Renaissance of Islam
Wednesday, July 9, 2008
the great Islamic philosopher and a Sufi of the highest class, said this more
than 1000 years ago:
“In every part of the world and in every age, it is necessary that there should
be Muslims who are busy in refuting non-religiousness and they possess solid
information in the art of refutation and they clear the hearts of people from
all sorts of doubts and arguments raised by the innovators”.
In order to understand the huge significance of this statement, we have to go
back in time. Ghazali himself started seeking God with intellect but, realizing
the finitude of it later, ended with Ishq-e-Ilahi alone. This statement
is surprisingly from the very last and perhaps the best of his 100 books (Minhajul
Abidin). I was amazed to know that the very founder of the biggest enemy of
Islam in the modern age i.e secular thought was infact a Muslim- the astray
genius known as Averoes who has been revered like a prophet in the West, his
real name was Ibn-e Rushd and was active during the times of Ghazali. For
Ghazali, who was a born intellect, it only added fuel to his fire and he used
the same tool to negate his rival to the fullest.
Well, that was just the start of secularism and now it’s the king ruling the
world. Imagine if the statement above was valid at that time, how undeniably
& absolutely true it has be taken today.
The biggest tragedy is that Islamic thought, intellectually, has been
practically stagnant to the extent of death since more than 500 years now; the
only exception being Iqbal. I am not at all an Islamic modernist but a pure
traditionalist. When I call it stagnant, I don’t mean to challenge the
authority of the 4 schools of law. They deserve being static because no one
after them has ever possessed knowledge even close to Imam Abu Hanifa. When I
call it stagnant, I don’t mean to negate the concept of Guide & Disciple (Shaikh-Mureed)
as its the only reason why pure religion still exists. When I call it stagnant,
I don’t mean laymen challenging scholars or youth refuting elders, as that is
sheer ignorance. When I call it stagnant, I don’t mean molding the
interpretation of Quran/hadith to suit modern people, as that is almost
Then, what do I mean when I call it stagnant?
It is this aspect of Islam that so deeply stirs me.
One can be conservative and still be original; one may not be liberal yet be a
thinker. One doesn’t need to be a modernist to use modern terminologies. But it
is so true that due to the extremely unfortunate segregation of Islamic
education & normal education, there are hardly people left who are both
religious as well as intellectual. When I say “intellectual”, I don’t mean
people who evaluate religion through intellect, as I don’t believe religious
knowledge is based on intellect. I mean people who use intellect for the
betterment of religion. There is a very technical difference between the two
and makes an enormous difference to religion itself. Let me explain.
Religious knowledge is divided into 2 parts i.e revealed & non-revealed;
the earlier is Quran & Sunnah, and the later is the knowledge given by God
to His followers only after actual religious experience. Interestingly none of
them is based on intellect. The first is beyond intellect and the second is not
a by-product of intellect. Then where is the use of intellect?
It is ironical that the same Imam Ghazali, who has been acclaimed by some
western readers as one of the most original thinkers, fearing the decay of pure
religion went very far in criticizing philosophy. Thus he rather left his own
weapon. But instead he eventually found even bigger ones i.e inner
purification, self-annihilation (tazkia-e-nafs) & love for Allah,
collectively known as the inner (baatin) of deen. When you possess that,
you don’t need loads of argumentations to influence others because religious
knowledge is not discursive knowledge in the first place. It is so true that
1000 statements by an ordinary believer is not equivalent to a 5 minute
interaction without talk with a real Sufi. Then where is the use of intellect
There are 2 types of people; those who wish to seek God and those who don’t
wish to seek God. The 1st category is influenced by true followers of God. The
2nd category is not influenced by anything at all because they don’t receive
the light of guidance (hadayat/taufeeq) from God. Then where is the role
It is the endless and ever-increasing damage that has been done to religion
by that 2nd category which is countered by intellect because whatever
negates religious thought, no matter which “ism” it is, is based on intellect
and thus has to be countered by intellect. And where the 2nd category (which is
such a high majority) themselves can never be reformed, the negative influence
it has on the small minority of the 1st category is beyond explanation. That
should be a colossal worry for educated Muslims as they are the only ones who
can mend this damage- That is where islam has suffered the most. The
educated heads of the 2nd category have gone ahead beyond times and the
religious thought of the 1st is still where it was 500 years ago. Hence as a
result like its counter-rival it leaves no impression at all on educated minds,
and unfortunately sounds neither intelligent nor practical nor impressive.
Islam has been in the hands of the unthinking masses since 5 centuries now.
Does it even bother us?
Just as the impact of a real Sufi reforms people of 1st category, it is
the educated religious thought which counters the 2nd category. It is
here where I would like to answer the question I raised before: What do I
mean when I call Islamic thought as stagnant?
There is no doubt that religion is imitation and not innovation. But does it
prove that religion has nothing to do with imagination or creativity? No.
“Originality of thought” has no clash with religion. “Originality”, for me,
doesn’t mean bringing new things in religion. It is the presentation, the
explanation and the defense of the same islam (of 1400 years ago) in a fresh,
new, modern & interesting manner WITHOUT compromising on the actual content
of it- and that does require brains. That is the role of intellect in religion!
Iqbal’s “Reconstuction of Religious Thought in Islam” was full of religious
errors and astray elements because he wrote it not as the great religious
philosopher that he became later, but only as a philosopher influenced by the
West. Yet if we take the false aspect out of it, what is left is religion
presented with utmost genius and can challenge the best of minds in the world.
If free thinking is totally wrong, free thinking within the bounds of Islam is
totally right. But it seems, due to the sad lack of intellectual growth of
Islamic thought, as if religion is wrongly taken as no thinking at all.
Dawah among today’s secular-minded Muslims is not as it once used to be i.e
listening and accepting. There are all sorts of people with very few seekers or
followers. Its full of question, argumentation & rejection. Due to our
mental slavery to the west we tend to accept the same thing told in a modern
manner which we reject when heard in a conventional/traditional way from a maulvi.
Ideally, as muslims, we shouldn’t be in need of logics, scientific proofs,
philosophical jargon to be convinced with Quran/hadith, but our cause requires
us to be highly equipped with them nonetheless. This is due to the immense
difference of attitude towards religion between the seekers & modern minds.
The earlier (minority) want to know “WHAT is islamic / unislamic”. The later
(majority) want to know “WHY it is islamic / unislamic”. Most religious
scholars are very well equipped with answering the earlier question but not
good enough for the later one, and that is where the need of educated religious
scholars is most felt.
No wonder the Quran again and again says “for those who think, for those
who ponder, for those who reflect”- contemplation (ghauro-fikr)
is one of the strongest sources of knowledge and, in many cases, more fruitful
than reading or conversing. I will give you the simplest example of it.
Sit in front of the sky at night in solitude. Look at the moon. Remember that
God has repeatedly declared to see His signs in the sun and the moon. Does
something ever strike you? Notice how such a far away body looks so close due
to its enormity. Even if the moon stays exactly where it is but its size alone
is kept increasing, it will reach your skin at some point. God is infinite. No
matter how far you are from him, He is to you as he says in His book, “I am
closer to you than your jugular vein”.
Philosophy is not pure rationality which is shallow, flawed, proud, superficial
& impatient. It is deep thinking & acute observation under the
submission of religion. Let me illustrate the difference between the two.
I once watched the video of a very famous atheist, Christopher Hutchins, whose
book “God is not great” was a high-seller. His pretentious displays of
smartness were loaded with sarcastic remarks of how, during some phenomenon,
“God sits and waits for 96000 years, doing nothing and science does everything
for evolution”. I realized his idiocy as he was just a rationalist whereas
Iqbal was a truly deep thinker. It was Iqbal who first initiated the concept of
the stagnancy of time for God. Using higher science, referring to Einsteinium
physics and reflecting on Quranic verses, he concluded it and showed how
millions of years are merely a moment for God. The actual explanation is
irrelevant here, but noteworthy is the contrast between mere logic & real
wisdom. Francis Bacon, a great philosopher, once said that “Little science
makes us an atheist, but lots of science will always make us a believer”.
Last year, in a religious congregation, I was fortunate to witness a highly
enlightening conversation between a religious elder of high order and a young mufti.
The later thought that only those who possess the formal degree of an alim
are alims. But the elder proved that if someone reaches the same depth
of the reality of life through a different channel, he is, in the eyes of
Allah, an alim too, only not certified. How? What is knowledge (ilm)
in the first place? Perhaps the simplest yet the truest definition is,
“anything that brings you closer to God”. What do you call the person who
possesses it? An alim. Its the end that matters. Islam is the end. Just
as the content taught in madressas are a means towards that end, the
philosophical, psychological, scientific & intellectual side of Islam is an
equally important means towards the same end and infact has much more potential
to penetrate fully into the vanguards of our society. It is thus the only way
towards a revolution, and it is this portion of religion which has been
untouched since too long.
Undoubtedly we are in need of scientists, doctors, engineers, professors,
economists, technologists for the revival of Islam, but it amazes and
saddens me to the fullest that hardly anyone feels the need of a category of
people which is as important as anyone else i.e the educated religious
scholars. The biggest proof is Dr. Zakir Naik. He is neither an alim by
technical standards nor a Shaikh by spiritual standards. He is a
religious scholar of “comparative study of religion” and not Islam itself. To
be specific, he is an Islamic preacher. But consider that he has managed to
convert many hundreds of people towards Islam where only 1 conversion,
according to holy prophet (pbuh), is enough for one’s eternal salvation.
Why does Allah put the impact, the success & the blessings (barkat)
in his work?
It is a burning passion coupled with the use of the right kind of skills by the
right kind of person for the right kind of audience in the right kind of times,
and for the right kind of cause!
maulvi at 3:24 AM