Mugees ul Kaisar
Modernist Muslims who cut themselves off from tradition, thinking that with the passage of time we develop better understanding of things, are putting themselves in a quite vulnerable position. Their actions suggest that modernity and post-modernity are closer in conformity to truth than Prophet Muhammad was, 14 centuries ago.
Religion is based on metaphysical intellect which is trans-temporal and trans-historical. Truth is one and the same since primordial man and will remain so till the day of apocalypse. It is modern (western) man’s arrogance to assume that all tradition, all humankind, everywhere in all ages got it all wrong. This man assumes that only recently, post the enlightenment in Europe, we have finally been able to crack the mystery of existence. Although modern physics particularly quantum physics has successfully restored the scent of mystery back into our lives, upsetting modern “rational” man’s expectation on how the universe should behave, and the two world wars in the 20th century have shattered the myth of scientific progress and enlightenment, the two great rallying points for the project of modernity.
A striking similarity between modernity and modernist liberal Muslims is the divorce from tradition and a radical emphasis on the individual. We see many modern Muslim scholars stepping outside of tradition and relying on their own individual capacities and capabilities. We need to have an estimate of what this radical emphasis on the “individual” has brought forth in western arts, sciences, and cultures. Cartesian Cogito (individual thinking ego) which was the central point of division between physics and metaphysics formed the departure point of Humanism and Individualism. It failed to comprehend reality and thus hit a dead end in Nihilism and Absurdism. This is because reality is about a whole while a ripped off “individual” is not.
This problem gradually became prominent with the advent of post-Nietzschean western era. The subjectivity of modernity (with its polar objectivity) became over-subjectivity in post-modernity and finally dissolved into absurdity. The human subject defined by evolutionism, psychologism and neuroscience was severed from transcendence, and put at the centre of the knowledge enterprise. This individual human which was supposed to be the sole decipherer of the mystery of existence stands deconstructed in the post-modern abyss. Devoid of dimensions, immersed in physicalism, cut off from tradition, separated from a larger metaphysic, the western man (and his narrative) is left alone and dejected.
Any Muslim attempt to digress or deviate from Islamic tradition, with the sole trust on “individual”, is dangerous and a recipe for their destruction.
Let’s delve into Muslim attempts of reconciling tradition with modern liberalism and secularism. Many Muslims naively think that liberalism is some kind of universal human sensibility, with reference to which we should evolve all our narratives including religion. All demythologising, de-sacralising, liberalising and secularising attempts are product of this mentality. When in fact the truth of the matter is that liberalism and liberal attitude is nothing but white man-centric sensibility. Cutting off hands of a thief is barbaric, crude and disgusting, but homosexuality, incest, bastard children are normalised. We need to see through the facade and ask pressing critical questions.
One of the main arguments that secularists & liberals employ against Islam is that many Islamic laws are against human rights. Although this claim is contentious, let us for the sake of argument accept it. The question that arises is how modern liberals (most of whom are moral nihilists & relativists) can even make objective moral judgments in the first place? Who gives them the right to make moral judgments when according to them there are no true objective morals at all? In the post-Nietzschean “western” world, where “God is Dead”, there are no objective moral standards that can be referred to. As for human rights, we need to ask what exactly are they?
A fluid, contingent, destabilised, Eurocentric, made-up list of rights of man is not a universal standard at all. In 1948 some white men got together and wrote down the charter of human rights. It is not a god-given document. In the Muslim world there is the concept of “mother’s rights”, whereby a son has to be good to his mother. Such a right is not entertained at all in human rights. It is not even conceived. These are two different ontic worlds with contrasting epistemologies. Why should Islam be held accountable to white men’s sensibility which has no ontological grounding and is a product of ever evolving convention? Since when did the west’s moral sensibility become the objective norm and the universal standard?
All liberalising and secularising attempts of religion are nothing but infatuations left over by colonialism. It is the disease of Eurocentrism that continues to haunt us.
Muslims need to understand that religion is a trans-temporal reality at its core. Liberalism is a sub-human discourse which mutates every now and then. Yesterday, homosexuality was a crime, today it is a human right. This is what Zygmunt Bauman refers to as “Liquid Modernity”. No doubt that religion has the aspect of “mutagayaraat”, the variables, but their functioning (how they play out) is dictated by the static foundation of religion itself and not whimsical progress of fluid human sensibility. This is the reason Ahmed Javed does not consider modernity (and its liberal outgrowths) as any kind of static worldview that could define or regulate human behaviour, because it sees the individual man as the measure of all things (homo mensura) who decides not in reference to any metaphysic but is rather like a clever animal (thanks to Darwin) who only acts according to a particular problem/ situation at hand, as John Dewey would say.
Therefore, our youth should shun this false idea that liberalism is some kind of objective, collective treasure of mankind that we should conform to. Any attempt to conform and reconcile religion with liberalism or for that matter any other modern ism, uncritically assumes that liberalism (or these isms) are somehow objectively true standards with reference to which we should judge religion. Who gave us these standards? Who and what justifies these standards? Who provides the first principle proofs of their truth and certainty? If it is social pressure which is fluid, dynamic and relative, then we cannot objectively hold them to be of any standard value. If we hold these rights and moral sensibilities to be trans-human objective realities then we need God (who transcends all contingent subjectivities) as a grounding to support those values. But how far is the present secular/ liberal world open and accommodating to the idea of God? It is not difficult to guess given the way God has been forced out from all spheres of our lives.
The writer is a student of Philosophy and Religious Studies.