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Societies in the information age

By MSN Menon

July 12, 2009




But not all countries are ready to use information. Everything depends on their cultural tradition. The Hindus have always considered Jnana marga (the path of knowledge) as the noblest path of all. The Semitic faiths have no such tradition.


Are Islamic societies ready to be guided by the Age of Knowledge or by the Quran? To seek knowledge is not part of Islamic tradition.


There was a time when land was man’s asset. Later, capital became his asset. We are now living at a time when capital is giving way to information. To knowledge. This is already changing the way of life of most peoples.


But not all countries are ready to use information. Everything depends on their cultural tradition. The Hindus have always considered Jnana marga (the path of knowledge) as the noblest path of all. The Semitic faiths have no such tradition.


Islam has been in two minds about knowledge. For instance, one Muslim ruler builds a library; his successor pulls it down. The orthodox are against knowledge.


This dichotomy is at the heart of the intellectual poverty of Islam. And it also explains why Muslims have not made any great contribution to knowledge, particularly in science and philosophy.


The rulers of Islam were never distinguished for learning. Akbar, the greatest of them all, did not know how to read and write. The Andalusians never had a clear mind on education. One ruler built a library. His son destroyed it.


What of the Ottoman empire which ruled for four long centuries? It banned all printing, including that of religious literature.


Peter Mansfield in his history of the Middle East, says that “the great movements of ideas in Europe from the time of the Reformation and Renaissance left the Ottoman world untouched.”


The French and Russian revolutions had no effect on Muslim thinking. It was Nehru’s moaning that Muslim rulers in India did not build one single college in a thousand years!


Even today there is an effort to say that everything has been thought of in the Quran, that there is no need of reading anything else. Even liberal Muslims turn to the Quran to find in it modern ideas of the West.


This is how Mullahs blacked all education. After al-Ghazali (12th c) tolerance towards science and philosophy declined, because science questioned the belief in the origin of the world and the creator. Thus, while the Reformation and the Age of Reason freed Christianity from its fetters, these revolutions in Europe had no impact on Islam. Islam remained impervious to all reforms.


It is true early Islam threw up an intellectual class—the Mutazilites—who gave no importance to revelation.


The Muslims are a community of believers. Their belief system is protected by the Umma. The individual does not enjoy the same status in Islam as in other ideologies. Islam sees democracy as a threat to the Umma, for democracy liberates the individual from the collective. It can also be a threat to the concept of Ijma (consensus), which is the basis of the Umma.


Islam did produce liberal thoughts. But they had no impact on Islam. Thus Ibn al-Arabi exhorted Muslims to consider all evidence in other faiths about God. And Farid al-Din Attar says that each one must find a way of his own according to his capacity.” But these thoughts never prevailed in Islam.


It is evident from this long history that Islam has no desire for real reform. In fact, it is opposing those who are calling for reform. In these circumstances, can Muslims fit into a world of knowledge? Dear Reader, it is lack of modern education which produced the fundamentalists and the terrorists.


In the next 50 years, schools, colleges and universities will go through radical changes as they take to modern scientific advances. Islam will fall back in the march of humanity.


Bernard Lewis, the historian of Princeton writes: “The struggle between Islam and the West has now lasted 14 centuries. Today much of the Muslim world is again seized by an intense and violent resentment of the West.” It is hatred that the Christian civilisation seems to have given to the world. Political Islam has become a problem in the world because it is blind like the Taliban to what is happening in the world.


Muslims must understand one thing: the world will not tolerate violence to settle issues in the world. Remember what happened to communism, nazism, fascism and militarism! There is a Laxman rekha to what one can do in the world.

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