the Ummah should Remove to Make Islam the Viable Alternative
AHMED SIRAJ says that we cannot think of presenting
Islam as the alternative as long as we do not address
our accumulated weaknesses and strengthen our academic
and socio-economic base.
believers of ‘Islam is the alternative’
campaign grossly overestimate the capacity of the followers
of Islam. They mainly go by their increasing numbers
which is purely a result of demographic expansion. Their
increased visibility in the West also boosts their confidence.
Some even feel flattered by catchphrases – propagated
even by the official American literature – like
‘fastest growing religion in the US’. They
are also easily misled by such refrains which simultaneously
provide the explosive fodder for the Islamophobic lobby.
Some conversions, mainly from the West, are also heartening
news for them.
If at all things have changed, they have changed for
the worse for the Muslims and Islam in the world during
the last three decades. Muslim population has rapidly
grown to stand near 1.6 billion mark today. But numbers
is not all that Islam requires to project itself as
the alternative. Most images are deceptive. We often
get misled with pictures of mosques popping up in all
corners of the earth, Muslims praying on streets of
Paris or Madrid, nearly three million gathering around
the Kaaba on the 27th night of Ramadan – more
than the number of Haj pilgrimage – in Makkah,
the holy Quran being distributed by lorry loads among
the faithful during the pilgrimage et al. An iftar party
by President Obama with a few friendly sound bytes,
release of Eid Mubarak stamp by the US Posts, an odd
university setting up an Islamic Studies department
to prove enough elixir for an average Muslim heart to
delude him/herself of Islam conquering the West. The
very fact that we go gaga over such token forays of
Islam into the West as piece of cheerful news, should
serve as an index of growing Muslims’ fascination
for the West. The mere acceptance of civil liberties
of the nascent Muslim population in the West causes
ecstasy in our ranks and file. A Saudi journalist informed
me a couple of years ago about a directive he had from
the Ministry of Information that directed him not to
encourage publication of stuff from South Asia. ‘We
should look towards the West, where lies our destiny’,
the directive had demanded, Jeddah scribe told me. I
have some other instances too. Two Jeddah dailies, Arab
News and Saudi Gazette discontinued exclusive news pages
for India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Thailand and the Philippines
five years ago and started bunching small items from
the entire region in a single page. Reason: the Ministry’s
directive not to publish much of stuff from the East.
This obsessive fascination of the West among the Arabs
bespeaks of the Muslim mindset which is ever on the
lookout for Western endorsement of Islam’s attributes.
Ideas, ideals and ideologies by themselves do not count
for much unless the people who champion, espouse and
follow them carry some substance. Ideologies after all
require the human agency to be implemented. Looked at
from this angle, not much material progress is seen
among Muslims. Qualitative upgradation has not kept
pace with the quantitative expansion of the ummah. Muslims
remain mired in the same miserable mess that surrounded
them around the end of the colonial rule. Capitalism
led globalisation has rather only added to their subordination,
subjugation and suppression. In the 70s when Shah Faisal
stopped the supply of oil to the West for their crime
of planting and supporting the Zionist state of Israel,
some hope arose on the horizon. It appeared as if the
ummah was beginning to retrieve its soul from the West.
But soon these hopes were dashed, shattered to smithereens.
The West brought in new stratagems. They started studying
Islam afresh. Several of us mistook this study for love
for Islam/Muslims in the West. Not alone history, society
and languages, but even the economic resources, historical
animosities, tribal and ethnic affiliations, sectarian
divides, ideological schisms, came to be mapped and
explored. It was more methodical.
had no clue about the West’s designs. They were
being led by mere rhetoric; the illusions of Islam’s
popularity which even the Western agencies were engaged
in actively sustaining, going by the wishful air that
generally pervades the Muslim societies. A boxer embracing
Islam here and a Michael Hart eulogizing the Prophet there
continued to massage the Islamists’ ego. There was
no hard work behind the ‘Islam is the best’
rhetoric. Muslims remained dependent on the Western technology.
Imports kept spiralling. Some of these nouveau riche societies
fuelled by the oil wealth were methodically acculturated
in extravagance, opulence and ostentations. They were
being trained to enjoy luxuries they themselves were not
able to produce and provide. Human genius from the poorer
and less developed Muslim societies was systematically
poached and taken to the West. The Ummah has been bled
white. It is barely able to crystallize an objective for
itself, let alone guiding the destiny of the humanity.
do you expect from such a gullible lot? Far from being
the standard-bearers of an ideology that could promise
salvation, Muslims today offer no hope. Few among them
have any sense of direction and the perception of the
grave challenges posed by the exploitative West. They
are groping through the thick smog made up of sentiments,
romanticised memories of the past and verbal rhetoric.
Led by an ill-informed clergy totally bereft of the ground
realities and needs of the human society and brought up
on the stale diet of hackneyed ideas, Muslims are nowhere
in the reckoning. Far from offering the humanity any alternative,
they are vulnerable to experimentation of all and sundry
ideologies. All new weapons are being tested on the Muslim
lands and are even paid for by the Arab oil money stacked
in the Western banks. They have missed the bandwagon of
knowledge and are poor on the scale of values. No great
ideas have emerged from their societies during the last
six decades. They have built few institutions of repute
and real learning. Barring a few nations, they are ruled
by despots, monarchs, dictators, army generals and self-styled
leaders. In fact they are all rulers. The Muslim world
has produced few leaders. These rulers lead nobody except
themselves. Their societies suffer from pathetic paucity
of role models.
pride in numbers is often the pet pastime of Muslims.
For all such passionate believers in numbers, the Pew
Forum’s survey of Muslim population (published in
2009) made a great reading. The survey has pegged the
number of Muslims around the globe at 1.56 billion or
23 per cent of the people inhabiting this planet.
Fancy for numbers even propels some of
us to exaggerate the size of the community and even suspect
under-enumeration or suppression of real figures by authorities.
All this talk about conversions to Islam in the West is
much baloney and self-delusion rather than factual.
enlightened guesses suggest that scores of youth with
Muslim names in American universities say that their parents
used to be Muslims on being asked if they are Muslims.
American mathematician Dr. Jeffrey Lang in his latest
book painfully admits that youths of Muslim parentage
are being driven away from the faith because the Islam
propagated by these so called dawah group is ‘retrogressive,
stagnant, patriarchal remnant of a lagging culture, mired
in meaningless controversies and hollow and lifeless formalism’.
(Ref. Losing my religion: A Call for help by Amana Publications).
He says that mass numbers of descendents of Muslims, converts,
and spiritual seekers are forsaking the American Islamic
community and fears that many of these will inevitably
abandon the religion. Yet the popular refrain across the
world is that ‘Americans are turning to Islam en
masse’ and in their fondness for religious sensationalism
some even forcibly drag Neil Armstrong and Michael Jackson
into the fold of Islam. The fact is that some in the West
are in quest of spiritual solace and definitely turn to
Islam fascinated by the images of neat rows of namazis
praying in solitude of mosques or the spirit of renunciation
visible through Hajj pilgrimage. But for the majority
of the enlightened citizens of the world, Muslim world
holds no charm. We need to ask why?
exodus of creative genius from the Muslim societies towards
the West provides a partial answer to such queries. Restrictive
social and political environment drives away the learned,
the intellectuals and the scholars to where they find
a vent for their knowledge and skills. Ask a group of
100 post graduate students anywhere in the Muslim world
as to which country they would choose to migrate if the
option is between the USA and Saudi Arabia. Chances are
that 85 per cent would opt for the US. Why? Because the
deficits in knowledge, freedom and women’s empowerment
in the Arab world (and more or less all over the Muslim
world) does not enthuse a pursuer of knowledge, cherisher
of values, or lover of freedom and believer in gender
equity. Education and learning in the Islamic world suppresses
questioning, independent thinking and self-confidence
leading to passive attitudes. No wonder then why life
in Muslim countries is so monotonous with only food and
worship filling the gaps.
Consequently, we have some of the most
ignorant, illiterate and uncreative societies around us.
No major invention has emerged from the Muslim world for
the last five centuries. In numerical terms, 41 predominantly
Muslim countries with about 20 per cent of the world’s
total population generate less than 5 per cent of its
scientific output, going by the proportion of citations
of articles published in international science journals.
A study by academics at the International Islamic University
Malaysia showed that OIC countries have 8.5 scientists,
engineers, and technicians per 1,000 population, compared
with a world average of 40.7, and 139.3 for countries
of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
(For more on the OECD, see http://www.oecd.org.) On average,
the 57 OIC states spend an estimated 0.3 per cent of their
gross national product on research and development, which
is far below the global average of 2.4 per cent. Yet another
determining factor for diffusion of knowledge is the number
of available scientists, engineers, and technicians. Those
numbers are low for OIC countries, averaging around 400–500
per million people, while developed countries typically
lie in the range of 3500–5000 per million.
Muslim countries contributed 1.17 per cent of the world’s
science literature, whereas 1.66 per cent came from India
alone and 1.48 per cent from Spain. Twenty Arab countries
contributed 0.55 per cent compared with 0.89 per cent
by Israel alone. The US NSF records that of the 28 lowest
producers of scientific articles in 2003, half belong
to the OIC. According to the Pakistan Council for Science
and Technology, Pakistani researchers have registered
just eight international patents in the past 43 years.
In 2004, high-tech exports – mostly software –
amounted to just one per cent of total exports from our
Talk about science, education and research,
one perforce looks at the record of the Arabs, because
it is they who have resources to spare on such pursuits.
But Arabs have proved themselves the worst (or best) laggards,
coming even behind Turks, Iranians, Pakistanis, Malaysians
and Indonesian. The Arab world has less than 53 newspapers
per 1,000 Arab citizens compared to 285 papers per 1,000
for developed countries. Arabs have 18 computers per 1,000
persons against global average 78 for 1,000. Translation
is considered to be the most important channel of diffusion
of knowledge. On average, only 4.4 translated books per
million people were published between 1980-85 in the Arab
world, while the corresponding rate in Hungary (not a
very enlightened society by current standards) was 519
books and with regard to Spain it was 920 books. The number
of scientists and engineers working in R&D in Arab
countries is not more than 371 per million citizens while
the global ratio is 979 per million. Arabs constitute
5 per cent of the world population but produce only 1.1
per cent of the books, most of which is religious literature.
The production of literary and artistic books in Arab
countries is lower than the general level. In 1996, it
did not exceed 1,945 books, representing only 0.8 per
cent of world production, i.e., less than the production
of a country such as Turkey, with a population one quarter
of that of Arab countries. With such pathetic state of
diffusion and dissemination of knowledge, how do we expect
to offer any solution or salvation to a world racked by
wars, catastrophes, both human and natural?
have failed in all departments of human effort except
in matters of procreation. Their number has doubled--from
180 million in 1980 to 360 million in 2010 – in
the last 30 years. Their lack of creativity is the ideal
fodder for doomsayers. All that they manufacture together
is less than what is produced by the Philippines. In 20
years – between 1980 and 2000--Egypt, Saudi Arabia,
Jordan, Kuwait, the UAE and Syria could register merely
367 patents. Their chief foe Israel registered 7,652 patents
while tiny South Korea had 16,328 patents.
The 57 OIC countries together have 1,800
universities. But no university makes a grade among the
top-100 listed by the Newsweek every year or the top-500
ranking compiled by Shanghai Jiao Tong University.
If knowledge comes last among the priorities
of Muslims, social values are even more elusive. Most
Muslim societies are corruption ridden, though social
crimes might be less prevalent. Most Muslims tend to look
at the individual pieties to judge their own societies.
Only 13 Muslim countries figure among the first 100 least
corrupt nations, remaining being listed among the more
and most corrupt ones on the Corruption Perception Index
of the Transparency International. Be it freedom of religion,
speech, press, most Muslim nations make a heap at the
bottom. No wonder then why Muslim believers in liberal
humanism and intellectuals like Hossein Nasr, Ziauddin
Sardar, Tariq Ali, Akbar Ahmed, Dr. Fazlur Rahman, Nimat
Hafez Barzangi, Asma Barlas, Ayesha Jalal, Khaled Abul
Fadl, Raji Al Faruqi, Hashir Farooqi, Tariq Ramadan have
to seek the Western hospitality. These were not the people
of the ilk of Rushdie, Taslima or Hirsi Ali. Yet they
found the air unwelcome in their own societies. The West
accommodates them just as it thinks necessary to have
in its midst Noam Chowmsky, George Galloway, Anne Marie
Schemmel, Karen Armstrong, Murad Hofmann, Roger Garaudy
Numerical growth of the Ummah or the
noticeable growth in ritual practices holds no key to
its weight, assertiveness, prestige and prosperity. Minuscule
communities/nations such as Jews, Parsis and Koreans have
contributed to the humanity and gained respect than an
impoverished, uncreative and weightless Muslim multitudes.
It is time for us to assess if the Ummah is anywhere near
offering salvation to the misery ridden humanity. It is
time to seriously question all that rhetoric that has
been fed to the somnolent community.