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Stepford Religion 2 April 2008

Posted by mecca in ABUSHARIF, Culture, Psychology, Spirituality.
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Many nations in the Muslim east continue to tax their societies with particular educational practices, in which the nation’s brightest students are encouraged (or compelled) to study the natural sciences and technologies. Conversely, the mediocre students are relegated to fields like Sharia studies. What happens is that the best minds of a society (minds capable of sophistication and high levels of critical thought, minds protected from the blight of literalism and nuance-denial) are not encouraged to apply themselves in an area that demands such sober intellects.

Whatever the cause may be, it’s hard to imagine a more perilous combination than simplicity of mind and religion. Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali, a well-known scholar of the 14th century, said, “The uninformed person … cannot conceptualize the essence of knowledge nor its sublimity…. One who fails to conceptualize something, its significance will never become rooted in the heart.” What is meant here by “sublimity” of knowledge is its rank in our lives. When we acknowledge the importance of something we become eager to attain it. One crisis today is that we don’t really have a grasp of this sublimity, the kind of erudition required to enter into its presence, and the critical acumen needed to keep it relevant and in the middle, which happens to be the “downtown” of personal and public achievement.

Religion is an essential activity of humanity, blessed and necessary, but there are dangers associated with it, not the least of which are obscurantism, self-righteousness, and a simplistic handling that displaces amazing spiritual energy and replaces it with mechanical observances incapable of real growth. In this religious foyer, artists and intellectuals eventually move on or lose their spirit.

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Comments»

1. EDITOR - 2 April 2008

this is a very suggestive but compact series of observations. within a few lines, you seem to have communicated so much of what’s wrong with our contemporary condition. (i haven’t yet figured out whether islam is simple or complex, so i’m not sure if i agree.)

i’d love to hear a little more about the following thoughts:

“the ‘downtown’ of personal public achievement”

“a simplistic handling that displaces amazing spiritual energy”

2. Baraka - 3 April 2008

Conversely, the mediocre students are relegated to fields like Sharia studies.

That certainly explains a lot of what I experienced during my teens in Pakistan.

3. Ibrahim A. - 3 April 2008

Editor, I’d like to hear more myself about the “middle” and what it really means. In fact, it sounds like a good mini-anthology, different takes on this “moderate – middle” industrial-religious complex. When a concept is overused, especially by folks pushed against the wall, it can lose something, if not everything.

Yep, Baraka, in Pakistan and Stans galore.

4. EDITOR - 4 April 2008

that’s an excellent, excellent suggestion. a collection of essays or responses to the question “what does it mean for the muslim community to be an ummah wasatah?” or a leading essay with critical responses (i’m thinking of the khaled abou el fadl volume on “the place of tolerance in islam” (including critical responses to his essay of that title).

5. Anonymous - 4 April 2008

Thank you, Editor. By all means, take the idea and run with it.

6. Ibrahim A. - 5 April 2008

Not sure how that comment above (number 5) made me anonymous. So try again:

Thank you, Editor. By all means, take the idea and run with it.

7. Umm Zaid - 8 April 2008

Salaam ‘Alaikum

//Many nations in the Muslim east continue to tax their societies with particular educational practices, in which the nation’s brightest students are encouraged (or compelled) to study the natural sciences and technologies. Conversely, the mediocre students are relegated to fields like Sharia studies. What happens is that the best minds of a society (minds capable of sophistication and high levels of critical thought, minds protected from the blight of literalism and nuance-denial) are not encouraged to apply themselves in an area that demands such sober intellects.//

This is true, and you see people suffering for it where I live (in the Middle East), but I think it is of note that many of those who have notoriously blown themselves up recently (notably, 9.11) had backgrounds in engineering and other sciences, not in the Shari’ah colleges of the Muslim world. In other words, they were the brightest in their classes…

It’s also fair to note that there are many bright people who go to Shari’ah colleges… it’s not fair that we constantly give the impression that only the bad students go there. In some countries, a private system of “kuliyas” has sprung up and there go the less capable students, to study what we in America would do at a 2 year college or a college that advertises on day time TV.

8. Umm Zaid - 8 April 2008

Note:

//In other words, they were the brightest in their classes…//

I’m sorry I hit “say it!” too soon. I meant to say, rather, they are the ones who crammed the hardest and were best at taking the stultifying, pressure cooker exams of the Eastern world, where critical thinking and exploration and creativity is not encouraged, only blind studying and memorizing of facts. The problem is really with the educational system, starting from the 9th grade or so when the schools, the parents, the gov’ts, and the society at large begin shuttling children off into this track or that track and locking them into professions based on how they did on their 8th grade exams.

9. Ibrahim A. - 8 April 2008

Thank you, Umm Zaid. Your thoughts advance the original post. The problems run deep and early. Without that confession, not sure how any solution can come about.


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