Currently Muslim world is trying to look inwards to find the solution to the continuous dilemma that it finds itself for the last few hundred years. Can we find a source of renaissance by looking inward?
I would say, No! History is replete with instances when an impetus for a change came from outside. If Roman Empire and Persian Empire were not at war with each other and closed the trade links between Asia and Europe, the caravans from Arabian Desert wouldn’t have started to land in Roman Syria. That was impetus for a change in pre Islamic Arabia and brought the seeds of the concept of unity of God to the pagan land. The Arab culture came at the forefront of the cultural scene of the world and Arabic became a linqua Franca of the learned elite throughout the world.
The renaissance of fifteenth century Europe was also because of the rediscovery of Greek democratic city states and secular subject matter (philosophy, medicine, astronomy, chemistry) through the literature of Arabs. Despites the burning of coffee shops and protest against teaching of Arabic at French universities ( sounds familiar by our burning TV sets, cd and boycott of colas) the Europeans were helped to come out of dark ages by rediscovering Greeks literature through Arabic. Strangely while ibn Rushd and others were being taught in Western universities, Ibn Rushd’s books were burnt in front of Jamia mosque in Cordova.
The Muslims of the world are pre occupied with the notion of reconquering the world (ghalba e Islam) by looking inwards towards the glorious past and eulogizing the great generals and their victories. According to one Indian scholar, we couldn’t conquer West because of crusades that pitch the West against the Islamic world, but Rumi could be sighted as one example that conquered the West. The millions of Rumi lovers are only found in the West and strangely we find more Rumi lovers in the West than in the Muslim world. In the Muslim world he is considered as an apostate. We lament the feminish ruler of Owadh, but find three of the greatest poets, Anis, Ghalib, and Mir during that period. Rumi’s period coincides with the sacking of Baghdad by the Mongols. Does that mean the flowering of Muslim culture was at its peak during the collapse of military might of Muslims? It also coincides with Muslims rising to great cultural and intellectual prominence in non-Muslims societies i.e actors, singers, scientist, academics in India and the west.
Today in Pakistan, we find the urban educated youth turning to mosques, to forge their identity with the rest of Muslims predominantly Arabic identity. Lip service is paid to the early Muslim ulema and hukema (scholars and wise men) but the path of that journey is considered heretic.
While we eye the civilizational advancement of the west with envy and disdain, we emulate the technological development to come at par with them. The mechanical understanding of the car manufacturing wouldn’t produce scientific knowledge in our societies. While we celebrate the idea of Muslims bringing concepts of equality against the caste system prevalent in India, we reject the influence of British secular education and its influence in India.
The key to our reshaping destiny lies not within but outside. We need to arm ourselves with modern education and rational discourse to get out of this centuries old dilemma.