Dr Mohammad Manzoor Alam
Assalamu Alaikum Wa Rahamtullah everybody. I am back to you with this column a little earlier than I usually do. The previous piece, “Know thy World” is being completed with this piece. The earlier piece said we have to practise our faith as best as we can here in this world only, for the next life, in the Hereafter, will be a place for harvesting what we have sown here. And to practise Islam in this world, we have to know this world.
To take the discussion further, time and clime, culture and society are of crucial significance for the style of practising Islam. According to religious text and tradition, sahri is eaten at dawn and fast is broken at sunset in Ramadhan. For nafil (optional fasts, sayam), too, the same rule holds. But this rule does not hold for people observing Ramadhan fast in extreme north Europe where the sun does not set even after midnight. Why? Because Islam takes into consideration geography and other worldly realities. Here one has to break fast after 12 hours, many, many hours before the sun really sets.
When there was no air travel, around a century ago, Muslims did not pray in the sky. Today, they do at given hours. Earlier they prayed only on earth or the seas, in ships. Technology demands change in our way of doing things.
Technological changes have always changed life, perspectives, and ways of governance, as well as our way of practising faith. As good Muslims you, our youth, will do well to know how three things have changed the world in which we live and the way we look at things, pray, do business or work in some other area of life.
The three things I want to talk about in this final part of this two-part article are: Communication, transportation and energy. Technological advances in these three areas over the last 100 years or so have changed human life to an extent that if somebody who died in 1901 comes back to the world today, he or she will not be able to recognise that it is the same world of 1901. It will be virtually unrecgonisable.
The maximum speed at which they could travel would be the speed of a horse. Today, cars are running at 110-120 km per hour, bullet trains are running at thrice that speed, planes are flying at 500 km and above per hour, rockets going to outer space and other planets are shooting through the skies at thousands of kilometers per hour. This has changed the world dramatically. It has changed attitudes, perspectives, sense of distance and closeness.
This has changed the economic, political and security scenario permanently. Advantages of countries with the best technologies in this field vis-à-vis who are lagging in this area have grown tremendously. There have been other, highly positive features of this: food can be rushed from food-surplus areas to food-deficit or famine-stricken areas thousands of kilometers away within hours. Critical medicine can be brought quickly to epidemic-hit areas, or areas affected by natural disasters. Likewise, students from all over the world get education in the world’s best institutions.
This has helped accelerate Westernisation of the rest of the world as the best institutions are located there. People going back to their home countries after education are deeply impressed by Western progress, effective governance, ease of life and work, democratic freedoms and material wellbeing of those societies. As the alumni returning from Western institutions constitute their countries’ elite they give a pro-Western slant to their policies and cultural preferences. Non-Western cultures are not able to do it. The challenges for our youth is to learn and grow, but remain rooted in our moral and cultural values. Give it a thought.
The second point I want to talk about here is communication. I have an interesting story to begin this part with. The 25th US President William McKinley was fatally shot at in Buffalo city of New York state on September 6, 1901. The wire service reported: “President shot Buffalo.” By the time details could be available, the press-ready editions of distant newspapers interpreted it as the “President killed buffalo in a game hunt”. Within the next few days his gunshot wounds aggravated and he died on September 17, 1901.
If the situation of communication was so uncertain at the beginning of the 20th century imagine what would be the condition in 19th or 9th century. Postal mail used to take weeks, and overseas mail months as late as in the 1980s. Now, with broadband and other features telephones, satellite TV and Internet real time communication in terms of sound and image is accessible to almost anyone. This has brought profound changes (improvements) in medicine and surgery, films and music, news gathering and dissemination, security and policing.
However all changes are not equally pleasant. For instance, the loss of privacy, the greater ease with which tyrannical states can intimidate and harass their people, spread of pornography, distortion of perception in which many of us cannot distinguish between the real world and the virtual world of TV, cinema and Internet. This revolution has changed the nature of human experience. Today a lot of experience is coming from the virtual rather than the real world. It has made the practice of faith in some ways easy and difficult in other ways. I want you to give a thought to it and study the literature on these issues.
Finally, I would like you to give a thought to issues of energy, conventional and non-conventional. The world stands today where it does is largely because of energy use. But it has taken a toll on environment to the extent that reckless and unsustainable use of energy today can render the world uninhabitable to the coming generations in years ahead. This issue is being crucial to human survival, civilisation (including Islamic civilisation) and wellbeing of humanity. Please give it a thought, read on these issues and act.