I am going on a long journey and want to remind
myself and you of the three critical lessons that I learnt from my life. I call
them my Three Fundamental Laws. I hope they will help you as they helped me all
No. 1: Be Number One
Not Number Two. Number One. I can’t do better than to quote the best speech that I have ever heard in this context; “What it takes to be Number One”, by Vince Lombardi of Green Bay Packers. I quote selectively from his speech, “Winning is not a sometime thing; it’s an all the time thing. You don’t win once in a while; you don’t do things right once in a while; you do them right all of the time. Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing. And in truth, I’ve never known a man worth his salt who in the long run, deep down in his heart, didn’t appreciate the grind, the discipline. I firmly believe that any man’s finest hour — his greatest fulfillment to all he holds dear — is that moment when he has worked his heart out in a good cause and lies exhausted on the field of battle – victorious.” – Coach Vincent T. Lombardi
Being Number One starts with the desire to be Number One. A burning passion that will not be quelled. It is
not liking, it is not an interest, it is not a preference. It is total and
complete passion. The single biggest and most critical
requirement of success is the desire to be the best. No matter what you may do
– if you want to succeed, you need to be passionate about what you do and want
to be the best at it. This is something that I have been aware of all my life.
I always wanted to be the best at whatever I did.
This comes from an underlying drive. To be the best.
To stand out. Never to blend in. To create standards that others can aspire to.
This is what has always driven me. It is something that comes from inside you. It
has nothing to do with anyone else, human or circumstance, driving you from outside.
This is the fire in the belly that people talk about. I have been conscious of
this from my earliest childhood. I always wanted to do what nobody else would
is what passion is all about.
people say, “We must teach our children how to fail.” I say that is the most stupid
statement ever made. Or, since so much of stupidity is spoken today, that is
one of the most stupid statements ever made. Teach them how to fail? Who would want
to teach his child how to fail? Teach them how not to fail. Teach them what to
do with failure, if they fail despite their best effort. Teach them to treat
failure like a college year. Take ownership for their failure instead of
blaming others, face the brutal facts instead of being in denial, recognize what
caused them to fail and chart out a new strategy of success, instead of falling
into depression. That is what you teach. Not ‘how to fail’, for God’s sake!! Get
is mediocrity that one must fear. Not failure. Failure is a kick in the
backside. Eminently beneficial and most necessary from time to time even for
the best of us. Nothing beats a kick in the backside to wake you up. There is
an Arab saying, ‘The blow that doesn’t break your back only makes you stronger.’
The failure that doesn’t annihilate you (I have yet to see one that does), only
makes you stronger and wiser. But what we must fear, what must terrify us, is
mediocrity. That is because it masquerades as success. It is insidious, it is
tempting, it is seductive. It tells you to believe that good enough is good
enough; even when you know that good enough is never good enough. You learn
this lesson most effectively in the wild places on this earth.
you ever seen a Langur sentinel? Or a Bar-headed Goose sentinel? All around it
are feasting, there is no sign of danger, but the sentinel never relaxes. It doesn’t
feed even though it is starving. It doesn’t feed when others are eating up all the
food. It knows that it is precisely when everything seems completely safe, that
the greatest danger lurks. When there is no sign of approaching danger, it only
means that the leopard’s camouflage is particularly effective and so the
sentinel must peel his eyes even more and be even more wary of danger. In the
wild you learn fast because the price of failure to learn is death. In our
offices, homes, schools, parliaments, governments and industry, we are lulled
into complacency. Since we don’t face physical death, we relax. We are surrounded
by those who will sympathize with us and tell us that we must have time to
relax, to ‘enjoy’ life, to be ‘free from stress’. And we believe them. The
result is mediocrity. I repeat myself, ‘Fear mediocrity because it pretends to
be excellence.’ It isn’t. It is the worst failure because it will keep you
sedated, intoxicated and comfortable until the end when you realize what you
have done with your life but then it will be too late to change. For the
passionate person, his passion is fun, relaxation and enjoyment. It excites him
so he is never stressed because of it. The passionate person doesn’t have a
bumper sticker saying, ‘I would rather be golfing.’ Passionate people would
never rather be doing anything other than their passion. They love what they do,
and they love doing it.
the ‘Parable of the Boiled Frog’.
a frog and put it into a pot of hot water. What will it do? It will leap out.
But take the same frog and put it into a pot of water at room temperature. Then
when the frog has settled down, light a fire under the pot and gently heat the
pot. As the water gets gradually hotter, the frog gets used to it. Frogs are
cold blooded animals. So, as the water gets hotter, the frog’s muscles relax,
it gets somnolent and flaccid. Until the time comes when the water is now
dangerously hot. The frog realizes that it is cooking, but by then its ability
to react is finished. Though it knows that it is doomed, it can’t do anything to
avert the doom. What killed the frog? Complacency, mediocrity, ‘good enough’. Beware
of mediocrity. Don’t listen to those who try to comfort you. Seek out those who
will tell you (if you don’t already know) the stark, hard and painful facts about
what you said or did or what you didn’t that led to your failure. They are your
friends. Your real friends. The pain you will feel, listening to them is the pain
you feel in the gym pumping iron. But you still do it because you know that it is
making you stronger. Appreciate such people. Don’t argue with them. Don’t justify
your words or actions. Shut up and listen to them. Take in what they said and
change yourself. One day you will bless them. If not, one day you will curse yourself.
The choice is yours.
No. 2: Be Focused
Once again back to nature. See how an eagle hunts. See how a lioness locks onto her quarry in a huge herd of galloping Wildebeest. See how a leopard stalks his prey. One thing you will see in all of them is the ability to ignore fluff. An eagle that tries to catch two rabbits will lose both. The lioness doesn’t get distracted by the fact that there are many others like the one she locked on, just as juicy and tasty. But she ignores them all and focuses on the one she picked. She does that because she knows that if she loses that focus, she will lose her quarry and everything else also. She knows this because she learned that lesson in a very hard school. Only one in seven or eight of a lion’s hunts is successful. The rest of the time, she starves. Nothing like starvation to teach life lessons, to lions and humans.
Focus is the art of ignoring fluff. However, you
can’t have focus unless you know what you want. The lion focuses on the prey
which he first selects. The goal is clear and so he can focus. That is why you must
first clarify your goal. Write it out in one line. If it can’t be written in
one line, it is not clear. It must be written in one line and in language that
a ten-year-old can understand without explanation. That is the test of clarity.
Having written it, one more test to see if it is the right goal. And that is to
ask yourself, ‘What happens to me when I read my goal statement?’ Do you get
tears in your eyes? Does your heartbeat increase? Do you start breathing faster?
Remember, what can’t make you cry, can’t make you work. Your goal should be so
clear and so dear to you that you should taste it in your mouth, you should breathe
its fragrance, you should hear its call, you should dream its fulfillment and
you should consider anything at all that you do to achieve it, a privilege and
honor. Forget, delete, remove and eliminate the word ‘sacrifice’ from your
vocabulary. There is no such thing. Sacrifice is what happens when the chicken
dies for you to have Tandoori Chicken. Everything else has a return. The
clearer the return on your investment is to you, the happier you will be,
making that investment. So, replace sacrifice with investment. And then invest
in yourself. Invest in your goal.
Focus also means making choices, sometimes very painfully.
When I started my training and consulting business in Bangalore in 1994, there
were two major choices before me. I could be in training and/or recruitment
(called rather appropriately, head-hunting). I could have been in both. Many
people advised me to do that, because recruitment was highly lucrative. But I
chose not to be in both. I chose training and in that, I chose leadership development.
The result was that I was seen as a highly trusted
‘friend’ and not a potential head-hunter. And I earned a name as an expert in
Leadership Development Training. So, whereas all recruitment consultants had a tough
time meeting CEOs and decision makers, I was invited to meet them, often to be
consulted on matters of their personal development. I became a defacto coach to
many promoters and CEOs for which I never charged a fee, but which paid off in
many other ways. More than anything else and most valuable was the fact that I was
seen as their mentor and got an insider’s view on entrepreneurial dilemmas and decision
making. Decades later that resulted in my books, ‘The Business of Family Business’ and ‘An Entrepreneur’s Diary’. This happened because I announced
openly that I was not in recruitment and even on the rare occasion that I
recommended a friend to another friend in another company, I never charged a
fee, which they would otherwise have paid to a recruitment consultant. That is
how I got a reputation that I was trustworthy and whereas head-hunters wouldn’t
be allowed past the reception area, I had total access to anyone I wanted.
Another thing that helped me to build a reputation
of trustworthiness was my commitment to integrity. For one thing I never used
copyrighted material without license. This was and continues to be a major problem
in India where people simply photocopy and use psychometric and other
instruments to avoid paying for them. Since they do it internally in their organizations
and with the collusion of whichever consultant is working for them, they get
away. I refused to do this, ever. One serious test of my commitment was when in
my early days, when I was struggling for business and needed the money, the HR
head of a major IT company invited me to design and conduct a leadership
training program for a very large number of their junior and middle managers. This
course included administering the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) to the
participants and helping them see how their preference affected their behavior
at work and elsewhere. GE had sent me for this certification to Otto Kroeger Associates,
in Fairfax, VA in 1995 and I was, at that time one of the very few Indian consultants
with this certification. The publishers of the instrument would sell the instrument
only to a registered analyst and so any client who wanted to use the instrument
had to go through a certified analyst. I was delighted as this job meant that I
would get some sorely needed cash as well as the fact that this assignment with
this major IT company would add value to my CV. I created the design and submitted
it to the Training Manager. She was very happy to see it. We had a very
positive discussion and the training dates were finalized. I was very poor and
hungry at the time. I desperately needed this business and was delighted and
most thankful that I had landed this contract.
Then two days before the course was due to be run,
she called me and said, ‘Yawar, could you please come and meet us?’ I agreed but
asked if there was any problem. This kind of call, so close to the training
program date usually means that there is some hitch. She said to me, ‘No,
nothing. Just a small matter which I hope we can sort out. It means no loss to
you and a saving for us.’ That sounded good and fair enough. So, I went to her
office the next morning. She said to me, ‘You know, this MBTI, if we buy the
instrument legally, it is very costly. So, why don’t you photocopy and use it
instead. It will save us money and you will not lose anything.’ I was shocked
more so because this company used to make a lot of noise about how committed to
integrity and honesty they were. But here was their Head of Training telling me
to cheat. She took my silence to be acquiescence and said, ‘Well, I am glad
that is settled. We can go ahead with the training. I will have all the
material photocopied and ready.’
I said to her, ‘I am sorry, the matter is not
settled. I don’t photocopy copyrighted material.’ She said, ‘This is a big
assignment for you, no? If you don’t do this, you will lose this business and
perhaps never work with us again. In any case everyone does it here. I don’t
know why you are making such an issue of it.’
I said, ‘Everyone is not my teacher. My integrity
is not for sale. I don’t steal. Photocopying copyrighted material is stealing.
Whether I get the business or not is immaterial. If I can’t do business
honestly, I prefer not to do business.’
‘Is that your final answer?’
‘Yes’, I said. ‘That is my final answer.’
She said, ‘I am sorry, then we can’t work with
you.’ And I went home, having lost one of the biggest assignments that I had
had at the time. But very happy about it.
Several decades later, the head of training of another
company told me, ‘I was talking to Mr. Ojha, who is the head of the company
that sells the MBTI instrument in India and mentioned to him that you are doing
it for us. I asked him if he needed your license number, which they normally ask
for before selling the instrument. He said to me, ‘Yawar Baig is a brand. We
don’t need anything if he is doing this for you. We know him and we know the
stand he takes on respecting copyright.’ That for me was a ‘payment beyond
price’. The price I paid for it all those years ago was a pittance compared
with the value of this unsolicited feedback from a client. All the result of focus.
In this case, the focus on what and even more on how. Believe me, dishonesty is
its own curse and punishment. Integrity is an absolute value. There are no
shades of it. You either have it or you don’t and if you don’t then nothing
else can compensate for it. Just as if you do, it adds brand value and inspires
client respect and loyalty.
No. 3: Quality
The last thing but by no means the least, is quality.
Doing something well, once can be an accident. A fortunate one but still an
accident. To do it well over and over is the meaning of quality. Expertise is
repeatability. That happens with thoughtful practice. Not just practice. But thoughtful
practice. Practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes permanent. Thoughtful practice
makes perfect. Think about what you are doing. Ask yourself why you are doing
it. Ask if there is a better way to do it. Don’t change the goal. That is the Core.
Unchangeable. Everything else is changeable and can and should be changed in order
to achieve the goal. Nothing must come in the way of achieving the goal. Not
tradition, not habit, not convenience, not expense, or trouble, or backbreaking
effort. Everything that is necessary to do to achieve the goal must be done. That
will happen only if you question why you are doing what you are doing and do it
thoughtfully. Not mechanically as a matter of habit. But consciously, thoughtfully
and deliberately. Not once, but over and over again.
There is an associated virtue with focus and quality
and that is discipline. Discipline is to do what needs to be done. Not only
what you like to do. Everyone must suffer two kinds of pain. The pain of
discipline or the pain of regret. It is our choice. When I started my
consulting practice in Bangalore in 1994, I realized that I was getting fat
thanks to my mostly sedentary work. I had left ten years in tea planting where
I walked at least ten to twelve kilometers every day. There was no chance of
doing that in Bangalore. So, I joined a gym. This was at a time when sometimes
I didn’t have money to pay my house rent until two days before the rent was due.
I had no savings, no extra cash. Yet I decided that physical fitness was important
enough to invest in the gym fee. Then came the other problem, time. On most
days, by the time I finished work, it would be past 6 pm. And by the time I got
home it would be dinner time. I changed dinner time. I said to myself that I would
eat dinner only after I finished my session in the gym. There were days when I
ate dinner at 11 pm, because that is when my gym session finished. But the
result was that I remained fit and had the energy to do my work very
satisfactorily. As I said, nothing is free. We are free to choose, but every
choice has a price.
I was very fortunate to be involved from its
inception, with GE’s 6 Sigma Quality effort which Jack Welch started in 1994. I
know that much water has flowed under the bridge and 6 Sigma is no longer the
buzzword in GE or elsewhere. But I am not selling 6 Sigma here. What I want to
share with you is what that taught me about quality. I learned that there are
two critical things that are intrinsic to any quality initiative. Measurement
and documentation. Without these two you can’t have quality. It is that simple.
In my business I defined my quality standard as
delivering on three parameters:
To be true to ourselves and serve our clients with
total uncompromising integrity, in all respects.
To constantly seek increase in our knowledge and
share it with all our constituents in the belief that knowledge increases with
To hold ourselves to the value that a client must
be responded to within 24 hours. (My internal measure for that was 8 hours, not
I have never regretted this. What this resulted in
was systematic measured professional development for myself, which I invested
time and money in, every year. I augmented that with writing a professional
journal which eventually yielded books on various topics. As on date, I have written
thirty-nine books (of which three are audio books) on a wide variety of topics,
which reflect my own varied interests in life. I believe I am among a very
small brotherhood of professionals who have written so many books on so many different
subjects. I have two podcasts which have a global footprint with downloads in
almost every country in the world except Greenland. This is the result of
As for measurement, as I mentioned I schedule a training
course or certification or some learning experience for myself, every year.
This involves expenditure of time, money and effort but one result of this is
that on the rare occasion when anyone says to me, ‘Your fee is more than that
of others. Can you reduce your fee?’ I say to them, ‘Here is what my personal
development log looks like over the past five years. Why don’t you look at the
log of whoever you are comparing me with?’ I never reduced my fee and I never
lost a client. People are willing to pay if you can show them value. But you
can’t show value if you don’t measure it and document the results.
The final point is the importance of speed of
response. Speed is a competitive advantage and I have always been conscious of
it and responded to clients, friends, associates, everyone, usually faster than
anyone else. I never ever needed reminders. I never fail to return a call. I am
never ever late for an appointment. These may seem like small things. But so is
taking a breath. Try doing without it.
To sum up, Passion, Focus and Quality. And in Quality,
Measurement and Documentation. These are the secrets of success. This is my
legacy to you. May you be blessed in it as I am.
“In order to change an existing paradigm, you do not struggle to try and change the problematic model. You create a new model and make the old one obsolete.” ~ R. Buckminster Fuller
The purpose of this article is to help the graduates of Madaaris (Ulama) to become relevant in modern society and to be able to provide positive leadership to their congregations.
I have tried to define the situation with Madrassa Education in India as I understand it and to propose a solution to the deficiencies and problems that it faces. That these deficiencies and problems are not necessarily recognized or likely to be accepted by those who run Madaaris is to be expected because the first reaction of the patient who is diagnosed with a terminal illness is denial. However, this ‘illness’ though terminal, if left unattended, is curable if addressed. The question is whether those who have the authority – Madrassa administrators and even more importantly, sponsors – are willing to address it and implement the cure. It is my job to share my thoughts. With that, I rest my case before Allahﷻ. For I will not be asked, ‘What did you know?’ I will be asked, ‘What did you do?’ That is what you, my dear reader, will also be asked.
About the issues with the quality of education in our Madrassas in India, I believe we need to look at the syllabus which is based on the Dars-eNizami. Dars-e-Nizami or its derivatives are taught in thousands of Madaaris worldwide which draw inspiration, instruction or follow the principles and values of Darul Uloom Deoband, arguably the most respected Madrassa in the subcontinent. I have quoted from Darul Uloom Deoband’s site because Deoband is the bastion of this syllabus and methodology. You can see what they themselves say about what the student gains after eight years of full-time residential ‘education’. (bold type below is mine).
“Its founder was Mulla Nizamuddin Sahalvi (d. 1748), who was contemporary of Hazrat Shah Waliullah. The curriculum known as “Dars-e Nizami”, which is current today in all the Arabic schools, is a relic from him. Adding something more to the syllabi of the third period, Mulla Nizamuddin prepared a new syllabus. The great peculiarity of this syllabus is that more attention has been paid in it to the creation of depth of insight and power of reading in the student, and although immediately after the completion of this course proficiency is not acquired in any particular subject, this much ability is surely created that, through one’s own independent reading and labor, one may acquire proficiency in any subject of one’s liking. The standard of Hadith and Tafsir in this course too is not much high, and of literature there is included no book at all.
Mulla Nizamuddin created what came to be called Dars-e-Nizami in the 1730’s, more than a century before 1857 and the establishment of British rule in India. He created the syllabus to enable Madrassa graduates to get government jobs in the Moghul administration. Since he was from Lucknow where the influence of Iran was very strong, his course gave far more importance to Ilm Kalam, Greek philosophy, logic (Mantiq), Farsi and not to the Qur’an, Hadith and Seerah. What is amazing is the sincerity with which our Madrassa authorities still cling to this totally outdated syllabus ignoring all the changes in time, space, political situation and realities of the modern world that have happened since the 1730’s. The result is that they are still producing graduates ideally suited to enter the service of a government that ceased to exist a century and a half ago.
I don’t think there is any doubt in the minds of anyone including those who graduate from Madaaris with at least some residual ability to think still intact, that there is a crying need for change. Not merely cosmetic or incremental change but a total transformation of the curriculum, syllabus and teaching methodology to ensure that those who graduate from there can enter society with confidence.
The reason this is even more important is because according to the Justice Sachar Committee Report (2005) http://bit.ly/2fmNJoY there are two million students in Madaaris in India. That is less than 2% of the population of Indian Muslims but it is significant because of the amount of money that is spent voluntarily on it by the community which the same Report defines as being economically speaking, the weakest in the nation. Yet the Indian Muslim community spends a colossal INR 24 billion (2400 crores) annually on sponsoring Madrassa education. I doubt if there is any other community of Indians who can match this contribution to national development.
I arrived at this figure by assuming a cost/student of INR 1000 per month per student. The actual cost is most likely to be double that or more as most Madaaris provide boarding, lodging and education, totally free. However, for our discussion the amount of INR 24 billion (2400 crores) is sufficient. It is my contention that anyone (person or group) that spends so much money must be concerned about the quality of the output for which the money is being spent. I believe that is where the problem starts because to the best of my knowledge there is no particular purpose or clear objective of Madrassa education.
No Madrassa teacher or director has ever been able to answer me clearly when I asked them to describe what their final product, the graduate of the Madrassa, was supposed to be. Educators teach what they have been mandated to teach according to the syllabus. Sponsors sponsor the education considering it to be a ‘good deed’ for which Allahﷻ will reward them. Students who come mostly from the poorest strata of Muslim society and their parents, have no voice at all in deciding what is taught, how it is taught or what the result is. The fact that the graduate is called A’alim is a bonus and he exists with a sense of position though without any skills to lead his life in society.
In brief this is what happens in Dars-e-Nizami. This is not a criticism of this work and may Allahﷻ grant the best reward to the its author. I am mentioning this to you so that you, who live in today’s world, can decide if it is enough as the fundamental education for young people and relevant in our 21st century world. I want you to see this also in the light of Islamic religious education and ask yourself if this is sufficient for someone who is going to emerge at the other end and be called A’alim.
Under Dars-e-Nizami curriculum:
Students only touch the Qur’an as the method is a ‘Dawrah’ (reading, not teaching). Tafsir-i-Jalalayn (which has fewer words than the Qur’an!) is followed and that is done for Barakah only. Usool-ul-Tafsir are not taught. Arabic, the language of the Qur’an and Sunnah, is not taught which means that students never get to touch the original revelation but must be content with the translation. Instead Arabic books are taught in Urdu (translations) and this is not considered either strange or wrong. The teachers themselves don’t know Arabic, so if one wanted to bring about a change, it would not be so easy as to simply tell teachers to teach in the original language of the book, which is Arabic. They can’t because they don’t know it themselves. Yet they are recruited, paid and teach.
Interestingly in every Western university where there is a Faulty of Islamic Studies, fluency in Arabic is a pre-requisite for being recruited as a teacher. Consequently, they have non-Muslim teachers who know Arabic and can quote the Qur’an and Hadith which our graduates from our Darul Ulooms and even their teachers, can’t. It is a matter of shame for us that Islam is the only religion which is taught by non-Muslims in many Western universities because all the Darul Ulooms of the Indian Subcontinent together, can’t produce enough graduates who are fit to be hired into a system that demands the knowledge of the language of the Qur’an to teach the Qur’an. The fact that they don’t know English either doesn’t help and non-Muslims teach Islam to Muslim students, understandably with their biases and prejudices.
The six books on Hadith are also taught in a similar fashion – as a ‘dawrah’ during the last year. Students gain neither knowledge nor understanding. The teacher simply reads, gives a short explanation and goes on to the next Hadith. There is no discussion, no question and answer, no reflection on the Asbaab (circumstances) of the Hadith, no comparison with what Rasoolullahﷺ taught in a given situation and how it compares and contrasts with what we are taught or what we do in our own lives. There is no time to contemplate on any Hadith and think about how to apply the teachings in current times.
History and Seerah are neither taught in detail nor to extract lessons. This is the strangest and most crippling deficiency because Allahﷻ ordered us to learn about the life of His Prophet, Muhammadﷺ and to emulate him and follow his way. If this is not even done in a religious school (Deeni Madrassa) then where will it be done?
There is a total lack of critical thinking for fear of raising questions or disagreeing with the established position of the ‘school’. In our Madaris we teach Madhab, not Islam. For example, in Hanafi Madaris like Deoband and others, a whole course is taught about the ‘mistakes’ of Imam Shafi in his extraction of rulings but no course on the Principles of Fiqh (Usool-ul-Fiqh), Manners of Disagreement (Adaab-ul-Ikhtilaaf) or Principles of Extraction of Rulings (Istambaad-ul-Ahkaam). The result is that instead of appreciating the different approaches of the Fiqhi scholars and Imams, students come out with the impression that one of them was ‘right’ and the others were ‘wrong’. And since they follow the ‘right’ one, they are superior to the other classical scholars who were ‘wrong’. This arrogance creates rigidity and is the root cause behind the inter-denominational hatred, divisiveness and violence. Acceptance of a point of view different from one’s own; accepting that someone else can also be correct, is not something that our Madaaris believe in, teach or practice.
Even this would have been acceptable if they had been open about it. They would still be wrong but at least honest. But instead, they publicly proclaim that all the four (Sunni) Imams of Fiqh are correct, but clandestinely and privately they condemn everyone other than Imam Abu Hanifa. They try to enforce Hanafiyat (‘Hanafeeism’ – my coinage) rather than Islam. This is hypocrisy at its worst.
One of the reasons why critical thinking and questioning is discouraged is that people consider the human understanding and interpretation of the revelation by their predecessors as ‘divine’. The opinions of their own scholars (called Akabireen; The Great Ones) are considered sacrosanct, unquestionable, irrefutable and good for all time. The reality is that only Qur’an and authentic Sunnah is divine. Rest of the sciences of religion are human understanding of the revelation and as such are bound to have differences. An interesting corollary is that there is no evidence that anyone who has been raised to this ‘divine’ status today, ever wanted this to be done or told anyone that he was infallible and must be obeyed without question. Yet this is done in their name today.
It’s noteworthy to mention that Imam Abu Hanifa’s main students (Imam Abu Yusuf and Imam Muhammad) differ from him in one-third of his madhab. It shows that he trained his students to think rather than copy him and if they differed from his opinion he didn’t throw them out of his class. But his way has been lost today.
Students in Madaris succeed because they focus on memory. Madrassas deliberately discourage, even punish, critical thinking. The most powerful way to do this is to make everything sacred and therefore unquestionable. There is no difference in approach to the Word of Allahﷻ, the teachings of His Messengerﷺ and the teachings of (especially and almost exclusively) the scholars of a particular Madhab. The word ‘Akabireen’ (Great Ones), is used exclusively for scholars of the Madhab only. No Deobandi – Hanafi means Iman Shafi, Imam Ahmad or Imam Malik when he says, ‘Akabireen’ with the appropriate intonation of respectful reference. He means not only Imam Abu Hanifa exclusively, but he means the Ustaadhs of Darul Uloom Deoband only. So, where is the question of questioning anything that was ruled by any of them when to do so would be to literally put your life and reputation on the line. “To question is not to deny” – is not something that our traditionalists believe in. Our way is to hear and obey, even though that is something that applies only to the Word and Orders of Allahﷻ Raising humans to a semi-divine status is always injurious to reason.
Since students don’t learn Arabic, which is the language of both Qur’an and Sunnah, they are not able to reach the source books and study them directly. They rely on translations which are bound to have their limitations. But this situation is not remedied. Instead it is accepted as inevitable, unchangeable and correct.
The teachings and rulings of Rasoolullahﷺ are treated as if coming from a ‘Mufti’ rather than from the Messenger of Allahﷺ. People don’t take guidance from the Qur’an and Sunnah. Instead they impose their own understanding from their culture, ideas, philosophy on the Qur’an and Sunnah. Instead of taking from the Qur’an & Sunnah, people start to give to Qur’an.
Finally, in what is, in reality, a basic primary to secondary or at the most, high school level course, nothing is taught of math or science, history (mentioned earlier) or geography. How someone who never learnt math can even be called ‘educated’ is beyond me, but that is what happens in our Madaris. Yet the student graduates from high school with the title, ‘A’alim’ and its attendant attitude.
Teaching methodology in Madaaris is totally defunct and completely free from all the latest developments in teaching technology and methods. Madrassa education in the Indian subcontinent is the only system in which teacher training is unheard of. So is understanding of child psychology, class plans, teacher assessment, standardized exams or any of the teaching aids that are commonplace in every other school. Just ask a normal Madrassa teacher about any of these things and you will see what I mean. Corporal punishment is normal and brutal.
Yet there seems to be no concern in our community and no anguish except in my heart. No effort to change anything because of our innate laziness and blind following of the ‘Ulama’. This elevation of status of ‘Ulama’ (Madrassa graduates) to a level of semi-divinity, is the masterstroke which the ‘Ulama’ have played which shuts down all legitimate criticism which could have resulted in improvement. Instead, anyone who dares to criticize with sincerity and concern is deemed a rebel with his status liable to be promoted to ‘apostate’, if he doesn’t cease and desist and refuses to toe the line.
For those sponsors of Madaaris reading this I would like to respectfully ask, ‘How many of you have taken the trouble to go and see what is taught and how, in the institutions you support? If you haven’t, then ask yourself, ‘Why not?’ How and why are you so disinterested in what you are sponsoring that you don’t take any trouble to ask what is taught, why it is taught, how it is taught and what is sought to be achieved because of the teaching. Do you have any idea what you want to achieve apart from getting Thawaab? I don’t think that anyone will differ about the need to have a clear focus on the purpose of Islamic education and to bring Islamic education on par with secular education in terms of teaching curricula and methods. Then why don’t you do it?
The present syllabus is totally inadequate both theologically and in a worldly sense. Add to that the fact that graduates come out with the title of A’alim and an inflated sense of their own importance combined with an inferiority complex. This happens when their Madrassa inflated egos meet the real world and realize their inadequacy. So, they go into a shell because they’re helpless and don’t know how to handle it. In short at the end of eight years of fulltime study the students of our Madaaris graduate with the title of A’alim but without proficiency in anything. You may ask how this is different in the case of a Matric student who also graduates without proficiency in anything. The answer is that he is not called an A’alim and passing Matric is not his final goal. He passed Matric as a step to enter a pre-university course from where he will enter university and go on to post graduate studies and so on. His self-concept and attitude are completely different, and society treats him accordingly.
The vast majority of those who graduate with the degree of A’alim however, go nowhere. They become Imams and spend the rest of their lives leading Salah in a masjid and start their own Madrassa or teach in another Madrassa albeit without any qualification to teach. That this is the result of 8 – 12 years of so-called education on which a colossal amount is spent by the community which can least afford this luxury, shows how little we care about our own community and its most critical asset; the youth and education.
Quality is the outcome of measurement
How can you have quality in a system where there are neither standards nor metrics? In India, you don’t need any accreditation or certification to start a Madrassa. There are no minimum standards for anything at all; infrastructure, teacher quality, teaching material or any of the normal standards that you would have to satisfy to be certified and permitted to start a basic elementary school. There are no metrics to measure anything in the Madrassa system, so how can you have quality which is the outcome of measurement? Teachers need no qualification to teach nor do they or you feel the need for this. Students come from the poorest and therefore the least powerful or vocal section of society. Students and their parents have low or no aspirations and no voice at all to implement any change, even if they knew what they wanted to be changed. The curriculum has no benchmark to compare with any curriculum today, is not comparable to any other educational system and to top it all is given the patina and glow of the sacred and holy which is meant to throttle any change initiative in the cradle.
To close the loop from where I started, the biggest hurdle to change in the existing Madrassa education system is the fear that any mention of change inspires in those who own and run it. That is entirely understandable because for one thing; the Madaaris are the means of their own livelihood. For another, change in the way that is needed is not merely incremental, evolutionary or cosmetic but revolutionary, transformative and metamorphic. What is needed is a completely new system. Resistance arises from the real fear in the teachers and Madrassa owners of becoming redundant and thereby losing their livelihood. This is a real fear because expecting current teachers to learn a completely new body of knowledge and teaching methodology is unrealistic. Add to it the fact that included in the re-learning is to learn two new languages, Arabic and English, and the water gets even murkier. That is why I began with Buckminster Fuller’s quote. What is needed is to create a new model which will be proof of concept to inspire change and give people the reassurance that success always does. I remind myself of two things: people with limited resources must be very clear and selective about where to spend them to get the maximum benefit. And one day we will be questioned about what we did or failed to do by the One who knows and sees all.
All change must begin with clarifying the goal. Madrassa educators must arrive at a consensus on what they and their Madaris really are; basic primary and secondary schools or higher institutions of specialized theology? As it stands they are neither. Once that is settled, the rest can all be tailored, and standards defined accordingly. We must therefore begin with defining the goal; the end result that we would like to achieve. Once that is clear and agreed upon, one can work on the curriculum, syllabus, course material (books etc.), testing, teaching methodology, teaching tools and technology, infrastructure and teacher training.
Madrassa sponsors must articulate their vision for the training of Ulama. What do we expect them to achieve once they graduate? The goal of learning is something that is not even questioned in any other branch of education because it is clear from the beginning. You don’t need to ask someone running a medical college or a flying school or a Judo dojo or a dance academy, what they expect from the students who graduate. But with respect to our Madaaris and those who graduate from them and those who teach them, their purpose, their life goal, what they are aspiring to become and achieve are all enigmatic and mysterious. That is why there is low motivation which is sought to be countered by rote learning and brutal corporal punishment.
One final matter which all aspiring instigators of change need to keep in mind is that all this needs serious capital investment. Less than what we spend for ostentatious weddings but still significant. Without that we can’t hope to create the infrastructure, teacher training, curriculum development, courseware and myriad other things that are necessary to ensure that the new institutions can deliver the results we hope to achieve. This is also necessary to make Madaaris aspirational. To test if our Madaaris are aspirational (in case you have any doubts) ask one of your children if they would like to leave their school and join any Madrassa in India and you will have the answer. This must change. The image problem that Madaaris have reflects also on their graduates and explains the lack of respect that Madrassa graduates have in Muslim society.
The big question is, ‘How much longer do we want to continue with this?’ This question must be answered first and most importantly by those who fund Madrassas. It is they who must drive the change. It is they who will be questioned by Allahﷻ and recorded in history for what they did or failed to do. Change is the result of the actions of those who pay for it. It is time that we focused on what happens to our donations and seek to make that most beneficial for the community because it is only quality that pleases Allahﷻ.
What must be done?
I have tried to list some broad changes that need to be introduced urgently if we are interested in ensuring that our money is spent in a beneficial manner to achieve our aims of serving the needs of Islam and Muslims.
A Central Madrassa Board must be created to ensure the following:
All Madrassa teachers must be qualified to teach and have a degree in education
Infrastructure must conform to a standard and must be inspected periodically
Corporal punishment must be banned and severely punishable if practiced
Centralized curriculum, syllabus and examination system
Centralized management of funds by the Madrassa Board
Transparency in all matters and merit, the only consideration
I have not attempted to suggest a complete curriculum and syllabus for Madaaris because before anything can be suggested it is essential for the institutions to feel the need and to define their goal. Currently they don’t have any goal apart from getting donations. The fact that their graduates emerge in society, unfit and incapable of dealing with it, much less provide leadership, leaves them unmoved. Until that changes and until they feel the need to change, no change is possible.
Despite all of the above, if donors decide that it is time to question what happens to their donations and if they are getting value for them; and if they are willing to take the pain to bring about change, it can be done.
I believe it is essential to change ourselves before change is forced upon us from outside.
Right people add value. Possessions add cost, not value and always depreciate
Surround yourself with great people and value them. Tell them, show them, and do it often. Valuing is not simply patting backs or giving blue ribbons or bonus cheques. Valuing is to push them to do their best, refusing to accept poor work, asking questions that lead them to expand their own limits; pushing them to be the best that they can be.
Valuing is to be there for them when they need you, to do all this without any concern or thought about the returns because the effort is its own reward. As for other rewards, well do it and see.
Remember that your cell phone does not define you. Neither does your credit card, nor the seat you sit in the airplane. Your shirt, tie, underwear, handbag, shoes, or the car you drive (or are driven in) are all your possessions. You own them. You can give them away or throw them on the garbage heap. They are things, to be used for your convenience. They are not a ‘statement’ of who you are. Our commercial world is insane. Don’t fall into its trap.
Your character, manners, attitude, the smile on your face, the warmth of your handshake, the tears in your eyes, your knowledge and willingness to apply it to help others, your virtue, your wisdom, your piety, and the compassion you have for others – these are what define you.
You can’t buy these. You can’t sell these. These are not things to be used for your convenience. These are the things that make memories. They imprint themselves in the hearts of people in terms of how you used them and how they benefited those people.
They are what you will be remembered for; long after your car, cell phone, clothes, and possessions have all passed on either into the hands of your heirs or onto the garbage heap.
So remember, we define ourselves as we wish.
Disclaimer: The title is not mine but is a saying that I have always tried to live by.
One of the things that I have been very fond of, is trekking, especially climbing mountains. I have done a good bit of that in the Western Ghats in Southern India, climbing on one occasion through thick forest straight up the side of the mountain, 4500 feet. I went up to Singampatti from Kanyakumari. 4500 feet may not sound like much in itself, but put it on an almost vertical hillside, no clear pathway, the opportunity to descend without brakes at any time, thorn-bush, razor grass, hot, humid weather, nettles, cicadas buzzing in the heat…….all ad infinitum……and you have an entirely different perspective.
However one thing that I always looked forward to was to cross the half way, no return mark. At that point, you have not achieved the goal, you are exhausted, sweaty, irritated with yourself for having started this stupid enterprise and no way to go back, because it is even more difficult to descend a steep path than it is to ascend it. Yet when you sit for a while and take a drink of the by now tepid water that you are carrying, your second wind kicks in. Then you start up the hillside once again, looking forward to scaling the last height in due course. And then comes the moment … not too soon…but after some more hours of effort, but by now the altitude has cooled the heat, the forest is getting less thick and anticipation of success gives you the energy that you need.
Finally you reach the top. And what do you see? You see the land spread out before you as far as the eye can see. You see the glint of the ocean on the horizon. You see blue lakes and irrigation tanks, punctuating the patchwork quilt of innumerable shades of green, each a neat square that grows rice. You see the serpent eagle and his mate floating effortlessly on motionless out-spread wings riding the thermals. You can’t see the minute adjustment of their pinion feathers which guide their direction.
And on one occasion, as I stood watching all this, I looked up at the hillside behind me and I saw a leopard sitting on his haunches and watching me. We looked at each other for a while and then he decided I looked decidedly unappetizing and turned up his nose and walked away. I agreed with him and walked the 14 kilometers to habitation in the tea gardens which straddle this tail end of the Western Ghat mountain range with Madurai on one side and KanyaKumari on the other.
Why am I telling you this story?
I am telling you this story because as we work towards a great goal you will begin to become restless, irritated and impatient and inclined to take shortcuts and cut corners – all for the excellent reason that you want to see the project up and started as soon as possible. But in this urgency, there will be the tendency to accept compromises. I am writing this to warn you of the biggest danger to success. The C word. Compromise. For to compromise is to die a death without honor.
Those who have the courage to work for a great goal understand that ‘possible’ and ‘impossible’ are terms that define your own standpoint – how you see yourself – they point to who you are – not to the goal at all. Soaring at 30,000 feet is possible for an eagle or for a man with a flying machine. It is not possible or impossible in itself. All it needs is for you to ask, ‘How can I do it?’ Not, ‘Can it be done?’
Differentiation creates brand. Brand creates identity. Identity creates influence. Influence creates followers and loyalty and the opportunity to change society. Without differentiation you are a grain of rice in a sack.
Excellence is an expression of self-respect. So is mediocrity. We strive for excellence not because someone is watching or because we are playing to the gallery but because excellence is about us – how we see ourselves, what we think of ourselves, how we choose to define ourselves.
We define ourselves and the world accepts that definition and treats us accordingly. So think before you define yourself.
Excellence requires sustained heroic effort – often in the face of great discouragement. So only those excel, who revel in the effort. The adrenalin drives them. Paradoxically they are goal focused but take pleasure from the difficulty of reaching that goal. For them the journey is the destination; because the excitement is only in the chase and ends with the catch. Mount Everest is a worthy goal to strive for because its dimensions are measured in height. The same distance on level ground wouldn’t be worth talking about. It is the difficulty which adds value to the goal.
If you think success is difficult, try failure. To accept mediocrity is to accept failure at the start. Mediocrity ensures that your failure is permanent. That drug is called ‘compromise.’ I know that there are more mediocre people in the world than those who achieve excellence. But ask yourself who you would rather be – who would you like to emulate? Who do you choose as your role model? That is why Tipu Sultan said, ‘One day in the life of a tiger is worth more than a hundred years in the life of a jackal.’ Ask yourself which life you would like to live – for in the end, both die.
Compromise is to attitude what cancer is to the body. The body doesn’t fight cancer but accepts it because it doesn’t recognize the threat. It accepts cancer cells until they kill it. Only those who hate mediocrity can excel. Not dislike, not are irritated by it, not anything mild – but those who pathologically hate mediocrity. Those who can’t stomach it at any cost. Those who are repelled by it, find it disgusting, abhorrent and hateful and do anything to get out of it. Compromise, like cancer, destroys from within. But unlike cancer it is infectious.
Excellence takes effort. Few make it. Failure is painful. Nobody likes it. Mediocrity is a narcotic which makes destruction seem acceptable. So people settle for less than what they can be. They get distracted by others and their mediocre efforts – they make excuses as if they can change reality – they imagine that if they can find others who will agree with them, their mediocrity will be acceptable. It will be – to other mediocre people. But to those focused on excellence, who look not at others but at their own potential and beyond it, mediocrity is despicable, no matter what guise it comes in. And to tell you the truth, the mediocre ones also recognize this in the dead of the night, when they are alone with themselves, that their efforts don’t even begin to approach the boundaries of what could have been if only they had not compromised. Failure is not the enemy of excellence. Mediocrity is. Failure is painful and drives effort. Nobody willingly fails or remains in failure. But mediocrity is anesthetized failure. It is fatal because the victim does nothing to counter it because he can’t feel the pain.
I remind myself about a basic principle that I have always followed in my own life – It is better to fail trying to achieve an extraordinary goal, than to settle for a compromise. Why Extraordinary? Because good enough, never is.
The important thing for us to remember is never to compromise. No matter how frustrating it seems. As I always say, when weighing things in a balance, it is only the last few grains which tip the balance. Until then you don’t see any difference. And that is why in my view there are two fundamental laws:
That the balance will not tip until the last few grains fall it.
That the last few grains will always tip the balance.
Both laws are equally true.
Remember that if we compromise for anything less than what we dreamed of, then in the evening of our days we too will be forced to look back on our lives and say, “If only we had not sold our dream so cheaply!!”
There’s no such thing as too much when it comes to setting life goals.
Nobody knows the best that he can do. Limits are only in the mind.
Differentiate on the basis of the only thing which counts – Quality. Be the best in the world at what you do. Forget everything else – just focus on being the best at whatever it is that you do and the rest will follow. And remember, being the best in the world is easy; it is a matter only of one degree. What do I mean?
In 2012, in the Men’s 100 meter race, the difference between the Olympic Gold medal and no medal was 0.25 seconds. (Usain Bolt: Jamaica: 9.63 sec. Ryan Bailey: USA: 9.88 sec.)
In the Indy 500, 2015 the difference between the 1st and 2nd was 0.10 seconds. The difference in prize money was $ 1,656,500 (One million six hundred thousand++).
Only one degree because until 99 they are cents – one more and it is not cents any more – it is a dollar. We never talk about cent value. We talk about dollar value.
Wisdom is the ability to discern difference. The difference between good and evil, benefit and harm between people, circumstances etc.
Life’s assignments are from Allahﷻ. We don’t decide. We discover. When we are in the right assignment, we have no rivals. A fish out of water, can’t walk, can’t talk, can’t breathe, is clumsy and flops on the earth. But put it in the water and it darts away like a flash, the epitome of speed and grace. Right place, right time. If you are in the right assignment, you have no rivals. So instead of trying to overcome weaknesses, stop and ask if you are in the right assignment. In the right assignment, your ‘weaknesses’ will instantly turn into what they really are, your strengths.
Weakness less about what you have, but more about where you are.
Plant seeds for whatever you want to harvest. So ask yourselves what you want to harvest. Then plant those seeds. Remember that the seed that leaves my hand does not leave my life. It goes into my future ad multiplies. And unless it leaves my hand it can do nothing. So anything that leaves my hand and gets planted in my life is my seed. That will come back to me as my harvest. But anything that I retain in my hand is what I hoarded and didn’t plant. The reality is that even the worst harvest is more than the seed. Give up what you have to get what you have been promised. Nothing leaves the heavens until something leaves the earth. When you give what you see, you get what you can’t see.
Only ‘Overcomers’ are rewarded in life. So every time you ask for a blessing you get an enemy. Enemies don’t come to harm you. They come to open the doors of blessings for you. If there was no Goliath, David would have remained a shepherd boy.
The only way to differentiate is to show how you can be of service to others. People don’t care what you have until they see how they can benefit from it. People don’t care what you know until they know that you care. So show them. We always introduce ourselves in terms of what we have, who we are and where we came from (country, tribe, school, university or organization). While the other person is interested in one things only, ‘What can s/he do for me?’ They don’t care about any of the stuff you told them. Until they hear something that touches their life.
Let me illustrate. Let’s say, my laptop showed me the dreaded ‘Blue Screen.’ I am horrified because like most people I didn’t back up my data and I am now looking at disappearing from the face of the planet because all my data is probably gone down the drain. Then I meet a guy on the train and we get chatting. He tells me that he is an ‘IT Professional’ (that’s how all Indians introduce themselves) from Bengaluru (they imagine that others also like what was done to a perfectly innocent, easy to pronounce name to suit some political urge). He also tells me (and remember his accent it not the easiest for me to understand while my Californian drawl goes clean over his head) that he is in America to study and he was sponsored by his brother in law’s sister. While he is plying me with all this (to him) very interesting detail, I am telling myself, ‘NEVER START A CONVERSATION WITH AN INDIAN EVER AGAIN. I SWEAR I WILL NEVER DO IT. HOW DO I GET OUT OF THIS NOW WITHOUT BEING RUDE?’ Then suddenly I hear in the incessant one-sided chatter that he considers his introduction, ‘I specialize in data recovery after computers crash. You know when you see a blue screen? That means your computer crashed and if you didn’t back up your data, you are finished. That’s my expertise. I can recover all that data and you are back on track.’
Suddenly I forget that he is Indian. I forget what I just swore. I forget that I made the biggest mistake in my life starting a conversation with an Indian. Instead the same guy is manna from heaven (don’t take that literally. Indians are not good to eat), gift of god, the best thing that happened to me. I don’t care about his accent or that he smells of curry or comes from Bengaluru. I love him. I can kiss him (won’t of course). I thank god, my good fortune, the train, the conductor, the seating sequence, you-name-it, that I met this guy.
So what changed? He is a still a lousy Indian geek who doesn’t know how to introduce himself. What changed is that I suddenly realized how he can help me. So who am I seeing in this conversation? Him or me? After my computer regains consciousness I will probably forget this guy. But if I am a hiring manager then this guy just talked himself (even if accidentally) into a job. He delivered an ‘Elevator Speech’ par excellence though obviously he’s never heard the term. That is the meaning of differentiating on the basis of speaking to people’s hearts. They don’t care what you say, until they see how it can help them. So differentiating is about doing this deliberately, not waiting for lucky accidents.
Differentiation creates Brand. Brand creates loyalty. Loyalty gives you influence. Without differentiating you are one grain of rice in a sack. You are still rice, but one grain in a sack.