By Dr. Mohammad Ghitreef, New Age Islam
10 May 2022
It Is Not Possible That You Maintain A Closed Mind In Theology And Perform Marvellously In Science
1. Muslims must understand that if they want development and progress, they will have to provide a suitable atmosphere for free-thinking and freedom of experience
2. Humankind and its thought do not go ahead in isolation or in a vacuum
3. Voices of reform in religion, anti-church, liberal, and pro-change currents had been stirred everywhere
Muslims must understand that if they want development and progress, they will have to provide a suitable atmosphere for free-thinking and freedom of experience, a prerequisite to innovation and creativity. Indeed, the reform package is a complete package. You have to adopt it in Toto, not in parts.
You have to open the door of reform in both religion and society. It is not possible that you maintain a closed mind in theology and make marvellous progress in science. Free thinking is a must for both religion and science.
Languages draw on other languages, new ideas are derived from different beliefs, and cultures borrow from other cultures. Likewise, human civilizations benefit from other past and present civilizations, which means that humankind and its thought are not going ahead in isolation or in a vacuum. When they started their civilizational journey, Muslims also benefited from other contemporary civilizations; Roman, Persian, Egyptian, Indian, etc. Yet when they declined, and the Western civilization replaced them and took the reins of the world in its hand, this trend was not reiterated.
Renaissance had ample opportunity to flourish after this process of give and take in the sixteenth- seventieth centuries, meaning that having much benefited from the translation movement from Arabic into first Latin then all the major languages of Europe like German, French, English, etc. Voices of reform in religion, anti-church, liberal, and pro-change currents had been stirred everywhere. The renaissance movement influenced people in Europe from different schools of thought differently.
The people associated with this movement saw themselves as an advanced class and fought against religious and political persecution. In its aftermath all the negative notions of irrationality, arbitrariness, obscurity, and superstition of the last centuries vanished. With this powerful renaissance movement in Europe, Enlightenment gained momentum. Modernity has encouraged new ideas and thoughts and given free thinkers full opportunities to express themselves. And the effects of this movement were felt all over the world. French Revolution, which vigorously rebelled against traditional modes and sought to change every old thing with the modern one, eventually led to the American war of Independence. In the wake of all this, social, economic, and political theories changed drastically, leading to the Industrial Revolution and the European colonial spree in Asia, Africa, and Muslim lands.
As far as the Muslim world is concerned, new ideas had come along with colonial powers, but there was profound suspicion about these new realities; renaissance, liberalism, etc. Conspiracy theories had been there at play, and Muslim Ulama and intellectuals were very reluctant to accept new ideas. The West has changed its political, social, and religious set up in the last three centuries. Still, even after gaining Independence from colonialism, Muslim scholars have been inclined to reject Western ideas as a product of a secular outlook. In parallel, they turned to a relatively closed and more rigid religious and political system and style of government, where concepts of power, dictatorship, enforcement, and authoritative rule became more important than religious rethinking and reconstruction.
With the exception of Muslims, each faith group and nation in the world has, in one manner or some other, integrated present-day notions into its system of thinking and action.
There are many reasons why Muslims do not accept Western views. On the one hand, the design of religious beliefs devised by the Muslims in later periods was inflexible in its logic, and no new concept could enter into it. Especially since their order had primarily become independent of its sources, the Quran and Hadees, and had become an automatic makeup. Each new concept and viewpoint collided with some of the features of that system and was therefore considered unacceptable. Because that tradition did not retain the openness and splendour of the early centuries, even some twentieth-century scholars such as Moulana Ahmad Raza Khan thought Copernicus and Galileo's research to be contrary to Islamic beliefs. And they followed the Ptolemaic concept of the motion of the stars, which for a long time dominated the world as a scientific theory.
There are many other reasons why modern ideas did not take root in Muslim lands. First, the pre-colonial education system in Muslim countries contrived by courtier Ulama and scholars teaches the reader an absolute submission to kings and emperors. Giving them the title shadow of God ( ظل الهي), making the human mind subject to sheer obedience, resignation, and rigidness. This ambience ranged from classroom to textbooks and subjects fostering authoritative culture and values. Stirring minds to think was not one of its goals, for questioning was forbidden. Therefore, the lack of personal freedom once ensured by Hazrat Umar, the second caliph of Islam and others, which human beings should have had, has affected their economic life. And there has been a complete ignoring of new means of production. Economic stagnation, overpopulation, and intellectual stagnation were the three deadly plagues that plagued Muslims.
In fact, the efforts made in Islam regarding Ijtihad, as it seems to me, have been made ever, not consciously but under a particular need. One of the reasons for close-mindedness in Muslims is the predominance of ignorance. This ignorance is not in public only, but it is profound among scholars. They do not look at the Islamic injunctions in their evolving historical context; instead, they take them as eternal, ignoring whether the present age accepts some old Islamic injunctions or not. It resulted in such extremism we witness now that ordinary people take liberalism, secularism, and democracy as something amounting to be infidelity and Kufr and draw the sword from their sheath against them. It is the fault of the modern apologists of Islam like Maududi, Qutub, Ali Shariati, Ali Nadwi, et al. They waged a wrong jihad against modernity. They advocated for a religious structure based only on command, obedience, and blind imitation of Salaf (predecessors). Leaving no room for fresh thinking and inventing new ideas. And in this paradigm, they excluded the modern understanding of universal values from the realm of Islam and called modernity a misleading way.
Among the Muslim countries, which are relatively more developed and have their eyes on the future, are the ones that have adopted one of the two alternative spheres of thought, secular or sacred. Turkey has adopted a sophisticated style and seeks to enforce it as a way of life through state power. She has succeeded to some extent. Turkey has gained Independence from many of the problems facing other Islamic nations.
Despite the conservative religious theology of fixation and a conservative collective psyche, India was the land where, while maintaining the spiritual roots, Sir Syed Ahmad Khan developed a new critical approach to understanding and interpreting religion. As a result of his efforts, a window was opened for Indian Muslims, despite strong opposition from conservative Maulvies. Which shows what is happening in the western world. Unfortunately, this movement was also hijacked midway by landlords and Ulama after Khan's demise.
In Muslim societies, the tribal or feudal societal structure is generally predominant. This structure is compatible only with the monarchical system and gives rise to command, obedience, and blind following. The historically existing paradigm mentioned above is one of the main reasons this structure has remained strong in the history of Muslims.
For instance, the government of Saudi Arabia cuts off the hands of the common thief but the wealth of the country, which is owned by a family and where freedom of speech is lacking, where the king's decree is divine judgment. How many royal family members then were convicted of seizing state resources? We cannot understand that logic has left Aristotle far behind, replaced by a new worldview based on natural science and now cosmology.
I can summarize the Muslim malaise as follows.
1-Muslims, throughout the ages, had been the victim of a ruthless triangle of kings, papacy, and priesthood, as called by Iqbal اے کشتہ سلطانی وملائی وپیری (one who is ruined by sultans, mullahs, and priests). So Muslim psyche is built on absolute obedience to literalism promoted by that old paradigm.
2-Women had been traditionally kept inside the home strictly, deprived of all their freedoms, dignity, and individual rights.
3- Individual was suppressed by the burden of collectivism. His freedom was slaughtered on the altar of society and collective wisdom.
4- All the educational systems developed in Muslim lands were established, run, financed, aided, or controlled by the elite, the rulers, the aristocrats, the big courtiers, and community elders. It was based only on memorizing and thinking nothing, ensuring the protection of vested interests and absolute submission to rulers, mullahs, and priests, thus negating individualism forcefully in all walks of life.
All that is needed is for us to change the system that is prevalent in our Islamic seminaries today as a first step to the direly needed renaissance. And what I mean by that is not only to include English and science subjects in these madrassas, but to change the whole curriculum used in religious education.
Muslims must understand that if they want development and progress, they will have to provide a suitable atmosphere for free-thinking and freedom of experience, a prerequisite to innovation and creativity. Indeed reform package is a complete package. You have to adopt it in Toto, not in parts.
You have to open the door of reform in both religion and society. It is not possible that you maintain a closed mind in theology and perform marvellously in science. Free thinking is a must for both religion and science.
Dr. Mohammad Ghitreef is a Research Associate with the Centre for Promotion of Educational and Cultural Advancement of Muslims of India, AMU Aligarh.
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