The birth of modern Islam

By K.N. Pandita

Muslims had to wait long before modern Islam could be ushered in. The wait was painful and ridden with internal dissension. For last eight centuries, the struggle for balancing Islamic ideology that had sprung from desert tribal ethos and assertively moved on to civilizations with diversified experience of socialization, entered the final and decisive phase a decade ago. 9/11 served as the harbinger of transition.

Not many Muslim ruled countries were happy with tragic happenings of 9/11. But sensing what the events portended, they geared up for a political Islam that looked westward with the option of adaptability and resilience. Millennia old struggle for reformation had come to a dead end from where reaction was the only option. 

A strong Muslim diaspora in the developed western countries and the US was a force new to the sensational enterprise for reformation. Radical forces could not make damaging dent into it and at best reached its fringes. The reason was the pragmatics of logic of western world that was not prepared to paint entire Muslim community in dark colour. It left space for moderate Islam not just a religious but also a political force that would be called upon one day to play its historic role. Neo-political Islam had to be separated from pragmatic political Islam.

Oil brought riches to the Arab countries that have vast hydrocarbon deposits but it did not bring them political stability. Only viable political structure could sustain equitable distribution of wealth and stop it from getting concentrated in despotic hands. Had that happened, it would have thrown up a strong middle class in these societies. None of the Sheikhs, Sultans and monarchs was prepared to share power with the masses of people.

The serious question was what should be the motivation for mass uprising in Islamic world if old versus new conflict had to be resolved once for all? Was it to be the blind following of the tenets of faith or rationalization of forces of survival such as economy, commerce, innovation, scientific temper and above all international relationship and culture? Faith had been exploited and misused, and culture made to shrink to theocratic discourse.

No small a person than al-Bardai, the chief of IAEA, was among the front rank protestors in Egypt. It indicated that neither the mosque nor the rant of clerics could be the precise instrument of revolution. What could sustain it was modernity in all of its positive and constructive shades. And the revolution was not just against a particular person but against the institution created by the forces that had put blinkers on discerning eyes.

The contagion could not be localized because almost in entire Muslim world, revolutionary ideology was brewing underneath counterfeit calm. It had to break open the lid one day. The reformation movement remained confined to political goals and left faith untouched. This was a deviation from the nature and contours of traditional conflict within the polity. Disengaging the Muslim mind from the freeze of inseparability of politics from faith could be the eventual outcome of interacting forces.

The stir in the Arab world is not assigned any nomenclature. The slogan is “go, go”. The person at the top of the hierarchy is no more wanted. Not defining precise contour of the movement is a means to safeguard it against intervention by the church. Therefore it may be said that for the first time, a worldwide Islamic movement with its epicenter in Arab lands aims at making Islam really pro-active for all intents. It has to be an Islam different from confrontational character.

But this is the beginning of the end of confrontational era. Transition cannot be rapid; it has to pass through stages, each stage asking for a toll. Pressure from free world, if remaining in place, could help speed up the transition. But whether fast or slow, synchronization process has to emerge that will shape a new form of political system, a hybrid of western secular and Islamic moderate religious pattern. This would not be the conflict of civilizations but their coordination.

Fortunately for us in India, the vision had dawned upon the framers of constitution and the political arrangement that is wedded to its implementation. The day is not far away when the world will emulate India’s example of commitment to composite culture. All components of Indian civil society will need to understand the tone and tenor of liberation movement that has gripped entire Muslim world. Extremists are gradually getting sidelined while entrenched stakeholders are looking for relent and reconciliation with new order.

Europe will not be the Europe that it was. Its liberalism has come under strain. Its social order has to readjust. Mediterranean will no more be the exclusive European preserve. A combined Euro-Islamic currency could give boost to trade and commerce between the two continents with far-reaching impact on the economy of entire world. Oil cannot remain the exclusive property of the Arabs or Iranians. Humanity has equal rights on it because oil rich countries have equal rights on the secrets of technology of world community. As Islam begins to take steady steps along the path to modernity, it will simultaneously endear itself to the world community as a valuable component of global welfare state. Arab Middle East has identified its real enemy, and having done so, it is seeking instrumentality of dealing with it. This has nothing to do with external forces and their reaction.

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