Posted by: Dawud Israel | January 27, 2010

Islam and Modernity: A Black Man with White Slaves

Maybe I’m an idiot but there is something I totally missed. Somehow I find wherever I read- Muslim scholars and thinkers have made their primary concern not Islam, but reconciling Islam with modernity, post-modernism, science and democracy. They talk more about modernity, science and democracy, than they talk about Islam! Isn’t this a slippery slope?

My question is where does this urgent project come from? Allama Iqbal embarked on it and between today’s Tariq Ramadan and Iqbal’s time, what progress has been made? What progress will ever be made?

Modernity’s Necessity: A Wild Goose Chase?

There is, I believe a false obligation to reconcile these two, fueled by the Muslim inferiority complex. Too often the rhetoric has base presumptions of Muslim inferiority, when in reality this is a new phenomenon. They mention how Muslims want to take over Europe from us, (who is us?) in revenge for the fall of al-Andalus. They mention how Islam’s Golden Age planted the seeds of the Renaissance. All this is mentioned, by Muslims and non-Muslims, in order to appease Euro-centric views of the world. It was all for the West. Fi sabil Rum- for the sake of the Romans. This is NOT a rational view of things- nor a sociologically sound view.

A rational, logical view of things would take into account the facts that the Muslim world has always been the daddy to Europe. Muslims took the fruits of European intellect- they didn’t purposefully carry the “torch of knowledge” for the sake of Europe,  as historians try to make things out to be- no, we carried it for ourselves. It was Muslims who ruled half of Europe. It was Muslims who kept slaves, of all races, included white-skinned slaves. It was not that long ago that Europeans came to Muslims asking for monetary aid and relief due to their famines. This facts are undeniable yet pleasantly “spun” in contemporary discourse to suit a Euro-centric narrative of the world.

A sociological view of things states, there are often historical reasons (subjugation) that led to resentment and future conflict. But today, no one will say that the West’s war against Islam/ic terrorism, has to do with this previous history. No one will say that the West resents the past history of being subordinated by the Muslim world. No- the “White Man” doesn’t resent, any of that past history- after all he is above that, since he carries the “White man’s Burden”- he is nobler. And its this false humility which is characteristic of the interaction between the West and the Muslim world today. The ideology of the White Man’s Burden cannot exist, knowing, that Muslims ruled over them, knowing Muslims are the only threat, the only equal to Western hegemony.

Imagine if China were to occupy and rule half of Europe, take Europes best ideas, and keep white people as slaves…and then if the Chinese went back to China- wouldn’t Europeans want revenge?

To put it bluntly historically Europe was the Muslim world’s b*tch. The media and Muslim scholars who have internalized this inferiority complex, by being bought and sold to believe all this fancy industrial machinery (i.e. dunya)  is better than the Poverty and Zuhd of the Prophet salallahu alayhi wasalam. This false obligation has been used to make Islam come to and grovel to modernity, for conciliation and to combine with it. Honestly speaking, there really is no measure for this project of reconciling modernity and Islam- how can you measure the success of it? Its really akin to worshiping Allah one day of the week and another on another day of the week- because the modern world has its gods too, and it worships them with great devotion. No- rather, modernity and the West should come to Islam and solve this riddle they have posed themselves- the Muslim thinkers should not go to them.

But alas, how many would prefer to run to America instead of staying in the villages and tyrannies of the Muslim world?

Yet the more I read of Western commentators (Chris Hedges in particular) the more I realize they are admitting the West is in complete and total decline, from the very top of the theatrical plays of terrorism and democracy and patriotism, to the very bottom of suicide, meaninglessness, cultural genocide, and increasingly a failure of the white man, to carry his own humanity and cope with the responsibilities of the human condition.

This false obligation needs to be recognized as nothing more than a chimera. Its a ruse, a red-herring or wild goose chase, to distract the Muslim world and intended to consume the energies of the minds of Muslim thinker and scholars. To make concessions bit by bit, decade by decade, year by year to modernity, until, these thinkers have been so caught in the modernity-Islam project, Islam gets crowded out all together, withers and dies. Forgotten. This may seem an exaggeration- but look at how Islam has historically interfaced with village superstitions and rituals, which characteristically have the same romantic allure as industrial machinery and technology. You’ll find those ancient rites and superstitions have never been Islamisized or absorbed into Islam- they have remained separate with people recognizing they are contradictory to each other. And Islam has always remained the superior. Similarly, the worldly lifestyle, the complications of living in the West is conflicting with the Zuhd of the Sahabas, and one reason why Fiqh is so challenging to Muslims now is because Fiqh is designed for simple lifestyles- not hectic, adventurous, “dunya-flooded” lifestyles, were you are inundated with advertising and other forms of worldly meaninglessness.

Rotten fruits of the Muslim minds and Akhira- consciousness

Every high-caliber Islamic work today, is deemed high-caliber because of its underlying Western thought, terminology and values employed- not because of anything particularly Islamic. How often have we seen uniquely and entirely Islamic content- works that aren’t tainted with Western ideas, but rather represent wholly the Muslim imagination and the spirit of Islam? It is as if they are writing for an audience of educated, white, non-Muslims. Works of poetry, artwork, social design and even at the substance level of education- we resemble the West. From the very get-go we are walking in the footsteps of a watered down, impaired, vision of Islam. We pride ourselves on people converting to Islam, but all of this has the (un) intentional (depending on who it is) effect of converting Islam itself into something else. Its a type of fabrication- a plagiarism of the West but produced by Muslims, who probably love it more than they love Islam all on its own.

Muslim comedians and Muslim rock and roll singers, are only so popular because they imitate the American egotistic love for spectacle, of the self and represent the true life (al-hayawan), as a life of fame or visibility- not as a pursuit of Jannah. The Muslim love of sloganeering, jihadist theater, and the wealth of conspiracy theories all demonstrate Muslims are internalizing  what has been called the  “American spectacle,” of being in the spotlight, of knowing you exist, and matter and are important, in some way, because you are on the stage of the world. The stage before the entire world, to Muslims, is higher and greater than the stage before Allah. That’s where deen and dunya collide today. And our religious leaders, scholars and thinkers quietly acquiesce to this Muslim spectacle, so today, what we see as reality was a fantasy a few decades ago, and yet it carries all the consequences and fruits of a fantasy: delusion. Because Muslims are on some sort of platform or mainstream medium, whether its the news or being published in some American journal- this somehow feels like progress, when it is a decline of Islam, a ruse and fantasy of the dunya Shaytan has arranged to delude us. We forget there is more ajr in obscurity than there is in fame. And it is these pseudo-events, where we think something has been achieved when it really hasn’t (RIS?) that will help foster passivity, and over a period of time, become permanent, until we Muslims see the West as the standard and lose the capacity to think in other ways- ways which are more harmonious to the deen. And this is not necessarily to call us away to obscurity and hide away from the world- but rather to push us to develop Muslim creativity, and develop a Akhira-consciousness, cognizant of spirituality, our mortality, and the temporary stay we have in this world. Our creativity will have the safety net of piety and be guided to innovate in ways that “thrive inside Islam” and not outside it or foreign to its spirit.

Muslims need to ignore and give up on the modernity-Islam project and all the baggage it carries. They need to realize democracy and modernity are not ascendant, but rather Islam is ascendant and transcendental. They need to focus their creative energies on something wholly Islam-ic, with our values, terminologies and spirit.  We don’t need Muslim thinkers to do the thinking of the West for them. We need Muslim thinkers, for Muslim thought. We don’t need Muslim thinkers thinking about modernity or paying literary tributes to the project of the West. That can only happen if they stop regurgitating Western thinkers, study their own tradition and have the courage to be creative. And that will happen when Muslims start questioning the necessity of modernity, rather than questioning Islam and our own tradition. If we do that, we’ll come closer to Islam and realize, modernity and the worldly life it represents, cannot compare with Islam, and all it enables for humanity to achieve.

Subhana kallahumma wa bihamdika wa ash-haduana la illaha illa ant astaghfiruka wa atubu ilayk, ameen.

More reading:

The Decline of the Decline of Arabic Science


  1. asSalaam alaykum wa rahmatullah

    MashaAllah, I hope we all seek ajr in the best of ways. InshaAllah we will all be ajr entrepeneurs, inshaAllah you might find these ideas and stories useful:

    Love to hear your thoughts on it.

  2. Take a look on my Islamic blog which is located on largest Muslim blogging community

  3. As salamu alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh

    Interesting post. Brother Dawud, can you please explain how the “Deline of the decline…” article (from the link you give at the end of your post) relates to the post itself?

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