The Third Path: Evolutionary and Revolutionary Strategies for Reform

[bit.do/azttp] Part of Lec 12 of Islamic Economics 2019 [bit.do/ie2019] about “Rebuilding An Islamic Society“. This post provides a general overview, an English video-lecture, and some additional reflection. The previous post provides links to multiple lectures, original paper on this topic, and its urdu translation.

The Burning Question: The message of Islam launched a revolution in world history (see “What the World Lost Due to the Decline of the Islamic Civilization by Syed Abul Hassan Ali Nadwi). The burning question for today is: Does this message have the same power today that it did fourteen centuries ago? Today, it seems that Muslims are once again enveloped in darkness, ignorant and backwards. If the message remains just as powerful as ever, why cannot the Muslims today benefit from the revolutionary teachings of Islam.

The Surprising Answer: Centuries of defeat in many battles, the process of colonization, and widespread adoption of Western educational systems, have shaped our minds to suit the necessity of justifying global conquest, as explained by Edward Said in his classic “Orientalism”.  Note that invasion of Iraq for control of oil was justified by the pretext of higher motives of freeing the citizen from a tyrant, bringing them democracy, and protecting the world from WMD in hands of a madman. In an exactly similar way, global conquest carried out for ruthless exploitation of planetary resources was justified by the pretext of bringing the benefits of advanced Western civilization to primitive and barbaric Eastern societies. This cover story has been propagated via Western educational systems, and fills our minds with a deep seated inferiority complex, and with awe and admiration of the West. With our eyes dazzled by the superficial brilliance of Western knowledge, we are unable to see the hidden treasures contained within Islamic teachings. We need to do a substantial amount of “Unlearning”, in order to be able to benefit from the teachings of Islam. See slides on “Unlearning Jahiliyyah and Relearning Islam”, and video-posts on  “Recovering from a Western Education“, and “Central Myths of Eurocentric History“.

Implementation:  So how can we utilize the teachings of Islam to launch the revolution on both internal and external fronts that changed the course of history 1440 years ago? This is discussed at length in an earlier post on “The Road to Madina”.  The lecture linked below discusses this issue from a different angle. There is universal agreement that Islamic societies are in very bad shape, and require reform on many fronts. There are sharp differences among groups regarding the priorities, as to which of these reforms are essential, and must be carried out first. Also, there are sharp differences regarding how these reforms are to be made. In general, there are two camps: The evolutionary group aims to start where we stand today and gradually modify institutional structures of the society towards the Islamic ideals. The revolutionary group believes that current structures cannot be reformed. They must be torn down, and replaced with radical alternatives from our Islamic heritage. In the talk below, and the paper on which this is based, I argue that both positions have some part of the truth, but reform must proceed along a third path. This is explained further after the video linked below:

 

The contents of the above thirty minute English Lecture has been discussed in several of my lectures in Islamic Economics. The paper, in urdu and English, and several variant lectures in urdu, are available from “Rebuilding An Islamic Society”. Below we provide some additional detail of how the path to reform does not require evolution, because we build fresh Islamic institutions from scratch. It also does not require revolution, because the work of character building and spiritual development that we wish to do is on empty grounds, where there is no opposition.

The Third Path: The rise of the West was due to their loot and pillage of the entire world, with conquest of 85% of the globe, and ruthless exploitation of all planetary resources. The message of the West, which we imbibe in our courses, is that wealth, power, and luxury are the goals of our lives. The education teaches us all how we can become parts of the capitalist machine for the production of wealth. In complete contrast, the message Islam teaches us that human beings are the best of the creations, and each live is worth the entire planet. We are not commodities for sale in the labor market, and we are not human resources for use in the production of wealth. Islam teaches us how to be human beings, and to develop the potentials for excellence which lie in the heart of all humans, In this teaching, we have no rivals, no competition from the West. This is why we can build on grounds which are un-opposed. Even though the message is radical and revolutionary, Islam works on the hearts of the people, and develops inner spiritual capabilities. The first step on the path to “Recovering from a Western Education” is “Exploding Myths which block our Minds“. In my course on Islamic Economics, the first goal is to get students to re-consider the purpose of our lives — instead of pursuit of wealth and luxury, we should realize that we have only one opportunity to live our unique and precious lives, and we should learn how to be human beings, instead of learning to be human resources. See “The Purpose of  Life” and “Learning to be a Human Being, instead of a Human Resource” for more details.

The Europeans were able to conquer or dominate more than 85% of the Muslim lands, because of their divide-and-rule strategies, which continue to operate effectively to divide the hearts of Muslims and keep us engaged with numerous internal battles (see Disinformation: Manufacturing Monsters). To counter-act the effects of the Central Myths of Eurocentric History which we have absorbed in our Western education, we need to make simultaneous efforts on two fronts. One is the internal front of spiritual progress and character transformation towards the excellence of conduct displayed by the perfect model, our Prophet Mohammad SAW – our guide for revolutionary change. The other is the external front, rebuilding the society that was first created at Madina. The key step on the “Road to Madina” is unity. At the heart of the message Islam is the love of God, and consequently, love of all of the creation of God, as the family of God. The hearts of the Muslims were bound together in a love that was so precious that all the treasure of the world could not purchase this love. When the Ummah was like one body, so that all parts felt pain when any part was hurt, it dominated the world civilizations. The institutions of an Islamic society are designed to create cooperation and unity, and to foster a sense of social responsiblity — see “Building Genuine Islamic Financial Institutions”. The Quran admonishes Muslims to remain united, and warns of defeat if we are divided amongst ourselves. Today the path to success remains, as it always has been, understanding and adoption of the teachings of Islam, in our personal lives, and in our societies.

On the basis of these insights, on the first of Ramzan, I launched the Ghazali Project, based on two pillars:

Tahafatul Falasafa: Rejection of Western Wisdom, which today most Muslims view as the sole route to recovery and repair of our damaged Islamic Societies.

Ihya Uloomud Deen: Learning how to use and apply the traditional Uloom of Fiqh, developed over a thousand years, to modern social problems, thereby developing an original Islamic alternative to Western Social Science.

All those who are interested in furthering this cause are invited and requested to join and participate in this project.

Rationality: Economics Vs Reality

I have circulated my previous post on “Knowledge to Change the World” to a large group of Islamic economists, with the Introductory Remarks given below. In the introductory remarks, I criticise a recent textbook on Islamic Economics for accepting the idea of “rationality” without understanding how this is understood in a very special way by economists. For clarity, it should be called E-Rationality, because it is not the same as how you and I understand rationality, and it is not how the word is commonly used in public discourse. One of the many co-authors of the textbook wrote a response to my message, and I wrote a counter-response. Both of these are given below – this is a standard argument in which I have been engaged for more than a decade. I have been arguing for a complete rejection of Western Economics, and construction of Islamic Economics on entirely new and different foundations, while the mainstream has been arguing that Islamic Economics can be built on the same foundations as Western Economics, by making minor modifications and adjustments to make it compatible with Islamic teachings. My view is that the foundations of Islamic Economics must be built on concepts of cooperation, generosity, and social responsibility, while Western Economics is built on competition, greed, individualism and hedonism — all of which are in direct conflict with Islamic ideals. So the two theories are diametrically opposed to each other. See the response and counter-response to get a flavor of this argument.

Introductory Remarks in my initial email message

The last ‘ashra is upon us, containing the blessing of the Laylatul Qadr which is more precious than a thousand months. May Allah T’aala give us all, and the entire Ummah, the Tawfeeq to benefit from it, and from all the baraka of of the blessed month. In this group, I have been focusing on the need to reject all of Western economics — this requires RECOGNIZING that Western Economics is a religion, not a science, and in fact, it is the religion of worship of the Nafs. Once we understand that ALL of Western social science is constructed on a highly deficient understanding of human beings — who we are, our hearts and souls, the purpose of existence — then we can see that this entire field of knowledge is seriously deficient. In fact, as I have explained in “Origins of Western Social Sciences“, social sciences emerged in the West AFTER they lost faith in Christianity, and attempted to answer questions of morality which were previously answered by religion. Thus social science originates with a rejection of religion, and an attempt to find a RATIONAL basis for solutions of our human problems. Again this world RATIONAL is highly problematic — recent Islamic Economics Textbook published from Malaysia discusses and ACCEPTS this concept, not reallizing the Enlightenment Rationality is a LOADED word. To be rational means to REJECT the unseen — it means not accepting anything for which there is no empirical evidence, like afterlife, God, Angels,etc. Many have seen through this trick (but not Muslims unfortunately). For example,  Hausman and MacPherson reveal how economic theory creates the illusion of objectivity and neutrallity. They write that the assumption of rationality is a Trojan Horse which sneaks in questionable moral assumptions into the citadel of economics.

Once we understand that Western Social Science is based on fundamental misconceptions about the nature of human beings (and this is obvious, because they reject the heart and soul of human beings in their analysis) then it is clear that without understanding human beings, we cannot possible build a sound social science for our societies. Then the path is open to “Launching an Islamic Revolution in the Social Sciences“. We already HAVE a well-developed social science — our thousand year old FIQH gives us the answers we need in terms of appropriate ways to construct societies, the essence of social science. Furthermore, upon comparison, it is easy to see that our solution to human problems are FAR BETTER than those provided by Western Social Science.

The SOURCE of the problem — why Muslim eyes are so dazzled by Western Sciences that they are unable to see the brilliance and power of our own heritage — is explained in my post on “Knowledge to Change the World“:  Islamic teachings launched a revolution in world history fourteen centuries ago. They have the same power today. However, centuries of colonization have created shock and awe the West in Muslim minds. Instead of looking to the Quran for guidance, Muslims seek to imitate the West in order to develop. How we can overcome this mistake, and utilize the teachings of Islam to change ourselves, and the world around us.

Allah T’aala will PERFECT the NOOR of his Guidance, however much anyone else might RESIST this. May Allah T’aala grant us the Tawfiq to be part of spread of the Noor of the Knowledge of Islam throughout the world, to all of humanity and until the end of time.

RESPONSE to my email by Dr. Mohamed Aslam Mohamed Haneef

one of the three editors of the Islamic Economics textbook which advocates and accepts “Rationality”, the concept that I criticised in my initial email above.

Alaykum Salaam Dear Dr Asad and all other colleagues,
Thank you for sharing your thoughts Dr Asad. Part of your message is extracted below:
 
‘Again this world RATIONAL is highly problematic — recent Islamic Economics Textbook published from Malaysia discusses and ACCEPTS this concept, not realizing the Enlightenment Rationality is a LOADED word. To be rational means to REJECT the unseen — it means not accepting anything for which there is no empirical evidence, like afterlife, God, Angels,etc. Many have seen through this trick (but not Muslims unfortunately). For example,  Hausman and MacPherson reveal how economic theory creates the illusion of objectivity and neutrallity. They write that the assumption of rationality is a Trojan Horse which sneaks in questionable moral assumptions into the citadel of economics.’  
 

As part of the editorial team, we had to decide ‘what kind of approach’ we would take for the 900+ page book published by International Shari’ah Research Academy for Islamic Finance (ISRA) entitled Islamic Economics- Principles and Applications. Rather than one author, we had to deal with 27 authors and even more reviewers. This proved to be a very challenging job and the three years taken to get the book out just goes to show how difficult it is trying to get some kind of consensus on what the sources of Islam say about economics and how the human intellect interprets it to develop bodies of knowledge that we use to explain, describe and understand ‘economic’ behaviour. As you must be aware, so many efforts over the last 2 decades have been attempted to come out with a ‘textbook’. I know of only 2-3 attempts that have led to actual output. None are perfect and this is the latest line of our attempt.

While I agree with your statement that modern economics (with its various schools) is not neutral and have their ideological underpinnings, our team decided that critical engagement and interaction is the approach we wanted to adopt. Total rejection of ‘western’ economics is not an approach we followed, nor do we think that this is supported by the Qur’an, the Sunnah of the Prophet pbuh nor in Islamic civilization. Critical interaction/evaluation with either rejection, acceptance or modification is acceptable and legitimate. Too many examples are available to support this approach.

The Islamic approach to economic decision-making must be rational. It makes no sense to say that Islamic economics rejects the idea of rationality. However, what that concept of rationality in Islamic economics means is the task of academics and scholars. We need to critically evaluate the concept of rationality as found in modern economics and make the necessary modifications to reflect the values, norms and worldview of Islam. However, whatever ‘alternative’ we come up with must still be ‘RATIONAL’ according to our view.

Hence the approach adopted was one of critical engagement and interaction. We reject the total rejection of all ideas, tools and framework of not only neoclassical school even if their assumptions are faulty; there may be possibility of utilising some of their work. The same applies to other heterodox schools (that must also be subject to critical evaluation). While we may be happy to learn from their critique of neoclassical economics, we have to also subject these schools to a critical evaluation. Hence, I am happy to say that I agree with you that we must know our position and worldview and what our sources of knowledge say about ‘economic’- we may call this the Islamic economic vision. Hence our approach was to adopt one of critical engagement and interaction. If the output as a result of this approach is not ‘correct’, then we seek Allah’s forgiveness to show us the way. We hope for constructive feedback and see the 2nd edition improving from the first with the assistance of colleagues like yourself. Alternatively, I would welcome other ‘alternative’ approaches- especially one that adopts a ‘total rejection’ approach. Maybe from a strategic point of view, this is the best way forward- different approaches working to develop Islamic economics.

May these last third of Ramadan be most meaningful and productive. May Allah forgive us all, keep us away from Hell-fire and grant us paradise.

My Response to Email by Dr Haneef

Dear Dr Aslam,

Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts. I appreciate deeply your effort to constructively engage with my criticism, rather than rejecting it totally. This is very hard to do when the thoughts are built on different paradigms. I would to respond to your kind email note on a few  points, all of which are designed to engage constructively, in terms of showing us the way forward.
1. Many western authors have noted the MISUSE of the word “Rationality” by economists. For example, Amartya Sen in “Rational Fools” writes that to behave ‘rationally’ according to how the economists define this word would be extremely foolish in most real world contexts. For example, economic rationality says that both parties should betray each other in the Prisoner’s Dilemma. Yet this leads to the worst possible outcome for both parties. But according to “economic rationality”, trusting the other party is FOOLISH, because he will pursue self-interest and follow the dominant strategy. The concept that we can TRUST each other, as human beings, is IRRATIONAL behavior according to economic theory. There are MANY MANY other illustrations of this phenomena. What Economic Theory calls RATIONAL behavior is NOT what “Rational” Behavior means in ordinary language.
2: This is also pointed out by Hausman and MacPherson – whose book Economic Analysis, Moral Philosophy, and Public Policy – provides an excellent analysis of how the apparently secular and objective surface of economic theory is FULL of value judgments. If we want to construct an Islamic Economics which engages with the West, instead of rejecting it (as I have done), THIS is the right place to start. At least we should be able to see through and reject FALSE claims of economic theory, EXPOSE the hidden value judgments, OPPOSE them by alternative values taken from the framework of Islam. By showing how moral values are deeply involved in traditional economic theory on SECULAR grounds, Hausman and MacPherson provide a NATURAL entry point for exploring the effects of introducing Islamic Values into Economic Theory.
3. When we accept “rationality”, then we MUST ensure that we distance ourselves from how Economists use the word, otherwise we create the impression that we have accepted Economists Definition of rationality. When we do that, then we have accepted the idea of “Sub-Game Perfection” in Nash Equilibrium. This means that if we have made a commitment not to NOT betray the other player at an earlier stage of the game, but at the CURRENT decision branch it is in MY interest to betray, then the previous commitment does not count for anything, and rationality requires us to BETRAY the other player. SO no one can trust anyone else if they are rational. Because of this and a thousand other examples, to constructively engage with the West, we should display awareness of the problems with the Economists Definition of rationality — we should introduce a term like E-Rationality, which is rationality according to economists, and I-Rationality, which is rationality according to Islam. We should explain that we REJECT E-rationality (as any reasonable person would, and as all human beings do in real life) and when we use the word “rationality” we refer to the Islamic understanding of the term, or I-rationality.
4. My approach of total rejection is based on the understanding, which has slowly emerged, that Economic theory is NOT a positive theory, which is what it claims to be. This understanding has also emerged clearly in the Behavioral Economic Literature. When you look at actual behavior of human beings, then this actual behavior has no match to the AXIOMS of economics, like utility maximization. Many, many secular observers have conclude correctly that Economic Theory is PURELY a normative theory of RATIONAL behavior — it defines how RATIONAL people (who only accept EMPIRICAL evidence and DENY the unseen and the unobservable) behave. It is tremendously easy to establish that 99% of human beings do NOT behave like homo economicus, so economic theory CANNOT be a positive theory. For more evidence on this point, that economic theory fails completely as a DESCRIPTIVE theory, see “Behavioral Versus Neo-Classical Economics“.
5. Once we realize that, despite its claim to the contrary, Economic Theory is NORMATIVE, then we can work out what are the hidden norms. The entire book of Hausman and MacPherson is devoted to this task. We should not be simpletons, to be deceived by surface claims which are easily proven wrong. In my paper on the “Normative Foundations of Scarcity“, I have explained how scarcity, which seems like an objective reality, is actually based on THREE different normative principles. In Scarcity: East and West, I have proven that if we invoke the Islamic distinction between Needs and Idle Desires (This distinction is explicitly REJECTED by Western economic theory) then there is no scarcity at the level of NEEDS — It is only the economists’ FOLLY in treating idle desires on complete par with basic needs (and thereby endorsing ISRAF and TABZEER) that leads to scarcity. Islamic teachings EXPLICITLY prohibit following idle desires, Israf and Tabzeer —
6. And now for the last and most SCARY part. When we see that Economic theory is PURELY a normative theory — it is a theory of RATIONAL behavior, which PRESCRIBES how rational people SHOULD behave. ONLY after seeing through the deceptive claim of status of POSITIVE and SCIENTIFIC theory — then we can ask WHAT is the structure of the NORMS which economic theory is teaching us. Then it is obvious that economic theory teaches us to MAXIMIZE UTILITY obtained from lifetime consumption of goods and services, without paying attention to any social or moral constraints. When we trace back to HOW this theory originated, we find Jeremy Bentham, who thought of himself as a PROPHET of a new religion. He vehemently rejected Christianity and constructed Utility Theory EXPLICITLY as an ALTERNATIVE theory of morality. He said that if something gives us pleasure than it is good and moral, and if something given us pain, it is bad and immoral. The basic idea of utility maximization is that we should try to maximize the pleasure we get in this worldly life is EXACTLY what the Quran calls the religion of worship of the Nafs. Once we see that Economics is the religion of worship of the Nafs, then, as Muslims, we have no choice but to reject it in toto. The Prophet Mohammad, may peace and blessing of Allah be upon him, made Dua asking for protection from USELESS knowledge. Secular Researchers have produced a lot of evidence that Economic theory actually TEACHES people to be IMMORAL, by defining rationality as the pursuit of self-interest, without any concern for others. See for example, Julie Nelson: “Poisoning the Well: How Economic Theory Damages the Moral Imagination.” The basic argument of the paper is that human beings are naturally generous and cooperative, socially inclined, but economic theory teaches us that this is irrational and actually damages our moral sense and makes us behave in anti-social ways, under the misconception that this is RATIONAL behavior. So the SCARY part is that by making compromise with the religion of Enlightenment Rationality, are we actually accepting and teaching USELESS knowledge, something from which our Prophet sought the protection of Allah? Since this has become clear to ME, it has left me with NO OPTION but to reject the religion of Economics. To see that this is not my personal point of view, many others have come to this realization, see Robert H Nelson: Economics as Religion: From Samuelson to Chicago and Beyond.
اَللّٰهُمَّ أَرِنَا اْلحَقَّ حَقًّا وَّارْزُقْنَا اتِّبَاعَه، وَأَرِنَا اْلبَاطِلَ بَاطِلًا وَّارْزُقْنَا اجْتِنَابَهْ
May Allah grant us all the best blessing of this Ramazan and accept our worship, forgive our sins, and show us the Noor of His Guidance.

 

FINAL NOTES: This sequence of emails is the continuation of a long sequence in which I have debated this CENTRAL issue. My view is the Islamic teachings are dramatically opposed to Western economics, and therefore we should build Islamic Economics on radically different foundations. This is very much in line with the views of the first generation of Islamic Economists, who also rejected Western Economics, and argued that genuine Islamic Economics was built on radically different principles. The Second Generation of Islamic Economics believes that Western Economics is built on sound principles which we must accept, while making minor modifications necessary to accomodate Islamic ideas. For a discusson of the three generations in historical context, see my post on “Defining Islamic Economics“. Obviously, this difference leads to radically different views regarding how textbooks should be written, and how a syllabus should be constructed. For more material on this debate, see “An Alternative Syllabus for Islamic Economics”

Knowledge to Change the World

One segment of Lecture 12 – IIIE, IIUI, on Islamic Economics 2019 (bit.do/ie2019) – Friday 5/17/19.

Islamic Teachings created a Revolution 1450 years ago (see “What the World Lost Due to the Decline of the Islamic Civilization“). How can we use these teachings to create the same revolution today? Summary of the Video Lecture is given below.

The message of Islam places supreme emphasis on The Value of Knowledge. The angels prostrated to Adam (a.s.) because of his Knowledge.The revelation starts with command “Read!” and goes on to describe Allah T’aala as the One who gave knowledge to man of that which man did not know. The knowledge that was given to ignorant and backwards Arabs transformed them into leaders of the world, and launched a civilization that enlightened the world for a thousand years. What was the nature of this knowledge, and does this knowledge have the same power today? We discuss this below.

The Rise and Fall of Civilizations” explains how the dominant power in the World changes from time to time. Today we are living in an Age of Crisis & Transition. The European powers have been dominant for the past few centuries, but they are now in decline. The world power is shifting again towards the East. Evidence for this shift can be seen in the rapid decline of morality in the West. Over the twentieth century, the goal of character building and the teaching of morality was removed from college education. Julie Reuben has discussed this change in great detail in “Making of the Modern University: Intellectual Transformation and the Marginalization of Morality”. One of the reasons for this change was the emergence of the philosophy of logical positivism, which argued the morality was just a feeling, and was not part of scientific knowledge. The result of this failure in educating students about morality has been rapid & progressive loss of moral values in West; for more details see “The Marginalization of Morality” and also, links to many articles on “Decline of Morality in the West

The main reason for decline of morality is the loss of faith in Christianity, that occurred in Europe. See European Transition to Secular Thought – bit.do/etst1a for more details about how this happened, and the lessons for  Muslims. Since religion provides the basis for morality, loss of faith led to gradual loss of all moral values. Secular modern societies were built on the idea that reason by itself would provide us with guidance on behavior, previously provided by religion and morality. However, this idea has failed disastrously, on many different fronts of human existence.

Rejection of God and afterlife led to an emphasis on Materialism and Empiricism. The idea is to believe in ONLY what we can see, touch, hear or (observe).  For more details, see “The Emergence of Logical Positivism”. This philosophy, which is dominant today, rejects knowledge of the unseen. This leads to the idea of Materialistic Determinism, which says that it is material resources which drive history – human beings, their dreams and visions, do not matter. This philosophy under-values man, and over-values materials. In fact, history has always been driven by the “Power of Ideas”. The rise of ignorant and backwards Arab to World Leadership was because of the powerful knowledge of Islam that was given to them. Throughout world history, leaders with visions have been the source of great change. The philosophy of Karl Marx, that people should receive according to their need, inspired revolutions in Russia and China, and shaped the history of the twentieth century. This is especially ironic because Marx himself believed in materialistic determinism, and not in the power of ideas.

Allama Iqbal prophesied that the Western Civilization will commit suicide because it is built on the wrong philosophical foundations. The rapid decline of morality, with more than half the children being born out of wedlock, shows that families and communities have broken down in the West. Children are being brought up without receiving the essential nourishment of a secure, protective, and loving environment. This is the consequence of materialist, individualistic, and hedonistic society. The same forces are at work in Islamic societies, and we are rapidly following in the footsteps of the West. This, too, was prophesied: the Ummah will follow the ways of the Christians and Jews, even to the extent of crawling into lizard holes after them.

So the question is: How can we create change? What can we do to make a difference?

To understand the answer, it is useful to start with a discussion of the Butterfly Effect. This is a name for the concept that sometimes a very small effort can have a HUGE impact. For instance, it is possible that if a butterfly flaps it wings somewhere in Japan, it may lead to a thunderstorm in Brazil six months later. To understand the butterfly effect, think of a huge ball which is precariously balanced on top of a hill. Just a small disturbance, like the air from a butterfly’s wing flapping, could set it in motion. It could go down in any of a number of directions. As it rolls down, it could cause an avalanche, and perhaps wipe out a village at the bottom of the hill. The point of this is that we can make a small effort to create change, and, by the will of Allah, it can have a huge effect.

Islam created a transformation in the lives of the Muslims, who went on to change the world. What was this transformation? How can it be carried out today? What will the effects of this transformation be? To answer these questions, we must consider the reasons/causes for the sudden rise of the early Muslims from the bottom to the top of civilizations of the world.

If we search for material causes, we will not find any. Unlike other nations who rose to global dominance, the early Muslims did not have wealth, technology, skills in warfare, industrial strength, or other material sources of power which account for the rapid rise of the Islamic Civilization. Searching for the hidden causes, we find that the message of Islam created a third for knowledge in the hearts of the Muslims. The revelation (Wahy) starts by emphasizing knowledge, and the Quran and Hadeeth are full of exhortations to Muslims to acquire knowledge. The impact of this teaching is evident in the incident at Badr, where prisoners were released in exchange for teaching Muslims how to write. In fact, reading and writing were not prized in the Arab culture, while war booty was very much prized, so exchange of prisoners for teaching was very much a cultural shift. This thirst for knowledge was displayed in many ways throughout history in the Islamic Civilization. There were millions of books in the libraries of Al-Andalus. The re-conquest of Islamic Spain gave Europeans access to these books, which ended their dark ages, and started their Enlightenment – this fact is concealed in books of Eurocentric history.

Once we trace the cause of Muslim ascent to the thirst for knowledge, then a good guess at the root causes of muslim decline must be the Loss of thirst for knowledge. The complex causes of the decline, which spanned centuries, can be simplified to the gradually increasing interest in power and wealth, and declining interest in the quest for knowledge. Syed Abul Hassan Ali Nadwi has discussed “What the World Lost Due to the Decline of the Islamic Civilization”. While all are aware of it, there is substantial disagreement about the causes of the decline, which also leads to disagreements regarding the suitable remedy for it. Different groups of reformers have attributed it to (1) lack of western knowledge, (2) failure to do Amr Bil Maroof, (3) Loss of the Khilafa, (4) failure to enforce the laws of the Shari’ah in Islamic societies, (5) Rise of Bid’ah and corruption of Aqeedah, (6) rigid adherence to the past and closure of gates of Ijtihad, (6) Abandonment of Jihad, and others as well. In my post on “Rebuilding An Islamic Society”, I have explained that we are away from the genuine teachings of Islam in nearly all dimensions of our lives, and hence efforts for revival are needed on all fronts. All of the groups working on revival of any one dimension are partners in a collective effort to find the “Road to Madina”.   In this post, we focus on what may be a central problem, the loss of knowledge created by the loss of the thirst for knowledge. It was the acquisition of knowledge which led the Muslims to global dominance, and it was the loss of this knowledge which accounts for our current backwardness. But WHY and HOW did this loss of knowledge occur? This is a crucial question, the answer to which is not widely known.

The decline of the Muslims created the possibility of global conquest by the West, which was duly accomplished. By the early twentieth century, the West controlled about 85% of the globe. The Europeans explained the global conquest as being due to their superior intelligence, bravery, skills and knowledge. This created a superiority complex in the West, as documented in “Orientalism” by Edward Said. The hidden real reasons for the rise of the West, are explained in “Central Myths of Eurocentric History”.  The process of colonization is, in the first place, a conquest of knowledge. However, the myths of European superiority were transmitted by an education designed to create respect, awe, and admiration, for West and Western knowledge.  This education, combined with defeats on numerous fronts, created a “Deep Seated Inferiority Complex” in the East, especially among Muslims.

The key problem, not understood by most Muslim intellectuals, is that the West has re-defined the nature of knowledge. According to current Western epistemology, knowledge is ONLY of the external world, which is concrete, observable, and verifiable by all. As an important consequence, subjective knowledge of our internal conditions, spiritual and emotional, do not classify as knowledge. Since Islamic teachings are mainly about how we can learn to make spiritual progress, and how we can realize the hidden potentials for excellence within our souls, these teachings appear worthless to those trained by a Western educational system.

Islamic epistemology classifies knowledge into two kinds – useful and useless. Our prophet Mohammad SAW made dua to be given useful knowledge, and also made dua for protection from useless knowledge. The West does not recognize any distinctions between these two kinds of knowledge. Islam tells us that useful knowledge enters the heart, while the West denies the existence or the importance of the heart as an instrument of knowledge. See Useful Versus Useless Knowledge for more discussion on this point.

The most powerful kind of knowledge teaches us how to spend our precious few moments of life. This knowledge transforms human beings and leads them from being Asfala Safeleen (the lowest of the low) to Ahsan Taqweem (the best of the creations). The entire spectrum of modern Western knowledge has nothing to say about how we can learn to be excellent as human beings. In fact, Western knowledge is designed to turn everyone into interchangeable human resources, useful as parts of a machine for the production of wealth. In contrast, Islamic education develops unique potential within each human being; see “Teaching Fish to Fly”.  Our eyes have been blinded by the brilliance of Western civilization, and we have been deceived by the apparent power and luxury of those who do not believe. This leads us to be unable to see the revolutionary value of the teachings of Islam – see “The Spiritual Obstacle to Genuine IE”.

How can we recover from our current degeneration? Early Islam started on an individual basis, transforming people one by one, until a sufficiently large group was created to form the nucleus of a society. The “Road to Madina” explains many of the practical steps we need to take to recreate the revolutionary society originally created at Madina. Some of the key points are discussed below.

Change always begins with individuals. It is the inner revolution within our hearts that leads to the external revolution in the world around us. The first step in creating this inner revolution is to purify our intentions – The worth of our actions depends on the intentions. Today, a western education has trained us to sell our lives for money, and to live for the purpose of earning and accumulating money. To create a revolution in our own personal lives, we need to change the purpose of our lives. See my talk on this topic to Iqra University students on “How to become a human being, instead of a human resource”.  The key is to make the intention to serve the creation of Allah, for the sake of the love of Allah.

Today, a Western education has deceived us into thinking of ourselves as cheap commodities for sale in the market for labor. It is extremely important for us to UNDO this deception, and UNLEARN what the West has taught us (see “Exploding Myths which Block Our Minds“). We have only one chance to live. We have been given unique and precious capabilities and opportunities, which no one in history ever had before, and none will ever have in the future. Our lives are worth what we make of them; if we sell ourselves cheap, our lives will be cheap. To make our lives precious, we must set big goals for ourselves. Then, we must make big efforts to achieve these goals, giving the effort everything we have. See “Important Message for Students” for more detailed advice.  It is the passion and commitment with which we serve the Deen of Allah, driven by the love of Allah, which leads to the powerful results achieved by the early Muslims. For those who would make the same efforts, the same results are possible today:

ہ وہ عشق ميں رہيں گرمياں، نہ وہ حسن ميں رہيں شوخياں

نہ وہ غزنوي ميں تڑپ رہي، نہ وہ غم ہے زلف اياز ميں

Rebuilding an Islamic Society

[bit.do/azris] This post provides an outline and a summary of my paper on “Rebuilding An Islamic Society”. A Video-lecture on the topic (L5 of CIIE 2012) in urdu, split into four segments can be viewed at: CIIE2012 L5A, CIIE2012 L5B, CIIE2012 L5C, and CIIE2012 L5D. This was also L12 of IE 2019. An Urdu Translation of this paper is also available with the title: Islami Muashere ki Tameer Nau (  سلامی معاشرے کی تعمیر نو ). Below, we provide an outline of the key points made in this paper, and links to related videos and articles. See also, The Road to Madina, which discusses this same problem, along many different dimensions.

A 30m English Video-Lecture of this talk, with some more discussion, is available in “The Third Path: Evolutionary and Revolutionary Strategies for Reform”

  1. Introduction:

As prophesied, “Islam came as a stranger, and will become a stranger”. The teachings of Islam were revolutionary, bearing no resemblance to Jahiliyya, nor to dominant Persian and Roman civilizations of the time – see (The Prophet SAW as our guide for revolutionary change). But today, we cannot find these teachings realized in the lives and societies of Muslims. In all dimension of life – political, economic, social, judicial, educational, etc. – Muslims copy Western institutions, instead of using our Islamic heritage. Even purely Islamic Institutions like Madrassah, Mosques, and Awqaf, do not fulfill the functions that they did when Islamic Civilization was dominant (see What the World Lost Due to the Decline of the Islamic Civilization). The world today strikingly resembles the Jahilliyya – the pre-Islamic age of darkness and ignorance, even to the extent of “Mothers Who Kill their Children”.  Muslims have become rigid, intolerant, divided into sects, and fighting each other over trivialities; the concept of Ummah as one body has been lost. The capitalist values of the dominant West, pursuit of wealth, power, comforts, and luxuries, have been absorbed by Islamic Societies via the poisons of Western Education.

The teachings of Islam transformed ignorant and backwards Arabs into world leaders, launched a civilization which enlightened the world for a thousand years, and changed the tides of history, fourteen centuries ago. These teachings have the same power today (see Islamic Teachings: Still Revolutionary after 1440 Years!). This post discusses ongoing arguments among Islamic thinkers about how we can rebuild an Islamic Society, to launch the same revolution today. (A different approach to the same problem is spelled out in “The Road to Madina”, which integrates a lot of research I have done on this issue over the past decade.)

The revolution of Islam operates on two fronts – the internal world of our hearts and souls, and the external outer world. These can be called the Makki and Madani efforts. Both of these efforts can be done simultaneously. When we try to feed the poor, out of the love of Allah, our efforts on the world create a change in our hearts. Also, the noor of guidance in the hearts makes it easier to make efforts on the world for the sake of the pleasure of Allah. Since all dimensions of Islamic societies are full of un-Islamic models, huge amounts of efforts on diverse fronts are needed. By the grace and mercy of Allah T’aala, there are many signs of an awakening among the Muslims. Efforts are already being made on many fronts. Insha Allah the time has come for the fulfillment of the promise that:

وَيَأْبَى اللّهُ إِلاَّ أَن يُتِمَّ نُورَهُ وَلَوْ كَرِهَ الْكَافِرُونَ

Western ideologies have been proven disastrously wrong in all dimensions, and the whole world is looking for the solutions which Islam provides in the best possible way. To create the required change co-ordinated effort on many fronts is required. We first examine the nature of current, on-going efforts to re-create the “Riyasat-e-Madina”. There are two basic paradigms currently in use by various Islamic groups working for change. One is the Evolutionary paradigm, which advocates making gradual changes to existing systems to bring them in line with Islamic ideals. The Other is the Revolutionary Paradigm which says that existing system must be overthrown and destroyed, and an Islamic state must be established on different foundations. We suggest that neither effort is likely to succeed, and propose a third alternative. We first briefly examine the two dominant approaches.

  1. Evolutionary approach to Reform

Groups which favor making gradual adjustments to existing institutions fail to understand that social institution are not ethically neutral. They embody secular values. Whereas the Bible teaches that ‘love of wealth is the root of all evil’, the Great Transformation in Europe to secular modern societies led to the pursuit of wealth becoming a desirable goal. As Polanyi has noted, this radical change cannot be created by evolution – it requires a battle which destroys traditional social values and replaces them with radical and opposing values.  Once accumulation of wealth became acceptable, then the institution of banking was created to facilitate this. In Islamic societies, the emphasis was on spending wealth on others. As a result, those with excess wealth used to construct Waqf, and this was the principal financial institution, which embodied the spirit of charity and generosity at the heart of Islam. There is no way to make gradual transition from institutions designed for accumulation of wealth to institutions designed for spending wealth on others. Another problem with evolution is that all institutions of a capitalist economy – politics, social, market, insurance, interest, money, etc. – are linked together by the spirit of accumulation of wealth. One cannot replace any one piece while the others are in place. For example, banning interest within a capitalist economy will cause a collapse in the system, since all parts work together. So again a step-by-step approach to radical change does not appear feasible.

  1. The Revolutionary Approach:

The evolutionary strategy fails because an Islamic society is founded on principles of social responsibility, cooperation, and generosity, while a capitalist society is founded on individualism, competition, and selfishness. But we cannot erect an Islamic super-structure on capitalist foundations. This is a why revolutionary approach would not work either. Syed Ahmad Shaheed found this out when the people rose up and murdered his agents when he imposed the Shari’a. In modern times, Khomeini in Iran, and Taliban in Afghanistan had a clear opportunity to construct an Islamic system. But both of them failed to create any significant alternative to modern capitalist economy, because no one has a clear idea of what such a system would look like today. It is useful to step back and consider WHY the problem of creating an Islamic Society is difficult, even if we manage to achieve the power to be able to do so (as in the case of Afghanistan and Iran).

  1. What would Madina look like in Modern Form?

It is not clearly realized that while Islam gives us a set of principles which are universally valid, the application of these requires continuous change in accordance with evolving needs. The principle that we need to defend the Ummah remains universally valid. It required training in horse-riding and archery in the times of the Prophet, cannons and forts in later times, and airplanes and nukes today. We cannot directly imitate the institutional structures of Islam societies of a few centuries ago, which were destroyed by colonization. Had these institutions continued to exist, they would have evolved and adapted to remain in tune with modern needs. Today we need Islamic institutions as they would have been, if they had evolved – the shape they would have taken would have been based on three centuries of adjustments to evolving conditions. We cannot just go back to earlier times and adopt ancient institutions for use today, just as we cannot adopt archery and horses for defense today.  We need new institutions which embody the principles of Islam (social responsibility, cooperation, generosity) but are adapted to modern needs.

  1. Diverse Modern Islamic Movements:

In fact, Muslims are responding to the need for creative application of Islamic principles to solutions of modern problems. For example, there is no concept of an Islamic political party in our tradition. Similarly, there are a large number of movements on different fronts, which address modern needs using creative adaptation of Islamic principles. We mention some of them below:

  1. Tableegh & Da’wah: works on re-invigoration the faith, using a unique metholodgy
  2. Salafi Movement: Cleanse the faith of innovations.
  3. Political Islam: Take control of government to enforce Shar’iah
  4. Khilafa & Jihad: Groups advocating these branches of the faith.

In addition to these, and many other Ummah level movements, there are many smaller movements, like innovative banks, hospitals, other service organizations, built along modern lines, but built on Islamic principles of cooperation, generosity, and social responsibility. All of these movements attempt to implement ancient principles of Islam in a form adapted to modern times; exactly the effort which is required. Occasionally, some members of these groups feel that their efforts take priority over all others, which leads to a competitive stance alien to the Islamic spirit of accommodation, tolerance, respect. Note that in Islam we have sharp differences among the four established schools of religious thought, but with mutual respect. So the Islamic attitude of different modes of service to the Deen is to realize that there are 72 branches of faith and all of them are in need of work. No one group can cover all bases, and specialization is necessary. People working on any particular aspect of Deen should regard all other groups as their helpers. We are all engaged in the cooperative effort for the revival of the Deen, though we may be working on different branches.

  1. An Analysis of the West

This section of the paper presents an analysis of Western thought.  Why is this necessary? If we have the complete and perfect Deen, we need not engage with Western thought. We can just create an Islamic Society following the prescriptions of the Quran and Sunnah, without any concern for what modern Western institutions look like, or what Western philosophers think. Unfortunately, life is not that simple. Centuries of colonization, dominance and hegemony of Western powers, and Western educational systems everywhere, ensure that Western philosophies are deeply embedded in Muslim minds. In fact, the central problem of the Ummah today is the problem of the “Modern Mu’tazila”. The majority of muslims are so impressed with Western thought that they take it being on par with the Quran and Sunnah, or even of higher authority. Before we can understand the message of the Quran, it is necessary to UNLEARN a lot of poisonous messages which we absorb during a Western education. An effective tool to understand Western thought is to trace the evolution of Western thought through the past few centuries. Understanding how these changes were driven by the rejection of religion leads to the understanding of how secular modern thought is opposed to Islamic ideas, and makes it easier for us to reject these ideas. The paper discusses these ideas in some detail. In this summary, I will list the Western ideas, and provide links to detailed explanations of why they are wrong.

Origins of Western Social Science: The authority of the West, and the use of the label “science” deceives Muslims into believing that Western Social Sciences are just as reliable as the Physical Sciences which have produced airplanes, computers, and nanotechnology. In fact, use of the word “science” is a deception, and the Western Social Sciences are based on fundamentally flawed assumptions about the nature of human lives, and societies. I have many posts explaining how Western Social Scientists deceive us with the claim of scientific authority, even though their theories are fundamentally wrong. See for example, “The Thousand Snakes: Image and Reality of Western Economics“.

European Transition to Secular Thought: European history was full of religious warfare, which led them to abandon religion, and create a society on neutral secular ground. Even though European historians portray this as “progress” – abandonment of superstition, and learning to reason – the truth is very different. In fact, loss of religious values has led to a dramatic decline in morality, and this is responsible for the injustice, inequality, wars, environmental collapse, and many evils currently facing mankind. From the point of view of “Rebuilding An Islamic Society”, it is extremely important to understand that what the West calls progress, is actually a decline in Islamic terms, which consider development of character and conduct, rather than the accumulation of Wealth. It is essential to “Re-define Development” in order for us to be able to benefit from our heritage, the revolutionary teachings of Islam. As long as we think of progress as accumulation of wealth, we will not be able to understand the message of Islam.

The Great Transformation in European Thought : We need to understand modern European thought, in order to be able to liberate ourselves from its influence. For this purpose, it is essential to study how traditional European society, based on Christian values, was transformed into modern secular European society. How did pursuit of wealth, condemned by Christianity, change from being a vice into a virtue? How did human lives become commodities for sale in the labor market? We must study the history of the revolution which created capitalism in the West, and the underlying anti-Christian values of capitalism, to understand how our minds have been shaped by living in a capitalist economy.

  1. The Action Fronts

Because dominant values of a market society are diametrically opposed to Islamic values, we cannot make gradual changes towards Islam. Living in market societies shapes our minds, and without individual reform, a top-down approach to reform via revolution cannot work either. Instead, we need to work on un-contested grounds. We have to revive the spirit of cooperation, the ties of love, that were the basis of the Islamic society in Madina. The Ummah is like one body, where all parts feel for each other. We have collective responsibility for the needy. Strength is given to us to protect the weak, and wealth is given to us so that we can give it to the poor. We have been given unique institutions for governance (shoora) and for justice (shari’a). Some of the revolutionary principles of Islam are summarized in posts on “Modern Miracles of our Prophet Mohammad SAW” and in “The Prophet as our Guide for Revolutionary Change“.  Some practical steps which need to be taken are listed below:

The First Responsibility of the Government is Amr Bil Ma’roof: My article on “Higher Goals of Education” shows how character building was removed from the Western educational syllabus. This is the crucial missing element in our attempts to find the “Road to Madina”. We must “Build Character, to Build Nations”.

Revival of Waqf: In Islamic Society, taking care of each other was the social responsibility. Today, all social welfare is left to the government, because that is how secular Western society works. Modern Banks embody the spirit of accumulation of wealth that is at the heart of a capitalist society. The Islamic spirit of spending on others, for the love of Allah, is embodied in the Waqf. We need to “Build Genuine Islamic Financial Institutions”, to rebuild an Islamic society.

The key to miraculous transformation created by Islamic teachings was the knowledge – both spiritual and intellectual – given to the early Muslims. Today, this knowledge has the same revolutionary potential (see Islamic Teachings: Still Revolutionary after 1440 Years). We need to use them to strengthen the basic institutions of Islamic society, which are the family, the neighborhood community, the mosque, the Friday prayers, the two Eids and the Hajj. These are collectively larger circles of unity which can be used to create strong bonds of brotherhood within the Ummah if they are revived in their true spirit. Today, they exist in form, but the underlying spirit of unity, community and love is lacking.

The way forward lies in working on building institutions based on Islamic ethos of cooperation, generosity, and social responsibility in areas where there is no opposition. The struggle to create these institutions will also create the ethos and culture on which they are based. With some social fabric, and institutional structures in place, it would be possible to move up to the second level, where more complex institutions, which require backups, can be launched.

  1. Creating Counter-Narratives

The greatest threat to the Ummah today is the flood of falsehoods which is poisoning our minds against the teachings of Islam via social media and other educational channels. One of the key weapons which has been used against us is the Divide and Rule strategy, which has led to countless fratricidal wars, where different groups of Muslims are fighting each other, with both sides being funded and provided weapons by the wealthy corporations which rule the world today.

We need to combat the “Central Myths of Eurocentric History” by providing an alternative: “An Islamic WordView”. The foundations for building this counter-narrative have been created by Syed Abul Hassan Ali Nadwi’s landmark book “What the World Lost Due to the Decline of the Islamic Civilization”; this book has been translated into 18 or more languages, and is essential reading for every Muslim today. But this is just the beginning, we need to develop a complete framework, a different way of looking at the world. This requires launching an “Islamic Revolution in the Social Sciences”. Recently, I have created the “Ghazali Group” for volunteers who wish to participate in the enormous amount of work that needs to be done, to create this new way of looking at the world.

The key to unravelling the false narratives which have shaped our minds is to focus on the question of the purpose of our lives. The standard Western education is designed to turn us into human resources for use as standardized parts in the capitalist machinery for the production of wealth. This is done by omitting all discussion of the larger questions, like the purpose of life, from our education. Indirectly, we are taught that the purpose of our lives is to enjoy luxuries, and this is made possible by pursuing careers, and making acquisition of wealth the goal of our life. To counter this, we must tell our students that human beings are the best of the creation, and our lives cannot be purchased by all the gold on the planet. We are all unique and infinitely precious, with each single life being equivalent to the entire humanity in the eyes of God. The purpose of our lives is to develop the potentials for excellence which each soul has been equipped with. This requires an education tailored to each individual (see: Teaching Fish to Fly), instead of our current Meaningless Education, designed to turn us into inter-changeable machine parts. The message of how we can learn to be human beings, instead of human resources, appeals to the hearts of the people, and this is an education which is not available in Western textbooks, but is the central message of Islam.

 

 

 

The English Version of the Article is linked below:

The Urdu Version of the Article is linked below:

Video Lectures on this topic in CIIE 2012 (Current Issues in Economics) at IIIE, IIUI:

1. CIIE2012 L5A: Rebuilding Islamic Societies

2. CIIE2012 L5B: Rebuilding Islamic Societies

3. CIIE2012 L5C: Rebuilding Islamic Societies

4. CIIE2012 L5D: Rebuilding Islamic Societies

Audio Lecture on Rebuiliding Islamic Societies (Maybe Faculty Lecture at IIIE in 2011? or reversed the two)

 

 

An Islamic Revolution in Social Sciences

The entire field of macroeconomics was created by Keynes in response to the Great Depression of 1929, which defied existing economic theories. Today, the manifest failure of modern macroeconomics in the Global Financial Crisis of 2007 offers us new opportunity to launch a revolution in the field of human knowledge. In fact, humanity is facing disaster on many different fronts, with dissolution of families, communities, perpetual warfare, looming environmental disaster, and massive inequalities with billions living in abject poverty while a handful own half the planetary wealth. It is clear to all that the same-old recipes will not work, and some creative out-of-the-box solutions are needed.

I have launched the Islamic WorldView Blog on the basis of a very simple premise. Roughly 1450 years ago, Islam created a revolution in world history, transforming ignorant and backwards Arabs into world leaders, and launching a civilization which enlightened the world in all fields of knowledge and human experience for a thousand years. My premise is the world is once again trapped in the darkness of the pre-Islamic Jahilliya (ignorance) and Islamic teachings today are just as powerful as they were fourteen centuries ago. The blog posts listed below provide details of how these teachings can be used to launch a revolution today.

The Road to Madina: This talk (in Urdu & English) synthesizes a lot of work I have done over the past decade. How can we re-create the society created by our Prophet SAW at Madina? Major obstacles to the implementation of Islamic solutions are described, and remedies are explained. Links to more detailed explanations of many issues covered briefly in the talk are also provided.

Islam’s Gift: An Economy of Spiritual Development: This article, recently published in American Journal of Economics and Sociology, explains the radical differences between materialist economics of the West and Islamic views. It starts by debunking claims of Western economics to universality, and argues that the Islamic ethos of social responsibility, cooperation, and generosity leads to radically different theories and institutions.

Defining Islamic Economics: This post shows how the emergence of logical positivism led to a deeply mistaken understanding of scientific methodology. Based on this misunderstanding, Western Social Sciences were constructed as universal laws, even though they are restricted in scope to secular modern Western societies. Muslims accepted the false claims of universality, and attempted to use these “universal laws” to construct an economics for Islamic Societies. This attempt to mix fire and water failed. Placing social sciences in historical and social context allows us to create a genuine Islamic economics. Indeed, the road is open to the creation of an Islamic alternative to the entire corpus of  Western Social Sciences.  We need to recognize that our thousand year intellectual tradition of FIQH deals with all human affairs, from personal to collective, in all dimensions – economic, political, cultural, institutional. This is actually the basis for an Islamic Social Science, and can provide substantially superior solutions over current Western approaches to the same problems.

The Search for Knowledge: Islamic “knowledge” helps us to live our unique and precious lives to the fullest, and develop the amazing potentials which make us the best of creations. Western knowledge is designed to turn us into human resources, for use in the production of wealth. Because ‘knowledge’ is defined so differently, this seminar on “research methodology” explains that the methods of searching for knowledge must also be radically different in Islamic and Western traditions.

How to Inspire and Motivate Students: The main job of a teacher to create the thirst for knowledge in his/her students. Conventional methods of teaching try to mold all students into the same pattern, instead of seeking to nurture their unique personalities and skills — in effect, they try “Teaching Fish to Fly“. This lecture explains how we as teachers can try to create the love of knowledge in the hearts of our students. The  counterpart, meant for students, are posts on “The Ways of the Eagles” and “Reaching Beyond the Stars” for inspiration and motivation. How an Islamic vision can shape and guide our research is discussed in “Guidance for  Research for M.Phil./Ph.D. Economics“.

All readers are requested to join the Islamic WorldView blog by clicking on the blue “Follow” button on the right hand side of the homepage. Also, please join as subscribers to my YouTube Channel Videos which are linked in many of the posts above, and add comments to the videos. These actions will help in spreading the word about the required revolution in the social sciences, so desperately needed by humanity today.

Those who are motivated to participate even more actively are encouraged to read the post on The Ghazali Group, and click on the link within the post to join this group. The Ghazali project has two parts. One is the Tahafatul Falasafa — the rejection of Western knowledge as the route to salvation. Two is Ahya Uloomud Deen – the revival of the Islamic Sciences as the only path to success in this world and the hereafter. Members will participate in the thousands of activities needed to carry out these projects today.

PostScript: Whereas Western rationality rejects the concept of morality, now substantial amount of evidence is emerging for the concept of a collective morality built into mankind – Islam is the Deen of Fitrah (nature), and morality is built into mankind — See: The Seven Universal Moral Rules. Note this is not to endorse them, but to use them as a tool against secular modern ideas, and for minds conditioned by secular modernity.

Defining Islamic Economics

[bit.do/azdie] What is Islamic Economics? A paper by Hafas Furqani “Defining Islamic Economics: Scholars’ Approach, Clarifying The Nature, Scope and Subject-Matter of The Discipline”  lists more than 21 definitions, citing in addition several authors who state that there is no need for such a definition. Why is there such a variety of definitions, and what can be done to arrive at consensus regarding this matter? The problem is deeper and more complex than it appears on the surface. We list two major obstacles in the path of its solution:

  1. A Deep Misconception regarding the nature of Social Sciences: This problem is discussed in detail in “Method or Madness?” , which explains how the quantitative and mathematical approach to economics won over the historical and qualitative approach in the “Methodenstreit” – the battle of methodologies, in Germany in late nineteenth century. This led to “How Economics forgot History” — economics was constructed as a set of universal laws like those of physics, without any historical, social, cultural, or geographical context. This was a grave mistake — social science theories are always developed from study of human experience, and they are always only relevant to similar experiences –  which means that they must be understood within historical and temporal context, unlike the laws of physics.
  2. Acceptance of Knowledge Claims of Western Economics on Face Value: Instead of admitting that it is based on an analysis of market economies with social, political, and institutional structures of European societies, modern economics claims to be universally valid. Why this is so has been analyzed in detail in “The Thousand Snakes: Image and Reality of Western Economics”. Even though it is easy to prove that Western economic theories do not apply to different types of economies, the false claim that they do was widely accepted by Muslims, due to the shock-and-awe created by Western global domination (see The Modern Mu’tazila).  Once this was accepted, then it became necessary to create an Islamic Economics by taking for granted the central concepts of modern economic theory, and attempting to make minor modifications in peripheral matters. It was not realized that a society based on principles of generosity, cooperation, and social responsibility would have an entirely different economic theory from that of a capitalist economy based on competition, greed, and individualism. The attempt to combine fire and water — opposite views about how the economic system should work — led to “The Crisis in Islamic Economics”. In particular, it made it impossible to construct a genuine Islamic economics based on cooperation, generosity and social responsibility. Instead, Islamic Economists tackled the impossible task of  grafting Islamic ideas onto the competition, greed, and individualism that are foundational principles of Western economics.

As I have argued in my paper on “Re-Defining Islamic Economics”, creating a consensus view on what the subject is, must be considered as a central challenge. The paper argues that one way of creating consensus is to use purely Islamic sources to define Islamic Economics, instead of trying mix Islamic concepts with diametrically opposed Western concepts (see, for example, Islam Versus Economics). This by itself is not sufficient because the subject itself has evolved and changed as economic and political situation of the Muslim societies have evolved and changed with time. The trap of thinking of economics as universal science fails to recognize the historical context, and forces us to think of definitions which remain invariant across time. But this ignores the basic principle that social science theories cannot be understood outside of their historical context (for more explanation and discussion, see “The Three Methodologies”). Once we understand that economic theories evolve and change as the economy itself evolves and changes, then it becomes possible to consider Islamic Economics in the light of the historical circumstance and evolving needs of Muslim societies. For the first fourteen centuries of Islamic History, there was no separate consideration of “Economics” as a subject, because it was considered as an integrated part of social, political, personal, and moral teachings of Islam, which could not be taken in isolation. Note that this is similar to the European tradition, where economics was a branch of Moral Philosophy before the emergence of secular thought in Europe. A preliminary sketch of the birth and evolution of Islamic Economics in the twentieth century is given in the following excerpt from the Forward to a special edition on “The Challenge of Islamic Economics” in International Journal of Pluralism and Economic Education (IJPEE Vol 6 No 4) by Asad Zaman and Jack Reardon.

Section 2: What Is Islamic Economics

This apparently simple question has a rather complex answer, which we will sketch briefly in this introduction. Early in the 20th century, about 90% of Muslim lands were colonised. Partly as a result of the two world wars, most of these colonies were liberated by the middle of the 20th century. At the time there were two competing models for organising economies: capitalism and socialism. Revolutions are driven by ideologies and Islamic thinkers offered a third alternative as the natural option for newly liberated Muslim countries. They argued that Islam had its own distinct economic system, and this system was superior to both capitalism and communism. Early writings on Islamic economics focus on comparison and evaluation of economic systems, and proving the superiority of a hypothetical economic system based on Islam. In particular, two major figures played a prominent role in promoting the vision of a just and equitable Islamic Economic system: Muhammad Baqir al-Sadr in his book Iqtisaduna (Our Economy), and Sayyid Abul-Alal-Mawdudi in numerous books and articles (e.g., Economic System of Islam). Chapra (2004) and Wilson (1998) summarise this historical background, and also remark on the courage it took to formulate an Islamic economic system and defend it against the dominant and apparently tremendously successful Western systems in the early 20th century.

However certain characteristics of post-colonial societies prevented experimentation with implementation of idealised Islamic economic forms. The process of colonisation had created a class of intermediaries, called compradores in Latin America; Black Skins with White Masks (Frantz Fanon) in Africa; and Brown Skins with White Masks (Hamid Dabashi) in Asia. Colonial educational systems had explicit goals to create a buffer between the rulers and the colonised, as described by Lord Macaulay in his (in)-famous ‘Minute on Education’: “We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern; a class of persons, Indian in blood and colour, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect”. These intermediary classes were the backbone of the pre-independence bureaucratic administrative structures. Continuity with pre-independence colonial institutional structures led this class to power in the post independence era. The compradores were trained to believe in the superiority of the colonisers, and to treat their heritage with contempt. Plans for Islamic economics were put on the back burner as Islamic groups engaged in the struggle to wrest control from secularised and westernised compradores. For complex sets of reasons, these struggles were largely unsuccessful, and the compradore class was generally successful in retaining power. This led to the second phase of development of Islamic economics, which is often dated to the First International Conference on Islamic Economics in Mecca in 1976.

The vision of the founders of the field, like Mawdoodi and Baqir Al-Sadr, for an
Islamic Economic system which would provide a just and equitable alternative to both Capitalism and Communism were abandoned. Second generation pragmatists saw that the required revolution did not appear to be forthcoming, and more limited goals were targeted. Instead of rejecting Capitalist institutional structures, the new Islamic economics (nIE) attempted to tinker with Capitalism in order to make it conform to Islamic principles. A popular formula for defining the subject became: nIE = Capitalism – Interest + Zakat. Due to circumstances to be discussed in detail shortly, second generation authors in nIE sought to reconcile the differences between Capitalism and Islam that had been seen clearly by the first generation. While acknowledging its debt to the founders of Islamic economics, the second generation buried first generation expressions of conflict, and the grand vision of an alternative system, under the carpet.
They asserted that these were mistakes made by founders, who did not have sufficient understanding of modern economics. This fundamental mistake of the second generation led the entire field of Islamic economics astray. To understand contemporary Islamic economics, it is important to analyse the reasons for this error, and its consequences.

(end of excerpt)

The paper goes on to discuss how the emergence of Logical Positivism led to a deeply distorted theory of knowledge, and this in turn caused Social Science in the West to be constructed on the wrong foundations, as a set of universal laws, invariant across time and space, and across culture, geography, and socio-economic and political institutional structures. This deeply mistaken approach was imitated by Islamic Economists in attempting to construct foundations for the subject, which led to massive confusions displayed in the proliferation of un-satisfactory definitions. The complete Forward from which the excerpt above is taken can be downloaded from Forward to IJPEE Vol 6 No 4

 

The Emergence of Logical Positivism

[bit.do/azelp] This post details on Logical Positivism, an issue raised briefly in section 2: Flawed Foundations of Modern Economics, in my paper on “Islam’s Gift: An Economy of Spiritual Development”. American Journal of Economics and Sociology, March 2019. Video (23m) was part of Lec 11 of Islamic Economics 2019 (bit.do/ie2019) at IIIE, IIUI:

Summary of lecture on Emergence of Logical Positivism:

“Oh would some Power the gift give us, to see ourselves as others see us.” Just as we cannot see our own faces, so some insights about European history are only easily visible to outsiders. The philosophy of logical positivism is one of these areas, where the internal European account of what it is and how it emerged is radically different from the external account I will present below. To put it in one sentence, this philosophy is an effort to make Science a Religion, and even the common religion of all mankind. The purpose of this post is to explain this point of view. First, we must start with the story of the loss of faith in Christianity in Europe. Again, there is a radical difference between the internal European account, and an external outsider perspective.

European Loss of Faith in Christianity

Internal, European Account: According to the internal, European account, Christianity (like all religions) was just a collection of superstitions: stories about unobservables like angels, God, afterlife, which were not empirically verifiable. When the Enlightenment began, Europeans learned to reason for the first time, and they understood that religion was just superstition. Then they rejected religion and have made tremendous progress by using the light of reason, instead of superstition. This cover story is extremely powerful, because it seems to be proven by the historical facts – Europeans conquered 85% of the globe by early 20th Century, proving their superior ability to reason, and demonstrating the validity of the cover story. De-constructing this story and providing a satisfactory counter-narrative requires hard work.

The External, non-European Account: The real story of how Europeans lost their faith in Christianity is far more complex. We aim to explain some crucial elements of it here.  In 1492 a triplet of climactic events occured with devastating consequences which continue to reverberate in the corridors of history. One: Columbus sailed for the Americas, giving Europeans access to vast lands and materials. Two: The Reconquest of Islamic Spain was completed, giving Europeans access to millions of books containing knowledge gathered from around the globe and developed in the Islamic Civilization; this sparked the Enlightenment. THREE: But most importantly for our current account, Rodrigo Borgia purchased the papacy in 1492 and named himself Alexander VI. (see European Transition to Secular Thought – bit.do/etst1a). This was a critical moment within a chain of events described in The March of Folly by Barbara Tuchman in “Chapter Three – THE RENAISSANCE POPES PROVOKE THE PROTESTANT SECESSION: 1470–1530”. She writes that:

From roughly 1470 to 1530, … a succession of six popes (displayed) an excess of venality, amorality, avarice, and spectacularly calamitous power politics. Their governance dismayed the faithful, brought the Holy See into disrepute, left unanswered the cry for reform, ignored all protests, warnings and signs of rising revolt, and ended by breaking apart the unity of Christendom and losing half the papal constituency to the Protestant secession. Theirs was a folly of perversity, perhaps the most consequential in Western history, if measured by its result in centuries of ensuing hostility and fratricidal war.

The breakup of the church shattered the ideological unity of Europe and led to major wars, as well as political power struggles between Protestants and Catholics with extremes of cruelty towards each other. For example, one of the key fratricidal events was the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre . All this bloodshed and violence between Protestants and Catholics led to public dis-enchantment with religion as whole, and the idea that religion is the root of all warfare and conflict. This idea is still prevalent among secular modern thinkers, although countless deadly twentieth century wars show it to be false.

Trauma of Loss of Faith

Loss of faith is massively traumatic event. A Creator who knows and cares for us, makes our lives meaningful, and the eternal perspective offers strong solace against temporary tragedies of our mundane existence. Bertrand Russell describes how accepting the cold, harsh and cruel universe requires us to build our lives “on the firm foundation of unyielding despair.” The trauma of loss of faith had a dramatic impact on European intellectuals, as we now describe.

Rejection of Heart and Soul: One of the most significant impacts of this trauma was the rejection of the HEART as a source of Knowledge. This is exemplified by Descartes’ logic: “I think therefore I am”, whereas “I feel therefore I am” related far more closely to our life experience. But this second statement was not acceptable. The heart had been proven to be a deceiver – it testified to the existence of God, and gave us faith in unknown and unknowable mysteries, and hence it must be rejected. Henceforth, the Enlightenment Philosophers vowed to never to trust their hearts, and instead, only trust what they could touch, and see, and arrive at with cold logic. They rejected the heart and intuition, and made a commitment to use of REASON and EMPIRICAL EVIDENCE only as sources of knowledge.

Deification of Science

When you reject religion, you lose answers to the most important questions we face in our lives, such as the meaning of our lives. As I have explained in “Origins of Western Social Sciences”, the Social Sciences originated in the attempt to find new answers to questions previously answered by religion. In particular, faith in religion was replaced by faith in Science: in the IDEA that science will solve all problems of mankind. This is, on the face of it, an absurdity; only the trauma of loss of faith can explain how one could come to believe such a thing. We lead unique lives, every human being is unique and distinct, and every moment that we experience is like none before, and none after. The idea that we should search over previous experience for patterns to guide us today, actually blinds us to the unique potentials which exist now, which never existed in the past, and will not exist in the future. The idea the “science” could be a guide in terms of teaching us how to live our lives and to realize our human potentials, is a non-starter. Nonetheless, having lost faith in their religion, Europeans had no option but to put their faith in the potential of science to solve human problems. This faith persists today, even though science has brought humanity to the brink of destruction via an environmental catastrophe.

The Philosophy of Science: The project to turn science into the new religion of man led to extreme distortions in European ways of thinking (see Deification of Science for links to many readings). In particular, it led to the search for a philosophy of science which would prove that ALL scientific knowledge – based on observations and logic alone, with no intuition and emotion involved – would lead to objective facts which were certain. The worship of science also led to the ELEVATION of objective over the subjective. Science is based on the sacred facts out there, and not on wishy washy subjective opinions which vary from person to person and can change whimsically.  In fact, this was a huge reversal of priorities. What is most important for you and me are the questions of how we should lead our lives; who to befriend, what to believe, how to behave. The answers are necessarily subjective and personal, dependent on local and unique circumstances and environment; they are not “scientific” – universal laws applicable to all. This most important knowledge was ruled to be un-important, subjective, normative, as part of the process of deification of science.

Emergence of Logical Positivism

It was these underlying trends that set the stage for the emergence of logical positivism. This philosophy asserts that all knowledge is based on observations and logic. Observations are objective, out there, verifiable, unquestionable and certain. Logic is the mortar we use to put together these bricks to construct the towering skyscrapers of scientific knowledge. The counterpart methodology to this worldview is the Axiomatic/Deductive scheme of geometry. Axioms come from observations and are CERTAIN. Logic leads to certainty in deductions.

Elimination of Unobservables: There were many technical problems with the idea that science was based only on observables and logic. Many scientific objects like gravity, electrons, magnetism, were not observable. For details about how these problems were resolved, see my paper on  Logical Positivism and Islamic Economics (December 30, 2013). International Journal of Economics, Management and Accounting, Vol 21, No. 2, pp1-18. The central device used by positivists was to replace unobservables by observable manifestations; for example, replace unobservable preferences by observable choices, or onobservable gravity by the observable elliptical orbits of planets. This point will be discussed in greater detail later. Logical Positivism achieved dual goal of philosophers of science, which European intellectuals had been searching for, for centuries. This philosophy showed that SCIENCE leads to truth and certainty. At the same time, RELIGION is pure superstition, because it is centrally based on unobservables. Because it fulfilled a DEEP psychological need of Western intellectuals, it became wildly popular and widely accepted, despite many fundamental weaknesses, which eventually led to its downfall.

One of the most important consequences of logical positivism was the elimination of morality from the scope of human knowledge. Since morality is a feeling of the heart, and is not observable or empirically verifiable, positivists said that there is no such thing – it does not exist. Every human being can feel whatever they feel according to their personal tastes and upbringing, regarding moral issues. This exclusion of morality from the realm of knowledge has had disastrous consequences. One of these consequences was the exclusion of morality from education; see The Higher Goals of Education. Recently, evidence has emerged that all human beings share common moral principles. Surveys show agreement over seven basic moral principles (and more evidence on agreements over moral judments is available – see literature on Fairness). This is in line with Islamic teachings that all human beings are born in Islam, which is the natural deen. Knowledge of morality is implanted in hearts of human beings as part of our nature.

(to be continued) –

This is complex topic, for which I have provided a thumbnail sketch of some important ideas which are not readily available elsewhere.  See European Transition to Secular Thought – bit.do/etst1a for more details about how Europeans lost their faith in Christianity and the lessons that we Muslims should learn from this history. For more on LOGICAL POSITIVISM: My webpage linked below provides a large collection of links to articles related to various aspects of logical positivism

Collection of Articles & Video-Lectures on Logical Positivism

On the lighter side, I came across a great cartoon put-down of the Vienna Circle, which was responsible for the development of this philosophy.