Islamic contribution to the promotion of knowledge and learning are note-worthy. Franz Rosenthal has perceptively observed that Islam's lasting and invaluable gift to mankind is that it made the hidden treasures of knowledge available to all sections of society. The intellectual revolution ushered in under the direction of Islamic civilization blossomed and came to fruition through the central importance attached to the art of writing. It is significant to note that the earliest verses of the Qur'an revealed to the Prophet highlighted the crucial significance of writing. The importance attached to learning and the transmission and dissemination of knowledge was institutionalized through a wide network of schools, colleges, universities, libraries, observatories, and medical residencies in the Islamic world. The selfless devotion of individual scholars, the munificence of private donors, waqf endowments, and royal patronage played a central role in the inception and maintenance of these institutions.
For Muslim intellectuals, the question of intellectual decay has been one of the worrying questions. Scholars of repute in past have attempted to look into, and analyze, the causes and factors that were responsible for the Muslim intellectual decay. The book is basically an outcome of author's analytical exploration of the factors responsible for the stagnation and decline of Muslim world. Written by Dr. Tauseef Ahmad Parray, one of the budding scholars having established his scholarship by writing on Islamic studies and has been widely quoted regarding Islam and democracy by reputed scholars in and outside India. The present work is a significant and much needed effort on the part of scholar who tries to find an answer for Muslim intellectual degeneration.
The book begins with the introduction in which author highlights the theme of the work as well as the Quranic terms like Furqan/the Differentiator, Dhikr/ Remembrance Huda/ Guidance etc., which serve as clues and suggestions reading the Qur'an in certain ways as well. He also quotes professor Muntansir Mir renowned Pakistani expert on Qur'anic studies who says: "various aspects under which it (Qur'an) presents itself: importantly the names not only represent so many facets of the Islamic scripture, but they also make up, when seen as inter-related and inter-connected, a coherent and meaningful statement in their own right, shedding light on the ethos, orientation, and function of the scripture. (p.18)
On "Islamic concept of knowledge" (ilm), author explains that Qur'an give due importance to knowledge for accomplishment, attainment, and success in life. He says that Muslim concern of education has been an important aspect of the history of Islam. Their association with the institutions of learning has a religious beginning. Holy Qur'an through its numerous verses encourages Muslims to be equipped with knowledge and understanding gave great impetus to the process of learning and acquisition of knowledge. Unfortunately, he has not quoted any single prophetic tradition with regard to the knowledge.
The points out that during the Abbasid period, Muslim culture and civilization was at its zenith. It was a period of economic prosperity and of great intellectual awakening. The Abbasid Caliphate provided the most congenial atmosphere for the advancement of learning and education. Muslims gained access to the Greek medical knowledge of Hippocrates, Discords, and Galen through the translations of their works in the seventh and eighth centuries. These initiatives by Muslims could be seen in the different aspects of the healing arts that were developed. The translation movement of the twelfth century in Latin Europe affected every known field of science.
The author in the chapter "what went wrong and where?" looking at the history it becomes evident that fall of Baghdad and Muslim rule in Spain has been the primal cause of Muslim intellectual decay and degeneration (p.33). He says that Nizamiya Madrassa of Nizam ul Mulk was responsible for the division and disinterest among Muslims in scientific knowledge and development that focused on 'religious sciences' only. Quoting Isma'il Raja-al Faruqi who is of the opinion that the 'present dualism in Muslim education, its bifurcation into an Islamic and a secular system, must be removed and abolished once and for all". He goes further to argue that "the two systems" Islamic and Western; must be united and integrated, and the emergent system must be infused with the spirit of Islam and must function as an integral part of its ideological program. Another important factor which author held responsible for the Muslim decay was the closing of the 'gates of Ijtihad' and complete dependence on Taqlid, quoting again Isma'il Raja-al Faruqi who termed as 'the separation of thought from action'
The author talks that after colonialism was over, Most Muslim countries have adopted the 'Western style' but have failed to follow their objectivity and methodology' (p.47). He quotes Ziauddin Sardar who suggests that 'to be true to their belief, Muslim societies need to put as much effort into science as they do on prayer; and place science where it belongs: at the very center of Islamic culture' (p.51). He says that primal cause for Muslim intellectual decay in the Muslim world were the fall of Muslim rule, division of knowledge, replacement of Ijtihad by Taqlid, reason vs revelation debates, spread of colonialism. This led to the collapse of Muslims politically as well as intellectually. He even goes further that Muslim world is divided either on the basis of Shi'i-Sunni, different schools of thought or various politico-religious organizations (like Salafi, Barelvis, Deobandi, etc). The other cause responsible for 'Muslim Backwardness' in academics and research in comparison to the West, is that Muslims lack suitable platforms, academic and research along with meager wages being paid to the academicians, has resulted 'brain drain' (p.53).
The author in the next chapter has quoted some exemplary research institutes like: The Islamic Foundation (IF; Leicester UK, 1972); International Islamic Fiqh Academy (IIFA; Jeddah, 1981), Oxford Center for Islamic Studies (OCIS; Oxford, UK, 1985); Center for Islamic Sciences (ISAM; Istanbul, Turkey);Iqbal International Institute for Research and Dialogue (IRD; Islamabad); and many other. The main purpose for author in mentioning these institutions is to highlight their activities –to explore the possibilities of emulating them, and making efforts to establish a research center on similar lines following the same objectives and for carrying out multi-faceted academic activities.
The author in the concluding chapter presents the possible solutions to come out from this irksome scenario in our academics Muslim world in general and our society in particular which he called as the six point remedial formula; addressing the lack of proper platforms; initiatives to be taken at community level to establish good academic research institutes/centers; proper training to be given to the younger researchers; creating a suitable environment for academic engagements; adopting courses for enhancing writing skills in higher educational institutions and giving proper training of same at lower levels; overcoming the absence/ lack of the conception of 'belonging to the Ummah' and the lack of spirit of contributing towards the welfare of one's own community (p.98). In short, there is a dire need to look into the past legacy, give a re-thought what went wrong and where, and to take concrete steps to come out from this intellectual deficit.
This book seeks to recount this fascinating saga in its multi-faceted dimensions. It brings out and highlights the intellectual history of Muslims. Over all, this masterpiece is to be quite enlightening. It will generate soul searching and introspection.
Author teaches at Department of Islamic Studies, GDC Pampore.