Still Working for Allah in the West: Theory and Methodology
A Note on Qualifications and Introductions
Literature of this kind and quality is likely to come about – at the level of excellence we need and expect – only when the source responsible for producing it has several qualifications. I list below some such qualifications:
- Direct and first-hand access on the part of the producer of such literature to the original and foundational sources of Islam such as the Qur’an and the Hadith in original Arabic. Translations will not do it. This is where many of us in the West feel the pinch.
- Similar access to authentic commentaries for both the Qur’an and the Hadith in some of the first languages of Islam such as Arabic, Farsi and Urdu. The English language isn’t there yet. But it will be some day, Inshallah!
- A high level of expertise in Arabic language and culture, including its classic and pre-Islamic traditions.
- A strong grounding in some of the more modern fields of study such as, to mention but a few, psychology, sociology, political science, history, economics, statistics and the scientific method. This is where many of our traditional scholars come up short.
- Considerable familiarity with the knowledge based on the science and art of research, especially in areas of theory and methodology. Not too many of us combine this expertise with the other areas of knowledge noted above.
- Strong analytical ability and skills. Those with higher levels of education under their belt – such as a PhD in the proper sense of that degree – are supposed to possess them, not all do. Those without formal training can still have them as part of the native talent that Allah gave them at birth, provided they learn to keep their eyes and ears open and provided they develop an inquiring bent of mind to life and its situations.
- Strong and authentic grounding in Western culture in general and in the cultures of individual societies of the West in particular. This is really a tall order. You may have a degree from a Western university; you may be a frequent visitor to the West; you may have lived a fair amount of time in a Western society; you may even have considerable facility in the language.
- A high degree of expertise in the English language – or other Western languages as the case may be – with a sense of authority and ownership. This is more easily said than done. In this respect, the level of familiarity needs to rise to the level of a native speaker who has then gone through the pain of formal mastery of the language.
- Significant experience, insight and background into the workings of educational seminars and leadership training camps – for Muslims as well as at broader levels, if the literature in question either pertains to or uses them as base format as this particular book does.
- Endless hours of research, writing and reviewing devoted to the creation of the work in question. For without solid ongoing research of the highest quality, no quality work in any field can ever be produced. Unless one is a genius in which case things sometimes seem to naturally gush out from within.
But these things do not automatically translate into an authentic insight into the nature and working of the West’s social and cultural ethos. The only people who are truly in tune with the spirit of the West are those who have either gone through the mill of their public school system from beginning to end or have worked long years to understand it both formally and informally at every level of the society.
Second and third-rate material can always be cobbled up by anyone from here and there and made available to people. But an individual, group or nation brought up on a diet of second and third-rate material should not then aspire to first-rate status in this world. The Aayah that talks about Kuntum Khaira Ummatin – you were the best people – takes away from Muslims for ever the option of being a crowd of third-raters and also-rans, no matter how much Muslim reality today may seem to point in that direction.
So! These are some of the qualifications some of us need to be able to produce the kind of literature that I am talking about in the English language. Some of this should also help to answer the inner cry of some of those who may have difficulty in paying serious attention to a speech or presentation without the speaker being properly and formally introduced – often with a set of worn-out and hackneyed ideas and words – at the beginning. Who is this man, they may ask when someone they don’t know too well pops up in front of them to deliver a speech or conduct a seminar – and it is fair for them to ask that question.
Let me outline here another way of doing things – of satisfying our curiosity as to who this man may be, whoever it is, that is standing before them to talk to them on a given Islamic subject in relation to the West. It is the way of reconstructing and projecting the likely qualifications of a person from the issues he is able to address; the questions he is able to raise; the answers he is able to provide; the arguments he is able to advance; the evidence and analysis he is able to offer; and the directions for future work he is able to identify. That to me is a smarter albeit not the most conventional way of doing things.
So, why don’t we train ourselves to say something like this: Here is a man who is producing these ideas and thoughts; who is putting together these points; who is advancing these arguments; and who is spearheading this vocabulary and fostering this consciousness. Evidently, we may then conclude, this is the background, skills, gifts and abilities this person seems to bring to the table from the grace and mercy of Allah, Subhanahu wa Ta’ala.
When it comes to this particular seminar – and this book that I am writing for it – here is a simple test for us to use. It is a plain and simple test, based on nothing more than common sense and our own personal experience. Let us ask ourselves: How many lectures, camps, seminars, conventions, conferences and other similar events have we attended – Muslim or non-Muslim; professional, social or cultural – where the speaker/presenter him/herself sat down and wrote a whole original book for us to read – exclusively for that particular occasion? How many times have we experienced this in our life before?
I am not saying it never happened before. I am not even saying it does not happen all the time. I am not suggesting that this is not what you are used to all your life. All I am saying is ask yourself when and how many times it did. I am not talking here about compiling a reader as many university professors do when they teach a course. I am not talking about preparing a scientific paper for presentation in a conference based on your ongoing work. I am talking about writing a brand new book – a fairly extensive one that touches upon a wide range of issues and topics of concern to a nascent generation of Muslims in the West.
Those Western scholars who produce readers of other people’s work are fortunate, for, they have access to hundreds of thousands of quality articles and papers produced by hundreds of thousands of highly trained and qualified people. Those who write scientific papers for presentation in conferences have sophisticated support structures around them in the form of research assistants, grants, labs, equipment and other critical wherewithal.
How much of that wealth of talent, training, output, material and support do we Muslims have that addresses our special Islamic needs and situations and supports those who are engaged in the production of this kind of literature? As a result, we are talking here about creating original and pioneering literature of a fairly tolerable quality with one or both hands tied behind one’s back – with zero support of any kind. And then we are talking about – in this case – writing a whole book from scratch as it were suited to the general purposes of the seminar on Still Working for Allah in the West. So, how often have you run into this sort of stuff before?
Then there is something else. For many of those professional people, it is often their full-time job. For many of us who do this sort of work – such as writing this book – it is done using whatever time, energy and resources one can spare – How terrible it sounds! – from one’s own so-called regular life: family; full-time job; other commitments of everyday life. So, how often have you had this done to you or for you by someone you know or have heard of? Let us ask and answer this question and let us see if Allah uses our thinking and analysis on this point to help us open our eyes and hearts so that we can see things a bit more clearly and so that we can all move forward hand in hand to work for Allah in the West.
In other words, rather than working from someone’s reported qualifications and background as a launch-off point to validate that person’s arguments and ideas, I am calling on us to first examine the ideas and thoughts and arguments themselves critically – as we are required to do as Muslims with regard to any idea or thought coming from any source in this world – and then work our way back to who we think that person may be and what kind of qualifications and background it would take for someone to do the kind of work this person is doing.
People often ask me about my credentials and qualifications. I have none – other than a burning passion for self-improvement and for helping my fellow-Muslims and fellow humans. I wish I could add the words “and a love of Allah and his Rasul, Sallallahu 'Alaihi wa Sallam, and the Qur’an and the world.” But these thoughts are too frightening to utter lightly. Maybe a day will come, Inshallah, when I will be able to speak those words without feeling terrified – without fearing their consequences.
Therefore, when people ask me who I was, I feel like Ghalib felt when his beloved asked him to introduce himself:
Poochtey Hain Who Ke Galib Kawun Hai;
Ko-ee Batlaaye Key Ham Batlaayen Kya!
My beloved asks me who is Ghalib;
Will someone tell me what I should tell her?
People want to introduce me from platforms. It is quite fair. That is how things are done in this world – and they have a job to do, these good people, Allah bless them. But I have left the world of clichés and lifeless rituals so far behind they don’t make sense to me anymore. In fact, they make me quite uncomfortable.
Therefore, if you still insist on wanting to know who I am, take some time and make some effort. Let both of us do that and then let us try to find out who the other person is. Tell me about yourself and thereafter – if you really, really care – ask me about myself. Till we reach that level of caring about each other, suffice it to say I am the man whom Allah moved and pushed to put together these topics and write this book explaining some of them to some degree. If any of this stuff interests you, then I am your man, Inshallah. Know me through my work that is in your hands. It is all that matters.
END OF CHAPTER 8
Still Working for Allah in the West: Theory and Methodology
© 2003 Syed Husain Pasha
Dr. Pasha is an educator and scholar of exceptional
talent, training and experience. He can be reached at DrSyedPasha [at]
AOL [dot] com or www.IslamicSolutions.com.