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Saturday, 13 October, 2007

Qur'an's Recitation and Memorization Competitions...!

By: Ghoma

        As the tragedy in Iraq drags on, as the turmoil keeps stretching further and further into 'God's hanging spots', as the ruling claques' succumbing reaches levels beyond shame and embarrassment, the West's persistent aggressive policies keep threatening to widen the conflict to engulf the few left out simmering spots of discontent. Amid all this what the emasculated statelets of the area are doing? Busy holding Qur'an's Recitation and Memorization (by heart) Competitions! It seems the urge -or desperateness to do something to justify their existence! of the Neocolonial states, increases in direct proportions to the size (of the stick) and the volume of the threat directed at them. Just notice how many, in an Arab state after another, Qur'an Recitations and Memorization Competitions, were held this Ramadan! In almost each one of the Arabian fiefdoms there's one contest or another with substantial prizes -we're dealing with big money, the equivalent to the income from good many years of work. What's going on? Why the least of all legitimate states on earth are exhibiting so much religiosity? What's behind the sponsorships to "God's Words" and the dedication of substantial amounts of resources, energy, and time to such an endeavor? Is it piety and piousness? Or, is it hypocrisy in its lowest and meanest manifestations? Ain't this equivalent to what awhile ago Mary Antoinette allegedly had said, "Let 'em eat cakes!" Today's dictators: "Give 'em what they want," type of patronizing?

        As the Jihadists' threaten to intensify the fight, the more the neo-colonial states are bending further to accommodate their de facto, if not de jure, agendas. To the extent that Religion has become the only game-in-town in these godforsaken lands! Religion and religiosity, it's true, have deep roots in the area, but they're becoming more and more the only reasons and justifications for both the individual and the state. There's nothing else! It seems everything else is mere smokescreens for more Religion. In a demanding Faith, such as Islam is, where, on average, more than one-fifth of one's life is required to 'fulfill one's obligations towards God', the state has always been aware that it couldn't do without being at the center of action. Thus, the state is the de facto guardian of the Faith. It dedicates good amounts of attention and resources -managing religious institutions, enforcing religion's dictates and edicts, etc. The state is no altruistic beast, the whole flak is done to ward off danger and to preempt any trend particularly when fundamentalism gets some traction, and the state automatically becomes fundamentalist.

        States, both in their organic and inorganic forms, the legitimate and democratic ones, as in the Western world, and the illegitimate and dictatorial as in the devastated swaths of good parts of the 3rd-World, have some traits in common. They both sensitive to social trends, though for different reasons and purposes. The organic form to win elections and the inorganic -the neocolonial, to prevent and to suppress any dissent. The organic conducts this through regular consultations (elections) and continuous social monitoring (polls), while the neocolonial uses its police power to control. Some of the tools the neocolonial state uses are not necessarily new or violent. As championing tradition and vouching for the Faith, for instance. More than any other form of state, the dictatorship, is prune to stick to traditions, to old values, and to God's dictates -since these are not always clear about anything nor inj general are inimical to dictatorship in addition to being malleable enough to be stretched to imaginable and unimaginable extents.

        Here we're at the threshold of the 21st century, the age of instant communication, globalization, and self gratification. As the world keeps shrinking and humans keep expanding their freedoms, horizons, and needs, as the Arabian wold keeps living in medieval mind set. The hitch here is Arabs have still to make their peace with the past, its ways and habits. They've to come to terms with the modern world and its ways. Their needs and expectations are far from their means to achieve them.

        The disenchantment with the old world and its ways had taken few centuries to part with. Wars, turmoils, and revolutionaries had marked such a process. Until Post-industrial, post-Christian, Post-modern conditions have swept good part of the developed world. On the other side and by contrast, Arabs have missed such a historical phases. They still live in world as strange to them as them to the world around them. They still insist their ways and means are the best to do good by the world, and thus are moving quite in the opposite direction from that of the rest of the world. The more the world gets smarter and richer, the more Arabs get dumber and poorer. The more the world gets more secular, scientific and technological, the more Arabs ignore it and turn further towards religion. Et cetera.

        To tie the bits and pieces together, the state's priorities, as the only elephant in the room, have direct impact on its actions and on its population's priorities and energies as well. In a place like the Libyan where the state depends almost 100%, for everything, even for cleaning its toilets and sweeping its cities' streets, on outsides contractors' help and expertise, still finds time and deems it important to reward and encourage the young to spend their time memorizing something they can just read and will do the job as well. It'd have been more understandable, and tolerable, if these competitions were held as part of whole lot of other contest, in a general campaign to encourage knowledge in general and science and technology in particular. It would have sent a signal to its population and to the rising generation of what the priorities are and what the country needs to concentrate on. In order to lay the grounds for solving present problems and expected future challenges, locally, that's by themselves, and not wait for some foreign to come and solve it for them.

        If it's true the essence of religion, and prayers in particular, is contemplation, then knowledge and the strive (jihad) to understand Nature and to defeat its negative sides must be considered the apex of meditations. The main question becomes: Why memorize, by heart, a book which had been already written millennia ago and is available , cheaply, a galore? Why encourage kids to spend a year or two learning it by heart and then to spend the rest of their lives trying not to forget it? What kind of Imams (leaders) and sheikhs (wisemen/women) such a process will produce? What such acts mean? In terms of social priorities -allocating resources- and what their implications for education in general? And, Wouldn't such contests and competitions only edge further people toward more religiosity and signal to the rising generations the value of rote learning and memorization by heart?


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