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Is There an Islamic Humanism?

Finding the Right Balance

In pursuit of the affirmation of Islamic humanism, man needs to strike a balance between matter and spirit, body and soul, and between the exigencies of this world and the hereafter. Neither is to be sought out for its own sake, or at the expense of the others. Instead, they are to be nurtured as parts of a harmonious whole. They are to be nurtured also as parts of an ultimately consequential order of meanings and experiences.

By way of example, if pursued for their own ends, in isolation from the areas of spirituality and ethics, neither matter, nor body, nor this world in its totality, will be able to establish its validity. On the contrary, each of them will be doomed to become insufficient, distorted and, at the end of the day, detrimental a force.

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Despite the fact that autonomously they are not saintly, neither matter, nor body, nor this life, is intrinsically evil either. Their utilities as means and carriers of the spiritual realm are to be duly acknowledged and made the most of. What is good and what bad depends on the degree of harmony between the two: physical and metaphysical, orbs.

Man is a small-scale version of this view point. His one dimension represents the lowliness of the material and the other the pre-eminence of the immaterial levels of existence. Man’s assignments boil down to overcoming the advances of the former and, allied with the latter, to rise through the ranks towards the spiritual fulfilment.

The hereafter is the final destination and paradise the targeted eternal abode. In the process, neither the advantageous nor disadvantageous sides of life should impede man in his progress. So as to succeed, those sides are to be considered and dealt with exactly as they are, without exaggerating or devaluing either one of the two. Positively, both sides are required for the success.

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Islamic Humanism & Spirituality

In short, Islamic humanism celebrates man in its own way and paves the way for his triumph. It elevates the status of man to the level of Allah’s vicegerent or representative on earth. It recognizes man’s rights and responsibilities across the spectrum of the multifaceted idea and marvel of life, furnishing him with workable ways and means to prosper.

Islamic humanism acclaims man as the honourable creation, servant and the dependent one, and places him against the backdrop of the idea that Allah is the only Creator, Master and the Self-Sufficient One. Man is great and can see it through exclusively because of the implications of these reciprocal relationships.

It is only owing to those relationships and godsends originating therefrom that man can think of the biggest prizes: eternity, immortality and everlasting bliss. These await in the hereafter those who succeed in this world, evading on the other hand those whose humanism patterns espoused and threaded flawed paths.

Nevertheless, regardless of what man’s achievements or failures in this world may be, under no circumstances can there be an exchange of titles. The servant remains servant and the Master Master; the creation remains creation and the Creator Creator; and the dependant one remains so, and the Self-Sufficient One remains also so forever.

It follows that Islamic humanism is possible only due to the impetus of Islamic spirituality, and its actual results can be achieved and fruits tasted only in collaboration with the hereafter. By no means can man be deified in any way and any degree, nor can Almighty God be anthropomorphized in any way and any degree. This is the singularity of Islamic humanism which stems from the Islamic tawhidic (God’s Oneness) worldview. This is also what sets Islamic humanism apart from other types of humanism.

The Humanism of Tawhid

Isma’il al-Faruqi encapsulated the meaning and fundamental traits of Islamic humanism when he said: “A world of difference separates this humanism of Islam from other humanisms. Greek civilization, for instance, developed a strong humanism which the West has taken as model since the Renaissance. Founded upon an exaggerated naturalism, Greek humanism deified man – as well as his vices…

The humanism of tawhid alone is genuine. It alone respects man and creaturely, without either deification of vilification. It alone defines the worth of man in terms of his virtues, and begins its assessment of him with a positive mark for the innate endowment God has given all men in preparation for their noble task.

It alone defines the virtues and ideals of human life in terms of the very contents of natural life, rather than denying them, thus making its humanism life-affirmative as well as moral” (Isma’il al-Faruqi, Al Tawhid: Its Implications for Thought and Life)

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About Dr. Spahic Omer
Dr. Spahic Omer, an award-winning author, is an Associate Professor at the Kulliyyah of Islamic Revealed Knowledge and Human Sciences, International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM). He studied in Bosnia, Egypt and Malaysia. In the year 2000, he obtained his PhD from the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur in the field of Islamic history and civilization. His research interests cover Islamic history, culture and civilization, as well as the history and theory of Islamic built environment. He can be reached at: [email protected].