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Modernity and The Essential Message of Islam



Reply Date

Dec 18, 2016


What is the meaning of Islam, according to the modern point of view, along with the essential message of this religion? Also, in Islam, is obedience and tawadhu` (humbleness and submission) to Allah more important than being kind to others?



Asalamu Alaikum Ananda, 

Thank you for contacting About Islam with your question.

The word “Islam”, as you know, is derived from the root “s-l-m”, which means to surrender or submit. This surrender and peaceful submission to Allah Almighty is the way of life that Allah has decreed for mankind. 

The basic teachings of Islam transcend time, and so, they mean the same in the modern times as in ancient times. From the Islamic point of view, the best generation of Muslims was Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him- PBUH) and his companions.

Our duty, in modernity, is to grasp the human and social essence of that exemplary model and make our Islam relevant and beneficial for humankind in our modern life, as best as we can.

The principles remain the same, today as before. This is because they are based on the essence of human nature, as Allah has created it. They are also based on the social interactions, as seen fair and just by Him. 

Throughout the process of application, we may come across problems created by the conditions of historical contexts and modes of life. Here, we ought to be careful that the tide of modernity does not carry us off our Islamic moorings.

Nor should our attempts fall in the trap of becoming either an imitation of others or a full rejection of the modern age. Hence, losing track of the middle way and straight path of Islam

We know that ours is a hyper-tech world. So, if we ignore the extraordinary strides made by modern man in the field of science and technology, we will slide much behind the rest of the world.

Then, in the course of time, we will be nowhere in worldly terms. The recent events in international politics clearly drove us towards a rethinking of our approaches, methods, intellectual, and scientific priorities–no doubt.

This is clearly understandable, because Islam is not meant for a particular period only, and what is more, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) taught us the dynamics of how to face the tides of change without deviating from our fundamental beliefs and practices.

One of the key instruments of this dynamics is ijtihad (i.e. the process of making judgment based on the Quran and sunnah, to find answers to new situations and differing circumstances). 

Unfortunately, those of our scholars who are competent and confident enough to use ijtihad in the best and the most effective way are very few. But we have to rely on them, in order to confront the issues related to modernity and its challenges. 

Also, Muslims in daily life make their own continuous effort to accommodate modernity and be accommodated as Muslims within the world. Experience has taught us that to adopt an ostrich-like policy here is very harmful.

If the community of believers, whom Allah entrusted with the responsibility of commanding good and prohibiting evil, are withdrawing from the arena of the contentious world of the present, who then would fulfill this duty?

Should we declare ourselves incapable of that God-given duty and expect others who are more qualified to “replace” us? 

God says in Surah 47, verse 38:

{[…] and if you turn away [from the path] He will bring in your place another people, then they will not be like you.}

As for the second part of your question, we need to understand that from the Islamic point of view, only those actions are considered good that are motivated by one’s belief in Allah.

Believing in Allah means obedience and humility to Him. This should automatically include kindness to others. 

The traditions of the Prophet (PBUH) and his life example show how Islam is all about morality, ethics, and good manners. Allah, as The Creator of heavens and earth, has the ultimate attributes of Kindness and Mercy, which Muslims should abide by. 

In the case of such a person who follows the kind and merciful Prophet (PBUH) in worshiping Allah, The Most Kind, The Most Merciful, they will indeed show kindness to others. Whatever we do by way of good to others is in obedience to Allah. So, our kindness to others is a natural result of our obedience to Allah. 

Can one say: “I consider kindness to others as less important than obedience to Allah?” It would be a meaningless proposition indeed, since kindness to others is a consequence of our obedience to God. Islam was revealed as a mercy to humanity.

So, how can those who believe in it and are obliged to convey it, not be required to be kind and merciful? 

Thank you again for your question. Please do not hesitate to contact us again. 

Walaikum Asalam.

Please continue feeding your curiosity, and find more info in the following links:

Noble Qur’an for Modern World

How Can Old Islam Protect Recent Human Rights?

Peace and Tranquility in a Modern World

Shariah In Our Modern Times

Learning the Prophet’s Kindness and Compassion

About Professor Shahul Hameed

Professor Shahul Hameed is an Islamic consultant. He also held the position of the President of the Kerala Islamic Mission, Calicut, India. He is the author of three books on Islam published in the Malayalam language. His books are on comparative religion, the status of women, and science and human values.

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