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Wednesday, February 1, 2023
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Modernity, politics, and Islam: A discussion with Dr.Raghib Naeemi

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Farah Adeed |

We are now a part of a rational, complex, and the highly integrated modern world, in which people do not have the patterns of interaction that they used to have a hundred years or so ago. The mode of communication has completely changed; people meet online, shop online, study online and so much so find life partners online.

This is the age of science and of ideas. And no one can stop or resist this inevitable change in the world, which is the result of growth, development, and advancement of knowledge, science, and technology. Those, no matter from where they belong, who are not willing to accept this reality are naïve.

A momin, in an Islamic view, is supposed to be well-informed about his surroundings and also he/she plays an instrumental part in the progress of society.

Realistically speaking, in this rapidly changing world, religion (here it means Islam) needs to be reinterpreted so that Muslim world may cope with the challenge of modernity.

Paradoxically, some of our religious leaders curse the study of science, but do use and take benefit of all inventions of science, be it loudspeaker, internet, air-conditioners, or any other luxurious objects. It is a moment of sheer disappointment that in 2018, students who study sociology or psychology are not appreciated and encouraged by our religious elite for learning such ‘un-Islamic’ subjects.

I wanted to learn about three things: Does our religious leadership accept the challenge of modernity or not? Do they have a plan to adjust themselves in this highly complex modern world? Or is there any alternative to escape from these strong waves of modernity?

Read more: Has PM Khan’s Citizenship suggestion revealed ethnic nature of Pak politics?

With all this in mind, I approached Dr. Raghib Hussain Naeemi, the son of Late. Dr. Sarfaraz Ahmed Naeemi. Dr. Raghib is currently a member Council of Islamic Ideology and the principal of Jamia Naeemia. He has also served as Vice Secretary of Tanzeemul Madaris.

I discussed the very interesting and important topic of ‘Socio-political Theory of Islam Context and Challenges’ with Dr. Raghib. I outlined eight questions as follows:

  1. Language: Our religious elite focuses more on Arabic language and completely ignore ‘other’ languages (the languages of the world). How will, even our religiously well-trained scholars, be able to communicate with the rest of the world to preach the teachings of Islam?
  2. Education and contributions: A momin, in an Islamic view, is supposed to be well-informed about his surroundings and also he/she plays an instrumental part in the progress of society. But what is the role of our current religious leadership in the highly complex and integrated modern world?
  3. Course Content: In almost all religious institutions (apart from a few exceptions) hundred years’ old books, philosophies, interpretations of the Holy Quran are being taught. Don’t you think we need fresh thinking and re-interpretation of Islam to cope with our modern-day issues?
  4. Women Dress: Our women, particularly in cities like Islamabad and Lahore, wear dresses which our religious leaders are vocally uncomfortable with. Whose responsibility is it to enforce a religiously stated/designed/accepted dress (if any) for both males and females? Since the dominant idea of freedom of speech/expression is the fundamental principle of the modern world.
  5. Extremism and Sectarianism: Sectarianism within the Muslim world in general and in Pakistan, in particular, is the biggest challenge for the religious leadership to cope with. What does, in your view, cause religious extremism and who gets what from it? What is the solution?
  6. Failure: Why could we not establish a narrative to make people believe in the basic philosophy of Islam that is peace and love? Whose failure is this?
  7. Political Order: Is the modern (western) concept of democracy compatible with the political theory of Islam?
  8. Interpretation: Who will interpret Islam in the 21st century to deal with the challenges of modernity and modern rational life? Who will be a mujtahid of this age of scientific advancement and technological sophistication?

Firstly, Dr. Raghib accepted the challenge that modernity has posed. He is of the view that our madrassas (religious seminaries) should also learn other languages and particularly English language to communicate with and preach the message of Islam to the rest of the world. He clearly stated that there is no harm or any religious compulsion if someone learns the English language. (He himself answered my question in the English language).

In this age of Facebook and Twitter, our state, religious leadership and social scientists must play their part in bringing the true face of Islam before the world.

Secondly, he agreed that a true religious scholar in this age must have, apart from the knowledge of Quran and Sunnah, reasonable amount of information and knowledge of sociology, economics, and politics of his/her times. Without achieving this level of intellectual development our dream to lead the world will never come true, he stated.

Thirdly, the basic framework of Islamic social and political theory is and will remain the same, but its interpretations to deal with the issues and challenges of modernity may differ with what a scholar, an inhabitant of a traditional Arab society, four or five hundred years back would have thought and stated. For this purpose, as Dr. Raghib argued, we have the tool of Ijtihad.

Fourthly, a dominating culture takes over the rest of the world as history confirms us. As long as Muslims were the rulers they dominated the world but now we are at the opposite corner weaker one. Within the same framework he continued by stating that Islam has no specific dress, rather it has certain directions for the dress of a man and woman. And within the scope of those directions, any sort of dress is acceptable—and should be accepted.

Read more: Growing Islamophobia and a divided Muslim World

On existing political issues and challenges Dr, Raghib’s stance was, seemingly, strong and a bit unconventional. He expressed his views more openly, firmly and argumentatively than any other religious leader I have ever met. He categorically held the state of Pakistan responsible for not shaping a powerful counter-narrative to combat terrorism and extremism.

We can, he believes, change people’s extremist mindset by changing their attitudes and behaviors through education. Also, he believed in the modern concept of democracy and agreed with me that now in this age we have to compete with modern philosophy and scientific developments.

Within the same framework he continued by stating that Islam has no specific dress, rather it has certain directions for the dress of a man and woman.

Therefore, a ‘Mujtahid’ of this age is supposed to be a scholar who quite reasonably understands modern economic system, complexities of global politics, cultural pluralism, and scientific and technological advancement apart from the in-depth knowledge of the Quran and Sunnah.

To conclude, the intention behind this interview was very simple: I wanted to highlight a very important debate of our age that is Islam vs Modernity. In this age of Facebook and Twitter, our state, religious leadership and social scientists must play their part in bringing the true face of Islam before the world.

Read more: Pakistani Govt’s War against “Social Media”?

I am happy to share that people like Dr. Raghib Hussain Naeemi are playing their due part in making our society capable of competing with the challenges of modernity. May Allah bless him!

Farah Adeed is a Senior Research Analyst in GVS. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s Editorial Policy.