Obstacles to Excellence

[bit.do/azgt2] GT2: Part 2 of talk on  “How to be a Great Teacher” – Obstacles in our path, which prevent us from becoming great teachers. Link to Part 1: Introduction. 12m English video is linked here.

Three Obstacles to Excellence:

First Obstacle: Lack of self-confidence: “I am not the best student, the greatest expert, most published researcher, etc. – How can I train great students?”

Counter 1: Great teachers do not have KNOWLEDGE which they transmit. Like SEEDS, students come with BUILT-IN capability for excellence. The teacher’s job is to inspire and motivate, to have confidence in students. Think of Mothers, who inspire their children to reach heights of excellence, by loving them and by believing in them.

Second Obstacle: We don’t believe in our Students! “My students come from rural background, poor English, poor math skills, mediocre educational career.”

Counter 2: Every human life is worth the entire planet. Everyone has been given unique capabilities for excellence. People are like mines – capable of reaching beyond the stars! Have confidence in the hidden abilities of the students.

Third Obstacle: Incomprehensible and Irrelevant Subject Matter:

Counter 3: Eliminate USELESS knowledge from the syllabus. Concentrate on USEFUL knowledge which enters the heart. Teach students HOW TO DRIVE, not how the engine is manufactured. Don’t teach Fish to Fly – take students as they are and where they are, and help them take the NEXT STEP.

A Different Educational Paradigm:

Serious problems arise because a Western education has taught us wrong theories about what knowledge is, and how it is transmitted to students. Instead of thinking that I am one with knowledge, and I am going to GIVE this to students, think of knowledge as a JOURNEY which the students must make in their LIVES. We are all travellers on the journey towards God. So treat the students as Fellow Travelers, following the same path to God. In this context, remember that:

  1. Seek knowledge from cradle to grave – Learning is a lifetime process.
  2. Make student a fellow-traveler by SHARING your own journey. Share personal experience with USEFUL knowledge. ACQUIRE useful knowledge by learning problem solving skills.
  3. This involves CREATING required teaching materials. The books we have studied DO NOT explain how this knowledge is USED in real life. So we have to LEARN this, acquire this experience, and THEN share it with students.
  4. Sharing experiences reaches HEARTS. Hearts (and not minds) are the target of our educational processes.

Shift from Machiavelli’s Model to the Prophetic Model. Machiavelli: Authority based on shock-and-awe, power and fear. You know, they don’t. INSTEAD, create authority via LOVE and mutual respect. This comes when teacher is the greatest well-wisher of the student. Teacher wants, more than any thing in the world, to see the student SUCCEED in learning (Success does not mean getting grades! It means acquiring knowledge). The student ALSO has to shift paradigms; his/her life has been spent in trying to get good grades. Learning that education is about acquiring valuable knowledge is a radically different way of thinking, which will have to be taught.

To be an excellent teacher, you must develop your  own VISION: Learn to see potential in students. Encourage them to try for EXCELLENCE. Allah T’aala has put us on this earth to see who will do the BEST deeds. We only have one chance to live. So let us strive for excellence. Let us try to reach beyond the stars. Visualize, sitting in front of you, Ghazali, Ibne-Khaldun, Albairuni, Ibnul-Haytham. All of your students are human beings, and they have been CREATED with the potential to be the BEST of the creations.

Summary: We lack confidence because we are not very good as human resources. We are not very good at being the best at making money. But LIFE is NOT about making money. The Prophet SAW took ignorant and backwards Arabs, and developed within them the potential for excellence as a HUMAN BEING – with compassion, mercy, excellence in conduct. When we change focus from learning Western knowledge about external world, to learning to be a better human being, and then work on the fellow traveler model, then problems of lack of expertise are resolved.

Misconceptions about Knowledge: Problems arise because we have learned the wrong lessons about knowledge from our Western education. We have learned that “Knowledge is of external world”: NO,  Knowledge is based on EXPERIENCES, and knowledge enters the heart. To acquire knowledge, add to your experiences. These can be VIRTUAL – that is, learn how to solve real world problems in theory, by repeating experiences of others.  To impart knowledge, add to student’s experiences. Focus on SKILL development – Learn and Teach how to ACT in problem-solving situations

We need to acquire Confidence and Trust in the FINAL MESSAGE of God. We CAN learn to be Human Beings.        We are TRAVELLERS, not required to REACH goals. Students are FELLOW TRAVELLERS. The goal of LEARNING to be HUMAN COVERS EVERYTHING we need in life. That is, DONT think that if we shift goals, and if we teach students how to become great human beings, they will not be able to make money, or get good grades.

Next Post GT3:  Our Lives for Sale.: The Western system of education is designed to turn us into human resources, commodities for sale in the labor market. We need to learn the Value of Human Lives, to avoid giving this message to our students. Instead, we must teach them that human beings are the best of the creations, and all the gold in the world is not enough to pay for even a small portion of our lives.

URDU VERSION of same talk 15m Video about Part 2: Obstacles to Excellence

Related Material: Follow link for a collection of readings on Principles of an Islamic Education. This sequence of six posts on How to Become a Great Teacher is also listed below:

  1. bit.do/azbgt]: Intro: The Greatest Educator, The knowledge given to man by God, in form of the Quran, and demonstrated in the person of our Prophet Mohammad SAW, changed the course of history. How can we learn to follow in his footsteps?
  2. bit.do/azgt2]: Obstacles to Excellence, Some major misconceptions about teaching, knowledge, and education, which are barriers in the path of our learning to become great teachers.
  3. bit.do/azgt3]: Our Lives for Sale.: The Western system of education is designed to turn us into human resources, commodities for sale in the labor market. We need to learn the Value of Human Lives, to avoid giving this message to our students. Instead, we must teach them that human beings are the best of the creations, and all the gold in the world is not enough to pay for even a small portion of our lives.
  4. bit.do/azgt4]: Three Mega-Events Which Shape Our Thoughts: Historical Events shape our lives and thoughts in ways that we do not realize, and we are not consciously aware of. These ways of thinking tie us down, and prevent us from realizing our hidden potentials as human beings, the best of the creations of God.
  5. [bit.do/azgt5]: Reshaping Lives: Identity and Purpose: A great teacher reshapes lives of students by changing their goals and thereby their identities.
  6. [bit.do/azgt6] The Ghazali Project: Revival of Deen: This explains how global conquest and colonization by West created shock-and-awe of Western knowledge among the Muslims. The post explains how we can recover our lost confidence by recognizing the nature of Western knowledge as being suited to conquest and pursuit of power and wealth. Islam teaches us love, compassion, mercy for all mankind, and pursuit of excellence in conduct. This is knowledge of an entirely different sort, which still has the capability to revolutionize the world, just like it did fourteen centuries ago.



Becoming A Great Teacher

[bit.do/azbgt] Intro to talk on “How to Become a Great Teacher” by Dr. Asad Zaman, Ex-VC PIDE at Faculty Development Program, Faculty of Management Sciences, NUML 27th Aug 2019 – 11:30 to 13:00 – Link to original complete 54m talk in Urdu: NUML Great Teacher Full Urdu. A 8m Urdu recording of the Intro discussed here is given at the bottom of the page. A 900 word summary of the Introduction (only) is given after the 10m ENGLISH video recording of the intro:

Introduction to: How to Become a Great Teacher

The previous speaker spoke about rapid development of China, and contrasted it with backwardness of  Pakistan. We can all identify hundreds of problems in Pakistan, but can we find the solutions? To find out, we must first understand the Source of ALL Problems. The KEYS to the solutions lie in our hands.  As teachers, we train the leaders, bureaucrats, policy-makers, and the brains of the nation. If we give them a great training, our nation will be great. If we fail, and produce poor students, our nation will suffer.

A major obstacle in our path arises because we Focus on WRONG Problems. Looking at China, Singapore, BRICS etc. as goals creates fantasy visions which prevent us from looking at the REAL opportunities. We waste time regretting our past mistakes and missed opportunities, and let slip the golden opportunities open to us at the present moment. At ALL TIMES, there is a pathway open before us. Take the RIGHT STEP at THIS TIME to get to the GOAL. It is a BIG Mistake to search for solutions all over the globe, when answers lie in our own backyard! Focus on Golden Dreams of tomorrow, Far Away Lands, and missed Golden Opportunities of the past prevents us from focusing on the most important TODAY.  The important question to focus on is: What is the RIGHT step, right now? There is a path to progress which starts from this moment, if we can take the first step towards it.

To understand what that first step might be, let us go back to the experience of our Prophet ﷺ, when he was searching for guidance in the Cave of Hira. What was the FIRST step revealed to him?  READ, in the name of thy Lord, who created man from a clot, Read, and Praise thy Lord, who gave man knowledge of what he did not know! The FIRST words of the revelation from God tells us to acquire knowledge by reading. Allah T’aala, who has unlimited qualities, introduces Himself as TEACHER of man! God gave man knowledge of what man did not know. The revolution started with this Teaching!

The Prophet Mohammad ﷺ also stated that ‘I was sent as a TEACHER!’ And what a teacher! The knowledge that he imparted to the ignorant and backwards Arabs of the desert turned them into world leaders. So: What was the knowledge transmitted by him to the early Muslims? Does this knowledge STILL have the same effects? Let us first look at WHAT were the Effects of this KNOWLEDGE, given by God to the Prophet ﷺ , and transmitted by him to the Muslims.

There is a common Misunderstanding that fourteen centuries ago, EVERYONE was backwards! This is not true. China, Rome, Persia, Egypt, all had advanced civilizations. Very advanced technology built Pyramids in Egypt. Philosophy, Literature, Arts, Crafts, Industry of many types existed. There were advanced civilizations around, but Arabs were ignorant and backwards Bedouin, living on backs of camels in the desert. God gave them KNOWLEDGE which Took Arabs from the bottom to top! Made them world leaders. Created a CIVILIZATION which enlightened the world for a thousand years. The Islamic civilization made tremendous advances and discoveries in ALL fields of knowledge

The Surprising Fact is that All knowledge today comes from the Quran. How did the “dark ages” of Europe end? The Eurocentric history that we learn tells us that this happened all by itself, without any cause. Jack Goody’s book on the“Theft of History” reveals that Europeans stole discoveries of other Civilizations and claimed them for their own. Initial contact with Muslims occurred during the Crusades, when the backwards Europeans learned about the advanced Islamic civilization. But real change came with the completion of the re-conquest of Al-Andalus, Islamic Spain, which gave millions of books to Europe.  The European Enlightenment owes everything to knowledge acquired from the Islamic civilization. Ziad El-Marsafy has written a book called “The Enlightenment Quran” which charts the history of Qur’anic translations in Europe during the 18th and early 19th Centuries. Elmarsafy shows that a number of key enlightenment figures – including Voltaire, Rousseau, Goethe, and Napoleon – drew both inspiration and ideas from the Qur’an. This book places Islam at the heart of the European Enlightenment.

Even though European textbooks of history conceal and suppress it, there is overwhelming evidence that it was light from the Islamic civilization that ended the dark ages of Europe. Arabic texts were taught in Europe for a century. Catholic Church Censorship and Torture of Heretics, led to suppression of origins. Copernicus was a translator, not a discoverer. A recent book on Jefferson’s Quran traces the influence of the Quran on Jefferson’s thought, and the enlightened ideas found in the constitution of the USA. We can safely say that nearly all knowledge today has roots in the revolution created by the knowledge given to mankind in the form of the Quran, {See Is Science Western in Origin?}

Burning Questions for us today:

  1. Does the Quran have the same power today?
  2. Allah T’aala TAUGHT man that which he did not know!
  3. What was the KNOWLEDGE that GOD gave to man?
  4. DO We HAVE that knowledge?
  5. Is it just as powerful today?
  6. Can we learn it and TEACH IT?
  7. Will it have the same effects today as it did fourteen centuries ago?

Next Post GT2: Obstacles to Excellence, Some major misconceptions about teaching, knowledge, and education, which are barriers in the path of our learning to become great teachers.

Urdu Version of this same INTRO:

Related Material: Collection of readings on Principles of an Islamic Education. To get automatic notifications of subsequent posts, scroll to the top of the post, and click on the “follow” button which appears on the bottom right hand side.

RSIA04 The Struggle for Knowledge

RSIA04 The Struggle for Knowledge – This is the fourth an final part of a draft introductory chapter of a planned textbook on Real Statistics: An Islamic Approach. The first three parts of the chapter are in previous posts: RSIA-01:  , RSIA-02  , RSIA-03 . For a more detailed discussion of the underlying concepts which led to the creation of this course, see Real Statistics (1/4), Real Statistics (2/4), Real Statistics (3/4), and Real Statistics (4/4). The 64m Video lecture provides general principles underlying the course, meant for teachers who plan to teach using this new approach to statistics.

7. Knowledge is obtained by struggle and action.

Allah Taʿālā has promised us to guide those who struggle to His pathways. This means that knowledge is gained by efforts, by struggle. However, not all kinds of struggle will lead to knowledge. The struggle has to be the kind which leads to God. This means that the intention with which we engage with the world is all important – the value of all deeds depends on the intentions. We will make the intention to use all knowledge for the benefit of humanity. The best of the people is the one who brings benefits to the people. With the concept of service to humanity, our act of learning turns into worship. This is essential, since we were created solely for the worship of Allah, and all our actions must be worship. To illustrate, one can learn medicine so as to make an income by healing the sick, or one can make the intention to serve humanity. The second person can charge patients, according to what they can afford, because it is necessary for him to earn in order for him to be able to provide this service on a long-term basis. There is a huge difference between providing a service to make money, and making money in order to be able to provide a service. Islam encourages us to do the latter. (see PP1: The First Principle of Pedagogy).

Together with intention, there must be action. We must try to use our knowledge to change the world for the better, according to the teachings of Islam. It is in the process of trying to change things that we will be granted the knowledge of the pathways of Allah. This means that Islam teaches us a very action-oriented approach to knowledge, very different from the passive classroom-based teaching and learning we have learned to imitate from Western models.

8. The Unity of Knowledge

Increasing specialization has led to the fragmentation of knowledge in the west. It is commonly believed that the explosion in the quantity of knowledge has led to the fragmentation of knowledge. In fact, knowledge is unified by purpose. Having a sense of the broad outlines of human endeavor, and how it serves the human race, one can have an idea of how one’s efforts fit into this big picture.

Two consequences of fragmentation must be avoided by Muslims in our approach to creating Islamic modes of teaching and learning. The first one is that we must relate techniques to their real-world usage. We cannot study techniques and methods in isolation from how they are being used in the real world. This is crucial because knowledge is useful only if it can actually be used for some practical purpose. Because this distinction is not made in the West, a large amount of material taught actually has no real-world use. Furthermore, this is not considered significant or relevant. In this text, we will try to relate every technique to real world uses. For more information about my personal journey in arriving at this formulation, see My Journey from Theory to Reality.

The second important difference between Islamic and Western teachings is that Islam holds us responsible for all consequences of our deeds. The one who points towards the good receives the reward of the doer of the good deed. In the same way, those who witness, or carry paper or ink, or are in any associated with a bad deed, share the guilt. Thus, a Muslim scientist cannot say, as many physicists did, that we just did the physics for the Nuclear Bomb, but we have no part in the millions of deaths of innocent civilians that occurred as a result. A Muslim statistical consultant must learn who is using his services and for what purposes. He cannot act as a neutral and value-free advisor providing expert services without asking what purpose these will be used for. Again this requires eliminating the separation between theory and practice.

9. Etiquette for Teachers and Students.

Since Prophet Mohammad (SAW) was sent as a teacher, his whole life serves as a model for teachers. The Companions (RA) were also ideal students and they serve as models for us to follow in this direction. The Islamic etiquette for teaching and learning are complex and detailed and have been the subject of several books. Here we briefly discuss some essentials. A more detailed discussion is given in a companion lecture entitled “The Principles of Islamic Education.

Since the value of all deeds depends on intentions, both teachers and students must have correct intentions for teaching and learning. Students should seek to acquire knowledge for the sake of serving the Ummah of the Prophet Mohammad SAW. Furthermore, they should seek the reward for this service only from Allah, and not from those they serve. Indeed, as the Qurʾān states, they do not even expect gratitude for the service they do.

Similarly, teachers who have been given knowledge have the responsibility to pass this knowledge on. They should regard it as a sacred duty to teach. They should value the time of their students, and seek to given them useful knowledge. They should regard every student as a treasure – every human life is infinitely valuable, and the teachers have the potential of changing lives for the better.

10. Exercises

Islam prescribes enjoining what is right (Amr-bil-Maroof) as the duty of this Ummah. Furthermore, it teaches us that knowledge is acquired by struggle. Each of the following exercises therefore requires some struggle and action as that is the only way to understanding. Each of the following opinions is widespread in the Ummah, but is in conflict with basic Islamic ideas about knowledge. First list some arguments for and against each point of view, and identify the Islamic and Western point of view. Next, find a fellow student and carry out a discussion, trying to persuade him/her of the validity of the Islamic point of view. Use your discussion to improve and expand your list of arguments. Please answer any of the questions in the comments below.

1. The purpose of an education is to get a degree. The degree allows us to get jobs. We all need jobs to earn money so that we can live properly and take care of our families.
2. The best career is the one in which one can make the maximum amount of money.
3. Islamic knowledge is entirely a different matter from worldly knowledge – the two have no relation to each other. We study Western knowledge because it is necessary for our worldly affairs, and Islamic knowledge is needed for our ʾĀkhirah.
4. All knowledge is useful, since we cannot know in advance whether or not some information will prove useful in some unexpected way—thus all things are equally important to study.
5. This is the age of specialization. In order to develop intensive knowledge about any area, one has to focus exclusively on that area. It is impossible to cover all fields of knowledge and those who try will only learn general knowledge – a little bit about everything, but not enough to make any difference in any particular area.

The following two exercises are also practical in nature:

6. List five characteristics of an ideal teacher. Base your list on characteristics of the Prophet Mohammad SAW as a teacher. Illustrate or provide evidence for these characteristics from the Qurʾān, Ḥadīth, or stories about the Companions. Give an example of any one teacher who has any one of these characteristics in your own life experience.
7. List five characteristics of an ideal student. Illustrate or provide evidence for these characteristics from the Qurʾān and Ḥadīth, or stories about companions. Explain how you intend to implement at least one of these characteristics in your own study.

This concludes the fourth an final part of a draft introductory chapter of a planned textbook on Real Statistics: An Islamic Approach. The first three parts of the chapter are in previous posts: RSIA-01:  , RSIA-02  , RSIA-03 . For a more detailed discussion of the underlying concepts which led to the creation of this course, see Real Statistics (1/4), Real Statistics (2/4), Real Statistics (3/4), and Real Statistics (4/4).

RSIA03 Training the Heart

[bit.do/azrs1c] Continuing from previous post (RSIA02: Value of Knowledge, sections 3 & 4), this post contains sections 5 & 6 of the First Lecture (ISM01.doc). A lot of supplementary materials and teachings aids, quizzes, outlines, etc. are available from: Intro Stats L01: Islamic Knowledge. Sections 1&2 (RSIA-01: Islamic Approach to Knowledge) explain how Islam has a unique approach to knowledge, based on the understanding that this is among the greatest gifts of God. Sections 3&4 explain how Allah T’aala is the sole owner of all knowledge, and how Muslims are instructed to value knowledge, and to seek it all their lives with effort and struggle. Sections 5&6 discussed below describe the characteristics of useful knowledge, and how this enters our hearts and changes our lives.

5: Useful and Useless Knowledge

Prophet Mohammad SAW sought useful knowledge from Allah and sought protection from useless knowledge:  It is narrated by Jabir (RA) that the Prophet SAW stated that Knowledge is of two kinds. One which enters the hearts, and that is the useful knowledge. The other is only on the tongue (without action or sincerity) and that is argument of Allah against the son of Adam AS Ḥadīth 6 in Muntakhib Aḥādīth, Ilmo-Zikr.

It is important to note that this is an issue which differentiates Western and Islamic conceptions, since this distinction between useless and useful knowledge is explicitly denied by Western theories, which consider all knowledge as potentially useful. Knowledge which distracts us from the remembrance of Allah is useless or harmful, while knowledge which lead to the recognition of Allah is useful and valuable.

Western theorists deny this distinction. They argue that on many occasions apparently useless research has led to unexpected findings. For example, sonar was discovered by the study of bats, and a lab accident led to the discovery of penicillin. Just because sometimes systematic searches fail, and sometimes accidents lead to discoveries, this does not mean that we should stop searching systematically for valuable knowledge. In addition, Islam teaches us that the value of a deed depends on the intention. We have to make the intention therefore to carry out some research for the benefit of human beings, and this will constrain us to do it in a systematic and purposeful way.

ADDITIONAL NOTE: The concept that ‘useful knowledge’ enters the heart is of great significance, and strongly differentiates Islamic approach to education from the Western one. Islam knowledge teaches us how to utilize our unique and precious lives in the best possible way. Such knowledge enlightens our hearts, elevates our souls, and transforms our lives. For this purpose, education must be personalized. The teacher must judge the potentials of different students, and cater to their unique talents (see “Teaching Fish to Fly“). As opposed to this, Western style of education has a fixed body of “knowledge” which must be imparted to all students, regardless of their background, capabilities, and interests (see “ Brainwashing VS Meta-Level Analysis“).

6. Neutral and Detached Observation is Not Permissible

Western Social Scientists advocate the stance of neutral and detached observation. Engagement with the subject creates biases and risks loss of objectivity. However, Islamic teaching forbid us to remain detached when we observe evil. In such a situation, faith requires us to struggle to change it. If we do not have the power to do so with our hands, then we must try to do so with our tongue. That is, we try to persuade others to join in the effort to change things. There are situations where even this much is not possible. In such a situation, a minimal requirement of faith in Allah is that our heart must feel for the oppressed, and must contain a desire to change things for the better. Thus, the state of detachment is explicitly prohibited by Islamic teachings.

Of course, one might say that there are phenomena which are “neutral” – neither good nor evil. These could be studied with detachment. However, Islam teaches us that the primary job of the Muslims is to change the world for the better by spreading the good and prohibiting the evil. This should not leave us with much time to engage in detached observation of phenomenon that have no bearing on good and evil.  Furthermore, if something is really not relevant to important issues on which we must take a moral stance, then it is likely to be useless knowledge – something we must avoid, and seek protection from.

It is very important to note, as many people have done, that the idea that Western social science is a detached and neutral observation of facts, is a false image.  Many philosophers have established that in most cases the normative/positive distinction cannot be made. Observations are based on value judgments, and facts and values are mixed together so closely that they cannot be separated. Therefore, instead of a pretence of objectivity, it is better to openly express values and do analysis in light of these values.

End of Section 5&6 of Chapter 1: ISM01main.doc. See also “Normative Foundations of Scarcity” for a demonstration of how apparently objective and factual concept of scarcity is built on the foundations of three separate normative principles, each of which is opposed to Islamic values; see “Economic Theory: Normative Judgments Disguised As Objective Realities“). For the next part, see RSIA04 The Struggle for Knowledge.

RSIA02 Value of Knowledge

RSIA02 Value of Knowledge continues from previous post (RSIA01: Islamic Approach to Knowledge, sections 1 & 2), this post contains sections 3 & 4 of the First Lecture (ISM01.doc). A lot of supplementary materials and teachings aids, quizzes, outlines, etc. are available from: Intro Stats L01: Islamic Knowledge. The previous post links to a 90m Video Lecture. An alternative, 42m Video Lecture, which provides a summary of the main points covered, is linked below:

Section 3:   Allah T’aala Grants Knowledge to Whom He Chooses.

2:255 …He knows all that lies open before men and all that is hidden from them, whereas they cannot attain to aught of His knowledge save that which He wills [them to attain]. His eternal power overspreads the heavens and the earth

2:257 God is near unto those who have faith, taking them out of deep darkness into the light – whereas near unto those who are bent on denying the truth are the powers of evil that take them out of the light into darkness deep:

In particular, He gives the light of knowledge to those who have faith. Those who deny God are led from light into darkness. This means that a lot of what appears to be the knowledge of non-Muslims is actually ignorance. One of our goals in this text will be to establish this fact.

Another important consequence of this is that we must seek knowledge from Allah, by dua, and by Istighfar – It is essential to cleanse our hearts of sins, for the Noor of Allah will not enter into hearts darkened by sin. Knowledge is worship, and the ink of the pen of the scholar is valued over the blood of a martyr. Allah T’aala has told us to ask Him for increase in knowledge:

20:114 High above all is Allah, the King, the Truth! Be not in haste with the Qur’an before its revelation to thee is completed, but say, “O my Lord! advance me in knowledge.

4.   Thirst for Knowledge is Part of Islam

Because of the importance given to it in the Quran and Hadeeth, the early Muslims were filled with a thirst for knowledge, and a desire to acquire knowledge. An important element in the quick rise to power of Islam was the Muslim’s thirst for knowledge, inspired by the Divine message. The Muslims were eager to search out knowledge from all sources. They adapted useful elements of knowledge from the Greek, Indian, Chinese, Persian and other civilizations. This process of “Islamization” of knowledge has been successfully carried out by the Ummah many times in the past. One important aspect of the decline of the Muslims has been the loss of this thirst for knowledge. Ignorance and illiteracy is widespread in the Ummah, where once everyone was taught to read the Quran.  Teachers have the responsibility to inspire students to achieve, while students have the responsibility to put all their effort and sacrifice into the acquisition of knowledge.

There is a tremendous amount of material in the Quran and Hadeeth related to the virtues of knowledge. The very first lines which were revealed contained the order to read, and glorified the bounties of the Lord who taught man, by the means of the pen, that which he did not know. Thus, the role of Allah as a Teacher is one of his greatest bounties. All of this material is to motivate us to be enthusiastic in our acquisition of knowledge.

2:31 And He taught Adam all the names

2:34  And when We said unto the angels: Prostrate yourselves before Adam, they fell prostrate, all save Iblis. He demurred through pride, and so became a disbeliever.

Allah T’aala created Adam A.S. and gave him knowledge, which was one of the reasons for his superiority to the angels. It was to acknowledge this superiority that the angels were ordered to prostrate before Adam. It was the refusal to acknowledge this superiority that led to the rebellion of Iblees. So knowledge is one reason why human beings are superior to angels.

Similarly, the Prophet Mohammad S.A.W. stated that the superiority of the person with knowledge over the worshipper is like the superiority of the Prophet himself over an ordinary Sahabi. (Hadeeth 30, Muntakhib Ahadeeth Ilmo Zikr).

Similarly, it is stated that Allah T’aala makes the path to Jannah easy for the seeker of knowledge. The angels spread their wing in his honor. All the creature on Earth and the fishes in the sea seek forgiveness for this seeker of knowledge. The superiority of the Alim over the Abid is like the superiority of the moon of the fourteenth over the stars. The Prophets do not leave behind material wealth and possessions, but their knowledge; whosoever learns the knowledge of Deen, inherits the treasure of the Prophets. Hadeeth 25, Muntakhib Ahadeeth, Ilm o Zikr.

Because of the commandment to seek knowledge, Muslims created a civilization which valued knowledge above all other things. The library of Baghdad contained over 800 million volumes. There are immense Muslim contributions to virtually all branches of knowledge. Unfortunately, Muslim students today are largely unaware of the important role of Muslims in the development of modern sciences. As detailed in “The Theft of History,” by Jack Goody (2012) Europeans have appropriated scientific inventions of other civilizations, such as algebra, surgery, optics, the heliocentric theory,  and many others, and claimed them as European inventions {see Is Science Western in Origin?}.  Furthermore, they have asserted that Europeans are uniquely equipped with the ability to think rationally and scientifically.  Blaut (2000) has documented that popular and influential thinkers and historians like Weber, White, Mann, Hall, and Landes agree on the idea that “Europeans were uniquely capable of creative and scientific thought.” The idea that European civilization is unique and supreme is called “Eurocentricism.”  This idea is built into European teachings, and is absorbed by Muslim students, who see no references to Muslim predecessors in their study. This an obstacle to developing confidence and expertise which is a pre-requisite for creation of innovations and advances in the frontiers of knowledge.

There is now a substantial amount of recent work which documents the origins of Science in the Muslim civilization {see Islamic Origins of Science}. Especially important is the open and empirical attitude of the Quran. El-Masrafy has traced the impact of the Quran on European intellectuals in  “The Enlightenment Quran.” A brief popular exposition of origins of science in Islamic civilization is available in Arab Science: A Journey of Innovation by the Qatar Foundation: http://www.grouporigin.com/clients/qatarfoundation/introduction.htm See also the supplementary document: Muslim Achievements in the Sciences.

End of Sections 3 & 4. The next post in this series is RSIA03 Training the Heart 

RSIA-01 Islamic Approach to Knowledge

This is the 1st & 2nd section of a DRAFT of Chapter 1 of a proposed new textbook on Real Statistics: An Islamic Approach — This Chapter introduces an Islamic Approach to knowledge, and how this differs from the Western approach. I would like to get feedback and comments from readers in order to create a final version of this for textbook. Readers can add comments directly on the SHARED Google Document: ISM01main. Or they can add comments below this post. Note that Hyperlinks connect to additional material which is NOT part of this lecture — if some material from those references should be included here, readers can add remarks to this effect. Also, you can add comments on the 90m You-Tube Video Lecture which corresponds to this chapter:

Sections 1&2 are given below. Sections 3&4 are given in the next post – RSIA01b Value of Knowledge – which also provides links to a shorter Alternative Introductory Video lecture of 42m

Section 1: Introduction

I seek refuge in Allah from the outcast Shaitan, and begin with His Name Allah, who is also Rahman and Rahim:

7:172 When thy Lord drew forth from the Children of Adam – from their loins – their descendants, and made them testify concerning themselves, (saying): “Am I not your Lord (who cherishes and sustains you)?”- They said: “Yea! We do testify!” (This), lest ye should say on the Day of Judgment: “Of this we were never mindful”:

Allah T’aala created all of us, and made us recognize Him as our Lord, prior to sending us to this world. The object of our life on this Earth is to live with full awareness and recognition of our Creator. All useful knowledge is a means to this end. The prophet Mohammad SAW delivered to us the message of Allah, which is both complete and perfect.

5:3 This day have I perfected your religion for you, completed My favour upon you, and have chosen for you Islam as your religion.

According to a prophecy of our Prophet Mohammad s.a.w., the Deen of Islam came as a stranger, and it will become a stranger. Over the past few centuries, Muslims as a whole have moved far from the Deen in their individual and collective lives. The rise to global power of the West has led to spread of many types of ideas and philosophies very much in conflict with the central message of Islam. Central to Western secular thought is the idea that certain realms of knowledge fall outside the scope of religion. Because the West has taken the lead in many realms of knowledge, Muslims have been forced to study, adopt and accept these western ideas. The project of Islamization of knowledge is an attempt to acquire the useful aspects of western advances in knowledge, while removing the harmful secular and atheistic components. This has been difficult to do because many ideas conflicting with Islamic views are buried within foundational assumptions of Western knowledge and not openly stated or discussed. Nonetheless, it is an issue of high priority because how Muslim youth are trained will have a big impact on our future. Current methods of training borrowed from the West are highly unsuitable, for many reasons discussed in “An Islamic Worldview: An Essential Component of an Islamic Education”. At the same time, we cannot afford to bypass or ignore Western contributions to the stock of human knowledge. Finding a suitable way to accomplish both objectives is our goal.

This textbook is part of the project of Islamization of Knowledge. We will study statistics in a way that is in accordance with Islamic teachings. Islamic views on knowledge, as well as the methodology for teaching and learning, differ radically from Western views.  One of the central ideas of Western secular thinking is that knowledge can be compartmentalized – some areas of knowledge (like science, mathematics, etc.) have no relation to religion. We will show that Islam sheds light on all areas of knowledge.  We will show how radically our perspectives on the subject change when the contents are assimilated into a meaningful framework defined by Islam.  These differences will be illustrated concretely in the course of these lectures on introductory statistics for Muslims.

We will start by studying the process of teaching and learning. The prophet Mohammad s.a.w. was sent as a teacher, and Islam has a vast collection of important principles about how to teach and learn. The widely imitated Western approach to education carries no hints of these principles, which are characteristics of an Islamic education. We will only be able to review a few essential elements of these principles in this first lecture.

In this lecture, we will establish that Islam has its own unique approach to knowledge, both for teachers and for students. This approach is radically different from the approach currently being followed in the West, and being blindly imitated in the East. Unfortunately, because Muslims have been content to imitate, this has created an impression that Muslims do not have their own approach. It is essential to counteract this. This is the primary goal of this first lecture.

The Prophet Mohammad S.A.W. was sent as a teacher. He was the best of teachers. Learning the principles of teaching and studying from him leads to the best approaches to teaching and learning. We will distill some principles from these Islamic modes of education and exposit them here.

Section 2:  Knowledge is Among the Greatest Gifts of God.

2:269 He granteth wisdom to whom He pleaseth; and he to whom wisdom is granted receiveth indeed a benefit overflowing; but none will grasp the Message but men of understanding.

The first words of the revelation are powerfully infused with the message of the importance of knowledge:

Q96:1- 5 READ in the name of thy Sustainer, who has- created man out of a germ-cell. Read – for thy Sustainer is the Most Bountiful One who has taught [man] the use of the pen – taught man what he did not know!

Reading & writing are mention thrice in this short passage. Reference is made to the mysteries of creation of man, about which the discoverer of DNA, Francis Crick said:”An honest man, armed with all the knowledge available to us now, could only state that in some sense, the origin of life appears at the moment to be almost a miracle.” – Francis Crick, Nobel Prize winner, “Life Itself: Its Origin and Nature”, 1981 (p. 88)

The bounty of the Lord is mentioned as being teaching man to read and write and giving him knowledge of that which he did not know. This first message is reinforced by many other verses of the Quran and Hadeeth giving central importance to knowledge.

Aboo al-Dardaa said: `Listen. I have heard rasoolullaah sallal-laahu `alayhi wa sallam saying, “Allah ta`aalaa makes the way to jannah easy for one who traverses some distance to seek knowledge. Angels spread their wings under his feet, and all things in the skies and earth (even the fish in the water) ask Allah for his forgiveness. The superiority of a person possessing knowledge over a person doing worship is as the superiority of the moon over the stars. The `ulamaa are the inheritors of rasoolullaah sallal-laahu `alayhi wa sallam. The legacy of the anbiyaa `alayhis-salaam is neither gold nor silver. Their legacy is knowledge. A person who acquires knowledge acquires a great wealth.“‘”

In particular, we must approach knowledge as a means of spiritual advancement, inner transformation, and a means for changing the world around us. It is not a way to earn a living, nor is it “human capital,” a way to increase our value as a means of producing material goods. {see PP1: The First Principle of Pedagogy }

End of Sections 1&2 (with Full Video lecture of 90m); Next Post has Sections 3&4  – RSIA01b Value of Knowledge – which also provides links to a shorter Alternative Introductory Video lecture of 42m

Myth of Racial Superiority

Development: Myths and Truths describe 12 myths about development. The first three myths (1,2,3) are covered in Materialism Versus Idealism. The second set of three myth (4,5,6) are covered in “Central Myths of Eurocentric History“.  This post is about the 7th myth of Racial Superiority of the White Race. The 8th Myth is Oriental Despotism – that West has good governance while the East has bad governance.

Before we discuss our topic of the myth of racial superiority of the White Races, and the corresponding racial inferiority of he Brown and Black races, we will discuss the general framework within which this discussion is placed. Because no one tells us how to think, we imagine that our thoughts are our free choices. The reality is that history shapes our thoughts far more heavily than we realize. To liberate ourselves from the conquest of our minds, created by centuries of defeat and colonization, we need to learn some new strategies. One of the keys is meta-thought: learning to think about the thought-process itself. Why do people believe what they believe? It is much easier to see how “other” peoples thoughts have been shaped by history, because we are outsiders, not emotionally involved. To apply the same insights to ourselves requires being able to detach ourselves from our immediate circumstance, acquire a higher level perspective (meta-thought) and view our own minds and thinking process from an external point of view. We have come to believe in an enormous number of falsehoods, planted in our minds through years-and-years of Western education. There is no quick route to freedom – these chains must be unwrapped slowly, one-by-one, in a gradual process.  The guiding light which serves as a central goal and target is to trust in the Quran as being complete and perfect guidance. Even this fundamental principle requires work, because we have been trained to view the Quran in light of logic, empirical evidence, and scientific reasoning. When we find a conflict between dominant views and the Quran, we re-interpret the Quran in the light of “reason”, and therefore, we become unable to understand the message of the Quran (see Quran: Faith and Reason). Below, we will list some of the key historical trends which have shaped our thoughts. Standing outside the streams of history, and watching how these streams shape the thought of those caught within the tides, is very helpful in terms of learning how we can liberate ourselves.

  1. Global Conquest and Colonization by Europe: This created a superiority complex in the West (see Orientalism), and an inferiority complex in the East.
  2. Global Spread of Capitalism: This creates market societies, where everything is for sale. Wealth becomes the most important marker of social status. This leads to a society where pursuit of wealth is the goal of life for everyone. See The Third Poison: Pursuit of Wealth.
  3. Loss of Faith in Europe: For reasons explained in European Transition to Secular Thought, Europeans lost faith in Christianity. This led to the adoption of a materialistic outlook on life. Rejection of the heart, soul, the invisible world, and deeper meanings of life, and focus on what we can touch and see. See: Materialism Versus Idealism. (myths 1,2,3)
  4. Eurocentric History: History is the conquest song of the victors. Because Europeans colonized the globe, they also wrote the history of this colonization in a way that glorifies the Europeans and makes non-Europeans appear inferior. See Central Myths of Eurocentric History. (myths 4,5,6)
  5. Causes of Muslim Decline: Edward Said’s influential book on Orientalism created the realization that history looks very different when told from the perspective of the defeated (see Subaltern Studies). In particular, we Muslims have swallowed stories told about our defeat told from a European perspective. We need to unlearn these myths and relearn the truth. Of the three widely believed myths about the causes of Muslim decline, we will deal with the only one: the myth that we are racially inferior, or that our civilization was inferior to the Western one.

My paper on “Development: Myths and Truths“, studies a dozen myths about development that we have absorbed as part of our Western education. Discussion of Myths 1 to 6 is provided in posts linked in points 3 and 4 above.  This post is about myths #7, .

Myth #7: Racial Superiority of Whites: We like to think that we have advanced beyond this folly, but the truth is that racial superiority myths are very much a part of the world we live in, and also a part of the way we think. As far as the external world is concerned, the politics of hate and bigotry is getting increasing votes all over the world. But more important, and more difficult to see, is the reflection of racism in our own mindsets – how it shapes our thoughts. Nobody likes to feel inferior, so we hide this from ourselves. So let us stand apart as an external observer, objective and detached, and go through the closets of our own minds to bring out the stored thoughts, sometimes even hidden from our own selves:  Nobody can deny that Europeans have made astonishing achievements, leaving the rest of humanity far behind. Their inventions have transformed human life, with amazing advances on every front, and continuing every day. No one else has done anything comparable. Our ancestors, yes, they contributed to poetry and literature, BUT … science and technology — ZERO! Yes, we can make tall claims to console ourselves. Al-Khwarizmi, Ibnul-Haytham, etc. etc. – a long list of forgotten names. Some of our ancestors did some primitive things resembling science a thousand years ago. YES, today, Japanese, Chinese, Asians, Africans, all are involved in the race, and many have outdone the White races. But only because the Europeans generously shared their knowledge with us. Maybe its not race, maybe it’s just historical accidents and geography, but massive superiority of European civilization over all others cannot be denied by anyone who has two eyes to look around and see the world. 

Truth  #7: Brotherhood of Man: The Quran informs us that we are all brothers and sisters, sons and daughters of Adam and Hawwa (AS). No one is superior to anyone else except by virtue of Taqwa (God-consciousness). As explained in Quran: Faith and Reason, we must learn to put teachings of the Quran above the evidence of our senses, reason, and empirical evidence. How can we make sense of this apparent contradiction between the massive superiority of European knowledge, and the Quranic assertion that the knowledge given to the Muslims is far better than anything that they can gather? This is such a HUGE idol that we cannot take it down with one blow. The correct strategy is to chip at it one small piece at a time. So let us just take one small part of the claim of European superiority: European conquest and colonization of the globe. Does this entitle Europeans to feel superior, and should we feel inferior because they conquered us, and we did not conquer them? Throughout history, barbarians have overcome civilizations which became corrupted by luxury. Does this pattern prove the “superiority” of the barbarians, or just that they were better at fighting? When the Mongols destroyed Baghdad, was it because of their superior civilization, greater intelligence, or better fighting skills? When the USA carpet bombed Iraq and killed a millions plus civilians, and destroy the infrastructure of the country,  does this mean that we should all learn to follow their example?

Defeat in war does not mean inferiority. If someone points a gun at me, and loots all my wealth, it does follow that I should learn the ways of life from him. In fact, it is a long established tradition, that defeat does lead to a defeated mentality. The victors define the criteria by which development is judged, and they change these criteria to ensure that they are on top. What appears to us to be an objective fact – that Western civilization is developed, and we are under-developed and primitive — is actually a mirage. This is achieved by defining the development criteria in a certain way. If wealth and power are the criteria of development, then Qaroon and Fir’aun and Namrood would be the most advanced of people. INSTEAD, if we were to define civilization as meaning humanity, compassion, minimal killing of innocent civilians, minimum incidents of random violence and crime, minimal suicides, divorces, children growing up in happy families, and a whole host of other factors, we would find that the world leaders could easily be made to have very low rankings. A lecture on “Re-Defining Development” shows how the criterion for development continuously keeps changing as the victors re-define it to ensure that they come out on top. This would just be a beginning, a first step in undoing the illusion of Western superiority. Many other dimensions of superiority need to be addressed, each one separately. At the heart of it all is the Western conception of knowledge itself, as knowledge of the external world. The criterion for success suitable for conquerors of the globe is power and wealth. Success is defined by the power to loot the world, kill and enslave millions, capture global resources. When the only criterion for success is power, wealth, and luxury, western knowledge is the only way to go. Islamic knowledge is designed to develop the unique capabilities that all human beings are born with, so that we can become the best of the creation. The knowledge required to provide a nurturing environment, to create spiritual growth, is harmful according to Western criterion, because it will hinder us from oppressing and exploiting others, and enriching ourselves at the expense of others. For more details on the differences between Islamic and Western conceptions of knowledge, see “The Search for Knowledge“.

Lesson #7: The Courage to Make a Difference: The Quran asserts that man can only get what he strives for. The false idea of racial inferiority, and the false idea that our ancestors never accomplished anything worthwhile, limits the range of our ambitions. Once the lesson of brotherhood of all human beings is absorbed, it becomes possible to strive for the highest goals that humans have tried for. These highest goals are NOT the maximization of power, wealth, and pleasure derived from consumption. Rather, every man has been given the potential to become superior to the angels, and also the capability to be worse than the beasts. Depending on the environment and the efforts made, men can develop to a greater or lesser extent. Those who remain undeveloped spiritually can, like Machiavelli, prefer to rule by fear, because they have no compassion, and cannot sense the warmth in the hearts of fellow men. They can drop fire bombs on cities, frying human beings on hot pavements, without feeling any pity, or guilt. Spiritual development leads to an awareness of the linkages between all human beings (see Spirituality and Development for a deeper discussion). The most developed of all human beings was our prophet Mohammed S.A.W. who was sent as a mercy for all mankind. His heart was so full of compassion that Allah T’aala counsels him in the Holy Quran not to kill himself with sorrow on the behalf of those who would not believe and thereby condemn themselves to eternal suffering. Our goal in life is to try and emulate this excellence, to the extent possible for us. This is the only way to achieve our potential to become “the best of the creation”, the highest of goals open to men and women.