The Muslim world is undoubtedly under throes of crisis and Muslim masses in general and Muslim intellectuals in particular are deeply concerned about it. What is the nature of that crisis and what are causes of the crisis needs to be analysed and understood properly before any remedial measures can be suggested. And after the attack on 9/11 the sense of, if not the actual nature of, the crisis has deepened.
The nature of crisis has to be traced to the pace of modern changes, which are taking place rapidly in the Muslim world today. Most of the Muslim countries have still not left their feudal past behind. The mindset of Muslim peoples in these countries is still attuned to feudal era. The feudal value-system requires people to submit to, rather than be critical of, ruling and religious authorities. The Muslim world is in a state of transition and the transitory state is bound to create crisis and confusion.
All countries and peoples go through such crisis and intellectual confusion. The European countries went through it during 17-18 centuries lingering over to 19th century. It was during this period that the authority of the church was weakened, democratic governance emerged and critical mindset developed. It is also to be noted that the European countries, especially England and France, could ease the nature of their transition through colonialism. This luxury is not available to any country of the third world. On the other hand, the nature of crisis in Muslim countries is getting worse because of further crisis being created on account of globalisation.
One cannot understate the nature of crisis in the Muslim world today. These countries for various reasons have even not been fully democratised. Either they are ruled by kings, sheikhs and military dictators or at best have strictly controlled democracy. While Gulf countries fall in the first category, countries like Algeria, Syria, Pakistan and Malaysia, fall under second category. However, the western world is particularly more worried about the nature of crisis in the Gulf countries as these are oil rich countries and the West, especially the USA wants to maintain its sole hegemony here.
Much of the crisis has to do with the hegemonic control America wants to exercise over this region. The Western, and particularly the American interests in this region has not only aggravated the nature of the crisis in the Muslim world, it has stalled the process of democratisation also. It is the irony of the situation that these very powers then blame Islam for lack of democracy in the Muslim countries.
It would be interesting to throw some light on this question, as it is also part of the contemporary crisis in the Muslim world. Some of the Muslim countries like Algeria, Libya, Syria, Iraq, Malaysia, Indonesia (and of course Pakistan and Bangla Desh) were colonised but countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran etc. were not directly colonised. The freedom struggle in some of these countries was armed struggles and that played a part in emergence of militarily controlled regimes or controlled democracy. In Egypt the struggle was democratic but the power was transferred to King Farouq rather than an elected regime and then Jamal Abdul Nasir staged a coup and captured power. He put down Islamic extremist opposition to his regime with heavy hand and before he could accomplished much died a pre-mature death and power was captured by lesser people like Anwar Sadat and controlled democracy was put in place.
In Iran again struggle against imperialist domination was not violent and Mosaddiq tried to usher in democracy and nationalised oil. However, this was totally unacceptable to Western powers and America used CIA to stage a coup against Mosaddiq and brought the Shah back to power who ruled over Iran until he was overthrown by Islamic revolution in 1979.
In Algeria the nature of struggle against French imperialism was in the nature of armed insurrection and power passed over to those who controlled arms and thus army established its control over power and is reluctant to give up power even though it was voted out in early nineties. In the Gulf countries the kings and sheikhs who wielded power were not allowed to be disturbed by the Western powers, as there was high stake due to presence of rich oil resources.
In Indonesia Sukarno came to power due to his prestige acquired during struggle against the Dutch imperialists but was overthrown in a coup by Suharto, a military general with the help of CIA due to Sukarno's 'dangerous' inclination towards China. Thus Indonesia also continued for close to four decades under military dictatorship until the people of Indonesia won democracy through their hard struggle.
Thus this brief survey shows clearly that lack of democracy in the Muslim world today is more because of imperialists machinations than because of Islam. Since the USA supports the dictatorial regimes in the Muslim world, particularly in the Gulf countries, the peoples of these countries are unable to express their grievances democratically and they resort to violence to find ventilation to their suppressed anger. The attacks on 9/11 on trade towers on New York were partly due to these reasons though there is more to it than only this.
The events of 9/11 are going to have far reaching consequences for the Muslim world as much deeper processes are involved than mere attack on the trade towers. Not only that the Muslim world will have to come to grips with new realities the Western powers also have to deal with an entirely new situation. This new situation is partly their own creation though they could never foresee it. For the peoples of the Muslim world too, this would prove to be a blessing in disguise. It has given a new impetus to the thinking process among the Muslim intellectuals.
Apart from all this there is yet another factor which is deeply impacting on the Muslim world, particularly on the countries of the Gulf region i.e. modernisation. It also has lot to do with oil resources in the region. This region until recently was quite poor in resources and it was in early seventies after the war of Yom Kippur that oil prices shot up and the region was suddenly flooded with what came to be known as 'petro-dollars' or 'black gold'. This tremendously increased the pace of modernisation in the region causing great deal of turmoil.
Social change, if it is brought suddenly and with greater pace than people can digest, leads to great turmoil and intellectual confusion. The Gulf region including Saudi Arabia was stagnant for centuries and people were content with their religion and cultural traditions and at peace with themselves. But it all changed suddenly as if they were caught in a vortex. The ruling classes in the region could hardly be expected to manage the whole situation wisely. They were worried more about their own stability and continuation than managing the change with wisdom and insight. Moreover the Islamic revolution further frightened them and added to their woes. Some of them feared they might be overthrown any time.
Also, Ayatollah Khomeini and Saddam had their own irreconcilable hostility towards each other. Saddam, under pressure from the Shah of Iran, had thrown Khomeini out of Iraq and he had to take refuge in France. When the Ayatollah made Islamic revolution succeed in Iran, called for overthrow of Saddam and made repeated appeal to the Shi'ahs of Iraq. These repeated appeals provoked Saddam and goaded by USA he invaded Iran and the 10 year long war between these two countries created a new crisis in the region. Later Saddam attacked Kuwait too (perhaps again under direct or indirect motivation from the CIA) pluging the region yet in another crisis.
All these developments made the Gulf regimes more panicky and hence more repressive. Apart from political repression these rulers saw greater chance of their political survival in using religion for political ends. The concept of Islamic state and enforcing orthodox Shari'ah laws strictly came in handy. These measures were publicised with all fanfares to create a repressive orthodox religious atmosphere. Due to fear of Islamic revolution of Iran greatly hostile to America, the USA also adopted policies to undo Islamic revolution in Iran, on one hand, and to project Islam in bad light, on the other. It was American media, which coined the term 'Islamic fundamentalism' and gave it a pejorative sense.
It was strange irony that the American rulers strengthen the authoritative rulers in the Gulf region on one hand who depended mainly on enforcing what American media called 'fundamentalist Islam' and on the other, condemned it outright. The Americans had to play these games to serve their interests in the region. This created lot of confusion in the minds of non-Muslims dependent on the media for their information and anger among the Muslim youth from these countries.
The Gulf region has remained in great turmoil ever since oil prices have gone up in early seventies and subsequent Islamic revolution in Iran. The region has not known peace ever since. Again America attacked Iraq under the pretext of it possessing weapons of mass destruction and plunged the region in further crisis. Now a section of the Iraqi people, particularly the supporters of Saddam Hussain, has unleashed unstoppable violence. America, now fearing worst scenario, wants to quit Iraq as early as possible. Thus it is America, which is creating conditions for political violence in the region, it is Islam which is portrayed as violent by the media.
Instead of analysing the situation people blame the violence on Islam. This is further reinforced by acts of few Muslim groups who commit violence invoking the concept of jihad. The people then begin to think that Muslims resort to violence as a religious obligation and that Islam teaches violence. This impression is very widespread and it is for Muslim intellectuals to remove it. Many of us unfortunately defend use of violence out of anger and revenge and this further reinforces the impression that Islam requires its followers to resort to jihad.
The Muslim intellectuals, who understand the goings on in the modern world, have great responsibility to study Islamic teachings in the light of modern day challenges and project proper image of Islam. This task cannot be left to orthodox 'ulama most of whom often view things with a medieval mind-set. On account of their training in conventional madrasas, they are unable to develop critical thinking. They are trained only to submit to given dogmas. Often they issue fatwas in the light of their conventional learning without proper understanding of modern day developments.
The conventional centres of higher Islamic learning do not impart teachings in modern social sciences, much less in natural and physical sciences. When the Soviet Union sent a satellite to moon in late fifties, a learned 'alim (a friend of my father who was also a conventional 'alim) denounced it and called it a 'deplorable act of man to intervene in the divine functioning'. When human cloning was being discussed a Saudi 'alim issued a fatwa that the scientist who worked on human cloning is severely punished.
Such fatwas then are headlined in the media and ignorance of modern world by the conventional 'alims brings bad name to Islam. It is unfortunate that still in the centres of higher learning of Islam the theories and dogmas developed during medieval ages and which have nothing to do with the Qur'an and authentic sunna are being taught. Even those concepts borrowed from Greek sciences and philosophies remain integral part of Islamic learning.
During second and third centuries of Islam these Greek sciences and philosophies were most progressive and our 'ulama and philosophers readily accepted them and thus became precursors in the world of higher knowledge. It was through them that the European scholars came to know about Greek treasure of knowledge and hence H.G. Wells, a noted historian, describes the Arabs as 'foster-fathers' of Greek knowledge and wisdom. However, the Greek sciences are matter of history now and modern science has taken great strides.
But the Islamic institutes of higher learning have still not imbibed these scientific developments. Our 'ulama remain hooked to medieval sciences and vehemently reject modern scientific theories and discoveries and even dub them as sheer blasphemy. It is to be noted that this is doing great harm to the Muslim community as a whole as common Muslims are often influenced by the opinion expressed by them. Thus there is great need for reforms in madrasa education (also described as modernisation) no initiative is being taken by authorities in the Muslim world.
It is matter of great concern that despite great deal of oil money the Gulf countries have not taken worthwhile steps to disseminate modern scientific education. There are no institutions of higher learning and research in modern sciences. More and more Islamic universities are being opened to train theologians and Islamic jurists. Needless to say these theologians and jurists lack knowledge of modern social sciences and juridical theories. In these institutions there is no development of knowledge but only encouragement acknowledge, no process of cognition but only emphasis on recognition.
These Muslim nations will remain totally subservient to the western countries in the field of science and technologies. Mere possession of natural resources does not make a nation powerful. What makes a nation powerful is development of science and technology. The Arab countries like Kuwait and Dubai have become mere modern markets and centres of distribution, but not of production.
The oil wealth acquired by the Arab ruling classes is either transferred to western banks for safe custody or squandered only on consumption. This easily got money is being spent only on conspicuous consumption and ostentation. What is needed for technological progress of these countries is to save these precious resources and convert them into investible capital. For industrialisation one needs capital formation. These Gulf countries, however, has no will for industrialisation. They are content to become mere market places where goods produced in Japan, China and other western countries can be exchanged and sold but not produced.
Even for their defence these countries are totally dependent on America and hence the Gulf countries have become its army bases. Neither they have weapons nor properly trained army personnel. They do not have even trained personnel for various other technical jobs be they technical or managerial. They have to import human-power from other countries. There is not a single Muslim country, which can be considered in scientific and industrial developments even close to India, let alone any western country. These countries have no trained scientists, particularly theoretical scientists.
The Qur'an lays so much emphasis on studying the universe created by Allah. The true worship of Allah does not imply only praying to Him but also studying His creation. A true believer is one who meticulously studies the entire creation of Allah which include the development of theoretical and applied sciences. In Modern times the Muslim world has not even produced any astronomer or physicist of great repute. Study of astronomy and cosmic physics is so essential for proper understanding of our universe. Dr. Abdus Salam, a noble laureate in theoretical physics was also product of western universities. His services were not even properly recognised by ay Muslim country. When he proposed to the Saudis to finance him for establishing a laboratory for theoretical physics to study strong and weak forces. The Saudis turned down the proposal and Abdus Salam established the lab in Italy with the help of funds from UNESCO.
If the Muslim nations have to become self-reliant powers unto themselves the first requirement is to establish institutions of higher scientific learning and go for theoretical research in modern sciences. This of course requires training modern scientist with critical mindset. Absence of democratic culture produces only submissive minds and those who possess critical faculties run away to other safer countries. The absence of open democratic culture in Muslim countries is another obstacle in the progress of science and technology.
Though it is not desirable to go for nuclear weaponry, the Muslim countries (with the exception of Pakistan) are not even capable of developing nuclear science. America will never allow them to do so for fear of developing nuclear weaponry. Thus some of them try to obtain enriched uranium, heavy water etc. stealthily from Pakistan. Dr. A.Q.Khan is reported to have allegedly sold them technical know-how. Pakistan, though economically backward compared to oil rich gulf countries, is scientifically more advanced in the Muslim world, thanks to South Asian traditions of scientific learning.
In these Muslim countries one does not find great scholars of social sciences, much less natural sciences due mainly to lack of intellectual freedom. Any scholar who shows any sign of independent thinking faces severe persecution. This lack of culture of intellectual freedom is matter of great concern who want to see Islamic world progress and achieve great heights of knowledge in all fields of life. America will be more than happy if the Islamic world concentrates only on religious sciences as of now and neglects natural sciences. This will ensure their dependence on America and other western nations and they will continue to exploit the rich oil resources of these countries unchallenged.
It would therefore be almost suicidal for these countries to remain stagnant and adopt only outward signs of modernisation (i.e. modern buildings and infrastructure mainly built by western experts what is called hard modernism). And to suppress or neglect progress in theoretical natural and physical sciences with resultant implication of intellectual freedom and critical thinking, democracy and respect for human rights (what can be called soft and inner modernisation).
It is therefore duty of modern Muslim intellectuals to come forward, at times even at the risk of persecution from authorities, and attempt a healthy critique of modern Muslim regimes and work towards flowering of modern sciences in the Muslim world. It would be not in the interest of peoples of these countries to depend on conventional 'ulama for the intellectual resources. They will ensure backwardness of Muslim countries, if they become the sole intellectual resource for the people.
Ideally a synthesis of Islamic and modern sciences can work miracles for backward Muslim societies as the modern trained 'ulama can be a bridge between religious and natural sciences and this can have great impact on Muslim masses. It would require futuristic vision on the parts of authorities to establish such institutions of learning. No one seems to be in sight right now. But one can certainly visualise it so that it becomes a reality at some future date.
The Muslim world had witnessed such flowering of intellectual culture during third and fourth century of Islam when great philosophers and scientists were also great scholars of Islamic sciences. We need it today even with greater intensity and spread.