>Plus c’est la meme chose, plus ça change?


Perusing the mini-history lesson ensconced in Safiyyah’s holiday pictures, I found her caption to one particular picture interesting, ‘The fascinating Nourias (water wheels) in Hama, from back in the day, when Muslims used to think’. What led the wheels turning the mental processes of Muslims to grind to a halt?’I wondered. Later that evening, I began reading The Measure of Reality, Quantification and Western Society, 1250-1600, and was astounded by the opening page:

In the mid-ninth century AD Ibn Khurradadhbeh described Western Europe as a source of “eunuchs, slave girls and boys, brocade, beaver skins, glue, sables, and swords,” and not much more. A century later another Muslim geographer, the great Masudi, wrote that Europeans were dull in mind and heavy in speech, and the “farther they are to the north the more stupid, gross, and brutish they are”. This was what any Muslim sophisticate would have expected of Christians, particularly the “Franks”, as Western Europeans were known in the Islamic world, because these people, barbarians most of them, lived at the remote Atlantic margin of Eurasia, far from the hearthlands of its high cultures.

(Crosby AW 1997:3)

Such were the Muslims of afore! To have held others in such censure their achievements were cetainly great. Yet today, the converse rings true.

Later in the week my interest was piqued by the headline ‘A Saudi King’s Western Dream’ on the LA Times blog, From Babylon and beyond:

Up the corniche, along the Saudi Arabian coast where boats carrying pilgrims bound for Mecca sailed for centuries, a thicket of cranes rises over whitewashed mosques along the Red Sea.
Steel flashes and blowtorches glow as 20,000 workers build a $10-billion university ordered up by a king who hopes Western ingenuity will revive the economy of this ultraconservative Muslim nation. When finished next year, the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology will offer coed classes, Western professors, a curriculum in English and other touches loathed as dangerous liberalism by Islamic fundamentalists.
The West may be dependent on Saudi crude, now as high as $145 a barrel, but this campus outside the ancient fishing village of Thuwal is a recognition that the country that is home to Islam’s holiest shrines needs the likes of USC, Oxford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to survive globalization.

How times change! As Crosby notes in The Measure of Reality, six centuries subsequent to writings of Masudi, the Franks had not only equalled, but in some aspects also progressed ahead of the Muslims and the rest of the world. He sees the change to have been determined by a change in the pervasive mentalité of the day. The dire disregard for education, of any form, in my own Muslim community is to be lamented. The fervour with which knowledge was once sought, now serves only to drive the pursuit of the trappings of hedonism.

The first word of the Quraan revealed to the Prophet Muhammad was Iqraa, an invocation to read. The Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) has said “The pursuit of knowledge is compulsory on every Muslim man and women.” The credence Islam gives to education is thus clear. In another tradition of the Prophet (Peace be upon him), he is reported to have said, “Seek knowledge, even unto China.” How sad, that a Muslim’s quest for knowledge should now be looked at as strange!

9 replies on “>Plus c’est la meme chose, plus ça change?”

>mmmm… all this talk about Africaness had me unearthing a poem i wrote eons ago in high school, I am an african child. I’d publish it here if it didn’t score that well in the cringeworthy stakes.

Reading it, did however, remind me of the very time and place of its creation and voila i was transported back to the throes of teenage angst. Looking out the rickety window of my grade nine classroom in what was one of the many grasciously endowed ‘rus’ periods dealt to us in Afrikaans class. (Bless Mr. B, if anything he did make us happy!) I remember at the time, an urgency to express pride in being south african that i felt was lacking in all the adults around me. I remember it being almost effortless, the words were just there. Ever the proud poet did young Kay, show off her wares to all and sundry. The next day another teacher picked it up and after skimming through it,admonished, ‘an african child of indian descent’. ‘Not entirely!’ came the indignant reply.

It was so important to me to elucidate who I felt I was. So is there a pre-requisite to being African…? Being born in Africa is of course blatant but I remember recently reading a rant somewhere on facebook about how african americans claim to be more ‘african’ than african immigrants to the states.So there’s a fuzziness around the whole thing again.

I think as a social identiy, it is a conscious choice. Zahraa Macdonald in her dissertation, Place, Meaning and Shared Experience: The Construction of the Tabl?gh Jam??a Identity in Johannesburg says:

“Having recently had a baby, I find it quite obvious that no one is born with a social identity. Yet, even before we are born, those around us who consider themselves significant others, construct an identity over which we have no control. Boy, girl, ‘white’, ‘black’, Muslim, Hindu or a myriad other labels. What influences the labels is as diverse as the labels themselves. Initially, then, our identities are ascribed to us on the basis of what other people, for example our parents, are experiencing with regards to us and the wider social context in which they exist, including their own identities.
As we get older, however, our identities are no longer merely ascribed to us but become products of our lives. They become constructions of inputs we receive, experience and attach meaning to as social beings.”

(Macdonald Z 2005:9)
Does anything I have said here make any sense? have i gone back on my original position?

nice… i like the friday staple tood but am not that keen on rice. so

>yeah – but what does it mean to be ‘african’ or to have a sense of africanness per se?

To be a lawyer you need to have an LLB degree, to be fat you need to have excess weight – so whats the requirement or rather distinguishing factor that makes us African?

Does it really boil down to geographical location? Are egyptians any less African because they are see themselves as Arabs? Are the San more African because they were here first?

If being African is state of mind? does that mean embracing the diluted capitalist filtered Ubuntu that is presented to us like sweetmeats on Eid to little diabetic Kids?

your thoughts?

I love Dholl and Rice for Friday Lunch

>mjunaid–> agree with you there, but dont you think at the same, that in the postcolonial world there is some shared experience uniting us in being "African"? Am thinking of Mbeki's I am an African speech, a blueprint to the new African experience?
I'll certainly try to get hold of the essay.

>To answer your question about being african as opposed to be being in the west- i look at it this way- darul islam and darul arb. We are the west. From a marxiST position, from a secular position and from a statistical position. There were no africans in africa until the colonists came. Because before then- it was just a bunch of different tribes.
A bigger issue at play is that while i see us as being part of daarul arb. I don’t consider any of the muslim countries currently to be part of daarul islam.
Coming back to what is an african? I recommend chapmans essay entitled- is mandela an african. (i think its chapman- my post colonialist theory is weak)

>Asalaamu alaikum:
Yes, at one time an Islamic Empire was considered the ornament of the world…And it was at the far end of the west as it was known in this era called Al Andalusia, the ornament of the world. In Cordoba, from whence my family sprang, they had lighted and paved streets, running piped water and bath houses while the village called London had muddy, dark dirty streets. From this small empire the light sprang to the northern empires through trade and commerce. The great secrets and knowledge of the Greeks, romans and other great cultures spring boarded into the darkness of Medieval Europe and sowed the seeds for the dawn of the age of enlightenment and was ignited by a culture where Jews, christians and Muslims lived together in peace and mutual respect. How sad we have become!
Thank you for the stimulating post!

>:)) unstructured and disparate? Anything but, I do empathise with the feeling though…

What does it mean to be South African? I think we are yet to ascribe meaning to a South African identity. We’ve only just realised that we dont live on an island somewhere off the coast of Eurpope! In studying identity, we focus on how they are formed and what their influences are. I feel being African precludes any sense of empathy with the West… What do you think?

What people who distinguish between deeni and worldly ilm don’t realise is that the signs of our Lord lay everywhere, and in studying language, for example, learning of it’s structures, its universality… we are reminded of the greatness of our Creator, it serves to bring us closer to Him!

Wait for the Mahdi while all about is helter skelter? I mean all this hullabaloo over these lists, there are too many empty minds waiting to be filled with rubbish!

>”the Franks had not only equalled, but in some aspects also progressed ahead of the Muslims and the rest of the world.”

I truly believe that the Franks have superceded us in every aspect now. I cant think of one Muslim contribution to humanity in the past 50 years apart from Muhammed Younis’s contribution to Economics.

I think the problem arose when the concept of Ilm was hijacked and there was a seperation between deeni knowledge and dunya knowledge.

I guess we just stopped reflecting. But even that answer is reductionist in nature. Fact is – we became rather hedonistic and kept on splitting into different sects, each one believing that they were chosen ones and the 72 are going to hell.

Does building a Modern University in the desert constitute some type of leap into modernity? I think not – but it is a step.

Part of me says – lets fight the system (consumerism and capitalism) but another part says ‘Hey, chill. Wait for the Mahdi’.

What I dont understand is this divide – Islam and the West? Are we, as muslims in South Africa, not part of the West? I think we need a complete mindset change where we adapt the shariah for our context while keeping the core principles.

Sorry – this comment is rather unstructured and disparate, but so am I these days. Lovely blog

>Indeed! In our own society, the abuse of the opportunity for an education that is a spot is a university is criminal.How do we alter the mind set? Or is it beyond repair? I wonder…

>I really enjoyed this post. Its a sad reality at how dependent muslims and the islamic world is on the west. We should be leading instead of being led blindly like sheep. We were the leaders of science and technology but now we have relegated knowledge to the background and applaude ignorance. How sad

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *