The need to re-launch an Islamic Renaissance


Children often play a game where they sit in a circle. One whispers something to his neighbor, who then whispers that information to the next child, and so on, around the circle. By the time the last child whispers the information to the first, it is totally different from what was originally said.

Something like that seems to have happened within Islam. The Prophet of Islam, Muhammad, brought one - and only one - religion. Yet today we have perhaps a thousand religions that all claim to be Islam.

Divided by their different interpretations, Muslims do not play the role they once did in the world; instead, they are weakened and victimized. The Shia/Sunni schism is so deep that each side condemns followers of the other as apostates, kafir. The belief that the other's religion is not Islam, and its followers not Muslim, has underpinned internecine wars in which millions have died - and continue to die.

Even among the Sunnis and Shias there are further divisions. The Sunnis have four imams and the Shias have twelve; their teachings all differ. Then there are other divisions, including the Druze, the Alawites, and the Wahabis.

We are also taught by our ulemas (religious instructors) that their teachings must not be questioned. Islam is a faith. It must be believed. Logic and reason play no part in it. But what is it that we must believe when each branch of Islam thinks the other one is wrong? The Koran, after all, is one book, not two or three, or a thousand.

According to the Koran, a Muslim is anyone who bears witness that "there is no God (Allah) but Allah". If no other qualification is added, then all those who subscribe to these precepts must be regarded as Muslims. But because we Muslims like to add qualifications that often derive from sources other than the Koran, our religion's unity has been broken.

But perhaps the greatest problem is the progressive isolation of Islamic scholarship - and much of Islamic life - from the rest of the modern world. We live in an age of science in which people can see around corners, hear and see things happening in outer space, and clone animals. And all of these things seem to contradict our belief in the Koran.

This is so because those who interpret the Koran are learned only in religion, in its laws and practices, and thus are usually unable to understand today's scientific miracles. The fatwas (legal opinions concerning Islamic law) that they issue appear unreasonable and cannot be accepted by those with scientific knowledge.

One learned religious teacher, for example, refused to believe that a man had landed on the moon. Others assert that the world was created 2,000 years ago. The age of the universe and its size measured in light years - these are things that the purely religiously trained ulamas cannot comprehend.

This failure is largely responsible for the sad plight of so many Muslims. Today's oppression, the killings and the humiliations of Muslims, occurs because we are weak, unlike the Muslims of the past. We can feel victimized and criticize the oppressors, but to stop them we need to look at ourselves. We must change for our own good. We cannot ask our detractors to change, so that Muslims benefit.

So what do we need to do? In the past, Muslims were strong because they were learned. Muhammad's injunction was to read, but the Koran does not say what to read. Indeed, there was no "Muslim scholarship" at the time, so to read meant to read whatever was available. The early Muslims read the works of the great Greek scientists, mathematicians, and philosophers. They also studied the works of the Persians, the Indians, and the Chinese.

The result was a flowering of science and mathematics. Muslim scholars added to the body of knowledge and developed new disciplines, such as astronomy, geography, and new branches of mathematics. They introduced numerals, enabling simple and limitless calculations. 

But around the fifteenth century, the learned in Islam began to curb scientific study. They began to study religion alone, insisting that only those who study religion - particularly Islamic jurisprudence - gain merit in the afterlife. The result was intellectual regression at the very moment that Europe began embracing scientific and mathematical knowledge.

And so, as Muslims were intellectually regressing, Europeans began their renaissance, developing improved ways of meeting their needs, including the manufacture of weapons that eventually allowed them to dominate the world.

By contrast, Muslims fatally weakened their ability to defend themselves by neglecting, even rejecting, the study of allegedly secular science and mathematics, and this myopia remains a fundamental source of the oppression suffered by Muslims today. Many Muslims still condemn the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kamal, because he tried to modernize his country. But would Turkey be Muslim today without Ataturk? Mustafa Kamal's clear-sightedness saved Islam in Turkey and saved Turkey for Islam.

Failure to understand and interpret the true and fundamental message of the Koran has brought only misfortune to Muslims. By limiting our reading to religious works and neglecting modern science, we destroyed Islamic civilization and lost our way in the world.

The Koran says that "Allah will not change our unfortunate situation unless we make the effort to change it." Many Muslims continue to ignore this and, instead, merely pray to Allah to save us, to bring back our lost glory. But the Koran is not a talisman to be hung around the neck for protection against evil. Allah helps those who improve their minds.

 

Dr. Mahathir bin Mohamad was Prime Minister of Malaysia from 1981-2003.


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  21 Comments   Comment

  1. Kris from Malaysia

    Brother Mohammad Shafique,

    Assalamualaikum to you and to all other Muslim brothers and sisters. To the non Muslims, greetings to you.

    Thank you for such an enlightening and encouraging opinion for our honourable ex Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Mohamad. I express concurrence of your views on him and Dr. Mahathir's view point in his article.

    Yes, we Malaysians are proud to have a democratic leader, he is not just a leader but a visionary. Malaysia's success is an envy not just for other countries but even the western world. Here is a leader who has the courage and sound judgment in almost everything and I say this sincerely.

    There are so many Islamic instiutions set up under the able leadership of Dr. Mahathir notably universities, the banking system, the economic alernatives for Muslims like our Islamic lease and mortgage enterprise and before Dr. Mahathir left the powerful office of Priemiership, he was propounding the usage of gold dinars in Muslim countries as alternative to the US dollars. Dr. Mahathir left the pedestal of power with honour, at the time where his popularity was still at a high rating. Power is not a " be all " and " an end all " to a great man like him.

    I'll write more later as I just got back from my sabbatical leave. My tight schedule in the judicial profession is very punishing these days but I'll find time.

    Wassalam.

    regards,

  2. ismail from maldives

    The Sunnis have four imams and the Shias have twelve this sentence show that Mahathir Mohamad know nothing about Islamic history or even Fiqh.

    Sunnis four imams didnt bring any Mazhab but they are scholers. normal ppl who dont undestand Sharia follow thier views.

    "But would Turkey be Muslim today without Ataturk? " this in nonsence. where is Islam in Turky , in turky he forbade Azaan. women cant wera Hijab. pornography is legal . so what islam you are talking about ?

  3. BELAL AHMED from USA

    ASSALAMU ALAIKUM (W.R.W.B) MY BROTHER IN ISLAM, I COULD NOT AGREE WITH THE LEGACY KAMAL ATATURK LEFT BEHIND. WHICH HAS DESTROYED ISLAM FROM THE HEARTS AND MINDS OF TURKISH MUSLIM.

  4. Amin Beg from Pakistan

    Generally agreed to the essence of the article that ignorance is bliss and the Ummah need to return back to science, knowledge and technology.There is no other way we can progress as a communities in the knowledge society of 21st century.

    However, as for the schism and sunni-shia divide, this has remained throughout the Islamic history, right after the death of the Prophet (pbuh)? Why are we shy of diversity and plurality of ideas, thoughts and approaches? Infact science, knowledge and technology flourished when the Umaid, Abassids and Fatimids were fighting and competing to create and propagate their sectarian worldviews of islam? Lets agree that diversity is strength, knowledge is power and the various interpretations of Islam, shia and sunni and the various schools of thought within these two branches are approaches and methods to achieve one common goal; human development and endeavoring to know the truth and the oneness of God through the teachings of the Koran and the final prophet and the various personal and communal experiences of the sufis and the learned people of Islam and others.

    Lets also agree that it is conflicts and problems that create new opportunities, new thinking and new approaches. Simple dialectics.

    Bottomline learn to live with risks and live and let live.

    Amin Beg

  5. Mohammed Abdul Hai Arshad from Saudi Arabia

    Assalaamualaikum, Islam has forbidden only the study of Magic and I hope rest is allowed if it is being used for the Sake of implementing shariah.

  6. Mohammad SHAFIQUE from Canada

    Honorable Ex Prime Minister of Malaysia it is indeed definitely a

    positive way of thinking to take Islam forward to meet the

    challenge of the modern world. I do agree with your most points

    except few. The example of Kamal Atatuk of Turkey is the worst

    example because he saved Turkey from the hand Western power

    by compromising Islamic values to keep himself safe in power.

    His policy is not only destroying the Islamic values but

    compromising with western culture not keeping Islamic value at

    all. I would rather say you are rather a live example to the whole

    world. You developed your country as one of the most

    flourishing, developed Muslim country of the world and very

    successfully balance the Islamic Values and politics despite

    strong resistance from anti Islam lobby. I understand Malaysia

    Muslim population is little more than 60% still the country looks

    like, behaves like and lives in peace and harmony with the

    people of other religion like the people of Madena as people

    used to live during our beloved prophet Hazrat Mohammad

    (PBUH). Most of the countries envy wish we had a leader like you.

    Definitely Bangladesh desperately needs a leader like you.

    Last but not the list please show little respect when you are

    addressing Prophet Mohammad(PBUH) by saying peace be upon

    him. If we don't show respect how do we expect a non Muslim to

    show respect to our Prophet.

  7. Rhazes from UK

    I agree with almost all of the things said by mahathir mohammed.I respect his wide knowledge of Islam and his sincere concern for the Umma.There is only thing i dont agree with.His complete support for kemal [email protected] policies.He says Turkey would not have remainedIslamic if it wan not for Attaturk.I do not understand how.It looks to me just the opposite.Attaturk reduced this great islamic country to a ordinary country with neither proper secular principles nor proper Islam.In the countryside and villages it is not too bad. But in the cities people actually scoff at Islam today.Head scarves are spurned and even banned in universities and elsewhere.The fact that Abdullah Gul was hounded out of his election just because his wife wears a hijab is beyond the imagination of any true muslim.The army is so much in power that anything showing a sign of islam is immediately threatened.It is siad that the easiest way to get out of the army is simply for the military official to say that he desires leave to perform haj!These are the people who suppress islam and claim attaturk to be the true leader.

  8. b. moujahed from usa

    Since all these ulamas keep insisting that we follow their outdated theologies and backward schools of thought, I say let's dump them all. We are due for a major overhaul of Islmic thinking and interpretation of the Quran. We made the meaning of the Quran so static when in fact it is for all ages and palces...

  9. Saifuddin Hasaan from USA

    As-Salaam Alaikum Brother,

    May Allah bless you for all your hard work as the prime minister of Malaysia. I always admired many of your words and dedication to Islam. I agree that Muslims have lost their way and have lost the great past that we once had. However the eaarly Muslims were able to balance Islam and and aspiring to learn subjects such as Mathematics, science, etc. We have been unable to balance between our religious duties and advancement in science. This is where I must disagree because this was exactly what Kamal Ataturk did not do. He all but destroyed the islamic identity for the sake of modernism. The early Turks were pioneers of learning and science yet Islam was never comprimised. As Muslims today we can not be like Ata Turk and destroy Islam for the sake of being like the West but we must find the leaders and the flloweres who can bring together Islam and science as the early Muslims did.

  10. saleem from usa

    As-Salam-o-AliKum,

    I dont know much about AttaTurk saving Islam in Turkey and Turkey for Islam.

    Its hard to imagine progress under Colonial rule. Where one is deprived of all his basic needs, and treated unhumanily. Under racist Imperialism.

    Blaming victims for not being strong enough. Is like blaming Native americans for their situation today in their Reservations.

    Praise GOD, who created EVERYTHING from NOTHING. Not a person/s.

    In west we see too much praising of an individual. But praising GOD who created the

    man and gave him these ablities on the first place is absent.

    We are seeing the after effects of slavery today. We are seeing the misery of

    technology in Vietnam and Hiroshima etc. Humankind is paying for this scientific

    progress without a Justice, dearly. Today 17000 per year, murder rate in USA alone.

    Nobody is against science and technology, its what to do with it is the real issue.

    The issue is the absent of a working Justice system, along with progress.

  11. DC from USA

    Very good article. So many Muslims, especially Arab Muslims continue to focus 150% on blaming and hating their detractors. The message of this article needs to repeated for years to come so that hopefully it someday registers with closed minded individuals.

  12. Arno Isa Izuagie from USA

    I totally agree with the author that the only way for muslims to change our current situation is through education, particularly scientific education.

    If there is no disputing the fact that leadership and excellence in science and technology is absolutely critical to true independence, and self preservation of nation states, then we as muslims need to revert to the teachings of pre-15th century Islam.

  13. RNC from United States

    I'm sorry, how can you people even post an article written by this man after what he did to Anwar Ibrahim? It's completely absurd to consider Mustafa Kamal as any sort of role model to follow in creating a modern Islamic state.

  14. Dr Edriss from US

    Assalam Alaikom,

    to brother Roger Smith, I'm always amazed to brother Mahathir! I always though someone else who write his articles not him. I don't lie to you, if it's him who write this kind of articles, his knowledge about Islam is very very very limited. I heard about him doing good job in Malysia economy but I believe talking deep in Islam is just something that is not his speciality.

    I read what you said and what I liked more is you had the courage to critisize him. you are maybe the first one I have seen who talked honest to him. also, don't forget that Dr Mahathir is old now and he is maybe loosing it. Allah said in the Quran

    16:70 It is Allah who creates you and takes your souls at death; and of you there are some who are sent back to a feeble age, so that they know nothing after having known (much): for Allah is All-Knowing, All-Powerful.

    unfortunatly, he doesn't know that he is missleading some people who love him...by talking in matters that is not from his speciality...

  15. Nasir A from US

    Regardless of being a Sunni or shias, the basics of Islam is lost. Islam is way of life for most.

    However, most people have used the religion to beneift them and their children and in return

    they don't pray nor perform Islamic duties.

  16. Dr. Fred Wise from USA

    This seems to me, a Catholic Christian, to be a beautiful and hopeful perspective... My own Church struggled through such a paradigm shift, and the tension of that struggle is present still. I encourage all Muslims, in good faith and a spirit of brotherhood and sisterhood in One Abrahamic Faith in the One and Only God (though we differ on many, even essential particulars) to continue--together-- such a renaissance in ALL of our Religions, always being open to the truth, no matter the vehicle through which God speaks it to us.

    Asallamu alaykum,

    Dr. Fred Wise

  17. sayed hashimi from usa

    It is good to remind the muslim ummah from time to time that they need to revive and .....

    However it is the duty of the ulema and the scholars in different sciences to get to gether and organize such opportunity for Islamic Poluralis which will lead the way to democracy.

  18. Roger Smith from Canada

    Thank you Dr. M. for your bold ideas to modernize Islam. The name of a tree called by it's fruit. Look at Malaysia, the Chinese minority that almost owns the country and Malays are far behind, in business and technology. They even failed to built a basic own car industry (Proton) by borrowing Japanese technolgy from Mitshubishi, and forget about advance technology he had enough time to bring the glory back in Malaysia so other Muslim states would follow it.

    Look what he did for Anwar Ibrahim his so called choosen successor just to discredit his rival. Easy talk but hard to do, what he says and what he did is far from reality.

    This is a pure example in the Muslim world today, we cry wolf but take wrong actions to gain personal interest above community.

    However the bottom line some thing is better than nothing, he was a better leader than those hypocrat, trants in Islamic countries in power today, but his notion about Kamal Ataturk is absurd about Turkey, Kamal was an evil drunked man (he was fond of Raki Turkey's famous hard alcoholic drink) killed all learned muslim leaders and even today woman can not cover their head with hejabs when it is permissible in the non muslim western countries, is this Dr. M's indication of his muslimness in Turkey to save Islam. No you are wrong Dr. M. this is not modern Islam, this is something else not taught by the prophet of Islam as one Islam.

    Islam is progressive and it will take time to get where we have been before but saying Kamal type figure or country like Turkey as an example is not going to work - this is a wrong example of modernity - we do not have one. Malaysia may be a better choice or Canada in the west in near future, where tradition of Islam blends with modern life of electronic gaedgets and intellectual development.

    God said Read to the prophet of Islam so we need to read and read to bring back our tradition. Thank you Dr. M. and wish you quick recovery from your heart problem and May God

  19. nizam from US

    The topic is relevant for the present muslim world. I have asked myself all these questions for years. How is it possible that there are so many branch of islam and every sect claims that only their sects will enter paradise? These ulemas seems know better than our prophet and sometimes even more! I think these half-learned or little learned ulemas are plagueing muslim societies. In my childhood, once I read a book (cannot remember the name now) which quoated Quran saying that moon borrows light from sun which when I mentioned to one of our local mosque moulana, he was furious!! It was really shocking for me and interestingly, most of the people believe in imamas fatwas blindly. Most of the ulemas only can recite Quran without knowing its meaning. Indeed, almost all muslims think that it is something which only for blind recitation!! During namaz,we recite quranic ayat and dont even bother to know what we are reciting! I hope this article will help our borthers and sisters all around world. Finally, we should analyze our own faults rather than blaming others for our miserable situation!

  20. Kashif Zia from pakistan

    Malaysia is lucky to have a courageous and democratic leader like Sir Mahatir Muhammad. The change is there. Look at the political personalities like Mahatir, secular scholars at universities in USA, and few non-traditional religious personalities liked and appreciated in Pakistan and India. But can somebody provide concrete information about the scholarly trends in Muslim world in last 50 years or so.

  21. Regina from USA

    Assalamu Alaikum. I totally agree. It is time to stop calling

    ourselves "Sunni" or "Shia" and just call ourselves "Muslims".