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Opinion

January 13, 2015
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A lost tradition

Opinion

January 13, 2015

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Religion dies when its message is polluted with myths and superstitions; when its adherents pay more attention to symbolism than spirituality; and when reason is replaced with blind following of authority and doctrine.
Islam, which calls for renewal of faith every day and which promotes unity in diversity, has landed into the hands of people who try to reverse the trends of time forcefully for Shariah to take effect.
Terrorism, in part, can be explained by the pervasive feeling of insecurity in the Muslim world in general. Confident believers are willing to face their dry spells, doubts, and evolution. For true believers, the criterion of right and wrong does not change but their spiritual state which keeps its balance by constantly relating to the emerging reality.
Karl Marx believed religion as the opium of the poor masses by which he meant that religion creates a kind of apathy to real problems and makes an individual or society oblivious to the harsh realities of life. On the contrary, it can be argued that preserving faith demands constant searching which ultimately translates into the purification of the soul and sanctification of man and purges humanity to look beyond the superficial world. The spiritual crises – the outcome of an inner urge for meaning – open up new vistas for understanding the purpose of man’s existence and the universe.
Today, voices from both madressah and mosque rarely stress the importance of faith and the means to strengthen it. With some exceptions, both the text and context of madressahs are designed to fill the empty minds of students with dogma, never letting them approach every aspect of religion with an open mind. The purpose of education, as understood universally, is to convert empty minds into open minds. Unfortunately, such an attempt is tantamount to disrespect and heresy in our madressah culture.
Is it education or indoctrination when we see the graduate of a madressah necessarily embodying its

worldview and preaching it too? Today, it is next to impossible for a Hanafi madressah to produce graduates with Shafi leanings and vice versa.
The earlier Muslim scholars and jurists never insisted that their opinions and interpretations were absolute and binding for all times. They looked at a particular issue from different perspectives along with their own expert opinion but at the end left it to the students to weigh each argument rationally and make up their own minds.
More striking is the case of Imam Shafi, the student of Imam Muhammad, who happened to fundamentally disagree with his teachers and introduce his own fiqh.
In order to combat extremism, it is necessary to revisit the contents of various courses taught in madressahs – and more importantly to radically change the teaching methodology. It is the trained incapacity of teachers at madressahs that causes the greatest damage to the spirit of Islamic education.
How can one expect teachers to encourage creative and critical thinking if they have never been exposed to different worldviews and cultural contexts? We are all naive to expect pluralism to flourish in a society where people live in intellectual islands, with reason taking the back seat.
If we want Pakistan to survive as a viable entity and live in peace with itself, it has to reclaim the lost tradition of tolerance and rationality as the basis of its education system.
The writer teaches at FAST-NU, Peshawar.
Email: [email protected]

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