Sunday, November 28, 2010


Once again plagued by business and avoidance in posting regularly, someone sent me an article I could not ignore. The article, by author Dr. Tarek Abo-Ghazalah, below asks some insightful and provocative questions about the Arab World. After reading this article, I encourage you to reflect upon whether these questions apply to the non-Arab world, and to our generation. I believe that these ideas are not unique to the Arab World, at least not wholly.
 Is our generation looking at the problems of our world an adapting, or are we standing up to change and raise our voices? Ask yourself where you lie on this spectrum- will you be part of an intellectual revival? Or are you a follower or those who tell you what to believe? Provoke yourself. Ask your own questions.

Toward Developing a Culture of Objective Thinking

The Islamic Reality: By Dr. Tarek Abou-Ghazala

For the past five centuries, the Muslim Mind has nearly ceased to produce any meaningful contribution to civilization. This is manifest by the lack of any beneficial discovery or innovation emerging out of the Muslim World. The reason for this is unclear to many Muslims, who continue to blame others for their shortcomings.
This series is an attempt to try to diagnose the reason behind the lagging of the Muslim Mind.
The population targeted by this series is the Muslim Youth who represent the fresh hope to get us out of our current mental stagnation.
The discussion in this series will take on definitions and narratives of the meaning of the word “Thinking” and its attributes.
These attributes will be discussed in the context of the Quran as the most powerful drive of open thinking, and in light of the applications of this context in the daily life of early Muslims. This in no way means the context is frozen in time, but rather enlightenment to today’s generations of Muslim youth. This is the same way other civilizations look back at their traditions not to bring about change to it, but rather to seek light and guidance from it in their daily business.
The series will be divided into 6 parts:
I- The Definition of Thinking
II- Knowledge Acquisition and Knowledge Production
III- Approaching and Dealing with the Truth
IV- The Muslim Contribution to the Human Mind
V- Thinking Errors: Definitions, Diagnoses, and Treatments
VI- The Objectivity of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)

Todays' Reality
Let us not sugar coat matters. Our current Islamic reality is grim.
A fundamental aspect of our Muslim reality is that we have turned into consumers with little or no material or knowledge production.
The Arab world does not produce its sustenance of food, and relies heavily on exports of basic goods such as wheat, while other countries such as Brazil have become food exporters after reliance on imports for decades.
In addition to the production of necessities of living, the Arab and Muslim world has produced nearly no knowledge over the past 5 centuries.  Again, this is manifest by the fact that all major discoveries have emerged from outside the Muslim world.
Knowledge production is closely related to literacy rates throughout all society.  Low literacy rates cause knowledge production to drop if not cease,  and establishes the society on a deficient labor structure; with the final result being a low rather high-skilled job society throughout all facets of life.
The more a country produces knowledge and is able to implement it in its social structure, the less dependent it is on other nations
This leads to the dichotomy of international dependence vs. national independence.  No country today can claim it is totally nationally independent from other countries.  The degree of national independence from other nations relies on the ability to produce knowledge and implement it in the social structure.  The more a country produces knowledge and is able to implement it in its social structure, the less dependent it is on other nations.
Below are some of the literacy and job statistics:
  • Nearly all Islamic countries are 3rd world countries
  • Illiteracy is between 50 to 80% (Average 58%)
  • 70 million people are illiterate in the Arab world
  • There are 10 million children out of school in the Arab world
  • A significant number of those who make it to graduate education migrate to the west
  • Those who do not migrate, suffer from lack of means.
  • 60% of the region's population is under 30 years of age,
  • Close to 100 million new jobs will need to be created over the next 10 to 15 years in the Arab world
A major consequence of  Arab world illiteracy is the wide spread of child labor which is a repellent to tertiary Education and scientific growth. Poor children, who work, do not achieve higher education which results in further poverty. Once these poor children become grown ups, they push their own kindred to the work force, to help with household expenses. This creates a vicious circle, breading illiterate impoverished children unable to escape.
How to break such a circle is a fundamental question in need of an answer in order to start the ascension to revival.
Such reality requires deep reflection to try to come out of this abyss.

A New Way of Thinking
Regurgitating the mantra “Islam is the Solution” is no solution at all.  All it does is anesthetize a sick patient without performing any curative or even palliative mode of therapy. 
As in surgery where anesthesia per se carries a substantial risk to the patient, social anesthesia carries a similar substantial risk to the people.
A new way of thinking is required today to reflect upon our grim reality to try to identify the most pressing questions in need of answers
For this reason, the Qur'an directed the early rejecters of the message of Islam to a new thinking mode, away from “Mass Thinking”
(Say: "I preach only one thing to you: that you stand up in pairs or singly for God; then consider how there is no madness in your companion. He is only a warner [sent] to you in the face of stern torment.") (Saba' 34: 46) The verse is clear in its instruction of how to think about any major phenomena, singly, in pairs, or both - i.e. a three person thinking cell which will allow deeper reflection of such phenomena without the interference of the masses who might be emotionally driven towards one understanding or another. Such a new way of thinking is required today to reflect upon our grim reality to try to identify the most pressing questions in need of answers.
Only we can answer these questions because we are their contemporaries.

Revival Standstill
Over the past 5 centuries the Muslim world was affected by a severe intellectual drought nearly grinding the Islamic civilization to a halt.
Many attempts to revive this civilization took place during the 19th and 20th centuries, but such a revival was never able to blossom its full potential.
Many factors can be identified as causing this revival standstill.
Such factors include but are not limited to:
  • Poverty
  • Ignorance
  • Disease
  • Dictatorship
  • Division
  • Injustice
  • Lack of human rights
Any of these factors by itself can eliminate a people, let alone combined.  It is needless to say, the Muslim world is inflicted with ALL these factors to a certain degree or another.  But upon careful analysis, we realize that most of these factors are not self-sufficient to cause a revival standstill.  Many nations have started the ascension to revival despite being inflicted with one or more of these factors. 
China for example suffers from tyranny and dictatorship, India from poverty and division, and Brazil from poverty and disease.  Yet all these nations are on a steady path to revival, with China becoming the second largest economy in the world only trailing the USA, India becoming a beacon of high technology industry in the region of Southeast Asia, and Brazil becoming a world major food exporter.
Only one of these factors carries in itself the ability for total destruction of any civilization.
It should not be difficult to agree that this factor is Ignorance!
Ignorance is the single most important reason the Muslim world had been stagnant in its current grim reality.  It deprived Muslim nations from all sources of power necessary to keep a fruitful productive civilization.

Dealing with our problems …. The wrong way
Another reason contributing to this revival standstill is the "Blame Game".
Engaging problems rather than adapting to them should be a national strategy implemented from the top down
Bouncing the blame maintains the status quo, and drains the energy necessary to solve our current crises, resulting in delayed solutions, which could rapidly render them obsolete and unhelpful due to the rapid advancement of science and technology.
Another dangerous factor preventing revival is adapting to the problem rather than engaging and solving it.
In fact, adapting to problems is the single most important obstacle to revival.  Engaging problems rather than adapting to them should be a national strategy implemented from the top down. This engagement of problems should be carried by analyzing their primary and secondary causes. Such methodology will at least serve to:
1-     Identify common root causes behind contemporary problems.
2-     Create a database of solutions readily available to implement when such root cause are identified as culprits of future problems.
3-     Preserve energy which is usually exhausted trying to solve or resolve the same problems.
Living in a society not able to push its way into civilization will psychologically result in a national mood not conducive to advancement: This national mood is characterized by:
  • Sense of insecurity
  • Sense of helplessness, resorting to inaction and reaction instead of being active and proactive
  • Narrow mindedness and tunnel vision
  • Despair
  • Lack of dialogue
  • Scarcity of positive initiatives
  • Prevalence of destructive instead of constructive criticism
  • Loss of faith in the founding pillars and principals
The last point in the above list is the final and most important manifestation of revival standstill.
This has become more evident in the past 10 years, especially with the systematic attack on the founding pillars and principles of Islam: the Qur'an, the Prophet Mohammad, and even Allah.
Muslims have not been able to formulate convincing answers to these attacks, and have rather resorted each time to the very similar reactions which have been fully understood by those mounting the attacks in the first place.
The result has been waves of systematic attacks targeting all facets of contemporary Muslim life.
The list of these attacks is endless.
The following are a few of these attacks which were put forth in the form of questions:
1-    The question of violence: Why are Muslims so violent?
2-    The question of death:  Why are Muslims committing suicide attacks against others? And why do Muslims love to die?
3-    The question of religious freedom and tolerance: Can a Muslim change his or her religion without being executed?
4-    The question of gender equality: Can a Muslim woman lead the prayers of a mixed gender Friday prayer?
5-    The question of the Prophet’s marriages: Can an adult man marry a 9 year old girl?
6-    The question of freedom of speech: Can someone draw the pictures of the prophet?
7-    The question of Homosexuality: Why aren’t Muslims allowed to be “naturally” Homosexual?
Muslims have answered all of these problems, but not swiftly enough to prevent doubts in the minds of Muslim youth.
The reason for this slow response is not the lack of an answer, but rather the lack of tools necessary to answer.  Tools such as quiet dialogue, open-mindedness, hope, constructive criticism, and pro activity, are missing from the Islamic atmosphere today. 
Instead, the mentality of “black and white”, “either or" and knee-jerk reactions to any provocation is what paints and infests the current Muslim mind.
The Muslim mind can no longer maneuver the gray area where most of the daily living tasks, activities and, questions take place.
Protecting the founding pillars and principles should become a priority. This protection however, should take place quietly, persistently, and with a smile.
In the next Article, I will discuss the methodology of objective thinking as evident by careful reading of the original Islamic texts.

Dr. Tarek Abou-Ghazala is a Palestinian Syrian-American cardiologist and one of the most renowned experts on the topics of objective thinking, subjective thinking, and modes of thinking.
He is the founder and chairman of The Circle for Intellectual Revival of Concept Learning and Education. The Circle is an intellectual organization dedicated to producing a moderate Muslim mind that can reason using objective and value thinking. The Circle bases its work on the Quran, the Sunnah and the scientific foundation of the early Islamic scholarly work.
Dr. Abou-Ghazala is Fellow of the American College of Cardiology, and a Fellow of the Society of Coronary Angiography and Interventions and the Islamic Medical Association of North America. He currently resides in Doha, Qatar, where he is a senior consultant cardiologist at Hamad Medical Corporation.


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