Honorable Chairman of this session, Learned Speakers and Guests and my dear Friends, Ladies and Gentlemen.
It is an honor for me to inaugurate the Muqaddimah Academic Summit, being held in this beautiful Malabar town of Kannur. This summit is convened to dwell on some of the very fundamental issues of our time. In our world today, the large segment of humanity is struggling to liberate itself from the draconian clutches of racist, supremacist, neocolonialist, capitalist imperialism. This global imperialism has been successful in subjugating the societies in major parts of Asia, Africa, South and Central America and with the rise of strong resistance movements, this imperialism has become extremely violent to assert its supremacy and is playing one of the worst bloodbaths of recent history, particularly in the Middle East. Its policies have resulted into unprecedented concentration of wealth, greatest ever havoc in nature, environment and ecology and unbearable physical, mental and psychological sufferings to the billions and billions of human beings across the planet.
In Indian scenario, racist exploitation comes in the camouflage of cultural nationalism and coincidentally, in India also these exploitative forces have gained total control and power and are becoming challenge to the democratic fabric of the society and the values as enshrined in the Constitution of India. India has a long history of racial supremacy wars. The struggle for freedom of India from the colonial rule, was fought on great principles of equality, and human emancipation. The same values were made the guiding principles of the Constitution of India, but now the very values are at threat.
It is in this backdrop that some of the most prominent scholars, who are well known worldwide, for their strong and well-argued voices of dissident, have gathered here to formulate an Islamic response to these racial exploitations and the global regime of such exploitation. So I feel, there could have been no better timing for such a conference. I congratulate the organizers and welcome our honorable guests and participants. I hope and pray Allah to make this event a huge success, to open-up our minds and to guide us to the right thinking and conclusions. Aameen.
One beautiful coincidence is that the conference is being held on a day which the world celebrates as the birthday of the greatest emancipator of human race; Prophet Muhammad SAW, who had raised the strongest ever voice for human equality, human freedom, human dignity and equal justice to all human beings.
May Peace and Blessings of Allah be upon Him.
The conference is aptly named as Muqaddimah, that means prelude or preface. As the organizers have wished, I hope that this conference will become a prelude to some brilliant new voices in Social Sciences. Muqaddimah is also the title of the highly acclaimed prolegomena of the History written by the fourteenth century North African Muslim Scholar, Abdur Rahman bin Muhammad Ibn e Khaldun. The magnum opus is rightly considered to have laid the foundations for the modern sociology, anthropology and historiography. The relevance of this book, to today’s topic is the main conclusion that Ibn e Khaldun has drawn from his study of the world history; that injustice brings about the ruins of a civilization and that injustice is the biggest enemy of civilizations and human race as such.
One important topic for today’s discussion as mentioned in the agenda, is decoloniality. It is more than half a century now that the colonial era was supposed and declared to be over. But its implications are so profound, and it has taken such deceitful charades, that it still continues to persist in forms like white supremacy, euro-centrism, crony capitalism, knowledge appropriation, consent manufacturing so on and so forth. It is this precarious situation that has given rise to the project of decoloniality. The scholars like Walter Mignolo, Timothy Laurie, Anibal Quijano etc. advocate for ‘border thinking’ or ‘pluriversal epistemology’ that is nothing but a paradigm of knowledge that is independent of Eurocentric referential index.
The modern science and knowledge has emerged out of a peculiar historical experience of Europe. It was eleventh and twelfth century AD, when Spain under Muslim Moorish rule was a thriving hub of knowledge and scholarship and European Christian scholars started traveling to Muslim lands through contact points like Sicily, Spain and Toledo, to learn science and philosophy. They brought the fresh air of free creative thinking to the conservative church dominated European society. This gave rise to the infamous friction between church and the science. This friction has become a defining character of European epistemology.
In 1492 AD Muslims were defeated in Spain after a series of crusades and whole Spain was taken over by crusaders. Crusades were fought on the notions of racial and theological supremacy and they gave birth to a new politics of global supremacy.
Soon after the victory in Spain, the new regime in Spain allowed Christopher Columbus to start his famous expedition and he arrived in Central American land of Guanahani (The Bahamas). When he met the local people and found that they didn’t believe in Christ, he presumed that since they don’t have religion they will not be having any soul. After lot of debates, it was finally concluded that these indigenous people are animal species. So they were treated in that way only.
It was this milieu of European political and social experience that resulted into the rise of modern knowledge paradigm. So this paradigm, as the decolonial scholars have rightly argued, is wholly centered on the European man’s social, political and psychological experience.
So as Ramon Grosfuguel has pointed out, in the new scheme of affairs, the God was replaced with white man. .
” The result is that universal truth beyond space and time privileges access to the laws of the universe, and the capacity to produce scientific knowledge and theory is now placed in the mind of Western Man. The Cartesian “cogitoergo sum” which is “I think, therefore I am” is the foundation of modern western sciences. This dualism of mind and body and between mind and nature allowed Descartes to claim “non-situated, universal, God-eyed view knowledge.i”
To further strengthen the white man’s supremacy in the realms of knowledge and epistemology, a systematic ‘epistemicide’ was carried out and not only Islamic traditional epistemology, as nurtured and manifested in Cordoba, Baghdad and Andalusia, was made to disappear, but all systems of indigenous knowledge were systematically killed with the weapons of artificially created so called positivist empiricist methods, tools and criteria.
Colonial power was a strong weapon in hand, to actualize this agenda of epistemicide, knowledge hegemony and racial supremacy. But even after the end of the colonial era, the same knowledge legacy continues to exist and prevail. Grosfoguel identifies 15 global hierarchies of powerii, one of which is the epistemic hierarchy that privileges Western knowledge and cosmology over non-Western knowledge and cosmologies.
And as Grosfoguel has argued,
One of the major successes of the modern/colonial world system has been to get people located on the oppressed side of power relations to think epistemically like the ones on the dominant side of power relations.iii
And as Quijano has rightly argued,
“structure of power was and even continues to be organized on and around the colonial axis”iv
And that decolonization did not eliminate coloniality, but
“it merely transformed its outer form” v
When Andalusia was conquered and then America was colonised, as it is already pointed out, the colonisers considered indigenous people as subhuman animals, they tried to establish the rule of ‘one identity, one religion, one state.’ This ideology led to the legitimisation of slavery and all cruel practices against indigenous people became legitimate as they were being committed not against human beings but against soul-less creatures.
It is worth here to refer Algerian philosopher Frantz Fanon, who argued that racism is a structure of power and it divides human being in what he called Zone of Being and Zone of Non Being.
People in the zone of non-being are not recognized as full humans. While there are people who are oppressed within the zone of being, they have racial privilege that the people in the zone of non-being do not have.
In the zone of being, conflicts are regulated, and are peaceful with exceptional moments of violence. In the zone of non-being, the system manages conflicts through violence, appropriation and dispossession. Thus the norm is violence with exceptional moments of peace.
The latest prime target of white man’s supremacist epistemology, is Islam, because Islam is considered a major threat to western imperialist designs. It is this consideration that has given rise to the so called ‘islamophobia’ and as Grosfoguel argues that the main academic objective of Islamophobia is this,
“epistemic racism allows the West to not have to listen to the critical thinking produced by Islamic thinkers on Western global/imperial designs.” vi
Grosfoguel concludes that Islamophobia is a form of racism in Europe. By constructing a hierarchy of superiority and inferiority along the line of the human, Muslims are dehumanised as savages and violent beings. This racism encompasses religion, culture, race and white supremacy of knowledge. They are creating the ‘zone of non beings’ and pushing the Muslim societies into this zone.
It is this backdrop that we are deliberating as to what remedy Islam can offer to this chronic problem of whole humanity?
Historically, Islam has been the most successful liberating force. It has been successful in making an end to slavery, hundreds of years before the modern world. It gave equal rights to women and made an end to the racial and ethnic inequalities. The first batch of preachers of Islam, the companions of Prophet Muhammad SAW were very clear about their mission of liberating human beings from the clutches of evil oppressors who were ruling on them. The belief in one God and His supremacy was antithesis to all exploitative regimes and such exploiters were considered self-made God and raising voice against such exploitation was considered part of Islamic belief. As Rabi Bin Aamir spoke in the court of Persian noble Rustam,
Allah has sent us to liberate Allah’s salves from the slavery of His slaves and take them to the slavery of their only Lord the Almighty…and to liberate them from the tyranny of man made barabaric laws and take them to the justice of Islam.vii
This is explicitly and unequivocally stated vision of Islam’s liberating movement. The main distinction of Islam’s philosophy of liberation is that it is rooted in its fundamental doctrines. These fundamental doctrines are divinely revealed and belief in their divinity is the basic precondition of becoming a Muslim. So there exists no possibility of bringing any alteration in these fundamental doctrines.
The main reason of racial exploitation is the overt or covert, conscious or subconscious belief in racial supremacy. The belief in white man’s genealogical supremacy is the part of western subconscious. Similarly, the dogma of the superiority of Aryan race is deeply rooted in the minds of upper class Indians.
Islam has successfully disrooted this notion at the doctrinal level. Equality of human beings is among the fundamental concepts of Islam.
O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquaintedviii
Prophet Muhammad SAW says,
People are equal like comb teeth, all human beings are brothers.
Qur’an has categorically laid that all human beings are dignified irrespective of their ethnic, racial, geographical, temporal or any other identities.
NOW, INDEED, We have conferred dignity on the children of Adam, 83 and borne them over land and sea, and provided for them sustenance out of the good things of life, and favoured them far above most of Our creationix
Unjust killing of one single human being was declared to be equivalent to the murder of whole humanity.
Whosoever killeth a human being for other than manslaughter or corruption in the earth, it shall be as if be had killed all mankindx
Justice is among the prime most objectives of Islamic shariah.
Oh believers! Stand firm for justice and bear true witness for the sake of Allah, even though it be against yourselves, your parents or your relatives. It does not matter whether the party is rich or poor – Allah is well wisher of both. So let not your selfish desires swerve you from justice. If you distort your testimony or decline to give it, then you should remember that Allah is fully aware of your actions. xi
Apart from giving a clear doctrine of equality, Islam has provided multiple institutions to reinforce this notion. Five times a prayers is on the one hand, a powerful demonstration of submission to one and only God, and on the hand, it symbolises and reinforces the Islamic concept of human equality. People from all races, ethnicities, social backgrounds, and from all strata of society are made to stand knee to knee and toe to toe and they all together bow to one and only God in well-formed ranks that do not have any hierarchies or protocols.
The Servant and the Boss, the Poor and the rich became one, when they reached to your court o God, all became equal. Mehmud, (the King) and Ayaz (his servant) stood in the same rank and all distinctions between the common man and his benefactor vanished.
Similar is the case of fasting where rich are made to experience the sufferings of the poor and the whole Muslim world fasts together, rises together at the dawn, eats together and prays together. The biggest and most magnificent display of Islamic equality is Hajj where people from all parts of the world gather near Makkah and spend at least six days together wearing same clothes, following same routines, staying in same temporary tents, and periodically raising the same chant together. This symbolizes the message of universal brotherhood and equality.
Zakath is a powerful institution of economic leveling. 2.5% annual levy is imposed exclusively for poor, not on the income of rich but on the total value of their assets. Levy on assets works in two powerful ways. It ensures the availability of huge capital for the alleviation of poverty, so much so that if zakath is calculated on the wealth of just billionaires of our time, the amount available will be many times more than all the estimations of poverty alleviation projects. Secondly, the levy on assets ensures that, assets are not remained unproductive and all the assets become economically productive thereby generate employment and alleviate poverty.
Islam has also proscribed interest based loans, to stop accumulation of wealth in a few hands. It has laid down such scientific principles of inheritance that in no case wealth remains concentrated in few hands.
In addition to this regular reinforcement, Islam exhorts and motivates its followers to stand up and strive for justice and for the rights of poor and downtrodden. As per Qur’an, all exploitative powers are enemies of Allah and Taghoot, and Qur’an has mandated its followers to become strong resistive force against Taghhoot. According to modern Islamic thinkers, apart from individuals and forces, any system that is built for exploiting human beings and that is built on the foundation of a rebellion against God is also Taghoot.
Those who have attained to faith fight in the cause of God, whereas those who are bent on denying the truth fight in the cause of the powers of evil. Fight, then, against those friends of Satan: verily, Satan’s guile is weak indeedxii۔
Qur’an has given the example of Firaun and Musa. Firaun was a racist supremacist dictator.
The fact is that Fir’on elevated himself in the land and divided its residents into groups, one group of which he persecuted, putting their sons to death and sparing only their females. Indeed he was one of the mischief-makers.But We wanted to favor those who were oppressed in the land, and make them leaders, and make them the heirs, establish them in the land, and show Fir’on, Haman and their warriors at their hands the same which they fearedxiii.
Qur’an has also exhorted its followers to stand up and fight for the rights of weak and downtrodden or the Mustadh’ifeen.
And what reason do you have not to fight in the cause of Allah, to rescue the helpless oppressed old men, women, and children who are crying: “Our Rabb! Deliver us from this town whose people are oppressors; send us a protector by Your grace and send us a helper from Your presence?”xiv
It is this struggle against the oppressive forces of taghoot and for the support and well being of the oppressed people that is called jihad. As it is traditionally understood, Jihad can take any form, from peaceful resistance to militant defense under strict regulatory conditions. The form of Jihad will depend on so many factors and conditions but the struggle and resistance against oppression and injustice is something which Qur’an has made mandatory.
As far as knowledge and epistemology is concerned, Islamic paradigm takes into account the holistic nature of human life. Unlike modernist epistemological tradition, it doesn’t looks at all physical and social phenomena by reducing them to their supposed components. In human sciences (and also in human biology and medical sciences) it looks at human being as a social, emotional and spiritual being along with the physical being. Since human dignity and human equality is among the core principles of Islam, Islamic knowledge regimes have respected and adopted all paradigms of knowledge.
Prophet Muhammad SAW is reported to have said,
Wisdom is the lost treasure of a believer, so wherever you find it you have a right over it.
So traditionally, Muslims accepted, adopted and enriched many stream of knowledge. They took Indian number system, gave due credit to Indians by naming it Hindsa, and developed it to such a level that this system is called Arabic numbers in west. Similarly they adopted Greek medicine, developed it, gave credit to original inventors by naming it Unani Medicine and still it is practiced in Muslim societies. So they accepted, adopted and enriched Indian, Greek, Roman, Persian and even African indigenous knowledge systems.
So in short, Islam has provided complete framework of decoloniality. It has laid down clear doctrinal foundation for human equality, it reinforces these doctrines through multitude of worships, it has established institutional mechanism for ensuring distribution of wealth and ensuring economic justice and finally it has made it mandatory to strive for justice and for the rights of downtrodden, oppressed and exploited human beings.
I once again, express my sincere thanks to the organizers for allowing me to be the part f this enlightening conference and I hope many thought provoking ideas will come under debates in the next two day. In sha Allah.
[Note: This is the transcription of the Inaugural Address for the Muqaddimah Academic Summit, at Kannur Kerala on
December 23, 2015]
i. Grosfoguel, Ramon, Decolonizing Post-Colonial Studies and Paradigms of Political Economy Transmodernity,
Decolonial Thinking and Global Coloniality, 2011
ii. Grosfoguel Ramon, Decolonizing Post Colonial Studies and Paradigms of political Economy,
http://escholarship.org/uc/item/21k6t3fq retrieved on 21-12-2015
iv. Quijano, Aníbal 2000: Coloniality of Power, Eurocentrism, and Latin America. Nepantla: Views from South
v. Quijano, Aníbal and Immanuel Wallerstein 1992: Americanity as Concept: Or the Americas in the Modern
World-System. International Social Science Journal 131: 549-557
vi. Grosfoguel, Ramon The Multiple Faces of Islamophobia, In Islamophobia Studies Journal
vii. Ibn Kathir, Al-Bidayah Wa-Nihayah, vol. 7
viii. Qur’an 49:13
ix. Qur’an 17:70
x. Qur’an 5:32
xi. Qur’an 4:135
xii. Qur’an 4:76
xiii. Qur’an 28:4-6
xiv. Qur’an 4:75