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The Real Reason for Muslim Decline

A fascinating article published by Husain Haqqani, a professor at Boston University. [Editorial note: I have deleted my side comment I had included here about Prof. Haqqani's views on Pakistani politics which only served as a distraction from his work here. I will come back to them again in a separate post]. This time he has written a great article on some of the reasons for the Muslim decline. He speaks about the rumor-mongering that grips us so, and our inability to apply some perspective before resorting to emotional outbursts. The article was published in the Gulf News, The Nation (Pakistan), Oman Tribune, Indian Express, The Brunei Times, The Star (Bangladesh) on April 25.

The Real Reason for Muslim Decline

By Husain Haqqani

The Muslim world seems to be in the grip of all kinds of rumours. The willingness of large numbers of Muslims to believe some outrageous assertions reflects pervasive insecurity coupled with widespread ignorance. The contemporary Muslim fascination for conspiracy theories limits the capacity for rational discussion of international affairs. For example, a recent poll indicates that only 3 percent of Pakistanis believe that Al-Qaeda was responsible for the 9/11 attacks in the United States, notwithstanding Osama bin Laden and his deputies have taken credit for the attacks on more than one occasion. Ironically, many America haters express admiration for bin Laden on grounds of his willingness to attack American civilians while at the same time refusing to accept that Al-Qaeda’s biggest attack was, in fact, the work of Al-Qaeda.

The acceptance of rumours and the readiness to embrace the notion of a conspiracy does not apply exclusively to the realm of politics. Villagers in rural Nigeria are refusing to administer the polio vaccine to their infant children out of fear that the vaccine will make their offspring sterile. Some religious leaders in Pakistan’s Pashtun tribal areas bordering Afghanistan have also voiced concerns about a “Western-Zionist conspiracy” to sterilize the next generation of Muslims as part of what they allege is an “ongoing war against Islam.”


Mobile phones and internet, the pervasiveness of which is often cited as a measure of a society’s progress and modernity, have become a means of spreading fear in the Muslim world. Text messages, originating from the Pakistani city of Sialkot recently warned people of a virus if people answered phone calls from certain numbers. The virus would not hurt the phone, the messages said, but would rather kill the recipient. In mid-April, these messages swamped Pakistani cell phone users, causing many to turn off their phones, according to wire service reports.

The rumor was embellished with supposed first person accounts. One report cited a 45-year old man, who talked to a friend who said he saw it in the newspaper — that a man dropped dead just after answering his mobile phone. “When he got the call, he died like he was poisoned,” he said. The panic caused by the rumors forced the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority to issue a denial. Phone companies sent out text messages urging people to be calm. A newspaper rejected the rumor but featured the headline, “Killer Mobile Virus.”

A text message widely circulated in an Arab country claimed that trucks carrying a million melons had been smuggled across the country’s northern border and the melons were contaminated with the HIV virus, which causes AIDS. The text message accused Israel of smuggling the contaminated melons as part of a “biological warfare campaign.” The Customs director on the northern border had to rebut the rumour with the explanation that no trucks full of melons had crossed the border in the preceding two days.

 

The Muslim world seems to be in the grip of all kinds of rumours. The willingness of large numbers of Muslims to believe some outrageous assertions reflects pervasive insecurity coupled with widespread ignorance. The contemporary Muslim fascination for conspiracy theories limits the capacity for rational discussion of international affairs. For example, a recent poll indicates that only 3 percent of Pakistanis believe that Al-Qaeda was responsible for the 9/11 attacks in the United States, notwithstanding Osama bin Laden and his deputies have taken credit for the attacks on more than one occasion. Ironically, many America haters express admiration for bin Laden on grounds of his willingness to attack American civilians while at the same time refusing to accept that Al-Qaeda’s biggest attack was, in fact, the work of Al-Qaeda.

The acceptance of rumours and the readiness to embrace the notion of a conspiracy does not apply exclusively to the realm of politics. Villagers in rural Nigeria are refusing to administer the polio vaccine to their infant children out of fear that the vaccine will make their offspring sterile. Some religious leaders in Pakistan’s Pashtun tribal areas bordering Afghanistan have also voiced concerns about a “Western-Zionist conspiracy” to sterilize the next generation of Muslims as part of what they allege is an “ongoing war against Islam.”

Mobile phones and internet, the pervasiveness of which is often cited as a measure of a society’s progress and modernity, have become a means of spreading fear in the Muslim world. Text messages, originating from the Pakistani city of Sialkot recently warned people of a virus if people answered phone calls from certain numbers. The virus would not hurt the phone, the messages said, but would rather kill the recipient. In mid-April, these messages swamped Pakistani cell phone users, causing many to turn off their phones, according to wire service reports.

The rumor was embellished with supposed first person accounts. One report cited a 45-year old man, who talked to a friend who said he saw it in the newspaper — that a man dropped dead just after answering his mobile phone. “When he got the call, he died like he was poisoned,” he said. The panic caused by the rumors forced the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority to issue a denial. Phone companies sent out text messages urging people to be calm. A newspaper rejected the rumor but featured the headline, “Killer Mobile Virus.”

A text message widely circulated in an Arab country claimed that trucks carrying a million melons had been smuggled across the country’s northern border and the melons were contaminated with the HIV virus, which causes AIDS. The text message accused Israel of smuggling the contaminated melons as part of a “biological warfare campaign.” The Customs director on the northern border had to rebut the rumour with the explanation that no trucks full of melons had crossed the border in the preceding two days.

No one paid any attention to the fact that the HIV virus cannot be transmitted by eating melons or that Israelis have not been engaged in a biological warfare campaign against any Arab or Muslim country. An American-Muslim friend of mine also pointed out that it would take more than a hundred trucks to haul a million melons. “Why ship melons if you can ship an army?” he asked.

Rumours can sometimes have serious consequences. In 1979, Pakistanis students burned down the U.S. embassy in Islamabad, killing several people, on the basis of a rumour. Islamist extremists had taken over Islam’s holiest shrine, the Kaaba in Makkah, and rumour-mongers claimed that the outrage had been committed by the United States. Those spreading the rumour, and those acting on it, showed no remorse over the loss of life caused by their actions.

The Muslim world has a high rate of illiteracy but ignorance reflected by the readiness to believe unverified (and sometimes totally outrageous) claims is not just a function of illiteracy. It is a function of bigotry and fear. Literate Muslims, such as those involved in the text message rumour-mongering, are as vulnerable to ignorant behaviour as illiterate ones. Conspiracy theories have been popular among Muslims since the twilight years of the Ottoman Empire as a way of explaining the powerlessness of a community that was at one time the world’s economic, scientific, political and military leader.

The erosion of the leadership position of Muslims coincided with the west’s gradual technological ascendancy. Soon after the Ottomans took over Constantinople, Johann Gutenberg printed a Bible using metal plates. Printing was introduced into the Ottoman Empire during the reign of Sultan Bayazid II (1481-1512) only to be virtually banned for use by Muslims in 1485. In Europe, a full grown book industry evolved, facilitating wide dissemination of ideas and knowledge. By 1501, more than a thousand printing presses had produced approximately 35,000 titles with ten million copies. But in the Ottoman Empire, only Christians and Jews used printing technology.

Muslim use of the printing press did not start until 1727, causing the Muslims to lose more than 270 years in the greatest explosion of knowledge. The Persian, Mughal and Ottoman Empires controlled vast lands and resources but many important scientific discoveries and inventions since the fifteenth century came about in Europe and not in the Muslim lands.

Ignorance is an attitude and the world’s Muslims have to analyze, debate and face it before they can deal with it. The 57 member countries of the Organisation of

Islamic Conference (OIC) have around 500 Universities compared with more than five thousand universities in the United States and more than eight thousand in India. In 2004, Shanghai Jiao Tong University compiled an ‘Academic Ranking of World Universities’, and none of the universities from Muslim-majority states was included in the top 500.

There is only one university for every three million Muslims and the Muslim-majority countries have 230 scientists per one million Muslims. The U.S. has 4,000 scientists per million and Japan has 5,000 per million. The Muslim world spends 0.2 per cent of its GDP on research and development, while the western nations spend around five per cent of GDP on producing knowledge.

The tendency of Muslim masses to accept rumours as fact and the readiness to believe anything that suggests a non-Muslim conspiracy to weaken or undermine the Muslims is the result of the overall feeling of helplessness and decline that permeates the Muslim world. Most Muslim scholars and leaders try to explain Muslim decline through the prism of the injustices of colonialism and the subsequent ebb and flow of global distribution of power. But Muslims are not weak only because they were colonized. They were colonized because they had become weak.

Conspiracy theories paper over the knowledge deficit and the general attitude of ignorance in the Muslim world. It is time for a discussion of the Ummah’s decline in the context of failure to produce and consume knowledge and absorb verifiable facts.

Husain Haqqani is Director of Boston University’s Center for International Relations, and Co-Chair of the Islam and Democracy Project at Hudson Institute, Washington D.C. He is author of the book ‘Pakistan between Mosque and Military’

Husain Haqqani
Director
Center for International Relations
Boston University
E-mail: haqqani@bu.edu

 

  • 3m

    What is really going on in the Muslim world.I don’t know killing each other,raping women………….In India Muslim girls are seen married at the age of 15 just to increase population,pathetic situation women are facing through their entire life.Islams real ‘enemies’ are not Jews , Christians,Hindus or America but women.Just imagine what changes could happen to these radical Islamists if women could ‘regain’ their status.The more you suppress womanhood the more they are going to achieve just not now but in the future.

  • http://www.meinportrait.com meinportrait.com

    Hello. magnificent job. I did not expect this.

    This is a fantastic story. Thanks!

  • Hyder Ali Bhayo

    Hyder Ali Bhayo.
    What ever has written about rumours by Hussain is true. Once a friend of mine sent me a sms to me that a figure of Prophet Mohammad has been made on a road in America. When I asked my friend did u see this ur self. He replied no. Some body sent men and I sent it to you. So I deleted the sms and told him too not to send any on again.

  • yangdaoyu

    Atheist:
    key to new knowlege is not learning but critical.
    Being eager to learn is good for absorb knowlege of others, which is soon out-of-date after original creators created new knowlege. learner is always at passive and place after others
    Being critical is vital to make improvement on knowleges created by yourself and others.
    Being critical, one will not look at glorious past but better future.
    Being critical and so sceptical will stop you from following rumor.
    Critial spirital can only thrive when gods can be challenged and thrown out of power. Darwin did that for western society.
    The cause of Islam fall is lslam itself. Trust god without reason and evidence is the warm bed to grow irrational and unsceptical mob.

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  • Fery

    Hi Mr.Bilal, I came from Indonesia, I just want you to know about Indonesian map which is all green, may be it’s representing amount of moslems in Indonesia. Well, we agree that Indonesia is the largest moslems citizen, but only on Java, Sumatera & Sulawesi island and some small islands like Sumbawa and others.There are other island that mostly non muslim citizen, like Bali (Hindu) and NTT (Catholic) near the East Timor.

    But in Sumatera, in North Sumatera province (Tapanuli) mostly Christian, middle Borneo (Dayak People) mostly Christian and traditional believes, Midle and North Sulawesi mostly Christian and also Maluku island and Papua island mostly Christian, Catholic and Traditional believes.

    There are also small groups of ethnics that have different religion like christian Sundanese in Kuningan West Java, and hundreds of little ethnics groups that dont want to be included as moslem. They have their own traditional believes.

    We always notice this problem: that most moslem included those island to be incuded as mostly moslem. The reality is they’re not.

    This made very painful to us, because we dont want to be known as moslem. I came from North Sumatera and i want to be known as christian indonesian. And many many of other indonesian to be known like that. Hindus, budhists, christians, etc.

    I just want you to know this.

  • Rana Ammar Yasir

    Westernized Education System
    Westernization in lifestyle of people
    Globalization and war of cultures
    Lack of awareness of real essence of Islamic knowledge
    Lack of unity among Muslim Ummah
    Imperialism and Social differences among rich and poor
    Materialism