Modernity

MODERNITY

This depends on both what is meant by “modernity” and the varied interpretations on this subject. If by modernity one means science, the scientific method and technological advances, then we know that scientific exploration and technological innovation flourished in the Islamic cultures of the Middle Ages, commonly known as the Golden Age of Islam. And today, millions of Muslims are involved, often in leading positions, in the fields of science, mathematics, medicine, engineering and other scientific fields.

If by modernity one means democracy and individual rights such as freedom of thought, expression religion, and conscience, then Muslim attitudes vary depending upon how they are defined.

While some Muslims view these rights as secondary to religious principles conveyed by Islam, others, including, as we explain in the introduction to these questions, consider these rights to be fundamental principles of Islam. Muslims can cite the tradition of ijtihad (independent thinking) as an essential aspect of Islamic scholarly tradition that fosters reform, reinterpretation, and the exploration and advocacy of new ideas.

However many Muslims are concerned about the devastating negative effects that modernity and its accompanying technological advances can have, when influenced by factors relating to economic profit and short-term gain, have had upon our environment and the world.

Democracy is a cited as modern trend but is interpreted very widely, broadly and differently depending upon its location. Most Muslims who favour democracy, interpret it as merely shura (“mutual consensus”) and allowing the voting system to be employed, as we have witnessed during the 2011 Arab Spring and beyond, people throughout the Arab world in countries like Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Libya, and Syria have risked their lives, and in some places are still risking them, in their struggle for freedom and government change in their countries. However, for most Muslims allowing the voting systems as per democracy/shurah requirements, does not mean it overrides divine Islamic law – with both being compatible.

In Muslim tradition, individual rights are balanced with collective rights in a mutually beneficial manner.

The principle of individual rights was established in one of Islam’s earliest documents, the Madinah Constitution, which was drafted by the Prophet Muhammad saws when he migrated with his followers to Madinah. The agreement laid out certain rights and responsibilities between the Muslims and the major tribes in Madinah and guaranteed the security and religious freedom of the diverse religious and tribal groups who made up the new community. In the context of its time, it embodied a remarkably strong affirmation of human rights.