Red, White and Black

A Muslim Renaissance
18 December, 2005, 3:03 pm
Filed under: general, Islam

A couple of days ago, I watched a talk show. The topic of discussion was “Is a Muslim Renaissance possible?” The speaker, Javed Ahmed, looked at the reasons due to which the Muslim world has slipped into despondency. Some very interesting points were raised.He began by saying that the Muslim world slipped into such abysmal conditions only because they stopped heeding to the real principles of religion. Javed Ahmed pointed out that soon after the Spanish period of Muslim glory, the Quran became a mere book for talaawat or recitation. This basically meant that the Quran was not a book to learn from anymore- but just a book to learn by heart. This implied that people started laying more emphasis on the practice instead of the reason behind it all. The Muslims had lost the source of inspiration and thus it remains.

Further Javed Ahmed elaborated that the Muslim world paid little attention to the development of intellectual faculties. He questioned what the acheivemets of the Muslims Tatars, the Turkish Sultnate and the Mulsim dynasties of the subcontinent? Did tib and falsafa flourish as they had done before? Did the Muslim societies really progress? Were any strong reforms implemented, did the emperors leave behind a mark that others would truly marvel at? No, the Taj Mahal wasn’t good enough.

He laid great emphasis on the development of Metaphysics in the glory days of the Muslim world- which is very true. In those days, metaphysis took on two forms: falsafa and tasawuf. Falsafa means philosophy – and we had the likes of Ibn-e-Khaldun and Ghazali. These people looked at religion in different ways – but always struggling to find the fine balance between faith and reason. Importantly though, they thought and attempted to understand whatever was going on around them. The ones who indulged in tasawuf mixed philosophy with spirituality and they became the mystics. They included big names like Rumi and Hajveri. Their aim again was to understand religion and reconcile it with their beings. They made religion approachable for the common man.

But this was then. Only a notable modern Muslim philosophers and thinkers have emerged in the modern times- Afgahni, Iqbal, Abduh and Qutb.? The first three again laid a lot of emphasis on role of reason in understanding religion and its workings. Qutb endorsed a different, a rather violent version for Muslim Renaissance. But here is the catch. More people today know of Qutb and his disciple than they do of Afghani, Iqbal and Abduh. Why is that? The moderate and the rational face of Islam is suppressed, while the violent and exculsivist face is seen everywhere. Why have we not bothered to provide a fertile intellectual ground to the moderate voices? Do we have centres of learning where these views are taught and allowed to flourish? And not only this. The Muslim world has a strong history for research in medicine, math and geometry. Where has all of that disappeared? As Javed Ahmed pointed out- it’s not that there is a dreath of resources to fund these institutes – but the will lacks. There will be no Muslim Renaissance, until and unless these faculties are developed and harnessed.

Towards the end he was asked by a panelist: “Is it the religious duty of a Muslim to preach Islam and work towards the Renaissance of the religion?”

His answer was amazing.

He said that it is not the religious duty of a Muslim to preach Islam. But it is a the duty of a Muslim to be a good Muslim. And what does that mean? It doesn’t just mean that you say prayers 5 times a day, fast for a month and pay zakat. It’s about living a life by morals and principles. Your religion does not ask anything more of you. If a member of a society abides by the basic moral principles – its directly reflects on the society too. And a such a society acts a magnet itself – it shows people the way to lead a good life. It is not about being religious at all – but just being moral.

He essentially reduced theology to moral philosophy. There is no religious zeal attached – only a wish to be a useful member of society. If you are able to bring about a Renaissance in your private sphere, then a Renaissance will automatically follow in the public sphere. That’s it. No big deal.


2 Comments so far
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Recently a Saudi prince gave 20 million dollars as endowment to 2 top universities in the USA, Harvard and Georgetown.
The objective was, as you mention in your article, to develop an understanding of Islam in the academic community which will then filter out into the rest of the world. Harvard’s Islamic studies program “will enable generations of students and scholars to gain a thorough understanding of Islam and its role both in the past and in today’s world.”
This may be a pointer toward the Renaissance you mention.

Comment by Id it is

It’s a good gesture Iditis, but more importantly the need is to invest on institutes and universities in the Muslim world. The Renaissance has to take place there. And that’s just the problem. These princes don’t want that change to take place for it will automatically weaken the dogma that keeps them alive and at the helm. Same goes for many of the Muslim world rulers. The need is to break through this vicious cycle.

Comment by Ayesha

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