By Zain Maken
The biggest problem facing Pakistan is not the militants, or the economic and political policies. The architecture of fear that surrounds us should not worry us as much as the roots that uphold it. The roots that support the whole structure of terror are inevitably nourished by our choices that are, in turn, determined by our approach. It is our approach that is at enormous fault.
Our method of dealing with issues, whether they are personal, social or political, has led us astray. Our social atmosphere, where suicide bombs have become a norm, where tolerance has receded to dusty dictionaries and anger has been allowed to trek freely, has equally damaged us all. We use our weapons before our mind realises its consequences. While there are socio-political reasons for this approach that date back to our birth in 1947, my focus, however, will be on another aspect. I believe that we, as a nation, have closed the doors of our minds to reason and contemplation. Adding to this problem is our lack of personal heroes and figures that could function as beacons of light for our minds. Our history is brimming with personalities who have achieved greatness in fields ranging through philosophy, theology, medicine, geology, mathematics, psychology, etc. There are individuals who devoted their entire lives to pursuing knowledge, spreading what they knew and, importantly, never discarded anything without contemplation.
This act of deliberation, pondering over ideas, their meanings, their subtleties and their consequences is what our perceptions have grown to avoid. The Quran repeatedly demands from us, amongst other virtues, two essential qualities — reason and reflection. The act of deliberation is of critical importance, because to internalise anything, we primarily have to understand it and only then can we apply it in our lives. “What, do they not ponder the Quran? Or is it that there are locks upon their hearts?” (47:24). This, and many other verses, clearly and emphatically stipulate that the Quran is not merely to be read, but to be comprehended and applied. More importantly, it also sets the standard for interpreting the Quran. Our emotions and instincts certainly have their own importance, yet when they completely dominate our abilities of logic and reasoning, we are reduced to the level of animals.
The first step to change our current path has to be in the realm of education. But let us first be clear what education really is. Education, to me, is a process through which we gain a comprehensive understanding of how the world around us works, its intricacies and mysteries, and about our position in this vast expanse. Our education system needs to widen its scope from merely being beneficial in securing good grades and a job; rather, the central theme of education should be to produce individuals who pursue knowledge for the sake of gaining knowledge. Statistically, there is a considerable increase in our school enrolment rate from the past decades. However, the reality around us reveals that our level of tolerance and analytical skills have gone down instead of improving.
Knowledge is not enough for progress; there is something more important, something we rarely consider today –our imagination. Einstein says, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.” Allowing room for originality, innovativeness and creativity is extremely important in the development of any child.
There is an important distinction between a person’s intelligence and his aptitude in dealings with others. Daniel Goleman, in his book Emotional Intelligence (1997) establishes that the Intelligence Quotient is unrelated to the Emotional Quotient. This finding denotes that despite the amount of knowledge we gather, if we are unable to display qualities of empathy, compassion and mercy towards others, then we really have not ascended or moved forward from our previous state.
All the above-mentioned traits have to be inculcated from the start. From primary education, our textbooks need to include more examples of generosity, forgiveness, reason and benevolence — qualities that form the basic framework of Islam. Academic and administrative committees need to be present inside every school to ensure the personal development of students through counselling, weekly discussions between different student bodies and initiating events that cater to the creative abilities of the students such as days reserved for painting, drawing, music, writing, sports, etc. Some such events may be taking place in private institutions. However, until these measures do not permeate into every type of institution, we would constantly see divides inside our society.
At the level of secondary education, students need to be familiarised with personalities who achieved remarkable feats, both Muslim and non-Muslim. This would serve to remind them that Muslims, with the likes of Ibn Sina, Al Ghazali, Ibn Khaldoon and Ibn Rushd, have progressed in all fields and not in religion alone, and also demonstrate that intellect is not limited to any faith. Importantly, to substantiate the significance of imagination, the grading schemes need to reserve marks for originality in responses (in class discussions and also in examinations). This would encourage individuals to depend on their creative abilities instead of merely textual details. At universities, scholarly works of intellectuals must be included as part of every course regardless of the nature of the majors selected. The professors need to make themselves familiar with the published volumes and see how their principles could be applied today. This would assist in opening new fields for students and helping them widen the boundaries of their minds. Furthermore, the media can play a vital role by initiating discussions and interviewing scholars familiar with the works of Muslim and non-Muslim intellectuals. Last, but not the least, the government needs to promote the culture of libraries and educational complexes at the local level. These are some measures that, if implemented effectively, will yield far-reaching results in the long run.
Our youth today has begun to feel that when the system itself is incorrigible, then there is no place for solutions or ingenuity. This mindset has to change. Throughout history, no nation has ever changed until the citizens have worked on their own shortcomings. The Quran states, “Verily, never will God change the condition of a people until they change it themselves (with their own souls)” (13:11). This verse makes it absolutely clear that we have inside ourselves a system, which can help us improve our condition, and all we require is to discover that system through creativity and imagination and translate it into reality, a task each one of us is capable of.