The Dangers of Modernism
In this article, a discussion will be presented to portray the aspects and dangers of the modernist school of interpretation and how it is being applied in today’s world, particularly from the Muslim secularists.
Unfortunately, in recent time the ‘modernist movement’ has become very strong especially in the United States as it has found new territories to vent its new ideas and notions through computer billboards, news groups and the ever popular Internet. To make matters worse, these areas are uncensored and unedited, allowing anyone and everyone to put in their ‘two’ cents or their ‘revolutionary’ theories. This group of people or school has been using this media quite effectively, usually influencing new Muslims who are not aware of the real nature of things and hence are almost like ‘sitting ducks’.
That is why it is imperative to discuss aspects of modernism so that when people see it, they will be able to recognize it. Once they recognize modernism’s underlying danger, they will insha’Allah advise and admonish those people who are propagating it and those people that the modernist propaganda is aimed at, hence, saving them from straying away from the true path.
Allah (swt), by virtue of the Qur’an and the Sunnah, has given us very clear methodology and set of beliefs for us to run our lives by. This creed is completely consistent with the fitrah or the nature of the mankind that Allah has created. Allah (swt) has preserved the Qur’an and Hadith as both are integral to His religion. So, in fact, by His mercy we have everything that we need for our guidance in this life.
Allhumdulilah, we are in a unique situation as compared to Jews and Christians and other people in this world who are not in possession of this perfect and divine revelation from Allah (swt). Therefore they are forced to turn to other sources such as human reasoning which is not perfect as the perfect revelation of Allah.
For instance, when we look at philosophy– modern day or Greek– we will come across strange ideas and notions. This is not surprising because many times these philosophers or ‘modern-day thinkers’ are writing about subjects that are beyond human understanding, beyond the abilities and understanding that Allah has bestowed upon human beings.
In fact, we should feel sorry for them because they have been deprived of the revelation of Allah and hence, deprived of the answers to all the questions that man has always wondered about such as who is man, what is his purpose and goal in this life and so forth, yet where man has failed to reach even close to the ‘correct’ response !
So Muslims have this pure revelation that is given to them by Allah that guides them in this world. Hence, one would imagine that a Muslim would be satisfied by the great treasures that Allah has bestowed upon him and be uninterested in external sources or dogma. Thus, anyone who does go outside the fold of Quran and Sunnah is obviously ignorant of his religion.
Unfortunately, in the history of Muslims we find this tragedy happening over and over again. Although, what we have in Qur’an and Sunnah is not only sufficient but complete and perfect, historically Muslims have still turned to external ‘non-Islamic’ sources. They have tried to implement some non-Islamic thoughts and tried to integrate them into Islam, compromising their religion and sometimes even putting the external sources above Islam. But the Prophet of Islam so clearly stated that whatever that was not part of the religion of Islam at his time would never be accepted as part of the religion.
For example, during Caliph Al-Ma’moon’s time, the process of translating Greek works into Arabic started. The Caliph, in fact, opened up a centre called Dar-al-Hikma (the ‘house of wisdom’; perhaps should have been called ‘Dar-al-Majnoon’- the house of madness)-a place where philosophers and people with different beliefs came together to interact. This was supposedly a place of ‘Da’wah’ and the nature of it was that people would come and discuss different beliefs. Although, the Muslims had PURE Qur’an and Hadith of Prophet at that time, they would actually come in order to learn from those philosophers and perhaps to ‘add’ to their beliefs and ‘adjust’ their beliefs according to what they learned from the philosophers. Due to this, many foreign concepts began to creep into Islam which had no place in the beliefs of the Muslims.
Mathematics, physics and other physical sciences were advancing rapidly around Muslim worlds 200 years after the time of the great caliphs. All these were dealt under the subject of philosophy. Unfortunately, many Muslims discovered many ideas once they started reading physics and mathematics inherited from the Greeks. They failed to distinguish between the good and the bad ideas. Many of them began to accept all of it together as philosophical reasoning and etc., similar to what is happening in today’s Muslim world.
When Muslims saw the material advancements in Europe because of their advanced scientific base, they thought that as a consequent Europeans would be advanced in religion and cultures too. Hence, they considered taking these from Europeans as well in order to be known as ‘civilized’.
They forgot that there was no way that the Greek teachings could be superior to what Allah has already given us or spoken about. And they also forgot that perhaps in math and physics there was room for human intellect and mind to discover many things, but when it came to philosophy and subjects like nature of God and God’s existence, these are subjects known only to Allah and revealed to human beings in only a limited arena. They forgot that in some areas the only source and the only truth can be found ONLY in the revelation of Allah. Human reasoning had severe natural limitations when dealing with these subjects since they do not possess the mental capability to decipher all or even most of the secrets of the universe-known only to Allah.
However, these people were ignorant of this reality and not only that they themselves had confused beliefs, they were very successful in spreading their beliefs to other Muslims. The first major groups of these ‘free-thinkers’ were two:
1. Islamic Philosophers
Mu’tazilites were closer to the true spirit of Islam than were the philosophers. Nevertheless their beliefs included ideas such as the following: the human mind can judge everything including religion and whatever ‘Aql’ (human mind) concludes/sees has to be true. These ideas developed from the rational principles of Greek philosophers stemming from the idea that what the human mind can prove rationally must be true. For the Mu’tazilites, this took precedence over what was revealed through the Quran and the Hadith. One of the leaders who was influenced by this school of thought told his people that they should work in their deen under the banner of human intellect and should not be satisfied from the narration (Quran or Sunnah) only and that they should take what their mind says is true (mahsharee…tafseer of quran).
Some philosophers even claimed to be superior than the Prophet (saw). They
thought of the Messenger of Islam as if he was just like one of us. For instance, a recent book translated in English from Arabic, ‘Hayat-e- Mohammed’ (Life of Mohammed) was written without using any salutations upon the Prophet (salallahu aleihi wasalam) or mentioning titles of Prophethood before or after Prophet Mohammed’s name. Just the title of this book reflects the author’s lack of respect for the Prophet or prophethood.
Mu’tazilites also believe that Sahabas (companions) were no different from us.
Ammar Ibn Obaid, one of the leaders of the Mu’tazila school of thought said, “By Allah if Ali, Uthman, Talha, Zubayr testify concerning a shoe lace in front of me I will not accept their testimony”. Mashharee who was not considered to be a radical Mu’tazalite called Ibn Mas’ud a liar because his aql couldn’t accept something narrated by Ibn Mas’ud (May Allah’s mercy be upon him).
These unfortunate circumstances happened due to these deviant group’s looking for external sources and letting oneself influenced by teachings other then Quran and Sunnah. Instead of going to the pure Qur’an and Sunnah, they allowed rationalistic thoughts and believed in them and put them above the Quran and Sunnah. Mu’tazila became dormant for quite some period of time.
Around the same time, something new was happening in Europe. In dark ages the church controlled everything. Under the influence of Muslims, the period of renaissance began in Europe. The Europeans learned more scientific methods (physically scientific) a lot of which they picked up from Muslims. Many of the things that they saw in reality went against what church was preaching . Some of the leading thinkers of that day were basically opposing the church as they were coming up with conclusions. For instance, Newton concluded a number of things that went against the beliefs of church (Note: one should always distinguish b/w scientific theory and fact).
There were very explicit differences between the theories or facts and the church teachings. As mentioned in the beginning, this should not be especially surprising because teachings of Christianity are not based upon the revelation of Allah swt, nor the distorted interpretation of Christianity by the church. Conflict between scientific facts and the church were very strong. People who had scientific beliefs that went against the teachings of the church were often punished and even lost their lives.
However, the church was losing the battle because people were witnessing scientific theories to be true! Hence, a large number of ‘reform’ movements started inside the church and they developed ‘modernism’ in the religion. The basis of this idea was that revelation and teachings of the religion had to be understood in their proper context. They may have been true for the time that they were revealed in and that they might have some general truth behind them but these teachings had to be changed as later generations progressed (Ironically, some Muslim ‘scholars’ of today believe that the society is progressing in positive fashion …religion has to change with the changing of the men).
So, what developed was the pure secularism in the political world and the other was the modernist approach trying to balance secularism and religion. Unfortunately, when the modernist movement was at its peak, the ‘materially’ backward Muslims began to be influenced by the west. Many Muslim leaders went to Europe, observed European cultures, and went back to their country boasting of the riches of Europe. Even Muslim writers made their trips to Europe and were so influenced that they started writing about the beauty of Europe and how Muslims would become civilized in their culture by following the ways of Europeans. Thus, the Muslims were left with the following three choices:
Admit that west is superior and accept everything that was coming from it
2. Reject everything that was coming from west
The third approach was followed by the likes of Jamal-ud-Din al Qasami. He understood that the problem was with the Muslim Ummah itself and the way that it was implementing Islam rather than the religion of Islam itself. He called people back to true Islam and asked them to apply Islam as it is supposed to be applied. Allhumdulilah, throughout the Muslim world, there were people who thought this way but unfortunately didn’t have the influence.
But how could the west let go of its chance to destroy Muslim unity. They picked out some areas in Muslim Ummah where they tried to attack the most. One of them was Turkey.
Turkey was very vital to Europeans because it was the seat of Caliphate. It was the political head in the leadership of Muslim Ummah, the ‘Uthmani’ empire. Hence Turkey became for the west a centre of intense study and it ultimately found the best approach to demolish it. Another place was Egypt-centre of ‘al-Azhar’, ‘the most important’ centre of learning. The third place was the Indo-Pak subcontinent due to its economic welfare. They affected these areas and left damaging results for the whole Muslim Ummah. They brought down the Khilafa in Turkey, transferred all the wealth from Indo-Pak to Europe, and last but not least the teachings of Al- Azhar were greatly effected by modernist movements. However, everything was not as a result of external powers; Muslims went down because of their leaving the Qur’an and Sunnah. We were and still are doing it to ourselves and the Disbelievers are just helping.
In the last century, Kamal Ata Turk took over in Turkey. He gave secularists full freedom. He changed the script of Turkish language to Latin script. By changing the whole script of language, he tried and probably succeeded in taking the future generations away from their language’s proximity to Arabic-the language of the Qur’an and all the past authentic Islamic literature in their language At that time, Muslim countries had either Arabic language or language closer to Arabic, which not only helped in ‘Muslim unity’ but most importantly it was easy for them to learn more and more about their religion.
Sohili, the Indonesian language was in Arabic was changed to Latin as well. It was done over and over again and the people behind this conspiracy were usually the disbelievers or their hypocrite Muslim allies. In this way, Muslims automatically broke apart from their past. The whole new generations cut off from all of the legacy that country had! However, at some places they were not as successful but unfortunately, the amount of success they achieved from other places sometimes continued until this day.
The idea that Islam had to change and adjust to the new ‘world order’ spread around the whole Muslim Ummah. For example, in Indo-Pak area, one of the leaders of the modernist movement, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan who died in 1898 concluded that after 1857 when Britain dominated Indo-Pak subcontinent, the salvation of Muslim depended upon cooperating and befriending the British and adopting their culture! He also said that there shouldn’t be any enmity or hatred between Muslims and Christians because from the Islamic point of view it is prohibited as Islam has the most respect for Christ ! Similarly, he had to break down some of the cultural barriers between Muslims and Christians by giving some fatawa and preaching ‘new’ methodologies. For instance, Muslims at that time refused to eat at the same table with Christians regardless if it was correct from shar’ee point of view. He gave the fatwa that it was okay regardless of the situation.
He also founded a university and he insisted that the only language used in that university would be English. He created a new class of people who were versed in English but totally ignorant of Arabic. In essence, he also helped people to break away from their past. He also asserted that polygamy was contrary to Islam and should be permitted in rare cases. He said that modern banks, business transactions, loans, and international trading, comprising the modern economy, although all involving interest did not properly fall under the definition of ‘riba’ and thus were not contrary to Quran. He claimed that the punishments laid down in the Quran and Sunnah for cutting the hands for theft, stoning to death for adultery or 100 lashes for fornication were barbarous and were suitable for only previous societies which lacked prison systems!
All of these teachings are still being propagated by different people right here in United States! Around two years ago, a leader from Islamic Center of California told San Jose Mercury News practically the same thing that Muslims do not believe in the barbarous rules which are being applied in Saudi and other places. The only things which were true for him from Quran and Sunnah were the things which are in accordance with 20th century science. He denied miracles, existence of jinns, angels, the virgin birth of Issa (alaihis salam).
Similar ideas can also be found in the tafseer of Abdulla Yousuf Ali (almost all these ideas). According to him, bodily resurrections, heaven and hell are symbolic. These are simply states of mind and they have no ‘physical’ significance. One of his students, Syed Aamir Ali wrote a book named ‘Spirit of Islam’. In his book, Aamir Ali talked about the fact that Quran was written by Prophet and how he had a little intellect. So the Prophet did his best but it is not something that we ‘have’ to stick to.
Egypt, the home of Al-Azhar, was greatly influenced by the new ideas of modernism. Many Muslims fell under this way of thinking. May Allah forgive them if they had sincere intentions but they were just ignorant. Many of them came up with concept which were clearly against the Quran and Sunnah.
People coming from Al-Azhar were influenced by this kind of thinking and gave strange fatawas from the likes of Jamal-ud-Din Afghani and numerous other people. Basically, this way of thinking was developed in Europe called ‘modern school of thought’ in the churches. It is essential that we should know the definition of this school of thought so that we know exactly what we are talking about. We will also be able to find it in the writing and speech of different people. Although, people don’t state explicitly that they believe in this concept but in reality, knowingly or unknowingly, this is what they are applying.
Modernism in religion, is any movement in the religion based on the belief that scientific and cultural progress requires a reinterpretation of the traditional teachings of the religion in the light of modern philosophies in knowledge.
So basically what it means is that as science progresses then we have to go back to religion and reinterpret all of those teachings in the light of what is now known as modern science. However, we are not only talking about science here. Maybe, if we had stuck to the original or actual physical science it may have not been as harmful, but as alluded before, we are going beyond what human mind can ever conclude whether it is true or false.
For example, issues about women: nowadays people are arguing that women don’t have to wear hijab, or they should be free to mix with men, or they should be able to work and so forth. None of this is based on what you can call the science. And to go to the Qur’an, and to go to the Hadith and reinterpret in the light of what women are now doing in the 20th century is simply nonsense. However, unfortunately, this is basically what these people believe in and this is how they approach the Qur’an and Sunnah of Prophet. And when we think about all these modernist ideologies, whether they are Christian or Jewish or Muslim– whatever their source might be, they all reject the idea and notion that there are some transcendental truths and values that are true for all time.
Some time ago, there was a discussion between a man and woman and the woman is talking about how everything changes and she doesn’t think that anything should be the same. Traditions should change and values should change and etc. So, the man (editor) asked her that even the values should change and she said, “Yes”. He asked, “It means that you should change also?” She said, “Yes of course, everything changes except the face of Allah (wajhillah)”.
On another instance, there was election in the mosque, and they were discussing whether or not they should allow women to run for president in the mosque. One brother said to another one, ” man wake up this is 20th.” This guy was not a philosopher, but this clearly shows that he was influenced by this idea. We can see many examples of cases where speakers, writers and even institutions are propagating this way of thinking. Some more examples are as follow:
Once there was a lecture going on by a very famous speaker (and known as a Ahl-Sunnah-wal-Jammah) at a Muslim Conference (California). He said, ” Prophet (saw) used to make Ijtihaad [he was quoting from someone who had recently written a book-and it was like blind leading the blind because of what he quoted]. Sometimes Prophet (saw) was wrong when he made Ijtihaad. When Prophet made the Ijtihaad and he was wrong, Allah (swt) didn’t always correct him. Therefore we have to go to the Sunnah of Prophet (saw) and try to determine where he was correct in his Ijtihaad and where he was incorrect.” In just a few sentences, thin nice corrupted syllogism completely destroys the place of Sunnah in Islam.
(When it comes to the Sunnah of Prophet (saw) this is the thing most by the modernists like their counterparts- the Orientalists and the disbelieverss because in most cases the Muslims are ignorant about the Sunnah, about how it was preserved and how we can rely on the hadith and so forth. Another reason that the enemies of Islam don’t like the Sunnah was well known even to the Sahabas. When Ali (ra) was advising Ibn Abbas about how to debate with the Khawarij, he said, “Don’t just talk to them from the verses of the Quran but confine them by the Sunnah “,meaning the Sunnah explains the Quran and shows us explicitly that what the Qur’an means and how it is to be applied.
On another occasion, there was an ongoing Muslim-Christian dialogue. They were talking about the position of women in different religions. One speaker wanted to prove that a Muslim woman could be a ruler in Islam. So he said, “there is a hadith in Bukhari which is ‘usually’ a reliable source of hadith, that people will not prosper if their affairs are in the hands of the women. So first of all, he said, this was narrated by Abu Bakra and Abu Bakra according to the scholars of the hadith is not an acceptable narrator (which is obviously a lie since the scholars of hadith accept all Sahabas to be authentic narrators).
He continued that if we look at the world today, there had been countries where the rulers were women and they had prosperity, for example, Margaret Thatcher , Indra Gandhi, Golda Maier, etc. The speaker further said that those examples that he had given proved without a doubt that this hadith could not have been stated by the Prophet (saw). However, the Islamic definition of Prosperity (Falah) includes not only this world but also the Hereafter. Even if we neglected this integral part of the definition how could one say that England had Falah under Margaret Thatcher.
What happened to the unemployment rate under her, and the drug abuse rate, alcohol abuse, suicide rate, etc.? All these were disastrously effected under her rule. SubhanAllah, how can a Muslim judge the authenticity of the saying of the Prophet based upon such ridiculous premises. At least the speaker accepted the fact that if Prophet had stated it, it would have been true. This is a sad status of Muslims when they start judging the authenticity of ahadith based upon what they see around them, even if their ‘facts’ were in fact flawed. For instance the above example of Margret Thatcher and Indara Ghandi was not even really a fact. It was something that people studied and observed, hence an opinion. It is just like saying that Reagan was a good president. Everyone who studies presidents says that Reagen ranked up Zakarie Taylor. So if they find a hadith stating that Reagan was a bad president, they would say, “No, no this must be a fabricated hadith !!”
The point is that if someone has some ideas in his mind, he uses these ideas to judge the Qur’an and the hadith of Prophet (saw). This is completely unacceptable and pure nonsense! But that’s the whole trend of modernist movement that we are seeing. For example, someone can say that it’s okay for American Muslim woman to marry non-Muslim man because the American women are different from the women at time of Prophet (saw). They carry guns and they know how to handle themselves!! This is the way people are approaching the Quran and the Hadith of Prophet (saw).
Unfortunately, this methodology and trend is not limited to United States only, but actually it has spread throughout the whole Muslim Ummah. For example, al-Mujtama which should be fairly conservative, is also giving fatawas of that type to people. Just recently there was a debate that whether or not the Muslims should enter the elections and parliament. One of them said that it’s okay for the women to be in parliament and it’s okay for the women to be rulers! At least we didn’t expect this as boldly in Al-Mujtama.
However, their influence is greater in United States. People, here, don’t even realize that they are falling under the influence of modernist thinking and teachings.
One of the reasons they are so dangerous is the fact that they are (and some people may not like it) another group of Ahl-Bid’a (Innovators), because their Usul (basic principles that they built their religion upon) goes against the beliefs and principles of Ahl-Sunnah wal Jammah.
For example, to say al-Aql (human reasoning) takes precedence over al-Naql (available text, i.e. the Qur’an and the Sunnah), and also to reject the Ijmaah of Sahabas (which is what many of them do!) is something completely unacceptable. If we look at the complete way of thinking of these modernists, we will see that they have their own manhaj (methodology) and their own usul (principles). And anytime any group start having their own methodology, historically speaking, then they form a certain group of Ahl-Bida. Whether or not they were united, or if their principles and way of teaching are the same, they are categorized as being from Ahl-Bida. Therefore, all the principles and tenants referred to the Ahl-Bida are also applied to them.
Another related to these modernists is that they are very tricky and deceitful. Therefore, it’s easy for Muslims, especially new Muslims or those who don’t have much knowledge, to be pulled away by their way of thinking. For example, a new convert might have been used to thinking that this is 20th century and America is the leading civilization etc.
His ideas about Islam might not be as strong. If he is exposed to the modernists’ teachings that the understanding of the Qur’an through Sunnah and Sahabas of 1400 years ago is not correct anymore, and it is now time to base it on the new technology (as he already had these ideas in his mind, especially having a Christian background), then this person sooner or later might reject Qur’an and/or reinterpret all verses of Quran that go against their belief.
To put the icing on the cake, the most dangerous and one of the most important aspects of this movement is that many people don’t even realize that this movement exists especially here in United States (by the way, when it is said movement, doesn’t necessarily have to be organized, what it means is more of a trend). It is stronger and spreading here in the U.S because certain people are pushing behind it. And when some people of Ahl-Sunnah wal Jamah oppose this way of teaching and this trend, they in turn get attacked !
This shows us how damaging the situation has become. And unfortunately, some of these people have become very famous for external reasons. For instance, there is an Orientalist who compiled a big index of hadith terms. What he did takes no ‘real’ knowledge because basically it is to go to the hadith and find out the word and put it in the index that such-and-such word can be found on such-and-such page. Just because of this, he suddenly became famous among the Orientalists and among Muslims that he became the ‘scholar’ of the hadith and started writing about this subject.
To conclude this lengthy discussion, I just want to remind the readers and myself that we have to be aware of what is going on around us. When we hear the fatawas and opinions of the ‘alims’ and the self-proclaimed scholars, we need to go back and check if these rulings are according to Quran and Sunnah. Just because someone is a very popular speaker, or a ‘scholar’, doesn’t mean that he is an authentic source of knowledge also. If he gives opinions which are not based on Qur’an and Sunnah then by no means whatsoever can we follow him. How can we follow someone who is following a way other than the book of Allah and the Sunnah of Prophet (saw)?
Alhamdullilahi Rabbil ‘Alameen, the Qur’an and the Sunnah have been preserved for us to confront every time we are confused about an issue. We can never ignore the Sunnah of the Prophet and the way Sahabas understood it. That’s the only key to understand the Qur’an in its proper context and that’s the only way we will ever be able to imply Islam in our lives as it is supposed to be implied. At the same time, as those people are taking an active role in spreading their new ideas, we too have to take an active role InshAllah in spreading the correct Islam, the Islam of Qur’an and Sunnah of Prophet (saw) and the way his Sahabas followed.
By Umm Abdullah
Based on a lecture by Sh. Jamal-ud-Din Zarabozo