Search for Excellence by Dr Mohammad Manzoor Alam (JANUARY 03, 2014)


Dr. Mohammad Manzoor Alam

(Editor’s Note: This is the first of a new column by Dr Mohammad Manzoor Alam to appear once every month. This is addressed to the Muslim community, particularly the youth. The author, a senior citizen and community elder, has experiences and ideas to share mainly with the younger generation.)

Recently we organised a three-day international conference on Abu al-Qasim al-Zahrawi, an all-time great physician, surgeon and scientist of Andalusia (Arab Spain) who died in 1013, exactly a thousand years ago.

The conference in Delhi was supported by likeminded organisations and individuals, a detailed report of which can be seen on (International conference on al-Zahrawi). We were inspired to hold the conference by al-Zahrawi’s enduring legacy of excellence.

Abu al-Qasim al-Zahrawi, known in the West as Albucasis, had been such a successful physician and surgeon that he had become a legend in Europe even in his lifetime. His classic writing on healing was translated in every European language and was a part of the curricula in their medical colleges for centuries. This is what we mean by excellence.

This search, continuous search, for excellence is the hallmark of all great individuals, societies, nations and civilisations. Arab Spain was such a society. One of the questions asked at the conference was “Why did the Muslim world not produce another al-Zahrawi in the last 1000 years?”

Some of the participants thought the question was facile, asking for a cut and dried undimensional answer for a complex, civilisational and historical issue. In short, it was a too-clever-by half question that, instead of an answer, elicited another question: “Why did not the Muslim world produce another al-Kindi, another Avicenna, another Averroes, another ibn-Khaldun, another ibn-Arabi?"

The truth is that the Muslim world had produced a galaxy of brilliant stars in different fields, but the wellsprings had begun to dry towards the end of the 16th century, which was the point at which the West’s rise had begun. Over the centuries, the wellsprings of knowledge dried up completely. What went wrong?

A lot went wrong, for the analysis of which this may not be the right space. However, suffice it to say that the search for excellence has gone out of our lives. Whether it is sciences or arts, invention or innovation, craft or technology, games and sports, business and industry, nowhere are we driven by that search for excellence that marks the boys off from the men, champions from runners-up and also-rans, the trivial and insignificant from the crucial and significant.

All this boils down to this. You cannot become great without excellence. Mediocrity is death. Mediocre men and women do not make a great society. A population of also-rans does not become a society of champs.

Finally, to create a great society, you have to aim high and cultivate that insatiable desire for excellence. Excellence has a price: continuous, focused, uninterrupted, lifelong effort. Pay the price.


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