For The Record: For An Islamic Modernity

Freedom, knowledge and gender equality have to be its pillars

1/2/2018 7:19:07 PM
written By : M J Akbar Print

Has Islam ever been in the forefront of modernity? Only clarity in a question can lead to honesty in the answer. Muslim communities are still, largely, wandering through a haze, as they grapple with, on the one side, internal doctrinaires who have laced regressive thinking with the opium of romance, and on the other, an external pseudo-intellectual assault that stereotypes all Muslims into images of violence and gender oppression.

This external assault is framed along binaries heavy with prejudice, for instance: “Islam and the West”. The linkage is obviously biased and false. Islam is a faith. West is a geography. How do you compare the two — unless you have turned the terms into silent metaphors where West is a replacement of modernity and Islam implicitly equivalent to medievalism and the dark ages? The world is in the midst of a revolution of ideas that will make the 21st century into the golden age of individual freedom and collective achievement: But of what use will it be to us if the revolution sweeps through the streets outside our homes, but we remain trapped in the past because we refused to open doors?

Modern. Secular. State. Each term has been constantly redefined by human advance, and each advance has been momentous.

The unprecedented change in the nature of the state is the best example. The British empire was born in India and lies buried there. Neo-colonial successors across Africa and Asia are in poor health. This vacuum has been filled by the rise of nation states, a dramatic expression of popular will that sought boundaries on the strength of democratic virtues rather than armed power of the elites. We are in the age of the nation state.

Secularism is informed with the same spirit of harmonious co-existence but has adopted variables in different cultures at different times. The Holy Quran has defined it cogently: La qum deen o qum wail yadeen. No religion promotes war for the sake of war; war is valid only as self-defence. Our Indian philosophy believes in the co-existence of all faiths rather than the elimination of faith.

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