Your Slips are Showing, Mr Akbar

Very often columnists take the readers for granted. They do not cross-check the facts and figures and write something very outlandish. They think that the readers are an ignorant lot and can be fooled and duped.

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Very often columnists take the readers for granted. They do not cross-check the facts and figures and write something very outlandish. They think that the readers are an ignorant lot and can be fooled and duped.

M J Akbar is one among them. He has done it again. A mistake or two can be overlooked as the printing error. But it does not behove an author of several books, in particular, The Sword of Islam, to make innumerable factual errors in his January 11 column in the Times of India.

So when he wrote that Salahuddin Ayubbi, the man who won back Jerusalem from the Christians, died on March 4, 1124, one thought that it was an inadvertent mistake on the part of a renowned writer. How can this happen when Salahuddin took Jerusalem back from the Christians on October 2, 1187, that is 88 years after its occupation. The Christian armies from Europe occupied Jerusalem in 1099. The truth is that Salahuddin died in 1193 and not 1124.

Akbar went on to commit another mistake. He wrote that “On his last visit to Jerusalem, the holy city he had restored to Arab rule, in September 1123, he gave his fourth son, Abu Mansur Al-Zahir, some immortal advice…” In 1123 Jerusalem and the entire Palestine was in the hands of the Christian ruler, and thus can be no question of Salahuddin going there. Even this error may be overlooked and he must be forgiven as he might have written the piece in a hurry.

But he can never be let off and pardoned for what he penned later in the same column. “An Arab friend sent me some startling statistics; the e-mail was captioned: ‘A time for introspection’. Here are just a few: There are only 500-odd universities in the Muslim world. The United States has 5,758 and India has nearly 8,500. Literacy in the developed world is 90 per cent against 40 per cent in the Muslim world. If you removed Turkey from the list the comparison would look grimmer.”

The fantastic statistics Akbar has quoted is in circulation for the last several years. And I have written a couple of articles on this disinformation campaign. But a man like Akbar should have at least crossed checked the fact before contributing for such a prestigious daily. India has about 300 universities and not 8,500. And the standard of 90 per cent of the Indian universities is known to all. How can they be compared to those in the United States of America?

Similarly, the Muslim world might have only 500 universities, but the issue is not just the figure, but quality. In countries like Malaysia, Iran and several Central Asian republics the educational standard is much higher and worth praising. A couple of them are even better than Indian centres of learning and can be compared to the world standard.

Even the laggard Arabs have set up great institutions and have tie-up with some western universities. The issue is just not the number of universities, but something else.

Similarly, it would be absurd to say that the literacy rate in the Muslim country is 40 per cent. Barring Afghanistan, Somalia and a couple of other countries no Muslim country has the literacy rate of less than 40 per cent. This can be cross-checked from any data now easily available on the internet. The entire Central Asian republics have the literacy rate of 99 per cent. The figure of Malaysia and Indonesia is over 90 per cent. Even the Gulf countries have the literacy rate of over 75-80 per cent. Even in the so-called conservative Saudi Arabia 83 per cent male and 78 per cent females are literate, that is, much higher than India.

It is true that Muslims are way behind the Jews, Christians and even Hindus so far higher education and research are concerned. Their contribution to the modern science and social sciences is much less.

But the problem lies somewhere else, Mr Akbar. What are those who have reached the top really doing for the Muslims. They either dissociate themselves from the community or are busy simply criticising them and their faith with strange and bizarre facts and figures. In return the community too does not accept them as their achievers. The issue is not how educated or literate the Muslims are. The predicament with us is that we have lost our destination and are sailing in the tumultuous ocean like a rudderless ship.