By Amir Suhail Wani
THE torrent of knowledge that has been unleashed in our times has brought with it an array of issues dwelling upon faith and religion. The inability to deal with these questions and to arrive at their sustainable answers has jeopardised the institution of religion and inadvertently the future of man.
It so happened, a few years ago that my quest to understand Islam steered me to numerous seminaries and scholars. Having read the books written by Western authors and scholars, most of them outside the pale of Islam, sowed the seeds of skepticism and uncertainty in my mind. Interacting with my friends on these issues didn't bring any answers. It rather revealed that my friends, like myself, were struggling against the same odds. There emerged a definite pattern while interacting with scholars those days;the questions were either deemed nonsensical, not qualifying for an answer or the answers offered turned out to be far from satisfactory. While narrating my own story, I am sure to have struck the cords of hundreds and thousands of those college and university going students who find themselves in the midst of this challenge without any aid to come out or resolve these.
Carlyle said that the future of religion is the future of man. Thus, it places an incumbent responsibility on the scholars to revisit religious thought in the light of recent advancements in human knowledge. But the prevalent institutions of religious studies are so structured that they don't leave open any such possibility, where scholars can subject themselves to regular updation. But the youth, brought up in the ambience of modern academia as they are, find themselves at odds while interacting with scholars from the background of traditional learning.
The bilateral exchange in which students come up with their specific questions and the nature of answers they expect can be, for the sake of brevity summed as:
Confronted with plethora of religious and secular ideologies, our youth is in utter delusion with regards to the uniqueness, universality and peculiarity of Islam. The arguments floating from other shores are at times more concrete than what our scholars usually tend to offer. So, the first responsibility of our learned scholars is to understand Islam not only in its traditional idiom but with its all emergent versions and in all possible frames so as to assert the ideological and pragmatic vitality of Islam. Any failure in this regard shall amount to an intellectual revolt within the tradition — a revolt that's overtly operational all over the Muslim lands.
Youth aren't satisfied, by virtue of their specific academic upbringing, by the quotations from traditional sources. Despite the fact that they aren't entirely correct in their approach, they tend to seek scientific and rational answers to their questions. They seem to be least interested in metaphysical gymnastics and grammarian dissection of a text. The very nature of their questions makes traditional answering patterns quite redundant. Additionally, their acquaintance with Western sciences unnecessarily makes them revolve under the spell of self-constructed intellectual superiority and mistakenly so.
The challenge at hand is a herculean one and so the society, the intellectuals and those who share a common concern to this end need to reboot themselves to tackle the issues of atheism and consequent moral relativism. The response needs indeed to be one rooted in intellect and not mere rhetoric or emotional wordplay. This isn’t a far cry and is realisable.
An active, continuous and positive exchange of ideas and individuals needs to be started between traditional madrasas and modern day universities. A professor from University may be called upon for a lecture at a traditional seminary to make the students aware about the impulses and requirements of modern times. Likewise, a Muhaddith, a Mufasir, a Faqih may be made to interact with students of secular institutions of learning so as to give them an outline of what traditional sciences look like, how they are to be approached and how they are to be appropriated in the wake of contemporary challenges.
The department of Islamic Studies as it exists in various universities across the state may be calibrated as per the intellectual requirements of society. These departments ought to be aware of the fact that their purpose is not to prepare men of pulpit or the men of jurisprudence but they ought to prepare minds who can counter, by virtue of their intellectual capacity the intellectual crisis that we are going through on the front of faith. At this point, it becomes important to emphasise that the role of teachers here is not to indoctrinate students to their specific ideology but to instill in them the spirit and sense of independent critical evaluation within the pattern specific to religion itself.
Both inside and outside academia, authors like Allama Iqbal, Khalifa Abdul Hakeem, Ameer Ali, Frithjof Schoun, Burhan Ahmad Farooqi, Schimmel, Gulen, Maulana Maudoodi, Javed Ghamdi and their likes need to be read, understood and appreciated on a wider scale. The list indeed reflects my personal reflections but in any case, the point of emphasis is to open up our minds to those authors who have understood and consequently approached Islam, keeping in mind the modern sensitivities. The readers may come up with an equally well weighed parallel list of authors for their own benefit at their respective places.
Orientalists have appeared like an unavoidable externality and unnecessary evil vis a vis the Islamic discourse over a past century and so. They have dominated the Islamic narrative both outside Islam and within Islamic intellect. Thus, it becomes incumbent upon scholars both from traditional and modern school of thought to keep themselves well informed about "oriental poison" and offer it a rebuttal in most appropriate scholarly idiom.
Our learned scholars need to understand that the very nature of modern times has left little scope for condemning each other. Their mutual condemnations and war within the house has to be given up in case we are sincerely interested in addressing the challenges that threaten our faith and institutions of faith at large. There is no wisdom in being polemical but only in accepting and tolerating the different opinions thriving within the religion and to accord to each view its due share of intellectual and moral respect. We need to bear in mind the words of Allama Iqbal that "Don't fight the interpretations of the truth when truth itself is in danger".
These are the least and minimum number of steps we expect scholars from all schools of thought to take in unison so as to avert the impending clouds of disbelief and religious unrest among youth.
Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer
- The author is a freelancer, R&D Engineer and comparative studies scholar
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