During the last few centuries the Islamic world lost its way; sometime, somewhere, somehow.
Like a traveller who takes one wrong turn and then a series of unknown turns to 'correct' her course but ultimately finds hopelessly lost, the Islamic world appears to have no clue where it is heading.
However, a road map is available. There are streets signs, street maps and even friends available to help. What is important is that a direction be chosen so that the desired objective can be achieved.
And so begins the first crucial debate for the Islamic world, what is the objective, divinely ordained or otherwise?
Revivalists wish to return to the glory age of the Islamic world, when only the French Pyrenees protected Catholic France from turning green. Or to the golden age of the Ottoman Empire, when hordes of the faithful were besieging the gates of Vienna and Austrian bakers warned their fellow citizens by baking crescent shaped bread, the croissant.
Revivalists are interested in exercising power in the material world, especially to enforce their particular versions of sharia.
On the other hand, Modernists are keen to adopt all the trappings of 'westernization' and stand ready to discard almost all aspects of their historical traditions, religious or cultural. Modernists equate progress with western practices, which are seen as the key to worldly success.
In reality, the majority of Muslims fall squarely in between the two extreme poles of revivalism and modernism.
The average Muslim, be they Malay, Syrian, Pakistani or Sri Lankan, is simply concerned about the welfare of his family. The annihilation of Israel or flying a Muslim flag over Spain are not high on his agenda.
Why is this subject suddenly of interest to me? Well, I am rereading a fascinating book I first read in 1985, 'Iqbal – a Critical Study.' The book examines Dr. Allama Muhammad Iqbal's (1877 – 1938) philosophy as enunciated in his many poems and other scholarly works.
Allama Dr. Iqbal's tomb located near the Lahore Fort complex in Lahore, Pakistan
Iqbal makes refreshing reading, especially at a time when there is philosophical chaos within the Islamic world. Dr. Iqbal was a real Islamic scholar, the sort whose voice is currently threatened by exploding bombs and screaming jihadis.
Real Islamic scholars are humanists in the broader sense of the word. Just as Goethe or Milton's writings touch not only Christians but anyone who appreciates good writing, Iqbal speaks to more than just Muslims.
"An unbeliever before his idol with a waking heart is better than the religious man asleep in his mosque."
It is no wonder that today's semi-literate mullahs find Iqbal's ideas threatening. It is for the same reason that Muslims must return to the vision of thinkers such as Iqbal. For if we do not then we may as well consider renouncing our faith!
"If to be a Muslim in these days means to quarrel with one another, I shall then convert the Muslims into non-Muslims."**
* Academics may (and do) debate characterizations of revivalists and modernists constantly. My objective is to encourage readers to contemplate the ideas for themselves, not to define clearly demarcated boxes in which both sets of Muslims can neatly be placed. As always, the real world never conforms to easy categorizations.
** Iqbal as quoted in 'Iqbal – a Critical Study,' Farhan Publishers, Lahore. 1977. p. 169.