THIS year will see a large number of celebrations at campuses and scientific institutions around the world to mark the 200th year of the birth of Charles Darwin, and the 150th year of the publication of his seminal work.
Widely regarded as one of the three most influential thinkers of the 19th century, together with Freud and Marx, Darwin has had a stronger impact on our thinking than the other two giants of the era. Since its publication in 1859, his explanation of how life evolved on the planet has been subjected to rigorous criticism and analysis. Generations of scientists have tested it in the field and in the laboratory. And to date, it remains the only scientific explanation of how life on Earth has developed over the millennia.
Many religious people have viewed the Darwinian theory of evolution as an attack on their faith. Others have reconciled belief in a supernatural being controlling events in the universe with a scientific theory that pulls together a vast plethora of evidence. Whatever one’s position on the truth of Darwin’s revolutionary exposition, it would take a foolhardy person to dismiss it as a ‘half-baked theory’ as Imran Khan has done recently.
Titled Why the West craves materialism and why the East sticks to religion, the essay is dated Nov 8, 2008, and was sent to me via email by a reader. In this article, the politician and ex-cricketer describes his personal journey from the westernised, secular outlook of his youth to his present faith-based worldview.
In a sense, Imran Khan’s view of Darwin’s life work captures the essence of our backwardness. By rejecting a vast body of scientific research and analysis as ‘half-baked’, he exposes his own ignorance. He is, of course, entitled to his own opinion on any subject under the sun. But as he is a role model for many young Pakistanis, he has a duty to choose his words with greater care. He may refuse to accept the consensus behind Darwinian theory in the international scientific community, but to dismiss it out of hand risks influencing impressionable young minds into following him.
As it is, there is not a single world-class university or research institute in the Muslim world. The reason for this is not hard to find. By refusing to accept and internalise the rational method of empirical research and analysis, we discourage and suppress scientific and objective scholarship.
In Imran Khan’s mind, as in many others, reason is a western monopoly. So anyone using rational analysis as a tool is dismissed as ‘western’, a pejorative term deployed to undermine any argument. Unfortunately, this widespread trend has had profound significance over the centuries. By ceding scientific research and progress to the West, Muslims find themselves in their current predicament. By contrast, countries like China, Japan and Korea have made tremendous progress by accepting reason as the basis of their education and public discourse. So when Imran Khan says ‘the East sticks to religion’ in the title of his essay, he is effectively ignoring well over half the East.
I have long admired Imran Khan for his cricketing prowess, as well as for the fine work he has done in creating Pakistan’s first cancer hospital. So as a fan, it has saddened me to see him in the constant company of right-wingers like ex-ISI chief Hamid Gul and Qazi Hussain Ahmed, the leader of the Jamaat-i-Islami. On TV talk shows, where he is a frequent guest, he has been voicing the most extreme views. Let me hasten to say that I would defend his right to his opinions, but as a hero to millions of young Pakistanis, I would ask that these views be based on logic and facts.
Imran Khan has complained in his article that Pakistan’s secular elites do not study Islam, and hence they are seduced by ‘western’ thinking. I’m afraid this is based on the arrogant assumption that simply because people dress in a certain way, they are ignorant of their own culture, history and religion. According to him, Pakistan is polarised between this group who “react strongly to anyone trying to impose Islam on society”, and religious extremists. Personally speaking, I don’t want any belief or dogma imposed on society. As a secularist, I think everybody should be free to believe in any faith. And in the distinguished company of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, I feel that religion should have nothing to do with the business of the state.
So why is it that today, only Muslim nations seem to deny the validity of the scientific method? It is true that many evangelical Christians reject Darwinian theory as well, and push creationism as the explanation for the development of life on earth. Recently, this extreme position has been replaced by something called Intelligent Design. But among educated people, it would be difficult to find many who close their eyes to the insights contained in Darwin’s groundbreaking research, even though many of these ideas were developed by Wallace, a contemporary of Darwin’s.
In his important book Muslims and Science published nearly 20 years ago, Pervez Hoodbhoy made the point that the entire output of scientific papers written in the Muslim world every year did not equal those produced in Israel alone. This remains true two decades later. And the reason for this imbalance lies in the position reflected in Imran Khan’s views about Darwin.
If we do not encourage the young to think and reason for themselves, how can we expect them to discover anything new? The essence of scientific enquiry lies in curiosity about how the world works, how matter was formed, and how life came into being. Perhaps curiosity about the universe is what sets mankind apart from the animal kingdom.
But if, as Darwin was in the Galapagos Isles, we are struck with wonder when we see something for which we have no explanation, then we have taken a step towards discovering more about our universe, and ultimately, about ourselves. (Dawn)
Thanks for the nausea (caused by reading IK’s article). The man is the epitome of ignorant self-righteousness. As Irfan Hussain so aptly says, ‘In Imran Khan’s mind, as in many others, reason is a western monopoly. So anyone using rational analysis as a tool is dismissed as ‘western’, a pejorative term deployed to undermine any argument.’
He further correctly states, ‘Imran Khan has complained in his article that Pakistan’s secular elites do not study Islam, and hence they are seduced by ‘western’ thinking. I’m afraid this is based on the arrogant assumption that simply because people dress in a certain way, they are ignorant of their own culture, history and religion.’
To this I will add that several seculars/agnostics have studied the respective religions they were born into and became what they are as a result of this study. The question that springs to my mind is: why does he not ask the people he calls extremists and fanatics to study their religion a little bit, instead of coming after the seculars? It’s not the secular Pakistanis fomenting the trouble! Reason has given IK a wide berth I’m afraid.
I could counter every one of his arguments, but it would be a waste of time to argue with someone who calls Charles Darwin’s life work ‘half baked’ – just to take one example he quotes the rate of divorce in the UK as evidence of moral turpitude. Does it even occur to him that the economic and social independence offered to women citizens by the state of UK might have a hand in their decisions to leave bad marriages? By contrast, millions of economically bonded ‘majboor’ women in societies like Pakistan’s stay in horrific, abusive marriages because the state will neither ensure alimony, health-care, child support, nor education, housing, food or basic amenities of life for their children.
Ghost Of TK Says:
January 17th, 2009
@Gul: Excellent analysis of the article and of Imran’s intellecutally dishonest “qalabaazian”.
Problem is that IK doesn’t know how to quit while he’s ahead. He’s got to drag darwin into this muck and pontificate on issues he doesn’t have a clue about.
Here is the article Irfan Hussain is referring to:
Why The West Craves Materialism & Why The East Sticks To Religion
By Imran Khan
My generation grew up at a time when colonial hang up was at its peak. Our older generation had been slaves and had a huge inferiority complex of the British. The school I went to was similar to all elite schools in Pakistan. Despite gaining independent, they were, and still are, producing replicas of public schoolboys rather than Pakistanis.
I read Shakespeare, which was fine, but no Allama Iqbal – the national poet of Pakistan. The class on Islamic studies was not taken seriously, and when I left school I was considered among the elite of the country because I could speak English and wore Western clothes.
Despite periodically shouting ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ in school functions, I considered my own culture backward and religion outdated. Among our group if any one talked about religion, prayed or kept a beard he was immediately branded a Mullah.
Because of the power of the Western media, our heroes were Western movie stars or pop stars. When I went to Oxford already burdened with this hang up, things didn’t get any easier. At Oxford, not just Islam, but all religions were considered anachronism.
Science had replaced religion and if something couldn’t be logically proved it did not exist. All supernatural stuff was confined to the movies. Philosophers like Darwin, who with his half-baked theory of evolution had supposedly disproved the creation of men and hence religion, were read and revered.
Moreover, European history reflected its awful experience with religion. The horrors committed by the Christian clergy during the Inquisition era had left a powerful impact on the Western mind.
To understand why the West is so keen on secularism, one should go to places like Cordoba in Spain and see the torture apparatus used during the Spanish Inquisition. Also the persecution of scientists as heretics by the clergy had convinced the Europeans that all religions are regressive.
However, the biggest factor that drove people like me away from religion was the selective Islam practiced by most of its preachers. In short, there was a huge difference between what they practiced and what they preached. Also, rather than explaining the philosophy behind the religion, there was an overemphasis on rituals.
I feel that humans are different to animals. While, the latter can be drilled, humans need to be intellectually convinced. That is why the Qur’an constantly appeals to reason. The worst, of course, was the exploitation of Islam for political gains by various individuals or groups.
Hence, it was a miracle I did not become an atheist. The only reason why I did not was the powerful religious influence my mother wielded on me since my childhood. It was not so much out of conviction but love for her that I stayed a Muslim.
However, my Islam was selective. I accepted only parts of the religion that suited me. Prayers were restricted to Eid days and occasionally on Fridays, when my father insisted on taking me to the mosque with him.
All in all I was smoothly moving to becoming a Pukka Brown Sahib. After all I had the right credentials in terms of school, university and, above all, acceptability in the English aristocracy, something that our brown sahibs would give their lives for. So what led me to do a ‘lota’ on the Brown Sahib culture and instead become a ‘desi’?
Well it did not just happen overnight.
Firstly, the inferiority complex that my generation had inherited gradually went as I developed into a world-class athlete. Secondly, I was in the unique position of living between two cultures. I began to see the advantages and the disadvantages of both societies.
In Western societies, institutions were strong while they were collapsing in our country. However, there was an area where we were and still are superior, and that is our family life. I began to realize that this was the Western society’s biggest loss. In trying to free itself from the oppression of the clergy, they had removed both God and religion from their lives.
While science, no matter how much it progresses, can answer a lot of questions – two questions it will never be able to answer: One, what is the purpose of our existence and two, what happens to us when we die?
It is this vacuum that I felt created the materialistic and the hedonistic culture. If this is the only life then one must make hay while the sun shines – and in order to do so one needs money. Such a culture is bound to cause psychological problems in a human being, as there was going to be an imbalance between the body and the soul.
Consequently, in the US, which has shown the greatest materialistic progress while giving its citizens numerous rights, almost 60 percent of the population consult psychiatrists. Yet, amazingly in modern psychology, there is no study of the human soul. Sweden and Switzerland, who provide the most welfare to their citizens, also have the highest suicide rates. Hence, man is not necessarily content with material well being and needs something more.
Since all morality has it roots in religion, once religion was removed, immorality has progressively grown since the 70s. Its direct impact has been on family life. In the UK, the divorce rate is 60 percent, while it is estimated that there are over 35 percent single mothers. The crime rate is rising in almost all Western societies, but the most disturbing fact is the alarming increase in racism. While science always tries to prove the inequality of man (recent survey showing the American Black to be genetically less intelligent than whites) it is only religion that preaches the equality of man.
Between 1991 and 1997, it was estimated that total immigration into Europe was around 520,000, and there were racially motivated attacks all over, especially in Britain, France and Germany. In Pakistan during the Afghan war, we had over four million refugees, and despite the people being so much poorer, there was no racial tension.
There was a sequence of events in the 80s that moved me toward God as the Qur’an says: “There are signs for people of understanding.” One of them was cricket. As I was a student of the game, the more I understood the game, the more I began to realize that what I considered to be chance was, in fact, the will of Allah. A pattern which became clearer with time. But it was not until Salman Rushdie’s “Satanic Verses” that my understanding of Islam began to develop.
People like me who were living in the Western world bore the brunt of anti-Islam prejudice that followed the Muslim reaction to the book. We were left with two choices: fight or flight. Since I felt strongly that the attacks on Islam were unfair, I decided to fight. It was then I realized that I was not equipped to do so as my knowledge of Islam was inadequate. Hence I started my research and for me a period of my greatest enlightenment. I read scholars like Ali Shariati, Muhammad Asad, Iqbal, Gai Eaton, plus of course, a study of Qur’an.
I will try to explain as concisely as is possible, what “discovering the truth” meant for me. When the believers are addressed in the Qur’an, it always says, “Those who believe and do good deeds.” In other words, a Muslim has dual function, one toward God and the other toward fellow human beings.
The greatest impact of believing in God for me, meant that I lost all fear of human beings. The Qur’an liberates man from man when it says that life and death and respect and humiliation are God’s jurisdiction, so we do not have to bow before other human beings.
Moreover, since this is a transitory world where we prepare for the eternal one, I broke out of the self-imposed prisons, such as growing old (such a curse in the Western world, as a result of which, plastic surgeons are having a field day), materialism, ego, what people say and so on. It is important to note that one does not eliminate earthly desires. But instead of being controlled by them, one controls them.
By following the second part of believing in Islam, I have become a better human being. Rather than being self-centered and living for the self, I feel that because the Almighty gave so much to me, in turn I must use that blessing to help the less privileged. This I did by following the fundamentals of Islam rather than becoming a Kalashnikov-wielding fanatic.
I have become a tolerant and a giving human being who feels compassion for the underprivileged. Instead of attributing success to myself, I know it is because of God’s will, hence I learned humility instead of arrogance.
Also, instead of the snobbish Brown Sahib attitude toward our masses, I believe in egalitarianism and strongly feel against the injustice done to the weak in our society. According to the Qur’an, “Oppression is worse than killing.” In fact only now do I understand the true meaning of Islam, if you submit to the will of Allah, you have inner peace.
Through my faith, I have discovered strength within me that I never knew existed and that has released my potential in life. I feel that in Pakistan we have selective Islam. Just believing in God and going through the rituals is not enough. One also has to be a good human being. I feel there are certain Western countries with far more Islamic traits than us in Pakistan, especially in the way they protect the rights of their citizens, or for that matter their justice system. In fact some of the finest individuals I know live there.
What I dislike about them is their double standards in the way they protect the rights of their citizens but consider citizens of other countries as being somehow inferior to them as human being, e.g. dumping toxic waste in the Third World, advertising cigarettes that are not allowed in the West and selling drugs that are banned in the West.
One of the problems facing Pakistan is the polarization of two reactionary groups. On the one side is the Westernized group that looks upon Islam through Western eyes and has inadequate knowledge about the subject. It reacts strongly to anyone trying to impose Islam in society and wants only a selective part of the religion. On the other extreme is the group that reacts to this Westernized elite and in trying to become a defender of the faith, takes up such intolerant and self-righteous attitudes that are repugnant to the spirit of Islam.
What needs to be done is to somehow start a dialogue between the two extreme. In order for this to happen, the group on whom the greatest proportion of our educational resources are spent in this country must study Islam properly.
Whether they become practicing Muslims or believe in God is entirely a personal choice. As the Qur’an tells us there is “no compulsion in religion.” However, they must arm themselves with knowledge as a weapon to fight extremism. Just by turning up their noses at extremism the problem is not going to be solved.
The Qur’an calls Muslims “the middle nation”, not of extremes. The Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) was told to simply give the message and not worry whether people converted or not, therefore, there is no question in Islam of forcing your opinions on anyone else.
Moreover, we are told to respect other religions, their places of worship and their prophets. It should be noted that no Muslim missionaries or armies ever went to Malaysia or Indonesia. The people converted to Islam due to the high principles and impeccable character of the Muslim traders. At the moment, the worst advertisements for Islam are the countries with their selective Islam, especially where religion is used to deprive people of their rights. In fact, a society that obeys fundamentals of Islam has to be a liberal one.
If Pakistan’s Westernized class starts to study Islam, not only will it be able to help society fight sectarianism and extremism, but it will also make them realize what a progressive religion Islam is. They will also be able to help the Western world by articulating Islamic concepts. Recently, Prince Charles accepted that the Western world can learn from Islam. But how can this happen if the group that is in the best position to project Islam gets its attitudes from the West and considers Islam backward? Islam is a universal religion and that is why our Prophet (peace be upon him) was called a Mercy for all mankind. (Internews)
This article appeared on arabnews, a leading English daily in Saudi Arabia.
My dislike for Imran is based on a simple principle – His support for rightwing Mullahs. Once he change his associates I will change my opinion of him. Having said that, I respect him for his service to Pakistan as a player and as a Human Rights activist.
I like Imran as a cricketer, social activist or whatever you call him but Sorry not as politician YET. He once supported Musharraf and then he became an ally of anti-Mush campaign. In simple language this is called “RAILLOGATTA”
I don’t even mind hin being associated with Maulvi parties but then again which maulvi party is he with? Its Qazi sahib. I am sorry but Qazi sb was never my idea of a religious party leader.Imran associates himself with religious scholars like Ghamdi, I will be his first supporter.
I have nothing against man’s past. I have problems with his present and potential threat he pose to our future.
Past = Cricket champ, Human right activist
Present = Mullah Imran
Future = Polluting young population of Pakistan with his extreme philosophies and support for terrorists.
When Imran first jumped into politics, I without thinking twice started following him because I believed in him as an educated person, who could bring change. He being associated with Qazi now has put me off his political struggle because Qazi sb in my opinion doesn’t have solid religious knowledge as one expects from a religious scholar/person/leader to have. If Imran is sticking with him for political mileage then he loses his principles there and then and if he is doing so because he believes in what Qazi believes in then he also loses his credibility ONLY in my opinion. my family supports his political views.
Plus, I always think there is nothing wrong in being a maulvi/religious person or being non-religious either. Its everyone’s own choice so my disagreement with Imran is only because of his alliance, not because he has become religious after his prime-time of life. It is something good, not bad.
By the way, this is a very misleading article and does not stand up well to critical analysis
1. “when I left school I was considered among the elite of the country because I could speak English and wore Western clothes”
He was considered elite because of the quality of education dispensed by that school at that time. If he ignored the mention of Allama Iqbal in his urdu class or failed to “take the Islamiat class seriously”, then that is his fault
2. “Because of the power of the Western media, our heroes were Western movie stars or pop stars.”
This is a result of lack of parenting skills of his parents not influence of Western media
3.”Science had replaced religion and if something couldn’t be logically proved it did not exist”
Classic example of inventing a false view and then refuting it
Science has not replaced religion for anyone, it has forced people to question traditionally held beliefs and to give up un analysed dogmas
4. “Philosophers like Darwin, who with his half-baked theory of evolution
had supposedly disproved the creation of men and hence religion, were
read and revered.”
His theory was based on extensive research over several decades, it was at the very least a very informed postulate. Know any Eastern philosopher who backed up his conjectures with even a month of research?
4.”To understand why the West is so keen on secularism, one should go to
places like Cordoba in Spain and see the torture apparatus used during
the Spanish Inquisition”
I guess he never went to see Mughal torcher chambers or most recently the MQM head quarters in 90 Azizabad
5. ” One, what is the purpose of our existence and two, what happens to us when we die?”
Why the assumption that these questions are important anyway? Secondly religion, despite trying its utmost, has not been able to answer these questions over the last several thousand year, so what’s the fuss all about?
6.”It is this vacuum that I felt created the materialistic and the
hedonistic culture. If this is the only life then one must make hay
while the sun shines – and in order to do so one needs money”
This hedonistic culture gave us space travel, mobility, internet, medical miracles, scientific wonders and not surprisingly better quality of life for the largest number of people than was ever possible in history
7. “In Pakistan during the Afghan war, we had over four million refugees,
and despite the people being so much poorer, there was no racial
Ethnic violence in Karachi, the most popular destination for Afghans was responsible for thousands of deaths due to infighting between Pathans, Sindhis and Muhajirs, lest we forget
You guys get the idea..