Still Working for Allah in the West: Theory and Methodology
The Need for New Thinking
New thinking and new approaches – that is what Islam and Muslims need in the West – in the Golden Triangle of Islam in the 21st century.
Don’t be alarmed. I am not calling, Ma’adhallah, for a new Islam. Islam is as old as the universe – in fact, older. How can anyone make it new? I am not saying we should modernize Islam.
Nor am I saying we should introduce reformation in Islam the way Martin Luther did with Christianity – and the way some people have been clamoring for it in the West. Reformation was a natural and necessary stage in the evolution of Christianity – a man-made system. As the world of Allah changed, evolved and progressed, the teachings of the Christian church needed to catch up. That movement to bring an archaic system of belief and behavior in tune with the times was what became known in history as Reformation.
Islam is a God-made rather than a man-made system of belief and behavior. To attempt to change it is the most foolish thing any human being can contemplate. In fact it would be Shaitan’s greatest dream come true. There is something else. Islam is reformation.
Islam is the better, superior, newer, more improved version of all systems of thought, belief and behavior that human beings have ever had. Christian reformation when it came was an attempt to catch up with the basic teachings of Islam. So, also, anything truly good and great that happens in this world would necessarily be an approximation to the teachings of Islam. So, Islam is reformed everything in this world.
But the unchanging truths and realities of Islam need to be continually applied to changing times and circumstances. This is a challenge of life itself. In the olden days, Allah used to send a new prophet to new people. But that is not true anymore. Now it is the same Islam – the same Qur’an and same Sunnah of the Rasul, Sallallahu Alaihi wa Sallam – that needs to be understood, translated and spoken in the languages of new people and cultures everywhere.
Scholars and knowledgeable people of Islam are the ones who are supposed to do it. That is what I am calling for – new understanding and casting of eternal Islamic truths in the language and culture of the West. But we do not have a superabundance of scholars and thinkers who can do this job for us. Traditional Islamic scholars generally don’t have the tools and experience to understand the West and speak about it in an authentic voice. Many of us educated in the West have only a peripheral and secondary understanding of Islam in all its luminous facets and depths.
But there are some among us who can do it – and are indeed doing it. What I am calling for is that kind of a rational, intelligent and informed application of the timeless teachings of Islam to the new times and places in the West in the 21st century. What is needed is some new and independent thinking on the question of Islam and Muslims in the West in the 21st century.
The need is clear for some bold and original thinking that will fully take into consideration Islam’s present Western environment and, which at the same time, will be firmly rooted in the bedrock foundations of Qur’an and Hadith.
For too long Muslims have been – and unnecessarily so – prisoners of thought patterns, views and opinions some of which have lost their usefulness and relevance and have become, instead, stumbling blocks in the path of the progress of Muslims toward a new, brighter and more successful future.
The consequences are most serious when these matters had to do with politics and ideology. People spent their time and energies trying to resolve Muslim problems in the West using mindsets that were either primarily or exclusively shaped in and by the culture of the East. It was a classic case of square pegs and round holes. The resulting damage took in the holes as well as the pegs.
Islam, of course, is neither of the East nor of the West. It is directly from Allah and it is above the limitations of space and time. But part of the miracle of the Deen of Islam is that it has the ability to meet the needs of the people at all times and in all places – provided people practicing it knew how to understand and apply it in the context of the time and the place in which they lived. That was the great challenge people faced in every age and place. Not the least today in the West – and all over the world.
One more time, let us not have any confusion or misunderstanding on this point: The core of Islamic teachings does not change with time or place. In fact its function is – as the function of any living, vibrant and active culture would be – to introduce sufficient modifications and adjustments in times and places to accommodate its needs. As a result, Islam is an amazingly resilient and self- rejuvenating faith and culture.
It is the great miracle of Islam that there are aspects of Islamic teachings that have the flexibility to accommodate changes in time and place at a more peripheral level. These are mostly in the form of rulings, decisions and opinions by scholars and jurists. It is these that are the source of considerable confusion in the minds of the Muslims. In part because they are finite and feeble human attempts to interpret the infinite divine reality of Islam for the people of their time and place – which later Muslims, mostly due to their limitations of knowledge and understanding, took as eternal divine truths in their own right.
One such question is that of the age-old division of the world in Islamic jurisprudence into Darul Islam (Islamic homeland) and Darul Harb (enemy territory). The West was for long Darul Harb for Muslims. Mind you, this itself is a fairly mindless formulation, for Islam was all over the West from Hungary to Prague and from Vienna to France and from Spain to Italy at one time or another. What exactly is the West now? Now, in every Western society, Muslims form a significant part of the population and Islam is a part of the living culture of that society. True there was a time when the West was at war with the Muslim world. And so it is now in some ways. But the fact is that today practically every single country of the West is home to hundreds of thousands if not millions of Muslims. So, this is a highly complex love-hate relationship that has existed between the West and Islam over the past 1400 years.
Today, far from being enemy territory, the West is home to Muslims — and to Islam. This is in spite of the fact, that many in the West remain hostile to Islam and some nations of the West are engaged in an ongoing struggle with Muslims in different parts of the world.