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13 Apr. 2012

Allah (swt) said: “If your Lord has pleased, He would have made all people a single community, but they continue to have their differences-except those on whom your Lord has mercy- for He created them to be this way.” (Hud: 118-119)

 

The above ayat tells us that diversity amongst humanity is part of the divine will and plan. It is only with diversity that different faiths, race, languages and civilizations may exist.

Islam views this diversity amongst humankind as something positive; it is a way for humans to learn about each other and themselves. Allah (swt) said:” O people! We created you all from a single man and a single woman, and made you into races and tribes so that you should recognize one another.” (Al-Hujurat: 13) 

Islam strongly encourages openness in seeking knowledge. Thus, the Muslim community should open to all sources of knowledge without dismissing any potentially useful knowledge, merely because it does not originate from Muslims, or is taught by non-Muslims. There are no distinctions when it comes to knowledge. In a narration, the Muslim community is told to “Seek knowledge even from China.” 

As shown in Islamic history, Muslims learnt new technologies from civilizations as far away as China in the 8th century. Knowledge and technical expertise, such as printing technology, helped the Muslim community to disseminate important works by Muslim writers. 

The Caliph Umar ibn Al-Khattab (ra) imported the Persian system of governance (dawawin), and adapted it to the need of his caliphate. He divided the administration into various ministries (diwan) such as bait al-mal (treasury), defense, etc. In that way he creatively introduced a new system of administration. The bait al-mal exemplifies this synthesis adapting the need to disburse communal funds Islamically to an efficient system of disbursement. In doing so, he created a system of government that was more efficient and relevant to the need of the people at the time. In being open to new ideas and new ways to govern, the Caliph succeeded in meeting the needs of his people. 

It is imperative that Muslims study the rich heritage of Islam, and, at the same time, study other civilizations. To achieve an understanding of both, Muslims need to be confident of their religious identities, as such confidence will enable them to interact and work at ease with other communities. With a positive attitude towards knowledge and learning, we can develop our community while building bridges with others. 

Linguistic proficiency is an important skill needed in developing an open attitude towards knowledge. Language is the gateway to knowledge, especially of a community and its culture. Such is the importance of learning other languages that Muslim scholars had learnt Greek in order to access their philosophy, sciences and the humanities. 

The drive to learn other languages in order to learn from other culture have brought the Muslims to its golden age. This generation needs to adopt the same spirit to build a community of excellence. In addition, having a varied linguistic repertoire would enable a Muslim community to meet modern day challenges, especially when interacting with people of other background. 

The Muslim community needs to have the self-confidence to interact and learn from other culture. It is only through interaction and learning that they can be more mature and far-sighted in analyzing and addressing modern challenges. 

Appreciating other cultures will allow the Muslim community to forge better mutual understanding and cooperation, and broaden the basis for respect and tolerance with other communities. Most importantly, building bridges between Muslim and non-Muslim communities will only help the community and nation to progress. 

Appreciating other cultures and civilizations will also encourage critical and creative thinking within the Muslim community. With a critical and creative mind, the community will be better prepared to become active contributors, rather than remaining as onlookers to world events. 

(Prepared by Abdul Muhaemin Karim)