Islamic View of Progress


nature shrinks as capital growsOn account of their Westernized education, they are unable to understand the fact that the Islamic view of life differs from modern Western ideals not only in providing different answers but even more, in asking entirely different questions. Even many of those who regard themselves as genuine Muslims who wish to promote the cause of Islam, can only think in Western terms.

Those who strive for Islamic regeneration must appeal to the nobler self in man which is as universal as his baser inclinations. Today almost everyone living in the giant urban counters subconsciously feels an intuitive emptiness in his days, a lack of purpose, direction and meaning in his existence which no amount of material goods and the frantic chase after “happiness” or enjoyment of sensual pleasures can satisfy. This is the province of religion and entirely beyond the sphere of science, at least in its present form.

The present century can rightly be described as the age of the predominance of Western philosophical thought and learning. This materialistic point of view, supported and propagated by the educational system and the mass-media in almost every country in the East and West without exception, has become global. All the influential people in positions of power and authority in the political, economic, social, educational and cultural spheres are all adhering to this viewpoint. The dominance of Western culture and philosophical thought is so pervasive and universal that even many sincere Muslims who are struggling against it in contemporary Islamic revivalist movements, turn out on closer examination to be greatly influenced by Western thought in their approach, methods and interpretation m  ,/s so that they lose most of their effectiveness.

The central ideas in the Western view of life repudiate all theological and transcendental concepts, insisting instead that physical phenomena and concrete matter should become the most important objectives of human scrutiny and any quest after God, soul, absolute morality and salvation in the Hereafter would find no place. The political, economic and cultural domination of the West afflicted all non-European peoples with acute inferiority-complexes. A host of modernizers arose simultaneously in all these lands to re-interpret their traditional religions and philosophies in a secular, materialistic way. We Muslims have fallen just as easy prey to these same fallacies.

As a result, the average modern-educated Muslim fears above all else to be stigmatized as “backward.” He is far more terrified of being labeled as “backward” than becoming sinful. He longs far more for “progress” than any moral or spiritual virtue. Such modernists among us shout from the rooftops that Islam must be the symbol of “advancement” and “progress”, that “backward” Muslim is a de-Muslimized Muslim. They are so ashamed of Muslim history, traditional Islamic institutions and culture that they are, in fact, far more harshly critical of their religious heritage than the Westerners they strive so frantically to imitate.

On account of their Westernized education, they are unable to understand the fact that the Islamic view life differs from modern Western ideals not only in providing different answers but even more, in asking entirely different questions. Even many of those who regard themselves as genuine Muslims who wish to promote the cause of Islam, can only think in Western terms.

cruel male dominated culture, bikini, hijabThe question of “backward” versus “progressive” of even “primitive” versus “civilized”, is just as irrelevant to the Islamic view of life as the “equality” of women or the right to absolute “freedom” of thought and action. Although all useful knowledge and positive achievements of the West and other non-Islamic peoples may be appropriated by us, provided we use this creatively and adapt it to our own needs and requirements and not mere slavish imitation out of feelings of inferiority, it is entirely wrong to suppose (as our modernists have done) that the Islamic mission cannot succeed in the world until we are materially equal or superior to our adversaries. Islamic history provides the most effective refutation of this wide-spread fallacy.
To the sophisticated Persians and Romans of the days of the Holy Prophet and the Sahabah or Companions, the early Muslims of Arabia must have appeared hopelessly “backward” and “primitive.” Though grossly inferior in numbers and poorly equipped, often ragged and half-starved, they successfully vanquished infinitely more “civilized” foes. They were never ashamed of their material poverty nor did they regard it as any obstacle for the propagation of their mission. The following Hadith is elopuent testimony to the contempt of the Holy Prophet for worldly advantages:

23 - 115 Do you think I created you meaninglesslyUmar Ibn Khattab said: When I entered the room, I saw the Holy Prophet lying on a date palm mat on the floor. There was no bedding between it and him. The marks of the matting were imprinted on his body. He had a leather bag filled with the bark of the date-palm as his pillow. I noticed that the contents of his room comprised of only three pieces of tanned skin and a handful of barley lying in a corner. I looked about but failed to find anything else. I began to weep. “Oh Prophet of Allah!” I cried. “Pray that Allah may grant ample provisions for us. The Persians and the Romans, who have no faith in Allah, enjoy abundance and prosperity. Then why should the chosen Prophet of Allah live in such dire poverty?” The Holy Prophet was resting on his hard pillow but when he heard me talk like this, he quickly sat up and rebuked me. “Oh Umar! Why do you envy their ease and comfort? Are you not satisfied that for them is this world and for us the Hereafter?” I implored: “O Prophet of Allah, forgive me! I was in error.”

(Islam and Western Society, M. Jameelah, 1982, p. 56-59)

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