|1.||Definitions of post/-modernism versus tradition|
|1.1||A Definition Of Tradition|
|1.2||A Definition Of Modernism|
|1.3||A Definition Of Postmodernism|
|2.||Characteristics of Modernism and Postmodern Thought|
|2.1||Modernism & Postmodernism|
|2.2||Postmodernism In A Nutshell|
|2.3||Higher Levels of Reality Eliminated|
|2.4||Lack of Principles|
|2.4.1||The Reduction of Human Nature|
|2.4.2||Principles Are Necessary to Transcend|
|2.4.3||The Validity of the Modern Sciences|
|2.5||The Theory Of Evolution|
|2.5.1||Weapons Against Religious Thought|
|2.5.2||As If A Proven Scientific Fact|
|2.5.4||Its Most Important Features|
|2.5.5||Man Did Not 'Evolve'|
|2.6||The Idea Of An Earthly Utopia|
|2.7||The Loss Of The Sense of The Sacred|
|3.||What Prevented Modernism In Islamic Thought|
|3.2||The Gradual Loss Of Perfection In Time|
|3.3||Perfect State Only Though Divine Help|
|4.||True Science Is Based On The Intellect|
|5.||Other Souces Of Knowledge Apart From Human Reason|
|6.||The Islamic Concept Of Man|
|7.||Living In (Post-) Modernity|
|9.||Links - related pages|
This text discusses the typical mentality of our times: modernism and post-modernism, as seen from the traditional Islamic perspective, using the intellectual method of René Guénon and S H Nasr.
Unlike in our (post)modern times, where words are depleted and often reversed from their original meaning, we are of the conviction that concepts (abstract words) are receptacles of 'higher', more 'original' meanings in as much as we human beings are aware of and open-minded to an objective, higher reality.
When meaning is lost and the modern 'diversification' of meaning is one aspect of it, then this world is about to succumb to meaninglessness.
René Guénon's method is to trace concepts back to their etymological roots and to redefine them according to their roots, whenever they have lost their deeper and original meanings. An example for this methology is the concept of 'tradition' and 'traditional', which we understand differently from the mostly vague suggestions commonly used, which do not explain much in the context of the higher levels of reality.
Therefore according to how we understand the concept from its etymological root: tradere (deliver, transmit) - Tradition has nothing to do with peoples' usages or customs from old, but is understood as *revealed* tradition, that is truths and principles of divine order revealed or unveiled to mankind.
“Tradition is essentially of "super-human" origin, which is quite exactly also its correct definition and nothing traditional cannot be qualified as such without the presence of this vital and axial* foundational element, which defines its own authentic character.”
“Nothing which is purely human can be considered traditional, that is why it is wrong - as René Guénon rightly says - to talk about a "philosophic tradition" or a "scientific tradition"... because only the heritery forms of an uninterrupted chain of transmission (silsilah) deserve the qualification "traditional" for they will guarantee the reality and permanence of the "vital element", ie. that of non-human origin, inside a particular tradition.” DRG
Or to put in another way: Tradition is the light with which the human kind has been endowed with from the beginning of times to the end of it; it is the light of meaning in an otherwise meaningsless void, it is the light of spiritual guidance in a materialistic and hedonistic era, it is the light of the Logos shining upon the contingent entities. This Light is from God, the light of the heavens and earth.
In the case of Islam, which is the most recent - and the last of traditions, the concept of tradition, the dîn, is seen as being twofold:
in its general meaning the transmission of an element of the suprahuman level - the Qur'an,
and in its specific sense the words and sayings reported from Prophet Muhammad may Allah bless him and grant him peace, which have been recorded in the hadith collections together with the entire Islamic religion.
Our definition of modern and modernism has nothing to do with what may be generally perceived now-a-days (1*) as being new or 'up-to-date', instead, what is here defined as modern, is that which is cut off from the Divine, the Transcendant, or the 'Supernatural', everything that does not refer to - and is isolated from - "the immutable principles which in reality govern all things and which are made known to man through revelation in its most universal sense. Modernism is thus contrasted with tradition (ad-dîn); the former ... all that is merely human and now ever more increasingly subhuman, and all that is divorced and cut off from the Divine source. (Additionally) tradition has always accompanied and in fact characterized human existence, whereas modernism is a very recent phenomenon." (S H Nasr, TIM p.98)
And because those "principles (are) universal,... all the traditional doctrines are identical in essence". EW p.216
"The enlightenment-humanist rejection (2*) of tradition and authority in favour of reason and natural science. This is founded upon the assumption of the autonomous individual as the sole source of meaning and truth--the Cartesian cogito."
from The Electronic Library, x L 20120703
(1*) "If we are forced to re-define such terms as 'tradition' and 'modernism' ... it is because, (despite the considerable amount of writing devoted to the subject by writers such as R. Guènon ...) there are still readers, especially Muslim ones, for whom the distinction between tradition and modernism is not clear. They still identify tradition with customs and modernism with all that is contemporary.
Many Western students of Islam also identify 'modern' with 'advanced', 'developed' and the like, as if the march of time itself guarantees betterment." (S H Nasr, TIM p.109)
(2*) The enlightenment-humanist rejection: In the European process of modernity God, the Absolute, was falsely relegated to a relative role as aloof from creation, so called Deism, which denies God's immanence in His creation; whereas the human being as such was to be celebrated and referred to. This mostly Protestant mode of consciousness was of course a grave misunderstanding of the role of man and the role of God Himself.
IPOP, S H Nasr
We further understand postmodernism as the recalcitrant child of modernism, ie modernism driven to its extremes, by its usurping or 'deconstructing' modernism itself and by its arrogant denial of tradition and anything absolute and permanent, which gives it the same bad smell as its parent concept, because it is overtly more rebellious and hateful of anything holy, divine, or absolute.
Postmodernism is the name for the general quality of our time. It holds that all worldviews are constructed by historical processes, by culture and religion, so postmodernism sees those worldviews ('tall stories') as a function of power rather than truth. (C. Upton, SAC )
In modernism it was believed that materiality or phenomena was everything there is and that it is superiour to anything else. This philosophy of science is called positivism - it is a rejection of metaphysics, as it holds that the goal of knowledge is simply to describe the phenomena that we experience, which we can observe and measure and nothing beyond that.
In some quarters there was still an underlying, dormant longing for the construction or discovery of the Grand Design (4*), meaning a new unity of being, of what reality really is, but a unity which had to do without religion and metaphysics. ( 2.3ff )
However, as Charles Upton has shown ( SAC-33 )
in postmodernism it is always held (as a conviction or belief ?!) that:
(1) there is no Grand Design,
(2) truth is plural and ultimately subjective,
(3) reality is only as it is configured,
(4) there is nothing out there but chaotic potential.
So much for the quest for truth! ( 2.2 )
Furthermore, with today's "celebration of diversity", normal logical thinking seems to have evaporated from many a contemporary mind, as modernism and postmodernism even can work together, or so it seems, in the mind of a single individual, confounding it and neutralizing any attempt toward a traditional or metaphysical view of reality! SAC
____So much so that by now "modernism has become nothing more than a sub-set, one more disrelated item in the postmodern spectrum of "diversity" ." SAC-34/5
Because of the process of isolation of reason and rationality from their transcendant and immutable principles, a tendency which became ever more dominant since the French revolution of 1789 in Western, European thought and imagination, it happened that the higher levels of reality were eliminated from intellectual research and attention.
From now on man himself became the centrepoint of being and there was nothing higher than human reason and no object of science more dignified to receive scientific attention than what was possible to perceive empirically through the human senses. (Typical for this was 'positivism'.)
____It meant that from now on man was "not able to go further than outward appearances". EW p.216 Seeing that every science centered around man, however, made his research and therefore his civilization restricted to only one level of being, the materialistic viewpoint.
____In postmodernism human rationality and what was left of human intelligence became relativized, relying on the sub-human and the irrational. In this restricted scientific field sense-experience has become the only source of knowledge. But man thinks according to what he is; or as Aristotle knew for sure, 'knowledge depends upon the mode of the knower.'"
.In the traditional sciences however, where everything is related to and dependent on the higher levels of reality, there is in consequence always a vast field of scientific investigation above those practical applications which are the result of what modern man usually depicts as science. EW
____This was shown for example by Imam Al-Ghazali , who in his Ihya 900 years ago, described the "only intellectually rigorous escape from the trap of postmodernity."
____He and his his school taught that "no universal statements about the world or the human condition can be reached by purely ratiocinative or inductive methods, because these cannot transcend the material context of the world in which they are framed." A H Murad
Secondly has the lack of principles led human, i.e. Western civilization into the unsteadiness - to say the least - of ever new trends and ideas in all realms of life, not only in natural science, but also in politics, economy, sociology and of course in the emergence of new or not so new religious trends such as the many forms of "New Age".
____Instead of calming man's egotism (nafs) if not curbing it and leading him towards conditions which would allow for a more contemplative and pious way of life, this modern superficiality and confusion has instead led society to "creating ever greater artificial needs," which cannot be even satisfied in 100 lives at least. CMW p. 92
When the modern perception of reality had thus been reduced to the material and profane level, it also reduced human nature to its physical and psychological aspects, only.
____However the soul is not only a psychic entity, but first of all a spiritual one, which is its principal aspect. This is according to the teaching of all world traditions or metaphysical doctrines:
Thus man has (not two but) *three* levels of being:
the physical, the psychic or psychological and the spiritual.
____The organ for the spiritual is mentioned in the words of German theologian Meister Eckehart (d.1327):
This modernist 'development' therefore stripped man off his divine, sacred potential. It led to a concept of human nature which is "too unstable, changing and turbulent to be able to serve as the principle for something" or anything at all, because it is grounded on the emotional and often irrational levels of being.
____This tendency to reduce human nature can even be observed in some overtly exoteric religious circles - influenced by modernism itself, where there may be lipservice to the Divine, but in practice great focus on moral, behavioural or political issues, neglecting the essential demands of the Divine Law, in respect to inner transformation and spiritual striving.
However, doctrines and principles are necessary to gain meaning from empirical sense-data and to gain meaning is proof of perfection and permanency, and giving up on the quest for meaning leads to ignorance and despair. As one of the ancient savants, Aristotle, declared:
Transcending the materialistic and psychologic levels of understanding is neither intended nor envisaged by modern science. Obviously can neither empiricism, nor validification through induction, nor "reliance upon the data of the senses as confirmed by reason, serve as principles in the metaphysical sense." TIM These scientific methods are valid on their own restricted levels leading to results and applications of the sciences which created them, but they are neither able to answer our existential questions nor improve our normal human condition. (normal: how man was meant to be, ... )
____What is worse, modern science has with all its inventions brought about a serious disequilibrium in this world - despite their partial benefits - , precisely because of it being divorced from - and its inability of taking account of - the higher principles, even if this may not always have been the intention of the individual scientist.
The theory of evolution, being a very pervasive modern theory, has been one of the strongest weapons against religious thought in the West at first against believing Christianity, later against traditional thought and religious belief in general. [traditional:
____"Our belief in evolution and our worship of progress ... are modernist dogmas which have [in the Western and in the modern world] specifically replaced (among others) Christian charity and hope in Divine Providence." SAC-403 ____Once Darwin "with his half-baked theory of evolution" (Imran Khan) had refuted the doctrin of creation; belief in God itself, the Almighty, was shattered and the truth of the Bible ridiculed. (And later the truth of every Divine Revelation, see 2.5.3)
After generations of indoctrination, not the least by passing years through the educational system, very many if not most people have become convinced and have accepted 'evolution' as an irrefutable truth, not only in the West in the 18th century but especially today and "it is paraded around as if it were a proven scientific fact", instead of bothering to seek for proofs for this quasi-theory, because there are no proofs and the theory is unscientific. TIM p.105
____Many contemporary scientists have acknowledged the defects of this theory, but their criticism is not much publicised, and if it is publicised, it has rarely come to the attention of the general public. What remains today as 'contemporary popularized science' is not always what has been refuted by many sincere scientists years ago.
(See also Evolution Deceit, by H Yahya)
The theory of evolution has become pervasive, because its view of relating different stages in the development of bioligical life and referring to evolution as a blueprint for human development, was not restricted to biology alone, but was soon transferred to completely different areas of human thought, such as sociology, history, politics and even the arts.
____ So for example in psychology we now have something called 'Evolutionary Psychology', or 'Sociobiology' stating "that psychology should be put on a biological and cultural basis."
____But psychology is knowledge of the soul, in which evolutionists of course only see to its coarser or lower levels. Studying the apes individually or in flock will of course not increase our knowledge of the essential core of man, much less of any higher states of being by which the human species has been honoured over the rest of creation.
____Or evolutionary theory in everyday speech, as someone saying that this or that situation will evolve - meaning in a positive direction - as if by natural growth and as if by itself!
____Or socially, if there is a level of personal suffering coming to the open, it may "signal to your social-Darwinian competitors, that you are probably not fitted to survive because insufficiently 'evolved'," thus getting rid of compassion. SAC-283 cu
____Thus it has become a pseudo-religion, explaining this and that and almost everyhting, even the otherwise unexplainable! ( For its logical absurdity and a survey of all the scientific facts see L. Bournoure and D. Dewar, quoted in TIM or Evolution Deceit )
Its most important features and 'shortcomings' are that it "refuses to see permanence anywhere, (and that for it) the greater somehow 'evolves' from the lesser and (that it is) totally blind to the higher states of being. This in itself is but a result of that loss of principles alluded above." TIM p.106
____Thus is the state of the modern world in which we are living, that in the words of S H Nasr:
As long as man has lived on this earth he has had a traditional outlook or perspective on life, which is proven by the many old cultural remnants, not the least his holy scriptures. It was then that he relied on the Higher Being, God, Allah and lived under His protection and guidance. Man has never only been an individual with a brain without heart, nor just a heap of molecules in a DNA-structure, meaning that the mind is luckily more than nerve-threads and electrical signals. Instead man has a potential for knowing God and his soul and for choosing what is better in any given situation, or creative of the most beautiful, - as God's viceregent.
The traditional outlook on life is opposed to the modern or postmodern way of seeing reality, in fact the two are irreconcilable. Man has always been man, he did not have to evolve from some lower being, from an ape or a fish ... The idea of bringing out the higher from the lesser is a modern myth, it is both illogical and unscientific!
____Imagine a piece of computer evolving - by accident - from its integrated IC-circuits, from its bits and zeros into the practical machine which it is - without the mind to design it and programme it! How much less is this conceivable in the - much more complex - biological domain of life itself !
Nowadays in the age of unhindered individualism and postmodern deconstruction of 'tall stories' and all-encompassing ideas and 'worldviews' and due to the recent disappointments in socio-political engineering ( faschism, communism ) the ideas of progress and utopia have lost much of their attraction. But while these ideas had to 'retreat' somewhat from the level of political discourse, they still form the imagination of average, individual man and woman. They are still forming their mentality including their ideas of personal accomplishment, seeing that everyone seems to be his own forlorn master in the ungodly endeavour of an earthly paradise.
____It can be shown that the idea of continous human progress (nowadays individual progress) towards some kind of earthly (individualistic) utopia is related to and sustained by the allround-theory of evolution. As in the latter, so for example in technological or today in biogenetic development, it is generally maintained and taken for granted, that man's situation will but improve, that 'things will turn out alright' and 'everything will be fine'.
____But what if this solely technological progress is combined with social and moral regression and creeping corruption, as obviously the case?
____What if the broken promises by political leaders and technocrats lead to a growing climate of disappointment and dispair, when average man has nowhere to turn (not even to consumerism)?
____What if utopianism is just another vain dream amidst the bleak prospects for man's godless future?
Also have the anti-traditional ideas of an utopia and progress penetrated quite a few fundamentalist minds of all world-religions. This shift of emphasis toward the materialistic ("das Grobstoffliche") is one of the symptoms of the decadence of time as foretold by the Prophet of Islam .
____So it is not surprising, that the greater the loss of true spirituality in a community, the stronger will be the imagination of some kind of earthly paradise.
When analyzing recent history in the West it is not very difficult to realize the dire consequences which this modernist idea of human progress has had during the so-called century of democracy and progress of the 20th century:
it has wrought wars and chaos upon the modern world on a scale which is too hard to conceive, and it will regrettably continue doing so. The price which the peoples of the world had to pay and are still paying today - for turning their back to Tradition - has been extremely high, as it has "led and still leads to deep social and political upheavals whose goals and methods (are) completely alien to the ethos and aims of traditional Islam." TIM p.107 Or - because people are led to a godless life and future.
Finally one more charactersitic of modern thought is the loss of the sense of the sacred, which - among all of the symptoms of modern and postmodern thought - is of course its most devastating consequence. The reduction of intellect to reason ( and in postmodernism, the abolishment of any universal acceptable concept of reason) has made sacred knowledge "inaccessible and to some even meaningless". KS p.4
____This state of affairs has to be taken into account in any analysis of modern mentality, because without this sense of the sacred, tradition will never be rightly understood.
On top of this has Islam itself been affected - in the minds of some of our contemporaries - by 'the wheel of time', in this case by the modernist concept of "rationality". This has as a consequence tended in some quarters to reduce this wonderful religion (dîn) to only one of its dimensions, namely to - what they understand as, which is a reduced and crippled caricature of it - the Sharî'ah and to "divest it of those intellectual weapons which alone can ward off the assaults of modern thought upon its citadel." TIM p.109
____But as Islam is a living tradition lasting to the end of time, it will also avert those modernist attacks. (See this site: *living islam - Islamic tradition*) This we know from the authority of our religion.
____However, there is no doubt that the intellectual challenges posed by modernism in the form of evolutionism, rationalism, existentialism, agnosticism, individualism, nihilism and the like and by postmodernism with its deconstructionism, can only be answered intellectually, they can neither be confronted juridically nor militarily.
While following the Divine imperative of using reason, Islam has never forgotton the restrictions of human reason and has always deeply venerated the principles which transcend human thought. Or, alternatively, reason roughly as corresponding to `aql, was always open to the higher levels of knowledge, to sacred knowledge and Islamic metaphysics (al-`ilm-u ilâhiyyah).
In Islam there is no modernism, because there can nothing be more modern, ie new and shining in its light of truth than the Islamic message, because it transcends time.
A utopia, meaning the place which is not anywhere on this earth, or a perfect society in this world of fitna or tribulation is not an Islamic concept, as it disregards the dichtonomy and conditions of the two worlds, ie the perfect state is only to be found with God and in the Here-After.
So, what could correspond to the idea of a utopia is really the Divine Presence in the dunya (this life) and the akhira, the Here-After. ( Quran 5-3 )
In the de-christianized West however utopianism seeked "to establish a perfect social order by purely human means."
This utopianism "disregards the presence of evil in this world in the theological sense and aims at doing without God, as if it were possible to create an order based on goodness but removed from the source of all goodness." TIM p.107
First of all and in contrast to the profane models of development and ordering of society, Islamic development is always dependant on the Divine, the Master of Creation, Allah.
Secondly, there is no societal or other development of any kind unless there is 'inner development', ie. purification and growth ( tazkiyyah) at a personal, spiritual level. (Quran 8-53 )
Thirdly, the Islamic description of a perfect society is primarily the prophetic period of al-Madina. This is a time in human history, when the Messenger of Allah taught the Muslims and guided them to become a growing community (ummah) of believers, a community which was centered around the divine message and the living exemplification of it, ie the Messenger of Allah .
As there cannot be a better leader and spiritual teacher than the Holy Prophet , there cannot be a better society either, and every future society has to measure up to this pattern.
Or, otherwise, the perfect society in Islam is beyond this earthly plane, it is more a point of reference than a locus for political maneuvering.
So, what prevented - until quite recently - the growth of utopianism in the Islamic sphere is:
In modernism reason is conceived as a purely human activity, also cut off from the Transcendant and in postmodernism one is set to deconstruct reason by taking hold of and referring to the irrational levels of the human psyche, whereas in traditional sciences the human mind is understood as being a mirror of the Divine Mind. The picture produced on the mirror is the product of the Picture-maker reflecting Itself on it.
Thus tradition has always held that the organ ''and container of knowledge is not the human mind but ultimately the Divine Intellect.'' Therefore ''true science is not based on purely human reason but on the Intellect which belongs to the supra-human level of reality, yet illuminates the human mind.'' TIM p.100.
To gain immediate and direct knowledge a man of (Islamic) tradition goes beyond mere human reason or rationality in as much as he employs his intellectual intuition, while being rock-solid on the texts of revelation ( nuzûl ) and the prophetic guidance (hidâyah). This intellectual intuition has nothing to do with imagination or the kind of "intuition" as it it generally understood, instead it is divinely granted to those worthy of it, "it is immutable and infallible in itself and the only starting point for all development in conformity with the traditional norms" (CMW), i.e. it is the indispensible (spiritual) agent to comprehend the truth of the divine principles.
Other descriptions of the intellectual intuition are: vision, unveiling and wisdom (shuhûd, kashf or dhauq and Hikmah) which are all the way firmly rooted in the traditional, religious universe of Islamic thought; they are given as a grant from God - Allah, may His Majesty be exalted and it is He Who gives to whom He pleases.
By following the Quranic revelation and the prophetic pattern of conduct [fn6], a Muslim is not only capable of rendering his life in its religious, social, political and economical aspects in harmony with the intention of his Creator, seeking His pleasure, - but he may also gain direct insight into the higher realities. ( Quran 102-7 )
This following includes to tread the path of purification of - and introspection into - his soul all the time being led by the Grace of God, as it was shown for man of all ages by the Perfect Man on earth, Prophet Muhammad .
To fare well in both worlds man has to be good and to do good and the source of all goodness is God. Before creation the souls were aware of and knew God, at the time of the convenant of the 'alast'. This is the pristine creation - al-fitrah.
In this life (dunya) man is created to serve and to worship no other than Allah, may His Majesty be exalted, who is his Lord and Sustainer, because it is to Him he will ultimately return.
He has to strive to purify [fn6] - by the grace of God - his inner self, so that it may become a mirror of the Divine Qualities, such as Ar-Rahmân (The All-Compassionate). The fundamentals of the dîn - tradition (or 'religion') are the channels through which he can redress his animal soul - ego (nafs) and finally become the vice-regent of Allah (khalîfah) in this world, this is the true fulfillment of being human.
In the next world (al-âkhirah) man is created in a state which corresponds to his intentions and actions in the life of the world (dunya), and the judgement is Allah's alone.
This teaching of the Real was valid in the old days of the 'Golden Ages' and this teaching is valid today, be it moderism or post-moderism we live in, until the end of time.
How to live as a believer and as a Muslim in the (post-)modern world, treading the path of pure religion (Islam), upright, seeking Allah Almighty's Good Pleasure only (rid.wân), has to be the main issue today. Other texts on this site are meant to provide glimpses of guidance. This spiritual quest includes re-turning to Allah, that is sincere taubah and studying the principles of the dîn in order to implement them in our lives from this day.
|Quranreference: Sura al-Mâidah (5), verse 3:|
|Quranreference: Sura al-Anfâl (8), verse 53:|
|Quranreference: Sura an-Nur (24), verse 19:|
| Quranreference: Sura al-Mulk (34), verse 22:
Say: Call upon those whom you assert besides Allah; they
do not control the weight of an atom in the heavens or in
the earth nor have they any partnership in either, nor has
He among them any one to back (Him) up.
|Quranreference: Sura at-Takâthur (102), verse 7:|