Can Islam Be Modernized? A Question by Noor Salik

Can Islam be modernized?

To answer this question, the following three questions may need to be addressed.

(1) What is Islam?

(2) What is Modernity?

(3) Who are Muslims?

One answer can be:

Because of historical, theological, psychological and philosophical reasons,

Islam cannot be modernized.

Noor Salik


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8 thoughts on “Can Islam Be Modernized? A Question by Noor Salik

  1. Islam is continuity of myths and fears and hijacking of Abrahmic fables, modernity is evolving socially and granting equal rights to women and minorities and not closing minds to scientific discoveries and Muslims are people stuck in 7th century. Sorry if it all sounds insulting and rude, my honest answer to three questions, no insult was intended.

  2. Agree with you Salik Sahib that because of the reasons you cited, Islam can not be modernized.

  3. You seem to want to stir the hornets’ nest.

    Some may argue Islam is forever modern and current; there is no need to “modernize” anymore. Others may say why should you follow the “west” and try to modernize. Islam is perfect as it is.

    Your 3 questions are hard to answer in a few sentences. The easiest one to answer is what is Modernity. I would think the definition would depend on what era you are in now. People in the 1960’s probably thought they were more modern than the people of the 1920’s, so your question should be ” can Islam keep up with the times”? and has it kept up with the times? My personal answers would be NO and NO.

    The only real change towards modernity from something that was part of Islam is the complete and legal abolition of slavery. You can arguably even add the abolition of polygamy in some Muslim countries.

    For Islam to really keep up with the times a few things need to happen. First Islam should be only about our relationship with God and less and less about a “way of life”. It is the latter that keeps us out of step with the rest of the world. Second, Islam, even though it was an exceptionally visionary religion for the times it was born in, it needs to evolve with the times, the way it did with slavery.

    My personal opinion is that none of the above is about to happen very soon.

  4. Can the Islam be modernized? If this question is raised with the hope that somehow if Islam is modernized, Muslims will progress. I think it is wrong approach and wrong hope. The real practical question is – Can Muslims find a way to live with modernity.
    The answer is yes! Religion is a private matter and if Muslim countries can separate it from state, like Malaysia, Indonesia and Turkey, it is compatible with modernity and democracy. These three countries are very conservative and religious countries and have found a way to be religious and modern. It is true at individual level also. We can find very religious people and at the same time highly achieved in modern era-like Abdus Salam and others.

    The success of the West is not because of modernization of the religion, but making it a private matter and separating it from the State.

    The real debate within Muslims is whether separation of State and Religion is allowed in Islam. No matter what the answer is, as a practical matter most of the Muslim countries are nudging in that direction. In Pakistan, pure Islamist did not get more than 10 % of the seats, and even they participated in the Democratic elections.

    Let us keep the things simple! Everybody has the right to practice its believes as a private matter, whether modern or very conservative, as long it is not imposed on others and society, and everyone else’s such right is respected. This private matter should not be mixed with State’s affairs.


  5. It is a very serious question and needs serious and sincere efforts to respond to it. Before making an attempt may I ask what is the intent of this question. I don’t think anybody can do justice in response to this complicated question. Couple of reason; (a) I am sure not many people have grasp over the history of religions. What is Islam whether it is continuation of previous religions or it is an innovation, as it was said at this platform that Mohammad wrote Quran. Whether Islam is a balanced profile of any consciousness and title does not mean anything and it is just an attitude. (B) human history is complicated, there are many factors which affect our disposition forming typical psychology.

    Questions are genuine and reply must be just and to the point.

    I begin with aya from surah Al Imran

    وَمَن يَبْتَغِ غَيْرَ الْإِسْلَامِ دِينًا فَلَن يُقْبَلَ مِنْهُ وَهُوَ فِي الْآخِرَةِ مِنَ الْخَاسِرِين٨٥

    If anyone desires a religion other than Islam (submission to Allah), never will it be accepted of him; and in the Hereafter He will be in the ranks of those who have lost (All spiritual good).

    The Hadith is fromm Arba een e nawa we

    الْإِسْلَامُ أَنْ تَشْهَدَ أَنْ لَا إِلَهَ إِلَّا اللَّهُ وَأَنَّ مُحَمَّدًا رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ وَتُقِيمَ الصَّلَاةَ وَتُؤْتِيَ الزَّكَاةَ وَتَصُومَ رَمَضَانَ وَتَحُجَّ الْبَيْتَ إِنْ اسْتَطَعْتَ إِلَيْهِ سَبِيلًا

    Islam is to witness that there is no God but Allah and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, to establish prayer, to give the alms, the fast in the month of Ramadan, and to perform pilgrimage to the House if he is capable of travel.

    These are simple guidelines to all whether he is a boorish peasant or Einstein, but complexities appear when intellectual interaction takes place between individuals of different capabilities, discussion crops up in different classes or clash of cultures initiates dialogues with different perspectives. Iqbal has addressed these issues in his Lectures “Reconstruction of Religious Thoughts in Islam. I quote excerpts from the last lecture (VII), Is Religion Possible?

    “Broadly speaking religious life may be divided into three periods.
    1- Period of Faith
    2- Period of Thought
    3- Period of Discovery

    The first one is a form of discipline which an individual or society as whole accept as an unconditional command without any rational understanding of the ultimate meaning and purpose of that command. It has great social consequences but may not have much for an individual inner growth.

    Period of Thought is rational understanding where an individual’s life seeks its foundation in a kind of metaphysics to establish a link between view of the world with God.

    In the third period metaphysics is displaced by psychology to come in direct contact with the Ultimate Reality to achieve free personality not by releasing itself from law but by discovering the source of law within the depths of his own consciousness. Best reflected in the word of Sufi, “no understanding of Holy Book is possible until it is actually revealed to the believer just as it was revealed to the Prophet. This attitude leads to a concept of higher religion in search of larger life. “It is genuine effort to clarify human consciousness.

    In the same address Iqbal has cited Rumi’s verses

    Low in the earth
    I lived in the realms of ore and stone
    And then I smiled in many tinted flowers
    Then roving with the wild and wandering hours
    O’er earth and air and oceans’s zones
    In a new birth
    I dived and flew
    and crept and ran
    And all the secrets of my essence drew
    Within a form that brought them all to view
    And lo, a Man!
    And then my goal
    Beyond the clouds, beyond the sky
    In realms where none may change or die
    In angel form; and then away
    Beyond the bounds of night and day
    And Life and Death, unseen or seen
    Where all that is hath ever been,
    And One and Whole.

    The address referenced above is worth reading and I invite the questioner and all to look into that.

    Great historian of Pakistan; I. H. Qureshi had an opinion that education system plays an important role in the formation of a mindset. Appalling gap between secular educated elite which is the most spineless has supported faulty, aimless, and diseased system of education that has bred no social virtues no depth of feeling no sense of responsibility –nothing except selfishness, corruption and cowardly lack of initiative and courage. Little further Qureshi continues, “They the Mullas have neglected modern knowledge to an extent that there is no scope left for a dialogue between those who have received a modern education and the graduates of the seminaries who cannot help the growth of religious consciousness.

    These gaps are identified, nobody can help in giving you a nourishing and suggestive answer to the question floated above. To be on safer side just read these verse in solitude and brood over them.

    We create our own world of consciousness, anyway, if it has any worth to us.

    Tarap Raha Hai Falatoon Miyan-e-Ghaib-o-Huzoor
    Azal Se Ahl-e-Khirad Ka Maqam Hai Aaraaf*

    *Aaraf is a place between heaven and hell (I understand it as abode less)

    Tere Zameer Pe Jab Tak Na Ho Nazool-e-Kitab
    Girah Kusha* Hai Na Razi Na Shib-e-Kashaaf


  6. As first and second generation western Muslims grow older, their children and grandchildren will have different ideas and meanings on Islam, will be more open on how to interpret the quran from a 21st century context and maybe even present perspectives on the sacrosanct text that the world is not ready for. Change is inevitable, whether an older generation likes it or not.

  7. If we really know Islam, we will realize that Islam is the only one (Modern) Deen. It is not a religion, so it cannot be compared with other religions nor be divided between Individual and God and between Individual and State. Even the God’s Worship or Islamic rituals are not for the benefit of God but to develop Humanity. In Islam all people have equal rights and Islam encourage people to explore science and enjoy its benefits.

    (1) What is Islam?

    All shameful deeds against truth or reason, against public welfare and against fellow people are forbidden in Islam. God commands the Messenger to tell people, “Say: the things that my Lord has indeed forbidden are: Shameful deeds, whether open or secret; Sins and trespasses against truth or reason; Assigning of partners to Allah, for which He has given no authority; and saying things about Allah of which you have no knowledge.” (Qur’an 7: 33).

    God has forbidden all deeds that are done against the truth and reason. It is reasonable that people should not eat which they acquire by illegal ways or which is not good for their health. Again ascribing that is false to God is also unreasonable. If we have the authority of free will and can do whatever we desire then it is reasonable that we should be responsible and accountable for what we decide and choose for ourselves. We belong to one human family so it is not reasonable to form groups within a family on any based especially in religion when each one of us is responsible for one’s own deeds and behavior in the final judgment before God. God tells people in Surah Al-Hujurat, “O people! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other (not that you may despise each other). Verily the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you. …” (Qur’an 49:13). Is it not reasonable for people to treat others like as they desire themselves to be treated?

    Islam is God’s Worship and Honest Living—Human activities in which God’s commands are not violated are His servitude or Worship. Obligatory worship is designed to motivate people to reform and inculcate human values: For example, “Recite what is sent of the Book by inspiration to you, and establish regular Prayer: for Prayer restrains from shameful and unjust deeds; and remembrance of Allah is the greatest (thing in life) without doubt. And Allah knows the (deeds) that you do” (Qur’an 29:45). God tells the believers that, “O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that you may (learn) self-restraint,” – (Qur’an 2:183).

    Learning to develop capability to earn an honest living is obligatory and working hard in the selected professional area for earning an honest living is God’s Worship. Misappropriating property or using it to bribe the judges is forbidden in Islam. God commands, “And do not eat up your property among yourselves for vanities, nor use it as bait for the judges, with intent that you may eat up wrongfully and knowingly a little of (other) people’s property” (Qur’an 2:188).

    Deeds against Public Welfare are Forbidden: God tells us in Surah Al-Layl, “Verily We take upon Ourselves to guide (Humanity)” (Qur’an 92:12). Human history testifies that God and His messengers have taken to guide people very seriously. Therefore believers should not hold God’s Commands in low esteem and make unlawful, things made lawful by God. Believers should not indulge in things forbidden like-–making mischief in the land or break mutual ties by misappropriating each others property or use it to bribe the judges. Similarly believers should not be fraudulent and deceive others by their oaths. They should give full measure with justice when they deal with others.

    (2) What is Modernity?

    Modernity is the establishment of social Justice and inculcation of human values including equal rights to all people and not closing minds to scientific discoveries. Individually or socially, people have to be hard working, honest, just and helpful. They should not discriminate, exploit, unjust or selfish and corrupt.

    2.1 God forbid not to Enjoy Fruits of Scientific Discoveries
    God commands the Messenger, “Say: Who has forbidden the beautiful (gifts) of Allah, which He has produced (by any means) for His servants, and the things, clean and pure, (which He has provided) for sustenance?

    Say: They are, in the life of this world, for those who believe, (and) purely for them on the Day of Judgment.

    Thus do We explain the signs in detail for those who understand” (Qur’an 7:32).

    2.2 God Forbids to make Mischief in Land when in Power

    How can we separate religion and state when the Islam talks about the inculcation of all human values. God asks people,

    1. “Then, is it to be expected of you, if you were put in authority,

    2. that you will do mischief in the land,

    3. And break your ties of kith and kin?

    Such are the men whom Allah has cursed for He has made them deaf and blinded their sight.

    4. Do they not then earnestly seek to understand the Qur’an, or are their hearts locked up by them” (Qur’an 47:22-24).

    2.3 Forbidden is to Follow the Way of the Hypocrites

    Since, “the hypocrites will be in the lowest depths of the Fire…” (Qur’an 4:145), the believers are forbidden to adopt the way of the hypocrites. It is narrated by Abu Hurairah that Allah’s Apostle said, “The signs of a hypocrite are three: Whenever he speaks, he tells a lie; and whenever he promises, he breaks his promise; and whenever he is entrusted, he betrays (proves to be dishonest).” – (Sahih Bukhari: 8.73.117)

    2.4 Follow Divine Law for Prosperity and Paradise

    God encourages people to strive to acquire good things through lawful means, without exceeding limits. “O you who believe! Make not unlawful the good things that Allah has made lawful for you, but commit no excess, for Allah loves not those given to excess (Qur’an 5:87).” God has also provided sufficient means in the world for all people to live in prosperity. We have to exploit and properly manage these natural resources for the benefit of all humanity. God reminds people: “It is We Who have placed you with authority on earth and provided you therein with means for the fulfillment of your life. Small are the thanks that you give” (Qur’an 7:10).

    (3) Who are Muslims?

    The contract between people and God consists of three sets of obligations that believers have to fulfill during their lives on earth. These obligations are about 1) Belief and worship, 2) individual character and livelihood, 3) society and justice. The divine contract consists of people’s obligations to God and their obligations to themselves and to God’s creation, including their fellow people. This contract is a single and complete whole, each part being of equal importance. To ignore any part is to reject it altogether. By virtue of being believers, we are committed to serve Him by implementing His commands in managing our affairs and help build a just human society in the world.

    For those who will like to learn a little more about Islam, I have some additional information from the Qur’an highlighting that Islam is to Develop Humanity. Let me know if interested.

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