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 by Ibrahim B. Syed, Ph. D. 
Islamic Research Foundation International, Inc.
7102 W. Shefford Lane
Louisville, KY 40242-6462, USA



The first word of the very first verse revealed to Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was Iqra meaning “read” or recite.” Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) also said “pursuit of knowledge is a duty for all Muslim men and women.”   The Prophet of Islam was an ummi or an “ultettered man.”  However his greatness and influence is measured by the way he transformed and influenced his ummah to excel in every field of human endeavor and in every branch of knowledge.  No wonder Michael Hart ranked Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) as number one in his popular book The One Hundred- a ranking of the most influential people in history. Within 90 years of Prophet’s (pbuh) death, Islam had spread from Morocco to China. For over one thousand years the Muslims were second to none in the arts, architecture, medicine, surgery, all other sciences and technology, and even military science.  During that golden age, the Islamic civilization was the most advanced civilization in the world when Europe was backward and underdeveloped.  The Europeans flocked to Islamic universities to seek knowledge which they used later for their own advancement.  

Today the Muslim ummah is at the bottom rung of the ladder of science and technology.

The Muslims, who once ruled the world, were under colonial rule for several centuries that did not end until about 50 years ago. 

Why are the Muslims suffering all over the world today?  One of the answers is to be found in the story of Bani Israel in the Qur’an.  Bani Israel were the first ummah created with the specific responsibility to spread the message of God to the rest of the world. As long as they fulfilled their responsibilities the nation of Bani Israel was enormously and splendidly rewarded with honor and leadership of the world.  When the same nation turned its back to the message of God it faced severe punishment in the form of humiliation and disintegration.  Muslims are the second ummah created on the basis of revealed knowledge.  Muslims are suffering today because they followed the footsteps of the nation of Bani Israel. 



Who is responsible for the degeneration of Muslims?  There are three groups of people who are responsible:  The first category of people are the kings and rulers.  The second group comprises the ulema who take this world as their goal. And the last group includes the rahibs and the Sufis who profess the purification of the soul but are after the materialistic gains.

Allama Muhammad Iqbal, the great poet and philosopher of South Asia, blamed the following three groups for the corruption of the Deen

(a)   the mullahs

(b)   the Sultans and

(c)    the peers 

Today Islam is interpreted only in terms of its five pillars, viz.: Tawhid, Salat, Siyam, Zakat and Hajj.  The other important values of Islam such as: Diyanat, Sadaqat, Husn-e-Sulook, Ad’l and Ehsan have been brushed aside.  Today, we attach great importance to imitate the outward aspects of Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) personality- such as wearing a beard-but do not give importance to practicing the teachings in his behavior and actions; such as, his humility, tolerance, patience, sacrifice, charity (he used to give away his possessions before sunset), and many other Islamic characteristics and virtues.



Every one agrees that the first and the most important solution is education.  It is education which transforms a casual person into a responsible citizen,  accelerates socio-economic development of the masses, promotes national integration (feeling of belonging to the Muslim ummah) and upholds individual dignity.

Education has always received great importance in Islam. Islam emerged in the barren Arabian land, which was both culturally and socially backward. Thus education was put forward as the lamp to illumine darkness. In Qur'an, the word, 'Ilm is used, which means knowledge.  Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) asked Muslims to "Acquire knowledge from cradle to grave."  The captives who were taken from the battle of "Badr" were freed on different conditions. One of the conditions was that if a prisoner could educate ten Muslims he would win his emancipation.

The acquisition of knowledge and learning, both religious and scientific is considered an act of religious merit in Islam. The followers of Islam were encouraged by the Prophet Muhammad to acquire knowledge wherever it was available. Consequently, the Muslims learned reading and writing with zeal from the very beginning. Soon the need was felt to establish educational institutions for the Muslims. During the second century of Islam, educational institutions came to be known as Madaris. Inspired by the Abbasid ruler's traditions Fatimid rulers of Egypt and Nizamul Mulk Tusi, the Wazir of Slajuq Sultans (d.1092 A.D.) founded institutions of higher learning. These institutions at Baghdad, Nishapur, Isfahan and other places were destroyed by the Mongols in the 13th Century. However, the pattern of education introduced in the Nizamia madrasa of Baghdad in 1065-67 under the guidance of Ghazzali (d. 1111 A.D.), went a long way to guide the generations of Muslim scholars the world over.

When Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) asked the Muslims to go to China to acquire knowledge or to get educated from non-Muslim prisoners obviously implied to inclination to religious teachings. Islam essentially, in several ways, directs acquiring knowledge of the world and modern education.  For the past five hundred years our elders have separated the religious education from the secular education (natural sciences, medicine, technology, etc.).  Religious schools or Deeni Madaris have mushroomed in all developing Muslim countries.  The disadvantage of educating in Deeni Madaris is that the graduates do not receive modern knowledge and are unable to cope with the changing world where computers and technology are playing pivotal role. In a modern Madrasa, subjects such as English, Mathematics, History and Geography are taught to a comparatively lesser extent and studies in Islamic theology get the greatest share and importance.


A Student from Middle East in America 

A student from a Middle Eastern country came to the United States to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree from one of the American Universities.  Due to his weakness in the English language, he took English 101 course.  As a final Exam, the English Professor asked him to write a paper on any book he read in the English literature.  After extensive struggle and after a few weeks, he submitted the required final exam paper.  The English Professor gave him 'F" grade, that means the student flunked the course.  The student told the professor that he worked very hard to write that paper and wondered why the professor flunked him.  The professor replied that what he wrote was the summary of the book and there was no critical analysis such as criticism of the characters, plot or theme, etc. The student said in High School, he learned how to memorize the Qur'an and Hadith and excelled in rote learning rather than criticism or critical thinking.  The student failed the course and could not complete his B.A. Hence he went back to another Middle Eastern University and finally obtained the coveted B.A. degree. He returned to his home country, which has been hiring Foreign Nationals for all the jobs that were available.  He applied for a job in the Government and in many private firms. He never got a single job anywhere-neither in the Government nor in a private Firm. The reason for not getting a job, he was told was that his skills were not marketable. 

Deeni Madaris attract pupils of average intelligence from remote villages. One of the reasons is that here they can get free boarding and lodging and get education without paying any tution fee. The graduates of these schools have narrow and limited knowledge of Islam and do not have any understanding of the present day world.  They lack self-esteem that comes with a well-rounded education.  And most critical of all, because of these limitations, are unable to exercise ijtehad.  Early Muslim scholars paid close attention to developing a system of jurisprudence. However, today, most traditional ulema insist on the need to blindly follow past jurisprudential precedent (taqlid), while ignoring the need to exercise independent judgment (ijtihad), based on a thorough understanding of the principles of fiqh (usul-i-fiqh), which, unfortunately, are not much stressed in the Madaris today. Such Shaykhs and ulema with their  radical rhetoric are projecting a distorted image of Islam.  It is futile to argue with them because they do not understand logic and rationality (the foundations of Islam), they promote obscurantism; and oppose different points of view which are the bedrock for intellectual development. 

It is also not right to blame the Madaris for the current rise of terrorism in the world. 

The time has come for Muslims to get together and face the reality and think loudly on issues facing them and their survival.  If the Muslims cannot compete, excel and advance, then it is very easy for those in power (West) to enslave the Muslims through colonization or some other method.  Should Muslims allow history to repeat itself?  Or unite and work for the Islamic renaissance. 

A few dedicated and deeply concerned Muslims are organizing and participating in the Second International Conference on Islamic Renaissance with the theme of Science and Technology in the 21st Century, to be held in Chicago, May 29-30, 2004.  The Conference aims at finding practical and workable solutions to problems facing the ummah.  We invite all concerned Muslims to participate in the important conference and share the collective responsibility of finding ways to forge the ummah forward in the path of Islam.  I pray to Allah (SWT) to show us the right path and awaken to Muslim ummah from the dangers of status quo, enlighten us, and give us the strength to compete, excel, and advance.  Ameen ! 

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