By Shafqat Hussain Soomro
April 02, 2016
The contemporary appearance of Muslim world reflects general stagnation, backwardness and monotonous orientation. Muslim societies instead of analysing the reasons of their degradation have formulated an imaginary ‘external enemy’ to be blamed for all wrongs done to them. The tendency of blaming others is a constant in Muslim tradition of historiography. In the first half century of Muslim history, emergence of political disputes and internal strife among different contenders of power is simply narrated as a conspiracy of Jews, Christians and idolaters by Muslim scholars and historians.
After the fall of Baghdad in 1258, Mongols became the centre of Muslim historian’s academic persecution, and after the humiliating exodus of Muslims from Spain the onus was shifted on Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile. However, honest voices addressing the core of political, religious and social downfall of Muslim power by employing scientific and systematic inquiry were forcibly silenced.
The Muslim clergy allied with despotic political leadership suppressed all efforts of scientific inquiry. Therefore, the tradition of historiography during Muslim rule was influenced by the political and religious ideas of feudalistic despots and religious fanatics, who are generally praised as great leaders and scholars. Consequently, a ‘religio-historic fiction’ was created by Muslim scholars, elaborated by Dr Fazl ur Rahman in his book Islam (1966).
Muslim history is filled with biases, and political and religious victimisation of one sect or the other has now become a major stumbling block in the peaceful coexistence of Muslims in their own societies. The critical understating of religion and society was restricted and liberal thinkers like Al-Razi, Al-Mari, Ibn-i-Rusd, Al-Kindi and Al-Farabi were labelled as heretic. Contrary to this, scientific works of Muslim scholars entered European soil via Spain, and contributed significantly to the flowering of European Renaissance. Surprisingly, even in the 21st century, scientific understanding of nature is a ‘forbidden zone’ for masses of Muslim countries, as stated by Herring and Evans 2013 in The Facts That Can’t Be Denied by Science.
The prime reason behind the downfall of Muslim societies around the world is the absence of critical appreciation of the past and present, and persuasion of medieval religious, political and social dogmas. In the name of religion, windows of reason, critical appreciation of past and scientific understanding of world have been closed by clergy and rulers, which could lead Muslim societies towards independence of thought and expression.
Most of the Muslim countries in Asia and Africa that got independence from western colonialism in mid-20th century have developed their own governments. However, we can hardly find any example of a Muslim country having developed a progressive, stable, tolerant and pluralistic society with a true democratic system. In most of the Muslim countries, army, clergy and political leaders are allied to promote their regional and sectarian agendas by pursuing the traditional culture of accusation against the outside conspirators for all the failures they had.
In most of the Muslim lands, Muslim scholars, scientists and academicians — who can promote scientific inquiry, free thinking and critical understanding about socio-economic issues among the masses through their teaching and writing — are threatened by state-sponsored religious and political groups. The nuclear physicist, the late Dr Abdus Salam, Pakistan’s only Nobel laureate, was forced to leave the country in late 1950s because he belonged to the Ahmadiya sect, which is considered ‘non-Muslim’ in Pakistan, decreed so by mullahs in cahoots with the then government of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. The other scholar, Dr Fazl ur Rahman, the chairman of Islamic Research Institute Pakistan during General Ayub Khan’s regime was fiercely criticised by the religious parties because of his liberal interpretation of Islam, critical understanding and presentation of Muslim history in his book Islam.
Finally, he resigned from his post and left the country, giving up hope of any change and development. Dr Mubarak Ali, the eminent historian, Javed Ahmad Ghamdi, Khanum Tayyaba, Dr Bernadett L Dean, the renowned educationist, all left Pakistan due to life threats.
Pakistan is a glaring example of fundamentalist intrusion in state matters. Soon after Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s demise in 1948, political leadership having its own vested agendas made alliance with religious fundamentalists, and added the Objectives Resolution as a preamble in the constitutional framework. One clause of the Objectives Resolution contains “sovereignty belongs to God”, which is contrary to the concept of democracy, as that clearly states “sovereignty belongs to people.” That particular religious intervention in state matters is described by Muhammad Munir, former Chief Justice of Pakistan, in his book, Jinnah to Zia (1980) in following words: “The Objectives Resolution added in the constitution of Pakistan as a preamble was against the vision of Jinnah, and because of these clauses Ulema (religious clergy) got influence in the state matters.”
One cure to problems of Muslim societies plagued with self-deception and narrow-mindedness is in the promotion of free thinking, scientific inquiry and critical appreciation of past.
In this regard, Irshad Manji advocates in her book, Trouble with Islam, the centuries-old tradition in Muslim jurisprudence, ‘Ijtehad, to steer Muslims towards rational and scientific thinking. She called this process of challenging outdated dogmatic, tribal mindset “Operation Ijtehad”. Therefore, it is extremely urgent for Muslim societies to allow freedom of thought, liberty and openness by nurturing and respecting their scholars and intellectuals so that future generations have a different — respectable, responsive and peaceful — outlook about the world.
Shafqat Hussain Soomro is a Lecturer of History/Pakistan Studies, and is the co-author of National Curriculum of Civics