WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 29th 1958
Source: Speeches, I, pp. 53-58
Mr Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen
I would like to begin by expressing my very real appreciation of the honour you have shown me by inviting me to address you here this afternoon.
My grandfather often used to speak of the occasions when he addressed this distinguished and learned audience -- occasions which always stimulated and pleased him. It is with some trepidation that I stand in his place today for he had a fund of knowledge and experience of world affairs to which, for obvious reasons, I cannot hope to aspire. When I was invited to speak to you, your Chairman was kind enough to say that I could speak on whatever subject I pleased.
It seems to me that having just completed a very comprehensive and very concentrated tour of my community in East Africa, you might be interested to hear my impressions of the progress and problems of Islam in this important corner of that vast and turbulent continent. My tour covered the greater part of the three territories of Kenya, Uganda and Tanganyika, as well as the Protectorate of Zanzibar. In fifty-four days we travelled 15000 miles, mainly by air, and visited all the principal centres of population and some that scarcely seemed to be populated at all. For those who are interested in statistics of this kind I might add that this somewhat strenuous itinerary cost me eighteen pounds in weight!
I will not attempt to give you a detailed survey of the origins of Islam in East Africa. Historically, the Muslims in this part of the continent did not experience a political or cultural development at all, comparative to other parts of Islam. None of us can forget the glory of the Umayyad and Abbasid times. In very general terms, it can be said that the religion was brought in by Arab traders to Zanzibar and along the coast. Today, roughly half the population of Tanganyika is Muslim, rather more than a quarter in Uganda and a slightly smaller percentage in Kenya. Zanzibar, under the kindly and beneficent rule of the Sultan, is for all practical purposes an Islamic state. During the period of British and German colonization, towards the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, the Muslim communities experienced a period of relative stagnation. The early gains, which had been impressive, were not lost. But equally, no further progress was made at a time when others were developing with extraordinary rapidity. This applied specially in the sphere of education and commerce.
In all that I shall be saying, you must bear in mind the fact that, in East Africa, Islam has made converts amongst three entirely different races: African, Indian and Arab. In a continent torn by racial rivalry, Islam was thus bound to meet with serious obstacles. The very universality of our faith won adherence among all races, but their political hatred of each other prevented them, until quite recently, from joining together in promoting their common creed. Any kind of social or economical cooperation was almost impossible. For a generation at least, all developments in East Africa had been community developments; each community trying to secure as large a share it could of government financial support. In such conditions it was not surprising that the united Muslim movement failed to develop. At any rate, whatever the explanation may be, during the height of this colonial period, our communities did no more than to mark time.
The revivalist movements of pan-Arabism and pan-Islamism made virtually no impact upon East Africa. Very few of the Muslim leaders there were willing to look ahead in terms of planning the future for their own people. It is only very recently, particularly during the last eight or ten years, that the picture has begun to change. I think I may say without immodesty that one of the big influences in this revival of Islamic subconsciousness was the work of my grandfather. Along with other more enlightened Muslim leaders he had witnessed and understood the rapid progress made in the field of education and industry by the non-Muslim communities. These leaders realised that Islam was in danger of suffocation through the twin pressure of tradition and inertia and determined that something should be done.
Thus were formed the Muslim Welfare Society and the Muslim Association of East Africa. These organisations embraced all four of the East African territories and even more important, they provided a link between the three principal races concerned. Between them they catered for a large percentage of the health, religious, educational and political needs of the Muslims. For the first time, Indians, Africans and Arabs began to work together for the common cause of Islam. The effect has been dramatic. Large numbers of schools and mosques have been built and new ones are completed every year. Some progress has been made, though there remains a serious weakness in the recruiting of qualified teachers.
The problems facing Muslims in East Africa today are not far different from elsewhere. The same problems confront this country. Here, with the goodwill and active cooperation of your own government, you have already made great headway and you have had something positive to guide you. This lead has tried to preserve the faith, to guide the people and, in general terms, to force the nation to work on modern progressive lines without abandoning Muslim traditions and beliefs. In Africa, inevitably progress is much slower. Government support for education in the Muslim schools, for example, is by no means automatic. Higher standards have to be reached before they can qualify for official recognition and financial support. This can only be achieved if there is an overriding will to modernise the whole approach of Islamic teaching and attitude to our way of life. Again, though the lead to modernisation of religious teaching is often resisted and even resented, the fact remains that the direction has been given to you. In East Africa no such guidance has been forthcoming. It is only when this lead is given that the reforming spirit, which is at work among the younger generations of Muslims today, can find a constructive outlet. Then ijma' will play its proper role and if the social scientists are correct in saying that public opinion is generally conservative, then we need not fear of going too far.
It is in this respect that I am certain that Pakistan has a mighty and an important role. Here for the first time is a modern state which owes its origin to and whose very existence depends upon the faith that unites its people. Pakistan is a young nation and the essence of a healthy youth is a willingness to accept and promote change. The fatal thing for this country would be to assume, having achieved political independence, that everything else will follow. It will not. To hold its own in the modern world, to come to terms with the highest and the latest developments in science and technology, a radically new approach will be needed. If Islam aspires, as I believe she must, to recapture the glories of the past, she must be ready to adapt -- I do not say abandon -- her own traditions to the entirely different circumstances of today. If we fail to do this, not only shall we fail to progress ourselves, but the younger generation will become disillusioned and fall prey to alien and materialistic creeds, which have nothing whatever in common with Islam.
The Muslims in East Africa have to face somewhat the same problems as you. But in much more difficult circumstances. They face industrialism and large scale economic concerns, just as you do. But they have a lot fewer guides to help them over these hurdles. For the moment the lead cannot come from them, as I have explained. So it must come from somewhere else. Why not from here.
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