Life Lessons 3

Life Lesson 3 of Maria Popova is directly and clearly an Islamic teaching:

Be generous. Be generous with your time and your resources and with giving credit and, especially, with your words. It’s so much easier to be a critic than a celebrator. Always remember there is a human being on the other end of every exchange and behind every cultural artifact being critiqued. To understand and be understood, those are among life’s greatest gifts, and every interaction is an opportunity to exchange them.

The Quran is full of verses exhorting people to spend for the sake of Allah. There are many more verses on this topic than on the famous five pillars of Islam. A few are cited below:
16:90 BEHOLD, God enjoins justice, and the doing of good, and generosity towards [one’s] fellow-men
2:274 Those who (in charity) spend of their goods by night and by day, in secret and in public, have their reward with their Lord: on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve.
Muslims are commanded to spend money in excess of our needs for the sake of Allah.
Q2: 219 They ask thee how much they are to spend; Say: “What is beyond your needs.
The generosity of our Prophet Mohammad S.A.W., who is the perfect role
model for us, is well known. He never turned away anyone who sought his help.
After observing how much he gave out of the wealth that accrued to the
Muslims after the conquest of Mecca, Safwan bin Umayyah remarked that “(the
prophet) was as generous as the rain.”  [The above passage is taken from “Crisis in Islamic Economics“, a paper which argues that Western economic theories are based on competition and greed, while Islamic Economics is based on cooperation and generosity.]

Today, because we Muslims have been listening to words like these all our lives, we have become immune to them.  Advice goes into one ear and out the other, without having any effect on our thoughts and behavior. Learning to care for others, to give instead of taking, generosity instead of selfishness, is hard on our Nafs, but it is extremely rewarding. All our lives, we have practiced feeding our Nafs, doing whatever we desire, and feeling frustrated when we cannot get what we want.

There is a new way of life which Islam opens for us — we focus on serving God to the best of our abilities, and let Allah T’aala take care of all our personal problems. (Q6:162) Say: Lo! my worship and my sacrifice and my living and my dying are for Allah, Lord of the Worlds. Give EVERYTHING you have to the service of Allah – hold nothing back, keep nothing for yourself. It is living in this way which develops Tawakkul – trust in Allah. When we see, from personal experience, that Allah T’aala does not fail to provide for us, then we become confident in His guarantees. Also, this way of life is enormously satisfying. Giving to others, for the love of Allah, is the best way to create happiness, while selfishly trying to grab things for ourselves, without concern for others is the formula for unhappiness and loneliness. Economic theory teaches us that rational behavior involves trying to maximize the pleasure the I get from a lifetime of consumption.  I would invite my readers to do an experiment with the OPPOSITE way of living. Forget about your own personal desires. Live only to serve all of mankind, in the best possible way, with your maximum energy and capabilities, for the sake of the love of God. Seek NOTHING for yourself. This seems a bit scary — What will happen to my food and to my basic necessities if I stop worrying about them? Allah T’aala re-assures us that if we seek to serve Him, and make that service our only concern, then He will take care of all of our needs. Experiment – try it for yourself and see. Take small steps to start, in order to build confidence.

Postscript: For previous lessons see, Life Lesson 1 On Unlearning and Life Lesson 2 on Intentions. For a discussion of how Islamic Economics is based on principles of generosity, and how this is radically different from Western Economics, see Radio Islam Interview on Islamic Economics.

 

Life Lessons 2

The previous lesson from Maria Popova was about being ready to change our minds. The second lesson she offers from her life experiences is:

[2] Do nothing for prestige or status or money or approval alone. As Paul Graham observed, “prestige is like a powerful magnet that warps even your beliefs about what you enjoy. It causes you to work not on what you like, but what you’d like to like.” Those extrinsic motivators are fine and can feel life-affirming in the moment, but they ultimately don’t make it thrilling to get up in the morning and gratifying to go to sleep at night — and, in fact, they can often distract and detract from the things that do offer those deeper rewards.

Clearly, this is well-aligned with Islamic teachings. The first three people to be judged on on the Day of Judgment will be a scholar, a martyr, and a generous wealthy man. All three will have the greatest of deeds, but none will be acceptable because of the lack of sincerity of their intentions. So to deepen the lesson, and make it more profound, the only intention which is acceptable is to do all things purely for the sake of the love of Allah. Note how the Quran (76:8) says that: “And they feed, for the love of Allah, the indigent, the orphan, and the captive”. It is very important to understand that it is not enough to feed the hungry. One should not do this to achieve popularity, to be called a generous person, in order to receive thanks and gratitude, to feel inner pride at wealth, to feel superior, to give in an insulting and humiliating manner, and many other such wrong manners and intentions. Imam Ghazali writes that when we give to others, we should feel that we are the beneficiaries, the one who accepts our money is doing us a great favor, by allowing us to do a good deed. Removing the bad intentions is only one part, the other part is to purify the intentions and make all our deeds directed towards God alone, so that they are done for the sake of the love of Allah.

In fact, Islam places great emphasis on intentions. The first hadeeth of Sahih Bokhari is that the worth of all actions depends on intentions. For a discussion of how making the right intentions for acquiring knowledge is essential, see: PP1: The First Principle of Pedagogy. So Maria Popova has discovered a fragment of the deep truth about the importance of intentions from her life experiences.

To see how this links with the previous teaching, about being ready to change our minds, reflect on the story of Ibraheem AS in his dialog with his nation  (Q26:69). Even though he explains that why it is illogical for them to worship idols, and they accept his logic, they continue to do worship idols and make plans to kill Ibraheem AS for insulting their gods. Why? People are attached to their customs, to their ancients, to their society, to popularity. In fact, Azar, father of Ibraheem AS was a seller of idols. So if the nation stopped worshiping them, he would be out of the job. Similarly, the powerful priests would lose their jobs. So we see that Prestige, Status, Money, Approval of society – these are all FALSE GODS which ask for worship. When we seek these things, we are distracted from the purity of worship of Allah. For the sake of these things, we can reject the truth, and cling to falsehood.

To take it a bit further, note that we would like to appear to know things – so the state of uncertainty – saying “I don’t know” – an admission of ignorance – seems to LOWER our status. This is “surrender” requires us to do – to realize and recognize that Allah T’aala is the only source of all knowledge, and He gives some small portions of this knowledge to whoever He wants to. So to seek knowledge from the treasures of Allah, we must learn complete humility, and become seekers from Allah. Humility is required for Unlearning, while Pride prevents us from Unlearning.

The second barrier to unlearning comes from the discomfort of not knowing things. If I dont know which path is better, how do I know which action to take? I can be paralyzed by lack of knowledge into not doing anything. This is another reason why people prefer to believe that they KNOW things, even when they don’t. At least they can take actions on their (false) knowledge. The solution the Islam offers us to this dilemma is TAWAKKUL – trust in Allah to guide us. When we do not know which action to take, we take our problem to Allah, and we ask Him for guidance, and we trust Him to guide us in the best direction, even though we do not KNOW. The Dua of Istikhara makes this crystal clear. O Allah You Know and I do not Know what is best for me. So our path to guidance, without knowledge, is istikhara and mashwera. Those who follow these recommended actions will be guided to decisions for which they will have no regrets. Those who put their trust in their own false knowledge will often be led to wrong decisions and major regrets.

To conclude, note how people who do not have the light of Islam arrive at truths from their life experiences, but these are only partial and incomplete fragments of the complete and perfect guidance given to us by Allah, Creator of the Heavens and Earth,

Life Lessons 1

On an Islamic Chat group, one of the participants forward a link to 13 Life Lessons collected by Author Maria Popova. One of the greatest differences between an Islamic approach to education, and the Western one we learn in our schools, colleges, and universities, is that Islam teaches us how to live, and how to become a human being, while the West teaches us how to become a valuable human resource, in order to make the most money. Once we understand this, we realize that real knowledge about life comes from life experiences. Our own experiences are limited, so we can benefit greatly, and gain the most valuable knowledge by learning from the experience of others. That is why it is useful to study the thoughts of those who have examined their lives and derived lessons from their own experiences. These lessons give us for free, knowledge which can be acquired over many years by living, experiencing, and thinking. That is why Aristotle said that “A Life Un-Examined is not worth living”.

Maria Popova has indeed collected useful gems from her life experiences in her article on 13 LIfe-Lessons from 13 Years. When LIFE LESSONS are offered outside Islam, I always try to find the SOURCE for them in Islamic teachings – If I CAN find a source, then I accept them and welcome them. The APPLICATION of Islamic teachings to modern life is ALWAYS contextual – ties to time, place, person, historical, cultural, and social context — we have to renew Islam for use in every age. So new insights can always be obtained by looking at how teachings sourced in Islam, and built into hearts of all human beings, have been put into practice in their lives – and in this manner, we can also learn how to apply Islam to our lives, even from those who have not yet recognized their Creator. Our elders have also borrowed freely from the wisdom of other civilizations, in accordance with a Hadeeth to the effect that wisdom is the lost property of the believer.

To see how our life experiences and historical context matter, consider the first teaching of Maria Popova:

1: Allow yourself the uncomfortable luxury of changing your mind. Cultivate that capacity for “negative capability.” We live in a culture where one of the greatest social disgraces is not having an opinion, so we often form our “opinions” based on superficial impressions or the borrowed ideas of others, without investing the time and thought that cultivating true conviction necessitates. We then go around asserting these donned opinions and clinging to them as anchors to our own reality. It’s enormously disorienting to simply say, “I don’t know.” But it’s infinitely more rewarding to understand than to be right — even if that means changing your mind about a topic, an ideology, or, above all, yourself.

There are many useful insights in this advice. Instead of pretending to know, one should admit to lack of knowledge – this humility is the first step for a scholar. Note how (Q6:75-79) Ibraheem AS realized that his guesses about God were wrong, and he prayed that unless my Lord guides me, I will surely go astray. This shows humility, and seeking help attitude that matches the advice of Maria Popova. Now if we look at Ibraheem AS conversation with his people (Q26:69), he is trying to get them to change their minds about worshipping idols, In fact, Allah T’aala is speaking to us in the Quran and trying to get us to change our minds by presenting us with many types of arguments, appealing to our hearts, to our reason, and to many other emotions built into man. But CONTEXTUALLY, the Ibraheem AS explains that they should not worship idols as they can do no good and they can do no harm and they cannot hear you. IN OUR CURRENT historical context, we have to look at our CURRENT IDOLS and find arguments against them.

Basically what Maria Popova says can be re-expressed as the idea that we have to do a lot of UNLEARNING to get to the TRUTH. But we can be more specific – what is it that we must unlearn, and WHY must we be ready to change our minds? It is because our education and historical context is designed to teach us certain falsehoods – A market society is designed to teach us to sell our lives for money, and to think of this as natural. See Three Mega Events which have shaped our thoughts, to see some of the main lines along which we have been programmed by our historical context, and which we must UNLEARN in order to arrive at the TRUTHS. For an in-depth analysis, see Three Mega-Events Which Shape Our Thoughts. These three events have created three major gods – the Lat, Manat, and Uzza, of our times.

In a similar way, all of the lessons of Maria Popova can be enriched by studying them from an Islamic Perspective. For the next lesson, see Life Lessons 2  .See also a presentation on “Unlearning Jahilliya and Re-Learning Islam” on Slideshare.

Preliminaries for an Islamic Education

In attempting to write a textbook on “Real Statistics: An Islamic Approach”, I am faced with the dilemma that there is too much preliminary material to cover. The general differences between an Islamic approach to education and the Western approach are huge, and require extensive and detailed discussion. Furthermore, students have all gone through Western education for many, many years and have absorbed Western mindsets and methodologies. So the process of unlearning what students have been taught to believe is difficult and time-consuming. At the same time, we cannot spend half the course studying principle of education, and start statistics after the mid-term. I have come up with a compromise, where I have written a preliminary Chapter, that would be given to students to read on their own, according to their own time and interest. This is the Chapter ZERO. The first Chapter provides bare minimum essential background information, and the second Chapter actually starts on the statistics. Also, together with the statistics, I plan to cover elements of the Islamic approach, and highlight and emphasize differences with the conventional approach in the process of teaching statistics. I have now created three chapters, which are available at RSIA Chapters. The material to be covered in the preliminary chapter is listed below. This is also too much material, and I hope to cut it down to a more reasonable size in the final version. Suggestions from readers on what to include and what to cut are most welcome.

This preliminary chapter is a discussion of the basic principles of education. All students  have already LEARNED the wrong lessons about education and knowledge, because they have all been trained via a Western educational system. They have learned a theory of knowledge (epistemology) without actually learning any philosophy. They have learnt this by demonstration – what is covered in the courses is (important and useful) knowledge. What is not covered is NOT important. In particular, since Quran and Hadeeth are not mentioned, they have learned (without explicit mention) that our Islamic intellectual tradition is of no value or importance in the modern world.  To counter this false impression, there is a huge amount of preliminary material which needs to be covered. I am condensing this material to the following posts and video lectures, meant as the PRELIMINARY chapter for my planned textbook on RSIA.

1. First Steps Towards Light: How to begin the journey from darkness to light, from ignorance to knowledge. The main message is to take stock of our lives, and to recognize the extremely precious gifts we have been given. Every moment of our lives is worth more than the entire planetful of gold. And yet, we have learned to sell our lives for money, and be happy at this bargain. If we start counting our blessings, we will not be able to do so. Gratitude for what we have been given is the best way to increase our blessings. If we are grateful for the knowledge we have been given, Allah T’aala will guide us towards more.

2. The Ways of the Eagles: The biggest obstacle on our path to knowledge is our lack of confidence in our own abilities to learn, and our lack of trust in Allah, the Creator of all knowledge. Loss of confidence has been created by our defeat, and by deliberate psychological campaigns required for the conquest of minds that is the essence of colonization. To regain our confidence, we have to unlearn the Eurocentric history that we have been taught in our Western education, according to which Europeans have all the glory, while every one else is an ignorant barbarian.

3. The Search for Knowledge: What Islam calls knowledge is very different from what the West calls knowledge.  Accordingly, the way to seek knowledge via an Islamic approach is very different from the methods we have learnt during our Western education. The Western education teaches us to value money and careers over everything else. Islam teaches us how to live our precious and unique lives, in order to achieve the hidden potential for excellence which every human being is born with. Learning how to live, and how to become a human being requires very different type of knowledge from the chemistry, biology, and economics that we have been taught in our Western education.

4. Unlearning Jahilliya and Re-learning Islam: A huge obstacle to our learning process is created by the false lessons that we have learnt from our Western education, which teaches us how to become a human resource, instead of teaching us how to become a human being. These slides list the false lessons that we have been taught, and compare them with the truths of Islam. It is my hope to create a video for these slides later on.

5. Three Mega-Events Which Have Shaped Our Thoughts; The process of colonization has wrapped multiple chains around our minds. Freeing ourselves required recognizing and understanding these thoughts planted in our brains. European colonization of the globe created a defeated mindset, leading us to believe that we are inferior, and Europeans are superior. European rejected God, and created a secular society, in which the most valuable knowledge is that which is objective, same for all, and unrelated to religion. We have absorbed the false idea that objective knowledge contained in Western textbooks is superior to our own intellectual heritage. Finally, living in a capitalist market society teaches us to value money above all things, and to value all things including human lives, by the price of these things on the market. This makes us ignorant about the most precious things about our lives, which cannot be purchased in the marketplace.

6: PP1: The First Principle of Pedagogy: Before we begin our study of statistics, we must ensure that our study is done with the right intentions. The value of our efforts depends upon our intentions. Living in market society, and being trained via a capitalist educational system automatically teaches us to make the wrong intentions. By making intentions to use our knowledge for the benefit of mankind, for the sake of the love of God, we can turn our learning into an act of worship.

Many of the links have full 90m video lectures, so this is actually a substantial amount of material, too much for a preliminary chapter. In order to learn what to keep, and what to cut, I would appreciate very much if you  leave a comment about what you think is the SINGLE most important point that you learned from reading/viewing. Different readers will have different views, but I will get a good idea by collecting responses from many points of view.

Future of Money: Cryptocurrencies and Libra

[bit.do/azfom] Radio Islam Interview: Prof Asad Zaman Tuesday: 15 Oct 2019 – Radio Islam, South Africa.  Q is for Question, and E is for Explanation. 12m Video is followed by a detailed writeup:

Q: What is a crypto-currency? 0:20-1:50

Technical Details are not so important. Roughly speaking, one looks for certain numbers with some complicated properties. These numbers are extremely large and can only be found by running complex programs on large computers, devoting lots of computer power to searching for these numbers. The process is called “mining” because hunting for a number with the required properties is like hunting for gold.  But the real issues lie elsewhere.

Q: How have Bitcoins changed the world? 1:50 – 2:30

Until now, there has been no impact on the global economy. It is just too small to make a difference. But there is a powerful theoretical impact of the demonstration that alternative monetary systems can exist.

Q: Facebook is planning to introduce Libra as a new currency. What is likely impact of this?  2:30 – 2:45

This is very likely to have a major impact. The social media are very powerful, and currencies are built on trust.

Q: What should our stance be on these developments? Are they helpful or harmful? 2:45 – 3:32

This is the key question. To understand this, it is useful to go back to the gold standard. Consider a thought experiment. Suppose we decide to go back to gold standard. What would the impact of this decision be? It should be obvious that those in possession of large quantities of gold would be beneficiaries. Those without gold would be the losers.

E: Libra: Compared with OIL-Based Currency 3:32-4:00

The defining characteristic of currency is that it can be used to purchase anything. All other commodities must be sold for currency and THEN the currency can be used for other purchase. For example, suppose we introduce an OIL-Based currency. Then those with large reserves of oil will be able to purchase the world. CURRENTLY, oil owners must first sell oil for dollars, and THEN use dollars of purchases. This is VERY DIFFERENT – one must understand this difference. Superficially, it seems that whether you have wealth in paper currency form, or in commodity oil form, it is the same wealth. But this is not true.

E: Dominance of Dollars: Bretton Woods 1944 to Nixon Shock 1971 (4:00-5:14)

To understand nature of currency, one must follow the money: Who has existing stocks, and even more important, Who can CREATE money? Current financial system is not understood by most. Bretton-Woods replaced gold standard by Dollar standard with understanding that dollars would be backed by gold. This was called the gold-exchange standard, because in theory, dollars could be exchanged for gold. In fact, currencies are only loosely backed by gold. The Vietnam War caused massive overprinting of dollars. In 1971, Nixon announced that he would no longer redeem dollars for gold. (See previous interview – History of Money)

E: Post-Nixon Shock – Dollar-Based Money 5:14 – 5:45

At that point, it was necessary to renegotiate the basis of international trade. However, this was never done. Many efforts were made, but they were all blocked by powerful USA, which benefits immensely from current system. They get to print dollars, which are now equivalent of gold. Everyone else must export to earn dollars.  The nature of global trade has been enormously affected by this artificial system which puts dollar at the center of global trade. For more details, see “The Petro-Dollar Explained“.

Q: What is the Impact of Dollar-based money on Global Trading System 5:45 to 6:52

It is worth understanding this clearly. In any natural system of global trade, everyone would like to BALANCE imports and exports – buy and sell same value of commodities. But current system: everyone wants to increase exports. WHY?  Exports of one country are imports of another so It is impossible for everyone to increase exports. In this asymmetric system, US can just print dollars and export paper, and buy real goods as imports. Everyone else must increase exports in order to earn dollars, not just to get imports, but also to provide backing for their own currencies. See “International Financial Architecture Part II“.

E: Necessity for a new system of international trade 6:52 – 7:45

Current system gives huge advantage and power to the US – they can print dollars at will, and it is considered equal to gold by the rest of the world. This is obviously unfair to all other countries, who must sell real resources to earn dollars. There is now widespread realization of the problem.  Also, shifts in the balance of power currently taking place make it possible to create alternatives which are not centered on dollars.  See “A Lopsided Monetary System“.

Q: Who will benefit from crypto-currencies ?  7:45 – 8:40

Whoever has the ability to create this currency will derive benefits. This development is not useful for Islamic World. We do not have the computers and the specialized math and computer skills required to generate and create cryptocurrencies. Others who have these skills, computer and computing power, will benefit enormously from being able to create money. Instead of saying yes/no to whatever proposals arise, we have to pro-active; introduce our own proposals for money, based on our own resources.

E: Money and War 8:40 to 9:40

The power to create money is immensely valuable. For one, it creates the power to conduct wars. Modern warfare is very expensive, and being able to finance it by just printing money makes it much easier. When you can finance wars against anyone, you acquire a lot of power on the world stage. For more details, see “The Great Transformation of Economic Theory

Q: The Most Important Question: Who is authorized to CREATE Money? 9:40 to 10:40

For any monetary system (new or old) the most important issue is WHO gets to create money? We discuss all sorts of technical issues, but this main question is rarely asked. This question is of extreme importance even for our ordinary everyday money. Every year, billions of rupees come into existence – WHO creates these, and who benefits from this creation. To understand money, we must understand the answer to this question

E: Concluding Remarks: The Need for Pro-Active Thinking 10:40 to 11:20

We need to do out-of-the-box thinking, like those who created crypto-currencies did. Financial systems are not NATURAL and they are not NEUTRAL. Rather, they are designed (artificially constructed) and They are designed for the benefit of SOMEONE ELSE (not us). So instead of looking at proposals floated by others for their own benefits (like the Facebook Libra), we have to think for ourselves, and design our own systems for fair trade.

Links to Previous Radio Islam Interviews:

Understanding Global Economics and the Islamic Alternative – bit.do/azint

History of Money – bit.do/azhom

History of Money

[bit.do/azhom] Radio Islam, South Africa 14m Interview of Dr. Asad Zaman by Mufti Yusuf Moosagie on Tuesday, 8 Oct 2018, at 9:30am South Africa time and 12:30am Pakistan Time

Q1: What is Money? 0:20 to 2:22

This is a deep and difficult Question. BUT WHY is it so complex?
50 people own more than half planetary wealth. They cannot exploit us WITHOUT our consent. Our consent is creating by feeding us FALSE theories about the nature of money. Today, Ph.D.’s from Harvard learn and propagate false theories which make it impossible for us to understand how the current monetary financial systems are used to exploit us.
The KEY question to ask, to unravel the mystery, is “Who has the power to CREATE Money?” We must ‘follow the money’ to find the answer. For more details see The Battle for the Control of Money.

Q2: How has the nature of money changed and evolved in the 20th Century? 2:22 to 5:18

Pre-WW1: We had the Gold Standard: technically money backed by gold, Actually, most money is unbacked. Important Note (not covered in talk) Fractional reserve means that only about 20% of paper money is backed by gold. There are proposals for 100% reserve banking – that is all paper money is backed on one-to-one basis by gold. This is what general public understands by gold standard, but this has rarely been used in past few centuries. End of Note. WW1 exhausted gold supplies at Central Banks, forcing world OFF the gold standard. Attempts to restore gold standard failed in the Inter-War Era  Bretton Woods Conference in 1944 switched from Gold to Dollar Standard, where dollars would be backed by Gold.  1971: Vietnam War led to massive overprinting of dollars, and the Nixon shock of 1971 removed gold backing from dollars. This has led to the world of floating currencies. For more details, see my post on Monetary Policy from 1914 to 1980.
The point here is that the nature of money has changed radically at least four times over the past century. Learning to protect our collective interests, and to give rulings (fatwa) about money and banking, require a deep understanding of these complexities.

Q3: What is Shadow Banking and how did it emerge in the 1990s?   5:18 – 7:10

Great Depression 1929 caused by speculation by banks led to stringent regulations, which prevented banking crises for 50 years. This caused reductions in wealth share of the extremely wealthy (see The Power of Economic Theory: Graphically Illustrated). They plotted a revolution against these regulations. This counter-revolution was initiated in the Reagan-Thatcher era (1970s), by de-regulating financial institution.(See The Keynesian Revolution and the Monetarist Counter-Revolution). The de-regulation of the Savings and Loan in 1980s almost immediately led to a huge financial crash and subsequent government bailout. However, the financial lobby was well prepared and managed to prevent the public from seeing the connection between de-regulation and financial crises. As the de-regulation process continued, it became possible to create bank-like institutions, which could create money, just like banks, but operate completely outside the realm of rules and regulation imposed on banks. This was called shadow banking – financial institutions which create money, but do not have to follow any rules, unlike real banks.

Q4: What are Financial Derivatives? 7:10 – 10:10

The Glass-Steagall Act 1935 prohibited banks from speculative activities. This was struck down in 1999, and the Commodity Futures Modernization Act in 2000 created legal permission for gambling in “futures” without regulation.  Derivatives are gambles on financial transactions. For example, a bank can bet that the mortgagor will not be able to make his mortgage payments on his loan. By selling this derivative, the bank insures itself against failure – if the mortgage loan does not pay, then the derivative will pay off. But now the bank will happily give loans to unqualified borrowers, because it can make money regardless of whether or not they pay. This is one of the reasons for the Global Financial Crisis. Making gambling legal led to a situation where real trade was around $4 Trillion, while foreign exchange derivatives – gambles on this trade – were around $18 Trillion in 2008. It the ability to create huge amounts of money for speculative gambles that led to the Global Financial Crisis of 2007.

Q5: What will money be like in the future?  10:10 – 12:50

One can speculate on what an ideal monetary system would be like – there is substantial amount of work on this topic. One simple-minded suggestion: go back to gold – this will not work, for reasons similar to why gold failed in the first place. Modern Monetary Theory provides better guidance. But the problem is that fair systems which provide for all will be strongly opposed by the rich and powerful elites running the planet for their personal pockets. (See Fear of Floating and Demise of the Dollar? for more details).

If we think pragmatically, the current system bring HUGE benefits to the US, giving them the ability to print dollars, and create money, without any limits. It is this ability which has allowed them to carry on almost continuous warfare against so many nations, and destroy Iraq, Libya, Syria, and many other countries. The harms of this unjust system are becoming clear to all and the effort is being made to create a Multi-Polar system, with Euro, Renminbi, and other currencies being equal partners with the Dollar. It is here where we have a chance to introduce our own Islamic currency, like an oil-based Dinar, or a labor-based currency.

Questions for Next Time  12:50 to 13:30
This provides a lead into our next topics like bit Bitcoins, Crypto-Currencies, and other innovations coming up, like the Facebook Libra. What is the role and significance of these, and what should our stance be on these developments? Will they help or hurt the Muslim Ummah? We will discuss these in the next session.

POSTSCRIPT: For a deeper and more technical discussion, see Central Bank History (3/5) 1914-1980s. For the previous interview, see Radio Islam Interview: Islamic Economics

 

 

 

 

Creating Academy-Industry Linkages

Round Table Conference for dissemination of research project by Dr. Imran Ahmad Hunjra, held on  10 Oct 2019  at Arid Agricultural University. Discussant: Dr. Asad Zaman. 25m Video is followed by 2500 word summary. See link for PPT Slides.

00 to 0:50: Essential Importance of connecting Education to Reality:  Let me start by saying that this Project is Essential – creating the link between thought and action, between the brain and the body, is of central importance. Today, our universities teach knowledge produced in the West, and mostly irrelevant for us here in Pakistan. Our Prophet Mohammad SAW taught us the Difference between USEFUL Knowledge and USELESS knowledge. He prayed for beneficial knowledge, and sought protection from useless knowledge. This distinction is NOT MADE in Western Academia. They consider all knowledge to be (potentially) useful. Mathematics is considered PURE, and is prized, when it has NO applications.

0:50 to 3:50 – Prestige of Theory is an Obstacle: There has been a huge amount of Confusion between SCIENCE and TECHNOLOGY. It was actually low-level technological contributions, made by practical machinists (not scientists) that launched the industrial revolution. It was the money, power, prosperity generated by the industrial revolution that led to remarkable advances in science. These advances did lead to advanced technological innovations based on science, but this came much later. Also, the process of applying theoretical science to technology creation is NOT taught in most degree programs because of a strong theory application divide in US academia. Germany is much better in this regard.

A major problem is that while the most important WORK was DONE by Technology, most of the PRESTIGE was given to SCIENCE. This has had a damaging effect on education in Pakistan in that we strive to make achievements like Abdus-Salam when what REALLY need is routine applications of existing technology to solution of our current problems. My own life experience confirms this. When I went to my graduate advisor to ask what I should do for my Ph.D. thesis, he told me that Theoretical Econometrics is prestigious, and Applied Econometrics is NOT. Accordingly, I chose a topic which required very advanced and fancy mathematics, but had absolutely ZERO applications to any real world problems. The vast majority of theoretical work, especially in the social sciences, is like that. It has no real world applications. See “My Journey from Theory to Reality” for more details.

3:50 – 5:40  What do we need to do? The most important task for an educator is to recognize the potential for excellence in our students. We must understand that sitting in front of us are Ibnul Haytham – father of optics, and laws of motion – one of the giants on whose shoulders Newton stood.  Alkhwarizmi – father of the algorithm – essential for computing today. Al-Razi – who comprehensive medical textbooks were used in Europe for a century. EVERY student is born with infinite potential. This is BUILT-INTO them, just like the seed contains within it the potential to become a tree. We just need to provide a nurturing environment, and the inborn potential will create the learning. See PP2: Building Confidence.

5:40 – 7:40 Learning from Cradle to Grave: We have to learn to relate the material we teach – in ALL fields of knowledge – to the existing experience of the student. Without this, we cannot create the interest in learning that is the goal of education. To relate knowledge to life experiences, we need to Learn to APPLY knowledge to real world problems. A serious problem is that this pattern of education DOES NOT EXIST in the courses we have studied. Western academia is built on a Theory/Practice divide, and most of what we find in our textbooks is just pure theory which has no real-world applications. In order to develop our courses so that they provide USEFUL knowledge to students, we need CREATIVITY on part of teacher. A major obstacle in learning real-world knowledge is that the teacher does not know it. To make a habit of learning real world applications while teaching courses, we need to switch to a Fellow Traveler Model. Instead of posing as an expert, teacher invites students to make the journey of knowledge together.  This requires changing the way we think about the process of education. See Obstacles to Excellence (in teaching).

7:40 – 11:30 Change the SUBSTANCE of what is taught: Instead of accepting what is written as the final word, we need to make many changes in the substance of what we teach. To begin with, we must teach our students how to LIVE, not “THINGS in BOOKS”. What young students want to know is: how should I live this precious gift, the few moments that I have been given on the Earth? As teachers, we have our life-experience, which we should share. Of course, we may feel INADEQUATE – not having learned to live ourselves. However, we have great ideals in front of us, in the poetry of Iqbal, Saadi, Hafiz, and other greats in the Islamic tradition. Again, we do not need to claim expertise – we can say that let us ALL try to live up to these high ideals, as fellow travelers. We need to teach students how to become human beings, instead of human resources.

Another major change which is needed in the substance of what we teach is that we need to Teach how to DRIVE, instead of teaching about the Engine Parts. Having spent three years for a bachelor’s in mathematics from MIT, I was exposed to a huge amount of mathematical materials. Because it was complex, sophisticated, and deep, I learned to admire and respect this knowledge. It was much later that I learned that the portion of this education which could actually be applied to real-world problems was very small. We spend a huge amount of time teaching students about the engine parts, but we never teach them how to drive. These two are VERY DIFFERENT skills. Someone can be an excellent driver without knowing anything about how the engine is built. In mathematics, learning the theorems and the proofs is pretty useless. What we need to learn is HOW to apply a theorem to solve a real world problem. After I started looking at the practical relevance of theories, I found that MOST of the theorems I had learnt were useless – the few that were useful could be taught much more EASILY in context of real world applications.  The student also finds it easy to learn and understand theories when they are taught in context of real world, because then he or she can relate the theory to life experiences.

The third important change is that we should learn to Teach CONCEPTS not CALCULATIONS. For example, it is not worth while to teach students the methods of calculus – today, symbolic math programs can differentiate and integrate better than anything we could teach. We need to teach them to understand the CONCEPTS in a direct and intuitive way, and then let them feed the problems to the computer to get solutions. The availability of the calculator means that we co not need to teach long division, and computation of square roots by hand. However, we do need to teach the CONCEPT of division and of taking square roots. This principle has widespread applicability and would radically change the way we teach mathematics. I am in process of developing some textbooks along these lines.

11:30 – 13:30 – Change the Methodology of Teaching: The methodology of education that we have learned is impersonal. Young students want to learn from our life experiences, and not chemistry and biology. If we want the ink of our pens to count like the blood of martyrs, we will need to adopt the methodology of teaching of the Greatest Teacher who ever lived – our Prophet Mohammed SAW. For details, see a six part post starting with Becoming a Great Teacher., Some basic points are mentioned below.

  1. We need RESPECT our students – ALL of them are treasures. We need to have love and affection for them. We need to TEACH them how to LIVE. For this purpose, we will also have to LEARN how to LIVE.
  2. Protect our students from the poisonous search for material wealth and possessions. Instead teach them about Service of Mankind for the sake of the Love of Allah. Explain that those who seek the higher things automatically get the life-satisfaction that others look for, but do not find, in the wealth and luxuries. See Learn Who You Are
  3. TEACH students how to BE useful. Discuss GOALS of LIFE, and LIFE Experiences. Give practical demonstrations of service, and ask them to provide service as part of their homework. This is what makes life meaningful.

By teaching them about life, you WILL CREATE Creativity in the students.

13:30 – 15:35 Change the GOALS of teaching –Teach Skills, not abstract “knowledge”. That is, provide them with knowledge relevant to their life experiences. Expanding their set of experiences, and the ways that they can engage with the world. Teach them how to articulate their idea ideas, express themselves, engage with the world for the purpose of changing it to a better place. Students are well-aware that most of what they are taught is garbage. They often ask US about the value of the knowledge. We must not say that this will help you pass the exam. The knowledge we teach MUST be useful beyond the classroom – it must be useful in their lives. See “The Search for Knowledge“.

To achieve this goal, we must change what we teach and how we teach it. We must take students as they are, where they are, and teach them to take the next step. One obstacle in doing this is that we often judge our students to be poor, because they cannot master the textbooks. The only reason for this is the “standardization” – all textbooks ASSUME some knowledge and preparation on part of the student, which many don’t have. This is a failure of the textbook and teaching methodology, NOT the failure of the student. We must understand that All human beings are like mines of gold and silver, and every student is born with infinite potential for excellence. If we can reach out to the students, motivate and inspire them, every one of them can achieve wonders. (See How to Motivate and Inspire Students).

15:35 – 16:35 Change the INCENTIVE structures: The environment, social media, movies, fiction, friends, all of these powerful influences are teaching our students an extremely wrong and harmful message. We must protect them from wasting their lives in pursuit of the wrong goals. We must get them out of the illustion that life is about getting power, money, jobs, rank, status, luxury, winning competitions, getting grades. We have to re-engineer educational incentive structures, in order to get students to value “knowledge” above grades. We have gone astray because we are following Western models, and they are going the wrong way in the West. Instead of these false gods, we must teach students to value the things which make our lives worthwhile. Islamic teachings emphasize our families, neighbors, community, service, social responsibility, and excellence in character and conduct. These are the things worth teaching and learning.  See Impact of Colonial Heritage on Economic Policy in Pakistan

16:35-16:45 Three Fixes: I will conclude by suggesting three major areas which require fixing.

16:45 – 18:45 – Lack of Self-Confidence: The central problem which lies at the heart of it all is the lack of self-confidence, the deep seated inferiority complex created by centuries of colonization and defeat. We must learn that colonization is conquest of minds, and we must liberate our minds from slavish imitation of the West, without use of any judgment. Today, Western society is a disastrous failure, with more than half children being born to unwed mothers. The amazing advances of science and technology in the West have killed hundreds of millions of people, animals, flora and fauna, and are in process of destroying the entire planet via climate change. Instead of Imitating failures, we must learn to use our judgment. For improving conditions of life in Pakistan, we do not need advanced theoretical physics. We need to learn HOW to use off-the-shelf technology to solve routine problems.

18:45 – 20:10 Incentive Structures: The teachings of Islam launched a revolution in the world 1440 years ago, taking the ignorant and backwards Arabs from the bottom to the top. Today these teachings have the same revolutionary potential. The human being is the most precious among all the creations of God, and Islam can teach us how to become a human being, while a Western education is designed to teach us how to become a human resource. To achieve these goals, we need to change the incentive structures in three dimensions. The internal motivations of the student should be to acquire valuable knowledge, instead of grades – but for this, we have to give them valuable knowledge which enters their hearts and changes their lives. The social norms are extremely important in motivating people. We must create a society which values learning and scholarship over money and power. Finally, institutions of our society, universities, HEC, etc. must recognize and reward genuine achievements of knowledge, not just counts of fake publications.

20:10 – 22:10 – Supply Side Constraints: In attempting to create ties between academy and industry, we must start with the recognition that academics have NO knowledge of real world. We learn and teach textbook theories which fail on application, as demonstrated by the Global Financial Crisis. Instead of making false claims about knowledge and skills we do not have to offer to practical industrialists, we must engage in a learning process. One thing academics do know is how to do research. This is what we can offer to industrialists; not solutions, but research into finding solutions. This is proven valuable. The spread of smart phones led to increased Agricultural productivity in India. Why? Because people could look up standard solutions to common problems of plants and animals. Changing our teaching orientations to produce useful knowledge would be of extreme value as a step in the right direction.

22:10 – 24:10 Demand Side Constraints: Industrialists know that academics do not have much to offer, and do not value academic input into their decision making. In fact, this is an illusion. The reality is that Industrialists do not know the value of academic research, because academic researchers do not spend time thinking about problems which the industrialists face. Collaborations would help reduce the demand supply gap. A Win-Win solution is possible. Students would like jobs and money; which industrialists have to offer. Even though they do not know it, innovative and up-to date research can solve many problems industrialists face, and help increase productivity many-fold. Unfortunately, the USA educational models we are following blindly does not foster this kind of cooperation. Germany has developed far superior models of collaboration between academy and industry which we need to learn and follow. Many good suggestions were made by others discussants about how students could do internships, and also how industrialists could provide valuable inputs towards design of student courses with applied contents.

All praise belongs to Allah T’aala alone, Creator of the Heavens and the Earth. May Allah T’aala grant us all the Noor of His knowledge, and guide us all in the pathways leading to success in this world and in the hereafter.