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Islam’s position with modern civilization, particularly in its materialistic aspects

The Good Life, Islam, and materialistic aspects of modern civilization

Many Western intellectuals and their counterparts in the Muslim world assert that serving God or living a religious life is a compensatory device contrived to console people for their own weaknesses and defects. But such people, even though armed with science, technology, and the illusions of freedom from belief and servanthood to a Supreme Being as well as of their own existence as powerful beings, abase themselves before anyone or thing, regardless of how low, if they consider it in their self-interest to do so.

Sincere believers do not follow this path of self-degradation. Dignified servants of God, they reject any worship of that which is not God, even if it is something of the greatest benefit, like Paradise. Though modest and gentle in their nature and bearing, they “lower” themselves voluntarily before others only to the degree that their Creator permits. Though aware of their weakness and neediness before God, they rely upon their One Master’s Wealth and Power and so are independent of others. They act and strive purely for God’s sake and good pleasure, and to be equipped with virtue.

However, Islam does not reject modern civilization altogether. According to Said Nursi, the most influential Turkish scholar and writer of the 20th century, there are two Europes (or Wests): One that, benefiting from the religion of Jesus and Islamic civilization, made human life more comfortable through its inventions and the regulations it brought to human social life, and became the source of certain beauties; and another one that, based on naturalistic and materialistic philosophy, opposes the revealed religions. The evil of the latter is the cause of most human wretchedness and suffering. Islam opposes this second West.

This second West spreads unbelief and ingratitude. It tries to find happiness in rich clothes and worldly possessions, but its quest is futile and impossible. For one disappointed or disillusioned by the non-fulfillment of even one expectation, sweetness turns sour, pleasure changes into pain, and the world becomes narrow. Can one be described as happy when his or her body is in a deceiving, fleeting paradisiacal state while his or her spirit and heart are in hellish torment?

The second West assumes that all living creatures are their own lords, work in their own name and for their own pleasure, and that their only aim in life is to survive. It does not see the universal mutual helping among them, as established by their Creator. Plants help animals, and animals help humanity. But it sees even this as conflict and contention, and preaches that life consists of conflict even though all food particles or atoms help nourish the body’s cells. It ignores the fact that a single apple needs the sun, air, soil, and the apple seed to work in a coordinated manner so that it can grow. This means that the real price of an apple is the universe. Such mutual assistance results from everything obeying the order of a Munificent Lord, and proves that no living creature is its own lord.

Moreover, this is so because humanity is the most honorable creature of all living agents, for it is endowed with free choice and a wider field of activity. Despite this, our part in our daily acts is minuscule. If this most honorable creature, one endowed with free will and the widest field of activity, has so little part in its own ownership and lordship, to what degree can other animate and lifeless things claim lordship over themselves?

The second West fell into such error because its genius caused it to forget its Lord—the Creator of everything. As a result, this illusion of its true nature caused it to attribute all things and acts to (material) causes and to share what belongs to God with false “claimants” to divinity. This view compels all living beings to struggle with innumerable aversions and hostilities to satisfy their endless needs, although they have only an atom’s weight of power, a hair’s capacity of will, a gleam’s light of consciousness, and a tiny sparkle of life. Whatever they have (in the name of power and will, consciousness and life) cannot satisfy even one of their needs. When misfortune visits them, they seek help from deaf and blind causes. But their appeals are futile.

The second West’s dark and darkening genius changed humanity’s day into a night illuminated with false, illusory lights. Students of its genius see every living being as wretched and attacked by darkness from all sides. They see the world as an abode of lamentation, and all voices in it as wailings over death and the groans of beings.

Consider their qualities: Those educated by this second West flee from even their own family members to pursue their own interests, whereas sincere followers of Islam regard all servants of God as family members. The Qur’an gives its students all particles in the universe to use as prayer beads to glorify God. In place of the 99-bead rosary, it gives them all the atomic chains in the universe to mention their Lord to an infinite degree.

Students of the Qur’an see that everything in the universe glorifies, mentions, and praises God to an infinite degree. Though weak enough to be defeated by a microbe and driven to distress and despair by the least grief and anxiety, they can rise to such exalted ranks as to be beloveds of God. They regard the world and its contents as insufficient to say their beads, and belittle Paradise as the aim of their praise and glorification. Despite this, they do not consider themselves greater and more virtuous than the least of God’s creatures.

The Qur’an guides humanity, for the purpose of life is to reflect the manifestations of God’s Names and Essential Qualities. When misfortune visits you, say:

We are God’s and in His service. If you have come with His permission, welcome. We are returning unto Him and desire a vision of Him. He will free us from life’s duties and difficulties whenever He wishes. If, O misfortune, this will happen by your hand, it is alright. However, if He has allowed you to come to test my truthfulness to His trust, but has not allowed me to submit myself to you, then I will never submit His trust—the life He has given me.

The second West assumes that collective life consists of competing selfish interests that are necessarily in a state of conflict and arbitrated by force or might. To unify its various communities, it promotes an aggressive and negative nationalism that often degenerates into a brutal racism. As a result, most of the world’s people still dominated by this aspect of the West continue to suffer the accompanying acute misery and humiliation. Meanwhile, the very small number of people benefiting from such dominance continue to gratify their worldly desires, which are continually stimulated and increased, and thereby bring about more competitiveness and anxiety.

The life of religion and serving God accepts right, not force, as the point of support in social life. It proclaims that the aim of both individual and collective life is to attain virtue and God’s approval instead of realizing selfish interests, and mutual assistance instead of conflict. It a community’s internal and external unity through ties of religion, profession, and country, not through racism and negative nationalism. It works to erect a barrier against worldly desires and encourages us to strive for perfection by urging the soul to sublime goals. Right calls for unity, virtue brings solidarity, and mutual assistance means helping each other. Religion secures brotherhood, sisterhood, and attraction. Self-discipline and urging the soul to virtue brings happiness in this world and the next.

How the West triumphed

According to Said Nursi, Muslims are required to be muslim (submitted to God) in all of their attributes and actions, but cannot always be so in practical life. It is the same with non-Muslims, for not all of their attributes and actions necessarily originate in unbelief or transgression. Thus non-Muslims who acquire Muslim attributes and conform to Islamic principles can defeat Muslims who neglect to practice Islam.

God has established two kinds of laws: the Shari‘a (issuing from His Attribute of Speech and governing our religious life) and the so-called laws of nature (issuing from His Attribute of Will and governing creation and life). The reward/punishment for following/ignoring them is given at different times. In the first case, these usually are given in the afterlife; in the second case, these usually are given in this world.

The Qur’an constantly draws our attention to natural phenomena, the subject matter of science, and urges us to study them. Throughout the first 5 centuries of Islam, Muslims united science with religion, the intellect with the heart, and the material with the spiritual. Later on, however, Europe took the lead in science due to its unconscious obedience to the Divine laws of nature, and thus was able to dominate the Muslim world, which no longer practiced Islam’s religious and scientific aspects.

Power and force have some right in life, and were created for some wise purpose. Armed with power through science and technology, Europe defeated the Muslim world. A sparrow develops its defensive strengths and skills by defending itself against a hawk’s attacks. In a comparable way, God allows unbelief to attack Islam so that Muslims will reconsider their religion and acquire the skills and strengths needed to restore Islam to its original purity and govern their lives.

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Last Updated on April 15, 2002

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