Why don’t Arabs read?

Kuwait Times - - Local - By Jeri Al-Jeri Jeri@kuwait­times.net

There was an ac­tual war on reading that poi­soned our an­ces­tors’ love for books. After the spread of Is­lam, it be­came well-known that the Mus­lim na­tion was a na­tion of reading. Euro­peans, dur­ing the Dark Age, were fas­ci­nated by how much time and ef­fort the Mus­lim peo­ple and gov­ern­ments poured into any­thing book-re­lated - from li­braries and ed­u­ca­tional cen­ters to pa­per fac­to­ries; and poly­glot schol­ars trans­lat­ing ev­ery read­able ma­te­rial - even the hi­ero­glyph­ics of an­cient Egypt. Sadly, all this be­came his­tory. Both East­ern and Western his­to­ri­ans found that the Mus­lim world was vic­tim­ized by los­ing its ro­mance with the art of reading and writ­ing. This tragedy wasn’t the mak­ing of a dev­il­ish, cere­bral out­sider - ac­tu­ally, the bane spawned within.

Prof Yasir Qadhi said dur­ing a lec­ture that the last few Turk­ish sul­tans of the Ot­toman Em­pire that ruled the mod­ern-day Ara­bian Gulf, Egypt, Syria and all its neigh­bors, had a special un­der­stand­ing of Is­lam that was un­for­tu­nate. The em­pire ini­ti­ated a law call­ing to ex­e­cute any Mus­lim cit­i­zen who read, ob­tained, bought or sold or even asked for any sheet of printed pa­per. Be­ing the jug­ger­naut it was, the Ot­toman Em­pire crushed the Arab’s quest for knowl­edge due to its ex­trem­ism.

This might an­swer why our Mus­lim ver­sions of Edi­son and Ein­stein were mostly fig­ures who had their sparks dur­ing the var­i­ous caliphates or Is­lamic dy­nas­ties. Some his­tor­i­cal re­sources men­tion chemists and physi­cians in the first 100 years of the 500 years-plus era of the Ot­toman Em­pire. But why did a Mus­lim gov­ern­ment fight knowl­edge so vi­ciously, even though Is­lam as a faith teaches that Al­lah is wor­shiped via the seek­ing of knowl­edge?

Ev­ery Mus­lim sul­tan had his team of muftis schol­ars of Is­lamic rul­ings - who had the sole pur­pose of mak­ing the Is­lamic states move in ac­cor­dance to Is­lamic rules and reg­u­la­tions as much as pos­si­ble. When Guten­berg per­fected a new method of print­ing that was a lo­gis­ti­cal and ed­u­ca­tional dream, ev­ery­one in Europe be­came a reader or an in­spired writer. Fear­ing that the masses will be led astray, and out of ex­ag­ger­ated re­spect to the Ara­bic lan­guage that is con­sid­ered holy, the “fatwa” team of the Turk­ish Sul­tan Bayazeed pressed his high­ness to take a firm stand against this kind of nov­elty and not fall un­der the say­ing: “Who­ever has his book as his sheikh will make plenty of mis­takes.” In their logic, the spread of any ide­o­log­i­cally can­cer­ous book might cause mas­sive blas­phemy among the Mus­lims.

In the pre-Guten­berg era, the Euro­pean world and the Is­lamic world were like China and the US in their tech­no­log­i­cal and ed­u­ca­tional race - how­ever, after the crip­pling of our mind’s growth by the mis­de­meanor of our own Mus­lim broth­ers for years, the West sprung ahead in un­prece­dented leaps. Need­less to say, even be­fore the first month of the Ot­toman Em­pire’s demise, the en­tire Mid­dle East was in­vaded by ad­vanced Euro­pean na­tions who were light years ahead. But all th­ese el­e­ments have faded away and the trauma is evap­o­rat­ing, to leave us in this perfect tim­ing for an Ara­bian re­nais­sance!

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