I was reflecting recently on the events of the Iraq War. I thought about the damage done to peoples lives: the civilian casualties, the destroyed infrastructure, the psychological trauma and so on. I remembered the number of Mosques that had been destroyed after standing for hundreds of years and the archeological treasures of ancient Babylon that were damaged by US troops.
My mind wondered to the thousands of years old debate from ancient India about who was more important in society and more powerful: the Ruling Class or the Sages/Scholars and Priests. In ancient Judea, Saul was crowned King and led the Children of Israel, but Samuel was known as the ‘King Maker’. Who was more important? the Prophet Samuel or the King Saul?
Mohammed (peace be upon him), the prophet of Islam was reported to have said,
“There are some people who are in charge of the affairs of the people in society; these are the rulers. There are other people who are in charge of the rulers; these are the scholars.”
I had always found it difficult to decide what career to follow when I was a teenager. God had blessed me with talent in Art, Mathematics as well as in English. This made it difficult for me to specialise in any field and I continued to study a mixture of subjects even being unable to decide on a single subject at degree level. I was glad that some universities offered combined honours and joint honours courses with some universities like Oxford, Cambridge and Canterbury offering degrees in three subjects (e.g. PPP and PPE).
We live in a world dominated by entertainment and shallow material values where those with the most strength, wealth and outward good looks are valued over those who think more deeply and work hard for the benefit of others. My own thoughts and the values of the society I was surrounded by were in conflict for a long time so that I could not decide what field or what type of work is best for me until my own youth had slipped away from me. After pursuing work in business, technical and political fields trying to reconcile multiple motivations and objectives, I finally settled on teaching as my chosen career.
My decision was confirmed by my enjoyment of my work and the happiness I felt from seeing the growth and improvement in my students. Recently, I came across a quote in Michael Hart’s book ‘The One Hundred:..’ taken from an older book written in the middle ages. This quote soothed my heart and helped me make sense of the troubles and struggles I had been through and that I had observed around me in the last twenty years. I would like to share this in the hope that others may benefit from this beautiful quote from the scientist Francis Bacon:
“We see, then, how far the monuments of wit and learning are more durable than the monuments of power or of the hands. For have not the verses of Homer continued twenty five hundred years or more, without the loss of a syllable or letter; during which time infinite palaces, temples, castles, cities, have been decayed and demolished?”
Francis Bacon, in ‘The Advancement of Learning’ 1605.
I hope the next generation will engage in more deep learning and more polite debate about what they disagree upon than we see our politicians doing around the world today. I hope the youth will better balance their learning, play and amusement, work to earn food and rent and work to help others in greater need so we can build a better world together. I also hope that our leaders will make this easy for the young, choosing to cooperate in good deeds and put the attainment of everyone’s basic needs before the building of personal castles. The scholars of the past have left us much good advice in how to do this; we need to pay heed. The scholars of tomorrow need to work hard to bring alive the good words of the scholars of the past and make it relevant and easy to understand for our children tomorrow.
Mohammed Mominur Rahman