Approaching Statistics Islamically

This second part of the Talk at ISOSS by Dr. Asad Zaman is continuation to the discussion on nature of real statistics and how it can be approached Islamically. 

Inversion Methodology

Real statistics is founded on inversion principle that requires to reverse the general teaching methodology by putting practice first and theory second. The first ten lectures of this course are developed in the same manner.

David Freedman a distinguished statistician, has also used this methodology. His intellectual trajectory is like mine, both of us have studied heavy mathematical and theoretical statistics with no concern to numbers. He realized that working with real issues is radically different. He faced questions about the usefulness of statistical theories in his undergraduate classes.  It motivated him to address this issue in his pathbreaking book “Statistics”. He studied real problems without using mathematical formulas and equations. He observed that some background knowledge is required to see effectiveness of polio vaccine. Polio has a rare and highly fluctuating occurrence frequency, so a large sample is required for significant estimates. Instead of discussing the sampling errors, if students have real data they will better observe and understand if incidence of polio is reduced after using medicine or not. There  is no complicated theory, formula or equation but only inclusion of real aspects.

In my textbook I adopted similar approach using Household Integrated Expenditure Survey (HIES) data of a village in Attock district. In a sample of 100 persons 99 people have Rs. 4000 income and one is millionaire. Average income of them is more than Rs. 10,000 but it represents none from this sample. As 99 people have income much lower than the average and one person has far higher income. Here, median or mode are meaningful measures and accurately represent average income. Averaging is studied by many but meaning of numbers is clear when we use real examples. This approach has created very good outcomes for students by developing intuitive and hands on understanding to the problems.

Effects of Inversion: Focus on Real-World Application

While compiling the textbook I realized that several of passionately taught statistical theories have no practical uses. For instance, I could not find any real illustration of CORE theorem (Gauss-Markov theorem that states regression estimators are BLUE-best, linear, unbiased estimates). There are several supposedly important yet practically useless theories even from my field of specialization. For example, Stein and Shrinkage estimations are based on assumptions of equal variation therefore, not applicable to heterogeneity. But all the real world problems have heterogeneity. There is no theory developed for latter cases, because derivation of  elegant formulas is not possible, this can only be solved by hands on simulations methods and rule of thumbs. Approximations are rough and cannot be verified therefore, these methods are not published even as journal articles. Better solutions from approximate methods in real cases refers that inversion methodology is ultimately beneficial. It increases the interest and practical knowledge of students and accomplishes the valuable task to solve real problems.  

Useful Knowledge enters heart !

Useful knowledge enters heart of the learners. To abandon theory/practice barrier we must see the real world that involves heart. Consider wage discrimination that affects our lives, can we remain neutral about this? If something is affecting our life, there comes role of heart and morality. That is required to know the harms and benefits of something. To understand the concept of secular knowledge we see how it has emerged. Till 17th century due to religious dominance in Europe, knowledge of every kind was considered within religious domain. Breakout of civil wars in Catholics and Protestants made it a historical necessity to develop a knowledge that is agreed upon by all, this suit is still followed. In a strong western society religion is a private matter with God. It is awkward to discuss religion in casual talk given that it creates disputes.

Islam emphasize to seek useful knowledge that is subject to the purpose and requires to discuss the goals of life. Otherwise we cannot differentiate useful knowledge from useless. In pursuit of Islamic approach, I learned many things. As if we do not talk to a student sitting in the class and start teaching the book by discussing the data and formulas. We follow current standards of teaching, that describes a student to sit in a class only to pass the course. He has no interest to study if a concept is useful, but only if it will be asked in exam. Acquisition of such knowledge is required to pass the exam that is necessary to get a degree, secure a job and make money. If we do not discuss life goals it is acknowledgment to the money making as sole objective.

Purpose of education in capitalist mode of production is to develop human resources not human beings. It needs standardized parts of a machine that keep it running and making money for itself and its owners. Developing human being actually interrupts this pursuit therefore, students are taught that they are marketable commodities that are priced according to their worth. In this approach we must teach about the value of humans in Islam. Humans are precious and best of all creations, and value of one life is equivalent to whole humanity. Therefore, they must learn to be humans not resources. It seems conflicting to teach humanity within subjects like statistics and requires understanding the connection of both. Prophet Muhammad (SAW) has described a person like a mine with hidden treasures. A student is not aware of this, his potential is realized only by a teacher who recognizes it. As a human can render even to the lowest of the low, it becomes the responsibility of a teacher to shape him in whatever form. It is his duty to make this belief in student’s heart that he is valuable and can become whatever he wants. There are big opportunities by Allah but if we only want to earn a living, we will merely sustain this goal.

To read 1st part of this talk click here.

For more discussion on teaching intentions see Teaching Statistics as an act of worship. For detailed discussion on Nature of Useful Knowledge

Seeking God

For thousands of years, the question of existence of God has occupied a central place in philosophy and theology, because how we structure our lives depends so heavily on the answer. The existence of God provides meaning to life, and assurance that despite the rough and tumble we see in the world around us, perfect justice and mercy will prevail in the end. God watches over us, and we are responsible for our actions. On the other hand, the stark consequences of non-existence of God have been vividly portrayed by arch-atheist Bertrand Russell: “(Man’s) origin, his hopes and fears, … are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labors of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system … only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.”  

Despite the central importance of this question, it became marginalized in the 20th century due to a major philosophical blunder. The philosophy of logical positivism, which became widely accepted, denied any meaning to sentences containing unobservables, and hence discussions of existence of God fell out fashion. Logical Positivism had a spectacular crash when it was realized that electrons, gravity, magnetic forces, etc. etc. were all unobservable but nonetheless meaningfully discussed by physicists. So in the recent times, the question of God’s existence has once again become a topic of interest. Here we briefly review a few of the main arguments.

New life has been breathed into the ancient cosmological argument which asks “Who created the universe?” Atheists used to answer by saying that the universe has always been there, and so it was not created. An alternative answer was “Who created God?”. However, these answers are no longer tenable in the light of the discovery that the universe came into existence with the Big Bang. The creation of the universe requires a Creator. At the same time, since God is eternal and un-created, He does not require a cause.  Current atheist response to this is that they do not know who created the universe; they think God is not a plausible answer, and they are confident that they will find a better answer in due time.

Another major argument for God says that if we find a perfectly designed watch with beautifully inter-meshing gears, which work together in perfect harmony, we can infer the existence of a watchmaker. Similarly, our beautifully designed universe proves the existence of a designer.  Even atheists like Stephen Hawking have acknowledged that “The laws of science, as we know them at present, contain many fundamental numbers, like the size of the electric charge of the electron and the ratio of the masses of the proton and the electron. … The remarkable fact is that the values of these numbers seem to have been very finely adjusted to make possible the development of life.” The simplest life form, the cell, is so fantastically complicated that there is universal agreement that it could not have emerged through chance, as an accidental collocation of atoms. Currently, scientists do not have a clue as to how the cell could have originated without having been created by a designer.  Similarly, confirmed atheist Crick, who discovered the double helix structure of DNA, was led to remark that ‘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, so many are the conditions which would have had to have been satisfied to get it going.’ Crick’s fierce commitment to atheism, combined with his realization that life was too complex to have originated spontaneously, led him to the bizarre theory of “panspermia”. Apparently advanced extra-terrestrial alien life forms with a desire to propagate life sent out rocket ships with microbes to provide seeds for the origins of life on our planet! If the heart does not want to believe, no amount of evidence for creation can convince us.

Let us, therefore turn to the ‘reasons of the heart’ which provide evidence for God. Throughout the ages, the primary reason for people coming to believe in God has been the trustworthy character of the messengers. As the Quran states, our Prophet was sent as a Mercy for all Mankind, and it was his kindness which attracted people towards him. Today, as always, people will be attracted to religion if they see the effects of these beliefs in the form of an extra-ordinary character. To the extent, that religion fosters character and creates spiritual growth, hearts will be attracted towards it. It is a sad truth that one can find extremes of corruption among people who are supposed to be religious leaders in most faith traditions. To counter this, one can easily find equally corrupt people among the secular leaders, who have bombed and killed millions of innocent civilians for the sake of profits, politics and power. However, this is hardly an argument to favor religion. More convincing for modern secular mindsets are the arguments of Aldous Huxley in The Perennial Philosophy.  Huxley shows that transformational experiences of unity and harmony with all of the Creation and God are the common goals and outcomes of all spiritual traditions.

Awareness of thousands of cases of medical malpractice does not prevent us from seeking medical help. In an exactly similar fashion, malpractice of religion should not prevent us from pursuing our own quest for answers. Perhaps the best way to find convincing evidence for God is to ask Him directly for guidance, as Ibrahim AS did. It is a promise of God to those who seek Him with sincerity and humility, that He will surely respond to their prayer in a way which will eliminate all doubt. 

Originally posted by Dr. Asad Zaman in Express Tribune July 03, 2016. More work by Dr. Asad Zaman: Index

Dilavar Khan: LinkedIn

Ethics and Morality in Education

Image Source: https://www.isis.org.uk/tag/moral-values/

Where can we learn the ethics? How do we determine what is moral and what is immoral? Has it always been the same way as it is presented in the modern educational system? The following essay is going to be a food for thought and a better understanding towards the “Ethics and Morality in the Education”.

A driving spirit of the modern age is the desire to banish all speculation about things beyond the physical and observable realms of our existence. This spirit was well expressed by one of the leading Enlightenment philosophers, David Hume, who called for burning all books which did not deal with the observable and quantifiable phenomena: “If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.”

This is a breathtakingly bold assertion. The literate reader may examine his or her bookshelf to see what little, if anything, would survive after applying Hume’s prescriptions. Nonetheless, the spirit of the secular age was very much in tune with Hume, and relegated vast areas of human knowledge captured in literature, history, and the arts, to second-class citizenship. The modern world has been shaped by this downgrading of the spiritual, intuitive, and mystical, and the elevation of the rational as supreme judge and arbiter over all other faculties.

The leaders of the Enlightenment advocated rationality as the sole criterion for establishing an authoritative system of ethics, aesthetics, and knowledge. This has led to a dualism which has become firmly embedded in the foundations of Western thought, and has created a social science incapable of perceiving, let alone solving the problems currently being faced by humanity as a whole. Western hegemony has led to the global and widespread acceptance of this dualism, clearly expressed by Hume, in embracing the quantitative and passionately and violently rejecting the qualitative. Exploring the full range of difficulties caused by this dualism would take several books. In this essay we consider just one of the salient problems. Harvard Professor Julie Reuben expressed it as follows: “Truth was (a united whole) embracing spiritual, moral, and cognitive knowledge. By the 1930’s, this unity was shattered; factual cognitive knowledge (was separated from) moral/spiritual knowledge.”

The Enlightenment project had aimed to provide rational foundations for all human knowledge. However, influential intellectuals like Max Weber, in the early twentieth century, argued that scientific knowledge had to be value-free, because values could not be established empirically. Widespread acceptance of this rejection of morality and spirituality has had dramatic consequences in all realms of human life. The most important questions that we face as human beings were declared to be meaningless, and unworthy of our attention and study. We all recognize that our own life is an infinitely precious gift; the most important question we face is: how should we use this gift? What is the purpose or meaning of life? What characterizes the ‘good life’ and what steps can we take to achieve a lifestyle which embodies the good?

Influential positivist philosophers argued that these questions had no meaning, because there was no empirical or observational evidence which could be used to answer them. All answers were equally valid. We should simply do with our lives whatever we desire to do. There were no ethical or moral standards to guide our behavior. As one of the leading positivist philosophers, A J Ayer, stated: “Moral judgments are as meaningless as a cry of pain”. Centuries of traditional wisdom about life was discarded as meaningless noise, and the new generations were encouraged to work out answers to these deep and difficult questions on their own, starting from scratch. To understand the catastrophic consequences of this, imagine what would happen if we threw out accumulated wisdom in medicine (or any other field of knowledge), and started again from scratch.

The key to the social sciences is an understanding of the nature of human beings. Can we understand human lives without understanding responsibility, conscience, courage, love, heroism and cowardice, trust, jealousy and the enormous range of human emotions? All of these elements of human lives are deeply and inherently qualitative and cannot be measured on any scales. Thus, by definition, these do not qualify for inclusion in the realm of scientific knowledge. The wisdom of the ancients, contained in books discussing these concepts in literary and philosophical terms, without measurement and data, would deserve to be burned according to Hume. But all this book-burning would leave us without any guidance on issues central to human affairs.

The dualism that deified science, and scoffed at that qualitative and unmeasurable, resulted in a tremendous loss of knowledge about the nature of human beings and society. We are living with the consequences of a college education which teaches students how to build bombs, but nothing about the ethics of killing innocents. As a chilling example, consider the changing attitudes towards torture and murder. Japanese soldiers were executed for torturing American POW using waterboarding, and American soldiers in Vietnam were tried for such treatment of Vietnamese prisoners. But recent Presidents have thrown their full support behind the use of extreme torture techniques, officially approving their use. Hollywood movies glorify and justify torture, even though empirical evidence shows that it does not work to obtain useful intelligence. Official reports show that senior officials in the UK and the US concocted evidence to fool the public into supporting the invasion of Iraq, resulting in deaths of millions of innocent civilians, and unnecessary expense of trillions of dollars. But no one has been convicted of any wrongdoing. MBAs are taught that the bottom line is all that matters, and social responsibility should not interfere with the pursuit of profits. Thus, there is no outrage at the deaths of the poor and hungry farmers, caused by millions of dollars spent on research to produce genetically modified terminating seeds, so that rich organisations can make more profits by selling seeds every year. Even justice has been separated from morality; in the adversarial system, lawyers are taught that their responsibility is to win the case for their clients, regardless of whether or not justice would be served by this win. Reform requires deep and fundamental changes in the system of education, which needs to be firmly grounded in all those ideas that have been kicked out of the curriculum as ‘unscientific’.

Originally posted by Dr. Asad Zaman in Express Tribune August 14, 2016. More work by Dr. Asad Zaman: Index

Dilavar Khan: LinkedIn

Morality and Spirituality

A Harvard professor by the name of Julie Reuben has documented in her book, The Making of the Modern University: Intellectual Transformation and the Marginalization of Morality,

the historical transition in the life of US universities over the period 1880-1930. She points out the developments that led universities to leave their tradition of building character along-with imparting knowledge and the negative impacts on society of this change of approach.

Most colleges in the US started out as religious seminaries and eventually embraced scientific and technological material in their curricula. Many difficulties arose for them in the execution of their new educational programs and Reuben argues that the educators tried to create something that may be called a ‘modern’ approach to moral education. She concludes that the process largely was unsuccessful and the universities eventually chose to focus solely upon providing technical knowledge and abandoning moral goals.

Keeping Reuben’s conclusions in perspective, we see now and in the past, graduates, even from elite universities, taking part in perpetrating miseries around the world, committing financial fraud, engaging in lies and deception, largely without recognition or remorse. One may ask, that how does one reconcile the morally reprehensible acts and one’s conscience? The fact is that people develop justifications, in sophisticated or unsophisticated ways, for their actions, and that is part of human nature. As one sinks deep into corrupt behavior, insensitivity also sets in and the act does not seem wrong anymore. An excellent work by Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, documents the actions of the ‘educated’ which caused great physical, psychological and emotional harm to many. Similarly, Jonathan Glover’s book, Humanity: A Moral History of the Twentieth Century documents genocide, mass killings and levels of barbarism unparalleled in human history. At the level of an organization, we see that despite elaborate corporate governance structures, rules, and checks, fraudulent behavior is becoming common-place. People bound primarily by external rules tend to look for loopholes, workarounds, whenever they have an economically rewarding opportunity to do so.

The events of the past century and now, are evidence of the failures of the mainstream education system in inculcating lasting moral values in individuals. The failures seem intuitive if one contemplates a little. In the absence of a spiritual basis for moral values, there is no firm foundation for the teaching of values and its implementation in the real world. The realization that we are created for a purpose, and will be held accountable for our actions after we die, creates an internal moral compass which is more powerful than any external control. The institutions of learning in the Muslim word in the past combined, what Islamic scholars identify as ta’lim (imparting of knowledge) and tarbiyah (the imparting of values). Tarbiyah, derived its core curricula from primary Islamic sources, the Quran and Sunnah (the narrations of what the Prophet Muhammad SAW said, did or approved of) allowing humans to understand their place in this world and their responsibilities towards it.

A final point to consider is the increasing specialization and fragmentation of knowledge which have become the norm for a university education. What this does is that it creates a situation where most are only considered or know of what they are doing in the larger scheme of affairs. People then often justify their link in the wrong ‘ends’ by saying that they are just doing their job which is not wrong in itself. In the Islamic moral framework, one cannot participate in an activity leading towards a wrong end and moreover as a general principle, the means don’t justify the ends in Islam.

To sum up, it is pertinent to understand that external controls have their place, but without a spiritually-rooted value system, nurtured in an individual from an early age and incorporated into our mainstream education system, the world would be a chaotic and unsafe place to live. In each and every one us, there is a tremendous need for purpose, let’s try and make sure our purpose aligns with our worldview, the Islamic worldview. There is no understanding of this world that is true and holistic, but that given to us by our Creator.

The inspiration for the above post is the following article by Dr Asad Zaman published in the Express Tribune (June 15th, 2015) titled “The Marginalization of Morality

Dealing Educational Poverty: A Nobel Approach

Educational poverty is most prevalent among the several diverse forms of poverty. It is the one that originates and amplifies the other issues for the poor, such as lack of opportunities, awareness, discrimination and so on. Therefore, development theory has declared this a fundamental factor contributing to poverty as a whole. Other forms of poverty such as income and health poverty are observed to increase the risk for people to remain educationally poor. This in turn is expected to make them further poor in other dimensions. Given this tangled situation, policy conduct is highly challenging to deal this deprivation at macro level.

It is observed that pro poor policies based on mainstream economic theories are almost everywhere ineffective. This is due to the fundamental flaws in development paradigms that propose assumption based solutions. Therefore, researchers at Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Labs (JPAL) center MIT have proposed a radically different approach to tackle poverty. They opted to conduct experiments and observe what really goes on with the poor. Success or failure of development policies is then assessed by the effects of an intervention. Their evidence based solutions are very useful and have exciting effects at large. One significant finding bout the concept of poverty suggests that it is not a single big problem but thousands of small issues. This simple yet fundamental finding refers to various complex implications. In policy perspective it implies that a single tool cannot solve all the problems. So, it is required to find alternate policy solutions to reduce different deprivations. Nobel laureates and leaders at JPAL Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo view conflicting ideological notions of free market and socialism about interventions the biggest barrier to find effective policies. They emphasize that theoretical arguments of both paradigms are irrelevant distractions to find the real solutions.

To deal with educational poverty, provision issues must be considered to find effective solutions. It requires us to observe the mechanism of education at schools and reasons of failure. Studies show that both the private and public schools in Pakistan have miserable situation in terms of educational outcomes. In Banerjee-Duflo approach, solutions can be found by studying issues of each outcome separately. For instance, we can consider why there is high drop out and absenteeism among both teachers and students of public schools. As per JPAL procedure it requires to formulate a hypothesis about the reasons of this problem and then test it through experiments. There are several plausible hypotheses like parents send children to earn due to lack of awareness about returns to education. Perhaps, the demand for educated workers is lower. Studies evaluate many such hypotheses using surveys and experiments. Suppose all of these are rejected and we find parents are well aware of the benefits of education. The schools are affordable and demand for educated workers is also sufficiently highly. Nonetheless, children perform poor and drop out is high from schools, so parents have to engage them in other works to avoid sitting idly. To solve the unanswered mystery of ‘Why?’, readers are invited to follow the JPAL process and observe the process in real world.

Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) emphasize lack of access to schools a key factor of poor education and required to increase enrolment rates. Several studies in Pakistan find that about eighty percent of students in third grade cannot read a paragraph of first-grade level. Obviously, even the hundred percent enrolment in such schools will not solve the issue. In free market ideology, it is supposed that failure is due to public ownership. Evidence suggest that teachers are well qualified and better paid but deliver poor results than their private school counterparts. However, it is observed that private schools perform just marginally better, not only in Pakistan but across the world. In Pakistan, only 55 percent of private school students could read a complete sentence in private schools. That is better yet unsatisfactory than the 38 percent students of public schools. This failure of private schools is significantly observed with effective intervention.

Banerjee-Duflo and their team introduced a programme ‘Balsakhi’ in India. They hired and engaged local young women with children lagging behind the basic learning skills. This delivered dramatic outcomes as high as learning by 100 percent children compared to just 40 percent from private schools. One important insight is community involvement in learning process. But most important finding from this experiment is surprising for many, that is role of expectations. Expectations playe key role to improve the performance. An experiment was conducted and students were given a fake exam. Teachers were informed about great potential of certain students based on the test. Performance of those students improved significantly because teachers expected them to perform well.

This experiment emphasize to inspire the teachers and observe the potential of each student. This is in accordance to Islamic tradition; human are like mines with hidden treasure. Here, setting unrealistic expectations is also a major obstacle. Most of poor parents suppose government job a prize of the education. Failure to get this means no benefit for them, this is like a lottery that is won by only few. Considering the low chance of their children to get reward, parents consider education and investment not worth their time and effort. This problem can be solved by changing the perception about education. Students, teachers and parents must understand that education is an incremental process that enhance capabilities and income stream. To develop this understanding, each year goals should be highlighted with respective achievements. It also requires introducing practical skills with real life application at each level of schooling. These skills must be aligned with the receptive audience such as knowledge of soil and cultivation for agrarian community and so on.

To tackle educational poverty in developing countries like Pakistan we must go beyond school construction and monetary incentives. It requires changing mind set of individuals, creating their trust and self-confidence. These solutions may be found in inspirational poetry of Iqbal.

The article is a slightly modified version of originally published article in “The Express Tribune”  on October 11, 2015 by Dr. Asad Zaman.

https://tribune.com.pk/story/971192/the-new-poor-economics/

Reading materials related to this can be found here:

https://sites.google.com/site/aznews0/home/the-new-poor-economics

Michel Foucault: Power and Knowledge

Think beyond the horizon and deeper into the surface

Power is knowledge or Knowledge is power?

I have always wondered I am unable to see demonstration of knowledge being a tool to give us power. putting it in simple words, that if something is true, it must be evident to everyone else as an object and need not be interpreted and it must not have different meaning for any one else. But this is not how things work out there in the real world. For instance, if everyone agreed that when the sun is out there, it would be called “NIGHT” and when the moon spreads out its light we would call it a bright “DAY”, Then? definitely it would by the rule of the day. But how it would happen? What is needed to do so? If there is a supreme body with absolute power, that may announce it, it would surely be admitted at once. So the question is, does knowledge give birth to power or the power is a source of knowledge? On similar notes, it may be called that the power is the source which shapes the knowledge.

We cannot understand the world around us without a sophisticated understanding of the complex but intimate relationship between knowledge and power. One of the most influential philosophers of the twentieth century, Michel Foucault, crafted a radically different understanding of this relationship. Instead of seeing power in brute force, he saw power as being the ability to shape knowledge. To understand Foucault, we must let go of our comfortable and conventional understanding of Truth as an objective and factual entity which exists outside time and history, and which cannot be manipulated by ordinary mortals. Instead, we must learn to see Truth as a social product, which is created and shaped by politics and power. As Foucault said, “My job is making windows, where there were once walls.” Absorbing Foucauldian insights opens windows onto entirely new ways of seeing the world. This is demonstrated by Michel Foucault in his work “Power and Knowledge”. The core objective of his work is reflected in the following passage.

Instead of the simplistic binary understanding of ideas — as being either true or false — Foucault offers us a dramatically different perspective: “We have to be there at the birth of ideas, the bursting outward of their force: not in books expressing them, but in events manifesting this force, in struggles carried on around ideas, for or against them.” The concept of Power/Knowledge is best understood by illustrating how it is used with concrete and specific examples.

Consider the question of how we can achieve good governance in Pakistan. Using the orthodox and conventional understanding of knowledge, we would take it for granted that “good governance” is desirable, and the discussion would be confined to current failings in this dimension, and measures we could take to improve governance. However, someone who has absorbed Foucault’s message about the Power-Knowledge nexus would approach this question differently. Instead of being trapped by the framework created by the question, we can turn the tables by asking why this question is under discussion. Foucault invites us to study the “archaeology of knowledge”: search the historical archives to ask about the birth of the idea. Doing so, we find that the question gained prominence in global discourse only after the 1989 World Bank (WB) report: Sub-Saharan Africa: From Crisis to Sustainable Growth. The report announces the discovery of a fundamental flaw in the prevailing development paradigm, and states the need for “not just less government, but better government.” We must dig into history to find out why the need arose for this about-face, which contradicts several precepts of neo-liberal thought. Among the established precepts of free market thought is the idea that governments are inherently corrupt and inefficient, and so privatisation is always a good policy. The idea that good governance is possible, and indeed, necessary, contradicts this; if good governance is possible, then there can be well-governed, productive and efficient public enterprises. Similarly, free market thought asserts that private enterprise is the key to rapid growth, and the best a government can do is to keep out of the way. But now we are saying that good governance is required for development. Once this is admitted, the door is open to understanding that free markets by themselves do not suffice, and that governments play a crucial role in development.

What desperation made it necessary for the World Bank, guardian of the temple of free-market thought, to admit this wild horse into the premises? Digging deeper into the historical archives, we find that Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs), enforced all over the globe by the WB & the IMF, had become immensely unpopular. As just one among many witnesses to their failure, a senior adviser to the WB, William Easterly, described the WB as “a bloated, unaccountable foreign aid bureaucracy out of touch with sound economics that is running amok.” Among the thousands of tragedies, great and small, created by the SAPs all over the world, David Graeber mentions his experience on the island of Madagascar. Forcibly imposed austerity led the government to shut down an effective and essential anti-Malaria programme, leading to the death of 10,000 citizens. Many researchers, both inside and outside the WB, produced compelling evidence that by demanding reductions in government spending on social welfare, the SAPs were a major cause of poverty all over the globe.

It became essential for the WB to find a scapegoat, some other factor to blame for the failure of the SAPs. Thus, following its launch in the 1989 report, a virtual avalanche of reports from a wide variety of global organisations started to focus on governance, democracy, institutions and other ideal forms. The official story line became that SAPs were well-designed policies which would have worked wonders IF the governments had been less corrupt, and a strong institutional framework to implement policies had existed. This campaign was highly successful in shifting the blame from the WB onto the governments which had been forced to implement WB policies. No one asked the obvious question about why the WB took several decades to realise that the SAPs would work only in a Utopian world with perfect democracies and efficient institutions, where they would be unnecessary. Instead, developing economies all over the world accepted their guilt, and began soul-searching conferences to improve governance and eliminate corruption. The East Asian Crisis in 1997 saw an instant replay of this successful strategy. While the crisis was obviously and directly caused by enforced financial liberalisation, post-crisis the blame was shifted to corruption in the form of “crony capitalism” and many other weaknesses supposedly specific to East Asian economies.

This analysis of governance is meant to illustrate the Foucauldian method, not to argue that we should ignore governance. We must distinguish between the “narrow” and “broad” interpretations of governance. No one could object to the narrow version, focusing on improving efficiency of public administration and building good institutions. But the broader interpretation uses ideal forms of democracy, human rights, social development, and other intangibles to create impossible goals which must be met as a pre-requisite for development. We would be well advised to ignore this counsel of despair, and to set our own agenda and priorities, focusing on realistic targets suitable for our particular circumstances.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 12th, 2016 by Dr. Asad Zaman: author page on LinkedIn. Links to Other Works: Index. More material on Power/Knowledge.

Michel Foucault Power and knowledge

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.

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.

Launching An Islamic Revolution in Economics

[bit.do/azai4] Final Part 4 of talk on “How Islam applies to Economics” By Dr. Asad Zaman, Ex-VC PIDE  English Re-Recording of Original 1hr talk in URDU at Econ Dept. Karachi University Monday 16th Sept 2019 — 14m Video of Part 4:

So we started this talk with the question: “(How) Does Islam apply to modern economics?”. Conventional textbooks seem to be completely unrelated to Islam. As we have seen, this is because conventional economics is about a market society based on humans lives for sale in a labor market, competition, greed, individualism, and hedonism. These values are opposed to Islamic values. Islam does NOT apply to modern economics – it tells us to reject the whole thing, and build a new economic system on entirely different foundations. Islam works on TRANSFORMING human behavior towards Cooperation, Generosity, Social Responsibility. Of course, we may object that this is too idealistic – we can never create a perfect society, where everyone acts like an angel. The answer to this objection is that Islam is concerned with PROCESS, not with OUTCOMES. That is, we are required to WORK for change, to struggle for a good society. We are not responsible to achieve success. The Prophet SAW was tasked with the responsibility of taking the Deen of Islam to all of mankind, but he was told that Guidance was solely in the hands of Allah. Similarly, we are asked to struggle to spread the ways of Islam, but the outcomes of our efforts are solely in the hands of Allah.

How can we work to create change? One effective technique is to replace conventional economics courses with radical replacements, which provide a critique of standard theories, and provide Islamic alternatives. I have developed many courses which provide alternatives to conventional courses on the basis of these principles. Before I discuss the courses, I want to provide some general advice to Muslim students and teachers of economics.

Advice to students: Students frequently become frustrated and unhappy when they learn that they have been taught false theories. It is important that you don’t give up, drop out, abandon study because all economics is based on wrong ideas. Even though economics is all wrong, these ideas are running the world today. We cannot understand what is happening in the world without learning these ideas. To have any chance of creating a viable alternative, we must understand these ideas. So we must study harder, to learn the weapons being used by the enemies.

Advice to teachers: We must teach economics in a DIFFERENT way. Don’t teach it as the TRUTH. Teach it as a theory which is used to make policy decision. Don’t focus on micro-details; how to do the calculations. Instead, understand and teach the CONCEPTS beneath the theories. See through math and technicalities, as discussed earlier. Learn how these theories are used to make policies. Teach students how to DRIVE the car, not how the ENGINE is constructed. Since the Western educational model does not teach these things, you will have to learn them on your own. My courses, described below, will provide a lot of help with them. Become a student, and learn along with your students. Use Fellow Traveller model: we are all learning together, but I am a senior learner, a little bit more experienced than the students. See my lectures on How to Become A Great Teacher for more details.

SOME NEW COURSES: As explained, I have developed alternatives to conventional courses. One of these courses is Advanced Microeconomics I [shortlink: bit.do/az4micro] This starts out by covering the Hill & Myatt: Anti-Textbook on Microeconomics. The purpose is to create a link with conventional micro. The student will learn all of the basic concepts taught in conventional micro, but in a critical fashion. The textbook goes through standard theories of micro – in context of how they are USED in the real world. Explains why the theories are wrong, and why they lead to wrong policies. There is a serious question which emerges – why do wrong theories continue to be taught, even though there is huge amount of evidence against them? The answer has to with how Power shapes Knowledge. Theories which are taught serve the interests of power. Theories like Marxism are rejected and ridiculed, not because they are wrong, but because they are harmful to the rich and the powerful. As I have explained in detail, modern economic theory is really Economic Theory of the Top 1% (ET1%) – it protects the interests of the rich and the powerful, while pretending to be objective and neutral.

This is why Islam help us launch a revolution in Economics. We need to construct a theory of the bottom 90% – ET90% – which protects the interests of the weak and powerless masses, against the rich and wealthy. As a first step, we must learn to see through the deception of conventional economics. We must study conventional theories, not as an apprentice learning the truth, but as an external observer watching a magician to learn the secrets by which he deceives the public – see Thousand Snakes: Image and Reality of Western Economics.

One of the key deceptions is the WRONG model of human behavior: homo economicus. The idea that we are all selfish and greedy, and that this is rational behavior, serves to justify and allow the rich an powerful to do whatever they want. Actually, this concept is contradicted by actual human behavior. This theory is used to justify laissez-faire economics – just let everyone do whatever they want. By the ridiculous theory of the invisible hand, if everyone behaves selfishly, the society will automatically reach the best results. See Game Theory for Humans with Hearts.

The Islamic Perspective on this is that economists have the wrong model of human behavior, and also the wrong model of what makes us happy. We can create a new basis for Micro if we start by differentiating between NEED and WANT (as discussed earlier, and in greater detail in “Scarcity: East and West”). There is enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed. If we make the objective the fulfillment of NEEDS, discouraging fulfilment of Wants, and encouraging people with excess to give to those who are in need, this is enough to launch a  Revolution in Economics.

I have developed new courses in Microeconomics, which are a compromise between the full ideal Islamic course, and the current neoclassical economics courses. Advanced Microeconomics I is based on using existing alternative approaches. One of these is Behavioral Economics, which studies actual behavior of human beings, instead of the axiomatic behavior which is mathematically predictable. As we have discussed, many development in Islamic Economics can be brought into the picture, to provide genuine alternatives – see Islam’s Gift: An Economy of Spiritual Development. Closely related is Experimental Economics, which engages students in real world experiments, which allows them to see that actual human behavior is very different from what economic theories say. In particular, human beings do not optimize; they use heuristics for decision making. This makes it impossible to calculate outcomes using simple mathematical formula. A solution is provided by the techniques of Agent Based Modelling. This allows us to deal with Heterogeneity (many different types of agents). Instead of mathematically calculating outcomes, we can simulate results on a computer.  This allows us to go beyond the “equilibrium” theories of economics, which belong to nineteenth century physics. Another new development discussed in our new approach to micro is Evolutionary Game Theory. This allows to model change over time, without having any equilibrium in mind.

Advanced Microeconomics II (2018): This course is based on Holt & Davis text on Experimental Economics, it examines conventional micro theories within an experimental framework. By being subjects in experiments and by running experiments themselves students learn the vast differences and contradictions between economic theories and real-world markets. Course provides students with deep intuition about real world economics which is not available by studying formulas as in conventional courses.

Similarly, I have developed pedagogical materials and videotaped lectures on more than TEN courses. These educational materials have a Radical Design, based on Islamic Pedagogical Principles. Testing them on students, we find Radically improved educational outcomes. The principles involve teaching students how to DRIVE, and not technicalities of the Engine manufacture. That is, our courses equip students with real life skills of value in solving real world problems. This is based on the Islamic principle of providing BENEFICIAL knowledge, and of avoiding useless knowledge. In addition, teachers and students should make the intention to use knowledge to serve mankind, out of love of God. For more details about these courses, Lookup ONLINE COURSES on asadzaman.net  In particular, for  Advanced Macroeconomics, see: bit.do/az4macro  This course is based on integrating history with macro – the goal of the course is to study the real world events which led to the development of macro. Students will learn about the Great Depression, the Gold Standard, and its replacement by the Dollar in the Bretton Woods Agreement. Many aspects of the changing and evolving global economic and financial systems are discussed and studies in the new advanced macro course. The point is to enable the student to understand real world macroeconomics issues, rather than mathematical theories based on bizarre assumptions made just to make it possible to do the calculations with pencil and paper.

End of Part 4 of 4. For the earlier parts, see Part 1: How Islam relates to modern economics?, Part 2: Conflicts between Islam and Economics, Part 3: The Shock and Awe Factor. This concludes the four part lecture. May Allah T’aala make it beneficial for the Ummah of Muslimeen, and for humanity as a whole. Ameen.

Conflicts between Islam & Economics

[bit.do/azai2] Part 2 of Talk on “How Islam applies to modern subjects” By Dr. Asad Zaman, Ex-VC PIDE at Econ Dept, Karachi University, Mon 16th Sep. 17m English video is followed by 1800 word summary of this portion. FULL 1hr talk in Urdu: How Islam Applies to Economics.

1800 word summary of Part 2

Let us begin with a quick summary of Part 1:Applying Islamic Teachings to Economics . Modern Economics textbooks make no mention of religion or morality – creating impression that Islam is irrelevant. But this is very strange because ethics and morality are involved everywhere in economics. Pricing of food, medicines, and education is a key to providing for basic rights to everyone, and this obviously involves ethical considerations. So, it is a puzzle WHY modern economics completely ignores these issues. To understand the answer, we must think about HOW this subject of modern economics came into existence. This requires looking at the history of Europe in greater detail, because this subject was born in a particular context, and created for a particular purpose.

Very briefly, cutting a long story short, European history shows almost continuous religious warfare until the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 (see European Transition to Secular Thought). This led to the necessity of creating a science of politics and economics which would be equally acceptable to all parties, regardless of their religious beliefs. This was required to create a basis for peace among the different parties with different religions and different moralities. Now, Economics CANNOT be done without morality. So new sciences of Politics and Economics were created which PRETEND to be Objective Knowledge equally acceptable to all human beings. However, this objective knowledge HIDES morality under the neutral label of rationality. This led the creation of a NEW RELIGION for mankind, which pretends NOT TO BE A RELIGION.

As European intellectuals became disenchanted with religion, they reject Christianity, afterlife, Day of judgment, and God. Jeremy Bentham called himself a Prophet of new religion, meant to replace Christianity. This religion is named and condemned in the Quran as ‘the worship of desires’. Once we deny the afterlife, it is RATIONAL make the Goal of life “the Maximization of pleasure from consumption.” Some of the Keys Beliefs of the religion of Secular Modernity are summarized below:

  1. Goal of life: Maximize Wealth, Pleasure, Power.
  2. Everyone has right to pursue these goals.
  3. All is fair in love and war – No rules in international arena
  4. Rule of Law within one nation, to minimize conflicts.
  5. Laws are created by votes, votes can be purchased, laws created to favor rich and powerful.

Internationally, no one has power to enforce rules upon other nations, so all nations can pursue their desires, without anyone to stop them. Anyone who has the power can do whatever they want – might makes right. The power to carpet bomb a nation, killing millions of innocent civilians, and destroying all infrastructure of the country – schools, hospitals, factories, power plants, etc – creates the right to do so. Within one nation, it is better to have peace and harmony, and the nation has police and power to enforce laws. So, conflicts between goals of different people are resolved by the rule of law. Of course, laws are passed by votes and votes can be purchased, so it is easy to document that laws are made to favor the rich and powerful over the common people all over the world.

The unique characteristic of this new religion of secular modernity is that it sells itself as rational and objective knowledge. This has created a situation where the power and glory, the global dominance of the West, has caused this Religion to be spread to all of mankind. Muslims have adopted this religion without any realization of the conflicts between Islam and an economic and political theory derived from the religion of secular modernity.

The Religion of Economics is portrayed in textbooks as being Positive, Descriptive, Rational. But deeper examination shows that this is not true. Human beings DO NOT maximize Utility. MANY experiments establish this conclusively. One very simple experiment is called the Dictator Game (variant of the Ultimatum Game). We pick two people A and B, and put PKR 1000 on the table between them. Player A is made the dictator and he can choose ANY SHARE to keep for himself. The remaining portion is given to Player B. According to economic theory, player A would maximize utility by taking all of the money for himself, leaving none for player B. However, human beings do not behave like this. Around one third of the people split equally, and the vast majority, more than 90%, leave something for the other player. This means that the vast majority DOES NOT MAXIMIZE. The very few that do take everything are almost always economists! While ordinary people understand that normal human behavior is to cooperate, share, and help each other, economists are blinded by their theories, and find it very hard to understand generosity, cooperation, sharing, etc.

Conventional economics is based on a theory of human behavior – called homo economicus – which has human beings who are heartless and soul-less. Islam provides us with new foundations to construct a radically different theory of economics. (Q7:31) “O children of Adam, take your adornment at every masjid, and eat and drink, but waste not by excess consumption. Indeed, He likes not those who commit excess.” This provides a clear statement of the moderation of Islam – we can freely eat, drink, and even wear beautiful clothes – enjoy life, so as to be thankful to God for His great blessings. BUT we should not be wasteful. We are encouraged to fulfill our Needs and even Comforts, but we are strongly discouraged from following Idle Desires. (Q45:23) “Have you seen he who has taken as his god his [own] desire, and Allah has sent him astray due to knowledge and has set a seal upon his hearing and his heart and put over his vision a veil?” Following idle desires is strongly prohibited in many different Ayat of the Quran.

In contrast to this, Samuelson and Nordhaus (1989, p. 26) state that economists “must reckon with consumer wants and needs whether they are genuine or contrived”.  Stigler and Becker (1977) say that “Tastes are the unchallengeable axioms of a man’s behavior”. According the standard assumption of consumer sovereignty, an economist is not allowed to question how tastes and wants are determined. This creates a radical difference between Conventional Economics and Islamic Economics, going to the foundations of the subject. The JOB of the Islamic Economist is to Fulfill Needs of all of humanity, and even of all of the creation of God. At the same time, we should DISCOURAGE people from wasteful and unnecessary consumption. Our job is to Feed the Hungry, and take care of basic needs of ALL human beings, and of ALL the creation of God. In dramatic contrast, Western Economists say that we should fulfill Needs AND WANTS. This is what leads to scarcity. Needs are fixed and low, and can easily fulfilled with currently available resources. But when we want fulfill BOTH needs and wants than this is an impossible task. Idle wants are beyond fulfillment, and they expand as more material is generated. Furthermore, according to economic theory, production takes place to fulfill demand which is backed by money. This means that if poor children demand bread but have no money, this does not count. Instead, production of Mercedes Benz for billionaires who can afford them has much greater priority. Even though this is clearly a moral judgment, it is not depicted as such in economic textbooks.

The Main Problem of Western Economics is SCARCITY, which is created by the attempt to fulfill all of the wants of everyone – an impossible task. The strategy is GROWTH – if we produce more, then maybe we can fulfill all of the wants. In fact, this is impossible, because wants expand as they are satisfied (unlike NEEDS, which can be fulfilled). This is now known as Easterlin’s Paradox – even though growth has created huge amounts of goods, people have not become happier. More and more wealth DOES NOT lead to a happy society. Greed, selfishness, individualism, and hedonism lead to misery for everyone on the planet. See The Illusion of Scarcity.

Islam provides us with a different diagnosis and accordingly, a different solution. First, we insist on fulfilling basic needs, and actively discourage fulfillment of WANTS. Desires of anyone should have less priority than needs of others. The prohibition of Israf & Tabzeer would free up lots of goods, which could be used to fulfill basic needs. For example, today the money being spent on OBESITY, caused by excess consumption, would be enough to feed the entire planet. This means that excess and wasteful consumption not only harms the consumer, it keeps essentials away from those who need them. The solution to these problems lies in changing social norms. The Prophet Mohammad SAW came to an ignorant and backwards society. The message of Islam transformed those who enjoyed killing their enemies, into those who would feed others while remaining hungry. Those who killed their own daughters by burying them alive, became those who would feel the pain of a bird deprived of its nestling. The solution Islam provided to the economic problem is based on the concepts of Cooperation, Generosity, Social Responsibility. These are opposed to the foundations of modern economics which are competition, greed, individualism and hedonism.

Today’s Challenge for Muslims is to Re-think economics from GROUND UP – we need to change the foundations; we cannot make minor modifications. The greatest obstacle in our path is the Shock-and-Awe of the West. We believe that they are so smart, and so far ahead of us, that we are not permitted to do our own thinking. Instead, we must borrow from them and copy them blindly, without thinking. This disease, an inferiority complex, has been created by centuries of defeat. The remedy is to NOT be scared of conventional economics. The mathematics they use is DESIGNED to shock-and-awe, to prevent us from thinking about the cruel concepts which are hidden inside the complexity. It is important that students SHOULD NOT be discouraged from studying economics, EVEN THOUGH it is completely false. This economic theory is the common religion of mankind, and is the driver of policies all over the world today. So we must UNDERSTAND it, in order to be able to oppose it. This is the most important intellectual battle we face today. To stop studying economics means to abandon the battlefield and run away. Instead we must learn deeply the thoughts which shape the minds of nearly all of humanity today. But we need to change the WAY we study. Study economics NOT as the TRUTH from the WEST, but as a WEAPON which is being used against us. See An Islamic Revolution in Social Sciences

End of Part II of the Talk about an Islamic Approach to Economics. Part 1:Applying Islamic Teachings to Economics provides the first part in English and also a link to the original one hour talk in Urdu.