COMPATIBILITY WITH MODERNITY
JA: My sincere congratulations on the development of your schools, colleges, and universities, and especially the number of hospitals. This seems positive.
1. Do you know which percentage of students specialize in religious education, such as Islamic Studies, at the universities? Is it thirty percent?
SaB: What is modernity? And what is freedom?
Take “modernity,” a very vague term. Your references suggest that it merely is the state of being modern.
But what does it mean to be modern?
Apparently "modernity" means whatever happens to be currently popular in the West. The West is modern in many disparate ways. To be “modern” in this sense would require every non-Western society to abandon its culture and live in a constant state of imitation of changing Western norms. We are emphatically against this wholesale adoption of Western modernity as it relates to a promiscuous freedom. We believe that we have much that is good by any rational and moral standards, and we are therefore keen not only to preserve it but also to invite others to it. But at the same time we believe that there is much worldly good in the West, and we are keen to derive benefits from that good. This applies especially to science and technology and any thing that helps us to advance in these respects. We do not, however, share Westerners’ current beliefs -- religious or secular – and strongly oppose many of the West’s prevailing values.
Thus we think that there is a significant difference between “modernity” in general and religious/moral modernity. We have shopping malls of chrome and glass and the latest technology; we all use mobile phones which are actually more advanced than those in the West;; we drive cars, eat in restaurants, drive through fast food outlets, get our cash from ATMs, and all have computers, satellite televisions, and Bluetooth-enabled devices.
Thus we reject the notion that we must do something simply because it happens to be Westerners’ current prevailing cultural prejudice. We are simply not impressed by being told that something is one of the hallmarks of modernity as the West does in the following examples. We evaluate things by being true or false, useful or harmful, suitable or not suitable, and not just because the West counts them among the hallmarks of your modernity.
One of the primary aims of Islam is the welfare of the family. Being good to one’s parents is mentioned in the Qur’an as second only to worshipping God:
Qur’an 004:36-38 “And worship God. Ascribe no thing as partner to Him. (Show) kindness to parents, and to near kindred, and orphans, and the needy, and into the neighbor who is of kin (to you) and the neighbor who is not of kin and the fellow traveler and the wayfarer and (the slaves) whom your right hands possess. Lo! God loves not such as are proud and boastful, who hoard their wealth and enjoin avarice on others, and hide that which God has bestowed upon them of His bounty. For disbelievers We prepare a shameful doom; and (also) those who spend their wealth in order to be seen of men, and believe not in God nor the Last Day. Whoever takes Satan for a comrade, a bad comrade has he.”
To protect the family Islam prohibits all kinds of extra-marital sexual relations and has severe punishment for those who commit adultery and fornication. As a consequence, free mixing between men and women is not encouraged. Today some of our learned men thought that it would be advisable for women not to drive cars as this would tempt women to mix easily with men and vice versa. Thus the prohibition on women driving was seen as a precautionary matter; none of the learned men said that it was religiously forbidden for women to drive cars[ii]. The issue of women driving was never seen in our society as depriving women of a right; this is evidenced by the fact that few Saudi women even want to drive. In the end, this question is all a matter of what is beneficial and what is not in the light of the principles in which Muslim men and women believe.
As to voting, it was never the practice in our society to resort to voting for choosing our leaders. Over the years we have been very contented with the manner in which our leaders have been chosen. Now that voting has been adopted on a limited level, no one here is saying that there is something in Islam which allows men but not women to vote; indeed, many of our officials are saying that this restriction was only a matter of convenience because of the additional infrastructure that would be required. Many believe that this restriction will be lifted in the future, and perhaps in the very near future. (How many years were American women denied the right to vote? How many years were American Blacks denied the right to vote?)
First, Islam has no problem with science; it was in the Muslim world that science first flourished, and it was upon that basis that Europeans built their science.
Second, the Sheikh did not mention anything about orbiting. He was only criticizing the belief that the sun is stationary because there is a verse in the Qur’an which says that it “runs.” We now know that the whole solar system moves around the Galaxy and that the Galaxy itself is traveling through space. Sheikh Abd-Aziz Ibn Baz was not a scientist, and he did not claim the doctrinal infallibility of a pope; he was simply expressing a view in which he honestly believed. Although he was a great religious teacher, Islam recognizes that no man can have the infallibility popes still today claim. Accordingly, Ibn Baz could not force his view on all Muslims – he didn't even think about trying to start an inquisition against the many who differed with him. In the face of Ibn Baz’s statement, what should we Muslims have done – prevented him from expressing a view simply because we believed it erroneous?
Addressing the Western theologians’ problems with science, many Christian scholars today emphatically oppose Darwinism and believe that creationism should be taught in school. (Indeed, your President Bush advocates teaching “Intelligent Design” – a poor cousin of creationism – in public schools!) How should those people be answered?
Third, our Sheikhs are only learned Islamic scholars; they are not popes whose words on religious topics become part of the religion. The Islamic religion is based on two sources only: the Qur’an and the Sunna (words and deeds of the Prophet).
Fourth, George Washington is said to have been one of those who believed that the earth is flat[iii]. But famous Muslim scholars like Ibn Hazm and Ibn Taymiya who lived centuries before him knew that the earth is spherical.
[i] The Myth of the
[ii] Karen Hughes Driving
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