The Enlightenment and modern-day “Islamic terror”

بِسْمِ اللَّـهِ الرَّحْمَـٰنِ الرَّحِيم

I decided to write a few brief comments about the topic of the Enlightenment and the topic of so-called “Islamic terrorism”, even though the connection between the Enlightenment and what is termed as “Islamic terror” may not even occur to most people.

The reason why I believe this topic is important is because the enlightenment and its secularist offspring intervened in the Muslim world in a manner that cannot merely be cast aside when mentioning anything about “Islamic terrorism”.

In order to understand this issue, we have to understand that Islam is a system of life where its teachings are passed from chest-to-chest. The books written by the scholars have their relevance, but we cannot say that the primary means of transmitting knowledge in Islam is through the written material. Thus, the teacher-student relationship is paramount in traditional Islamic scholarship.

However, European society at the time of the Enlightenment was something else. It was a culture repudiating “worn-out” and “stagnant” religion and its values, in favor of “forward-looking” and “progressive” accumulation of knowledge solely by the human being, his faculties, and the machinery invented by him, without any restrictions whatsoever.

I will acknowledge that the Enlightenment agenda was very successful in taking over the world and basically forcing it to adopt its ideological ethos, but when it came to Islamic countries and the Muslim culture, there came the severing of the link between the Muslim laity and the traditional scholars, along with the uninhibited dumping of the material products of European-based society.

Of course, we know that such a situation was presented as “liberation” of the common Muslim from the “choke-hold of old men in religious garbs”. However, when the common man is free from having to follow any method or system for gaining his knowledge, there is no telling what he will do without the wisdom of those who acquired theirs from the Prophetic lineage. For most of the secular-based proponents of the current world order, that the knowledge of Islam is nowadays not taken from the scholars is very good news, since there was no trust of “religious superstition and its old men” to begin with, and severing all possible links between teachers and students can only hasten the demise of Islam in the eyes of such supporters of secularism. Even if it is said that secularists only wish to banish the overtly public displays of Islamic legalism, given the huge moral authority that scholars of Islam have traditionally had with the common Muslim, getting rid of this link is absolutely essential to pushing Islam to the “private-only” sphere.  

However, what such people did not envisage is that the books are still extant, and that this “freedom of thought” has led to a stage where a common Muslim can bring together a group of like-minded friends angry about the state of Muslims, and they can read a few Prophetic narrations on the virtues of fighting on the cause of Allah, after which they may decide to practically do something in this vein based on their understanding. The traditional scholars, who impart the proper wisdom behind such narrations, are not consulted by such common Muslims, since the whole setup is designed to let people choose what they want to do after understanding books and works based on haphazard tools of comprehension.

The common person will immediately blame Islam and its primary texts, but the matter actually runs deeper. The issue is that Islam is an extremely powerful system and its texts contain very strong statements that can definitely touch the heart and lead to great change at both the personal and the societal level, but without the wisdom of the traditional scholars and without their guiding hand, the statements and texts can lead to extreme actions not related to the final goals of the religious life. After all, Islam is a holistic system of “total religion” unlike other religions in the world today, since it has its eyes both on this world and on the Hereafter, while other religions have their sights almost totally on the Hereafter (this is why in some religious traditions, the renunciant who suddenly leaves his family in order to attain monk-hood or priesthood is hailed as a hero and the pinnacle of belief, while in Islam the responsibility towards people in this world can never be forgotten).

Alas, we can only complain to Allah the Exalted, hoping that He will save our Imaan, and that He guides all those who have zeal for the religion to use it properly, and to learn the religion properly and to commit actions only after proper understanding of the implications behind the texts, and after consultation with the elders of the Islamic world at large. And through Allah is our success.