Let our society be a vibrant forum of ideas
I have written several times about the need for dialogue in Arab society. I believe that societies with a vibrant forum of ideas are progressive. This is true not only in Western countries, with a long history of tolerance, but also in Southeast Asian countries devastated by World War II. These countries rose from the ashes, progressed and prospered.
As these countries rebuilt, varying opinions and ideas were expressed. Like wheat and chaff, the useful ones were used, and the kernel of truth sought in the rest before casting away what was useless. Nobody was pushed aside because of his beliefs.
In my opinion, a society which cherishes dialogue must understand the importance of a real education. A real education, I believe, makes one realize that flexibility is central to maintaining and evaluating ideas.
Education of course starts at home. Good training inculcates manners that produce a cohesive society. The respect for rights and the obligations to do one's duties are demonstrated in a good home; they are not just talked about. People learn to respect the boundaries which separate them from others.
Within the schools, there should be courses, in addition to the sciences and humanities, which help youth face the realities of the modern world. A world of Internet and Intranet, lasers, fiber-optics, genetic engineering, satellite communications - a world shrunk by technology into a "global village" to use the words of Marshall Mc.Luhan.
What about us Arabs? Are we going to indulge in ostrich-like behavior, ignoring whatever displeases us? Stressing the trivial rather than tackling issues vital to the Arab world? Education in the Arab world must go beyond theories to innovation. In order to absorb the flood of technology and utilize what is good, we need to brainstorm, to come out with new and more flexible ideas.
Our work ethic must also change. We should cease being mere clock-watchers. People in the West work, as they do here, but there people produce - that is the difference.
If our educational system is not flexible and scientific, how can we solve problems like food, security, water scarcity, health and social progress? If we stress the size of the Dean's office instead of the facilities in the laboratory, of churning out a large number of graduates instead of spotting and encouraging talent, then our students will be ill-equipped to deal with tomorrow. And the Arab world will never progress.
Islam stresses education for men and women. Our Holy Prophet's (peace be upon him) injunction, "Acquire knowledge even from China" gives credence to the pursuit of learning and the expansion of knowledge.
The Golden Age of Islam was when education, ideas and discussion prevailed. Students traveled miles to visit scholars who sat and discussed not only Islamic teachings and ideas but also those of Aristotle, Ptolemy and others. As a result the Arab world produced Al Farabi, Al Kindi, Al Khwarizmi and a host of others. Arabs brought algebra, a new numeral system, medicines and chemistry to the world. Where are those who discuss ideas today? What are the Arabs known for today?
It is imperative that the Arab world create a climate where we can express ideas and thoughts within the framework of an Islamic ideology that is itself progressive and humane and aims at social betterment.
Time waits for no one. Instead of focusing on the abstract let us think of the concrete. Let us move on from the form to the essence. Let us listen, learn and work together for a better tomorrow.