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Does Islam has a vision of the modern world?

Published: 21/08/2011 02:03:00 PM GMT
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A question that is often asked is whether Islam has a vision of the modern world. Most fundamentalists reject the idea of modernity in the sense that it separates religion from daily life and from community. This is completely opposite to what Islam stands for and has set up a situation in which Muslims are seen as backward or barbaric.

However, if one looks deeper one will see that, just as many in the West see Islam more as a caricature, as a living stereotype, so do many Muslim fundamentalists see the concepts of secularism in the West through a superficial exaggerated world-view. Many Islamic fundamentalists see the West through the lens of movies and television, places where violence and sex are glorified while religion and morality is often ignored or undermined. However, both sides fail to understand that Islam is a part of modern Western culture, just as the West forms a very basic part of Islamic culture.

However it may seem to fundamentalists and extremists, most Muslims view modernity not as a break from the past but as a renewal of the past; a break from the foreign concepts that have polluted Islam so as to return to the original ideas that surrounded the religion in its origins. The ethical aspects of the Islam of Medina and Mecca are an ideal which embrace the improved living conditions and technology that modernity brings.

Muslims have a specific way of viewing individual rights, always through the lens of Islam. From the very beginnings of the religion, Islam has offered its followers unprecedented human rights. Muslims can easily understand and embrace the idea of a representative government, or freedom of thought or of opinion, but always within the framework of what Islam allows and disallows. Islam can include most modern ideas, but within an ethical and moral framework that betters them rather than restricts them. Many fundamentalists see Islam as a restriction, rather than as something that can help them integrate into modern ideals and society.

The concept of individualism in Western culture refers to human beings acting to a certain extent according to their own wishes. This interpretation of individualism for many Muslims can turn a man from God. Western culture traditionally places reason above everything while for many fundamentalist Muslims it is something to be feared. The fact is that this kind of thinking is cliched and forces a false stereotype on both parties. Islam is no more against reason than Western tradition and they are both parts of one and the same. In short, Islam's attitude toward the modern world is really not that different from the West and, in fact, the Qur'an encourages individualism and the power of reason much more than Christianity. Individualism is an integral, central part of Islam. In Islam each Muslim seeks his own road towards God. A Muslim must not obey blindly or acknowledge any earthly authority except God and, no matter the background of each individual Muslim, he can understand God without the need for a priest or through the mediation of catechism, saints or sacraments. There are no castes in Islam and, if the Qur'an is followed to the letter as it should be, no person is above any other before God.

The fact is that those Muslim scholars afraid or critical of modernity are rather afraid of change or of losing their power or privilege. There is nothing, anywhere in the Qur'an that contradicts the ideals of modernization. Today a fundamentalist faction of Islam has taken hold of the minds of many Muslims and religious orthodoxy seems to be the path most commonly taken. However, traditionally religious problems have been solved not through orthodoxy but by using analogy, looking at the life of the Prophet Muhammad and finding analogous situations to current problems. Interpretation can modernize Islam, rather than blindly following tradition.

It is a pity that today most modern thinking in Islam is not found in the core of Muslim populations, in Islamic countries or in the big Muslim cities. Rather, it is found in the young and in those societies in which Islam is a minority, rather than a majority. It seems fitting that, as these ideas have more in common with Islam as it was in its origins rather than what is being practiced today in a more traditional and orthodox setting that progress and a return to the true intentions of the Qur'an is being found among those Muslims that live among Western society. Modernity is inevitable, as it has always been throughout history. It is not a matter of “if” but of “when” Islam will integrate into the modern world. Islamic youth as shown that Muslim are really part of the world culture and, hopefully, extremism and Islamic fundamentalism and orthodoxy will quickly become a thing of the past.

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