Dr Wasim Ahmad
Department Head of Islamic Studies
Preston University Ajman

We as a people look at the short-cuts – in almost all situations. From my understanding the only shortest way is, in fact, the longest way because the shortest way may never take us to the destination outlined in this (Aligarh Movement) vision: “The students coming out of our Universities should have Qur’an in the right hand, most modern scientific and technological advancements in the left hand and the crown of Laa Ilaah on the forehead. So that the Muslims regain the same glorious status of founders and promoters of science and technology as they did during the ascendance of their civilization.” If we concur on this VISION then we have to figure out how we could align everything else accordingly.

We have divided knowledge into ‘deenee’ and ‘dunyaawee’. We should, however, merge “deeni” and “dunyaawee” into one integrated system. Unless we merge the two, the ‘modern educated’ will not come out of their self-doubt and the ‘traditionally educated’ will not be able to fully apply what they learn and teach. Integrating is a difficult job (the longest way). Hence, we take to the shortest way. That we will never reach to a destination doesn’t matter because we haven’t decided a destination (VISION).

The exclusivist environment of madrasaas is not suitable and not required in this time and age. We need more avenues of interaction and communication with the people of other faiths and should have plans for it for the future generations. Also, we need to learn the art of peacefully co-habiting with the fellow countrymen. Being educated, however, in an exclusivist environment and living a mostly secluded life in the formative years one doesn’t get many opportunities for interaction later and is not very comfortable either. No matter how much our ‘Ulama emphasize on the need for Da‘wah and bhaa’ee chaarah, as an example, they themselves do not have many non-Muslim friends – barring exceptions.

Our children deserve to be in a class that has the children of other faiths from the very initial years of their schooling. This is the only way to grow as a harmonious human being – a well rounded personality. This is the only way that we will be well integrated in the society. In an exclusively Muslim environment nobody asks uncomfortable questions which need to be satisfied rationally. Without this, however, no intellectual developments or advancements. We need to liberate Islam and Qur’an from an isolationist and exclusivist environment. Islam is a religion of common humanity. Ibn ‘Umar narrates that the Prophet (pbuh) said, “The believer who mixes and involves himself with the people and bears patiently the harms coming from them is greater in reward than the one who does not mix with them and does not bear their harms (patiently).” (Ib Maajah, 4022 CD)

Perpetuating the above-mentioned exclusivist and isolationist environment in which students spend many years of their life implies a threat perception as if they will lose their identity – otherwise. If the identity is so fragile it raises even more serious questions (than it seeks to answer) and it is by itself a cause of concern. Instead of finding out the reasons for this threat perception and rectifying the situation, we perpetuate the same exclusivist environment which reinforces the threat perception. Finding out the reasons and rectifying them is like taking to the longest route. Perpetuating with the vicious cycle is the shortest.

We teach Islam to a small group of students (3-4%) and don’t care much about the huge majority. And we do not realize that they ALL deserve the best. We almost always underestimate our scope and capacities. What is useful for one is useful for the rest. We, however, want to continue with the existing system which automatically means that we will be maintaining the painful duality of knowledge.

The separation of the two streams is like separating the fuel from engine. The fuel alone isn’t moving forward and the engine doesn’t get started without the fuel. This does not surprise us. We don’t think twice about it. We are not allowing the Faith and the Book the chance to propel us ahead. With what intention our teachers go to their classes – of whichever subject – is a question worth asking. The answer to this question will help us understand the situation.

The longest is to teach ALL the sciences with the spirit of Islam and Qur’an behind it. The shortest is to keep the two streams flowing separately. The ‘religious’ stream doesn’t worry about the ‘secular’ and the ‘secular’ isn’t concerned about the ‘religious’. Both the streams of education continue contradicting and undoing each other on a daily basis. Bringing both of them together is the longest road. We will not take to that route. We are not used to it.

Another short-cut that we are most used to is taking education as an end in itself. When we take education as an end in itself we are saved from the task of constantly monitoring if we are getting the desired objectives (DEVELOPING A COHERENT BODY OF IDEAS AND CREATIVELY REACHING TO THE UNKNOWN UTILIZING THE POWER OF CRITICAL AND SCIENTIFIC THINKING) out of it. Constantly monitoring and being watchful is the longest way, which we are not used to. But we don’t know that without focusing on the ultimate objectives and being watchful for it we will never get it.

We suffer from our choice of short-cuts later. Almost invariably. Taking to the long route will involve more analysis and bringing the discussions to the logical conclusions. There are indications that for some more time we will continue considering the shortest as the longest, oblivious of the fact that the ‘longest’ is actually the shortest.