There is metaphysical value attached to the human quest for the eternal past. The permanent eternal with no expectation of intrinsic or extrinsic change. Neither Hegelian dialectical idealism nor Marxists dialectical materialism with its historical determinism could give answers to why human spirit, with all the paradises in his present, prefers to go back to past for seeking solutions to his problems. In spite of many unbroken series of changes in social, political and technological improvements, there are people who still think past is more benevolent than the malevolent present.
Why Man still romances the drawings of Da Vinci, enjoys the poems of Homer, uses the logic of Aristotle, studies the philosophy of Socrates, reads the History of Herodotus and ponders over the mysticism of Rumi? Why Man prefers to go back, praising the romantic poems of Shakespeare while ignoring the higher poetry of Muhammad Iqbal? Though aesthetics, as it is said in Philosophy, is relative like the relativistic nature of evil, but there is one thing that we all admire. It is an inner spiritual attachment to the past. We work tirelessly to make past infallible and the present as filthy. If not for the many trophies that Messi (or let’s say Ronaldo) bagged, he would have fall prey of the past predators like Pele and Maradona. Forgive my poor analogy, football fans.
The above statement is not about scientific progress nor technological advancement. Technological innovations and new methods of learning depend entirely on the present not the past. Though, as Issac Newton would say, one has to stand on the shoulders of giants to see the widest horizon, but the giants are just foundational stones upon which structures stand, not the entire building. When it comes to education, we can not move forward with our hands firmly gripped to the past. Civilisation is an evolving process and it depends on the level of our knowledge in toto. What do we know? Where can we know? How far may we know? How can we apply what we know? In short, the entire civilisation of every nation is an offshoot of its epistemology.
Traditional society forms the basic core of Muslim world. The lives of Muslims are between the dichotomy of past and present. The education of the traditionalists is about living in the present and always going back to the past for everything. A system that Ibn Khaldun cursed in his magnum opus, Muqaddima (Prolegomena). By the way, Islamic education, as Prof. Naquib Attas pointed, is not about going back to the past to seek everything. It is an education which trains the sensibility of students in a way that their actions and decisions will reflect the ideals of Islam while approaching the changing and evolving civilisation. Unfortunately, neither conservatives nor liberalists ever tried to develop a common system like that where a common system integrating traditionalists and modernists views could be found.
Where are we now? What are we doing? Where is our stand among other people living on earth? What is the level of our intellectual pursuits? Where are we heading? These questions are very important if we want know whether what we are doing, as Muslims, Northerners and Nigerians, is yielding fruitful results. The question of going back to the past to solve the problems of present is total intellectual laziness accompanied by societal dilemma. So many people are calling for something similar to European renaissance in Muslim countries. But there will be no innovation in the society that is not ready to move forward nor is it ready to challenge the tyranny of the given. We need total reform both spiritually and materially. Our education should be a system which will produce a new generation of young people who will not lose their traditions and, at the same time, will not be intellectually retarded in such a way that they would be unaware of developments in any branch of secular knowledge. The intellectual vacuum created by the separation of traditions with modernism should be filled. The heart of Islamic response to the modern world consists of the religious, spiritual and intellectual aspects of human beings. Islamically, it is irrational to separate intellectual aspect from spiritual and religious aspects of Man.