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
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
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
- Correct approach.
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
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 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
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
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
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
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
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
By Umm Abdullah
Based on a lecture by Sh. Jamal-ud-Din