Breaking Out of Our Pigeon-Holes

13 May 2000

Dear brothers and respected ulema,

Assalamu Alaikum,

I was very pleased to read your articles on education and also on unity. I have always believed that one of the major problems we have got ourselves into is this "necessity" to identify with groups and schools.

When we meet a fellow Muslim we immediately want to put them into a pre-defined box or pigeon-hole. "Oh he's a so and so" or "Oh he's one of that group" etc. This is a relatively modern phenomenon, no doubt kindled by the powers of colonization. One does not find in the books of the classical ulema any mention of groups or movements being better than one another. The only distinctions made are those of Muslim and non-Muslim or correct and incorrect aqeedah. Never does Imam Al-Ghazali (may Allah Almighty be pleased with him) extol the virtues of graduates of Nisapur over non-Nisapuris!! The fuel for this modern behavior is ignorance. It is only when someone does not understand the deen that he/she feels a need to rely on the group mentality, and only when one does not comprehend the heart of Islam that one busies oneself with the superficial appearance.

However the sad fact is that due to the devastation that colonization caused to the Islamic systems of education, the more intellectually able Muslim children were deviated away from learning the sciences of the deen. An artificial separation of "deeni" and "dunyawi" learnings was forced on the people and propagated in the society. This secularism is rampant even today and is the underlying cause of our sad intellectual state in the world. The result of this was that a large proportion of those who were tasked to carry on the Islamic sciences and Islamic methodologies were unable to adequately manage it.

So we see that, really, from the time after the wonderfully blessed leaders and scholars we had when colonization of our lands started (i.e. Sheikh ul Hind, Maulana Madni, Abul Kalaam Azaad, Mufti Shafi etc) up to today our madaris have produced a large number of people who were incapable of comprehending the issues and concepts behind the mere words of the books. The only way these people feel any confidence in what they say is when they identify with a larger group, and because they are unable to fathom the depths of Islamic thought, anything they cannot recognize or explain they immediately dismiss it as being "from another group" and so to be condemned.

But, Alhamdulillah, not all the people coming out of the madaris are so unfortunate. Indeed recently I feel, the number of seriously intellectual and academically able students and teachers is growing. It is this batch of people who now have a responsibility to change this "pigeon-hole" mentality, to break through the barriers of race, school, country etc and re-unite the scholars of Islam globally as they once were. We need to identify the forces that are damaging the ummah and concentrate our efforts on those collectively. The time has come to stop shouting slogans and holding rallies and to start learning the ways of our illustrious predecessors and following them.

Therefore I repeat what a pleasure it was to read your articles and to see that Our great Ulema have taken this responsibility on board and are fighting, globally, the forces of secularism and division. We must re-instate our values and systems. We must teach our young that it is not the place one is from or the university one attends that is the source of respect but rather the way one lives ones life. Our scholars have always praised their predecessors on the basis of their lives and what service they did for the ummah, not on the basis that they went to the same university or that they belonged to the same movement.

Molvi Nazim Ali, UK.