(Melanie Phillips, Spectator, September 2002)
The discussion of Islam vis-à-vis modernity has been propelled to the forefront of political debate in the last decade. Since the events of September 11th think-tanks, academics, commentators and policy makers have all studied Islam as it seems to be the motivation for many a people in the world today. Their conclusion is that Islam has no place in the world. They cite evidences such as the attempts by Iran and the Taliban to implement Islam proves Islam’s inapplicability in the 21st century. There underlying argument against Islam is:
“Islam completely contradicts Western values which are modern hence it has no place in the world today”.
Modernity for all those who claim to be modern carries specific connotations of the Enlightenment mission, defined as emancipation from self-imposed infancy i.e. from religion. This mission resulted in the development of secularism and the banishing of the Church, its teachings and its dogma to the private sphere. The adoption of secularism then gave rise to new ideals for society, namely human rights, equality and freedom. Soon this historical process was termed ‘modernism’. For secularists, the adoption of secular liberal values is termed modern and anything not compatible with such values is backward and no different to the medieval Church.
The crux of the argument then is on whether Islam is modern rather than if it concurs with ‘modernity’. For something to be modern it needs to be applicable for all times and places rather then just agree with secular liberal values. Essentially Islam is not part of ‘modernity’ in this sense as its own values; basis and viewpoint differ from the secular basis. The questions we need to ask is can Islam actually work in the modern age. This means is Islamic legislation (Shari’ah) suitable to solve the problems of every age and remain consistent with its own unique basis, without deviating from that basis. With this the validity of Islam as modern can be measured equitably.
If one looks at Islam it can be deduced that Islamic legislation came to solve the problems humans will encounter in the course of their lives. The Shari’ah in no way is merely a list of do’s and don’ts.
Sociologists and psychologists such as Weber, Durkheim and Freud after studying empirical evidences could never reach solid consensus on what the human problems were. During their respective times they concluded these problems were many ranging from fear, earning of wealth, procreation, survival and worship etc. Some of these problems are instincts that we know already exist whilst others are still to be found and require incorporation into the body of study when discovered. This was their attempt at looking at the reality of humans in order to define the human problem. The context of this discussion is the looking at the reality of the human being; therefore we are looking at the human being regardless of time and place, as there is no difference between humans today compared to fourteen centuries ago as well as to the human twenty centuries into the future. Human needs and instincts remain the same regardless of external factors.
These instincts are an unalterable reality that have existed since the time of the first man, Adam (AS) i.e. this has always been the case. We can see that men and women find themselves attracted to the opposite sex and that they have maternal and paternal desires. People throughout the ages have always worshipped something, be it the Creator or something else such as a philosopher, a pop star, a ruler, a superhero, fire, a volcano or a planet. Even Communists make pilgrimage to Lenin’s tomb. This again is an unalterable part of the human make-up that has never changed no matter whether the mode of transport was the camel or Concorde. No one can claim to have two brains, four livers, or three hearts. Likewise they cannot claim to possess instincts other than procreation, survival and reverence. The fundamental point remains therefore that no matter what period or region is considered, humans are fundamentally the same, with the same instincts, needs and desires, irrespective of any other considerations.
Islam views the human being as composed of instincts and the human problem as the need to continually satisfy them.
This means the human problems are the same and never actually change. This is because what changes throughout time are the manifestations of instincts and not the instinct themselves. So we will not invent new instincts or a fourth instinct but rather they will remain as these three until the end of time, although over the course of one’s life the manifestation may change. So one may change their religion, change which gender they feel attracted to or even decide there are certain commodities they will not buy due to their effect on the environment but one will still worship something, become agitated through attraction and seek some form of possession.
In summary, the issue which needs to be accepted is that the Islamic texts came to address men and women as human beings, not just as an individual living in the Arabian desert in the seventh century. It neither addressed humanity with relation to a particular time nor place but rather it addressed humanity whether we were living a century ago, today, or in a 100 years time. The simple issue remains that a human living today is the same human who lived 1400 years ago and will continue to be the same human in another 1400 years time. Some verses in the Qur’an elaborate on this reality,
“You will not find in the creation of Allah any alteration” (TMQ Al-Fatir: 43).
The human whom Allah (SWT) addressed 1400 years ago when it was said,
“Allah has permitted trade and forbidden usury” (TMQ Al-Baqarah – 275)
Is no different to a human addressed by the same speech today, one can see that the human whom Allah (SWT) addressed more than 1000 years ago when it was said,
“Kill not your children for fear of want: We shall provide sustenance for them as well as for you: verily the killing of them is a great sin.” (TMQ Al-Israa: 31] is no different to humanity today.
And indeed when the Messenger Muhammad (SAW) said,
“The son of Adam has no better right than that he would have a house wherein he may live and a piece of cloth whereby he may hide his nakedness and a piece of bread and some water” (Tirmidhi)
He was of course not only referring to the needs of the Bedouins of Arabia but to humankind. So if we haven’t changed and the Islamic texts that address us haven’t changed, then what is so different today? Definitely the world is radically different from the one that Islam emerged and progressed in, the lifestyles of people are different to those of a century ago. What is clear is that what has not changed is the nature of the problems that humanity faces. They are the same problems that have existed from the very creation of humanity, life and the universe. However, what has changed are the tools humans use to solve these problems; a few examples will suffice to illustrate this point. In the past people would live in very primitive houses; today we see skyscrapers and the like that dominate the urban skylines, but we still need houses and roofs above our heads. In the past Muhammad (SAW) sent messengers to other rulers on horseback; today a message could be sent via e-mail, IM, fax or SMS. Muhammad (SAW) and his companions fought many battles using horses, bows and arrows; today wars are still fought, but using ‘Smart’ technology, cruise missiles and satellite intelligence. In the past the Muslims learnt astronomy so they could locate the Qibla wherever they went; today an electronic watch will do the same. The fundamental point that these examples illustrate is that humans, with respect to there needs, are the same and the problems that they face have not changed. Any change that we perceive is merely a change in the tools or the devices that humans use when solving their problems.
The obvious point which follows on from this is that since the Islamic texts deal with humans and their problems, and not the tools that are used to solve their problems, the Islamic Shari’ah is as relevant to humanity today as it was when it elevated the people of Arabia. Islam made permissible all things (tools) and so has no aversion to the advancement of science and technology as our history shows. As a result one cannot claim Islam needs to be modernised to fit with modern life or adapt to the Western way of life, as some have suggested.
The eonomic example
One example to illustrate Islam’s applicability is Islam’s view with regards to economics. Islam has laid down rules for the means to acquire wealth and commodities, how they can be utilised and their manner of disposal. Islam viewed the resources to be ample enough to completely satisfy the basic needs of all. Therefore, amongst a host of other detailed rules, one will find the Shari'ah aims to secure the complete satisfaction of all basic needs (food, clothing and housing) completely for every citizen of the Khilafah.
The Islamic economic system is built upon three principles:
2. Disposal of ownership
3. The distribution of wealth amongst the people
In order to facilitate the acquisition of goods and services Islam put forward rules related to the manner of possessing wealth without any complications. Islam defined the legal means of ownership, and it defined the contracts through which possession can take place. This left humanity free to develop the styles and means by which they earn, as Islam did not interfere in the production of wealth.
Islam defines the legal means of ownership and contracts in general guidelines that include legal principles and rules, under which numerous issues belong and against which numerous rules are measured by qiyas (analogical deduction).
Thus Islam allowed employment, detailed its rules and left the person to work as a manufacturer, technician, trader, investor etc. Employment was legislated in such a way that by qiyas (analogy) it also includes representation. This is because the employee represents the employer of the company and is entitled to a salary. Gifts are legislated as a legal means of ownership and by qiyas this can be extended to include donations, grants, charity and rewards as means of ownership. Therefore, in Islam the means of ownership and the contracts are detailed by the Shari'ah in general outlines and set in such a way as to include any contemporary incident. Islam confined possession to particular means and as a result of this fact ownership came to be defined by the Shari'ah as the possession of goods, services and wealth according to the means permitted by the Lawgiver.
The Shari’ah has determined the means of ownership by specific cases, which it made clear in a limited, rather than unrestricted form. The Shari’ah has laid down these means in clear general guidelines. These comprise of numerous sections, which are branches of these means and clarifications of their rules. The Shari’ah did not characterise the means by certain general criteria, so no other general means can be included through qiyas. Islam allowed the work of an individual in return for a salary as this is considered as a legal means of ownership and the core condition for this is that he would be compensated for the effort by being paid a salary for the work. Islam allows the cultivation of land, its farming as well as what is known as agriculture. It allowed the extracting of what is in or on the earth, which means mining, exploration as well as construction. Under this general guideline you also have hunting, brokerage as well as sharecropping. Each of these sections can be extrapolated further by qiyas.
By looking at divine rules from the Shari’ah that allows humans to possess property, it becomes apparent that the means of possession in Islam are limited to five, which are:
3. Obtaining wealth for the sake of life
4. The State granting wealth to the citizens
5. Wealth and commodities that individuals take without exchange (gifts, donations and the like)
It cannot be claimed that Islam is restrictive and hinders economic activity because it has rigid rules that cannot evolve with time as economic activity increases and changes via the invention of new technologies.
This is because humans want to own things in order to survive. Islam clarified which of these means can and cannot be utilised and many of these means can be applied and extended to new realities via qiyas. The ownership of things will increase, decrease and diversify therefore it is not necessary that new transactions and contracts be required, as the issue at hand is which five means of possession are acceptable to acquire such things. The means to acquire have been laid down and as discussed earlier can be used forever, as they are not time specific.
The Islamic history is full with examples of Muslims developing technology and techniques, which were used and incorporated by many different civilisations. It was Islam that drove many Muslims to excel in various disciplines ranging from Science, to horticulture to the medical field.
The ahadith of Muhammad (SAW), which mentions “for every disease Allah created its cure,” became a motivating factor for numerous developments in the medical field in the past. It resulted in the development of ophthalmology (eye care) in the 10th to 13th centuries. Muslim ophthalmologists were performing operations, dissecting, discovering, and writing about their findings in textbooks and monographs.
This led to the development of voluminous handbooks, many of which were translated into Latin. One of these was the ‘Canon’ by Ibn Sina, which today, still remains a primary reference; he coined one million new Arabic terms in the field. Another development was the development of the first organized hospital in the world, built in Cairo in 872CE. The Ahmad ibn Tûlûn Hospital treated and gave free medicine to all patients. It provided separate bath houses for men and women, a rich library and a section for the insane. All these developments occurred because one hadith motivated thousands of people to find cures that Allah (SWT) through his Mercy has given us.
In terms of modern days issues Islam is able to provide solutions to them due to the Islamic verses being generic in their nature. Hence verses from the Qur’an can be applied upon numerous incidents. In Islam this is possible, as many of the rules have come within a general scope thus many rulings can be deduced from it. Hence Islam is accommodating enough to be able to respond to all the new events, however many of these that may arise over the course of time. An example of this is the rules in regards to inheritance:
"Concerning (the inheritance) for your children: to the male is the equivalent of the portion of two females, and if they (children) were women more than two, then theirs is two-thirds of the inheritance." (TMQ An-Nisa: 11)
1. We understand that the male child takes double that which the female child takes.
2. We also understand that the child of the son (grandchild) is treated as the child in cases where there are no (living) children, because the grandchild is included in the word 'children.'
3. This is contrary to the children of the daughter, who are not treated like the children of the son where there are no (living) children. This is so as the children of the daughter are not included linguistically in the Arabic word for 'children.'
4. We understand also that if the children were females, and more than two in number, then they share in two-thirds of the inheritance. The Prophet (SAW) made for the two females a portion equivalent to those who are more than two. So the rule in regard to the two females is the same rule for more than two females.
When it comes to technology Islam’s initial view is that in generality all objects are permitted however their use has been restricted, as all actions require a Shari’ah evidence. For instance Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) are allowed in Islam. However its use would require knowledge of the Shari’ah rule. ICBMs could be used for reasons ranging from legitimate deterrent measures to the illegitimate killing of innocent civilians, something Islam forbade. Islam permits the study and use of medicine, engineering, maths, astronomy, chemistry, physics, agriculture, industry, communications including the Internet, and the science of navigation and geography. This includes what results from them such as industry, tools, machinery and factories. Also included in this are industries, whether military or not, and heavy industry like tanks, aeroplanes, rockets, satellites, nuclear technology, hydrogen, electronic or chemical bombs, tractors, lorries, trains and steamships. This includes consumer industries and light weapons and the manufacture of laboratory instruments, medical instruments, agricultural tools, furniture, carpets and consumer products such as the TV, DVD, and the Sony Playstation etc. The point being illustrated here is that all objects we know of past, present and future are allowed without restriction unless Shari’ah evidence exists to definitively disallow it, and this is limited to a few limited objects.
Thus Islam permits nanotechnology as all things in origin are permitted. Islam prohibits intellectual property and its results such as patents and copyrights, as ownership in Islam is the ability to completely own and dispose of an item or service. Islam allows the cloning of plants and animals however Islam forbids the cloning of humans due to the loss in kinship and lineage. Islam most certainly is able to deal with all the modern day issues due to the nature of the Islamic texts. Hence In Vitro Fertalisation (IVF) was addressed by using the rules of kinship and the permissibility of seeking medical treatment. The general evidences for seeking treatment addressed life support machines. Advanced weaponry was addressed by the general permissibility of objects.
Genetically modified foods were addressed by using the evidences for the improvement of the quality of plants and food. The Penicillin was addressed by the evidences, which promote the finding of cures for disease. The double-helix structure of DNA again was addressed by the general evidences for seeking cures, Nuclear technology was addressed by the numerous evidences which indicate the preparing of deterrents and the general permissibility of objects, and E-commerce was addressed by the evidences which permit the use of the non-civilisational matters.
In summary, the Shari'ah texts (the Qur’an and ahadith) are detailed in thought, have the widest scope for generalisation and the most fertile ground to cultivate general principles. In themselves they are suitable as legislative texts for different peoples and nations. This is because they cover all kinds of relationships, whether between individuals, the state and its citizens, or between states, peoples and nations. However new and diverse these relationships may be, new thoughts can be deduced from the Shari'ah texts. Islam has the broadest scope for generalisation or interpretations, which can be seen from the grammar, sentences, words, style of expressions in terms of covering the wording (mantooq), meaning (mafhum), indication (dalalah) reasoning (ta'leel) and qiyas (analogy) based on the Shari'ah reason (illah) which makes deduction feasible, continuous and inclusive. This ensures the Shari'ah is able to encompass everything, issue or problem for all times and ages. As for being fertile ground for cultivating general principles, this is because of the abundance of general meanings contained within these texts. This is because the Qur'an and hadith were revealed in the form of broad guidelines even when focusing on specific details. The nature of these broad guidelines is that they give the Qur’an and hadith general meanings within which collective and detailed issues can be included and from this arise an abundance of general meanings. These general meanings contain real and perceptible issues and not hypothetical ones. At the same time they are revealed to solve the problems of all humanity, and not of specific individuals. As such, there exist over three hundred general principles (qawa’id ‘aammah).