Is Islam a thing of the past?

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Islam is “too old” to be adopted in this age of science. Islam is a thing of the past — many centuries old — and society has “progressed” beyond it. We have moved far ahead of the feudal stage and humanity now breathes the air of a new century, a century of science, enlightenment, and reason. All those mysterious old beliefs of the Dark Ages just don’t hold water for modern minds…

These and similar doubts are commonly expressed these days by our so-called “progressive,” “liberal” and “enlightened” Muslims. They reveal suspicions that haunt a major section of our intelligentsia and therefore need to be answered. And the answer is quite simple — we must not lose ourselves in the rhythm of seductive rhetoric. Authentic analysis will expose the truth or falsity of much-quoted allegations referring to the supposed decline in the relevance of Islam.

For we touch here on the core of a vital issue: just what are the criteria on which to judge the adequacy or inadequacy, relevance or obsolescence of a particular way of life?  Are arguments of time and space really valid? Are we justified in rejecting everything presented in the past as being “obsolete”? Dare we discard or dismiss any traditional system of belief only on the grounds it has lasted for a thousand years or more? If so, of what value is democracy? It was first introduced in Greece more than 2,000 years ago!

Simple logic makes it the height of folly to assume that a practice or belief is useless only because it is many years old. Conversely, the survival of something humans value should in itself be food for thought. If a belief system, a custom, a philosophy, has steered its way successfully through the deep and often turbulent oceans of time, that test of age alone shows that it is worth something.

Theories have come and theories have gone. Civilizations have risen and civilizations have perished. Cultures have bloomed and cultures have withered. But Islam has lived from time immemorial. It has endured all eventualities and overcome all obstacles. In the monumental “struggle for existence” it has survived. Is this not sufficient to show its mettle?

When we say “time immemorial,” Muslims are asserting the belief that the message of Islam is not a mere 1,400 years old — the period since it was first revealed to the Prophet — but that it really dates from the first human that God created into existence. The word “Islam” itself is about knowing, loving, and communicating with the Creator of the whole universe. God’s ongoing message has been delivered down through time by the likes of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Mohamed.

As a whole way of being, Islam does not divide life into rigid, watertight compartments. It does not — it cannot — separate the spiritual and temporal activities of humankind; rather, it weds these essential elements together. Thus it is not only concerned with one’s relationship with God, but also with the mode of Islam’s main objective, which stands for the salvation and prosperity of the entire human race.

Whenever and wherever it has been freely put into practice, Islam has always blossomed forth in a society  which has done history proud. In such societies, peace has prevailed, happiness prospered, learning increased and science flourished. Many historians have rightly called such societies “golden.”

For a bewildered world as ours, Islam represents great hope for the future. When we study its social, political and economic systems, its principles of social and private conduct, we find that it heals the sores of humanity and brings with it a message of true life. It is an authentic panacea for the ailments of humanity and is as “modern” as tomorrow morning. Those who dismiss Islam as a thing of the past do not betray the faith — they only betray their abysmal ignorance of it!

Prof. Mohamed Elmasry is a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Waterloo and national president of the Canadian Islamic Congress.

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