1.0 Presently Islam is passing through a  critical period in  its history. Its
relevance in the contemporary world is being challenged. It is being identified
with fanaticism, extremism and violence instead of tolerance, compassion, peace
and justice which constitute its core values. We must introspect and analyze
calmly and dispassionately as to what has led to such decadence in Islam that
was and still is the most progressive religion in the world.

1.1 This is largely because of the violent activities of the Mujahideen or crusaders,
called Jihadists by the Western media, who in the name of Islam kill innocent
people. This has completely distorted the image of Islam. It is being perceived by
non-Muslims as destructive,  intolerant, and regressive religion whose followers
are socially, educationally, and politically the most backward. Muslim countries
are marked for their acute deficit in democracy, literacy, freedom of expression
and backwardness in science and technology.

1.2. Muslims are being challenged that they are backward because they follow a book
Al-Qur’an, which was revealed in the seventh century and has lost its relevance in
the 21st  century.
1.3. The West further challenges that Islam has made little contribution in the post
colonial period since after the Second World War, (1945) towards mitigating the
problems of poverty, hunger, health hazards, illiteracy, etc. in the world. The
West, therefore, suggests that the text of Al-Quran needs to be reformed on the
lines of Torah (Old Testament) and the Four Gospels (New Testament), in order
to make it compatible with the demands of the 21st . century
1.4. We shall systematically examine the validity of these assertions of the
critiques of Islam.

2.0. Is Islam an intolerant violence prone religion because  it promotes Jihad which
implies perpetual fighting against non-Muslims?
2.1. Tolerance in Islam is proverbial. Prophet (saws) allowed the Christians of Najran to
pray in his mosque along with the Cross. Caliph Umar (ra), the second Caliph of Islam,
after the conquest of  Jerusalem was invited by Archbishop Polonius to say his evening
prayer (Salaat-al-Asr) inside the Church of Sepulcher. He refused saying if he offered his
1 prayer inside the Church, Muslims would eventually convert it into a mosque, which he
never wanted to happen. The Third Crusade was launched by the European Christians
toward the end of the twelfth century to recapture Palestine and Jerusalem. They were
defeated by Salahuddin Ayyubi, the Governor of Egypt. The leaders of the Crusade
hastily retreated to Europe but left behind large number of ordinary crusaders who were
taken prisoners by Salahuddin  Ayyubi. These Christian prisoners were so generously
treated by him that they voluntarily converted  to Islam. Such examples of tolerance in
Islam can be multiplied. Perhaps  Mujahideen leaders are not familiar with the history of
2.2. Jihad implies struggle against evil temptations in one’s own life. It also implies
helping the old, particularly parents, the handicapped, the poor, the needy and the
destitute. It also involves armed struggle (Qital) to prevent aggression, oppression and
tyranny and to defend belief, life and property.
2.3. The Mujahideen’s concept of Jihad is a total perversion of the basic object of Jihad.
This misconception has been created by a number of  misleading fatwas (decrees) issued
by Osama Bin Laden and Al-Zawahri from time to time. In one of the fatwas they exhort
“every Muslim who believes in God and wishes to be rewarded to comply with God’s
order to fight the Americans and plunder their money wherever and whenever they find
it”. This fatwa contravenes the fundamental principle of Islam. Struggle under Jihad is
always in self-defense. All the Battles fought by the Prophet were in self-defense. It
cannot be used as an instrument to provoke conflict and open new fronts of war. This is
what the Mujahideen are doing by indulging in violent and destructive activities in
America, Britain, Western Europe and elsewhere.
2.4. Fighting in Jihad is allowed only if existence of Islam is threatened by an enemy and
a Muslim country is invaded by a foreign power. However fighting should be confined to
the area of combat and with the combatants only (Surah Baqarah 2: Verse 190). Non–
combatants even in the area of combat should not be harmed. It should not be extended
outside the combat area unless there are compelling reasons.
2.5. The alleged bombings by Mujahideen of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania
(1998), Twin Towers of World Trade Center, New York, USA (Sept. 2001), Madrid
Railway Station (March 2004), and London subway bombing (July 2005)  that killed
thousands of innocent people clearly violated Quranic injunctions revealed in Chapter 5
verse 33. They were acts of arson and cannot be called Jihad.
2.6. Because of these irresponsible, un-Islamic, intolerant, and violent actions of these
fanatic Muslims image of Islam has been severely tarnished.
3.0 The West calls Islam a regressive and anti-democratic religion because Muslims
follow Qur’an which was revealed in Seventh Century They assert that it cannot
meet the demands of the 21st
. century that are radically different from the tribal
Arab society for whom the Qur’an was revealed. They thus refuse to accept the
universality of the Message of the Qur’an.
2 3.1. Is Islam Regressive?
3.1.1. Islam was the most progressive of all the existing religions in the 7th

century including Judaism and Christianity.
3.1.2. It was the first religion to grant property rights to women by inheritance.
3.1.3. Islam abolished all discriminatory and cruel  tribal customs against women,
granted women the freedom of speech. Surah Mujadela (Chapter 58) testifies to this fact.
3.1.4. Women and slaves were granted equal rights  with free men and tribal
elite to offer protection and asylum to persons of  their choice. Prophet’s
daughter, Lady Zaynab, offered protection to her husband, Abul As, a non-
believer, without the knowledge of her father, and announced in the Mosque
early morning, the next day, after Salaat-al-Fajr (Morning Prayer).
3.1.5. Islam reformed the tribal system of ransom. It  established parity in
ransom – a free man of the aggressor to be punished for a free man of the
aggrieved party, a slave for a slave, a woman for a woman etc.
3.1.6. Islam abolished the dynastic rule prevalent in  the conquered territories of
the Roman and Persian Empires and initiated the appointment of  Khalifa by
3.1.7. Islam abolished the oppressive system of usurious loans that allowed the rich
to harass and exploit of the  poor.

4.0. Islam is a Realistic and Practical Religion:
The realism of Islam is evident from the discussion of the Prophet (saws)
with Maaz bin Jabal when the latter was appointed Chief Tax Collector of
Yemen. The Prophet was conscious of the fact that the Quran and       Traditions
(Ahadith) may not offer solution to the evolving complex problems of the society
with the passage of time. Muslim leaders and scholars will have to think of
Ijtihad (Independent thinking) to resolve the emerging problems of societies but
within the parameters of Islamic values regarding equality, justice, compassion,
honesty, sincerity, integrity, truth, transparency, accountability, impartiality,
chastity and modesty as enjoined in the Quran.

5.0. The accusation that Muslims are backward because they follow Al-Quran,
which is a seventh century revelation, and that it has lost its relevance in the
contemporary period is not borne out by facts.
5.1 The Quran, besides being a religious and spiritual guide, is also a book of
knowledge – one fourth of the Quranic text deals with natural phenomena and
scientific aspects. There are some remarkable scientific revelations in the Qur’an.
5.2. Al Quran and Prophet Muhammad (saws) encouraged acquisition and
advancement of knowledge. The Qur’an asked Muslims to pray to Allah “O
Allah enhance my knowledge”. The Prophet  (saws) encouraged Muslims to go
3 even to China in search of knowledge. He  also stated that education was the best
gift that parents could give to their children.
5.3. Inspired by Quranic vision, Muslim scientists made phenomenal
contribution to the advancement of knowledge, particularly science and
technology from 9th
to 13th
. centuries. They:

5.3.1. Established unique institutions: hospitals, astronomical observatories,
scientific laboratories;
5.3.2. Introduced new technologies such as paper, gunpowder (borrowed
from China), and glass manufacture, weight driven clock etc;
5.3.3. Made path breaking scientific discoveries in the fields of optics, blood
circulation, and human embryology;
5.3.4. Transferred these technologies, institutions, and  scientific discoveries
to the West and laid the foundation for scientific and technological
revolution in Western Europe.
6.0  The question is being asked if Al-Quran inspired scientific revolution during 9th
.centuries, why its inspirational character has disappeared in the modern period
since the beginning of European Renaissance in the 16th
.century? The reasons are
manifold but primarily because of the rise of Sufism and parochialism in Islam, also
because of the dominance of western colonialism, change in the system of education and
lack of patronage by ruling elite in Muslim countries to promote acquisition and
advancement of knowledge.
6.1 Islamic system of education, as it originally evolved, was based on unity of
revealed and rational sources of knowledge(based on  logic and reasoning) that
inspired scientific revolution in the Muslim world.
6.2. Islamic educational system that developed during the Abbasid rule in the Islamic
Realm (8th
.to 12th
. centuries) was rudely shaken with the rise of Sufism in Islam.
The Sufis insisted on the primacy of knowledge based on Qur’anic revelation,
being divine in origin. They looked upon contemptuously knowledge acquired
through rational sources, even though it may be inspired by Qur’anic
revelations. The Sufi movement gained  sufficient strength and momentum
when it was supported by Imam Ghazali, a distinguished Muslim Jurist in the
late 11th
. century. Ghazali was very critical of Greek philosophy and of
Muslim scholars and philosophers like Al-Kindi, Al-Farabi and Ibn-Sina
(Avicenna), who were greatly influenced by the works of Socrates, Aristotle
and Plato. Ghazali called these Muslim scholars apostates that  led to violent
public agitation against the works of these scholars and most of their works,
particularly those of Ibn Sina were burnt. Ghazali thus closed the door on
Ijtihad or independent thinking  in Islam. Islamic societies were literally “frozen in time”.
This was, however, a temporary setback because it did not affect the continuance of scientific
research in the educational institutions (Dar-al-Hikmat) functionin during the period. In fact
4 it peaked with the scholarly achievements of Ibn Rushd(Averroes) in the late 12th
century. Ibn Rushd was keen to harmonize revealed and rational sources of
knowledge. He also wrote a strong rebuttal to Ghazali’s criticism of  the rational approach to
acquire knowledge in his book “Incoherence of the Incoherence”. The greatest setback to
acquisition of knowledge by rational approach occurred in the late 13th
. century when it was
vehemently opposed by Ibn Taymiyyah, a prominent and influential Muslim Jurist. Qur’an
and Ahadith (Traditions) were the only two  sources of knowledge that mattered to Ibn
Taymiyyah. It is amazing that both Ghazali and IbnTaymiyyah failed to
appreciate that the Qur’an, besides being divine, is an extremely rational
revelation and invites its readers to understand the signs of God by logic and
reasoning. In his blind and dogmatic opposition to rational sources of
knowledge Ibn Taymiyyah campaigned against the continuation of scientific
research in the Madrasas(educational institutions) within the Islamic realm.
Consequently scientific research was literally banished from the Muslim world
from 14th
.Century onward. It failed to receive any support from the state and
finally withered away. The last nail in  the coffin of scientific research in the
Islamic realm was driven when the Muslim bigots demolished  in Istanbul, in
century, astronomical observatory  established by astronomer
Taqiuddin. As a result of these violent extremist activities against scientific
research none of the great Muslim empires of the period such as Moghul
Empire  in India, Safavi in Iran and Ottoman in West Asia could develop any
centre for scientific research. Thus Madrasas or educational institutions in the
Muslim world lost their status as major centres for scientific research and their
cosmopolitan character. They, however, continued, exclusively as institutes for
religious education. It was a  most regressive development which precluded
progress of Islamic realm, and shut the  door on Ijtihad or independent thinking
which alone could ensure continuation of the progressive character of Islam.
Even the great Renaissance Movement, that ushered in intellectual revolution in Europe and
transformed it into a dynamic and progressive civilization, could not produce any impact on
the  neighbouring Islamic countries because of the damant, inflexible and short sighted
attitude of the orthodox dogmatic Muslim Jurists. They unequivocally declared that “human
knowledge based on the senses and mind is lower than  religious knowledge which rests on
divine inspiration”. Thus the Renaissance Movement was irrelevant and of little value
to them. They thus closed their mind and heart against the currents of reforms
spreading across Europe and put the clock of progress back, in the Islamic
realm, by more than 300 years. The role  of Muslim countries in the dynamics
of rapidly transforming world in the 16th
.century relegated from the  vanguard
of the frontiers of knowledge to the backwater of knowledge and human
civilization. It will be a herculean task to recover the lost ground and missed
5 opportunities in time and space but it has to be regained with grit and
6.3. Another landmark development in the history of Muslim countries was the
defeat of the Sultan of Ottoman Empire in the First World War (1914-18).
This marked the breakup of the Ottoman Empire and the beginning of the
dominance of Muslim countries by colonial powers such as Britain, France,
Holland. The political control of these European powers  of Muslim countries was both
helpful and harmful in the field of education. They revived mode scientific education in
Muslim countries  but kept it secular. Revival of modern cientific education benefitted the
students of these  countries immensely. They  also learnt the language of the colonial powers
i.e. English, French and Dutch, which made scientific literature accessible to them on a
continuing basis. It also facilitated their communication with  scientists internationally. But
for this accessibility to modern science  and technology Pakistan could not have
emerged as a nuclear power. It  was harmful in the sense that it created in
Muslim countries two parallel but diametrically different and  mutually
exclusive educational streams, one secular and the other religious, thereby
delinking completely the  from the rational sources of  knowledge.
6.4. The irony is that rulers in Muslim countries,  even after gaining independence,
in the post-colonial period (1945 onward), continued with this dichotomy of
religious and  secular institutions and made no effort to harmonize and unify the
revealed and  rational sources of knowledge.
7.0 This delinkage of Modern Scientific Education from the Qur’anic Education
proved disastrous for the educational development in Muslim countries. This split in
the unity of knowledge separating the revealed from the rational led to the rise of two
separate competitive and antagonistic systems of education with hardly any interaction
between them. Consequent upon his compartmentalization, modern education in
Muslim countries was deprived of its spiritual and inspirational source i.e. knowledge
of the Qur’an.  Religious institutions lost touch with latest developments in science and
technology and were totally devoid of liberal and  moderating impact of current
social and political thoughts.
7.1. Scholars graduating from religious institutions treat the Qur’an purely as a
source of Shariah Laws little realizing that one fourth of the Quran deals with
scientific aspects. They completely overlook the fact that the Qur’an is a
book of knowledge as well.
7.2. In order to assert the primacy of religious education religious institutions tend
to move towards dogmatism, fanaticism, and extremism. Scholars from
modern educational institutions cannot intervene to counter this trend towards
extremism in religious institutions because they have no knowledge of the
Qur’an. The Qur’anic injunctions and Traditions (Ahadith)  are  definitely
against extremism and fanaticism.
6                 7.3. Experts in modern education and scholars graduating from these modern
secular institutions ignore the Quran which, in their view, has only religious
significance and therefore cannot play any meaningful role in promoting
modern education. They are totally  ignorant of the fact that from 9th
to 13th
centuries the Qur’an had inspired scholars to usher in scientific and
technological revolution.

8.0. Stagnation and decadence of knowledge in general and science and technology in
particular in Muslim countries was primarily caused, as explained in Para 6.2, by
discarding scientific education and banishing it from the entire Islamic realm due to the
rise of Sufism and revival of orthodoxy. The orthodox, dogmatic and intolerant Muslim
scholars insisted that Al-Qur’an and Traditions (Ahadith) were the only true sources of
knowledge and the rest were redundant. This is despite the fact that both the Qur’an
and Traditions (Ahadith) urge Muslims to acquire knowledge from both revealed and
rational sources. Further, backwardness among Muslim countries has persisted because
the ruling elite in these countries have signally failed to invest adequately towards
promotion of knowledge and advancement of science and technology. Since the unity of
revealed and rational sources was not restored educational institutions in Muslim
countries lost their uniqueness and originality. They resorted to emulating the West and
developed educational courses based on borrowed knowledge.

9.0. On account of this delinking of the revealed from the rational in the educational
system of Muslim countries, the ruling elite in these countries deviated considerably
from the Qur’anic norms, which is evident from the investment pattern of their
enormous oil wealth  that they earlier accumulated for nearly two decades from early
1970s, and then again from the beginning of this millennium.
9.1. Instead of using their enormous oil wealth to build human capital by investing in
education, promoting science and technology and diversifying their economies, oil producing
countries indulged in luxuries, spent enormously on importing luxury  goods. This luxurious
style of life of the oil producing Arab countries clearly manifests that according to Qur’an
“they love the life of this world  more than  the hereafter who hinder men from the path of
Allah” (Surah Ibrahim-14:Verse 3). Furthermore they invest heavily in developing pleasure
resorts, high rise luxury hotels, and appear to be more interested in breeding horses for races
7 than in  establishing research institutes in science and technology.  They are thus pursuing an
investment policy exactly opposite to what Arab rulers and nobles had done from 9th
9.2. The ruling elite in Muslim countries are, presumably, deliberately not spreading modern
scientific education,  and are not restoring unity  of the revealed and rational sources of
knowledge because they feel threatened regarding their survival. They suspect that their
own survival will be imperilled as the emerging educated and enlightened middle class
in the Arab world will demand its rights as per the Qur’anic norms, which are against
concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the few. This is clearly demonstrated by
the destabilized political scenarios, which have developed in Algeria, Egypt  and Pakistan.
9.3. Further, rampant corruption in Muslim countries clearly testifies to their total deviation
from Islamic values.
9.4. It is wrong to assume that Islam and democracy are not compatible. The Qur’anic
injunctions and Traditions (Ahadith) support consultation and consensus building.
Malaysia and Turkey clearly demonstrate the compatibility of Islam with democracy.
Further it may be noted that the Qur’an and the  Prophet (saws) do not prescribe any
particular system of government. They do, however, outline the norms of good
governance that are applicable to all forms of government whether monarchical or
Khilafat, dictatorship or democracy. This clearly demonstrates the universality of Islamic
10.0. Arab world will have to reinvent its historic past when it was in the fore-front in
advancing the frontiers of knowledge, particularly in the fields of science and
technology. This can be accomplished only if unity of revealed and rational sources of
knowledge is restored i.e. Qur’anic education is fully integrated with modern scientific
education, religious institutions are reoriented to assimilate modern secular education
and are fully conversant with latest trends in the fields of sciences and social sciences.
10.1 Arab countries must radically alter their investment strategy. They ought to invest
meaningfully their enormous wealth of oil to develop into a powerful knowledge based
society. They should raise their educational  and technological skill  to a high level of
excellence in order to stand with honor and dignity among the developed nations of the
11.0 Stagnation and decadence in Muslim countries are due to flawed policies of the
ruling and religious elites. They do not, however, substantiate the point that Islamic
values in the contemporary world have lost  their relevance and that the text of the
Qur’an needs to be reformed in order to make it compatible with the demands of the
. century. This is a grossly wrong assumption and needs to be corrected.

11.1. Al Qur’an is the book of Allah for the guidance of mankind for all time and not a
word from this divine message can be changed and modified. The universality of
its message and its relevance in the contemporary world stand unchallenged as will be
observed shortly.
11.2. The cardinal principles of good governance such  as consultation, honesty and
sincerity, impartiality and incorruptibility, accountability and transparency,
justice for all without bias and prejudice, and human welfare for all and
particularly for the poor and the needy, the  deprived and the destitute was
enshrined in the Qur’an long before the people of  the world had even conceived of
11.3. Accountability is one of the key components of Islamic values and is repeatedly
emphasized in the Qur’an and Traditions (Ahadith). Human beings are
accountable both in this world and in the  hereafter for all their deeds in this world.
Even the rulers are not exempted. Abu Bakr (ra), the first caliph of Islam after the
death of the Prophet, in his inaugural Khutba (address) stressed on accountability and
categorically stated “follow me if I am right and correct me when I am wrong”
11.4. The concept of justice in Islam is unique. It is the only system of justice where the
king and the commoner, the ruler and the ruled, the master and the servant, the
black and the white, the rich and the poor, the native and the alien stand on equal
footing. Presidents and kings are not exempted from criminal proceedings if
complaints are lodged against them. Caliphs Umar and Ali (ra) were summoned
by judges (Qazis) when cases were filed against them. Immunity from criminal
proceedings granted to  President of Pakistan contravenes a fundamental
principle of Islamic justice i.e. equality before law. Further Islamic Shariah will
not grant the right to rulers to pardon criminals.
11.5. The principle of equality in Islam is unparalleled and is best demonstrated
annually during the Hajj pilgrimage when all the male pilgrims, irrespective of
their background, rich and poor, master and servant, black and white are all
dressed alike in immaculate white and cannot claim  precedence by virtue of birth
and status.
11.6. Scientific research guided by Islamic values will not encourage research to create
instruments of terror to aggravate global insecurity and annihilate human
9 10
civilization. It would rather stress on optimum utilization and sustainable
development of natural resources in order to derive maximum benefit for the
comfort, convenience and fulfillment of human life.
11.7 Muslim countries symbolize poor governance because they do not implement the
Islamic principles of governance in order to protect their dynastic or dictatorial regime
or under pressure from Western powers who are keen to protect their economic and
strategic interests in those countries such as Egypt and Algeria.
11.8. It must be stressed in conclusion that Muslim rulers and scholars, besides
restoring unity of the revealed and rational sources of knowledge should also
revive the powerful Islamic instrument of Ijtihad (Independent Thinking) without
transgressing fundamental Islamic values as outlined above. Application of Ijtihad
will reinforce the relevance and compatibility of Islamic principles in the
contemporary period. It will also forcefully reaffirm the universality of Qur’anic
Message and will restore the progressive character of Islam. It seems the
Government of Turkey has initiated some steps in this direction.

Acknowledgement: I wish to thank Dr. Syed Fareeduddin and Dr. Bijan Seyfzadeh for
heir helpful comments on the article which helped me to fine tune it.