By Dr. Mohammad Ghitreef, New Age Islam
29 April 2022I
Modernity is all about some higher human values like democracy, human rights, social justice, gender equality, the rule of law, freedom of religion and thought and expression, human dignity, science, research, innovations, etc. It is not only about skyscrapers, borrowed high tech industry, bought technology and grand buildings, big banks and neat and clean cities, etc. The billion-dollar question is, why do Muslims globally only long for utilizing modern facilities and amenities of everyday life and not aspire to adopt these core values of modernity?
Modernity has many aspects; philosophical, ethical, cultural, and material. As far as this latter dimension is concerned, Islam is in harmony with modernity. Let me straightaway elaborate on this.
t is generally believed and perceived that Muslim societies cannot go with modernity. On a global scale, Muslims with their backwardness, by and large, proved this hypothesis true simply because, they say, Islam doesn’t have primary parameters of compatibility with modernity. Yet this hypothesis, I think, is wrong because there are some exceptions too, which tell another story. These promising models, though few, put forward by some Muslim countries defy the general negative assumption about Islam and Muslims. For example, take the model set by the United Arab Emirates. In the seventies, seven tiny city-states came together and decided to form a federal union of these relatively arid, less populated, less fertile, resourceless tribal communities, called UAE. It developed Abu-Dhabi as its capital and Dubai as its economic hub.
Now, after 50 years or so, UAE is the most developed country not only in the Middle East but in the whole of Asia. Teeming with tourists, traders, world entrepreneurs, a centre for open economy, international groups and conglomerates, a hub for festivals, sports, films, and what not? Emirate set an exemplary model for peace, security, and prosperity. It is now the most attractive place globally, resembling Paris, London, New York, and other metropolitans. Welcoming workers from all religious backgrounds and hosting all cultural denominations. So, from a desert to be a most sought-after resort for global humanity for the purposes related to economy, education, good income, employment, etc., must have been a long journey.
Bangladesh came into being in 1971 after the betrayal of West Pakistan of the democratic victory of Sheikh Mujeebur Rahman, the founding father of Bangladesh in general elections. And in its initial phases had been hit for decades by political instability, army revolts, martial laws, and so on. Non the less, now Bangladesh, under Shaikh Hasina’s secular regime is going ahead, and her economy is marching on the path of development۔ The country now is making headlines in world media that her GDP growth is more than that of Pakistan, and even she left India behind. So, it is also an astonishing success story.
I can also cite some more examples of Islam's compatibility with modernity. For instance, Indonesia and Malaysia are two "Asian Giants." Indonesia houses the largest Muslim population in the world. With a Muslim majority, Malaysia has a robust presence of other ethnic and religious faith communities like Chinese, Hindus et al. Yet both the countries are developed now in terms of good infrastructure, flourishing economy, and high-tech advancement. And Islam doesn't hinder their progress and embracing of modernity.
In many respects, Turkey also is a good model of blending Turk nationalism-cum Islam with secularism and modernity. Even Saudi Arabia, the cradle of Islam historically, which has been indoctrinated with Salafi Wahhabism, the most rigid and puritanical interpretation of Islam, is all set to be open and embrace modernity now to a great extent, as the Vision of 2030 of prince Mohammad Bin Salman, the de facto ruler of the kingdom is showing. A few more names can be cited in this list on a relatively small scale, like Qatar, Kuwait, and Bahrain, as they are also doing good to adopt modernity on a limited practical level, yet not assuming the secular liberal democratic values.
It is now the duty of civil society in these countries to acquaint the people with democratic values, fight against religious extremism, and prevent the youth from moving towards it. Large-scale educational and training activities will have to be carried out. Religious extremism will have to be stopped at all costs. Violations of human rights will have to be monitored, and the provision of justice and fairness for all citizens and the rule of law will have to be ensured.
These countries are all Muslim majority countries. One cannot blame their rulers or masses to have abandoned Islam. No, Islam is present, alive, thriving as a dynamic force in full in their lives as was before modernity.
Then what does it mean? It means that Islam doesn't prevent its followers from going ahead on the path of progress, intellectual growth, and civilizational evolution. In fact, the wrong interpretations of Islam prevalent in most Muslim societies mainly create hurdles in this regard. They are responsible for Muslims lagging behind in the world and not Islam.
The point is Islam doesn't fail its adherents. It is Muslims who fail Islam. For instance, Pakistan was created in the name of Islam, but it hardly represents Islam in its proper form. The bigotries, superstitions, prejudices, obscurity, ruthless sectarian blood-shedding inherent in Pakistani society and its clergy's misplaced "jihad" against science, technology and modernity do not relate to Islam.
After the demise of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of the country, Pakistan was not ever blessed by a charismatic leader like him who could lead the nation forward, could overcome the destructive influence of the clergy, maintain the law-and-order, ensure the rule of law? A leader who could educate the people on civilized manners, and not let politics become a toy in the hands of religious leaders and feudal lords. No such ideological wisdom could be developed that could save the nation from the dangers of political Islam and make everyone aware of the importance of modern science and technology. No leadership today has the guts and willpower to focus on real issues like health and education instead of spending more and more on the army and weapons.
And it is not only limited to Pakistan, but all the Islamic countries, save a few mentioned above۔ They are suffering from these illnesses and flaws, so Islam cannot be blamed for Muslim backwardness and Muslims lagging behind.
Islam's motto is: "word of wisdom is a lost treasure of a Muslim. He must take it from wherever he can find it".
Yet the point is that modernity is all about some higher human values like democracy, human rights, social justice, gender equality, the rule of law, freedom of religion and thought and expression, human dignity, science, research, innovations, etc. It is not only about skyscrapers, borrowed high tech industry, bought technology and grand buildings, big banks and neat and clean cities, etc. The billion-dollar question is, why do Muslims globally only long for utilizing modern facilities and amenities of everyday life and not aspire to adopt these core values of modernity? Why are they so reluctant to be inspired by the western civilizational thought process?
Though a very complex and long story, this is yet to be told. We can safely summarize that the answer lies in that Muslims have been reluctant, wary, and suspicious because of their ultra-religiosity rooted in the old Fiqhi framework built in the Abbasid period. With that parochial mindset, Muslim Ulama of different hues and colours, having a significant influence on the Muslim masses, have miserably failed to understand modernity. They wrongly took it as Kufr and shirk (infidelity). They have been doing vicious propaganda by all available means among Muslim masses against modernity, amounting to nudity, permissiveness and sin, etc for them.
Muslim modernist reformers so far sadly did not get support and, by and large, were unsuccessful and marginalized by narrow-minded Ulama the world over.
So, to address this issue, we have to strongly counter the Ulama's narrative and refute their false reasoning with counter-reasoning based on the scriptures and on common sense as well. We should differentiate between Western thought and Western culture and thus convince Muslim masses of the dire need of modern ideas and their certainty in the contemporary age. Times are changing exponentially, and history is going ahead. It will not stop and wait for us. We have to change ourselves to catch up or be ready to go to the dustbin of history.
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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