By Syed Imad-ud-Din Asad
TO the present-day Muslim masses, the West mainly signifies indecency, materialism and an insatiable hunger for global political dominance. This perception is largely based on prejudices caused by a lack of adequate and credible information regarding different western societies.
It is true that certain western moral norms are unlike ours; westerners, generally, are more focused on ensuring material security and advancement than we are; and some western governments regularly interfere, illogically and in a dictatorial fashion, in the Muslim world worsening the already existing political turmoil. However, this is definitely not all that the West stands for.
Muslims, unfortunately, do not look beyond same-gender couples, old people’s homes, going Dutch, cut-throat competition on Wall Street and the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. They have failed to appreciate or even take notice of several commendable aspects of the West. Consequently, they have not been able to take advantage of the so many western intellectual achievements. At best, they take the West as a rival if not an enemy.
It is a common practice among Muslims to narrate marvellous accounts of the glorious deeds that they performed centuries ago, always contrasting that splendour with the primitive condition of Europe at that time. We love to continuously remind ourselves that there was a period when we ‘were’ great and Europe ‘was’ nowhere. Though this is true, it is tragic that most of us have failed to understand the responsibility which memories of a splendid past place on the living. We are justified in celebrating our glorious history only if it inspires us to perform better now.
Yes, Muslims did play a vital role in Europe’s struggle to free itself from the Dark Ages. However, today, is there any Muslim country that can outperform a western one in arts, science, technology? Is there any university in the Muslim world that can compete with the best western universities, like Harvard, Yale, Oxford, Cambridge and Heidelberg? No.
We are in a sorry state. All we do is to recall our past grandeur and blame the West for our present predicaments, while driving western cars, enjoying western appliances and playing with western Blackberries and iPhones. Blaming the West for our unpleasant reality is not going to solve anything. And if someone must be blamed, we must blame ourselves for disregarding the Quranic injunctions regarding the pursuit of knowledge and excellence. If western countries are leading the globe, it is because they have earned this right through their relentless hard work and continuous struggle for intellectual advancement.
We talk about our contribution, but we never talk about the tremendous efforts that Europeans made to pull themselves out of the Dark Ages.
Yes, they were reintroduced to knowledge — we must not forget the scholarship produced by the Greeks much before the emergence of Islam — at our institutions. However, the main thing was that the Europeans had the prudence to further develop what they learnt from us. That development of knowledge is still going on and there is hardly a part of our existence that does not bear the mark of western technology and know-how.
While the West was busy exploring its intellectual abilities and discovering new horizons of thought, we, on the other hand, gradually ceased to apply logic and to exercise our wits in the search of knowledge. Though severely discouraged in the Quran, this attitude was introduced and encouraged by power-hungry scholars and selfish rulers as it is always easy to manipulate people given to blind following. This inevitably resulted in the swift downfall of the Muslim world.
It is high time for us to get rid of the intellectual inactivity that we have been in for so long and enter into a meaningful interaction with the West. Just as the West took advantage of our knowledge, now we must take advantage of the West’s modern knowledge. Not only we should learn from them, but further develop what we learn. We must compete with the West instead of taking it as an enemy. After all, healthy competition leads to improvement and excellence. In no way does this mean that we adopt everything western and completely shed our beliefs and values. We are talking about modernisation, not westernisation.
Where there are differences, there are also principles and concepts that Islam has in common with the West. Similarly, there are so many concerns and issues that are faced by Muslims and westerners alike. While gracefully disagreeing on matters in which there is a conflict of opinion, Muslims should not hesitate to cooperate with the West in areas of mutual interest. After all, did the Prophet (PBUH) not instruct Muslims to acquire knowledge even if it be in China? Surely, he did not mean them to study Arabic and Islamic jurisprudence over there.
It must be mentioned that where Muslims must try to understand the realities and dynamics of western cultures, the West must also make a sincere effort to understand Islam and the way several Muslim groups behave. Don’t we all know that there is much more to Islam than Al Qaeda and Taliban? Thus, we need a joint effort based on mutual respect and common interests. It is true that the problems confronting the Muslim world are neither simple nor easy to solve and have aggravated over the centuries. However, westernisation, as some westerners and western-educated Muslims erroneously believe, is definitely not the answer.
The writer is a graduate of Harvard Law School and the director of Centre for Law and Policy, University of Management and Technology, Lahore.
Source: The Dawn, Pakistan