Modern education vs Traditional belief system

by Nassir Jaffer – Toronto, Canada

In order to understand how Modern Education could be a challenge for a traditionally Orthodox conditioned mind we first need to weigh what the basic modern education might entail:

(Modern Education – ‘INQUIRY’ (scientific) however, if without ‘Awareness/Mindfulness’ could result in immorality/unethical action/diabolical. We have seen how some scientists have played it foul (chemical weapons, killing machines, Nuclear.. etc..), to include malpractice by some various related professionals and this does not absolve some Clerics (Ego/Desires/Accountability)! Formal education without internal inquiry resulting in self realization is as good as rain on barren land.)

Question the dogma: the ‘tell me why’, ‘tell me more why’ and ‘still tell me more why’. Note, the verses in the Qur’an do not seem to advocate on reprimanding anyone by inciting such questions, on the contrary…..

What was the cause then for our belief system to have (what may seem possibly) chained us over the centuries to not exercise our God given gift, the neo-cortex brain (relative to progress hence importance given to modern education)?

Let us reel back to Islamic Golden age/Empire/Civilization. We know for a fact Muslims then had to be open minded in order to have achieved their success having translated (before progressing any further) many ‘pre-Islamic’ knowledge related material like Greek Philosophy to include areas of medicine, mathematics, science (philosophy and not at the level of modern times), etc. where the collection came from various previous sources/civilization/nations (including from those who we call kafirs). Point to note is many contributors were also non-Arab and non-Muslim but fell under Islamic empire (in continuing with Prophet’s ideology with respect to giving importance to education – the condition of freeing the captives was they educate the Muslims as an example). Remember, knowledge contained in Nahjul Balagha could also be echoed from previous civilizations. No doubt knowledge and level of understanding also progresses with passage of time hence Nahjul Balagha contains impeccable piece of work.

Worth noting the lives of scholars like: Al-Khwarizmi, Avicenna, Al-Biruni, etc. we so proudly like to associate with would probably shock us in realizing that perhaps their understanding and practicing of Islam then may not quite have been the way our belief system is being practiced today. One wonders if they were sidetracked and bound by rituals like ours as many previous prophets and their household, disciples had also experienced mass killings/brutality but we do not hear from our aimas having built their ‘belief system’ by commemorating those previous events, occurrences or for that re-enactments, etc..?. Have our minds been so occupied with over the decades guilt and fear based indoctrination (by augmenting possibly out of context some verses from the Qur’an to reinforce) such that there is no room for facts? Psychologically we know (it could be argued) that there is no room for facts when our minds are occupied with fear.

Worth noting, the epic of Greek Mythology or for that Mahabharata with various related characters have been deduced to the tee and with that how the understanding of human psyche works ‘beyond the question of hero or villain’ which is where our conditioned mindset is so used to relating. Such knowledge was apparent with Prophets who came after including our aima as it is ‘Universal’ and does not necessarily belong to a specific nation or belief system. Have we ever heard of such level of knowledge being imparted on the mimbar (for the majority of us who are mimbar dependent) or for that from other related speeches/lectures (note, this is relative to deeper understanding of religious and universal knowledge as contained within the Quran regarding previous civilization)? Have we heard about the characters associated with the event of Kerbala as we compare with Bhagavad Gita (battlefield of Kurukshetra where thousands of individuals were slaughtered en masse and that also between relatives) or Ramayana/Mahabharata deduced/studied to that level or for that, extent (notwithstanding universal knowledge / faith)? On a similar note, we have the story of Julius Caesar where each character had been extensively studied and compared with how ‘human’ psyche works in relation to ‘reality’ and how our various ‘faculties’ play on us, literature after literature. What a classic dramatic speech at the funeral of Julius Caesar by confident rational Brutus followed by Mark Antony’s emotional and poetic where he totally changes the direction and sways the crowd off their feet contrary to Brutus’ thinking – logic vs emotion. This reminds me of how we used to be systematically ‘emotionally’ indoctrinated with fear and guilt at the madrassa as we grew up hence no wiggly room for any questions to ask, hardly much on meaning of this life rather all there is to it is remember the names of 12 imaams and jannah is yours, insinuation of ziyarat as being more important than Hajj, shed tears for aima and jannah is yours, etc…and with that mentality came segregation.

Well, we must admit, with the exposure of Western ideology (modern education), we have started to question (though it is still a stigma with the majority), look at things differently and evolve quietly with our belief system and thinking to some extent (though a long way to go). Yes, we have been reluctantly embracing modern education (fragmented) at turtle’s pace mainly because we (the mass) never fully understood our belief system (reciting or memorizing verses of Qur’an without knowing/understanding the contents and meaning) on one hand and with over the decades of blind faith indoctrination on the other hand has restricted our pace to fully assimilate/advance towards modern education especially for those of us who have been bogged down to neither here nor there and are now being challenged by the new generation with hardly much to offer let alone reason. Note, modern education does not mean/equate with western culture essentially though it could very well be a fine line (depends upon your definition and extent of understanding – remove logic, build on fear/guilt and you are left with…..).

My high level analytical assessment is purely for academic purpose and possibly to foster a constructive unbiased or agenda related debate.

With that said, I’ll leave it to your understanding when prophet (PBUH) said, would you follow the religion of your forefathers even if they were wrong? Would our revered Imaam’s really be pleased listening to the material coming from the Mimbar – has our belief system underplayed or for that misrepresented them? Have we redefined (for better or worse) in due time course the ‘Universal’/holistic approach, understanding, intent and message of God?

As a side note, whenever we are faced with issues, we tend to look at a reductionist point of view/one angle rather than wholesome/holistic. This tends to put us in awkward position many a time. I highly recommend reading: ‘The Third Jesus’, ‘War of Worldviews’ and ‘You are the Universe’ by Deepak Chopra.

From the above and relative to modern education, we need to first nip in the bud our current issues/concerns of our tailored belief system before we can progress. Are we ready for that, will we ever be?


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