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KARACHI: “’Sacred violence’ in America is defined by the Americans as ‘violence by Muslims’. They ask me why we Muslims are so violent. And I ask them instead ‘when did they stop beating their wives’,” said Prof Dr Amjad Hussain pointing to the absurdity of their asking him such a thing and his countering their uncalled for query with an equally absurd question of his own.

The emeritus professor of cardiovascular surgery and emeritus professor of humanities at the University of Toledo in Ohio, USA, was giving a talk at Habib University on Monday on ‘Past glories and current realities’.

The talk focussed on the era when Arabs and Muslims were at the forefront of development and discoveries and played a major role in sparking the Western Renaissance. That’s what the Fatimids in Egypt, the Abbasids in Baghdad, the Umayyads in Spain and Mughals in India were known for. But current times have Muslims lagging behind the West in almost every area of human endeavour.

Speaking about the highs reached by Muslims in almost every field in the past, he discussed the years of the common era, from 750 to 1100, which saw the age of Jabir, the age of Khwarizmi, the age of Razi, the age of Masudi, the age of Abu’l Wafa, the age of Biruni, etc. “People in our history challenged views and developed different schools of thought. Some examples of such people in our subcontinent in the recent past include Sir Syed Ahmed Khan and Allama Iqbal who had their own ideologies,” he said.

Coming to Muslims recognised for their intellectual minds, he said that the Nobel Prize was presented to several such Muslims, including Naguib Mahfooz, Ahmed Zewail, Shirin Ebadi, Orhan Pamuk, Mohamed Yunus and Aziz Sancar. “Education should be pursued with a reason and a purpose. Education should be pursued with a goal,” he said, bringing up the method of pursuing knowledge along with a sense of reasoning and the importance of ijtihad.

“When we take credit for the Muslim philosophers of the past, we should also make them our ideals. The key to the success of those scholars was their conviction and knowledge. The same door needs to be reopened now. But, sadly, we have let our inkpots run dry, because we don’t question. We just accept,” he said.

To remedy the situation, he said, we need to indulge in intelligent discourse. “If we don’t do any intellectual work collectively,” he warned, “we will completely lose touch with progress and be left far behind, which is happening as it is,” he said.

Speaking more in depth about the saga of dry inkpots during a one-on-one discussion with writer and critic Dr Asif Farrukhi later, Prof Hussain said that Muslims today need to look back at their glorious past and preserve that knowledge before adding to it. “If the Renaissance could do this, why not us now?” he said. “I think those societies that flourished were pluralistic societies. We have lost that.”

Asked about education and learning from our history as the solutions, he said it all really comes down to ‘education with a purpose’. “Education is important. It can help bring the Muslims back to enlightenment,” he said. “But there is an education, and there is an education,” he said emphasising pursuing the right kind of education.

He explained this by sharing a bit about his own education when he was a young boy growing up in Peshawar. “Even in primary schools, our teachers were very enlightened. I was studying in the public schooling system. And I didn’t see any militancy during that time. I did not know who was Shia or Sunni, or Christian or Muslim. Growing up our personal beliefs made no difference to me and my friends. So education can very well be the key to enlightenment. It is the only solution,” he concluded.

Published in Dawn January 31st, 2017