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Dr Tariq Mustafa, 87, has worn many hats in his long and distinguished career. He holds a degree in mechanical engineering from London University and later specialised in the field of nuclear engineering and space technology.
He was one of the leading lights of his native Pakistan’s rocket and space research programme. He worked closely with Pakistan’s late Nobel Laureate in Physics, Professor Abdus Salam. He also held the coveted posts of Secretary of Defence Production, Science & Technology, Petroleum Natural Resources, Public Sector Industry and Privatisation.
He is currently the President of Pakistan’s National Paralympics Committee and President of the South Asian Paralympics Committee. More significantly, he has been a “searcher” all his life, particularly on the subject of man’s place in the universe and the connection between reason and revelation.
Khaleej Times spoke to Dr Mustafa about his philosophical bent of mind.
Edited excerpts from the interview:
Elaborate on your life-long quest on man’s place in the universe.
Somehow this question has been on my mind from early life. Just what role or purpose do we humans serve in our universe, if any? It gradually dawned on me that it was presumptive to try to understand what purpose we may have, when we neither know the initial conditions of the Big Bang or the end conditions of our existence. Clearly, we needed "Help" from a knowledgeable source, such as "God". But the question arose, does such a God really exist? Or is it just the product of gullible human imagination? To my practical mind it needed lots of solid evidence and not philosophical sophistry. This eventually led to my independent search described in my book "The case for God" based entirely on " reason and not faith".
How do you perceive the connection between reason and revelation?
In my view the two are connected intimately. But we need to define "revelation" properly, which is often confused with "inspiration". Inspiration is "subjective" while "revelation for me has to be strictly "objective", emerging directly and solely from the all-knowing Creator, without distortion or interpretation.
But how do we know that such a creator actually exists? and where do we look for evidence of his/her/its existence. That requires observing nature scientifically and rigorously, based solely on reason as I have tried to do.
Your seminal book 'The Case for God makes' a strong case for pluralism and tolerance, which appear to be fast disappearing traits?
The fact is that pluralism and tolerance have always been a rare commodity. Humankind has mostly been driven by groupings i.e. tribalism, nationalism, or man-made religions. Pluralism and tolerance call for acceptance of the idea that humans have a common origin and a future, even if we apparently differ in color, race and gender, and this can only come from acceptance of one Almighty controlling Creator, and belief in an afterlife, and an ultimate day of judgement and reckoning of our deeds.
How can mankind answer the 'Big Questions'?
Is there a Creator? Is there an afterlife? Is there a purpose to human life?
By use of reason and observing nature.
Carl Sagan famously said that since science can explain everything, he saw no need for a Creator. But he added significantly that if something shows the existence of which cannot be explained by reason and science, he was willing to back off. Wish Sagan was alive, so we could ask him to explain where "Quran" came from?. Who could author a book of such bold claims and wide knowledge, which was totally new for his times. See my book for dozens of examples from different fields of knowledge, and then decide for yourself.
Is Pakistan investing enough among youth to build a scientific temper?
Unfortunately, not at all. Neither with funds nor correct syllabi and direction. Efforts are being made by different circles, but they are puny.
You had worked closely with Pakistani Nobel Laureate in Physics, Professor Dr Abdus Salam. How is Pakistan carrying his pioneering work forward?
In his field of theoretical physics, work is underway at select Institutions, with help from his ICTP.
Salam was both a friend and a mentor to me, being about seven years older. I had the good fortune to spend hours with him in Pakistan and the United Kingdom (UK) and more so in Japan and France, which we visited in connection with obtaining licenses for the local manufacture of rockets. We discussed history of Islam and especially development of the sciences in the Islamic world to no end.
His maxim was to be on time, one has to be ahead of time. Very fond of speaking Punjabi instead of Urdu or English, even with acclaimed poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz.
What are your views on if capitalism is sustainable in its present form?
Capitalism over the last few centuries has certainly advanced the development of civilization, but the negative effects of unbridled capitalism, as witnessed today by the increasing concentration of wealth in fewer hands, simply cannot be sustainable. It is fast headed for self-destruction unless it makes a drastic course correction, especially in what may be called the "Wall Street syndrome" in popular culture, which was allegedly the principal cause of collapse even of the veritable Roman Empire due to its Colosseum excesses.
What are developing nations’ perspectives on climate change?
A tricky challenge. The developing nations with their poor resources will bear the brunt of the climate change, but are hardly capable of course correction without the active help of the developed nations, with their lip service to date. It truly calls for a genuinely cooperative International effort, which poses a real test for human ingenuity, and is unlikely to be forthcoming unless we all agree on a "common ideology and outlook for humanity's future".
Finally, what’s your take on the ultimate purpose of a man’s existence?
The story of "evolution" tells us how humans developed from lifeless Inorganic matter to organic to plants to animals, culminating finally in the rise of humans — is homo-sapiens. But this story has yet to learn that we humans are more than just our material bodies. We alone amongst creation are "aware and conscious" of ourselves and feel certain inbuilt responsibilities and potentialities. I have no doubt that human Evolution occurred not by chance occurrence but has a definite purpose. Our "soul" which is our real essence lives on. Thus, evolution of the soul or self continues even after the death of our bodies, which tells us that development of a healthy soul or self-capable and fit for continuing its development after "death" is the real purpose of our life on Earth. This alone makes sense of the ultimate purpose of our existence.
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