Iqbal Lecture Organized by Aligarh Alumni Association, DC
By Dr. Hashima Hasan
The Aligarh Alumni Association (AAA), Washington D.C., organized the Iqbal Memorial Lecture, as part of its 40th Anniversary celebrations, on April 25, 2015, at the Hilton Garden Inn, Rockville, Maryland. Mr. Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s former ambassador to the US, was the keynote speaker. He mingled informally with community members and autographed copies of his latest book, Magnificent Delusions, prior to his address. This was followed by dinner.
The formal program started with a recitation of the Holy Koran by Dr. Habeeb Ashruf, followed by welcoming comments by the AAA President, Mrs. Farzana Farooqi. She enumerated the many achievements of AAA in its forty years of existence, including the mushaira, which has become a cherished institution in the Washington D.C area, besides the AAA’s signature scholarship and complementary feeder programs. They together provide educational opportunities for over 800 economically disadvantaged students in India. In addition, AAA’s literary and cultural programs have drawn a number of eminent and renowned speakers. Dr. Syed Amir introduced Ambassador Haqqani, who started his career as a journalist and rose to occupy prestigious political positions in Pakistan, before arriving in the USA. He has authored several books and currently is the director of South and Central Asian Studies at the Hudson Institute, Washington D.C. The AAA presented him with a plaque in recognition of his many achievements.
Ambassador Haqqani delivered a stimulating talk, focusing on the status of the Muslim community in the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent, wondering why it had lagged so far behind. He argued that the culture permeating our community placed excessive emphasis on reclaiming its past glory, clinging to the belief that it would rise to the top again as in the days of the mighty Moguls. The results have not been promising however. While individuals have been successful, collectively the Muslim community has remained mired in backwardness.
He drew attention to some uncomfortable facts. The Mogul Empire at its peak, during the reign of Emperor Akbar, had revenues of 17 billion British Pounds, which was approximately 25% of the world’s GDP at that time. Yet, no institutions of higher learning were established in Mogul India. Emperor Shah Jahan built the Taj Mahal at huge expense in memory of his wife, who died in childbirth at the age of 38 years. Two hundred years later, Louis Pasteur in France, a father grieving the loss of his two daughters to typhoid, brought his energies to bear on finding a cure for diseases and infections, leading to the invention of vaccines. It is significant that the Mogul Emperor channeled his sorrow in building a beautiful monument, while Pasteur concentrated his energies on researching the cause of the malaise that took his daughters’ lives, and changed the world forever by finding a cure.
Today, Muslims lag far behind in scholarship and intellectual curiosity.
For example, a detailed examination
of the downfall of the Roman
Empire was undertaken by historian
Gibbons as far back as 1776, in his
landmark book, History of the Decline
and Fall of the Roman Empire.” Numerous books are now being written about the potential decline of the USA as the superpower in the coming decades. However, no comparable attempts have been made in the meantime to analyze the decline of the Muslim world, although it occurred centuries ago? Muslims constitute about 20% of the world’s population, yet contribute to only about 1% of published books, which include children’s books, poetry, novels, and propaganda material. Today there are fewer books translated into Arabic than into Greek. And, only 3,811 books were published in Pakistan in 2012, versus 304,912 in the USA in 2013.
Ambassador Haqqani highlighted a number of issues: Following the Indian war of Independence in 1857, Sir Syed vowed to pursue two objectives, the opening of an institution of higher learning, and the popularization and encouragement of rational scientific thought. Unfortunately, the second of the two was never realized. He attributed some of our problems to our stagnant education system. Al-Nizamiyya of Baghdad was one of the first Madrasas established in 1065, in which subjects such as science and economics were taught under the banner of naqli, while the classics such as Arabic, grammar, and logic were taught as aqli. Yet, all the while the emphasis was on learning by rote. A deficit of critical thinking and innovative ideas continues to dog our community.
Ambassador Haqqani stressed the need for looking at history from a fresh angle, de-emphasizing the contributions of conquests and militarism in achieving past glory. He cited the example of the Prophet who spent only one month of his entire life in defensive battles, and his saying that “the ink of the scholar is holier than the blood of the martyr.” Finally, Mr. Haqqani posed the question: where did we go wrong in our political philosophy? Democracy was an innovation imported from the west, and Indian Muslims felt they could not live under such a system because the non-Muslim majority would keep them down. This resulted in the creation of Pakistan, but that did not solve our problems either and led to new problems, a tussle between ethnic majorities and minorities. Cultural, political and educational institutions must evolve to cope with the changing times and there should be freedom for polemical debates and flow of new ideas. He concluded by saying that only societies that permit unfettered debate succeed in the end.
Ambassador Haqqani’s thought provoking talk was much appreciated and led to some spirited discussion at the end. The speaker appropriately addressed several questions by the audience, raised in a polite and urbane manner. Everyone felt that whether or not they agreed with all of Ambassador Haqqani’s ideas, he was a powerful speaker who encouraged his audience to rethink and question many assumptions they had implicitly accepted.