To: Mohammed Rafiq Lodhia
From: My Fellow Muslims
Subject: “THE HUMANIST TRADITION”
Dated: September 1, 2012
My Dear Fellow Muslims,
“No human soul lives deeply and fruitfully in and by the present, except it be profoundly and affectionately rooted in the past,” opined Friedrich Von Hugel, an Austrian Roman Catholic layman and a religious writer.
Of the many prominent thinkers and educators rooted in the past centuries, especially the 17th through the 20th century, who imparted their wisdom, one such educator hardly known in the Muslim world was Dr. Khawaja Ghulam Saiyidain (May Almighty Allah rest his soul in peace), Joint Educational Advisor to the Ministry of Education of Government of India. I have personally cherished a handful of Dr. Saiyidain’s books which are neatly stacked next to each other on my home library shelf. One of his books is titled, “THE HUMANIST TRADITION – In Indian Educational Thought.” Browsing through the – “The World’s Largest Library Catalog,” there are only 197 copies of this particular book around the world’s libraries. Little wonder that “Muslim Hearts” are not affectionately rooted in their very own past history.
My interest in antiquated books dates back to my days living in New York City (1971-1981). Paragon Book Gallery located on 14 East 38th Street was one of my favorite book stores. Of course, one cannot forget the famous Strand Book Store on Broadway in Manhattan and Acres of Books in Long Beach, California.
Sir Winston Churchill once remarked, “It is a good thing for an uneducated man to read books of quotations.” As “An Uneducated Man,” I cultivated the habit of reading quotes and, to be quite honest, this blog consists of “Quotes” so as to enable many of “My Fellow Muslims” to be able to extract the bits and pieces of wisdom of some of the great teachers of mankind.
Realizing the inherent weakness of Muslims not being fond of “Reading,” and as such, for the past ten years, I have made a habit of expressing my thoughts in the form of “A Letter” using appropriate quotes to get a point across. Being a bookman, I’ve come to realize that it is important to notice at the first glance to whom the author dedicates his book. Dr. Saiyidain dedicated “THE HUMANIST TRADITION” to Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, a distinguished Indian philosopher, statesman and the second President of India. One of the outstanding quotes of Dr. Radhakrishnan in his book was as follows:
“Once upon a time, civilizations were destroyed by barbarians from
without; in our age, they are likely to be destroyed from within. The
progress of civilization depends not only on intellectual creativeness
but on the moral qualities of gentleness and compassion.”
Dr. Saiyidain mentioned that while speaking at the Moscow University, Dr. Radhakrishnan had stated that “When we give education, we start a ferment of debate and discussion of first principles. The educated youth will voice their thoughts and find fault with things as they are … If men lose intellectual vigour, the future of civilization is bleak, indeed.” This is truly an unforgettable remark which reflects the current crisis of the Islamic Civilization. Ali A. Allawi, Minister of Defence and Finance in the Iraqi postwar governments, in his book, “The Crisis of Islamic Civilization,” wrote that “Islamic civilization is now nearly bereft of the most vital element that has previously given it coherence and meaning. Whatever has remained is now undergoing it’s last crisis.” Such remarks are very disappointing to hear, nonetheless, these are true. Dr. Saiyidain cautiously elaborates that, “if we value neither intellectual freedom nor intellectual courage but are content to produce physical and mental “goose-steppers,” education can pave the way back to barbarism.” Lo and behold! Aren’t we all witnessing the moral decay of our civilization which we are so proud of? Isn’t it high time to shed our usual “Indifference” and raise our moral voices against those who are hell-bent on conducting barbaric acts in the name of Islam? Do we have moral courage to speak out?
“Goose-Steppers” are those who blindly follow certain schools of thought or religious movement without thinking. If education does not instill wisdom into the hearts and minds of human beings, then all of the achievements in life would be absolutely meaningless. “Acquire knowledge. It enables the possessor to distinguish right from wrong,” proclaimed the Prophet of Islam. Surely, as Muslims we are keenly aware that Holy Quran is essentially a moral code of conduct as it expressly claimed to be. “This is the Book; there is no doubt in it. It is a guide for those who are mindful of God.” Hence, the need of the hour is to instill in the Muslim youths “A Moral Education” based strictly upon the Quranic commandments so as to nurture them into becoming a first-class citizen of the world.
Dr. Saiyidain selected a few greater than life personalities in his book “THE HUMANIST TRADITION.” Inscription over the door of the Library at Thebes, “Medicine for the Soul” can well be true for this book. I am blessed to have this book in my home library. Therefore, kindly allow me to elaborate a little over a few key themes of the book.
Rabindranath Tagore was a Poet Laureate who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1913. An excerpt from “A Tagore Testament” spells out a full realization of the meaning of God in the following words:
“Know that God, the one-supreme, is in yourself – it is in your love for
mankind, in your good action and not in the practice of established
customs and rites; it is in the dictates of your own soul and not in the
efficiency of worldly matters.”
“Love and action” said Tagore, “are the only two human elements through which perfect knowledge can be obtained. For the object of knowledge is not pedantry but wisdom.” Remember, the famous Hadith, “Wisdom is the lost property of the Believer. Let him claim it wherever he finds it.” Note the emphasis is on the word “wherever.” Every Muslim should at least agree that this Hadith itself makes attaining of “Wisdom” from both the East and the West as a “Universal” obligation, therefore, no room for any prejudice whatsoever.
Allama Mohammad Iqbal (May Almighty Allah rest his soul in peace) was the first Muslim intellectual to attempt to illuminate the message of Islam with the evolution of western philosophical thought. Many in the Muslim world have arrogantly shun such an attempt of blending the wisdoms of both the worlds. One delightful recollection of Iqbal’s poem, “Armaghan-i-Hijaz” (The Gift of Hijaz) is highlighted at the end of this letter, whereas, in Persian Masnavi (Secrets of the Self), Dr. Saiyidain brings to light a spell binding reply to criticism by Allama Iqbal to an English critic Dickinson in these words:
“Islam has vehemently opposed the idea of racial superiority which
is one of the greatest obstacles in the way of international unity and
cooperation; in fact, Islam and racial exclusiveness are utterly
antithetical. This racial idea is the greatest enemy of mankind and
it is the duty of all well-wishers of the human race to eradicate it.
When I realized that the conception of nationalism based on the
difference of race and country was beginning to overshadow the
world of Islam also and the Muslims were in danger of giving up
the universality of their ideal in favor of a narrow patriotism and
false nationalism, I felt it my duty, as a Muslim and as a well-wisher
of humanity, to recall them back to their true role in the drama of
human evolution. No doubt, I am intensely devoted to Islam but I
have selected the Islamic community as my starting point not
because of my national or religious prejudice, but because it is the
most practicable approach to the problem.”
Intellectual vigor expressed by Allama Iqbal remained only in the pages of the book, “The Humanist Tradition.” How conveniently did we forget our beloved Prophet Mohammad’s (Peace Be Upon Him) saying: “O Lord! Lord of my life and everything in the Universe! I affirm that all human beings are brothers unto one another.” Sadly, as I write this letter, I read an article by Michael Terheyden titled “Persecution of Christian Copts in Egypt on Rise as Muslim Brotherhood Consolidates Power.” All such headline news on the internet are bound to haunt President Mohamed Mursi of Egypt who has declared that he was going to be the president of all Egyptians. On reading Raymond Ibrahim’s article, “Ramadhan: Islamic’s ‘Holy Month’ of Christian Oppression,” any sane and educated Muslims around the world should come to realize that the Islamic civilization which we are mighty proud of is being attacked by the barbarians from within. Undoubtedly, there is “A Major Disconnect,” and it has been testified by Mr. Ibrahim which must be carefully listened to in order to grasp the reality on the ground in the Islamic countries of the Middle East region.
Maulana Abul Kalam Azad (May Almighty Allah rest his soul in peace), a brilliant Muslim scholar, is seldom mentioned on Islamic websites. Western media frequently rather almost always rely on a handful of Islamic scholars hailing from the Middle East, but they have not kept a “Fair and Balanced” approach due to their not doing comparative studies of various Islamic scholars. “In Indian Educational Thought,” Maulana Azad played a leading role right after the independence of India. For Muslims it behooves us to bring to light the wisdom of Muslims scholars possessing a humanistic approach and for the respect of Eastern and Western education. Here’s how Maulana Azad conceptualized his thoughts about the difference between the East and the West:
“In both the East and the West, the prevalent systems of education
have given rise to various paradoxes. In the East, we find a
disproportionate emphasis on individual salvation. Man sought
knowledge as a means to his own redemption. The eastern mode
of thought, with its preoccupation with individual salvation, has
at times paid inadequate attention to social welfare and progress.
In the West, on the contrary, there has been greater emphasis on
the need for social progress.”
“Individual Salvation” are two appropriate words that can be used to describe the ailing Muslim minds. Majority of Muslims remained “Self-Centered” in their own redemption. Maulana Azad made an emphatic plea for the use of Reason and Intellect in life, but in the 21st century, we Muslims have pretty much managed to extinguish the spark of divinity which Almighty Allah has endowed upon us , that is, “Intellect.” Dr. Saiyidain points out the educational sensitivity of a true educationist by drawing a fine line between “a good physician who is bent on eradicating the disease but is personally solicitous for the sick, the good teacher who is physician of the soul, should also work to root out whatever is mean and evil in his students while reserving his sympathy and compassion for the evil doer.” Dr. Saiyidain thus reminds us of Maulana Azad’s input as follows:
“This is the critical point where religious minded persons have often
tripped. Religion aimed at creating aversion to evil but they were
misled into hating human beings themselves whom they considered
guilty. The essence of Christ’s teaching was: You should hate sin
but not those who have fallen into sin. For a sinner is someone who
has lost the health of his heart and soul and, as such, is he not
for that reason, more deserving of your care and compassion?
Will you tend to your brother with solitude or hand him over to
the torturer’s rack and whip?”
Hateful sermons by ordinary Muslim preachers have hastened in polluting the Muslim minds. These modern day preachers have no inkling of the past and they are not a least bit concerned. Future of Islamic civilization is indeed bleak as we Muslims by our own hands have allowed commotion of “Hate-Filled” sermons to be continued without raising any moral voices of protest. The truth of the matter is, the gospel of “Exclusivism” continues to prevail, whereas, the Indian genius of “Assimilation” is nowhere to be found in the Islamic world. We ignore all the barbaric attacks on our fellow humans by merely saying that it has been done by a bunch of “Uneducated Thugs.” Well then, why not collectively find a solution by encouraging those Muslims who are trying to find a solution to this murderous rampage? If the sinner has lost health of his/her heart and soul, then why not try to awaken the moral consciousness? I am afraid that “Moral Education” is the only means to enlighten the misguided Muslim minds and nothing short of it.
Dr. Zakir Husain (May Almighty Allah rest his soul in peace) was considered as one of the most creative educationists of India. He was President of India (1967-1969) and presided over Jamia Millia Islamia and Aligarh Muslim University. Dr. Husain was deeply influenced by the great German educator, George Kerschensteiner. He once admitted that “I owe to Kerschensteiner almost the entire framework of my educational thinking.” Kerschensteiner wholeheartedly believed in “Work School.” He was the one who advocated that “Head, Heart and Hand” should contribute to the process of education. By ways of assimilating the thoughts of Kerschensteiner, Dr. Husain made Jamia Millia Islamia a “School of Work.” His philosophy “Work Is Worship” is jotted down at the foot note of this letter so that “My Fellow Muslims” can take to heart the wisdom of the “Founding Fathers” of our Islamic heritage. Here again, allow me to quote Dr. Husain’s address to the graduates of the Cuttack University as follows:
“Your inheritance is not confined to Orrisa or even to India. You are
inheritors of all that mankind, in its sojourn on this planet has
thought out, sung and made and achieved; for, as the builders of
tomorrow, all Man’s long yesterdays belong to you, all its good ones,
and all its good things, all its personal and impersonal culture.”
My fellow Muslims, there is no better example of “Gentleness and Compassion” one can illustrate of a momentous event in Dr. Zakir Husain’s life as described in the book, “Understanding the Muslim Mind,” by Rajmohan Gandhi. If this event does not move a Muslim heart then nothing else will. It is as follows:
“One day in 1933 when Zakir Husain was distributing sweets to the boys
who has passed a test in the primary school, a peon came and whispered
to him that this three-year old daughter, Rehana …. was very ill. Zakir Husain
continued to give away the sweets. A little later the peon came again and
told him in his ear that Rehana had died. Zakir Husain turned pale but did not
stop what he was doing. Then the campus bell was rung and everyone learnt
that Dr. Zakir Hussain’s girl had died. Asked afterwards why he had not left
the school at once. Zakir Husain replied that ‘the children were feeling so
happy, he did not like to interrupt it.’ His wife told Mujeeb later that for several
days after the event Zakir Hussain’s pillow was wet every morning.”
Finally, what more can be written in this letter? I have affectionately preserved the book “THE HUMANIST TRADITION” for a long time. Today, my weeping heart instructed me to share some of the important excerpts of this book with “My Fellow Muslims.” It is disheartening to observe that we Muslims have discarded the worldly wisdom of some of the wise sages of our civilization. Who will dare argue the fact that the hate-mongers amongst us have reigned in, whereas, the silent majority has caved in? We ought to be ashamed of our sojourn on this Planet Earth. Dr. Zakir Husain’s once said, “On the title page of the life-book of a teacher, what is written is not knowledge but the subject of love.” Simply glance at the website of “Persecution – International Chsirtian Concern” and ask, “Where is the love for humanity?” I truly doubt that my letter will be read by many out yonder, nonetheless, I would like to end this letter with a stern reminder of Almighty Allah in the Holy Quran as follows:
And by the Soul and Him who balanced its and endowed
it with talent to distinguish wickedness from piety.
(We state with certainty that) he indeed shall be
successful who keepeth it pure,
And he indeed is undone who corrupteth it.
Surah: 91 – The Sun – Verse: 7-10
Mohammed Rafiq Lodhia
ARMAGHAN-I-HIJAZ (The Gift of Hijaz)
There is an interesting parable in one of Iqbal’s collection of poems, Armaghan-i-Hijaz (The Gift of Hijaz), entitled the “Advisory Council of the Devil” which brings out this issue in an intriguing way. The Devil meets his advisers and surveys the world situation. They refer exultantly to their many achievements and the new forces which they have released in different parts of the world to strength the domain of their master over mankind – imperialism, capitalism, which is sometimes disguised as democracy, socialism and communism, which are often wedded to atheism, the unholy alliance between the clerics and political tyrants and exploiters, fascism and nazism, resignation to fate inculcated in the poor and the under privileged and love of wealth and power engrained in the rich. The Devil shakes his head and points out that the real danger for them is the possibility of renaissance and reaffirmation of the basic values of Islam amongst the Muslims and their acceptance more widely in the world; social justice, equality, rejection of race and color as divisive forces and concern for the values of the spirit in general. Today, he explains, Muslims are no danger to them because they have forgotten or ignored these values; they are not dedicated to their service. He exhorts his counselors to try to keep them in this state of ignorance, to entangle them in far-fetched, hair-splitting theological disputations and to teach them the virtues of renunciation and withdrawal – lest they should become an active force for establishing God’s Kingdom. This is how he ends his exhortation:
“Keep him (the Muslim) indifference to the world of action.
Thus defeating all his moves on the chess board of life!
Let him be in chains till doom’s day,
Leaving this transient world to others!
I fear the spiritual awakening of this community
Whose religion calls for a continuous appraisal of the Universe!
Let him remain intoxicated with the ecstacy of the morning prayer,
Let him be firm in the ways of the recluse in the Khanqah!”
Khanqah = monastery
WORK IS WORSHIP
In an address at the All India Educational Conference (1940), Dr. Husain made one of the finest statements I have come across about the meaning of work in education and I cannot resist the temptation to quote its translation in English:
“All work is not educative. It is educative only when it is preceded by mental
effort. You have first to plan the work in your mind, then to think out the
ways and means of doing it, then to perform it actually and finally to access
the results and compare them with the guiding plan. But even when all
these four steps have been gone through, it does not follow that work would
prove educative. It would certainly give some skill, mental or manual but
skill by itself is not education … Only that work is genuinely educative which
serves some value, higher than our selfish ends, and to which we are
devoted. He who works for his own ends may become skilled; he does not
become educated. In the service of values, man does not seek his own
enjoyment but strives to achieve perfection in his work, to improve his
character and to become a real human being …. This educative quality can
be found in handwork as well as in mental work … and both can be devoid
of it! The real ‘school of work’ trains children to think before they take up
an activity and to test and assess results when it has been completed, so
that they acquire the habit of doing their very best whether engaged in
manual or mental work. Let those who wish to make work the medium of
education remember that work is not purposeless, that it is not content with
any results that may follow. Work does not mean the passing of time by
doing any haphazard things; it is not amusement; it is not play; it is work;
it is purposeful striving. Work sits in judgment on itself with the strictness
of an enemy and, when it passes the test, it yields joy, unparalleled and
unsurpassed. Work is worship.”
Author: Dr. Khawaja Ghulam Saiyidain
Book: THE HUMANIST TRADITION – In Indian Educational Thought