By M.S.N. Menon
ARE Muslims ready for a knowledge-based society? They are not. Knowledge is highly suspect among Muslims. More so among the Mullahs, who control education in almost all Muslim societies.
Islam has no tradition of free enquiry. In fact, there is no free enquiry in any of the three Semitic faiths. True, Christianity is changing its ways. But not Islam.
In contrast, the Hindus treat the path of knowledge, the tradition of free enquiry, the jnana marga, as they call it, as one of the ways to human salvation. It calls for continuous mental exertion. Krishna commends it highly in the Gita.
Neither Islam nor Christianity could, however, kill the spirit of free enquiry among the Hindus even in a thousand years of their sway. This explains why the Hindus eagerly took to English education, while the Muslims resisted it. This also explains why India was able to emerge as a major leader in the communication revolution.
And yet Islam did contribute to the Reformation and Renaissance by making Greek thought available to Europe through translations. But it profited little from its own work. Muslims have been in two minds about promoting knowledge. They still are. They built libraries and also destroyed them.
This has been the Islamic tradition. The Ottomans banned the printing of books for four long centuries! Even today most of the madrasas teach only the Quran and nothing else. This explains the reason for intellectual poverty in the Islamic civilisation?why the Muslims have not made any worthwhile contribution to the field of knowledge. More so in science and philosophy.
Akbar was illiterate. So were most of the Muslim rulers. They did not build one good college in eight centuries, complains Nehru. Naturally, the Muslim invaders saw no good in the two great universities of India?Taxila and Nalanda. They destroyed them. Peter Mansfield, historian of the Middle East, writes: ?The great movements of ideas in western Europe from the Reformation through the Renaissance and counter-Reformation left the Ottoman world almost untouched.? The French and Russian revolutions were not different. They made little impact on the thinking of the Muslim world.
Even today, there is an effort, even at the highest levels of the academia, to explain that the Quran contains every idea that has been thought of by man in the past and will be thought of in the future. Surely, there is no future for such a society.
After Al-Ghazali (12th a.d.), tolerance of science declined because science, it was said, led to a loss of faith in the Creator and the creation.
It is true early, Islam threw up an intelligentsia?the Mutasilites?who were interested in science. They gave no importance to revelation. But the times were against them.
The Muslims are a community of believers. The Umma (the community) is the guardian of the collective ideology. The individual is, therefore, subservient to the Umma. Democracy, however, threatens to free the individual, for it is based on the freedom of the individual. Hence Islam is opposed to democracy, for individualism threatens the collective Umma as also the system of ijma (consensus), which is the basis of the Umma.
Islam frowns upon the study of other religions and philosophic systems. In fact, the Prophet himself prohibits it.
In the next 50 years, schools, colleges and universities will no more be built around books. Computers, videos and satellite telecasts will change these institutions. Distance education is coming into vogue. These are far cries from the concepts and practices of madrasa education.
This inability of Islam to move with the times has created enormous friction between Islam and other civilisations. For example, Islam continues to rely on Jehad, while others rely on dialogue?on the process of negotiations.
In short, political Islam (and Islam is a political ideology according to Maulana Maududi) has become unacceptable to the world. More so, after Islam spawned the Taliban. This made a NATO Secretary-General to declare that ?Islamic fundamen-talism is at least as dangerous as communism was.? Margaret Thatcher agreed with him. Perhaps this is what led Samuel Huntington to proclaim his theory of the ?conflict of civilisations?.
Islamists must understand that they cannot impose their views on others. Others too have a brain of their own. And they have a right to choose. Jehadism is a retrogression?a return to barbarism. It cannot be an alternative to the present global order.