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The Traditionalists  vs. The Modernists


The Muslims of the world, taken as one body, do not present the image of a coherent personality. There is no consensus among them about certain fundamental issues. They are not all committed to the same world-view, they do not have the sense of a shared destiny, and they are not quite agreed on the broad framework within which the diverse activities of society are to take place. The reasons for this fragmented being of the Muslim Ummah are not far to seek.

When, in the last phase of their decadence, Muslims were faced with the
modern challenge, they did not respond to it in a united manner. One section of their intelligentsia strongly resisted the onslaught of modernism. The new thought and culture which had come from the West they condemned as antireligious and unethical, and they spent all their energies in preserving the legacy of Islam from the depredations of modernism. But though they succeeded in safeguarding their heritage, they were seriously at fault in having fought a purely defensive war. They had shut themselves up in cloisters and hoped, ostrich-like, that the storm would blow over.
The other section of the intelligentsia meanwhile saw it more expedient to welcome the new creed with open arms. In order to jump on the triumphant bandwagon from the West, they willingly made the sacrifice which was demanded of them or which they themselves thought necessary to make. Thence began the strife which, being of the nature of a civil war, has enervated the body-politic of the Muslim Ummah and has reduced the Ummah to the status of what Toy bee calls an arrested civilization.
Attempts have no doubt been made to heal this rift between the traditionalists and the modernists. But so far they have not borne fruit. Their rejection of each other is almost total. The traditionalist thinks that he has nothing to do with what he dubs irreligious and immoral modernism. He, therefore, rejects it with completeness worthy of his blind dogmatism. The modernist, on
the other hand, looks down upon all tradition as the principal cause of
backwardness and misery. And so he spurns it with a perversely rigid attitude.
The traditionalist is mistaken because he failsto appreciate the true nature of the modern challenge. The modernist falls into error because he fallaciously thinks that anything rooted in the past is antiquated. The traditionalist blames modernism for having weaned Muslims from Islam, their mainstay, while the modernist accuses traditionalism of making the disastrous attempt of putting the clock back. The two are not prepared to listen to each other because each thinks he is in the exclusive possession of the truth. So while things stand as they do, it is well nigh impossible to affect a compromise between the two parties. And, one is disposed to think, even if some kind of compromise were affected, it would be no more than a patchwork, with the fate of a patchwork.
There is only one way in which this gulf between two very important forces of the Muslim community can be bridged. There must come into existence a new breed of intellectuals who combine in them selves both the traditional and modern strands. The new breed must have a profound sense of the worth of the Islamic traditions and be so well versed in it as to be regarded better custodians of it than the traditionalists. On the other hand, they must have an intimate knowledge of and a deep insight into the modern situations and problems and prove themselves to be better modernists. It is only men of this caliber who can pull Muslims out of the quagmire they are at present stuck in.
The only means of producing this kind of peopleis to open educational centers in which talented young Muslims could be trained on the lines suggested above. It would be ideal if some Muslim government were to undertake the establishment of such educational institutions. But it is doubtful whether any government would take such a project in hand before concrete proof of its feasibility is made available. The initiative, therefore, will have to come from private individuals.
"...Verily never will Allah change the condition of a people until they change it themselves..." Qur’an 13:11


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