For example, one of the important teaching of economic theory is that all participants in the market economy are paid according to their marginal productivity — how much they contribute to the system. Thus, if someone is a millionaire, this means that his contribution to society is worth millions of dollars. If someone earns nothing, that means is his contribution to society is zero. While this is easy to disprove (see Lecture AM09: Marginal Productivity: You are worth what you get), those who study economics are brainwashed into believing this theory, which justifies the extremely unequal distribution of wealth under capitalism. Note that the goal of education is to produce a standardized set of beliefs which all students, regardless of their backgrounds and capabilities, must end up having, as the final product of the process of education. If some student fails to be convinced by the marginal productivity theory, then he/she will fail the final examination of the economics course.

Islamic Education as a Meta-Level Process: The central goal of an Islamic education is to teach us to think about ideas – or to think about the thought process itself. Instead of taking an idea and attempting to implant it in the brains of the student, an Islamic education attempts to teach students how to think about ideas – who are the thinkers of this idea, why did they learn to think in this way, what was the historical process that led to the creation of this thought, who are the people who will be affected favorably by this idea, who will be hurt by this idea. All of these are things that we need to do, in order to think about ideas.

This post illustrates the Islamic methodology by example. We look at theory of marginal productivity. The Western tradition would require us to examine the theory and see if it is true or false. If it is true, we must accept it. If it is false, then we should reject it. Instead of doing this, we looked at how this theory functions within a capitalist society, and we see that it justifies inequalities in the distribution of wealth. We examine the historical context in which it arose: in the battle between traditional society and the market society, which results in the Great Transformation in European Thought . The Christian maxim that “love of wealth is the root of all evil” was discarded and replaced by “lack of wealth is the root of all evil”. This change in thought processes is at the heart of the creation of the theory of marginal productivity, which justifies the inequalities of a market society, and thereby ensures its survival and strength. Note the radical differences between this EXTERNAL analysis, which looks at the Marginal Productivity theory from the outside, within its historical and social context, and the standard analysis which you will find in economics textbooks — which teach it as a truth which the student must learn, without any discussion of the deeper meanings of the theory, the context of the theory, and the historical debates and controversies which surround this theory. 

The Islamic methodology of education invites us to think about thoughts with a very pluralistic and tolerant attitude. For example, our books contain discussion of various questions related to Islam. The books say that X is the position of Imam Abu Hanifa, whereas the position of Imam Shafi’ee is Y. Arguments in favor of positions X (and separately Y) are as follows, while counter-arguments are as follows. At the end of this discussion, we should be left with a deeper understanding of the issues — we are not required to pass judgment as to which of the two positions is superior. In fact, the best attitude for us is to say that both of these giants were far superior to us in Taqwa and therefore we are not in a position to act as a judge between them. The Islamic attitude of tolerance is unique among the religions of the world. On many occasions, our Prophet SAW endorsed two opposite actions and beliefs as both being true and valid. For a detailed discussion of the correct Islamic attitude regarding conflicts, see the remarkable book of Shah Waliullah: Ikhtilafi Masail main Aitidal Ki Rah”.  In particular Islamic orthodoxy is unique in stating that all four dominant Mazahib are permissible to follow and correct, even though they have substantial conflicts on many issues. Tolerance and pluralism is built into the heart of Islamic teachings. A beautiful history of how the Islamic philosophy created a unique culture of peaceful co-existence among Jews, Christians and Muslims, see Maria Rosa Menocal The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain.

How we can teach students meta-level thinking is itself an issue of great importance. This is because our students have received training in the Western tradition and have picked up bad habits of thought. They have become used to assessing ideas as being true or false and at taking sides — I am for this idea and against that one. This partisanship makes it very difficult to do meta-level thinking. So one of the key skills that we must teach our students is to lay aside all pre-conceptions. When we enter the classroom to be educated, we abandon all our loyalties to one idea or another idea. All ideas are just ideas that belong to someone else, and we will examine them without becoming attached to them and without being repulsed by them.  In the lecture, this method was illustrated by asking students to detach themselves from beliefs which had been planted in their minds by economic training. One of these beliefs is the idea that all actions are in reality selfish, even if they have the appearance of un-selfishness. For example, when we do a good deed, we are being selfish because in reality we are seeking the rewards of the Jannah, or else, we feel good when we do good to others. This debate will be covered in a later post, hopefully. This first principle, laying aside prejudice or attachments, does not mean accepting whatever is said by the teacher. Rather, it is a preparation to be able to examine all ideas with detachment, without taking sides.

The second element of training which is required by our students is the ability to see “ideas” in isolation. Because we are used to thinking of ideas as being true or false — a Western training is based on binary logic, and these are the only two positions allowed — so either we reject an idea (and hate it as being a falsehood) or we accept an idea (and love it as being the Truth). We must learn to view ideas in isolation, WITHOUT evaluating them for being true or false. This skill — of learning about “ideas” as objects of thought — is very new to students, and must be learnt. There are many different exercises which students will be trained to do in order to be able to learn this skill. One of the important ones is to read passages of text and extract the central ideas from them. This exercise of compression – precis writing — is very useful in isolating and understanding ideas, and separating the essential idea from a long and detailed writing which articulates and expresses the idea, provides an explanation, and defends it via argumentation.

One Question which came up in the course of discussing the above ideas in class: “Present Day Madrassas also attempt to indoctrinate students into believing one view — Hanafi, for example — and asserting the superiority of this view over that of others.”

Answer — The idea that Islam encourages us to think, rather than to blindly follow our ancestors/teachers, can be supported by the Quran which reports how Ibraheem AS argues with his nation regarding their practice of worshipping idols. He says that, even though this is their tradition and this is how their fathers have done things, they should reason for themselves, as to whether or not the idols can help them or harm them, and whether or not they can hear your prayers and answer them.

Present day practices among Muslims, in all dimensions of life, are different from those of the Golden Ages of Islam. The madrassa’s in Islam taught all the Uloom in one place, without any differentiation between sacred and secular (see The Second Poison: Secular Knowledge).  Our systems of governance are imitations of Western systems and not the Khilafa/Shoora of Islam. Our markets are based on practices on the West, and not on the market principles of Islam. Our banking, insurance, real estate, stock market, social norms, culture, are all deeply influenced by Western principles of thinking and organization. Truly, as prophesied, Islam came as a stranger and will become a stranger. Today, Islamic practises are strangers to Islamic societies. Nonetheless, it remains true that the principles are known and defended by many scholars who have deep knowledge of Islam, and there are many attempts at revival, led by the scholars of Islam, which are currently under way. We pray that Allah T’aala may bless these efforts and light up the world with the Noor of eeman, and make it burn bright in the hearts of the Muslims.




Teaching Fish to Fly

[] Here it is in the original language: Burada hiçbir balık uçmaya, hiçbir kuş yüzmeye zorlanmaz.

The previous post on The Third Poison: The Meaning of Development explained how a Western education creates the belief that the purpose of our lives is to make money, since money is essential to enjoying life. The purpose of an education is to help us make money. For this, we need to learn how to be “human resources” — standardized parts which can fit into the capitalist machine for creating wealth which is currently running the world. There is an illusion of choice — we can be engineers, doctors, academicians, and many other roles — but these are roles which already exist and are making money. There is no choice to express our own individual and unique personality, which has never existed in the world before, and will never exist in the future.

In contrast, principles of an Islamic education are well-summarized by the motto that we do not teach fish to fly, and we do not teach birds to swim. Rather, each individual is encouraged to develop his or her own unique capabilities. But before we can discuss principles of education, we must consider the FIRST question we all face, as the central and most important question of our personal and social lives: What is the purpose of life itself? It is only after we have a clear purpose for our existence that we can decide whether or not we need an education to achieve this purpose.

So let us ponder the question: “What is the purpose of our life?” As discussed in the previous post, it is very useful to distinguish between word-beliefs and action-beliefs. When asked this question, all Muslims will respond in the same way — the purpose is to please God, which will lead to success on the day of Judgment. That is the only success, and that is the real success. However, it is easy to see that this is a word-belief and not an action-belief for most people.

In practice, a Western education brainwashes into thinking that the purpose of life is the same for all human beings: the enjoyment of this worldly life, and the accumulation of wealth and power. The difference between Muslims and non-Muslims is that Muslims can only use Halal means for pursuing pleasure, while non-Muslims do not have any such constraints on their behavior. This leads to a common formula for defining Islamic Economics:

Islamic Economics = Capitalist Economics + Zakat – Interest

This formula reflects that idea that our purpose is the same; but Muslims must obey Islamic laws, giving compulsory dues and abstaining from haram profits,  while pursuing the capitalist purpose. If this is accepted then Islamic Economics is only a minor modification of capitalist economics, where some rules and regulations are added to the standard “pursuit of wealth and happiness” which is the goal of capitalist economies. In this case, the education required for this purpose will also be quite similar, with major overlap between classical and conventional economics and the substance of Islamic Economics. This has been the position of the vast majority of Islamic Economists.

However, in this course, and in my writings, I have taken a radically different position. I have argued that Islamic teachings are dramatically opposed to and in conflict with teachings of conventional economics. Because the purpose of our lives is dramatically different from what the West teaches, the education required to achieve this purpose is also dramatically different.  While a western education teaches us how we can earn money by becoming a standardized part within a capitalist machine (a human resource), Islamic education is designed to nurture and cause to grow the unique capabilities which every human being is born with. Standardized western curriculum treat all students in the same way, since all students are to be converted to standardized parts, while Islam attempt to teach every student according to his or her own unique capabilities. This is the meaning of the motto that fish should be given expertise in swimming while birds should be trained in flying, to bring out their natural capabilities.

Before discussing the nature of an Islamic education, we must understand the extreme importance that Islam places on education. We may begin at the very beginning, when our Prophet SAW was sitting in the Cave of Hira, in search of guidance from his Creator. The Angel Gabriel appeared and revealed to him the first few verses of the Wahi:

Read in the name of thy Lord who created; [He] created the human being from blood clot. Read in the name of thy Lord who taught by the pen: [He] taught the human being what he did not know.” (96:1-5).

What was the KNOWLEDGE that was given to man by Allah? Instead of thinking about the nature of the knowledge, let us think about the EFFECTS that this knowledge had. The Arabs were in their period of Jahilliyya — ignorance — and had savage habits, like burying little girls alive, killing each other for small grievances, drinking wine in the skulls of their enemies and so on. The Arab society was at the bottom rung of civilization, while Romans, Egyptians, Persians and Chinese had far more advanced societies – with literature, philosophy, technology, culture, arts, etc. The effect of the knowledge given to the early Muslims by the teachings of the Quran was an amazing transformation. The Quran itself testifies that they became people who gave to others while being themselves in need. The early Muslims defeated two major empires, and created a civilization that dominated the planet for a 1000 years. See What the World Lost Due to the Decline of the Islamic Civilization for more details. This was a powerful kind of knowledge, which changed the course of world history, and transfored the destinies of nations.

This leads to the question: “Is this knowledge equally powerful today?” and a related question “Do we Muslims still have this knowledge?”. The first question was discussed in great detail in the previous post on The Third Poison: The Meaning of Development”. The second question arises naturally because the conditions today are similar to the Jahilliyya in many ways. The Muslims have acquired many bad and savage habits similar to those of pre-Islamic times. In addition, we are currently close to bottom rank in the civilizations around the world today. The question of how we Muslims can develop and progress is obviously of great importance. As discussed in the previous post, in terms of action-belief, Muslims do not think that the Quran provides complete and perfect guidance for us today. Instead, the vast majority of Muslims think that we must acquire the knowledge developed by the West over the past three centuries — knowledge which is not part of the Quran — in order to make progress today.

This idea, that today, the knowledge revealed to the early Muslims is not sufficient for our guidance, is a MISTAKE and an ILLUSION. This mistake and illusion is created by our training in the Western system of education, which teaches us that progress and development is the name of acquiring wealth and power, and enjoying the luxuries of this worldly life. In Islam, development means the development of our inner capabilities which we are all born with. This requires work on our hearts and souls, and must be different for every individual. This inner development is what leads to the external development that the West seeks. As the Quran says, Allah T’aala does not change the external conditions of nations until they change their internal conditions.

The first principle of an Islamic education is that every human being is unique, and has rare talents which education must bring out. According to our traditions, human beings are like mines, and each one contains some rare and precious minerals and metals like gold, silver, diamonds, etc. The task of the educator is to dig into the hearts and extract these riches and bring them out. Useful knowledge is that which enters the heart. We are all born with the potential but few achieve this potential to be fully a human being.

The Quran tells us the if you save a life, it is as if you have save the entire humanity, and if you kill someone, it is as if you have kill the entire humanity. So let us reflect on this – it seems strange and paradoxical — how can it be that one life is equivalent to that of billions of other human beings on the planet? This does not make sense to those trained in the Western logics of quantification, measurement, and observability. Maybe it is just a metaphorical way of saying that human life is extremely precious. But actually, the wisdom of the Quran goes much deeper than this.

What the Quran is saying that in terms of potential every human life has the possibility of being equivalent to billions. This is like every seed has the potential to become a tree, which will bring forth thousands of more seeds, which can then again become trees. So each seed contains within it the potential to become millions of trees, given time, space, opportunity, and favorable environment. Exactly like this, the human heart contains infinite potential, if nourished in the right environment.  The idea that human lives are infinitely precious has dramatic consequences for economics, and also for educational theories. If human lives cannot be brought and sold for money, than labor markets in the conventional economic sense cannot exist. So the process of production must be organized in very different ways (and this was so, the production process was very different, in the period of Islamic dominance). Basically, this means that the capitalist mode of production is not compatible with Islam, although exactly how this is requires much deeper and more complex explanations. Here we do not go into this because we are concerned with the Islamic theories of education.

When we treat every human being as a seed with infinite potential, then the job of the teacher is to provide an environment where the seed can grow. Our job is not to stuff “knowledge” into the minds of students — the seed contains within itself all the patterns which will govern its future growth. We just need to provide the soil, the nutrients, and the water to enable it to realize the potential, which is already present within the seed. The teachers job is to MOTIVATE the student to learn, to develop his or her own potential. Because KNOWLEDGE is the water and the nutrition and the soil that the student needs to grow. How this is to be done will be subject of later posts (and was discussed briefly in the lecture). But note well the differences between Islamic and Western theories of education, as highlighted here. Islamic educators need to deal with the personality of the student, to assess their skills, talents, and capabilities, and groom them in the directions towards which they are naturally inclined. In a western education, all students are the same – they are raw materials which must be processed to produce identical products.

Three posts provide further information on the topics discussed above:

  1. How to Motivate and Inspire Students — This is a lecture for teachers on how we can reach the hearts of our students, and encourage them to aspire to great goals.
  2. The Ways of the Eagles.” A western education teaches students to be crows, to seek dead material things for nourishment. An Islamic student frees the students from worldly aspirations, allowing them to soar the skies like the eagles that they were meant to be.
  3. “From Darkness to Light: A lecture given at Ibn-e-Haldun University in Istanbul which explains how the social sciences of the West are based on a fundamentally wrong model of human beings — humans only have heads which allow rational calculations, but they do not have hearts which can feel compassion and are repelled by injustice. Because of this deep mistake, the entire structure of Western knowledge is deeply flawed, and is in need of replacement by Islamic ideas, which provide far deeper understanding of the nature of human beings.

The next post in this sequence is Brainwashing versus Meta-Level Analysis. This explains how a Western education is just brainwashing — enforcing students to think in certain ways — while an Islamic education is designed to enable students to think about thinking and evaluate ideas within their historical and social context.

The Third Poison: Worship of Wealth

[] 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.





From Darkness to Light

On Friday afternoon, 8th February 2019,I gave a talk at the Ibn-e-Haldun University with the title: “Economics for the 21st Century: Launching a Revolution in Teaching Economics“.

The talk starts by discussing the central problem that faces the Ummah: How we can understand and implement the teachings of Islam in our modern lives? In particular, does Islam provide us with knowledge which is relevant to the modern disciplines like Economics, Politics, Anthropology, Psychology, Sociology, etc.? It seems to us today that the Quran and Hadeeth do not provide much relevant knowledge about these matters, and hence we must look to the West, where these Uloom were developed, for guidance. But this seems to contradict the claim of the Quran that it contains complete and perfect guidance — How can we resolve this apparent contradiction? This talk explains how what the West calls knowledge is actually an illusion of knowledge, while the real knowledge is contained in the teachings of the Quran.

For some related posts see the following:   The Heart and Soul of Islamic Economics : This explains how Western economics is built on a misconception about the nature of man. In particular, man has only a brain, and has no heart and soul — homo economicus. This is a fundamental mistake about the nature of man. The entire building of modern economics is built on this misconception, and because of these wrong foundations, the entire discipline is wrong. For sayings of major economists which confirm these major flaws in the foundations of economics, see Quotes Critical of Economics.”  See also:  Blanket Rejection of Economics , and  Building New Foundations for Economics .  For an outline of an alternative, see:  Foundations for Islamic Economics .

The First Lesson

This Wednesday morning of 13th Feb 2019, I took the first class of Advanced Macro II at PIDE. The class was not about Macroeconomics, but about the strong opposition between Islamic and Western purpose of education, and therefore its methodology. The talk was in Urdu, and addressed the following questions: [For a similar talk in English, see Re-Learning Islam]

What is the most important question that faces us in our lives? This question must be answered, before we can answer any other question regarding which type of education is best and most useful for us?

Why does a Western education not address this question directly? What is the indirect answer that a Western education provide to the question of purpose of our education? (see Recovering from a Western Education)

1450 years ago, the teachings of Islam created a revolution, and changed the course of human history. These teachings transformed the ignorant and savage Arabs living in the Jahilliya into the leaders of the world — see   What the World Lost Due to the Decline of the Islamic Civilization    –. The question is: Do these teachings have the same power today, to transform modern Muslims, who are ignorant and backwards, into world leaders?

If these teachings do have the same power today, why are Muslims not utilizing them? The widespread belief among the Muslims today is that our development and advance today depends on our ability to catch up to the West, to acquire the knowledge that they have acquired over the past few centuries. It DOES NOT depend on our learning Islam, since we already HAVE the learning of Islam, and it has not prevented our decline. Is this impression correct? If not, why not? (see The Islamic Concept of Knowledge)

An answer to these questions depends critically on what we understand to be the purpose of our lives — this question is answered differently by Western and Islamic teachings. Major differences in approaches to education and the substance and subject matter of the education appear because of the differences in purpose (see PP1: The First Principle of Pedagogy). How the different answers to the question of “What is Knowledge?” affect research methodology, see The Search for Knowledge.

The lecture below provides an extended discussion of the questions above. In light of this discussion, we need to study the Principles of an Islamic Education, since these are radically different from the principles of a Western education.

Urdu Version of Talk on Purpose of Life:


English Version of Talk on What is Useful Knowledge? Only that which helps us achieve the purpose of our lives. So to assess what we should learn, what an education should be about, we need to consider the purpose of our lives. This is discussed in the talk below; issues discussed are summarized in the post on “Re-Learning Islam

Is Science Western in Origin?

[] In my experience as a teacher, I have learned that the first task I face is to get my students to set high goals for themselves — to reach for the stars. As the Quran (53:39) says, you can only get what you strive for. If the students set themselves low goals, they will achieve very little. There are two major barriers that I must overcome, in order to achieve this goal.

The First Barrier: The system of education is DESIGNED to make student feel like they are incompetent, stupid, incapable of great achievements. This is because students are forces to memorize large amount of alien in-digestible matter which no one could understand, and without any concern for whether or not students understand the subject matter. This leads the students to believe that the “knowledge” that they are being taught is beyond their abilities to learn, and that real knowledge will always be out of their reach. The students do not realize that the fault lies with the subject matter and the methodology being used to teach, and not with their own internal minds and capacities. Many of my lectures are devoted to trying to inspire students to overcome this barrier and to set high goals for themselves; see for example: The Ways of the Eagles , Exploding the Myths which block our Minds , and  Unlock Your Infinite Potential 

The Second Barrier: Centuries of defeat of the East, Colonization by the West, and an Educational system designed by Macaulay to create admiration, awe, and respect for the West, and contempt and dis-respect for our own heritage.  This creates a Deep-Seated Inferiority Complex , which must be overcome if we are to aim at high goals. This inferiority complex is created by a biased Eurocentric history: for a collection of articles on this theme, see Islamic WorldView and Fighting Eurocentricism.” The main idea of Eurocentric history is that the whole world was in darkness until the sun of reason first arose in the West in the sixteenth century, ending their dark ages. Since this Enlightenment of Europe, the Europeans have made fantastic progress, leaving the rest of the world far behind. All good thing known to man have been invented in the past few centuries by Europeans. For a short essay which debunks this myth, see The Dark Side of the Enlightenment Project.

Among the greatest of the Western inventions is “SCIENCE” – Science is a European invention, and other races and cultures don’t really have the capacity or capability to create science or even to understand what it is.  Exploding this myth is very important to overcoming the second barrier. In a previous post, I have explained the Islamic Origins of Science, which shows how science originated in the Islamic Civilization, how it was transmitted to Europe, and how this borrowing was hidden and concealed to create the impression that Europeans have invented science. The book linked below: C.K. Raju: Is Science Western in Origin? provides a great deal of detailed information about the non-Western origins of science. In particular it shows how Copernicus was just a translator of Arabic works on astronomy, and not the revolutionary thinker that he is considered to be by the Europeans. This is because the real story of his borrowing from Islamic sources is concealed.

This book by CK Raju on “Is Science Western in Origin?” is very important in this context. It starts out by explaining that the process of colonization is, in the first place, the conquest of “knowledge — the colonizers define the world for us. Even though we have achieved political independence, mentally, we are still enslaved. Then the book provides historical evidence for how West appropriated knowledge originating in other cultures, claimed it for its own, by creating false histories, suppressing the true origins, and naming copiers as inventors. This book provides some of the narratives and evidence that we need to liberate ourselves from the chains of Eurocentric history.

The Higher Goals of Education

[] This was a talk given to vice-chancellors at an HEC dinner a few months ago. It explained how modern education has lost the element of character building (Tarbiyya) which should be at the heart of education. This article was published in The Nation on 21 Nov 20189

Talk at HEC Dinner for VCs and other senior officials engaged in education

Currently, syllabi in Pakistani universities follow those of the educational institutions of the west, and are oriented towards providing students with the job-skills they need to earn money. This trend has become even more extreme over the past few decades as the burden of debt on students in USA has risen to nearly a trillion dollars, due to increasing commercialization of the education sector. Pakistani university students’ families also assume a huge economic burden in the name of equipping their children for the demands of the increasingly specialized job market. In all of this rush towards progress, morality plays no role in the curricula of educational institutions, a state of affairs that seems natural to those of us who have grown up under amoral educational regimes.

On deeper examination, it becomes clear that morality was in fact deliberately excluded from western curricula in the early part of the 20th Century. The reasons for this shift, and its consequences, have been detailed by Julie Reuben in her book: “The Making of the Modern University: Intellectual Transformation and the Marginalization of Morality.” (One of the key reasons was the emergence of the philosophy of logical positivism, which excluded morality from the domain of knowledge.) According to Reuben, in the 1920s the college catalogs of even the most prestigious western universities opened with statements about their mission to build character among students. The purpose of education was understood by all as developing and grooming personalities, creating leadership skills, and instilling cognizance of civic and social responsibilities. This mission was increasingly abandoned since the 1960s, and today, no official documents speak to the responsibility of providing students with moral guidance.

To make the same point on a more personal level, I recall my experience as a freshman at MIT in 1971. It was an exciting time, leaving home for the first time to drink from the fountains of knowledge at the source. We were all innocent and young, enthusiastic about the infinite possibilities and pathways open before us.  One night, a group of us spent all night discussing the meaning of life and other deeper questions – which path should we choose? What were the most worthwhile directions where we should spend our efforts, using the precious moments of our youthful and boundless energies? As morning dawned, it became clear to all of us that we did not have a clue regarding this most important of questions that we all face in our lives. We decided to consult one of our professors — surely the knowledge that we sought would be available from the deep wells of wisdom to be found at one of the world’s leading universities.

Accordingly, a small group of students went to one of our professors and asked him about how we could learn the answers to the bigger questions that life poses — what we should be doing with our lives? The answer he gave us satisfied us at the time; it was only much later that I realized that we had been deceived. He told us that experience shows that we must first learn the answers to the small questions, and only later would we be able to tackle the big questions. It seemed like a perfectly sensible answer, and we were satisfied to learn our calculus, chemistry, and computer programming, as the small steps we needed to take, in order to prepare for the bigger ones. It was much, much, later that I realized that he did not have any answers for us — the bigger questions were no longer on the syllabus of a Western education.  Because the goods we were looking for were not in available in the shop, we were sold an inferior bill-of-goods, marketed as the pathway to what we were looking for. But in fact, regardless of how much math, chemistry, physics, biology, or economics, politics and social science you study, you will not learn the answer to the questions about how we can make the most of our few precious moments on this Earth. (see also: Islamic Knowledge: Still Revolutionary after 1440 years!)

The deep damage that this kind of education, expunged of morality and values, is inflicting on society can be gauged by many measures. A Western education trains students to build bombs, to calculate costs and benefits, but does not train them to understand that the best that life has to offer cannot be quantified or measured in dollars or pounds. In fact, human life is infinitely precious, and every baby is born with the potential for extraordinary achievements. However, because they were not trained to understand the value of life, the graduates of the finest educational institutes in the West designed bombs and machinery for mass murder of innocent civilians, did scientific research on torture, and many other kinds of inhumane experiments on human subjects. I can personally testify to a loss of idealism and moral values that I and my fellow students experienced in the strongly amoral atmosphere prevalent at campuses throughout USA. Our conversations as first year graduate students in the Economics department at Stanford University revealed that all of us were motivated by the desire to improve the economic conditions of the poor, and to create prosperity for the people. However, the Economics program taught us that rational behavior is selfish, and survival of the fittest in the jungle of cut-throat competition creates the maximum welfare for all. Accordingly, by the end of our Ph.D.s, we abandoned our idealistic dreams, and became focused on personal advancement through careers and jobs.

Today, our most urgent need as educators is to focus on building the character of our students. There is no doubt that values should not be imposed on others, and the meaning of life cannot be conveyed in a lecture. Nonetheless, this does not mean that we should sterilize our classrooms of meaningful discussion about the most important questions we face in life as human beings. There is a rich intellectual tradition, both in the East and in the West, of philosophers, mystics, and thought leaders who have grappled with the bigger questions. We fail our students if we only provide them with a technical education without exposing them to deeper knowledge about how to live, and how to excel as a human being. The Western education that we seek to imitate trains the minds, but not the hearts. What our students achieve depends very much on the greatness of the visions we can inspire them with. In this quest, our poets Iqbal, Rumi and others will be of far greater value than the conventional textbooks.

Related Posts: Build Character to Build Nations, Links to collected materials on “Education and Character Building“. See also, The Emergence of Logical Positivism, the philosophy which re-shaped the meaning of knowledge in the West.