“The Relevance of Islam in the Modern world” is what everyone is talking about. I often find myself in the middle of discussions questioning, ‘are the Islamic traditions (shariah) relevant to the problems faced by the modern world?’ The most argued point which springs up in every discussion is the dire and rather declining situation of the Muslim world in contrast with the progressive ‘Modern’ West. One may be justified in saying that the vast majority of the Muslims are not concerned with the problems of the modern world. No doubt, part of the reason for this is that, like most of the rest of world’s inhabitants, they are uninformed and short-sighted; in any case, they have the immediate worldly and spiritual concerns of everyday life to keep them occupied. But a profoundly positive attitude can also be discerned behind this ‘lack of concern.’ To the extent that Muslims are faithful to their own heritage and partially uninfluenced by recently manufactured ideologies, they are certain of Islam’s Truth and its ability to provide them with everything that is necessary for human life and hereafter.
May I also suggest that, today many people from all religions are not sure about what their own religions teach. So many compromises have been made with the ‘Modern World’, especially in the last few decades, that the boundary between the absolute and the relative, Truth and error, Goodness and evil, Beauty and ugliness has been totally obscured. Fundamental concepts such as ‘Truth” and “Goodness” have been held up to a doubting scrutiny that many ‘believers’ of these religions no longer think they have any meaning. Modernism has been used as cover to introduce the principles of secularism into the minds of people. Secularism being the separation of life’s affair from reverence. A better definition would be the changing of religion from religion to a complete sham. Perhaps, this also answers the question, the clarity and lack of ambiguity in the basic tenets of Islam may help some people to reconsider the bases of their faith.
Anyway, in spite of the negative picture I may have drawn, the above description of most Muslims shows that the Islamic traditions are far from dead despite living in a time of immense skepticism. A time where humans rely on oft repeated ‘norms’ and ‘truths’ rather than look at the reality of our situation and the divine Truth. Skeptics may ask; how can a way of life that was implemented fourteen centuries ago be applicable today? Humans have ‘progressed’ and our lives have changed dramatically since then. Our tools of production, means of trading and modes of communication would be unrecognised by the desert Arab of the 6th Century CE.
So, what of Modernism? The utterances of illusionists are no longer ‘abracadabra’ and ‘hey presto’. The magic words are now; ‘new and improved’ and ‘best ever’. This modern, plastic disposable society is obsessed with what is new and what is modern. The spin used to sell us soft drinks is also used to sell us ideas about; life, culture, society and politics. Does new really mean better? Just because this is repeated to us over and over again ad nauseam, it does not mean that it is true. The average speed of travel in Alfa Romeo t-spark on the grid-locked streets of London is no faster than horse-back in the Middle Ages. The main differences being a stereo system and one in seven children becoming asthmatics. This example may seem flippant, but we should all be quicker to question modernity than we are to question Islam.
The complexities of human existence and communal living are bewildering. If we are to take stock of who we are and how we live, we will find that certain basics remain constant. We have certain organic needs and instincts that have never changed. The first man was in need of food, water and air to breath etc. All other human beings since have all had these necessities. Islam had various laws revealed concerning the intake of food. Because we have not done away with the need to eat those laws may still be lived by today. 20th Century living has not stopped Muslims from being mindful of Islamic dietary laws. Take for example:
“O you who believe! When the call is proclaimed to prayer on Friday (the day of Jum‘ah), hasten earnestly to the Remembrance of Allah, and leave off business (bai‘a): That is best for you if you but knew! And when the Prayer is finished, then may you disperse through the land, and seek of the Bounty of Allah: and celebrate the Praises of Allah often (and without stint): that you may prosper.” [62:9]
The law that Allah (swt) has laid down in this verse is that it is forbidden for the male mature Muslim to trade at the time of Friday prayers. The word bai‘a (trading) is explicitly mentioned. However, it is not only trading that is forbidden during this period. To be more accurate, a Muslim may not busy himself during this time. ‘Busying oneself’ is still the same today and ever since the time of the Prophet (saw). ‘Busying oneself’ has never changed and never will change. To sit and watch television is still ‘busying oneself’, to read the newspaper is still ‘busying oneself’. To cook, clean or crochet is still ‘busying oneself’. All of these are far removed from trading. Nevertheless, they are all forbidden at the time of Jum‘ah.
The principle of studying the text of Islam and finding its application today is a whole science in its own right. But it is a science that Muslims should all have conviction and confidence in. These are principles which have not changed in essence since the time of the Prophet (saw). The fine details of these things have obviously changed but the essence and hence the rule is still apt, appropriate and applicable. Allah (swt) has blessed people with intelligence and knowledge to make them capable of bringing rules from the Qur’an and the Sunnah.
What sustains the strength of the Islamic Shariah is not only the authority of government. The citizens must have belief and have confidence in Islam. This confidence and belief not only helps them in this life and the hereafter as individuals, but helps to implement Islam as a whole unit. These are the political implications of believing in Islam as a complete way of life. Muslims should naturally have the strength to participate in the dialogue concerning problems of the modern world, presenting Islam as the ideological alternative to secular Capitalism.
The philosophy that ‘new is good’ is what instills in Capitalist nations an insatiable need for ‘newness’. The principles that fuel Capitalism, are the same principles that fuel consumerism. Muslims should consider consumerism, capitalism and secular philosophy inextricably linked. Moreover, we should consider them all alien to Islam, i.e. Kufr. We may be justified in asking; how is it that these ideas become so popular amongst Muslims? We must remember that these ideas were not adopted by in the Islamic lands over-night. They were slowly injected into the Ummah in a most subtle and devious way.
Newly revised edition of a well-considered academic study of the modern challenges to traditional Islam.
To reflect some of the staggering world developments since he published this work more than 20 years ago, Iranian-American scholar Nasr (Islamic Studies/George Washington Univ.; The Garden of Truth: The Vision and Promise of Sufism, Islam’s Mystical Tradition, 2007, etc.) provides significant revisions and added material. As a deeply believing Muslim as well as a scholar, Nasr imparts a tremendous sense of the Muslim’s responsibility and worldview, organically linked to Islam’s origins as a religion of divine revelation, and only recently having endured intrusions by secularism. The author takes great pains to define the many types of Muslims, though he believes that for most, their religion defines their ethical and social code and shapes their relationships to family, friends, nation, business, etc. For the first 1,000-plus years of its existence, “Islam lived with full awareness of the truth and the realization of God’s promise to Muslims that they would be victorious if they followed His religion”—yet then succumbed to Western domination and manipulation, the latter in the form of Arab nationalism and the Taliban in Afghanistan. In response to the mutual mistrust of the West, strains of fundamentalisms have emerged, such as the Wahhabi movement, the Society of Islam in Pakistan, the Islamic Revolution in Iran and Mahdiism, whose adherents anticipate a messiah “who will destroy inequity and reestablish the rule of God on earth.” In discrete, carefully honed essays, Nasr looks at some of Islam’s thorny issues, such as jihad, which is really the “continuous exertion” of a believer to maintain equilibrium in all things; work ethics; the roles of male and female and the central divinity of erotic love; considerations of Shi’ism; and a holistic approach to education, encompassing philosophy, art and science (traditional Islamic vs. Western).
Scholarly appendices (e.g., traditional texts used in the Persian madrasas) give an idea of the erudite, wide-ranging purview of this rigorous study.