CRUCIBLE: Give the Tausug youth the right education, the right environment, the right tools of understanding, they would excel like others

(Speech during the 4th Commencement Exercises at the College Level of the Sulu College of Technology held at the Capitol Gym, Patikul, Sulu, on 06 April 2019).

First of all, we would like to extend our congratulations to the graduates and their parents and loved ones.

Our graduates, you have now reached another stage of your life. Such stage would, with surety, open a window of opportunities as you embark in your career as professionals.

You have the reasons to celebrate after four years of sacrifice to finish your studies. You must be grateful to your parents, your teachers and administrators of the Sulu College of Technology.

Truth is, you have carved, like other graduates before you, a new trend in the tradition of education in the Sulu Archipelago especially so that you finished your studies at SCT.

For obvious reasons, your choice of school that primarily expands science and technology must be dictated with personal and practical considerations. The skills you have learned would provide the way with which you will join, like others, the work force of Filipinos and Muslims in the Philippines.

Such personal and practical purposes are true to you like many people: a whole corpus of skills, job, knowledge, and learning on science, technology, research, and development is the name of the game these days.

Today, all countries including Muslim communities are on the rush to expand the frontiers of knowledge primarily various fields of science and technology as these are necessary in wading through the highly competitive world of the 21st century.

The United States, China, Russia, Japan, and the European Union and other major powers are in the forefront advancing research and development on science and technology. The Muslim world is not an exception. Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, and Indonesia and other countries are, likewise, in pursuit of science and technology.

Few years ago, for instance, Saudi Arabia established the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology. Only Nobel laureates could teach there. Not even ulama of Saudi Arabia could teach in KAUST. The idea being is that, the Muslim world has been left in terms of science and technology; therefore, there is a need to catch up with recent scientific innovation and trends.

Hence, when you chose some years ago Sulu College in Technology as your school you did the right decision. A reason why, we said, you and your school are today’s trendsetter of science and technology education in the Sulu Archipelago.

Beyond the question of personal and practical orientation and why science and technology are important, we need to be reminded that technology can be viewed as a “processed science.” It means it is a product of knowledge or ilm. There is a worldview or philosophy in the production of technology.

In the early days, science and technology was not divorced from Islamic thought. Science was part and parcel of religion.

During the Golden Age of Islam, there were many Muslim scholars in both natural and social sciences that championed various fields of sciences and mathematics. For a long time, famous names in science resonate strongly like Ibn Haytam, the father of optics; Ibn Sina with his works, Kitab al-shifa (Book of Healing) and Qanun fi l-tib (Canon of Medicine); Muhammad Al-Razi with his work on smallpox and measles; Omar Khayyam, the poet and mathematician with his Rubaiyat; Al-Khwarizmi, the father of Algebra. Without the latter, surely, there would have been no logarithm, no calculus, and, no modern computer that we know today.

These are just examples of Muslim scholars who were in the forefront of science, research development, and technology in the 9th century until 13th century. Why were they able to master science?

They have the full understanding of dinu l-Islam as a “total way of life.” It means Islam is not simply viewed in compartmentalized manner or restricted into a mere domain of “religion.” Rather, it is wholly understood as a domain of science, of civilization, and so on and so forth. That time, there was no divorce between science and their understanding of ilm or knowledge. Hence, the thought of Einstein that “science without religion is lame and religion without science is blind” could be no farther from truth as far as Islam as a total way of life.

Here in the Malay world similar resonance is shown in science and technology with the same stirring in the Sulu Archipelago. Try to observe Tausug with their traditional skills in building houses and how they show resilience to wind and typhoon; their mastery in navigation and boat-building; their ingenuity in production of war instruments and in making bladed weapons with exquisite artistry and detailed precision; their various implements in agriculture, in fishing, and in traditional industry, and so on.  These are antecedents of our forebears with their know-how on science and technology.

Hence, when you, the graduates today, “trendset” on technology with your specialization on vocational and technical education where you chose four years ago SCT your school, you were not starting from scratch.

What are the reasons in the decline in Muslims’ mastery in science and technology and the seeming divorce between modern science and Islamic thought?

Apart from fundamental one, we say there are both internal and external reasons.  The loss of vibrant understanding of tauhid (unity) on various principles, teaching, and ramifications of Islamic thought has been crucial in many phases of Muslim history.

Internally, there has been schism and self-destructive debates among groups and movements including so-called closing of the gate of ijtihad (exertion of rational thought). It is the cause why compartmentalized understanding on Islam sets in as merely constituting “religion” rather than as a way of life with vibrant conception of ilm while permeating as dynamic force in society, history, and civilization.

Unlike in the Golden Age, because of their holistic understanding of Islam and nature, Muslim scholars had left a mark in history including the rise of Renaissance and Enlightenment in Europe. Without this Muslim contribution in medieval science and technology, there would have been no modern science. Externally, however, as Islamic understanding constricted, Western science grew unhindered until the Industrial Revolution and eventually the formation of modern world.

You have the reason to take pride in the tradition of Muslim scholars on science and technology and the reason why you “trendset” the same given the foundation they’d previously laid before.

Obviously, all these are easier said than done. There are constraints as to why we could not rush to develop our communities and build a new culture of science and research in the Sulu Archipelago. We are entangled with lot of social questions particularly peace problem and development uncertainty. Yet, these should not be made as reason why we could not excel. The fact that you withstand the rigor and difficulty with your studies shows that you are capable in realizing your goals.

So, tread steadily with your personal and practical pursuits. Chase your dream and grow with your career wherever it brings you. Have employment, help your families, and have your own family too. As trend setters, keep your passion on knowledge. Graduation is, as often said, not an end; it is a window into another level of learning.

More importantly, what we need as well today is strengthening our moral compass to guide our use of technology.

Technology has two sides. It can bring man to salvation and help people with their lives. As you notice, nothing in our life today that is not dictated or defined by technology – the way we use our cellphones, our gadgets, our computers, and so on.

Yet, there is another side of technology that is harmful and destructive. Hence, we need a moral compass to shape our values to help us use technology wisely.

Today, “Islamic science” is re-emerging. It does not only reflect the foundational tradition that has been built in the early days; it has been found out that the correlation of Islam and science has corrective element given the failure of today’s modern, unbridled science.

For instance, the proliferation of nuclear weapons. It was not the original intention of those early fathers of science to create technology that would annihilate the world. Einstein, in the latter period of his life, was frustrated how he and his colleagues were sidestepped by both Germany and United States as they competed in pursuit of Atomic Bomb. Why was it so? Because modern science has lost its moral compass divorced from ethics and higher principles.

Now, I would be remiss with my role as speaker in your commencement exercises if I would not express our thanks and gratitude primarily to Engineer Sambas Hassan, the President of Sulu College of Technology.

In our younger days, we had to get out of Sulu to avail of better education. In your case, a school was precisely built for you like the SCT with array of scholarship available including science materials and other research tools, and so on.

I know it is not an easy task. To express in our vernacular, it is akin to: “diya nag-agaw in kahalan” or wrestling with social condition.

There is a prevailing psychology among Tausug that for us to develop, we have to first bear the fruit of struggle for self-determination. When that is already available, that would be the time to develop our society.

Problem is, the struggle has been dragged quite indefinitely. If one waits that long before we organize ourselves including the instituting of schools like the SCT, how long could we wait?

The fact is, the like of President Hassan and his colleagues believe that we are capable in developing despite odds; it shows their unwavering faith on Tausug youth. And we fully agree with it.

Give the Tausug youth the right education, the right environment, the right tools of understanding, they would excel like others. If many of their forebears could be so determined in waging what they believe as their sacred struggle; in time of peace, Tausug youth must be capable in excelling even more.

Finally, mark this day as an important milestone in your life. In some future time, you will surely remember this moment. When you are already successful elsewhere, like Brother Sambas and others, take time to help, too, our beloved Sulu Archipelago. Like your school, SCT, continue to be trendsetters in knowledge and other worthwhile pursuits.

[MindaViews is opinion section of MindaNews. Julkipli Wadi is Professor of Islamic Studies at the University of the Philippines].