Friday, July 30, 2010



Man lives today in an age characterized by an unprecedented intellectual confusion and religious crisis arising out of the fact that the tremendous advance of modern science on a scale hitherto undreamt of and the rise of modern ‘ism’ have caused religious beliefs and established traditions to be seriously questioned. The origin of the Universe, the creation of man and even the existence of God have become vulnerable to grave doubt and arbitrary conjecture. Now religion is being reproached as unscientific and obsolete phenomenon having no relevance in the wider context of modern life. It is being asserted that the reality of God has not been demonstrated nor is demonstrable in reason. Likewise, the nature of posthumous life is unknown and unknowable.

This contemporary decline of religion in general and spectacular rise of modern outlook is not isolated phenomena. They represented a fundamental change of outlook and concept with regard to the nature of man and of the Universe. Ever since the dawn of history, man has lived by religion and religious tradition, because religion is connatural with man. There might have been many abuses, superstitions, deviation and corruption in religious life of man; nevertheless the basic religious faith remained unquestioned. God was still regarded as the absolute lord and the creator of everything; the Devil was the source of all evil. Everything was in its proper place and right relation but the present religious crisis is rapidly becoming worldwide. Formerly religion used to dominate the whole of life, but what is actually happening today throughout the world is that the modern outlook or Modernism is dominating life and goading religion out of life, pushing it into the private sector of life and even stifling it to the point of death. By Modernism we mean here that which is not of Divine origin or that which does not issue from religion or tradition. In fact modernism is what is profoundly anti-religious, anti-traditional, humanistic, scientific, progressive etc. Such a modernistic world-view has already gained an overall ascendancy in the West and is now becoming universal by extending its sway over the rest of the world.

This Modernism aims at undermining religion and tradition by striking at their roots. It was, in fact, born of the European renaissance, which marked the end of the traditional Christian civilization. The Renaissance initiated the process of an open revolt against God and gradually gave birth to many new-fangled dogmas and ‘isms’ such as Secularism and Marxist communism--all this constitute Modernism. These ‘isms’ seemingly attractive and convincing, are in reality, aberrant representing a straying into errors and illusions, rooted in the shifting ground of conjecture and superficial knowledge. Dazzled by the unprecedented progress of modern science, the scientists tend to accept as ultimate truth only those things that are tied to time, space, matter and senses, they believe that only the material world, the world of phenomena, is truly existent or really real and beyond which nothing exists whatsoever. This is modern materialism, which is a philosophy of anti-wisdom, precisely because it lives on the husk of things and on the surface level of phenomena ignoring their metaphysical root and reality. This is an intellectual superficiality, which shuts its eyes to what constitutes the quintessence of the human condition.


With these introductory remarks, we now turn to religion which is exposed to the challenges of Modernism . Religion is as old as humanity itself and essentially it originates from the Divine source. It represents a set of divine guidance revealed to different prophets for guiding mankind to the right path. Its aim is to provide an effective link between man and God. Its primacy and ultimacy in human life are, therefore, undeniable. Despite outward differences and apparent contradictions, all true and revealed religions provide paths or highways leading to the same goal. In fact, every religion is a highway, not an ism or ideology, and a highway exists in terms of its destination. The way that leads nowhere is not a way at all. Since religion is primarily a highway, it must have a starting point as well as a destination. As religion springs from God, so it ends in God. Thus the goal of religion is God Himself.

Religion has doctrinal, ritual and ethical aspects, which are interlinked and inseparable from one another. This implies that religion is not a purely individual or private affair: it is rather supra individual. Every religion is characterized by three factors - doctrine, rite and ethics–that correspond to three human faculties-intellection, action and volition. This proves that religion neglects and ignores nothing human 1. It embraces the whole of life, from birth to death, outward and inward. In fact, religion is connatural with man. In Islam, the center or focus of religious consciousness or awareness of Divine Reality is referred to in al-Qur’an as al-fitrah (30: 30), that is, a primordial essence in man, which signifies his unique ability to recognize God as his lord. The celebrated theosophy of Islam al-Ghazzali maintains that every man is born with the consciousness of Divine Unity, a belief which is kneaded, into his fitrah , that is , primodial nature2.  The Latin root of the word religion is connected with the idea of binding or attachment. Religion, therefore, denotes a link by which humanity is effectively bound to what is greater than itself, that is, God 3. In Islam, the same theme is expressed with the term ‘Aql which means intellect. The root meaning of the term ‘ aql’ is to bind. Now intellect or ‘aql’ is that human faculty which binds man to his origin, that is, God. That is why al-Qur’an over and over again refers to men as one who is endowed with ‘aqal’ i.e. intellect4. This points to a fundamental unity of all true religions. It is man and times that differ, religion at the social level or at the level of law may differ with them, but in its essentials, it is always the same. In this context, a quotation from Schoun seems relevant: “ Just as every color, by its negation of darkness and its affirmation of light, provides the possibility of discovering the ray which makes it visible and of tracing this ray back to its luminous source, so all forms, all symbols, all religions by their negation of error and their affirmation of truth, make it possible to follow the ray of revelation, back to its Divine Source5. Al-Qur’an also affirms that fundamental beliefs of religion are universally common to all peoples of Book (3: 34). In fine, religion is the perennial tradition of mankind, because ever since the dawn of history, man has not lived without religion. Only in the present modern age, characterized by the so-called civilized maturity of mankind, that man has started to live without religion.

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Late Muhammad Abdul Haq
Associate Professor
Islamic History and Culture,
University of Chittagong
Chittagong, Bangladesh


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