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On Religion and Muslim Backwardness

By Syed Akbar Ali

"They have chosen the straying instead of guidance and thus, their trade never prospers, nor are they ever guided.” (Surah 2:16)

Islam is not a religion. Islam is a deen or a way of life. Islam does not breed hatred. Surely then what is breeding all this hatred in Iraq is not Islam.

The example of Pakistan and the presence of its perceived arch rival India right next door provides us a unique opportunity to compare the fate of two countries that were both one not too long ago. Pakistan was born of the partition of India in 1947. Until recently India too was a failed state. In fact according to the criteria used to measure Failed States discussed earlier it can be argued that India is still a failed state.

Literacy at 59.5% is still a luxury in the rural parts of India. Infant mortality is high at 56 deaths or 5.6% per 1000 births. But India has enjoyed buoyant economic growth exceeding 6% for the past decade.

In contrast Pakistan has a literacy rate of 48.7%, infant mortality stands at 72.4 deaths or 7.24% per 1000 births with 32% of the population living below the poverty level. It is obvious that since the partition of the subcontinent in 1947, India is pulling ahead of Pakistan.

But like in Pakistan there are many parts of India where law and order is decided locally. In some parts of India like Bihar, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and other places the Central Government or even State authorities can have less clout than local landlords, warlords, brigands and others. Caste wars are too common in India until today. In Bihar whole villages are slaughtered by people of different castes. If the reader recalls these are some of the characteristics of a Failed State where the Central Government does not have full control or effective say in all its territories. The other characteristic of a Failed State exhibited by India is the fact that millions of Indians still exit the country to search for a better life elsewhere. Then corruption is still rife in India. When dealing with Government few things get done without paying someone some money. Higher education is still a privilege. Health facilities are basic. 60 years after Independence there is no clean water in all parts of India.

But India is at last just beginning to crawl out of this morass. India is touted the IT capital of the world and also the outsourcing center for the West. However 25% of the 1.2 billion population lives below the poverty level. In absolute numbers there is supposed to be a large 300 million middle class population in India. But many aspects of the so called middle class group in India are overrated. For example the entire population of programmers in India did not exceed 500,000 people in 2004. The Indians target to have 2.0 million IT professionals by 2008 (APJ Abdul Kalam). This is less than 0.2 percent of the 1.2 billion Indian population. But still this modicum of success is acting as a catalyst to spur other Indians forward. Indians are now among Forbes magazines list of world billionaires. And these are usually IT and steel billionaires.

Compared to India, there are no IT or steel billionaires from Pakistan. What differentiates India tremendously from Pakistan is that India is not shackled about reinventing everything in a religious format. Despite the presence of religious Hindu fanatics among the majority the Indians have embraced secularism. As I stated earlier, all they have to do is clean up their act, cut the corruption and improve the implementation of a workable system largely inherited from the colonial British. Once the cobwebs are cleared and the tarnish removed, the shine should come through again. At least they have a very good chance.

Pakistan does not enjoy this luxury anymore. Over successive waves of Islamisation perfectly workable systems were undermined and thrown out as being western, christian, colonial and other such malicious labeling and replaced with a confusing hodge podge of religious and tribal laws, customs and practices. And then these unworkable systems became further bogged down by the same old corruption, inefficiency and apathy of the Civil Servants, the administrators and politicians. Now even if Pakistan reduces corruption and improves the efficiency of its Civil Servants they still have to go to work in an increasingly religion infested system that is inherently flawed. You can polish the car and change to new tyres but if the engine is broken down that car is not going to get you very far.

This is the difference between India and Pakistan. The underlying institutions in India are still sound. India has a fighting chance of crawling out of its hole and it looks like the Indians are slowly doing it. But the Pakistanis have traded away their underlying workable systems for something much inferior. They have almost no chance.

And like the Osamas, the Taliban and the Ikhwan ul Muslimeen in Egypt, many Pakistanis are further hobbled by their belief that they are not successful in life because they are not commiited enough to their religion. As many of them see it, to cure their ills they must have an even larger dose of their religion. Welcome to the Club of Doom. This is like the Malay saying biarkan si luncai terjun dengan labu labunya which loosely translated means let the fat guy sink himself in the deep end. Their understanding of religion seems to focus their energies on hate, hate and more hate. They have nothing better to do with their lives.

Pakistan too has its world class scientists but they are not always appreciated. The fact is some of them have even been threatened with death. And all because of religion. Lets take the case of Dr Abdus Salam, a Pakistani scientist who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1979. Dr Abdus Salams Nobel Prize and scientific achievements are belittled and have been dismissed by the majority of Pakistanis who accuese him of being a religious deviant. Dr Abdus Salam was a member of the Qadianis - another religious sect in Pakistan which is condemned by the orthodox Sunni majority. They have even accused Dr Abdus Salam as being part of a Jewish conspiracy another favorite bogeyman in Pakistan. Here is a sample of more Pakistani bluster on the Internet against their own countryman Dr Abdus Salam: A Glimpse into Qadiani-Jewish Objectives.

In Dr. Abdul Qadeer's interview, there is one meaningful epithet. The epithet is "Like-minded". Most appropriate, because the Qadianis are great allies of the Jewish/Zionist movement. They cooperate with each other in spitting out venomous propaganda against Muslims on an international base. Zionism is a sworn enemy of Islam since its inception. History testifies that they damaged the Islamic polity by motivating separatist movements. This time they have a protagonist in Qadianism and a ready mule to ride on. The award (of the Nobel Prize) to Dr. Abdus Salam Qadiani is in pursuance of a common cause of the antagonists of Islam.

Even as great an achievement as winning the Nobel Prize does not get any appreciation. This is the terrible fate of the Islamic countries. There is this never ending hate, hate and more hate just because someone believes in a different sect.

The description of Pakistan and India should further open our eyes about the negative effects of fanatic religion. India is still pretty messed up socially, economically and politically in large part because a vast majority of Indians still believe in irrational beliefs - usually tied to religion - which has created humongous divisions and hatreds among its people. Differences created by caste, beliefs, ritualistic practices, oppressive traditions and other irrationalities has caused hardship, and even bloodshed among its people even until today. Although 1.2 billion in number the Indians do not represent one united nation.

In stark contrast, we can see the Chinese in China beginning to pull ahead of India, Italy, France, Britain, Russia and soon Japan and America by leaps and bounds because Mao Tse Tung had the great foresight to eradicate the more irrational aspects of religion and other debilitating traditional beliefs from the Chinese psyche. Before Communism, the Chinese people were also divided by caste, religion, tradition and other differences. Once these were got rid off and a uniform philosophy based on science and technology imposed upon the people the Chinese have become a more united entity. More importantly they have been able to organise themselves, pick themselves up and move forward at a rapid clip.

In my view the modern China of today is the best example of a nation making a great success of itself almost completely through the application of science and technology without being hindered too much by overbearing religious beliefs and other suffocating philosophies of life. It is doubtful if India can ever catch up with China anytime in the foreseeable future. Among the few Indians who are moving up in life in good numbers and being very productive citizens are those same IT practitioners. To make a living as a successful IT professional Indians have to leave behind their religion or caste based notions and cultural or traditional obstacles and instead rely on plain logic to write their software. This simple comparison alone should open peoples eyes (especially the Muslims) that debilitating religion not only causes hatred but it also prolongs poverty.

And what happens when the process is reversed ie when people give up a way of life based on science and logic and revert back to divisive religion ? Although it can be argued extensively if Communism is indeed the all encompassing philosophy which many think it is, Yugoslavia provides a good example of a country which was divided largely by religion and was then united through the iron grip of General Titos communism for 35 years from 1945 till 1980. After the death of Tito and the fall of communism, within 10 years Yugoslavia broke up in 1990 again and saw the resurgence of religious based hatreds. Hence we in Malaysia became familiar with the war in Bosnia Herzegovina, Serbia, Croatia, the deaths of Muslims and Christians and so on. Titos religion free communism kept the peace for almost 35 years but post communist religion brought war and destruction to the Balkans in less than a decade.

Islam on the other hand is not a religion. Islam is a deen or a way of life. Islam does not breed hatred. Surely then what is breeding all this hatred in Iraq is not Islam.

The Quran talks about aamilus solihaat or righteous works. The South Koreans and Chinese have established a cycle of aamilus solihaat or circle of righteous works. These types of righteous works must be preceded by a willingness on the part of the people to cooperate and help each other. They must agree to abide by so called secular laws. They must have disciplined Civil Servants whose duty is to implement those laws fairly and efficiently. Unfortunately this circle of righteous work or aamilus solihaat has so far eluded the Islamic countries. Despite producing so many university graduates few of the Islamic countries can even manufacture their own underpants.

Just educating the Muslims and making every Muslim an engineer or doctor is not enough to create a successful Islamic country. Somehow a PhD does not automatically make a Muslim respect his neighbour, his environment or stop him from being holier than thou or be able to contribute some useful work in a disciplined and professional manner which can compete with the non Muslims. The continuing suffering of the Islamic countries bears witness to these failures.

Another characteristic of a Failed State is the dominance by a restrictive religion. Certainly this is what we have been talking about here. In Malaysia religion is getting more intrusive into peoples daily lives. Some of the more foolish religious authorities have lately embarked on another crusade to set up moral squads to go around snooping into peoples private lives. The ummah is being inculcated with this type of diseased mentality to become peeping toms and volunteers in these snoop squads. So far there seems to be some common sense among the political leadership which has put a stop to these snoop squads. But the disease is spreading. Many Muslims now love to observe what time their neighbours get up for the early morning sahur meal during the fasting month. They also like to check up which mosque their neighbours attend for prayers. Sometimes they will pry Didnt see you at the mosque?. We have created a nation of religious busy bodies.

Frequently we also hear of the snoop squads physically assaulting couples caught for khalwat or being in close proximity. In one case a snoop squad started beating up a policeman caught in such a situation. The policeman promptly pulled out his gun and killed one of the snoop squad. In another case that was not reported in the Malaysian media, a snoop squad beat up a boy and a girl who were caught for khalwat. The girl promptly made a police report over the assault resulting in the snoop squad being arrested by the Police.

Then we come to the aversion to hard work. This is another characteristic of a Failed State irrespective of whether Muslim or not. But the fact that the Muslims are at the bottom of the economic totem not just in Malaysia but in all Islamic countries is sufficient evidence that here is another characteristic of a Failed State that is embraced with passion by the Muslims in Malaysia. Among the Arabs it is even worse. I have already quoted figures about the contraction of the Syrian economy and the economic doldrums which are the fate of the 22 member Arab League of Nations. To work is almost disgraceful. Taking all these negative elements in total, the Muslims in Malaysia already exhibit many of the characteristics that have been observed among what is known as the Failed States.

“Some of them even twist their tongues to simulate the scripture, to make you think that it is from the scripture when it is not from the scripture, and claim that it is from God, when it is not from God. They invent lies and attribute them to God, knowingly.” (Surah 3:78)

[Syed Akbar Ali is a noted writer and activist from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He can be contacted on ali.syedakbar@gmail.com]

Posted by Danish Khan on 8/29/2009 02:28:00 PM. Filed under . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Feel free to leave a response

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