Muslim Modernism, Traditionalism and Liberalism: Putting things in perspective
In the postmodern world where some of the Muslims accept and follow religion only when in conformity with the western 'isms', Mugees Ul Kaiser writes how these 'isms' fail because of the 'liquid modernity' and how religion stands tall above all for its basis on what he calls 'metaphysical intellect which is trans-temporal and trans-historical'.
Modernist Muslims, who cut themselves off from tradition under the influence of evolutionism and progressivism, thinking that they develop a better understanding of things with the passage of time, are putting themselves in a quite vulnerable position. They seem to suggest that modernity and post-modernity are closer in conformity to the truth than Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, who is ‘14 centuries old in the past’.
Religion is based on metaphysical intellect which is trans-temporal and trans-historical. Truth is one and the same, since primordial man and will remain so till the times to come. It is modern (Western) man’s arrogance to assume that all tradition, all humankind, in all ages got it all wrong. He emphatically assumes that it is only recently post-enlightenment that we have finally been able to crack the mystery of existence.
But modern physics, particularly quantum physics, has successfully restored the scent of mystery back into our lives, upsetting modern ‘rational’ man’s expectation on how the universe should behave. In the same light, two great wars of the 20th century shattered the myth of ‘scientific progress’ and enlightenment’ which were two great rallying points for the project of modernity.
A striking similarity between proponents of modernity and modernist liberal Muslims is their divorce from tradition and a radical emphasis on individuals. We see many individual modern Muslim scholars stepping outside of tradition and relying on their own individual capacities and capabilities, and the resultant interpretations thereof. We need to have an estimate of what this radical emphasis on individuals brought forth in Western arts, sciences and cultures.
Cartesian Cogito (individual thinking ego), which was the central point of division between physics and metaphysics, formed the departure point of modern humanism and individualism which thus failed to comprehend reality and its complexities and thus hit a dead end in nihilism and absurdism. This is because the reality is about the whole and a ripped off individual cannot appraise the supra-individual reality.
This problem gradually became prominent with the advent of the post-Nietzschean Western era. The subjectivity of modernity with its polar objectivity became over-subjectivity in post-modernity and finally dissolved into absurdity. Human subject defined by evolutionism, psychologism and neuroscience, severed from transcendence, was put at the centre of knowledge enterprise.
This individual human reason which was supposed to be the sole decipherer of the mystery of existence stands deconstructed in the post-modern abyss. Devoid of vertical dimension, immersed in physicalism, cut off from tradition, separated from a larger metaphysic, Western man (and his narrative) is left alone, dejected in the deep waters of post-modernism with no direction at all. Any Muslim attempt of digressing and deviating from larger tradition, with sole trust on individual rational faculty, is a dangerous recipe for destruction.
Now, let’s delve into Muslim attempts of reconciling tradition with modern liberalism and secularism. Many Muslims naively think that liberalism is some kind of universal human sensibility with reference to which we should evolve all our narratives including religion. All demythologizing, desacralizing, liberalizing and secularizing attempts are the product of this mentality, when in fact the truth of the matter is that liberalism and liberal attitude is nothing but white man-centric contingent sensibility. Cutting off the hands of a thief is barbaric, crude and disgusting but homosexuality, incest, bastard children and things like these are digestible and normalized. We need to see through the facade and ask pressing critical questions.
One of the main arguments that secularists and liberals employ against Islam is that many Islamic laws are against human rights. Although this claim is contentious, let us accept it for the sake of argument. The question that arises though is that how modern liberals, most of whom are moral nihilists and relativists, can even make objective moral judgments in the first place. Who gives them the right to make moral judgments when according to them there are no true objective morals at all? In the post-Nietzschean Western world where “God is dead”, there are no objective moral standards that we can refer to.
As for human rights, we need to ask what they are. A fluid, contingent, destabilized, Eurocentric, made-up list of few rights is not any objective universal standard at all. In 1948, some white men got together and wrote down the Charter. They defined human rights. It is not a God-given document. In the Muslim world, there is an idea of mother rights. A son has to be good to his mother. Why no such kind of right is entertained? It is not even conceived.
These are two different ontic worlds with contrasting epistemologies. Why should Islam be held accountable to a white man-centric sensibility which has no ontological grounding and is a product of ever-evolving convention? Since when did West’s moral sensibility become the objective norm and the universal standard? All liberalizing and secularizing attempts of religion are nothing but infatuations leftover of colonialism. It is the disease of Eurocentrism that continues to haunt us.
Muslims need to understand that religion is a trans-temporal reality at its core. Liberalism is a sub-human discourse that mutates every now and then. Yesterday homosexuality was a crime, today it is a human right. This is what Zygmunt Bauman refers to as ‘Liquid Modernity’.
No doubt that religion has the aspect of mutagayyarāt (variables) but their functioning is dictated by the static foundation of religion itself and not whimsical progress of fluid human sensibility. This is the reason Ahmed Javed does not consider modernity and its liberal outgrowths as any kind of static worldview that could define or regulate human behavior, because it sees the individual as homo mensura, the measure of all things, who decides not in reference to supra-human metaphysic but rather, like a clever animal (thanks to Darwin), according to a particular problem at hand, as John Dewey would say.
Any attempt to reconcile religion with this western fluid liberal sensibility is a foolish disservice to religion. Religion comes to transform rather than be subsumed under contemporary discourse. Therefore our youth should shun this false idea that liberalism is some kind of objective or collective treasure of mankind that we should conform to. Any attempt of conforming and reconciling religion with liberalism or, for that matter, any other modern ‘ism’ uncritically assumes that they are somehow objectively true standards with reference to which we should judge religion.
Who gave us these standards? Who and what justifies these standards? Who provides the first principle proofs of their truth and certainty? If it is social pressure which is fluid, dynamic and relative, then we cannot objectively hold them to be of standard value. If we hold these rights and moral sensibilities to be trans-human objective realities, then we need God (who transcends all contingent subjectivities) as a grounding to support those values. But how far is the present secular/liberal world open and accommodating to the idea of God as an overarching metaphysic that grounds and supports all our narratives, is not difficult to guess given the forced withdrawal of God from all spheres of our lives. If there is no God then there are no objective moral sensibilities and no narrative of objective secular liberal values that religion should entertain.
The author is a student of Philosophy and Religious Studies. He can be mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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