Universities

Universities

By Dr Farrukh Saleem

Al Azhar Mosque was founded on the 14th day of Ramadan the year 359 H or 971 AD (after the name of Sayeda Fatima Al-Zahra). In 975 AD, Chief Justice Abdul Hasan Al-No’man of the Fatimid Caliphate gave his first lecture on Shiite Jurisprudence (the ruling elite of the Fatimid Caliphate belonged to the Ismaili branch of Sh’ism). So began Al Azhar University.

Al Azhar, 1,031 years old, is now the oldest operating university on the face of the planet. Question: How many universities have we built over the past 1,031 years?

In my part of the world, ‘The Great Mughal Empire’ began in 1526 AD and lasted for 181 years. Hamida Banu Begum, Emperor Nasiruddin Humayun’s widow, spent 8 years building Humayun’s tomb. Emperor Jalaluddin Akbar built Fatehpur Sikri, a walled capital encompassing palaces for each of Akbar’s senior queens. Emperor Jehangir built Hiran Minar in memory of his favourite antelope. Emperor Shahbuddin Mohammed Shah Jahan had 22,000 workers spend 23 years building a mausoleum for Arjumand Bano Begum (like his predecessors Shah Jahan’s court included a hundred wives, concubines and dancing girls). Arjumand was Shah Jahan’s favourite wife.

Taj Mahal, in essence, represents two things: First, the Mughal era’s artistic achievement and, second, Mughal Empire’s financial bankruptcy because of indulging in outrageously expensive buildings just when resources were shrinking (by the time Aurangzeb took over the Empire was heavily taxed and financially insolvent).

One hundred and eighty-one long years, not a single university. Did the Americans stop the Mughals from building universities?

Next. The Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC), dedicated “to serving the interests of the world’s 1.4 billion Muslims”, has 57 Member States. Afghanistan, Algeria, Chad, Egypt, Guinea, Indonesia, Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Pakistan, Palestine, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Sudan, Somalia, Tunisia, Turkey, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Syria, U.A.E., Sierra Leone, Bangladesh, Gabon, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Uganda, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Comoros, Iraq, Maldives, Djibouti, Benin, Brunei, Nigeria, Azerbaijan, Albania, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Mozambique, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Suriname, Togo, Guyana and Cote d’Ivoire all put together have less than 600 universities; a university for every 2 million Muslims. Israel has 25 institutes of higher learning for a total of 6.3 million Israelis; a university for every 250,000.

Of the 600 universities how many have produced a Nobel Laureate? Answer: Ahmed Zewail (1999 Nobel Prize in Chemistry) received his first degree from University of Alexandria but his Nobel Prize-winning work was done at the California Institute of Technology. Second, Abdus Salam (1979 Noble Prize in Physics) received his M A from Government College, University of the Punjab, but pursued his scientific work in Italy and the UK.

Of the 600 universities is there one — just one — responsible for a major technological breakthrough? The House of Saud, for instance, has taken in over a trillion US dollars. What have they to show for it? Has any one of their universities produced a medical breakthrough? Have the Israelis kept our universities from producing a major scientific or technological breakthrough?

When we were busy building palaces for Akbar’s senior queens, they were busy granting incorporation to the University of Oxford. When we were busy building for Jehangir’s favourite antelope, they were busy laying the foundation of Puteano College at the University of Pisa. When we were busy building a mausoleum for Shah Jahan’s favourite wife, they were busy establishing Harvard College (Harvard’s faculty has produced over 40 Nobel laureates). By the time we were finished with Mumtaz Mahal’s memory they had put up some four-dozen universities.

Look what we have done to Al Azhar. Government control over syllabus and the politics involved in the appointment of professors is dragging the oldest operating university down the drain.

9/11 can’t turn us into winners. Universities can.

The News International:  http://www.thenews.com.pk/

Wed 4 Oct 2006?

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