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A neglected dimension of the Prophetic heritage

By Dr. Mohammad Omar Farooq  

[The author is an associate professor of economics and finance at Upper Iowa University. Homepage:;]

First, let us recount some of the modern gadgets that have become routines in most of our lives. Clock, stove, microwave, thermometer, pain reliever, computer, vacuum cleaner, miracle mop, car, laser printer, ball-point pen, bank checks, self-adhesive stamps - not a single of these gadgets or the underlying operating systems is a contribution by Muslims. Readers can take an account of their own lives and see if they can identify anything they currently use that has been discovered, invented, or even innovated by Muslims! One can also look at the organizational dimension of their lives and see whether in their society they allow people of international (particularly, of different religious) origin to be integrated as closely as we have been allowed to, or whether they can voice their concerns not merely to protest but for the sake of problem-solving, or whether they can drive with reasonable expectation that the fellow drivers on the road will obey the laws.

Within the limited scope of this paper, I would like to draw attention to a few aspects related to an important dimension of our Muslim existence and the prophetic heritage: mind-building, which must go parallel to the most important character-building. Those gadgets as well as organizational development or institutionalization (Iqamah) are results of certain mind-set that are relevant to everyone. That mind-set is not necessarily western mind-set. Rather, it is deeply and essentially Islamic too.

First, Muslims at the popular level are overwhelmingly dogmatic. Having some balanced rationalism with solid grounding in logic is a must. Recently, a prolific writer on an internet forum, who also seems to speak for Islam, commented: "We the Muslims have taken Qur'an for granted as the authentic revelation from Allah (SWT). No arguments, no logic and no philosophy. The only thing is we have to understand it and be guided accordingly." Nothing could be farther from the truth. Muslims don't become Muslim by birth. They have to embrace it, and do so with conscious and conscientious effort in search of truth.

One of the most compelling dimensions of the Qur'an is to frequently engage us in reasoned dialog as it poses questions after questions and provoke us to think and reason with the Qur'an.  "Say: 'See ye? - If your stream be some morning lost (in the underground earth), who then can supply you with clear-flowing water?" [67/Surah al-Mulk/30]

 Secondly, besides having a balanced rationality, inculcating the spirit of inquiry - not blind submission - is an essential dimension of Islam. It is not just a prophetic tradition, but also it is exemplified in the life and personality of Ibrahim (a), whose legacy is the foundation of the teachings of even the Prophet Muhammad (s). [2/al-Baqara/130, 135] Indeed, sometimes having doubt, even after proclaiming faith, is neither unnatural nor unIslamic. That "no arguments, no logic and no philosophy" attitude or concept is simply alien to Islam or the Qur'an.

Call it scientific, but in appropriate contexts, demanding proof and use of one of the primary human faculty - reasoning - are essential Islamic, prophetic, and Qur'anic dimensions. The faculty of reasoning never becomes redundant: not while searching for truth, and not after we believe that we have found the truth. Those who do not employ the faculty of reasoning may grab the very first candidate that claims to be the truth, and if that candidate is embraced without appropriate scrutiny, in all likelihood, whatever was embraced will be upheld regardless whether it was really the truth in the first place or not. That is why logic and reason are never unwanted or disposable for Muslims. Islam simply teaches, and expects from, us to use those adequately and properly.

May I beg the readers' indulgence to read the following verse about Ibrahim (a), who even after attaining Prophethood asked Allah: "Behold! Abraham said: 'My Rabb! Show me, how you give life to the dead.' He said: 'Do you not then believe?' He said: 'Yes! but to satisfy my own   understanding.' He said: 'Take four birds, tame them to turn to you; put a portion of them on every hill, and call to them; they will come to you (flying) with speed. Then know that God is Exalted in Power, Wise.'" [2/al-Baqara/260]

This is the foundation of Islamic spirit of inquiry, search for truth, pursuit of knowledge, and understanding. We are, of course, not prophets. Genuine search for truth does not begin by taking things for granted, but by our effort to learn and verify - the essence of scientific approach. In this process, occasional doubts are very natural. As far as Islamic validity of what I am suggesting, let no one tell you any differently, because this is what the Prophet (s) himself has said:   "Allah's Apostle said, "We have more right to be in doubt than Abraham when he said, 'My Lord! Show me how you give life to the dead.' He said, 'Do you not believe?' He said, 'Yes (I believe) but to be stronger in Faith.' (2/al-Baqarah/260)" [Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 6, #61]

Thirdly, Muslims have lost their bond with nature. Yes, there are scientists - natural and social, but not reared through an educational system or environment that popularly (and inspired by Islam) internalizes and nurtures observational bond with nature. There are so many people chanting "Subhanallah", but how many does one see straying for a moment to observe how a bird flies, or caterpillar turns into butterfly, or a seed sprouts - and spontaneously - without even being conscious - say once: "Subhanallah." The first type of Subhanallah chanters of the ummah of the Prophet Muhammad (s) would be the users of all these gadgets invented or produced by the non-Muslims. Indeed, they would give louder Adhans with loudspeakers invented by the non-Muslims. The second kind of "Subhanallah" will produce the discoverers, explorers, inventors, and innovators.

Muslims need to develop a keen interest in understanding and appreciating the nature - the world of creations of which we are a part. Muslims are ready to reject any evolutionary theory, but they do not have an adequately developed and articulated alternative explanation. Study closely the following verse: "Say: 'Travel through the earth and see how Allah did originate creation; so will Allah produce a later creation; for Allah has power over all things'" [29/al-Ankaboot: 20] While Allah invites and challenges us to study, understand, and appreciate how "Allah did originate creation," what have Muslims to offer on the part of the Ummah from the study during last fourteen centuries as an adequately detailed and developed account for the process of originating creation? Our explanation is simple, elegant and melodramatic! "Kun fa-yakun!" God said: "Be and there it was". All that there is to it!

One reason that partly, but importantly, accounts for this failure is that the people we call scholars or Ulama over time have completely alienated themselves from nature. Nature is not merely to be contemplated upon, but to be experienced - to be touched, felt, smelt, and observed. Consider the following verses of Sura al-Mulk [3-4]: "He who created the seven heavens one above another: No want of proportion will you see in the creation of the Most Gracious. So turn your vision again: Do you see any flaw? Again turn your vision a second time: (your) vision will come back to you dull and discomfited in a state of worn out."

The purpose of these verses is not that people would have such a gullibly, believing mind and attitude that they would not even bother to look for what Allah is referring to. These verses are invitation as well as challenge to humanity to study, understand, and appreciate the creation of Allah. However, the impact of these verses on our mind has been quite the opposite. Since we believe in Allah and Allah's creation is flawless, why do we need to turn our vision toward his creation? The sad lesson is that, regardless of the reason, whoever develops a keen attachment to nature - studies, explores, probes into - has a different appreciation than those who simply believe in. Furthermore, our belief in the flawlessness of Allah's creation does not take us even one step closer to put nature to our use, as others are already doing. Technological progress and understanding of nature are inseparable.

Fourthly, Muslims have a serious stumbling block to mind-building. The autonomous forces of modern changes in this society are driven by at least two factors. One is the problem-solving attitude and approach, which we lack due to our overwhelmingly dogmatic mind-set (and the so-called Islamic movements are absolutely no exceptions!). The other is innovation. While innovation is the key to incremental improvements in human society, Muslim mind-set psychologically is at odd with this very word. Why? The Arabic/Islamic word for this is "Bid'ah". While we are repeating every week in Jumuah prayers "All innovations are misguidance (dalala) and all misguidances are hell-bound", who says Muslims are not smart? Their mind-set, quite intelligently and aptly, is not set up for "innovations" leading to who knows where. While avoiding bid'ah, in appropriate contexts, has importance, we rarely even clarify that while one type of innovation may be hell-bound, the other is essential to our existence. It is important to emphasize the need for more and more bid'ah in another sense.

Muslims cannot ignore the fact that those who have overwhelming technological superiority over us, they also dominate our lives in every possible way, often negatively. Technology as an autonomous force of change would continue to shape and reshape the world around us, unless we are in the driving seat of history. And, toward that end we also need to rebuild our mind-set based on a better and different understanding of the Qur'an and the Prophetic heritage.

Mind-building is a challenging and complex subject, and only a few pertinent aspects have been touched here. Feedbacks are most welcome.

This is an excerpt from the Original article that was published in The Message International, June 2000


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