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Islam and Modernism: Consolidation or Conflict

Islam and Modernism: Consolidation or Conflict
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Owais Manzoor

In the history of Islamic civilization, Islam has stood as a pinnacle culturally between the Dark ages and the Renaissance period. Although ” Islamic civilization” can’t be treated as a purely sociological implication, in spite of its pristine religious insularity, Islam spread over a quarter of the then known geographical world, gave rise to a specific mode of lifestyle and became a cynosure for all observers beyond its boundaries.

In the history of Islamic civilization, Islam has stood as a pinnacle culturally between the Dark ages and the Renaissance period. Although ” Islamic civilization” can’t be treated as a purely sociological implication, in spite of its pristine religious insularity, Islam spread over a quarter of the then known geographical world, gave rise to a specific mode of lifestyle and became a cynosure for all observers beyond its boundaries.
The cause was simply when the Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) revelations were heraded to the world in the seventh century of Christian era, the ” message ” could not be confined to Hijaz or Arabian peninsula. Within three-quarters of a century, the banner of Islam’s prophet migrated eastwards to ends of Transoxiana, southward to the banks of the Indus river in India, northwards to the shores of the black sea in Asia Minor and westward into Spain onto the Pyrenees.
The newly won Empire’s civilization outshone rest of the world. Islam expanded its boundaries to almost all around the world. It spread from Samarqand in central Asia to Cordova in Spain. Had famed institutions of learning, the arts, the science, literature. The technical discoveries, inventions, and improvements brought exciting wonderment to all people. Islam’s sociological trends were produced everywhere with sublime surrender for the religion.
In Islam’s empirical dominions it was inevitable that all other nations would subsume themselves into the culture of their Arab Muslim conquerors, incorporating an adulterated Arabic, which then became modified and tempered by those cultures. The fusion of cultural ideas gave great mobility to new civilization which still has a vital influence on the western world. Even claimed by the great legends like Bertrand Russell  British philosopher and mathematician, whose emphasis on logical analysis greatly influenced the course of 20th-century philosophy. “Our use of the phrase ‘the Dark Ages’ to cover the period from 699 to 1,000 marks our undue concentration on Western Europe… From India to Spain, the brilliant civilization of Islam flourished. What was lost to Christendom at this time was not lost to civilization, but quite the contrary… To us, it seems that West-European civilization is civilization, but this is a narrow view.”
Muslims could feel superior to the other civilizations of which they knew. The Mongols had been the greatest challenge and within half a century the Mongols had accepted Islam. The loss of Andalus (Muslim Spain) had a blow, but God compensated it with the advance of the Ottomans.
In any case, they had taken the measures of the uncivilised ” Franks ” during the crusades; at their best theses, Franks were eager students of the sciences and philosophy of the Muslims. As many centuries later, with apparent suddenness, the situation was reversed. Now the Franks were defeating the Muslims and demonstrating their superiority in science, stagecraft and a range of other cultural accomplishment. As European success continued for so long and so profoundly, It seemed as if historical process ordained by God had somehow gone off the track.
Among the educated  Muslims there were those who perceived the deeper nature of modern challenges and recognised that neither response in old ways nor haphazard copying of Western ways was sufficient. If Islam is truth and it applied to all areas of life it has to be profoundly rethought to meet the modern challenges. If, the west having received science and wisdom from the Muslims, had then surpassed them, it is because the Muslims closed the gate of ijtihad and had become satisfied with taqlid, thus stifling creative thinking, bifurcated the knowledge into

islamic and non-Islamic and making ‘takfeer’ on Muslim scientists. This halted the Muslim contribution in modern science and technology. (Modernist trends to use the terms ijtihad and taqlid in the sense of general creativity and rigidity, not just as fiqh terms).
Modernism discourse usually looks in two directions, in the first instance to technology that increases human control over the physical environment and then, by extension, to such areas as education and politics. Modernism cannot be separated from change. In fact Islam was a product of fundamental social and economic changes which were occurring in Arabian society. Tribal relations were breaking down in and around Mecca and a trans-tribal mercantile class was emerging on the scene, quite greedy for wealth and totally neglectful of Higher human values like compassion, alleviation of poverty and misery of weaker section of society, mitigation of woes of slavery, recognition of socio-legal status of women, equality of all human beings transcending all barriers of caste, creed, colour, race, and tribe. Islam laid great emphasis on these values while welcoming the changes taking place in society. But it provided human face for the change and exhorted people not to neglect their duty towards human suffering.
Education is highly necessary for any modern society. Even scientific experiments cannot be conducted without ability to read and write. In pre-Islamic society, literacy was extremely low. The Qur’an through its first revealed verse, encouraged reading and writing. Allah also swears by ‘qalam’ pen giving it great importance making it sacred to swear by. Also, as pointed out by Philosopher Allma Iqbal in his ‘Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam’, the Qur’anic approach is inductive. While inductive approach leads to encouragement of scientific observation of the universe. Physics, astronomy, chemistry, biology and their branches all depend on observation and process  of induction. In Quran crucial questions have been raised about this universe and the faithfuls have been encouraged to observe the animals, plants,and heavenly bodies. The Quran after all is the book of religious guidance. It is not fundamentally a book of science. However not against the scientific observations and experimentation, and encourages it. As Quran, encouraged people to reflect on the creation of God. It is only through this reflection and study that they can conclude that nothing has been created in vain; everything has been created with the purpose.

On the flip modernism seeks to paint Islam with liberal colors and shift interests from spiritual world or the future life to the secular world, to draw one’s values and beliefs primarily from human rather than divine source, and to limit the influence of religious institutions on society, often by separating them from other institutions. It seeks to persuade traditional Muslim to change their ways.  Although modernism has been widespread, it has provided its own ideology. In order to meet present needs, Muslims must open the gates of Ijtihad.
*Owais Manzoor Dar is pursuing masters in Islamic studies at Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.
Email:owaismanzoor188@gamil.com

Disclaimer: Views  expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position and policy of Oracle Opinions.

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