By Aafiyat Nazar
April 10th, 2015
The quest for knowledge and exploration of the universe is one of the most powerful commands of Allah Almighty. The Holy Quran emphasises contemplation of the creation of the heavens and the earth. There are various verses which urge people to ponder over nature.
The importance of studying nature is also evident from the names of several chapters in the Quran such as ‘ant’, ‘elephant’ and ‘cow’. The question arises: is studying nature without questions possible? Indeed, it will be naïve to think so. Then, why do so many Muslim societies appear hostile to questions? Can we as a society afford to continue with the suppression of questions? Are the root causes of the problems these societies are experiencing not emanating from this hostility?
A cursory look at the histories of Civilisations reveals that the stories of their rise and fall are nothing other than endeavours to address the questions that were raised in the past. Certainly, questions have been dominant in the evolution of Civilisations. At times, questions were viewed as threats; hence, the questioners were imprisoned and/or killed. Socrates, one of the most influential philosophers, was persecuted for “corrupting” the minds of youth with his questions. Many aspiring intellectuals and scientists met similar fates in other societies as well.
Likewise, many Muslim societies have also been tainted with the blood of intellectuals, while they have also been enriched by their significant contributions. These contributions were primarily possible due to the openness of those societies. The tolerance towards asking questions enabled them to produce philosophers and a panoply of people in other fields. These societies have ceased to produce such people, which point to their decline.
The decline continues due to rejection of reasoning and the belittling of the role of intellect. Consequently, they have actually belittled the structures of their societies as a whole. It is an irony that the followers of the Holy Quran appear to have ‘question-phobia’.
The phobia is leading them towards mass ruin, which can be averted when questions will be allowed. At present allowing questions means a blow to the interest of the elites, as it creates a sense of insecurity in them. Therefore, to safeguard their interests they control the flow of information and questions. Resultantly, an ‘anti-question’ ideology has emerged which tries to defend the ‘interests’ of societies by banning them.
In the knowledge era, a ban on questions or evading them is tantamount to a suicidal act. In fact, the inability to ask questions has led societies to produce extremists and terrorists who are not only killing themselves and innocent people, but are also forcing societies as a whole to be part of their ignorance.
It is fascinating to note that contrary to ‘question-phobia’, Islam strongly advocates the asking of questions. Besides the emphasis of the Holy Quran, the life of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) is full of examples whereby in order to educate people he used to ask questions. He would also encourage people to ask questions. One Hadith states: “Knowledge is a treasure and the key to access this treasure is [to] question. Therefore, ask questions and there will be the blessings of Allah on you. Asking questions is rewarding to four types of people: the questioner; the teacher; the audience; and to the people who love the aforementioned people.”
There are even examples from the lives of the caliphs, when common people would ask them questions. One widely quoted example is from the life of Hazrat Umar, when a person asked him about his robe that was made out of the cloth of booty.
Unfortunately, the treasure of knowledge at this time appears to be far away from the majority of Muslim societies as they have lost the key. Consequently, they are becoming societies of superstition. The inability to ask questions leads people to declare the ‘inventor’ of the water car a hero and to garland people such as the murderer of the late Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer. Many ‘intellectuals’ justify their acts of ‘heroism’. In such an environment, few people will dare to ask questions. And whoever dares to ask questions is being silenced in the name of ‘blasphemy’ and/or societal interests. The sane voices are punished while insanity continues its bloody dance.
The dance will end only when educational institutions stop producing individuals who spout readymade answers. Instead, they need to be substituted with independent thinkers capable of asking questions. In order to revive themselves and be at par with the developed nations, Muslim societies need to review their policy of banning or restricting questions, as it is against the basic spirit of Islam which so strongly stresses the use of the intellect. They also need to reform their educational policies in order to align them with the spirit of free inquiry.
Aafiyat Nazar is an educator.