The Legacy of Sicily

The Legacy of Sicily

By Saulat Pervez – Writer and editor

When we talk of Islam in Europe, we often mention the famous Muslim empire in Spain, also known as Andalus. Lesser known is the fact that Muslims also ruled southern Italy for about two hundred years between the ninth and eleventh centuries.

The Emirate of Sicily, an island off the coast of Italy, was part of the larger Islamic Empire and was governed by a variety of rulers. Sicily prospered during this period in its history. Its population doubled, agriculture and trade flourished, and a spirit of tolerance and harmony existed among its ethnically and religiously diverse population.

Muslims introduced many new crops, such as cotton, hemp, date palm, sugar cane, mulberries and citrus fruits. Related industries grew, such as textiles, sugar, rope-making, matting and paper (which was later introduced to Europe via Sicily). Sicilian silks also became well-known internationally for their fine quality.

Sicily was taken over by the Normans in the late eleventh century, but Muslims continued to live in the multicultural island peacefully. Muslim heritage was preserved by the Normans, so much so that Arabic continued to be the prime language for the next hundred years. Muslim scientists and architects were employed by the royal court. Palermo, the central city in Sicily during Muslim rule, continued to serve as the capital under the Normans.

Along with Spain, Sicily was a major point of contact between Muslims and the rest of Europe. European scholars were attracted by the intellectual culture in Spain and Sicily, and some chose to live there. They would then translate Arabic books into Latin, thereby transferring the rich scholarship of the Muslim world to other parts of Europe. Michael Scot (c. 1175-1232) was one such individual; after spending a considerable time in Spain, he became the librarian for King Frederick II’s vast collection of Arabic works in Sicily.

When Ibn Jubair was shipwrecked on his return from the Hajj in the late twelfth century, he found himself in Sicily. He was very surprised by how warmly the Normans received him. Of Palermo, Ibn Jubair later wrote: “The capital is endowed with two gifts, splendour and wealth. It contains all the real and imagined beauty that anyone could wish. Splendour and grace adorn the piazzas and the countryside; the streets and highways are wide, and the eye is dazzled by the beauty of its situation. It is a city full of marvels, with buildings similar to those of Cordoba, built of limestone. A permanent stream of water from four springs runs through the city. There are so many mosques that they are impossible to count. Most of them also serve as schools. The eye is dazzled by this splendour.”

Unfortunately, this spirit of tolerance and harmony did not last long for Sicilian Muslims; they met a fate similar to the Andalusian Muslims. By the end of the thirteenth century, all the Muslims were evicted from Sicily. However, they left traces of their history behind in the form of Islamic-style architecture, Arabized words in the now-Latinized language, and the Arab-style outdoor marketplace, among others; many of these continue to exist to date.

Above all, the Muslims of Sicily were conduits, who enabled the wider Muslim legacy of the sciences, philosophy, literature and astronomy to be disseminated to Europe as a whole.

The Intellectual Legacy of Timbuktu

The Intellectual Legacy of Timbuktu

By Saulat Pervez – Writer and Editor

When someone mentions ‘Timbuktu,’ our minds often invoke mythical images of a mysterious, otherworldly place. However, when we study a map of Africa, we realize that it is very much a physical city in the country of Mali. What’s more, Timbuktu actually gained legendary status because of its riches and scholarship after Muslims permanently settled there early in the twelfth century.

Originally, Timbuktu was only a seasonal encampment for residents from nearby towns and a temporary outpost for traders and travellers. Its proximity to the Niger River made it a natural meeting point for nearby settlers and visitors alike. The foundation for the Sankore Mosque of Timbuktu was laid late in the tenth century. It was financed by a wealthy lady, who supported a desire to see the town turn into a centre of learning. Over the centuries, it gradually solidified its position as an important trading stop and this vision became a reality. Merchants from around the world visited the mosque, bringing with them ideas and books. Books became the most circulated commodity in Timbuktu, and libraries flourished. Meanwhile, Muslims decided to inhabit the town.

The Mosque grew into a University and by the end of the twelfth century, “student numbers were at twenty-five thousand, an enormous amount in a city of a hundred thousand people,” according to “1001 Inventions: Muslim Heritage in Our World”. Students first studied Arabic and memorized the Quran, followed by a rigorous syllabus consisting of math, sciences, logic, astronomy, history, etc., culminating in philosophical and religious research work.

The nearby salt ranges and gold mines only spurred trade; Timbuktu’s devotion to scholarship also attracted scholars and thinkers who arrived to settle there in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. This led to Timbuktu’s Golden Age in the next two centuries, turning the town into an intellectual and spiritual hub amidst its economic boom. Other mosque-universities, such as Jingaray Ber University and Sidi Yahya University, sprouted, all three together comprising the University of Timbuktu.

Subsequently, thousands of manuscripts were written, copied and passed on through generations. In this way, Timbuktu contributed a legacy of written scholarship in Africa, which has survived through the centuries. These documents are now being discovered from cellars, safes in mud-walls and treasure chests. Today, they are being collected and placed in various libraries in Timbuktu.

Timbuktu has endured a long decline in the years since its glorious past, after falling victim to Moroccan invasion, tribal rule and French colonization. As a result, Timbuktu’s vast scholarship can also be found in the museums of Morocco and France.

The Republic of Mali finally gained independence in 1960. Presently, Timbuktu is an impoverished city with only a few remaining landmarks of the city’s magnificent times. Yet, it remains a tourist attraction, complete with an international airport.

In recognition of its scholarly contributions and intellectual legacy, Timbuktu was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998.

The Progressive Faith

Progressive Faith

At a time, when Western Europe was, quite literally, plunged in darkness, tenth century Muslim Spain had paved roads with street lighting and running water.

Disease in Christendom during the Middle Ages was viewed as a punishment from God. Muslims, on the other hand, believed in the inherent goodness of people and studied disease in a matter-of-fact manner, resulting in the early removal of cataracts, invention of surgical instruments and the differentiation between small pox and measles.

When the vast majority of Europe thought the earth was flat, Muslims were busy calculating the earth’s diameter and circumference and were venturing to show, how lunar and solar eclipses take place.

Reading such comparisons, a Muslim naturally feels awed and proud at the same time. However, one must wonder, what enabled Muslims to be so far ahead of their contemporaries? The answer lies in the most fundamental elements of Islam.

Islam has a long-standing tradition of scholarship. The very first verses revealed to Prophet Muhammad (sa) enjoined him to read and informed him that God taught man everything that he never knew before. At another place, Allah (swt) exhorts the believers to ask Him: “My Lord! Increase me in knowledge.” (Ta-Ha 20:114)

The Prophet (sa) himself is known to extol the benefits of knowledge and wisdom. For example, he once said: “The seeking of knowledge is obligatory upon every Muslim.” (Baihaqi) Additionally, he has stated: “He who goes forth in search of knowledge is in the way of Allah (swt) till he returns.” (At-Tirmidhi)

Along with the thirst for knowledge, the use of reasoning is another vital tool for any Muslim. Allah (swt) says in the Quran:

“Verily! In the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the alternation of night and day, there are indeed signs for men of understanding. Those who remember Allah (always, in prayer) standing, sitting, and lying down on their sides, and think deeply about the creation of the heavens and the earth (saying): ‘Our Lord! You have not created (all) this without purpose, glory be to You! (Exalted be You above all that they associate with You as partners). Give us salvation from the torment of the Fire.” (Al-Imran 3:190-191)

Hence, the seeds for an intellectual tradition were sowed from the very beginning. The Quran specified with clarity that God’s universe was not random, a mere chance, but was created with wisdom and purpose. This led Muslims to look upon the entire world as a research field, which further spurred numerous mathematical, scientific and geographical discoveries.

Islam is more than just a religion. Being a ‘way of life’, our ancestors did not confine it to the mosque, making it apparent in everyday activities of people. Muslims refined astronomy as a science, in order to offer their five daily prayers at accurate times, to predict when the crescent moon will appear, to find the direction to Makkah for prayers; in the process, and to achieve these aims, they perfected the astrolabe.

Furthermore, Islam is a universal religion – not for a few chosen people or tribes but for all people and for all times. With this collective and inclusive outlook, Muslims began to gather any and every scholarly work they could lay their hands on – be it Greek, Persian, or Indian – as the Islamic Empire grew. Then, they commenced the scrupulous task of translation and, afterwards, busied themselves in its study. With study came reformation of ideas, theories and methodologies. Hence, the Muslims enhanced scientific approaches, which enabled them to take the work of their predecessors to new heights – unlike the rest of Europe at the time, which was steeped in squalor and stagnation.

In the process, Muslims were able to achieve a magnificent balance between their worldly needs and spiritual beliefs. Indeed, today, we need to return to our basics, instead of loosing ourselves in religious nit-picking and divisiveness, which also plagued Christendom during the Medieval Ages. Once we truly internalize Islam into every aspect of our lives as a living, breathing phenomenon, then we can, perhaps, aspire towards faith-based progress again! Insha’Allah.

Youth: Future of the Ummah

cover - youth - Jul 11

Compiled by Tooba Mumtaz

It definitely goes without saying that the Muslim youth of today will be the leaders of the Ummah tomorrow. This is a role for which they have to be formally groomed, by their families, educational institutes, and the society at large. Today, the sad reality is that the youth are “lost” – they lack direction and they definitely are in dire need of role models to emulate and leaders to follow. So, what can be done to improve the situation and channel the youth towards a positive future?

Hiba interviewed a few prominent personalities, who have worked with the youth in different fields. These individuals included:

1)      Salman Asif Siddiqui: Director, Educational Resource Development Centre (ERDC), Educationist and Parent Counsellor.

2)      Amina Murad: Administrator, Star Links School and author of award-winning Flowers of Islam publications.

3)      Shujja-uddin Shaikh: Academic Director, Quran Academy.

4)      Saulat Pervez: teacher at Generations’ School, content researcher, and writer.

5)      Sumaira Dada: ex-teacher and writer.

The aforementioned individuals gave their valued input on three aspects:

Top three success strategies for working with the youth in order to motivate them to be the leaders of tomorrow

Salman Asif Siddiqui

1)      Respect the youth and nourish their confidence, self esteem and trust.

2)      Educate them about the culturally-rich history of Muslim leaders who were pioneers of the Islamic history/society. Tell them their success stories in the different fields of life.

3)      Thirdly, there should broaden their vision and keep the global perspective of humanity in mind, while being loyal to their regional identities. We want to produce world leaders.

Amina Murad

Act upon what you say

The youth need good contemporary role models to emulate. Be one of them: a sound practicing Muslim and follower of the Prophet (sa). Be a leader at home and in the community.

Communicate vision

Telling is not communication. Be visionary and give them a vision. Be their friend and show them ways of achieving their goal, despite the setbacks. Provide positive feedback to motivate them instead of continuous criticism. Help them focus by removing time wasters that sap their energy. Youth should be taught to find their special talent, develop it, and channelize their energy in that direction.

Involve them and channelize their energy

Muslim youth have fewer opportunities to channelize their energies. Authentic work experience and involvement in schools, colleges and family and community services will channelize their energies. Positive involvement will help them unleash their potential and help them gain confidence to work towards their vision. Their blurred vision of a glamorous world will be shattered and the harsh realities will excite them to share their resources with others. Leadership will thus follow.

Shujja-uddin Sheikh

First of all, we should clearly define success. It is crystal clear from the Quran and Sunnah that the ultimate success is that of the hereafter. As such, I propose the following strategies:

  1. Try to inculcate real faith (through company of pious people and teachings of Quran and Sunnah), as faith is the fundamental motivating force for good deeds.
  2. Get authentic knowledge of what is Halal and what is Haram (through the teachings of Quran and Sunnah); we cannot move forward towards success unless we know the right path ourselves.
  3. Keep in view the life of the Prophet (sa) – according to the Quran, his role model is the best, followed by the Companions of the Prophet (sa).

Saulat Pervez

  1. Keep the communication lines open — instead of micromanaging the youth, have a trust relationship where they can come to you to discuss any problem.
  2. Educate them not only in the traditional intellectual subjects, but also in emotional, mental, and social areas so that not only are their SAT scores or O Level results high, they can also learn to empathize, to exercise self-control, and be civic-minded.
  3. Raise them to not only be good Muslims – but to be good humans and understand that the only way you can be a good Muslim, is to be a good human first and foremost.

Sumaira Dada

  1. Trust them: Our youth is constantly kept under check via a strategy of do’s and don’ts till they rebel. We need to realize that after giving them a guideline on the do’s and don’ts that Allah (swt) has laid down for us; we need to trust them to follow that guideline.
  2. Convey the message that the Muslim heroes of yesterday are as relevant for us today as they were then: The Umar and Uthman (rta) of the golden Islamic age are not just paragraphs in books on Islamic history; rather they have been real people who led a balanced life in this world. We need to make our youth realise this so that they stop looking for heroes in un-Islamic cultures.
  3. Channelize their talent in a way that Allah (swt) approves of. We need to guide them to the right kind of friends who will support them in their endeavour.

What are the top three issues facing the youth of today and how do you suggest they deal with them?

Salman Asif Siddiqui

In Pakistan, specifically, the identity crisis is the main issue which has developed in our youth. They have lost confidence in being recognized as Pakistanis and as Muslims. The only option is ‘escape’ from their country and religion. To change this mentality, we need to develop institutions confidence is restored in one’s identity.

Another issue is lack of emotional confidence; the youth has no personal opinion. It’s so easy for them to be moulded by others and react. To deal with it, the thought process needs a radical shift from extremism to a balanced state of mentality. Finally, the youth of the Ummah need to develop native language skills.

Amina Murad

Communication revolution

We need to educate the youth about the communication revolution and have one-to-one conversation as parents and teachers. Without any guidance, technology has become a giant monster; information is equated with knowledge and knowledge with wisdom. Communication revolution can revolutionize the fate of the Ummah if our adults and youth are educated to use it for acquisition of knowledge and dawah purposes.

Freedom from religion

In today’s secular environment, freedom of expression is an attempt to have freedom from religion. The youth are confused. Constant hammering of slogans of freedom to choose their lifestyle is redefining their conceptual framework. The youth need to develop love and relationship with Allah (swt) and Muhammad (sa) as role models with a sound knowledge base.

Bad companionship

All issues are linked with bad companionship; be it media or society. One’s relationship with the Qur’an and its lessons should be stronger than the relation with Facebook and its communities. Without guidance, the blitz of technology leads to self-love and narcissism: the personality trait of egotism, vanity, conceit, or simple selfishness. Sponsoring events that allow the youth to meet like-minded friends, interact with multi-generational society and provide Halal fun and entertainment and remember Allah (swt) is a practical way to deviate them from Haram fun all around.

Shujja-uddin Sheikh

Lack of direction and supervision

For this, pious people (practicing Muslims) should be contacted who are sincere and willing to help.

Domination of western thoughts and isms

For this, our past history, where we were the leaders, should be revisited through books as well as a study of Muslim thinkers and philosophers, who contributed to human thoughts and civilization.

Limited concept of Deen

For this, they should go back to the original sources of Islamic knowledge (the Quran and Sunnah of the Prophet (swt)). Furthermore, it should be noted that unless we have a comprehensive concept of Deen, the non-issues would remain the issues and sectarianism will prevail in the society.

Saulat Pervez

Frustration with family and other authoritative figures in their lives

Be patient and understand that no person is truly one-dimensional. If you feel someone is always finding fault in you, stay cool and don’t label him/her. Try to talk to them logically and explain to them your side of the story; be ready to listen to their side, too. Reach a solution together.

Over-reliance on friends

Your friends are important, but do understand that just because they are ready to embrace you just the way you are, with no demands whatsoever, doesn’t mean that it’s always a good thing. Having someone older, wiser and more experienced as a guide post, who can distill all those “brilliant” ideas and plans, is truly essential in this age. Ideally, this person should be a parent.

Too plugged

I know it’s cool to log into your Facebook account on your Iphones and have wires sticking out of your ears all the time, but too often, we are exchanging real, purposeful experiences for virtual, meaningless encounters. Find a healthy balance between staying connected with those who really matter, listening to content which is truly inspiring and having social experiences which really challenge you to learn to live with people despite the differences.

Sumaira Dada

1)      Lack of heroes to look up to

2)      A strong influence of largely un-Islamic culture.

3)      Lack of opportunities to release energy and utilize talents.

What behavioural characteristics do the youth need to instill during the primary stages?

Salman Asif Siddiqui

The youth needs to realize the purpose of their life which has been defined by the Quran and Sunnah. They should have positive goals in their lives. Our youth is mainly inspired by Western ideals and beliefs. The west promotes ‘emotional intelligence’ which is being clever, however, the Islamic paradigm is ‘Tazkiya-e-Nafs’. The West works on cost-benefit analysis, whereas Islam teaches us ‘emotional well-being’. To teach these differences, parents must be trained to act as mentors on the divine principle of ‘falah’.

Amina Murad

Nurture their real nature

An Islamic personality should be our Fitrah. In the polluted environment, our Fitrah is suppressed and little priority is given to the remembrance of Allah (swt). The most beautiful ninety-nine names of Allah (swt) should be made the benchmark for all the characteristics taught.

Time management

Value of time means valuing life and self. Parents and teachers should help young children limit every activity and realize that it’s Satan who makes us lose track of our goals and waste our life. Set a routine and discipline from a very early age. From Salah to sports, from giving time to parents to people around them, all activities should nurture individuality which makes each human being a very independent and special entity in this world.

Creative thinking

With unlimited opportunities, creative thinking is a skill that needs to be developed to help our kids reach the level of excellence in all pursuits. We should remember our kids are and will be living in a very different world than ours. Unless we help them come up with challenging ideas, they will be unable to challenge the world of Kufr around them and become part of it. Leadership demands Muslims to be creative to solve the problems of humanity.

Shujja-uddin Sheikh

Sense of responsibility

We should remember the purpose of life and the real life ahead.

Live for others

People live for themselves but we, being the Ummati of the Prophet (sa) have to serve others.

Trust in Allah

No matter how many difficulties we face, we should have faith that nothing is impossible for Allah the Almighty.

Saulat Pervez

Foremost, we need to teach our children to think. At school and at home, we must give them practice in developing their thinking skills, so that they grow to be reflective individuals, just as the Qur’an encourages.

Secondly, we need to instill an awareness of their relationship with Allah (swt) from an early age. They need to understand that Allah (swt) loves us and He is Merciful, but He has also made us responsible for our own deeds and we will be held accountable for them.

This brings me to the third point: they need to be cognizant of the fact that “worship” is not only pure Ibadah such as Salah, Sawm, Hajj, Sadaqah, etc. Along with my prayer and my fasting, I must be honest in my dealings with people (even if they are parents and teachers). Too often, we pray, yet we cheat; we recite the Qur’an, yet we backbite; we give charity, yet we spread rumours without verification. Unfortunately, kids learn this dichotomy from adults.
All three reinforce each other towards a common goal: awareness that our life has a purpose and before it ends, we had better make ample preparation for the life which is eternal.

Sumaira Dada

  1. Self-confidence
  2. Positive thinking
  3. Realism

Conclusion

It is heartening to note that every individual, who is currently working with the youth, is very clear about their problems and solutions. One can only hope that these problems are addressed and these solutions are implemented, in order to ensure that the youth turn out to be the bright future of our Ummah.

The Advent of Universities

July 11- The Advent of universitites

By Saulat Pervez

Muslims were the first civilization to institutionalize higher learning through models of systemized education. In fact, modern-day colleges are ‘descendants’ of Islamic universities, which were very common in various cities across the Muslim world. Two of them are the world’s oldest running operations since their inception: University of Al-Qarawiyin in Fez, Morocco, and Al-Azhar in Cairo, Egypt; they have been continuously operating since 841 AD and 988 AD respectively.

These, and many others like them, originated from mosques. The term for ‘university’ in Arabic is Jamiah, the feminine form of the word Jami, which is used for ‘mosque’. According to “1001 Inventions: Muslim Heritage in Our World”, this derivation shows that “in Arabic the place of religion and the place of advanced learning are completely tied together.” Therefore, it is no surprise that “some of the mosques of Islam are the oldest universities”.

Al-Qarawiyin mosque and university was built by Fatima Al-Fihri during the Idrisid rule. The university was well-equipped with astronomical instruments and tools to calculate time. Additionally, it offered studies in Quran and theology, law, logic, geography and medicine along with courses on chemistry and mathematics among others. The University had a rigorous selection process which included conditions such as “learning the whole Quran and good knowledge of Arabic and general sciences,” as mentioned in “1001 Inventions”.

Royal families were so keen on furthering the cause of education that, unlike today, students of Al-Qarawiyin did not have to pay tuitions and were actually given stipends for food and accommodation. Many illustrious personalities are associated with this pioneering institution such as Ibn Al-Arabi, Al-Bitruji, and the Jewish figure Musa Ibn Mamun (aka Maimonides). As for Al-Azhar, Ibn Al-Haytham lived there for a long time and Ibn Khaldun taught there.

Universities were equipped with exceptional libraries. In 1050, the book collection of Al-Azhar library had “more than a hundred and twenty thousand volumes, recorded in a sixty volume catalogue totaling about three thousand five hundred pages,” as stated in “1001 Inventions”.

R.S. Mackensen, a contemporary European historian of Islamic librarianship, has remarked: “Books were presented and many a scholar bequeathed his library to the mosque of his city to ensure its preservation and to render the books accessible to the learned who frequented it. And so grew up the great universities of Cordoba and Toledo to which flocked Christians as well as [Muslims] from all over the world.”

During the later part of the 11th century, Baghdad introduced its precursor to the modern university in the form of a chain of Madrasahs, which housed students and a salaried faculty. They were known as the Nizamiyah, after their founder Nizam Al-Mulk, a Seljuk Vizier. The largest and most splendid of these was located in Baghdad; the great theologian Al-Ghazali and the celebrated historian of Saladin, Baha Eddin, were lecturers there.

Al-Mustansiriyah college was established in 1234 CE by Caliph Al-Mustansir. It was a large two-storied building, oblong in shape, with a courtyard in the center. Housing and food were provided for those students who required it. The curriculum included religious studies, mathematics, medicine, and history, among other subjects.

The Sankore university in Timbuktu, which also evolved out of the Sankore mosque, offered subjects such as Quran, Islamic studies, law, literature, medicine, astronomy, mathematics, linguistics, sciences, etc. Students were also trained in trades and business ethics, with classes in carpentry, tailoring, navigation, fishing and so on.

These are just a few of the many universities which existed during the Golden Age of Islam. While scholars and intellectuals flocked to them to teach, they also produced marvelous theologians, inventors and thinkers who had a lasting impact on the modern world as we know it today.

A World without Hospitals

Apr 11 - A world without Hospitals

By Saulat Pervez

Today, we often take hospitals for granted, but there actually was a time when these institutions did not exist. People considered illnesses as supernatural occurrences and cures were similarly deemed to be the result of spiritual interventions.

On the other hand, Prophet Muhammad (sa) has reportedly said: “Seek medication, because Allah has created a medication for each disease except senility.” (Abu Dawood, At-Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah) Islam, furthermore, taught human beings that they were free from the original sin, leading Muslims to believe in the inherent goodness of humans; this modern outlook enabled scientists to study disease in a matter-of-fact manner. Therefore, as explained by Michael Hamilton Morgan in “Lost History, the Enduring Legacy of Muslim Scientists, Thinkers and Artists”: Muslims believed that “disease [had] specific, scientifically based physical causes. It [was] not a punishment visited on men from God.”

This empirical worldview led to the invention of the hospital, as we know it today. Indeed, the modern hospital has its roots in the Bimaristans, as established by the Abbasids in Baghdad. The first hospital was founded in 914 C.E. Another hospital was built in 918 C.E. at the behest of Caliph Muqtadir. Among the physicians here was the renowned ar-Razi (Rhazes).

“By the year 1000, five major hospitals [were] built in Abbasid Baghdad. These hospitals serve[d] multiple purposes, not unlike modern hospitals containing surgery centers, outpatient clinics, psychiatric wards, convalescent centers and even nursing homes. And quite often they [were] free to those in need,” writes Morgan. Soon, hospitals became common landmarks all across the Muslim world.

In fact, the very spirit behind the concept of hospitals was to provide ready care to anyone who seeks it, irrespective of gender, race, religion or status. Doctors treated and studied the patients, and documented their findings. This shows that the physicians were not only interested in curing their patients’ immediate ailments, but also in conducting important research which would then be published in the form of books. These texts, later translated into Latin, became the foundational tools for the rebirth of Europe and continued to be used for several centuries.

Such medical advances also led to the development of the field of pharmacology. As a result, the very first pharmacies were pioneered by Muslim doctors. According to Dr. Gustave le Bon: “Muslims invented the art of mixing chemical medicaments in pills and solutions, many of which are in use to this day, though some of them are claimed as wholly new inventions of our present century by chemists unaware of their distinguished history. Islam had dispensaries, which filled prescriptions for patients [free of charge], and in part of countries where no hospitals were reachable, physicians paid regular visits with all the tools of their trade to look after public health.”

In the end, the privileges we enjoy today have a rich history and a meaningful purpose –dating back to more than a millennium! Sadly, our current conditions belie our downhill spiral: our hospitals are either modern and expensive or unhygienic and cheap. It is high time that we re-instill our Islamic values not only in our practice of worship but also, by extension, in the social aspects of our lives – without discrimination.

The Art of Paper-Making

Jan 11 - The Art of paper-making

By Saulat Pervez

Muslims transformed the Chinese art of papermaking into a major industry as early as the eighth century!

Muslims learned the secret of papermaking from Chinese prisoners captured during the battle of Talas in 751 A.D. Before long, paper began to be manufactured in Samarkand, the very first Muslim hub of papermaking. By 793 A.D., there were many paper mills in Baghdad; as with all other major developments in the Muslim world, paper production soon spread to Syria, Egypt, North Africa, Sicily and Spain. From a Chinese art, paper was thus transformed into a major industry by the Muslims.

This was a revolutionary development, because the existing alternatives to paper were papyrus, which was fragile, and parchment, which was expensive; paper, on the other hand, was relatively cheap because it was made out of cotton – and Muslims made its manufacturing more efficient through the use of water-powered mills. This mass availability of paper enabled Muslims to commit vast amounts of translations and original research to paper; as a result, libraries and bookstores thrived and became a common sight in Baghdad and other Muslim cities.

For example, by the thirteenth century, Baghdad had thirty-six libraries and a 100 book dealers, some of whom were also publishers. The concept of a library catalog dates back to this period – books in these libraries were organized under specific genres and categories. Besides these, many nobles and merchants had private collections of books.

“We hear of a private library in Baghdad, as early as the ninth century, which required a hundred and twenty camels to move it from one place to another. Another scholar of Baghdad refused to accept a position elsewhere, because it would take four hundred camels to transport his books; the catalogue of this private library filled ten volumes. This is the more astonishing, when it is realized that the library of the king of France in 1300 had only about four hundred titles,” writes Frederick Artz in his book “The Mind of the Middle Ages”.

Furthermore, James Burke notes of Cordoba in Muslim Spain: “Paper, a material still unknown to the west, was everywhere. There were bookshops and more than seventy libraries.”

In fact, this was the case because the very first paper mill in medieval Europe was established as late as 1268 A.D. in Italy and appeared in other major countries, such as Germany and France, centuries later.

TV and Kids: Another Look

200486818-001Saulat Pervez reconsiders the influence of TV on kids by making it a part of their growing up process

Children, who have been taught or conditioned to listen passively most of the day to the warm verbal communications coming from the TV screen and to the deep emotional appeal of the so-called TV personalities, are often unable to respond to real persons, because they arouse so much less feeling than the skilled actors. Worse, they lose the ability to learn from reality, because life experiences are more complicated than the ones they see on the screen, and there is no one coming in at the end to explain it all. This being seduced into passiveness and discouraged about facing life actively (on one’s own) is the real danger of TV, much more than the often asinine or gruesome content of the shows. (Bruno Bettelheim)

When my two older children were small, watching television was a thing unknown in our family. Instead of growing up watching Sesame Street and Tom & Jerry, they found their fun and entertainment in their blocks, train sets, dolls, cars, and above all – stories.

As they grew older and television made an appearance in their lives, it was still a small nuisance, because we didn’t have cable. So they thrived on imaginary games with each other, expressed their creativity through drawings, Play Doh, building toys and continued to find much joy and happiness in the world of books.

But in a matter of time the cable arrived and with it a plethora of viewing options. At first, my children stayed within my influence, watching the more value-centric, educational cartoons. But soon enough, largely through the exposure from more experienced cousins, they were initiated into the tempting world of multi-channeled 24-hour cartoon mania. Still more disturbing, this loss of innocence was accompanied by an obsession to watch television at any and all times of day.

Every time the television was switched off after much cajoling, nagging, or downright threats, it was me against them. You can imagine my horror, as I watched my creative, enthusiastic and resourceful children slip into zombie-like, lethargic and uninterested beings, whose true pleasure now came in simply sitting back and getting entertained without making any effort. No longer were they interested in their toys or their games; suddenly, “I hate homework” comments started sprouting, and shoddy work was no big deal, as long as they were done with their work quickly and could run to the television set. Even reading could not bring them the thrill it once did. Every and any free time they had was spent on watching TV. Temper tantrums would be thrown and whining bouts heard, if they were prevented from doing so.

As a result, they became short-tempered and displayed very little patience, when it came to other activities, such as interaction with each other and those around them. Their cleverness also increased manifold: no matter how much I explained to them that if they watched TV, when they weren’t allowed to, it was tantamount to cheating, as soon as I turned by back, they would find a way to watch it. I naturally felt frustrated, outraged and at times helpless. It was as if all my years of effort in getting them started on a constructive, thoughtful and meaningful journey of life was simply falling apart right in front of my eyes.

My first instinct was to fight back. I would get irritated every time I’d find them in front of the black box. I would throw temper tantrums of my own. But over time, I have come to realize that my approach must be more sensible. No matter how angry I feel or how depressed I get about the situation, the television is here to stay. As the main protagonist in the movie “Quiz Show” put it:, “I thought I was going to get TV, but TV is going to get us.”

After reading “Teaching Children to Think” by Robert Fisher, I am convinced even more that the solution to this problem can be achieved with an out-of-the-box strategy. Throwing away the set or getting rid of cable would be easier, but in life those choices prove more complex.

Fisher advises parents to plan with their children ahead of time, what they wish to watch, and encourage them to think through, why they are interested in that particular program. He says that children take a lot of information from TV but it comes in ‘discrete forms’ with many concepts and important ideas missing. “For the child to benefit from TV,” Fisher states, “it is up to others to help (him/her) make connections, create networks of ideas, and to see significance.”

According to him, television should be a starting point for the building of a child’s curiosity and interest. We can turn TV-viewing into a positive experience if “thinking is switched on, when the set is switched off.” In this way, we can turn our children into thoughtful, sensitive and critical viewers.

This means that we as parents and caregivers must make it a point to spend time with our children, as they watch television, and to talk about their programs with them. It may not always be easy, but if we put in the requisite efforts in the beginning, our children will learn to make those connections and ask the right questions on their own pretty soon. The initial guidance, however, is imperative.

Incidentally, to lure our children away from the television, we will have to do the same: put in time with them. We must supply them with plenty of other options, such as puzzles and board games, and in many cases they will want our participation.

As Fisher recommended, we must teach our children to question and challenge what they watch – and that includes ads. If we manage to make them think as they watch, we have successfully gotten them started on a journey which will, Insha’Allah, eventually lead them to independent perceiving of the difference between right and wrong, the entertaining and the intellectual, the superficial and the insightful. May Allah (swt) help us in this and all our endeavors toward guiding the Amanah He has blessed us with. Ameen.