Saturday, 9 December, 2006
What Have We Forgotten in Islam?
By Aga Khan 3
Islam is fundamentally in its very nature a natural Religion. Throughout the
Quran, God's signs (Ayats) are referred to as the natural phenomenon...
The Aga Khan’s diagnosis in a letter dated 4th April, 1952 to H.E. Dr. Zahid
Husain President, Arabiyyah Jamiyyat, Karachi.
First of all I must thank you for so kindly praying for my health. The Almighty
has graciously allowed me some further time to be able to serve the great cause
which you and I have at heart. I had promised when I made the donation of Rs.
10,000 to send you my views and I take this occasion of doing so.
Of late in Pakistan various people have said that the downfall of the Muslim
states during the last 200 or 300 years has been due to forgetting Islamic
principles and this is a warning for the people of the new God-given state of
Pakistan. Certainly I agree that we forgot Islamic principles in these three
hundred years, but here great care must be taken to understand what Islamic
principles we forgot and what Islamic principles we did not forget, for, it may
be, that the stress is being hid in the popular mind on what we had not
forgotten. For instance, the Ulemas in Iran were ever more powerful, more
influential, more believed in, more obeyed than in the early part of the 19th
century during Fatehali Shah's reign. The Shariat law was in every way being
carried out, rites and ceremonies were exactly obeyed, the poor received regular
help and assistance and Zakat was general Yet that was for Iran the most
disastrous period because they went to war foolishly trusting on prayers,
against Russia and lost the whole Caucasus, Georgia and half Azarbaijan. It is
generally said in Iran that the Ulemas assured the troops who had inferior arms
that if the prayer Joshaun was read, they could face the superior armament of
the Russians. Unfortunately they did and they were massacred and defeated and
had to accept finally the humiliating treaty of Turkamanchia.
During the same 18th/19th centuries in Turkey and North Africa also, the rites,
ceremonies and alms for poor were carefully carried out and yet those were the
years of the disastrous wars with Russia and Austria and regular loss of
Only in India we can say that the downfall was due to the forgetting of our
principles of rites and ceremonies and Shariat law, but here apart from such
failures, the same forgetting of another fundamental Islamic principle, which
had led to the downfalls in Iran and Turkey, also worked and was perhaps the
In North Africa, from Egypt to Morocco, rites and ceremonies and the ordinary
laws of the Shariat and poor relief were strictly observed and yet year by year
throughout the 19th/20th centuries, independence was removed and Europe
conquered in one form or other, Morocco being the last which was lost in our
time for the same faults. There was another fundamental Islamic principle which
the Muslim world during the last 300 years more and more forgot and they lost
Islam is fundamentally in its very nature a natural religion. Throughout the
Quran God's signs (Ayats) are referred to as the natural phenomenon, the law and
order of the universe, the exactitudes and consequences of the relations between
natural phenomenon in cause and effect. Over and over, the stars, sun, moon,
earthquakes, fruits of the earth and trees are mentioned as the signs of divine
power, divine law and divine order. Even in the Ayeh of Noor, divine is referred
to as the natural phenomenon of light and even references are made to the fruit
of the earth. During the great period of Islam, Muslims did not forget these
principles of their religion.
Under the Khalif Muavia and the great Omaiyyad Khalifs of Damascus, the Islamic
navy was supreme in Mediterranean, better ships, better knowledge of wind and
tide were placed at the disposal of the Muslim navy and thus the land conquests
of half Western Europe rendered possible and easy.
Even the historian Gibbon says that when the Turks conquered Constantinople, the
Muslim artillery was far superior to any other in Europe, and far greater
knowledge was known of the consequences of powder and fire than anything that
the Greeks had at their disposal. This alone led to the rapid Turkish conquest
of the Balkan Peninsula and Constantinople and coming upto Vienna. Just as under
the great Omaiyyads they had almost reached Paris.
But at the end of the 17th century and beginning of the 18th, the European
Renaissance rapidly advanced in knowledge of nature, namely all those very Ayats
of God to which the Quran refers when Muslims forgot the Ayats, namely natural
phenomenon, its law and order which are the proofs of divine guidance used in
the Quran, but we stuck to our rites and ceremonies, to our prayers and fast
alone, forgetting the other half of our faith. Thus during those 200/300 years,
Europe and the West got an advance out of all proportion to the Muslim world and
we found everywhere in Islam (inspite of our humble prayer, our moral standard,
our kindliness and gentleness towards the poor) constant denotation of one form
or another and the Muslim world went down. Why? Because we forgot the law and
order of nature to which the Quran refers as proof of God's existence and we
went against God's natural laws. This and this alone has led to the disastrous
consequences we have seen.
Today public opinion in Pakistan is standing at a critical moment. If again we
look upon Islamic principles as only rites and ceremonies and forget the real
Ayats of God's natural phenomenon, then not only Europe but China and India will
go so far ahead of us that either we will become like North Africa, humble
protectorates or we may have like Turkey to throw over much that is most
valuable and precious in our mental outlook. To avoid this, what are we to do?
Any fool can tell you of the disease but what is the remedy, how are we to save
both teaching of Islam, knowledge of nature and our daily Islamic life of
kindliness, gentleness and prayers? If the present method by which the Ulema
being brought up on one line of studies and the scientific youth on a different
one continues, then disaster will come because there will be a fundamental
misunderstanding in the outlook of intellect and faith in the soul of the
nation. We must learn from our enemies what saved Christianity for Europe. It
was the fact that as the Universities at the time of the Renaissance and
centuries that followed went forward with natural studies at the same time, the
same universities had faculties of divinity in which the priesthood was trained.
The atmosphere of science permeated the atmosphere of Christian divinity studies
and the atmosphere of the Christian divinity students permeated the atmosphere
of the scientific studies thus both grew and developed together. Christianity
adapted itself to science, though it is any thing but a natural religion being
based on fundamental irrational principles which are the break up of natural law
and order, while science accepted these extraordinary miracles as temporary
breaks of the natural law of the universe.
Alas, Islam which is a natural religion in which God's miracles are the very law
and order of nature drifted away and still drifting away, even in Pakistan, from
science which is the study of those very laws and orders of nature.
You, gentlemen, have a great responsibility. The only practical hope I see is
that all your universities in Pakistan should have a faculty of Islamic
religious and philosophical studies attached to ordinary curriculum for
post-graduate students, who alone could be recognized as Ulemas. Something of
the kind I know is being prepared in Egypt. A great Muslim divine, alas dead far
too soon, the late Sheikh al-Maraghi, insisted in Azhar that natural laws should
be taught according to the latest discoveries; but if we turn to Iran, Pakistan,
North Africa, outside Egypt, we find that the Ulemas are being still brought up
on the same old lines and the modern students on a totally different line. There
is no unity of soul without which there can be no greatness.
My voice alone is the voice of an old sick man in the wilderness, but you
members of the Jamiyyat are not old members and sick men. Insist, you who have
taken up the study of the language of the Quran, to make the spirit of the Quran
also the spirit of Pakistan. Remember that in the great first century they knew
more about sea and wind than Europe ever did for hundreds of years to come.
Today where are you? Unless our universities have the keen graduated Ulema
school for men brought up in the same atmosphere as the science students,
realizing the fundamental truth that Islam is a natural religion of which the
Ayats are the universe in which we live and move and have our being, the same
causes will lead to the same disastrous results.
You, members of the Jamiyyat should bravely request the enlargement of our
universities and the increase of their numbers on Aligarh lines, and insist on
post graduate degrees for Ulema, just as there is for scientists brought up in
the same way. I influenced my friend Mohsenul Mulk to do something of the kind
in Aligarh. Alas, he died and after his death my direct influence on the powers
of Aligarh got less and less, though something of the kind to which I here refer
did come up in Aligarh. It did not go the whole way as it would have gone, still
if Mohsenul Mulk had lived and I had been able to continue my influence, but it
was an improvement and it has given you Pakistan. Without Aligarh no Pakistan
would have come, but to live we want many Aligarhs with science and religious
philosophy and education blended in one atmosphere realizing that God of the
Quran is the one whose Ayats are the universe.
This is my most important message to you, brothers of Jamiyyat. If your prayers
have given me life enough to write this letter, your prayers have done some
Islam, eminently logical, placing the greatest emphasis on knowledge, purports
to understand God's creation:Aga Khan 4.
The God of the Quran is the One whose Ayats(Signs) are the Universe in which we
live, move and have our being:Aga Khan 3