Postmodern sensibility is in a sense distinguished by the resurgence of that primeval soup of metaphysics we elsewhere designated as religion, which normatively nourishes humanity’s eternal gift of cultural essences. We are here referring to those identity markers that we have constructed in the processes of our ontological framing in our various locations, whether as communities, nations, cultures or identities. Over the eons, our defining features as human beings were uncompromisingly exorcised by the historical project of modernity in its bid to rid the world of ancient survivals, those ingredients of our being that have so far refused total erasure at the confluence of time and space.
At least, the understanding of culture as some set of age-old traditions is the main bulwark that till date continues to regulate the excesses of our brave new world, explained here as that moment of transition from mytho-poetic stages of human attempts to come to terms with the mysteries of pre-Socratic universe (exquisitely captured in the Homeric phantasmagoric telltale of the ancient Greece) that transformed into elevated mode of cognition characteristic of Platonic notions of the world of forms, ideals and pure essences, which in turn progressively gravitated towards the birth of Aristotelian methods of scientific thinking, particularly in relation to tangible existences and objective realities.
It has indeed all started with Promethean rebelliousness, in itself a mythological narrative, a symbolic tale that prompted human spirit in its quest for ways and means of acquiring knowledge and technical knowhow. This is the point at which human beings made path-breaking discovery of how to rely on their innate qualities and cognitive prowess to comprehend the world purely on experiential basis, and also on the basis of keen sense of observation. Again, at this historical stage human beings have consciously begun to tread the path towards the dominant material civilization of our modern age.
In the history of ideas, nay, in the competing epistemic systems that are visibly limiting the collective vision of our humanity, the spheres of religion and science have been inexorably locking horns over the soul of man without restraint or the possibility of establishing some common grounds. There is no doubt that there always exists a binary relationship between religion and science, for want of conceptual clarity the conflict of spirit and matter, even in the very constitution of human beings as the most complex creatures of nature.
However, despite that common ascription, we still find it hard to harmonize conflicting demands of the seeming irreconcilable dichotomies of spirit and matter. This is the sense in which the spiritual realm embodied by religions, all religions for that matter, can be seen as nothing but attempts to regulate human excesses by forces or powers beyond our control (in a more familiar parlance we are here referring to the almighty God of creations), and struggles for pathways to our teleological goals, especially as we hopelessly navigate the endless ocean of materiality on offer by the world of the here and now.
Thus, in the great division of labor that characterizes our being in the world, Christianity has, at least going by its checkered historical experiences in Europe, decided to resolve its existential contradictions by giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what’s God’s in its neat separation of the powers of Church and State. In Islam, however, this form of separation could have been achieved if not for the tragic fissures of Sunni and Shi’a doctrinal misunderstanding, which started manifesting right from the formative years of the religion.
Even though the separation of Church and State was anticipated with the fateful schism that ensued between Sunni and Shi’a adherents in the formative stages of Islam, in its ideational schema however both whatever is Caesar’s and God’s rightfully belongs to the one and only God, the creator of the universe. Islam has in the overarching stance of its cardinal principles opposed the bifurcation of religion and state. The earlier Caliphal system had promoted an order in which the pursuit of knowledge and learning was made under a tolerant and conducive atmosphere. Scientific, philosophical and religious knowledge, indeed other disciplinary enclaves of the period, were supposed to be the fulcrum upon which Muslims’ lives revolve.
Muslim scholars and thinkers had achieved enviable feats in their contribution to the march of civilization. Thus, in the civilizational contests of the period and the rivalry between the three faith systems of the Abrahamic stock have created series of crusading encounters between the forces of Islam, witnessing phenomenal rise, and those of Christianity, determined to rest the control of holy lands of Palestine from the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries. This happened at a time when the golden age of Islam was in progressive decline. As a social order, Islam was faced with a process of decay that extinguished its civilizational ambitions between the 7th and 11th centuries A.D. The ossification of culture and learning in the Islamic world due to internal wrangling had coincided with the rise of modern west between the 14th 15th, 16th and 17th centuries arising from the burgeoning of renaissance culture and ideas in Europe.
The overwhelming sense of renewal in learning and culture after the devastations wrought by the Papal system in the Christendom, has created a situation in which the decaying Muslim powers and nations could not even understand the nature of the existential threats posed by the rise of modern west. The only response that could come out of the house of Islam was the freezing of spirit of inquiry out of fear and panic by the powers that be. Indeed, this was how Muslims lost the zeal for the sort of cross-fertilization of ideas that gave Islamic world its edge over medieval west before the unlocking of human potentials by the renaissance spirit.
From 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, the decline of Muslim world was accelerated through the intensification of western colonial adventures in Muslim lands. The flight of Muslims was equally worsened by the implantation of Saudi Arabia and State of Israel in the first half of the 20th century. The target was to perpetually mortgage any semblance of sovereignty exercised by Muslim nations in the Middle East and Africa. As a result, the Islamic world never had it so bad in its entire history. Muslims all over the place had a raw deal under the tutelage of Saudi Arabian with its petrodollars induced form of Islam that was aggressively promoted throughout the Muslim world. Do we doubt the fact that petrodollar was effectively used to propagate the evil ideology of Wahhabism? Wahhabi doctrines have over the years metamorphosed into the inhumanity that is Al-Qaida, Taliban, ISIS and Boko Haram, depending on the context of use, all rolled into a single bundle of chaos and destruction.
In the process of this ideological war, western intelligent agencies have also soiled their fingers as they covertly fanned the embers of this evil in the name of Islam. ISIS religion was encouraged by the West as part of its own ideological fight against the rising tide of Islamic consciousness towards the closing decades of the 20th century, and especially after the tragedy of September 9/11 terror attacks on the symbols of American power. In any case, today it is the Muslim world that is left to suffer from the burden of guilt of the atrocities of ISIS, the evil creed that is committing unspeakable acts of inhumanity in the name of Islam.
Worst still, the cultural inertia of Muslims would not allow for meaningful self-appraisal through proper stocktaking of the state of Islam by Muslims themselves. We cannot have these monsters perpetrating crime against humanity in the name of our faith. We cannot also pretend that all is well with the representation they give Islam in such gruesome image. Muslims have no option other than to embark on soul searching out of the current quagmire. There must be a thorough reappraisal of our creed with the view to diagnose the malady afflicting us collectively. As a matter of urgency, we must revisit the history that has reduced our faith-system into dry rituals that are completely devoid of spirituality. In fact, no faith-system would survive current upheavals without being built on the strong pillars of spirituality.
In these difficult times of confusion, chaos, violence, death and destruction in the name of our noble faith, we shall console ourselves with the celebration of the birthday of Muhammad bin Abdullah (saw), the prophet of Islam, translated here as justice, righteousness, peace and humanity. Was he not sent to us as Allah’s mercy to the world?