RANDOM THOUGHTS: Education and Technology (Part I) - BY: Dr. A.Q. Khan

Education and Technology
Part I
Dr. A.Q. Khan


Our country is going through a very difficult time, but very few people, especially those in power, realize that most of our problems stem from lack of sufficient education and lack of expertise in science and technology. All the developed countries have one thing in common – a high standard of education and excellence in science and technology. On the contrary, in our country, the word “technocrat” seems like a dirty word in the mouths of rulers and politicians. They don’t seem to be able to understand that, even countries with recent tremendous progress like China, Turkey and Malaysia, owe their progress to investment in education and technology.

In the Quran, Surah 20, Ayat 114 we read that the Almighty ordered Muhammad (PBUH): “And say: My Lord! Increase me in knowledge”. Though brief, this order encapsulates, to the profoundest degree, the Quranic position on knowledge and education. And our Prophet (PBUH) himself prayed: “God! Grant me knowledge of the ultimate nature of things”. Here the word “knowledge” not only means an increase in information, but also the truth about the material universe. The world we live in, the land and the seas celestial bodies and our own bodies, flora and fauna, the history of human societies, all had to be opened to us by countless pioneers. Many of these discoveries remain anonymous in the deep recesses of the past. More recent history reveals man’s compulsion to know whatever is to be known. As Aristotle said: “All men by nature desire to know”. The Quran (Surah 2 Ayat 31) says: Adam is taught the names of all things” and the Holy Prophet (PBUH) ordered: “Strive to acquire knowledge, even if you have to go to China”. Inherent in this injunction is the abolition of linguistic and cultural prejudices that so often work against the acquisition of knowledge and an understanding of other people/cultures. Essentially then, the search for truth and its corollary – the acquisition of knowledge – is part and parcel of Islam. It is therefore not incidental nor accidental that, from the 7th century onwards, there was an amazing pool of supreme talent in the Muslim World – Muslims searched for knowledge wherever it was to be had.

During the peak of Muslim power, the Arabs founded “Baitul Hikmas” and “Naimiyyas” – institutions of advanced learning, observatories and laboratories and gathered together there scholars, artists, philosophers, scientists, etc. from all over the world. Many names from that famous era – Al Farabi, Ibn-e-Sina, Ibn-e-Rushd, Khwarizmi, Razi, Masudi, Wafa, Al Biruni, Tusi, Nasiruddin, Ibn Nafis, Ibn-e-Baja, Ibn-e-Tufail, Al Kindi, etc. to name but a few – reverberated through the ages. Ironically, given the importance of Aristotle and other Greeks to the advancement of knowledge in Europe, the biggest single body of scientific knowledge that the Western World acquired, was kept alive in the Arab World and passed into post Dark Ages Europe only in the late Middle Ages. The true heirs of Aristotle were the Muslims!

In the Quran we also read (Surah 45, Ayat 13): “And He has subjected to you as from Him all that is in the heavens and on earth: behold in that are Signs indeed for those who reflect”. It is incumbent on “those who reflect” to probe the possibilities present in the universe and harness them through technological development for the advancement of mankind.

With such a heritage, it is all the more tragic that Muslims today have been reduced to intellectual impotence and have fallen far behind in state-of-the art science and technology. In the past, temporary technological superiority oscillated between the East and the West, but the gap was never as insurmountable as it is now for the Muslim World. It is the West that today sets the pace for scientific and technological development and Muslims are consigned to the ignominious status of underdevelopment. Several factors contributed to the decline of Muslim intellectualism from approximately the 14th century on. Firstly, the eruption of Mongol hordes into civilized Muslim kingdoms in Asia and the fall of the Muslim Empires. Secondly, this period, and its aftermath, approximately coincided with the Renaissance, which propelled the Europeans to look outwards in search of knowledge and provided the impetus for the development of military technology, which facilitated the colonization of technologically inferior lands. Meanwhile, the Muslim World turned in upon itself and its social and political developments proved inimical to the spirit of enquiry and development which ultimately rendered it helpless in the face of the Western European imperialism of the 18th and 19th centuries. This seriously disrupted the economic, cultural and educational development of the colonies, which were used only to serve the interest of the new rulers. Education of the “native” to support the administrative machinery was selective and scientific and industrial growth of the colonies was deliberately thwarted.

After the Second World War, the era of Western imperialism and colonialism came to an end and heralded in the independence of the colonial territories. However, the acquisition of independent nationhood, and the tumult that often accompanied it, was not followed by economic and technological independence. The vast wealth accumulated by the imperialist countries and their exploitation of colonial territories which fuelled the Industrial Revolution in the West had ensured an economic disparity and technological deprivation between the colonies and the rulers. This disparity was deliberately reinforced in the post-colonial period to result in a division of countries into the developed world of the West and Japan and the underdeveloped, or more charitably named “developing”, Third World, which included within its ambit all the Muslim countries.

To be continued.

Posted on Nov 14, 17 | 11:26 pm