Concept of Modernity in Islam

Vol 3- Issue 3  Concept of modernitySome Muslims feel that anything new or modern is good. But is this really the case? How should we understand modernity as Muslims? First, let us understand what modernization meant to the West.

David Lyon defines modernity:

“The term refers to the social order that emerged following the Enlightenment. Though its roots may be traced further back, the modern world is marked by its unprecedented dynamism, its dismissal or marginalizing of tradition, and by its global consequences.  Time seemed to speed up, and space to open up. Modernity’s forward-looking thrust relates strongly to belief in progress and the power of human reason to produce freedom.”

Lyon mentions that modernization dismisses or marginalizes tradition. He describes tradition as “a set of rules given by the village community, religious cultic life, or the elders or kings who held sway.” I will briefly discuss the benefits and shortcomings of modernization, as defined by the three proclaimed founders of sociology- Karl Marx, Emil Durkheim, and Max Weber – and give the Islamic view on modernization or progress.

Benefits of Modernization

Technological and Industrial Advancement

A major benefit of modernization was the growth of technology and industry. Such technological advances as the steam engine, machine tools, textile mills, and mass production of cars and computers are signs that a society is advancing or progressing – materialistically at least. Technology makes our lives easier and more expansive.

Division of Labor and Increased Individuality

To Emil Durkheim (1858-1917), modernization meant the division of labor (part of the industrial revolution). It relates to a differentiation and specialization of society in general: I specialize in making tires, while you specialize in making engines – we both depend on each other for benefits. The family and the individual have their separate spheres in society. This is linked to an increase in individuality.


One of the benefits of modernization, according to Max Weber (1864-1918), is the transformation from traditional or religious dogma to scientific or rational thinking. By modernization and rationalization Weber meant the gradual adoption of a calculating attitude towards nearly all aspects of life. Having pushed what he saw as the ‘spirits and demons’ of traditional culture into the wings, the rational approach of science found its dynamic expression in the capitalist economy and took the centre stage, systematically infusing every sector of society.

Here, Weber’s concept of modernity corresponds with the Enlightenment view, which pushes aside the religious leaders and gives the authority and legitimacy to science and human reasoning. This suggests clues about the mindset of the modern western thinker or intellectual. Generally speaking, he rejects any kind of religion on the basis that it is ‘blindness’ and dogma.

Shortcomings of Modernization

Class Struggle and Capitalism

Karl Marx (1818-83) believed that the capitalists (the owners of production) would exploit the workers because of conflict of interests. Marx argued that the capitalists’ increasing wealth (surplus money) would create class consciousness that would divide society: I am higher than you, because I come from the city, while you come from the village. Marx did not discuss, how race and colour are related to class in western societies. Generally, being dark is linked to belonging to a lower class.

Anomie and Loneliness

According to Durkheim, when people become so much different from each other, they have the potential of falling into anomie – a pathological state of modernity, in which one looses connection with others in society. For example, rock stars take their lives, because they feel that no one understands or really cares about them; people commit suicide, because they get lonely during the holidays.

Modernization from Islamic Perspective

Islam is Enlightenment

First and foremost, secular capitalistic democratic modernization is not successful, because it was created by humans, who are limited in their ability to judge, reason, and comprehend creation. Allah (swt), the Creator of all that exists, says:

“Such is Alah, your Lord! La ilaha illa Huwa (none has the right to be worshipped but He), the Creator of all things. So worship Him (Alone), and He is the Wakil (Trustee, Disposer of affairs, Guardian) over all things.” (Al-Anam 6:102)

Because He is the Creator, He is in a better position to tell us, how we should live for our benefit and progress.

Islam’s birth was the light for humanity and the world at large. Allah (swt) says:

“Then if they reject you (O Muhammad), so were Messengers rejected before you, who came with Al-Bayyinat (clear signs, proofs, evidences) and the Scripture and the Book of Enlightenment.” (Al-Imran 3:184)

“Allah is the Wali (Protector or Guardian) of those who believe. He brings them out from darkness into light. But as for those who disbelieve, their Auliya (supporters and helpers) are Taghut [false deities and false leaders], they bring them out from light into darkness. Those are the dwellers of the Fire, and they will abide therein forever.” (Al-Baqarah 2:257)

These beautiful words remind us that Allah (swt) led us out of the darkness of Kufr to the light of Islam. Many converts to Islam can testify to this. Before, we did not have dignity or respect for ourselves. Our thoughts were shallow and limited to our desires. We saw only races and colours in our fellow human beings, blinded to the potentials of brotherhood.  Truly, Islam enlightens us today, as it did the pagan Arabs of yesterday.

Progress and Advancement in Islam     

Progress is not limited to material advancement, but is holistic in nature. A civilization cannot be called developed, if its creed does not address the greatest questions of the humankind: where do we come from? what is the purpose of life? what happens after the life of this world? Islam profoundly answers these questions – thus, it can be truly called enlightened. Islam deals with a changing world through Ijtihad (exerting effort in understanding a reality, so that it can be judged by Islam to be permitted or not).

Islam’s Motives Differ from Capitalism

Islam does not allow the hoarding of wealth and privatization of natural resources. The Islamic State (which does not exist today) administers the natural resources for the benefit of the people. Allah (swt) says about spending:

“O you who believe! Spend of that with which We have provided for you, before a Day comes when there will be no bargaining, nor friendships, nor intercession. And it is the disbelievers who are the Zalimun (wrong-doers).” (Al-Baqarah 2:254)

“And spend in the Cause of Allah (i.e. Jihad of all kinds) and do not throw yourselves into destruction (by not spending your wealth in the Cause of Allah), and do good. Truly, Allah (swt) loves Al-Muhsinun (the good-doers).” (Al-Baqarah 2:195)

To Allah (swt) we all will return, so it is better to keep our eyes on the objective of life, when it comes to our wealth. If we can alleviate some of the pain of the poor, we should do it. The objective of modern capitalism, however, is to gain more and more wealth, while the masses live in poverty.

Family Ties and Community in Islam

An extreme emphasis on individuality has stripped society of the feeling of community, especially in the West. One is not to ‘cut the ties of the womb’ in Islam. Muslims must take care of their parents and visit their relatives. Muslims must be aware of being a part of one Ummah, which, according to Prophet Muhammad (sa), feels pain as if one body-not nation states.

Finally, many of us are professionals, who learned what we know from theorists and scientists of the West. We must understand that the roots of western ideologies are based only on worldly wisdom. It does not mean that technology, industry, medicine, and research cannot be benefited from. However, we should not depart from Allah (swt) in the process, as the West did.

Allah (swt) says:

“And so judge (you o Muhammad) among them by what Allah has revealed and follow not their vain desires, but beware of them lest they turn you (O Muhammad) far away from some of that which Allah has sent down to you. And if they turn away, then know that Allah’s Will is to punish them for some sins of theirs. And truly, most of men are Fasiqun (rebellious and disobedient to Allah).” (Al-Maidah 5:49)

The problem of today’s world is not in one symptom or many symptoms. The problem is the root cause – going away from Allah (swt). I pray to Allah (swt) to forgive my sins and make this short essay benefit our Ummah. Ameen.

Imam Bukhari

Vol 3- Issue 3 Iman BukhariAs a child, he had memorized over seventy thousand Ahadeeth without the aid of pen or paper; such was the fame of the young Imam Abu Abdullah Muhammad ibn Ismail Al-Bukhari.

Allah (swt) had blessed him with an amazing memory; the greatest evidence of this is his book of Ahadeeth an-Nabawi, commonly known as Sahih Al-Bukhari. It is universally acknowledged as the most authentic book after the Holy Quran.

Born in Bukhara (present day Uzbekistan), his father passed away during his infancy. Imam Bukhari became blind at a young age; it was his mother’s entreaties to Allah (swt), which led to the restoration of his eyesight. She then set him in the direction of attaining knowledge, which would benefit him and the rest of the world even today.

After acquiring his elementary education at the age of ten, Al-Bukhari obtained admission in the Hadeeth class of Bukhara. A year later, he had such a good retention of the text and chains of transmission of Ahadeeth that sometimes teachers got their corrections from him!

At the age of sixteen, he had memorized the books of learned companions of Imam Abu Haneefah. Then at eighteen, he visited Makkah for further education and later travelled to cities far and wide for the transmission of Ahadeeth. He gained immense knowledge.

Hashid ibn Ismail states: “Imam Bukhari used to go with us to the scholars of Basra to listen to Ahadeeth. All of us used to write Ahadeeth down, except Imam Bukhari. After sixteen days, we thought about it and we condemned Imam Bukhari saying that he had wasted so many days work by not writing down Ahadeeth. Imam Bukhari asked us to bring our notes to him. So we all brought our notes, upon which Imam Bukhari began to read Ahadeeth one by one from the top of his head, until he narrated to us more than fifteen thousand! Hearing these, it seemed that Imam Bukhari was re-teaching us all of the Ahadeeth we had noted.”

His own students bore witness that Al-Bukhari would wake up around twenty times every night to mark Ahadeeth. Furthermore, he would perform Salaat-ul-Istikara before recording each Hadeeth.

People would flock to the Masjid in Basra to learn from this Sheikh, who was often found in humble prayer. Yet, he remained a simple and hard working person. He fulfilled his needs himself and even laid bricks to construct an inn near Bukhara, hoping that: “On the Day of Judgment, this act will be of benefit to me.”

Imam Bukhari’s generosity extended beyond sharing knowledge. He often gave vast sums of money as Sadaqah and would spend his entire month’s earnings on his students.  He also avoided backbiting and suspicion and once said: “I am hopeful that when I meet my Lord, He will not take account of me because I never backbite.”

Imam Bukhari died on the night of Eid-ul-Fitr 256 AH. He was around 62 years old. A scholar, worshipper, and a prosperous man, he always feared Allah and shone with the love of the Messenger (sa). From Salah to fasting, the Muslim Ummah realizes, how indebted it is to Imam Bukhari for furnishing us with the necessary details of going about our daily acts of worship. He compiled and circulated the Ahadeeth of the Prophet (sa) wherever possible and Allah (swt) spread his status to every corner of the world.

Faith & the Hill

Ramla Akhter shows us how a little faith takes us a long way.

Excerpt from an e-mail to a dear old (non-Muslim) friend, who has been a great listener of my life’s stories over the years

By the way, there is an athletic ritual called Saee in Umrah (in Masjid-Al-Haraam, Makkah). The meaning of the word Saee in Arabic and Urdu is ‘effort or endeavour’. It’s a 3.15 km run between two hills, now paved with marble. One actually paces up and down an air-conditioned gallery 7 times back and forth between the two hills of Safa and Marwah. It is to commemorate Hajrah’s (as) run between the two hills in search of water and food for Ismail (as).
It’s a tough run after other Umrah rituals. While I was doing it the second time in three days, I gave up after the second round. My right foot is bent inwards due to years of back injury and strain. I almost thought of the wheel chair rides that are available. (The ritual is a must, of course. And one can’t quit in the middle and go home. Fortunately, we can rest as long as we want anywhere on the route and on the two hills.) I sat down at Safa, the first hill, and cried. You can cry without shame in that place. People don’t really notice. And they think you’re crying for the love of Allah (swt). You know, I cried because I felt very disabled. Then I realized that Hajrah (as) didn’t run here in Nike runners, or in an air-conditioned gallery.
That’s when the lesson of that ritual became clear to me: MAKE AN EFFORT. The story goes that Hajrah’s (as) effort was rewarded by the miracle of the issuance of water from between the hills – now known as the Water of Zamzam. So, after a half hour of crying and massaging my feet and back, I got up and walked. Then I remembered something I read in “7 Habits”: just after an athlete has reached the limit of pain, s/he is rewarded with a tremendous release of energy that compensates for that muscle ache. I gave it a try. I limped. It is ugly to have to limp, when you’re so young – and it’s hard, when the pain is just jolt-jolt-jolting through the body. (I guess no one can know a backache and a headache, until they have one.)
Then, I noticed a 70-year-old Pakistani man pushing his wife in a wheel chair. And I visualized these mountains, 1000s of years ago, naked, hot, and scorched. And I imagined I was running between them barefoot, looking for water. I passed up the temptation of the many sprays and coolers of Zamzam that line the corridor.
The effect that this visualization had on me was stunning. Suddenly, my pain was much, much easier. My feet were actually thankful (the entire Umrah is done barefoot.) I also felt that making an effort is something that comes with, well, effort. I realized that I have so many gifts as a person – hardly anything has been an effort for ME – though it might have awed others. It was finally time to test my character.
There are seven rounds to be made between the two hills. I had unbearable pain by the fourth round, to the extent that my mind was blacking out. But I held on to Stephen Covey’s wisdom, and my life’s wisdom, if any, and the visualization of Hajrah (as). Perhaps the blacking out helped, as I imagined a huge rock in the place of the Kabah, and the real scene disappeared. To my memory, it still seems that I ran on bare, sun-hot rocks.
My foot was slightly bent inwards, and whenever I walked fast, there was a feeling of a tight string about to break from my back to my toe. This has prevented me from extensive walking for the past few years. By the fifth round, while I was struggling to straighten my long-bent foot by placing it firmly and evenly on the ground, something happened.
My mind was really blacking out to the extent that I felt I had completely lost it. For a split second the pain was gone. And suddenly there was a click-click sound. Some long-displaced bone just fell in place. My foot was okay.
Do you remember the Forrest Gump’s moment-of-release from his leg braces? It just happened! My foot just fell in place! What I read in “7 Habits” about an actual athletic phenomenon really happened. There was suddenly a tremendous rush of energy, and whatever was blocking energy (blood and oxygen to be exact and more scientific) just let go of its ugly grip.
It was one of the deepest emotional moments of my life. It happened, and I had no one to tell it to. I walked on. Now, whenever I have an “uphill” task ahead of me, I will remember the little lesson of Saee and of having a little but helpful amount of faith.
A little faith in a better tomorrow makes the present a lot easier, for us and for our loved ones.

Masha’Allah – A wonderful experience!

Forces of Change

Vol 3- Issue 3 Forces of ChangeA glance at the past would show urban Pakistani women involved in various extra-curricular activities: cooking classes, fitness programs, volunteer work or school-teaching to name a few. Studying the Quran and the Sunnah in a proper educational setup was not common. Today, a noteworthy and heart-warming trend observed among them is that, whether residing in their home-country or abroad, they are turning towards this fruitful endeavor in hordes. Attending Quranic Tafseer and Hadeeth classes as regular students, sitting in part-time as casual attendees, listening to audio tapes or taking Internet classes – most women can be found actively pursuing Islamic education at their own pace. Anyone we meet has a sister, daughter, aunt, mother-in-law, friend or neighbor absorbed in this pastime. The Hijab is randomly sprouting up in even the most ‘modernized’ of clans as an eye-opening reality that change is imminent.

The initial journey towards enlightenment for most of these women is, however, hardly a rosy one. The first challenge they face is the demand their studies make on their time: after coming home, they still have to study for the next day. Tests are routine. For most, learning to balance their time between studies and family is a difficult task.

Another obstacle they face is the mounting friction with family members. Since the Quran teaches them, what Allah (swt) has ordained and what He has forbidden, they get emotionally-charged with wish to change overnight into ideal Muslims, inadvertently feeling intolerance for some un-Islamic activities going on in their homes. Since their family is not being enlightened by the Quran every day, they cannot cope with the sudden criticism of their day-to-day activities.

“My husband has been drinking for years now, and I never used to object,” confides one well-off mother-of-two, “but ever since I have started studying the Quran, I cannot tolerate this habit of his. I keep telling him that alcohol is Haram, which is making things sour between us.”

“None of my teens perform Salah. This is agonizing me with worry, and often I end up shouting at them. They just don’t listen!” laments one mother.

“My daughters are under immense peer pressure – all their friends date boys. I am seriously thinking Nikah at 16 is the only option for my teenagers,” worries a Pardah-observing mother.

“My mother constantly chides me for having started Hijab. She only covers her head in the Bazaars and says I should do no more either; else, I will receive proposals only from Maulvi-type families,” says a young IBA graduate.

What can these well-meaning students of the Quran, desiring to see their family members join them on their path towards pleasing Allah (swt), do in order to maintain the peaceful atmosphere of their homes?

Remember your own past

For being more humble and less judgmental, a Mumin should recall his own past actions, realizing that only Allah (swt) can guide His slaves. Have you yourself become the best model of Islamic conduct that you can start criticizing everybody in sight? It is easy to judge and analyze others. Constant self-criticism and self-accountability will ensure that you approach your relatives with softness and humility.

Focus on giving the rights of others due on you

If an immense positive change will come about in you after studying the Quran, your relatives will also want to study it. Be giving in all relational aspects, returning bad behavior with good – extend good conduct towards the fussy husband, the nosy neighbor, the interfering sister-in-law, the lazy servant, and the rude teenager. Fighting and returning taunts of others with some of your own implies a need for improvement in your own conduct. Your children should have enough trust in you to come to you for advice, instead of maintaining a distance for fear of an onslaught. Be their friend and confidante. Cater to all their emotional needs.


Try to restrain the urge to lecture your family. You got there before them, but dragging them towards Allah (swt), when they are reluctant, will only make them turn away more diffidently. Control your reaction, when you see them doing something wrong. It’s difficult, yes, but don’t say anything then. Wait for the right time.

Learn Hikmah – the wisdom of Dawah

Educate yourself with the ‘what-when-how-how much’ of Dawah. The mood of the listener, the words you choose, the tone of your voice, and the length of time you speak are of utmost importance. A little imbalance can cause more damage than benefit. You can even convey the message via printed Islamic material, such as pamphlets, books or articles. If your daughter gossips for hours with her friends, give her material about proper use of the tongue; if your son gazes at girls, give him an article about lowering the gaze. Do it tactfully, at the right time. Most importantly, lead by example.

Refrain from negativity

Complains, taunts, sarcasm, insults, scolding and shouting constitute a huge mistake on the part of a Mumin desiring Allah’s (swt) pleasure. In fact, such conduct (Akhlaaq) fairs very poorly in our own scale of deeds. Our closest relatives, no matter what they do, are deserving the best conduct from us.

If you hold on to these golden rules of behavior with your family, time will show you, how they become your greatest friends and supporters. Your husband will clear the table, while you revise your lesson. Your daughter will help with cooking Sunday lunch, while you study for your test. Your son will rush to get your notes photo-copied for your classmates. More than that, as the years pass, they themselves will transform into the practicing Muslims you wish them to be!

“…Repel (the evil) with one which is better (i.e., Allah orders the faithful believers to be patient at the time of anger, and to excuse those who treat them badly) and verily he, between whom and you there was enmity, (will become) as though he was a close friend.” (Fussilat 41:34)