Sunday, July 4, 2010

Answering the Question How Do We Catch China!

Dr. Muzaffar Iqbal

Invoking the name of an Ibn Sina, or a Razi, they [Muslims] attempted to prove that Islamic civilization did have its great scholars, sages and scientists. No one was interested in reclaiming this veritable tradition, they were all interested in inheriting it.

Thus stultified, this invocation to the past glory did nothing but sooth the burning pain of that generation of Muslims who came just before the end of the colonial period. For when the struggle for independence started, its point of departure was based on the transformed societies which were already looking toward the West for guidance and help. Most leaders of these movements were actually the products of the Western institutions.

They had already accepted the judgment and everything that came with it: the state as the basic operating unit, their own nation as the alpha and omega of their political ambition, western-style education including its science and technology as the mantra of progress, western political and economic institutions as the operating apparatus of the state and the western judiciary as the system of justice. Thus independence was essentially a change of rulers rather than ideologies.

But even within these movements [of resurgence], little has been accomplished in terms of understanding the nature of western science.

For the most part, modern western science was accepted without any critical evaluation of its philosophical foundations, its claims, its goals and its ultimate worldview. The nineteenth century illusion of science being a value-free, objective discipline became the reigning paradigm in the Muslim world, and it remains so, even after its demise in the West. This blind acceptance begot an equally blind demand for science. 

From the political leadership to the reformers and from the common man in the street to the opinion leaders, everyone agreed that the Muslim world needs to catch up with the West in science and technology. I recall the most recent resolutions adopted in this very city by the Organization of Islamic Conference which repeated this broken record as part of its routine repetitious and fruitless calls which have been making rounds since the early eighties. In fact, the mantra of the political leadership in countries as far apart as Morocco and Pakistan and the writings of the opinion leaders throughout the Muslim world—all incessantly demand more and more science. It is another matter that in their blissful innocence, they confuse technology with science and even when they mean science, they usually mean the applied sciences. Thus, it is not surprising that in public discourse about science in the Muslim world, the phrase most often used is “science and technology”, in one breath, without a pause.

This is not a new situation. Since the time of the nineteenth century modernist reformers, the general opinion in the Muslim world has been that the West was able to advance and colonize almost the entire Muslim world because of its science and technology, both spoken of as if they are one. This line of thought has given birth to the “catching up syndrome”—the idea that as soon as the Muslim world acquires science and technology, it will catch up with the West. This has been articulated over and over and with such regularity that it has become the gospel of development strategies.

Considering the global impact of modern science, perhaps it is not unwarranted that Muslims should be so enthralled by it. In addition, there are the obvious needs of contemporary Muslim societies which force reliance on western science and its products. These range from genetically altered seeds to telecommunication, from defense needs to pharmaceuticals and from consumer goods to essential chemicals. In fact, for all practical purposes, the whole of the Muslim world, comprising one fourth of human beings now living on planet earth, is utterly dependent on the western science.

This dependency is not the artificial dependency of the elite for consumer goods; rather, this is a fundamental dependence on western science in almost all areas of life—from agriculture to pharmaceutical products and from communication to industrial chemicals—is increasing. In this, the Muslim world shares its predicament with other non-Western countries.

Those who think that modern science and its sister, technology, will find cure to the problems they have created without the help of religion live in a world of illusionsJust as thought cannot get out language and fact cannot be independent of theory, a system cannot transcend its own boundaries.

For all those who are concerned with the spiritual and physical well-being of humanity, the daunting task at this stage is to forge anew an inalienable link between the two formidable forces that shape our lives: science and religion. Only through such an inalienable link, can we hope to travel on a path that is rightfully ours—a path envisioned for the human race through a binding covenant that made us the vicegerents of God, the Creator of the whole cosmos Who chose in His infinite Mercy and Knowledge to place us here on this earth as trustees with enormous responsibilities.

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