The Dream of Rationalizing Islam and Making a Modern State

Saif Al-Abri
Saif Al-Abri

The Dream of Rationalizing Islam and Making a Modern State

Dreams of a modern state in the Islamic world has been a subject of intellectual efforts. This effort of trying to ‘rationalise Islam and ‘naturalise Islam’ by intellectuals like Mohammed Arkoun and Abed Al Jabri to push Islamic culture out of its ‘dogma’ and play a role in modern political and economic scientific inquiry and be a ‘modern state’. But why has it failed and hundreds of books and efforts to no avail? Well, firstly, this doctrine by such intellectuals carries a post-colonial tone. This is that the Western cultural and political system is at the top of development, the end of history in which every country must follow European steps to progress. If investigated, this theory of progress whereby Europe is the pinnacle is very flawed.

The theory of progress always reminded me of a road to nowhere. Yet, this theory is everywhere and plays a significant role in people imagination. Events like the enlightenment, industrialisation and the modern way of life are always seen as development. To make matters worse, nowadays, it is considered that this development has plateaued, where human progress has reached its pinnacle with only room for slight adjustments. 

The source of such inflated optimism comes about from the separation between fact and value. Ever since the rise of mechanical philosophy, the concept of objective knowledge became culturally dominant, as now, we can study the object in itself devoid of values and bias. 

This concept then presented itself in the moral realm, whereby influential philosophers such as Hobbes stated that ethics could be determined by human reason rather than divine law. This replaced moral law by what philosophers such Justin Holmes, J.C Gray and Austin called the sovereign will, which represented ‘what is’ without regard of ‘what ought to be’. 

Human reason now became the sole objectifier of the world, obeying it to its own will. Here is the major materialistic downside of such transformation of culture: the pursuit of happiness and actual utility became second to the preservation of life and protection of private property. These two now became the natural laws, the universal truths around which modern states revolve.

This theory is coloured with ideas of individualisation and freedom; however, how can that be when most people are subservient to material needs that restrain actual freedom. Destruction of theism has constrained the development of the 'Technologies of the self (Foucault). The concept of community is being constantly attacked under modernisation. The epistemic of science views nature without any moralistic constrain as it is devoid of any value, creating a wave of violent environmental destruction. Liberal freedom is limited in two certain ways. 

Firstly, freedom is limited to the first world as it becomes evident from worldly affairs. If thoroughly investigated, concepts of universal freedom become just slogans. Secondly, the concept of freedom created unaccountable entities with 'limited liability' producing enormous human and environmental abuses.

To conclude, modernity is a European creation that, as Nietchze stated, is emergent from historical circumstances of intellectual development that gave new meaning to the concept of dignity, freedom, and what is reasonable. As such, it’s impossible to follow the historical steps of Europe as suggested by such Arabic intellectuals and join the pinnacle as we will always be behind them, and as seen above, it isn’t something someone wants to be behind. Morality, our sense of right and wrong, should be ingrained into our law system and way of life. The modern project has only existed for two centuries, yet its sustainability is brought into question.

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