Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Sun in storm

As a Muslim student at the University of Pittsburgh, I am proud to be sitting in my History seminar class earlier. I was glowing inside, not in a conceited way, but with pride of the people of my religion. In our last class, we were to present orally the research paper that all of us had done in the last four or so months, and two of my classmates did topics that I would have not been particularly interested in if not for the comparative method they employed, contrasting experiences by different groups of people.

One of them did on social stratification. He was saying that because of centralization, wealth becomes concentrated in the hands of a few. There had always been “the poor” and “the rich” since the agriculture revolution 10 000 years ago when we humans became a settled species. He compared the Chinese civilization, the Islamic Caliphate, modern society, and the colonial period. Upon his research, he decided that the Islamic Caliphate was the best at reducing the gap between the less and the more well-to-do. This is based on his observation that Muslims have a responsibility over the welfare of their neighbors. He did not mention this, but that is essentially what zakat is all about. I do feel that charity should not be forced on the people by the government, but if we are able to educate Muslims on the spirit of charity that was taught by the Prophet, I believe that as a civilized people, we could definitely find our way back to the Golden Age. This of course depends on the leaders that we bring into office—those who sincerely care about others even when the cameras are away.

My other classmate talked about the 14th century Black Death. Since the plague spread from the east to Europe, she decided to compare the reaction that different religious groups had, and its impact on the plague’s aftermath. Even though she did not specifically spell out her preference for the Muslims' response, she did call theirs' better than the Europeans'. When the Black Death hit the Middle East, Muslim leaders and clerics call it a test of patience and mercy. God, as we believe in Him, is merciful. Unlike the view of European Christians at the time, Middle Eastern Muslims believed that God does not go about punishing humans; in fact, the plague was a blessing in disguise if they were able to pull through it. Furthermore, she mentioned that with Muslims not being afraid of death, they were able to stop short of going into full panic mode, as did the Europeans. As a result, the plague was contained much quicker in the Middle East than in Europe.

So, I came to my conclusion, that this is the kind of education we should support our students and scholars to undertake. This proves the point that I have been making for so long: if you truly believe in Islam and its truth, let it be questioned, researched, and pulled apart. If Islam is the best religion, it should be self-evident, with no one, no institution, and no government having to force people to believe in something that they don’t. The study of humanism should not be considered a worthless education. At the end of the day, that is what any employers are looking for—an employee that understands human nature, having values that are sought after. The catch is, this type of education should be truly liberal in the sense that universities should liberate the mind of our youths to think without barriers. That is called an education. I am truly grateful to have been given the opportunity.

Hail to PITT!


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