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The Renaissance of Islam

Wednesday, July 9, 2008


Imam Ghazali, 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 disbelief.

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 in religion?

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 of intellect?

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!

Posted by maulvi at 3:24 AM

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