Muslim societies need philosophers

By Hadeel Naeem

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When the first human beings put down their axes and spears they settled down to think and make sense of the world. The first things that they thought of were how to make the world a better place, how to govern, be a good human, fulfill duties and live ethically. Hence, when mankind started to think is when mankind started to philosophize. Philosophy became the very foundation of our civilization. What many of us forget is that the Muslim civilization owes as much to philosophy as the Western and the Eastern civilizations do. The discipline of philosophy started in Greece and the first university ever built was Plato’s Academy, a school of philosophy. This subject subsequently gave birth to medicine, physics, astronomy, mathematics and much more.

Avicenna, Averroes, Al Farabi, Al-Kindi and many other Muslim philosophers carried on with the works of Aristotle and Plato, and they made breakthrough discoveries that are still discussed around the globe. They made extraordinary contributions in the fields of mathematics, astronomy and medicine as well as logic and ethics. These philosophers were pioneers in environmental science and humanism. They did not only stand on the shoulders of giants, they were the giants. They were Muslims, yes, the best sort, but they questioned religion and they discussed arguments on the existence of God. The Mullahs did not stop them from critical thinking because in the face of sheer oppression they still read and learned. They believed in making the world a better place, and they gave birth to scholars who did not follow blindly but put reason ahead of everything. These philosophers taught us that Islam teaches tolerance and that God gave us cognitive skills so we can reason. But where are we now? What have we done to their legacy? We, devoted to the inhumane teachings of some Mullahs, are destroying ourselves and making the world a living hell. We have shunned reason, the very faculty that makes us human.

After the Dark Ages, Western philosophy evolved into Modern philosophy and new giants were born. Descartes, David Hume, Immanuel Kant lead the way and the Western world journeyed into the period of renaissance and then Enlightenment. But Muslim philosophy died; because a Mullah rose to the stage to tell them they were blaspheming. The West saw more giants like Karl Marx, Nietzsche and Sartre but the Muslim civilization kept stumbling into darkness. Now, the West is occupied with analytic philosophy and almost every University out there is offering an excellent program in philosophy. But where are we?

Take Pakistan (because we are a very important nation of the Muslim world right now), we have only two to three Universities in the entire country that are offering graduate studies in philosophy. We have only a handful of philosophy professors and they have almost all retired because they did their PhDs in the 60s and 70s when it was being offered. Karachi University and the University of the Punjab are probably the only two universities offering PhDs in philosophy and I know for a fact that the University of Punjab has only just reestablished their PhD program this year; it was dormant for about 10 years. Also, both these Universities offer very little research opportunities and there is only Muslim philosophy that you can primarily work on because they don’t have faculty members working on contemporary issues in philosophy. The very few scholarships that the government offers never has philosophy in the list of subjects even though there is arts and film-making and every possible field that you can think of. Philosophy deserves more respect than this and it is sad that we have erased the most important subject from our country.

hadeelHow many thinkers have we had since Pakistan came into being? Perhaps only a few and among them most of us can only name Allama Iqbal. We are in a dire need of thinkers because we need to take back the steering wheel from the Mullahs and give it to our thinkers if we want to sail this boat.