One segment of Lecture 12 – IIIE, IIUI, on Islamic Economics 2019 (bit.do/ie2019) – Friday 5/17/19.
Islamic Teachings created a Revolution 1450 years ago (see “What the World Lost Due to the Decline of the Islamic Civilization“). How can we use these teachings to create the same revolution today? Summary of the Video Lecture is given below.
The message of Islam places supreme emphasis on The Value of Knowledge. The angels prostrated to Adam (a.s.) because of his Knowledge.The revelation starts with command “Read!” and goes on to describe Allah T’aala as the One who gave knowledge to man of that which man did not know. The knowledge that was given to ignorant and backwards Arabs transformed them into leaders of the world, and launched a civilization that enlightened the world for a thousand years. What was the nature of this knowledge, and does this knowledge have the same power today? We discuss this below.
“The Rise and Fall of Civilizations” explains how the dominant power in the World changes from time to time. Today we are living in an Age of Crisis & Transition. The European powers have been dominant for the past few centuries, but they are now in decline. The world power is shifting again towards the East. Evidence for this shift can be seen in the rapid decline of morality in the West. Over the twentieth century, the goal of character building and the teaching of morality was removed from college education. Julie Reuben has discussed this change in great detail in “Making of the Modern University: Intellectual Transformation and the Marginalization of Morality”. One of the reasons for this change was the emergence of the philosophy of logical positivism, which argued the morality was just a feeling, and was not part of scientific knowledge. The result of this failure in educating students about morality has been rapid & progressive loss of moral values in West; for more details see “The Marginalization of Morality” and also, links to many articles on “Decline of Morality in the West”
The main reason for decline of morality is the loss of faith in Christianity, that occurred in Europe. See European Transition to Secular Thought – bit.do/etst1a for more details about how this happened, and the lessons for Muslims. Since religion provides the basis for morality, loss of faith led to gradual loss of all moral values. Secular modern societies were built on the idea that reason by itself would provide us with guidance on behavior, previously provided by religion and morality. However, this idea has failed disastrously, on many different fronts of human existence.
Rejection of God and afterlife led to an emphasis on Materialism and Empiricism. The idea is to believe in ONLY what we can see, touch, hear or (observe). For more details, see “The Emergence of Logical Positivism”. This philosophy, which is dominant today, rejects knowledge of the unseen. This leads to the idea of Materialistic Determinism, which says that it is material resources which drive history – human beings, their dreams and visions, do not matter. This philosophy under-values man, and over-values materials. In fact, history has always been driven by the “Power of Ideas”. The rise of ignorant and backwards Arab to World Leadership was because of the powerful knowledge of Islam that was given to them. Throughout world history, leaders with visions have been the source of great change. The philosophy of Karl Marx, that people should receive according to their need, inspired revolutions in Russia and China, and shaped the history of the twentieth century. This is especially ironic because Marx himself believed in materialistic determinism, and not in the power of ideas.
Allama Iqbal prophesied that the Western Civilization will commit suicide because it is built on the wrong philosophical foundations. The rapid decline of morality, with more than half the children being born out of wedlock, shows that families and communities have broken down in the West. Children are being brought up without receiving the essential nourishment of a secure, protective, and loving environment. This is the consequence of materialist, individualistic, and hedonistic society. The same forces are at work in Islamic societies, and we are rapidly following in the footsteps of the West. This, too, was prophesied: the Ummah will follow the ways of the Christians and Jews, even to the extent of crawling into lizard holes after them.
So the question is: How can we create change? What can we do to make a difference?
To understand the answer, it is useful to start with a discussion of the Butterfly Effect. This is a name for the concept that sometimes a very small effort can have a HUGE impact. For instance, it is possible that if a butterfly flaps it wings somewhere in Japan, it may lead to a thunderstorm in Brazil six months later. To understand the butterfly effect, think of a huge ball which is precariously balanced on top of a hill. Just a small disturbance, like the air from a butterfly’s wing flapping, could set it in motion. It could go down in any of a number of directions. As it rolls down, it could cause an avalanche, and perhaps wipe out a village at the bottom of the hill. The point of this is that we can make a small effort to create change, and, by the will of Allah, it can have a huge effect.
Islam created a transformation in the lives of the Muslims, who went on to change the world. What was this transformation? How can it be carried out today? What will the effects of this transformation be? To answer these questions, we must consider the reasons/causes for the sudden rise of the early Muslims from the bottom to the top of civilizations of the world.
If we search for material causes, we will not find any. Unlike other nations who rose to global dominance, the early Muslims did not have wealth, technology, skills in warfare, industrial strength, or other material sources of power which account for the rapid rise of the Islamic Civilization. Searching for the hidden causes, we find that the message of Islam created a third for knowledge in the hearts of the Muslims. The revelation (Wahy) starts by emphasizing knowledge, and the Quran and Hadeeth are full of exhortations to Muslims to acquire knowledge. The impact of this teaching is evident in the incident at Badr, where prisoners were released in exchange for teaching Muslims how to write. In fact, reading and writing were not prized in the Arab culture, while war booty was very much prized, so exchange of prisoners for teaching was very much a cultural shift. This thirst for knowledge was displayed in many ways throughout history in the Islamic Civilization. There were millions of books in the libraries of Al-Andalus. The re-conquest of Islamic Spain gave Europeans access to these books, which ended their dark ages, and started their Enlightenment – this fact is concealed in books of Eurocentric history.
Once we trace the cause of Muslim ascent to the thirst for knowledge, then a good guess at the root causes of muslim decline must be the Loss of thirst for knowledge. The complex causes of the decline, which spanned centuries, can be simplified to the gradually increasing interest in power and wealth, and declining interest in the quest for knowledge. Syed Abul Hassan Ali Nadwi has discussed “What the World Lost Due to the Decline of the Islamic Civilization”. While all are aware of it, there is substantial disagreement about the causes of the decline, which also leads to disagreements regarding the suitable remedy for it. Different groups of reformers have attributed it to (1) lack of western knowledge, (2) failure to do Amr Bil Maroof, (3) Loss of the Khilafa, (4) failure to enforce the laws of the Shari’ah in Islamic societies, (5) Rise of Bid’ah and corruption of Aqeedah, (6) rigid adherence to the past and closure of gates of Ijtihad, (6) Abandonment of Jihad, and others as well. In my post on “Rebuilding An Islamic Society”, I have explained that we are away from the genuine teachings of Islam in nearly all dimensions of our lives, and hence efforts for revival are needed on all fronts. All of the groups working on revival of any one dimension are partners in a collective effort to find the “Road to Madina”. In this post, we focus on what may be a central problem, the loss of knowledge created by the loss of the thirst for knowledge. It was the acquisition of knowledge which led the Muslims to global dominance, and it was the loss of this knowledge which accounts for our current backwardness. But WHY and HOW did this loss of knowledge occur? This is a crucial question, the answer to which is not widely known.
The decline of the Muslims created the possibility of global conquest by the West, which was duly accomplished. By the early twentieth century, the West controlled about 85% of the globe. The Europeans explained the global conquest as being due to their superior intelligence, bravery, skills and knowledge. This created a superiority complex in the West, as documented in “Orientalism” by Edward Said. The hidden real reasons for the rise of the West, are explained in “Central Myths of Eurocentric History”. The process of colonization is, in the first place, a conquest of knowledge. However, the myths of European superiority were transmitted by an education designed to create respect, awe, and admiration, for West and Western knowledge. This education, combined with defeats on numerous fronts, created a “Deep Seated Inferiority Complex” in the East, especially among Muslims.
The key problem, not understood by most Muslim intellectuals, is that the West has re-defined the nature of knowledge. According to current Western epistemology, knowledge is ONLY of the external world, which is concrete, observable, and verifiable by all. As an important consequence, subjective knowledge of our internal conditions, spiritual and emotional, do not classify as knowledge. Since Islamic teachings are mainly about how we can learn to make spiritual progress, and how we can realize the hidden potentials for excellence within our souls, these teachings appear worthless to those trained by a Western educational system.
Islamic epistemology classifies knowledge into two kinds – useful and useless. Our prophet Mohammad SAW made dua to be given useful knowledge, and also made dua for protection from useless knowledge. The West does not recognize any distinctions between these two kinds of knowledge. Islam tells us that useful knowledge enters the heart, while the West denies the existence or the importance of the heart as an instrument of knowledge. See Useful Versus Useless Knowledge for more discussion on this point.
The most powerful kind of knowledge teaches us how to spend our precious few moments of life. This knowledge transforms human beings and leads them from being Asfala Safeleen (the lowest of the low) to Ahsan Taqweem (the best of the creations). The entire spectrum of modern Western knowledge has nothing to say about how we can learn to be excellent as human beings. In fact, Western knowledge is designed to turn everyone into interchangeable human resources, useful as parts of a machine for the production of wealth. In contrast, Islamic education develops unique potential within each human being; see “Teaching Fish to Fly”. Our eyes have been blinded by the brilliance of Western civilization, and we have been deceived by the apparent power and luxury of those who do not believe. This leads us to be unable to see the revolutionary value of the teachings of Islam – see “The Spiritual Obstacle to Genuine IE”.
How can we recover from our current degeneration? Early Islam started on an individual basis, transforming people one by one, until a sufficiently large group was created to form the nucleus of a society. The “Road to Madina” explains many of the practical steps we need to take to recreate the revolutionary society originally created at Madina. Some of the key points are discussed below.
Change always begins with individuals. It is the inner revolution within our hearts that leads to the external revolution in the world around us. The first step in creating this inner revolution is to purify our intentions – The worth of our actions depends on the intentions. Today, a western education has trained us to sell our lives for money, and to live for the purpose of earning and accumulating money. To create a revolution in our own personal lives, we need to change the purpose of our lives. See my talk on this topic to Iqra University students on “How to become a human being, instead of a human resource”. The key is to make the intention to serve the creation of Allah, for the sake of the love of Allah.
Today, a Western education has deceived us into thinking of ourselves as cheap commodities for sale in the market for labor. It is extremely important for us to UNDO this deception, and UNLEARN what the West has taught us (see “Exploding Myths which Block Our Minds“). We have only one chance to live. We have been given unique and precious capabilities and opportunities, which no one in history ever had before, and none will ever have in the future. Our lives are worth what we make of them; if we sell ourselves cheap, our lives will be cheap. To make our lives precious, we must set big goals for ourselves. Then, we must make big efforts to achieve these goals, giving the effort everything we have. See “Important Message for Students” for more detailed advice. It is the passion and commitment with which we serve the Deen of Allah, driven by the love of Allah, which leads to the powerful results achieved by the early Muslims. For those who would make the same efforts, the same results are possible today:
ہ وہ عشق ميں رہيں گرمياں، نہ وہ حسن ميں رہيں شوخياں
نہ وہ غزنوي ميں تڑپ رہي، نہ وہ غم ہے زلف اياز ميں