By Mehreen Omer
Sep 25, 2013
Drunk in the nostalgia for the Islamic golden age, Muslims today find solace reminiscing about the past. It seems perhaps to be the only comfort for the ills that befall them today; an antidote for “the poison that the cunning West has inflicted them with”. The Islamic golden age has conceitedly become the knock-out punch in store against the Islamophobic debaters. The Muslim world cannot be criticised, for it had once ruled the world.
After all, which infidel can deny the influential role the work of the Muslims played in the European Renaissance? But almost every other Muslim denies the equally significant role the work of the Persians, Greeks & Indians played in the much romanticised Muslim renaissance. The frustrated Muslim today vociferously tries to make the non-Muslims understand that the West does not have a monopoly over science but forgets to accept himself that when the Muslims were at the peak of their scientific and cultural progress it was in large part due to cooperation with people of other faiths.
If it is not sheer arrogance to postulate that all good is a Muslim creation, then it is not blasphemous either to say that the Muslims in fact created nothing of their own. They drew upon the knowledge that was already existent, and only improvised. One of the reasons why the Muslims have largely failed to embrace modernity today is that they feel that their monopoly over knowledge and development is being challenged. Many of them desire the Caliphate system; a heavenly world without any pain and suffering. Would they feel insulted to know that the secular order, that the Muslims are so vehemently trying to oppose, already has many clauses that are a confirmation of the justice that Muslims say only can belong to an ‘Islamic’ social and legal order? If the Muslims do have a monopoly over anything right now, it is a denial of their shared heritage with people of other faiths and customs. The Jewish golden age happened in tandem with the Islamic golden age; the Muslims benefitted from Jewish scientists just like the Jews benefitted from Muslim scientists.
The biggest tragedy that the Muslims face today is not the ignorance of their history, but an unforgivable longing for it. Unfortunately for the nostalgists, the Islamic golden age was not a utopian affair where unconditional justice prevailed and serenity diffused through all holes. However, that is a subject of another discussion. The Muslims today are too busy with winning debates with their infidel counterparts over who’s the daddy. The world has moved on, but the Muslims seem to be lost in retrograde. Just like an intense lover who can’t get over his perfidious beloved, the Muslim world is not coming to terms with why its green fields have turned yellow. Maybe because the Muslims forgot to water them!
Sadly, the manifestations of such a screwed thinking are evident in what is happening in many Muslim countries today. The Pakistani government through PEMRA banned the YouTube for failing to remove a video demeaning the Prophet (pbuh) of Islam. The government was too clever to ban only the video and decided instead to ban the entire platform. Millions of Pakistanis lost access to the educational content over YouTube as well, and that too in a country where e-learning already recently picked up pace to rectify the education apartheid. YouTube became a satanic platform overnight, because the Muslims have a monopoly over good and the infidels just can’t do anything but bad. Facebook is the devil’s ploy too; all Muslims should immediately switch to the halal social network called ‘Millat Facebook’.
And here comes the blame game. Just like the Pakistan Studies textbooks are full of hate material against the Indians in general and Hindus in particular, the Islamic Studies curriculum too idealises Islamic history without acknowledging the faults and injustices of its many Muslim rulers. Many of the sectarian conflicts and the fundamentalist anarchy that affect the Muslim body politic today are actually rooted in the past. An impartial study of Islamic history is indispensable for solving the problems that the Muslim world encounters today. Tariq Ramadan in his book ‘The Quest for Meaning’ talks about the shared universal – values and principles no one faith has a monopoly over. The travesty of history where in reality all civilisations have shared with and contributed to each other’s growth, has led to the polarisation of the world we see today. The infamous ‘Clash of Civilisations’ rhetoric dominates the discussion between the Muslims and the non-Muslims. Neither party is willing to recognise just how much it owes to the other. It seems more appropriate to call it then a ‘Clash of Egos’ rather than a clash of civilisations.
A Muslim tourist to Spain is more interested in bragging about the likes of Alhambra and Cordoba during the time of the Umayyad Caliphate, than he is in actually learning more about them. And a non-Muslim tourist to a developing Muslim country is more interested in the infrastructure development and market liberalisation the West has showered the indigenous and primeval communities with, than he is in actually learning more about their culture and traditions.
But even amongst the Islamophobic humdrum rhetoric in the media, many non-Muslim authors have striven hard to produce works of great length about Islamic science and arts and its contribution to the world today. But there seems to be much reluctance on part of the Muslim world to create a similar work of sorts appreciating the contribution of the people of other faiths to the world we so dearly love.
Muslims don’t have monopoly over success. It’s time they realised it. Living in the past won’t solve the problems of the present, and neither would it make the future any promising. History bears testimony to the fact that the only way civilisations progress is by sharing the contributions of its many nations and communities. The Muslims also did not progress singlehandedly. They were great once, but so was the rest of the world once. But the rest of the world has moved on, it’s time the Muslims do too. The Muslim monopoly never existed, let alone being broken.
Mehreen Omer is a status quo critic by habit and a marketing scientist by profession.