Islamising Modernity

Muslims, especially intellectuals and activists, have a lot of hard work ahead if they want to materialise the beautiful idea contained in this new book

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Islamising Modernity

22 Oct 2006 logo 0 commentsShare |   

Muslims, especially intellectuals and activists, have a lot of hard work ahead if they want to materialise the beautiful idea contained in this new book

The End of Illusions

The book under review operates on a grand scale, a scale that spans great expanses of time and space and generates a truly intercivilisational discourse. Neatly stated, it posits two alternative, competing paradigms – the Islamic and the modern – and asks the reader to make a choice. The theme is contemporary and familiar, but the treatment is rather new to people who are uninitiated into Islamist (more appropriately, Islamicist or Islamophile) mindscape. We will come to it later.

Interestingly, in academic discourse “modernity” is a highly contested terrain. In the writings of contemporary Islamist thinkers, modernity is both a boon and a bane. The modern age having been dominated by the West, many Muslim intellectuals have tended to think of modernisation as Westernisation and modernity as Westernity. Iranian thinkers have gone a little further and identified many aspects of the Muslim modernising impulse as Westernising impulse and diagnosed it as a disease called “Westoxification” (in Persian, gharabzadgi).

As said earlier, modernity is a “problematic” word (to use academic jargon), and we leave it at that. The author here has a simple answer to much of the problem surrounding the debate on “modernisation of Islam” and Muslim societies. Naturally, there is a lot of anxiety in Muslim societies about this Western project. The author says (rather blandly), instead of modernising Islam, Islamise modernity. Admittedly, this sounds like an admirable catch phrase, but the way it has been put lacks academic rigour and methodology, and needs far more scholarship and fine-tuning than the present work alone provides.

What Israr-ul-Haque says is not essentially different from what the major first generation Islamist thinkers like Jamaluddin Afghani, Mohammad Abduh and Rashid Rida had proposed, or what the next generation of major thinkers like Hasan al-Bannah, Saiyyid Qutb, Maulana Abul Ala Mawdudi and Dr Mohammad Iqbal proposed. Or, for that matter, what still later thinkers like Mohammed Hossain Nasr argued, or contemporary stalwarts like Ali Mazrui do. A common thread, running all through their discourse, posits Islam as a viable alternative to Western religio-cultural, civilisational, economic, political, artistic and aesthetic values. This is what this book, too, proposes.

The book can easily be divided into two parts – the first dealing with the great World Disorder, orchestrated by a Christian (as well as agnostic, and sometimes atheistic) West. It is an order driven by insatiable material greed, the lust for global dominance, the will to repaint the whole world in Western cultural colours. After all, this is what the deluge of Western films, TV programmes, music CDs, food and drink (like KFC, McDonalds, Pizza Hut, Coke, Pepsi), clothes and accessories, toiletries and repositories. With that flood come in nuanced Western cultural preferences and personal life styles that might clash with non-Western mores.

The author rightly talks about the frightful implications of ideas contained in PNAC (Project of New American Century) and the current American military doctrine of Full Spectrum Dominance, a doctrine that not only justifies pre-emptive nuclear strike against non-nuclear nations, but even the complete militarisation of the space. All that to bulldoze and polarise poor and weak countries like Afghanistan or to seek to destroy Muslim civilisational hubs like Iraq and Iran. All this means the death of millions of people (Muslim people, mostly), the destruction of their homelands and ultimate US control on their natural resources.

The author juxtaposes the humane Islamic paradigm against the modern Western paradigm. Naturally, the Islamic order of things is more fair, just and geared to intercivilisational cooperation than conflict. Quite obviously, the second half of the book is written with a wider readership in mind, a readership that could be largely Western and non-Muslim. This is rightly so, because it is the non-Muslim West that needs to be familiarised with, and convinced about, the Islamic paradigm. In any case, most educated Muslims are already familiar with the ideas in the second half of the book.All said and done, this book should generate a debate on the relative merits of the two paradigms. Then only we can hope that the catch phrase of “Islamising modernity” will transcend the limits of an idea and enter the domain of reality. As philosopher Alfred North Whitehead rightly pointed out, an idea enters reality in “strange disguises”. Let this idea, too, travel across cultural and civilisational boundaries in whatever guise possible.