MOHAMMAD GILL…A VOICE OF REASON IN THE MUSLIM WORLD

  By  - Dr. Khalid Sohail

I have never met Mohammad Gill but I feel as if I know him and that is through his philosophical writings. The first time I was introduced to his wise words and his compassionate personality was through Internet when we had a controversial seminar in Toronto titled Can We Say Goodbye To God? That seminar led to a passionate debate and dialogue that continued for weeks. One of the participants was Mohammad Gill. His letters were a breath of fresh air. His writings were well articulated. Since he was presenting a voice of reason he was upsetting people who were following the road of blind faith. Some of them attacked Gill but he was very graceful in his responses. I was so impressed by his calm, cool and collected feedback that I called him to congratulate him. That call became the first of the series and I found out that he regularly contributed to an international website www.chowk.com and had a regular column about Science. As I got to know him more on the phone, I realized that he was an engineer who was retired and devoted his free time to his creative writings. When he mentioned the idea of publishing a book, I strongly encouraged him and now I am pleased that his essays and literary research are published in the form of a book titled Modernity and the Muslim World.

          In that book Mohammad Gill discusses the reasons why the Muslim world stopped growing philosophically and scientifically in the last few centuries. The same community that had produced scientists like Ibn-e- Senna, Ibn-e- Rushd and Al-Farabi, who lead the fields of science and philosophy world-wide did not produce a world famous scientist for a long time and the one Abdus Salam that received a Nobel Prize was disowned by many Muslims as he did not belong to the mainstream of Muslim community.

          Mohammad Gill states that a similar situation existed in the Western world a few centuries ago but then there were two social breakthroughs in the Christian world that did not happen in the Muslim world. The first breakthrough was the separation of the Church and the State that diminished the dominance of Church and led to the birth of secular communities, countries and constitutions that did not happen in the Muslim world. Even in 21st century not only Afghanistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia even Pakistan is known as Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Having the control or the threat of the Islamic Sharia Law makes it difficult for secular forcers to lead the reform or the revolution. The second breakthrough was the dominance of reason over revelation. The logical, rational and scientific attitude won over the religious and superstitious attitude. Such a secular and scientific attitude paved a way for democracy and people started solving their problems at a personal and collective level without relying on the divine revelations. In the Muslim world the role of scriptures still dominates the knowledge base of science, psychology and sociology. Gill argues that until we go beyond the scriptures, we will not be able to face the dilemmas of today and plan for the future. The religious leaders with their literal interpretations of scriptures want to take us back hundreds of years. The changes in the Christian and the Muslim worlds are compared by Mexican Nobel laureate Octavio Paz, that I quoted in by book From Islam to Secular Humanism in these words, “ …Islam has experienced difficulties similar to Christianity has undergone. Finding it impossible to discover any rational or philosophical ground for belief in a single God, Abu Hamid Ghazali writes his Incoherence of Philosophy ; a century later Averros answers with his Incoherence of Incoherence. For Moslems too, the battle between God and philosophy was a fight to the death. In this instance God won, and a Muslim Nietsche might have written: “Philosophy is dead, we killed it together, you killed it and I killed it.” (Ref 1 p 114). Gill might not consciously identify with Nietsche but unconsciously he titled one of the chapters of his book, Death of Rationalism in the Muslim World.

          Gill seems quite amused by all those Muslims who keep on giving Quranic explanations of the discoveries of science and claiming that they were already present in Quran waiting to be discovered. He challenges those Muslims in these words, “ The situation is indeed weird. Those who developed the theories of quantum mechanics, relativity, and biological evolution, never read the Quran (with any seriousness, if any of them read it all), and the Muslims whose book it is and who recite it day in and day out, do not even understand these theories. Yet, they believe that these theories exist in Quran. The fact that they were discovered by the unbelievers, without any help from the holy book is completely lost on them. If these theories existed in the Quran, why did the Muslims fail to discover them and develop them? The discovery is always after the fact.” (Ref 2 p 51)

          One of the refreshing things in Gill’s writings is that he does not mince words and does not sit on the fence. Whether we agree with him or not we are clear about his positions. I have come across some Muslim scholars who go round and round in circles in their arguments and are so vague and obscure that at the end we are not clear about their position and it makes it hard to agree or disagree. Gill brings his analytical scientific approach and clarity of thought even in his philosophical essays and offers crisp arguments leading to a well-argued conclusion.

          Reviewing history, like many other Muslim philosophers, Gill brings to our attention that Muslim scholars like Ghazzali and Ibn-e-Tima greatly hurt the scientific and rational tradition in the Muslim world by stating that if there is a conflict between science and religion, philosophy and scriptures Muslims should follow religion and scriptures rather than science and philosophy. Such an attitude damaged the motivation of future generations to explore the world. There was a fear that those Muslims who would study Mathematics, Science and Philosophy would become freethinkers and finally agnostics and atheists. That fear kept many Muslim generations hostage of blind faith and superstitions and many cultish religious and spiritual leaders took advantage of that. Muslim scientists and philosophers were also afraid to be penalized and persecuted even executed for their writings if they did not get the blessings from the religious clerics and were declared to be blasphemous worthy to be killed. Gill wrote “…al Ghazali declared al-Farabi and Ibn Sina as kafirs (infedils) and those who believed in it {their philosophy} punishable by death.” (Ref 2 p 77)

          Mohammad Gill’s book is a ray of hope in the contemporary world when religious fanaticism is on the rise worldwide. I think scholars from all religious and secular traditions would benefit from his book and Muslim scholars will benefit in particular, realizing that if Muslims want to progress in the future, they have to open their hearts and the gates of their schools, colleges and universities to Science and Philosophy so that they can compete with other countries and communities and then contribute in the fields of biological, psychological and social sciences. Science is a secular tradition and welcomes contributions from all people from all cultures. It was interesting that Abdus Salam, a devoted Muslim shared his Nobel Prize with two other scientists who were atheists. In their personal lives they were worlds apart but in the field of science they stood side by side. People can have their personal religious beliefs and can practice them honestly but when it comes to the matters of state, we need secular, scientific and humanistic traditions. Mohammad Gill belongs to the world of those enlightened scientists who grew up in the Muslim world but has become citizens of the world and their philosophical writings now belong to the world. I congratulate Mohammad Gill for sharing his ideas and thoughts honestly and candidly in his book Modernity and the Muslim World. His book reminds me of Pervez Hoodbhoy’s book Islam and Science (Ref 3) that I asked all my friends to read. I will do the same to Mohammad Gill’s book. I feel proud of his book as well as his friendship. I hope one day he comes to Toronto and share his philosophy with his friends and admirers in Toronto and I will get a chance to meet him personally. Looking forward to that wonderful evening.

* Finally that dream came true on December 10th, 2006.

                                                REFERENCES

1.    Sohail, Dr. Khalid…From Islam to Secular Humanism…A Philosophical Journey

Abbeyfield Publishers Toronto Canada 2001.

2.    Gill, Mohammad Akram…Modernity and the Muslim World

Author House Bloomington IN,USA,2006

3.    Hoodbhoy Pervez…Islam and Science…

Zed Books Ltd   London UK 1991

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