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Today We Live in the Modern World. Is the Modern World Islam in Crises? Why?
An eminent Islamic scholar, Mr. Fazlur Rehman, once quoted that “Islam needs: some first-class minds who can interpret the old in terms of the new as regards substance and turn the new into the service of the old as regards ideals” (Rahman, 1982. Page 139)
This observation is reflective of the fundamental interpretational issue faced by Islam in the modern world. It goes to the very root of the ideology vis-à-vis its adherence and practice in the 21st century within the frame of reference of the principle of modernism, including, but not limited to, (a) secularism, (b) advent of science and technology; (c) women’s education and other incidental rights; (d) gender equality; (e) equitable distribution of wealth; (f) minority rights (g) democracy and social justice and equity. In light of the current world scenario, it appears that practice and propagation of Islam is being viewed from the prism of international political, economic and social standpoint vis-à-vis the challenges and crisis that modern values is facing at various levels in context of and on account of the Islamic thought process and its influence politically, economically and socially. It is imperative to examine the crises and crises faced by Islam in the evolving 20th and 21st century from within in the modern world prior to analysing the other challenges.
Evolving modern world vis-à-vis Islamic world
The revolution within the economic, social and cultural sphere of the 20th and 21st century did have a great impact in the Muslim world. It can aptly be called as the first in the series of challenges to be faced by the Islamic world within the broader context of the modern world. Kishwar (2009) argues that the cultural revolution of the 1960 impacted the Islamic from Karachi to Cairo. The principles of democracy, secularism and free speech that were alien to the Islamic world permeated the Islamic life along with the growing sense of nationalism on account of decolonization and rise of political forces within the Islamic world. The death knell of traditional Islamic society was heard throughout the late 20th century and the gradual extinction was accelerated from the First World War onwards. The decades post the First World War left the Islamic world considerably poorer with inequality being the apparent in every corner Kishwar (2010). To this end, the extreme inequality of income is the hallmark of 21st century Islamic countries with the statistics providing that the combined income of 14 oil exporting countries being seven times greater than the 21 countries that are considerably poorer. The Islamic crises, in its current form are account of extreme reaction against western modernity and the growing resentment on account of the inbuilt contradiction within the Muslim societies.
Challenges faced by Islam from within:
The Muslim world, in general, has been facing a lot of challenges at various fronts. Ibrahim (2011) argues that many Islamic countries are facing the issues of on-going civil wars, human right violations, dictatorships, political insurgencies, illiteracy, divisive and ethnic wars, and poverty and health crises. Ibrahim (2011) further argues that all these issues are deeply interconnected. To this end, it can be observed that illiteracy, being the root cause of all evils in the Muslim world, acts as a roadblock in development and progress that consequently leads to dictatorship. Any kind of dictatorship obviously affects transparency that consequently creates animosity and power struggle. Any power struggle results in ethnic conflicts and consequently results in division of region (Ibrahim, 2011). Watson (1997) points out that the challenge is being posed to Islam, both from within and the world at large. To this end, Watson (1997) argues that Islam will have to accept the dynamics involved in the changing political and power centre. As of now Saudi Arabia is the controlling centre with its authority over Mecca and Medina, the most important shrine for Muslims. However, there are other power centres, professing different versions of Islam that are at conflict with the Saudi
For instance, Shia Ira and the other regions professing Shia is at logger heads with Saudi Arabia within the broad parlance of Ummah. Saudi Arabia enjoys much of its strength to repudiate other claims because it remains the economic centre of the ummah. At the current stage, Saudi Arabia is the economic power house on account of its rich oil resources. However, these resources are finite in nature and there is a very high probability that the power centre will shift in the coming years and the conservative centres will be severely challenged by the other liberal centres of Muslim societies located at the fringes. The existing economic paradox resulting on account of the exploitation of poor Muslims by the rich oil producing countries greatly defies the principle of brotherhood and equity propagated by Islam. In case the problem of unemployment, unbalanced development, urbanization is not addressed by the current Islamic power centre, i.e., the Umha, it will find it difficult to become an international face of Islamic power centre (Watson, 1998). The uneven distribution of wealth within the Muslim society is one of the greatest challenges that Islam is facing in the modern society and it becomes the root cause of many socio economic problem within the Islamic framework.
Islamic crisis vis-à-vis secularism
Islam finds yet another challenge in the area of secularism. The geo-political situations in various Islamic countries during the 21st century clearly prove that the Islamic world clearly rejects forced secularism from the western society. From the conditions in most of the Islamic countries, it can be observed that Islam’s influence has only increased over the course of last century. A lot of precepts of Islam are fundamentally contradictory to the basic tenets of secularism. In most of the Muslim countries, Islam is not confined to private practice. On the contrary, Islam is the official state prophesied religion. Thus, the basic premise of secularism that advocates separation of state from religion is not practiced by most of the Islamic countries. The only probable solution to strive for secularism is through ijtihad that means intellectual efforts of an individual. Noakes (1993) points out the shortcomings of this method in achieving secularism. At the outset, the traditional sheikhs are opposed to the system of ijtihad. Ijtihad is a term for intellectual reasoning for finding solution for any situation. The modern day Islamic thinkers have applied this term for every kind of thought process, including, but not limited to social, political and economic, technology. However, this works only in theory rather than in practice. This form of reasoning is often used to reject certain modern Muslim society feature as un-Islamic. Islamic scholars find it very difficult to propose their theories on account of social challenges (Noakes, 1993). The modern world poses deepening crises to the Islamic attitude towards secularism.
Islamic crises vis-à-vis gender inequality
Gender equality is one of the basic percept of modern 21st century. The right to female education, equal rights to equal inheritance and other family law rights are the various shades of modern thought process. On account of the conservative interpretation given to the various tenets of Islam, most of the Muslim countries have become a modern day symbol of gender injustice and gender inequality. Riffat, (n.d.) in an online publication on “Gender Inequality and Justice in Islam” states that the male dominated society in middle eastern countries may assert that both the genders are treated equally in Islam. However, this percept is hardly practiced as the truth is far away from what is professed on papers. The women in Middle Eastern traditional Islamic countries are subjugated and subjected to physical and emotional confinement. Riffat (n.d) further points out those women in Islamic countries are denied opportunities to realize their potential and the literary rates amongst woman in traditional Islamic society is the lowest in comparison to the rest of the world. There is a well-accepted eschewed belief of male superiority among both men and women. The theological notion that Islam has conferred greater rights on women and the consequent gender equality is only confined to papers as there is a stark difference between theory and reality. There is an outright attempt to justify the practice of inequality by giving strict interpretation to conservative school of thought. In a lot of social areas, including, but not limited to right to inheritance, custodial rights over children, right to give evidence, the Islamic laws are heavily tilted in favour of males. It can thus be seen that the Islam vis-à-vis women’s right, as it stands, is certainly in crises vis-à-vis the feminist movement within the Islamic world who seek to assert and achieve equality by adopting liberal interpretation of Islam.
Islam and democracy
Democracy is one of the corner stone’s of modern thought process. The 20th and the 21st century have seen the establishment of democratic government in various countries of the world. Various global wars have been waged to protect and propagate the cause of democracy. Although, in theory, it has been asserted time and again, that Islam is a strong compatibility between Islam and democracy, yet, the reality, quite often shows a different picture. Although there are encouraging signs within the Islamic world regarding the practice of democratic political institutions, yet, the current state of affairs leaves much to be desired. Esposito (2001) points out that many Islamic resurgent movements think of democracy as a foreign and western ideology that has been imposed upon the Islamic world. They are under the impression that the principles of democracy deny God’s sovereignty consequently negating true Islamic values. Thus, Islam is in crises vis-à-vis it’s the thought process of certain groups as regards the modern concept of democracy.
Islam, as it stands, and as it preaches and propagates, is at crises at several levels in the modern economic, political and social thought process. While modern Islamic scholars are making efforts to attribute liberal interpretation to the various tenets of Islam within the modern parlance, they face a lot of difficult as there is a constant tug of war between the conservative forces and the modern thinkers. The economic inequality between the oil producing and exporting countries and their poorer poses a challenge of a different kind to the principles of equality and brotherhood propagated by Islam. The principles of democracy and secularism that forms the cornerstone of modern thought process poses yet another challenge to the traditional Islamic thought process.
Thus, it can be seen, that the modern world creates crises as several levels to the version of Islam that is professed in by several conservatives across the globe in general and Islamic countries in particular.
Available at: Fazlur Rahman, Islam and Modernity: Transformation of an Intellectual tradition, (Chicago, Univ. of Chicago Press, 1982), p. 139 Available at: http://www.scribd.com/doc/45340137/Fazlur-Rahman-Islam-and-Modernity#scribd
Falkner, Kishwer “Islam’s Difficult Road” The Guardian. 10th May, 2009. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2009/may/10/crisis-islamic-civilisation-ali-a-allawi
Ibrahim, Abdikadir. “The Most Pressing Issue for the Muslim World” Islamic Civic Society of America” Available at: http://icsaweb.org/http:/icsaweb.org/the-most-pressing-issues-for-the-muslim-world/ February 22, 2011.
Dr. Watson, Bruce “Islam and its Challenges in the Modern World” vol. 12, issue 1 May 1997, no. 33 Available at: http://www.iol.ie/~afifi/Articles/challenge.htm#4
Noakes, Greg “Secularism and the Islamic Challenges” Washington Post on Middle Eastern Affairs. Available at: http://www.wrmea.org/1993-september-october/secularism-and-the-islamist-challenge.html
Riffat Hassan “Members, One of Another: Gender Equality and Justice in Islam” Department of Religious Studies University of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky N.D. Available at: http://www.religiousconsultation.org/hassan.htm
Esposito, John & Voll, John “Islam and Democracy” University d’Alacant 2001 Available at: http://www.artic.ua.es/biblioteca/u85/documentos/1808.pdf
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