Muslim Decadence

Generality of Muslims have failed to realize severity of modern challenges and they are yet to evolve a coherent and realistic response to it. This contributes, to a large part of modern Muslim malaise in all walks of life. Politically, socially, economically, morally they are, generally speaking, on the path of degeneration. Almost everywhere powerless or victims or complicit with alien hegemonizing forces they have been unable to present in practice, if not in theory as well, answer to modern man’s problems. Caught between nostalgic idealistic constructions of the past and dehumanizing brutal imperialism they have largely been unable to come to terms with challenges and opportunities that (post)modernity offers. Islam has been understood as a solution to all problems but modern Muslim’s ambivalence regarding it and his uncertainty regarding his own self definition has made it a problem. Conceptual baggage of both received image of Islam and modernity has been creating a divided personality. It is quite crucial to take stock of situation, understand the problem and debate the solutions. Perhaps it is the wrong view of itself that has been instrumental in modern decay of Muslims and we are urgently in need of coming out of the hermeneutical crisis. The problems are complex and they have invited wide range of responses from world thinkers. The tragedy is that we, as Muslims, have yet to exactly spot the problem. Muslims, generally speaking, are all both modernists and antimodernists and often fail to recognize the contradiction or situate themselves historically. We, imitating Jews, suffer from holier than thou arrogance and chosen nation syndrome as the Prophet (SAW) had warned. It is not the question of breaking with the past of creatively appropriating it. As a community we have neglected or underemphasized key elements of Islamic tradition, made issues out of non-issues and vice versa and nurtured a discourse called Islam or authentic Islam that prevents us from squarely facing the problem. Kalima as a statement of unity of God/Reality and brotherhood of man implying transcendence of all ideological positions, perspectives, creeds or belief systems. We have forgotten all the essentials such as  Islam as submission of the will that speaks of rights rather than duties, love and care and sacrifice, prayer as gratitude for life with all its joys and pains rather than a petition or obligation or debt to overseeing God, zakat/ushr and qurbani as social or community care systems and inspiration for working out nonmarket alternatives to provision of services and goods, creation of interest free financing institutions, fasting as mystical discipline for achieving persistence in God (baqa) and changing life style from consumerist to God centric other centred simplicity, jehad as war against all kinds of injustice and corruption anywhere from anyone regardless of creed etc.

We need to seriously contend with the likes of Muhammad Arkoun before championing the cause of historical Islam that self perception of community has presupposed. It is simply impossible to refute certain insights of Foucault and other (post)modern theorists  concerning power-knowledge nexus in history and genealogical method. Applied to classical period of Islamic history we see contest of conflicting interests in appropriating the given of revelation. We find power struggles defining much of ideological content that we usually take as sacrosanct. Rumi’s disconcerting description of the situation that ensued with the death of the Prophet and delay in his burial, Shia narratives of early history, patronage of certain particular ideological trends by State power throughout history, involvement of State power in construction and defense of so-called orthodox doctrine and practice all serve to problematize the received self perception of community of its history. While criticizing certain modern developments or changes fromsharia-centric perspective we need to be aware of contaminations in the constructed images. We also need to understand dangers in any history based interpenetration when history is itself ideologically constructed and not given in unproblematically transparent terms. Traditions are best understood and defended in nonliteral symbolic and metahistorical terms which makes them immune from attacks based on history and empirical observations of science.

It is only due to ignorance of our own cultural and religious heritage and fundamentals of modern episteme that we are still passionately debating, in legalistic paradigm, permissibility of music, philosophy, reading other scriptures, place of hadith, place of reason in religion, one’s right to have different opinion on some suhaba, permissibility of uncovering face or  hair for women etc.

Standing upto challenges requires proper identification of problems. Our difficulty is making issues out of nonissues as Wahidudin Khan often cautions us. How much energy goes into advocating those causes that have little bearing on salvation or on legal issues is simply too huge to be warranted by any means. Let us identify ourselves and our perceptions as part of problem, come out of holier than thou attitude and give more consideration to views of our enemies including those we hastily dismiss as Orientalists to have better diagnosis of our malaise.