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Why have Muslims lagged behind?

As a Muslim, I feel lucky for being able to explain the relationship between the Creator, the existence, and the human rationally and scientifically. Although, I questioned some aspects, my mind has always been clear about the fundamentals. I know that many Muslims have a similar mind clarity and recollection. 

But why have Muslims that have embraced the reality of existence and solved the meaning of things?

And why Christians, who believe in the trinity which cannot be explained reasonably even by some Cardinals, developed to the current level?

Why the atheist or deist majority societies, Japanese or Koreans believing in Buddhism or Shintoism are open to development, and why are they productive at a level that is incomparable with Muslim nations?

Why do they make many inventions and innovations but we cannot find time for beneficial things and we only struggle with one another?

I was feeling pity for Christians who cannot identify the relationship between the creator, the existence, and the human. I still have difficulty in understanding how they could accept a belief like the trinity. After I started to live in the West, I realized that many Westerners are not Christians because of this confusion. Deism, atheism, and agnosticism are common. They maintain some Christian traditions as a cultural aspect.

I have been taking Clinical Pastoral Care courses from an experienced academic for more than two months. This is a training for becoming a chaplain which is a popular profession in the West. I had thought that this was a preaching or religious guidance task. But during the training, I realized that this is something different. In essence, it is a task to help people using methods of psychology and psychiatry and strengthening their bonds with their own beliefs to guide them in solving their problems.

This is done via psychoanalysis and certain methods. These chaplains give religious and psychological support for people in hospitals, jails, and nursing homes to set their minds at rest and to help them hold on to life. Psychiatry and Psychology have positivist approaches and they are usually not close to spiritual values. On the other hand, people that have religious tasks within the society do not use the experiences and methods of these sciences. In the U.S. people who studied psychiatry and who have religious qualifications saw this gap in the early 20th century and created this interdisciplinary branch that is between theology and psychology. It is called “Clinical pastoral care” or“clinical spiritual care”. You can take a role in this branch if you are interested in psychology and psychiatry, have a background in religion, and have a great interest in helping people. There is a serious job vacancy for Muslim chaplains.

But the subject of this article is not clinical religious help. I want to underline what Dr. Ron Cockroft, a retired and experienced academic in his mid 70s, said during the class. Our lecturer had a very positive effect on all of us with his patience, tolerance, experience, and a high degree of respect for Muslims. Dr. Cockroft said The Muslim mind is so clear that it does not have many question marks. But as Christians, we have many and complex questions in our minds. It might be the reason Christians have been interested in philosophy, questioning, and research. These researches and questionings and the struggle to find a way out made us develop and your mind in comfort prevented you to explore and find new things.

Neurologists also support this theory. The development of the brain depends on its activity level. People who use their brains more actively by reading, making researches, etc. have lower risks of dementia at later ages. But diseases like Alzheimer’s are common among people that had lower brain activities. Professor Sinan Canan says in his video titled “The comfort perishes us”: “We are happy with a predictable and risk-free routine but this is harmful to our bodies and minds. If you don’t force your brain, it will shrink. Learning a new language, practicing a musical instrument, moving your home, and changing your place strengthen the brain. If you have a serious difficulty to overcome or a hard problem to solve, your body and brain will be alerted. But if everything is all right, they will slowly perish. Just like in the grave. The comfort perishes us.”

The atrophy of the brain does not stem from the comfort of prosperity but it is related to getting used to, resistance to change, or questioning. Dealing with messy and complex situations are more exhaustive than physical activities. What differentiates us from other creatures is our more developed brain, analytic intelligence, and ability to solve problems. Science, civilization, culture, art, inventions, and discoveries become possible when people use these abilities.

The Muslim world did it well during the first 4-5 centuries after the birth of Islam. As Islam spread over, Muslims encountered many different geographies and cultures and they had to address various problems. During the Abbasid period and in the Caliphate of Cordoba, translations from the Ancient Greek civilization and its philosophy was a challenge for Muslims both intellectually and theologically. Greek philosophers were challenging the mind comfort of ordinary Muslims. They were forced to protect their belief, so Al-Ghazali and other Muslim scholars were interested in philosophy. Muslims were eager to read, think, and try to find the truth. As a result of this dynamism, they authored books. On the other hand, the Western world was in a dark age under the scholastic thought of the church. But the bright age of the Muslim world also started to die away. They were only repeating what old books say. They looked down on other religions and beliefs and refrained from studying them. Without open and free discussion, research, or curiosity; productivity was no longer possible. The intellectual idleness took Muslims captive.

The Muslim world has been challenged again for the last 3-4 centuries. Despite the massive population of 1.5 billion, rich underground resources, and geo-strategical importance, Muslim countries are the most oppressed, poor, and ineffective part of the world. Indeed they face many painful problems to leave their comfort zone and activate brain functions. But all Muslims are stuck in intellectual idleness.

It may be possible that setting up a rational and clear equation for the Creator, the existence, and the human cause this idleness. The perception of being the followers of a superior belief generates a comfort zone. As a result of this and despite so many problems waiting to be addressed, we don’t want to carry the burden of questioning, thinking, searching, or creating. We don’t leave our comfort zone and close the curtains by saying that “We are the followers of the last and true religion!” Because the reasoning and using the brain is something hard. But using the ready knowledge and building walls with stock answers is very easy and comfortable.

As Muslims we behave in a reactive way when we refuse, alienate, and turn in on ourselves and refrain from intellectual challenges. The first revelation to the Prophet was “Read!” but neither we read the universe nor the books. We know that there are lots of verses and hadiths about thinking, reasoning, and studying science. We all agree that Islam encourages science and researches. We are all aware of divine reprimands like “Little do you remember, little do you reflect!” But we declare thinkers and philosophers unbeliever or alienate them. We don’t create solutions for the problems and we prefer to maintain our comfort.

As followers of the religion saying that “One hour of your contemplation is better than one year of worship”, we cannot tolerate our thinkers. We tag them as deviant, confused, abnormal, etc.

Because it is hard for us to question our presuppositions and leaving our comfort zone. We think that we maintain a safe zone when we refuse to question, search, and think. Of course, we don’t expect that everybody should be a thinker. But a society that lynches its thinkers or owners of debatable ideas cannot find solutions to social crisis or overcome depressions.

Today, Muslim majority societies are ruled by authoritarian governments based on bigotry and tyranny and punishing free thought. Therefore, it is hard for Muslims to overcome the walls they built to leave their comfort zones. As a result, Muslims flee en masse from Sudan, Afghanistan, Somalia, Syria, Turkey, as well as other Asian and African countries because of oppression, repression, and alienation and they take refuge in countries that respect freedom of thought and expression and care about human life.

Crisis and immigration have a destructive effect on comfort zones, push the limits, and change codes of thought. They drive people to think and create from the scratch. We don’t know how well the nature of new generations will be after the immigration of Muslims to the West in the last 3 or 4 decades. We are not sure if new generations that are brought in the West as Muslims would succeed in bringing Muslims to new horizons with the help of the atmosphere of free thought.

But I am hopeful if we don’t lock them inside the walls we built and intimidate them to be just like us.

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Mahmut Akpinar
Mahmut Akpinar
Dr. Mahmut Akpinar is a political scientist focusing on international relations and Turkish politics.

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