Sovereignty in Islam rests with God. This is an absolute value and no compromise(s) can be brooked here. And, Islam and the Islamic ideal as a transhistorical faith , religion and force beyond question. The idea of reform of Islam in this sense and from this perspective does not arise. The nature of this assertion does not constitute a denial mode but is an axiom of truth. But, Muslims need to reform themselves. What, the question is, do these set of assertions mean? And, why do these arise in the first instance?
I will attempt to answer the questions in reverse sequence.
From Aleppo to Iraq, Africa to Asia, the Muslim world is struggling and riven with conflict(s) and even decline. While the nature of this decline is rather obvious to all, but how to reverse it has eluded the minds of most. But, answers to reverse the decline of the Muslim world have been manifold: The two salient ones have been a quietist fall back on the “roots” of Islam; the other has been to seek both closure and reversal of Muslim fortunes through and in an idiom of force. In the interstices of the two, has been what has been called “Islamic modernism” which sought to rearticulate the issues of the Muslim world in a modern idiom. (Pakistan might constitute as an example of Islamic modernism). The other extreme has been disavowal of Islam and a complete embrace of secular modernity. (Attaturk’s Turkey and the Shah of Iran might constitute examples here).
As history unfolded across the world, especially in its post colonial avatar, the Muslim world’s decline was perhaps as steep as the progress elsewhere. Yet, our response corresponded to what has been delineated in this essay. In the 21st century, Muslims , unfortunately, are neither a force to reckon with nor do we have anything to offer to the world , as we did in the past. The reasons pertain mainly to our collective condition which appears to be stuck in a time warp. But, this cannot and must not be attributed to Islam. If Islam were the issue, what would explain the past glories and successes of the world of Islam? Surely, then problem must lie elsewhere. The question is where?
To my amateur and basic understanding, one prong of the answer lies in our understanding and relationship with time. We appear to only look behind and not ahead. We bask in our past glory as the present eludes us and the future looks foreboding. But, in essence and among other things, Islam is a dynamic and not a static religion and its relationship with time must reflect the same. While the past is essentially and cardinally important, it cannot be viewed with mere nostalgia but should constitute as a pedestal upon which both the present and the future must be premised upon. Broken down, and among other things, this means that we Muslims not only comport ourselves with and in the form, substance and spirit of Islam but also complement this approach with a modern outlook.
But, key here is what would modernity mean?
Modernity , in the Western sense of the term, means the primacy and sovereignty of man. But, this can and should never mean our modernity. The sovereignty of God and the centrality of the Prophet(SAW) are the central tenets of our faith. There, to repeat, can be no compromise on this. If we comport ourselves according to the tenets of Western modernity and judge ourselves by these, the only outcome will be failure of the comprehensive and total variety. What we need instead is an outlook and a temperament whose central axes revolve around God and His Prophet(SAW), the Revelation and the Hadeeth and the Sunnah but also one where reason is not relegated to the margins or occluded. In practice, this would mean inculcating the scientific temperament in us, and a rationality which must be oriented towards and revolve around Islam, a spirit of enquiry , tolerance and a deep desire to improve the human condition.
It must also mean that we not define ourselves against an “Other” but by the commands and commendments of God and His Prophet(SAW) in an idiom that redounds to the benefit of both the world of Islam and the world, at large. For this to happen and get crystallize, we , Muslims need to look within and then without or, in other words, carry out an introspective exercise that will not only be cathartic but also revealing. What would be revealing is that it is not Islam that holds us back but only ourselves. It is then exigent and imperative that we review our relationship with time , look deep within and comport ourselves in the real spirit of Islam.
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