A neglected dimension of the Prophetic heritage
By Dr. Mohammad Omar Farooq
[The author is an associate professor
of economics and finance at Upper Iowa University. Homepage: http://www.globalwebpost.com/farooqm;
First, let us recount some of the modern gadgets
that have become routines in most of our lives. Clock, stove, microwave,
thermometer, pain reliever, computer, vacuum cleaner, miracle mop, car,
laser printer, ball-point pen, bank checks, self-adhesive stamps - not a
single of these gadgets or the underlying operating systems is a
contribution by Muslims. Readers can take an account of their own lives
and see if they can identify anything they currently use that has been
discovered, invented, or even innovated by Muslims! One can also look at
the organizational dimension of their lives and see whether in their
society they allow people of international (particularly, of different
religious) origin to be integrated as closely as we have been allowed
to, or whether they can voice their concerns not merely to protest but
for the sake of problem-solving, or whether they can drive with
reasonable expectation that the fellow drivers on the road will obey the
Within the limited scope of this paper, I would like to draw attention
to a few aspects related to an important dimension of our Muslim
existence and the prophetic heritage: mind-building, which must go
parallel to the most important character-building. Those gadgets as well
as organizational development or institutionalization (Iqamah) are
results of certain mind-set that are relevant to everyone. That mind-set
is not necessarily western mind-set. Rather, it is deeply and
essentially Islamic too.
First, Muslims at the popular level are overwhelmingly dogmatic. Having
some balanced rationalism with solid grounding in logic is a must.
Recently, a prolific writer on an internet forum, who also seems to
speak for Islam, commented: "We the Muslims have taken Qur'an for
granted as the authentic revelation from Allah (SWT). No arguments, no
logic and no philosophy. The only thing is we have to understand it and
be guided accordingly." Nothing could be farther from the truth. Muslims
don't become Muslim by birth. They have to embrace it, and do so with
conscious and conscientious effort in search of truth.
One of the most compelling dimensions of the Qur'an is to frequently
engage us in reasoned dialog as it poses questions after questions and
provoke us to think and reason with the Qur'an. "Say: 'See ye? - If
your stream be some morning lost (in the underground earth), who then
can supply you with clear-flowing water?" [67/Surah al-Mulk/30]
Secondly, besides having a balanced rationality, inculcating the spirit
of inquiry - not blind submission - is an essential dimension of Islam.
It is not just a prophetic tradition, but also it is exemplified in the
life and personality of Ibrahim (a), whose legacy is the foundation of
the teachings of even the Prophet Muhammad (s). [2/al-Baqara/130, 135]
Indeed, sometimes having doubt, even after proclaiming faith, is neither
unnatural nor unIslamic. That "no arguments, no logic and no philosophy"
attitude or concept is simply alien to Islam or the Qur'an.
Call it scientific, but in appropriate contexts, demanding proof and use
of one of the primary human faculty - reasoning - are essential Islamic,
prophetic, and Qur'anic dimensions. The faculty of reasoning never
becomes redundant: not while searching for truth, and not after we
believe that we have found the truth. Those who do not employ the
faculty of reasoning may grab the very first candidate that claims to be
the truth, and if that candidate is embraced without appropriate
scrutiny, in all likelihood, whatever was embraced will be upheld
regardless whether it was really the truth in the first place or not.
That is why logic and reason are never unwanted or disposable for
Muslims. Islam simply teaches, and expects from, us to use those
adequately and properly.
May I beg the readers' indulgence to read the following verse about
Ibrahim (a), who even after attaining Prophethood asked Allah: "Behold!
Abraham said: 'My Rabb! Show me, how you give life to the dead.' He
said: 'Do you not then believe?' He said: 'Yes! but to satisfy my own
understanding.' He said: 'Take four birds, tame them to turn to you; put
a portion of them on every hill, and call to them; they will come to you
(flying) with speed. Then know that God is Exalted in Power, Wise.'"
This is the foundation of Islamic spirit of inquiry, search for truth,
pursuit of knowledge, and understanding. We are, of course, not
prophets. Genuine search for truth does not begin by taking things for
granted, but by our effort to learn and verify - the essence of
scientific approach. In this process, occasional doubts are very
natural. As far as Islamic validity of what I am suggesting, let no one
tell you any differently, because this is what the Prophet (s) himself
has said: "Allah's Apostle said, "We have more right to be in doubt
than Abraham when he said, 'My Lord! Show me how you give life to the
dead.' He said, 'Do you not believe?' He said, 'Yes (I believe) but to
be stronger in Faith.' (2/al-Baqarah/260)" [Sahih al-Bukhari, Vol. 6,
Thirdly, Muslims have lost their bond with nature. Yes, there are
scientists - natural and social, but not reared through an educational
system or environment that popularly (and inspired by Islam)
internalizes and nurtures observational bond with nature. There are so
many people chanting "Subhanallah", but how many does one see straying
for a moment to observe how a bird flies, or caterpillar turns into
butterfly, or a seed sprouts - and spontaneously - without even being
conscious - say once: "Subhanallah." The first type of Subhanallah
chanters of the ummah of the Prophet Muhammad (s) would be the users of
all these gadgets invented or produced by the non-Muslims. Indeed, they
would give louder Adhans with loudspeakers invented by the non-Muslims.
The second kind of "Subhanallah" will produce the discoverers,
explorers, inventors, and innovators.
Muslims need to develop a keen interest in understanding and
appreciating the nature - the world of creations of which we are a part.
Muslims are ready to reject any evolutionary theory, but they do not
have an adequately developed and articulated alternative explanation.
Study closely the following verse: "Say: 'Travel through the earth and
see how Allah did originate creation; so will Allah produce a later
creation; for Allah has power over all things'" [29/al-Ankaboot: 20]
While Allah invites and challenges us to study, understand, and
appreciate how "Allah did originate creation," what have Muslims to
offer on the part of the Ummah from the study during last fourteen
centuries as an adequately detailed and developed account for the
process of originating creation? Our explanation is simple, elegant and
melodramatic! "Kun fa-yakun!" God said: "Be and there it was". All that
there is to it!
One reason that partly, but importantly, accounts for this failure is
that the people we call scholars or Ulama over time have completely
alienated themselves from nature. Nature is not merely to be
contemplated upon, but to be experienced - to be touched, felt, smelt,
and observed. Consider the following verses of Sura al-Mulk [3-4]: "He
who created the seven heavens one above another: No want of proportion
will you see in the creation of the Most Gracious. So turn your vision
again: Do you see any flaw? Again turn your vision a second time: (your)
vision will come back to you dull and discomfited in a state of worn
The purpose of these verses is not that people would have such a
gullibly, believing mind and attitude that they would not even bother to
look for what Allah is referring to. These verses are invitation as well
as challenge to humanity to study, understand, and appreciate the
creation of Allah. However, the impact of these verses on our mind has
been quite the opposite. Since we believe in Allah and Allah's creation
is flawless, why do we need to turn our vision toward his creation? The
sad lesson is that, regardless of the reason, whoever develops a keen
attachment to nature - studies, explores, probes into - has a different
appreciation than those who simply believe in. Furthermore, our belief
in the flawlessness of Allah's creation does not take us even one step
closer to put nature to our use, as others are already doing.
Technological progress and understanding of nature are inseparable.
Fourthly, Muslims have a serious stumbling block to mind-building. The
autonomous forces of modern changes in this society are driven by at
least two factors. One is the problem-solving attitude and approach,
which we lack due to our overwhelmingly dogmatic mind-set (and the
so-called Islamic movements are absolutely no exceptions!). The other is
innovation. While innovation is the key to incremental improvements in
human society, Muslim mind-set psychologically is at odd with this very
word. Why? The Arabic/Islamic word for this is "Bid'ah". While we are
repeating every week in Jumuah prayers "All innovations are misguidance
(dalala) and all misguidances are hell-bound", who says Muslims are not
smart? Their mind-set, quite intelligently and aptly, is not set up for
"innovations" leading to who knows where. While avoiding bid'ah, in
appropriate contexts, has importance, we rarely even clarify that while
one type of innovation may be hell-bound, the other is essential to our
existence. It is important to emphasize the need for more and more
bid'ah in another sense.
Muslims cannot ignore the fact that those who have overwhelming
technological superiority over us, they also dominate our lives in every
possible way, often negatively. Technology as an autonomous force of
change would continue to shape and reshape the world around us, unless
we are in the driving seat of history. And, toward that end we also need
to rebuild our mind-set based on a better and different understanding of
the Qur'an and the Prophetic heritage.
Mind-building is a challenging and complex subject, and only a few
pertinent aspects have been touched here. Feedbacks are most welcome.
This is an excerpt from the Original article that was published in
The Message International, June 2000