A few weeks ago two of our students stole a multimedia projector. They were eventually caught and punished. Referring to that incident, the Director of our campus, Dr. M. A. Bodla said, “what are we teaching?” Following article is my response to his question.
There are two types of education, one is value neutral and the other is value oriented. The hard sciences clearly fall in the category of value neutral. It does not matter what are values or belief system of a person are, if he/she has to write a computer program, the program must follow the rules of programming language being used. Similarly a steam engine will be designed the same way regardless if the designer is a Hindu or a Muslim or an atheist. The engine will work according to the laws of thermodynamics not the belief system of its designer. But a computer program, a steam engine, a suspension bridge etc. exist in a human society, and every society has a belief/values system. This is where the other type of education, the value oriented education comes into play.
There are three important characteristics of value oriented education:
1) It does not “produce” any tangible stuff like an engine or a computer program by itself, but it guides what gets produced and used. For example it does not develop computer programs but guides the developers as to what kind of programs are developed. In an Islamic society it will prohibit the development of programs which promote gambling, but in a secular society it will not object to such programs. Similarly it will prohibit research related to wine making in an Islamic society but not in any other society.
2) It cannot be taught the way value neutral material is taught. As stated in the beginning, value neutral education is belief agnostic. It is not biased by the human being delivering it; in fact it does not even require human being to deliver it. Look at the growing trend of Computer Based Training (CBT). Whereas value oriented education is human centric. How successful would a CBT program be in teaching bravery, modesty, loyalty, honesty, respect, sacrifice etc? You need human role models to infuse these qualities. The great scholars of Islam were not just repositories of tafseer, hadith, fiqh etc they were living examples for their students to imitate. Hundred researchers and their research papers cannot produce one brave person, but a simple display of bravery by one person can inspire a thousand persons to follow him into battlefield and change the course of history.
3) It is extremely influenced by the surrounding society. If the norms of the surrounding society are not conducive to the values being taught then no amount of teaching will produce the desired results. A few months back I was standing outside an academy which was conducting a crash course for O-level Islamic Studies course. The material of this course is quite comprehensive. But when the boys came out of the academy they were talking in most profane manner, which appeared to be their normal mode of conversation. Obviously Islamic Studies did not have any impact on them. Their environment dictated their behavior.
Now you may be asking what does all of this has to do with the topic of this essay, ie. “Secularism, Capitalism and our Education System”? The fact of the matter is that we, like majority of the world, are operating under a secular capitalist system. I know people will remind me that we are “Islamic Republic of Pakistan” and that article 31 of our constitution guarantees the supremacy of Quran and Sunnah. Very interestingly when I visited the official web portal of Pakistan http://www.pakistan.gov.pk/ on 6-6-2014 I noticed that the page mentions Islamabad three times but not Islam, not even once, not even in the official name. Similarly article 31 and it’s like are mere appendages added to satisfy the so called religious parties. The reality is that our constitution is a secular constitution based on Anglo-Saxon laws and our society is a capitalist society.
In a capitalistic society market is the god, and this god cares only about what can be bought and sold. As the great proponent of capitalism, Milton Friedman (winner of 1976 Nobel prize in economics ) once said “The great virtue of a free market system is that it does not care what color people are; it does not care what their religion is; it only cares whether they can produce something you want to buy.” As a result what cannot be bought and sold in market is not important, not valuable and not worth pursuing. As I mentioned in point #1 the value oriented education does not produce any tangible product that can be bought or sold in the market. Have you ever seen some one selling 5 kg of bravery, 10 yards of modesty, or 8 liters of loyalty? Obviously not, and that is exactly why these virtues are only paid lip service, not really valued and taught the way hard sciences are valued and taught.
This is where education comes in. The education in a capitalist society, like all other aspects of such a society, is market driven. What is considered important by the market is what gets taught in schools and universities. The rest is treated as needless baggage that needs to be dumped as soon as circumstances are conducive. (It is in regard that one should see the recent attempt to merge Islamic and Pakistan studies courses into one course, for details please read http://nadeemchaudhry.blogspot.com/2013/12/merging-of-islamic-and-pakistan-studies.html).
As I mentioned in point #3 the value oriented education is extremely influenced by the surrounding society. In a capitalistic society a “culture of personality” as opposed to “culture of character” is promoted. A “culture of personality” is mostly defined by stuff that is bought and sold in the market. You hear people referring to someone and saying “he has a dashing personality”. This dashing personality is usually composed of jeans from Levis, shoes from Nike, sunglasses from Ray-Ban, latest model of mobile from Nokia etc, basically stuff that is bought and sold in market. Whereas “culture of character” promotes bravery, modesty, loyalty, respect, sacrifice etc. stuff which is not bought and sold in market. As a result “culture of character” takes a back seat in a capitalist society.
If we really want to fix our education, and for that matter all other aspects of our society, we have to tear down the capitalist based value oriented system and completely replace it with Islamic value based system. Otherwise our educational institutes will basically continue producing efficient workers and gullible consumes for the global capitalist enterprise. May Allah guide us all to the true path and save us from hell-fire (ameen).