Islam and Modern Developments

Islam and Modern Developments by Nouman Ali Khan


What I want to start with InshaAllah (God Willing) is Europe. A lot of you are familiar with the European history but I'll take bits and pieces of European history and give you the summarized version, just so we can carry our conversation forward.

In Europe of course for many many centuries the Church was in complete control, and when the Church was in complete control, the state mandated Christianity as the official doctrine, official religion. So if you believe in a version of Christianity other than the Church version then you're are basically officially must be killed. Of course any books, any literature that contradicts Christianity must be destroyed. So European if they were to develop literature in science for example the biblical belief was that the earth is at the center of the universe but of course with a little bit of development in science we know that it's not at the center of the universe, the universe is much bigger and we're just a little tiny speck. Well this idea seems to contradict the Bible so instead of rethinking about the Bible we must burn all of these books and anybody who talks about science, people who talk about philosophy, either they're killed or expelled from the land. By the way interestingly enough a lot of these people, a lot of these Europeans, who could not express their ideas and who could not explore their sciences in Europe because of Church's policy, they moved to Muslim's lands. As a matter of fact a lot of what was burnt and destroyed in the European languages was recovered in Arabic and then brought back eventually to Europe, so this is a brief account of some of that history, but I do want to tell you of course eventually from the 1700s onward there is an uprising in Europe, and the Church is finally toppled, and now you have the development of what we call secularism.

We have to understand secularism first. Usually when the Muslims hear the word secularism we get very offended or scared but we have to understand the history of it first, a little bit at least, to understand where these people are coming from. Well the Church stopped people from thinking critically, you cannot think for yourself, the Church will think for you, the Pope will think for you, and any thoughts you have that contradict, if you even start asking questions you should be killed, there's no room for this, we have to have complete submission to the Church, that what we must have. As a reaction to that in Europe when finally the Church is overthrown, they want to make sure that the Church never gains power again, because it's too extreme, it forces you to believe things even if they don't make sense to you, you have to accept them, even if you don't accept them openly you have to keep your mouth shut about it, we can't have this again, so we cannot allow them to have power again. Actually it wasn't just a Church, the policy became if our religion, it's Christianity at that time was so extreme that it must be that if you give power to any religion then they're going to do the same thing, they're going to stop any freedom of speech, any freedom of thought, any critical thinking, any asking of questions, so we cannot have religion in a position of power, because it will oppress humanity, so we must separate, we can't get rid of religion but we must separate religion from all of the rest of life, governance, policy, education, anything that affects the public should be free from religion. Anything that affects the public, if it's education there should not be any mention of religion in public education, because that will again create the same problem that we used to have. If it's government's policy it should have nothing to do with religion, because that will create oppression, one religious group will offend and oppress another religious group, we can't have that anymore.

So if God or religion is not the authority, then the only authority left is ourselves. If Allah is not the authority, and if to them god or Jesus whoever, is not the authority and the only authority left is ourselves, and then in that sense democracy makes total sense because then we can get together and decide what is right and what is wrong, we should be able to do that ourselves. And that's the beginnings of this new age society, where religion is limited, it's not destroyed, it's limited to your personal life, religion is your personal matter, it has nothing to do with the public.

Now Europe has been, it's been few hundred years now, it's been a couple of hundred years, but the idea of secularism spread all over the world in one way or another. It didn't just spread as form of governments, people think of secularism as a secular government, but secularism spread in other ways, it spread into the minds of people through education, culture, companies have secular mindset, so for example you can work in an organization, ironically I was talking to somebody who works in the Arabic Gulf, and they work in an American company in the Arabic Gulf, this American company has their own compound, so once you walk in through the gate you're basically in America, outside of it you're in the Arabic Gulf, you can hear the Adhan, everything's different, but once you walks in you're in USA, and inside this company if you are making Salat (Prayer) they'll tell you could you please go in the side and pray, people get uncomfortable when you pray in front of them, and if somebody's talking about Deen (Islam Way of Life) and say SubhanaAllah I was reading this Ayah (Verse)...excuse me we don't talk about religion here, this is a workplace, we don't to discuss religion in the workplace. So in what you would think is a Muslim society , they even carved out a space and inside that space religion does not belong even in public conversation between two work offices, two desks, keep it to your desk, SubhanaAllah.

Ironically I met many Muslims from, I mean I thought this was a problem in the United States or this was a problem in England or a problem in Australia but I met Muslims from different parts of Muslim world including here that they would come to me and say, you know my office they have a Christmas party, and I don't want to go, how do I explain that to my boss?, how do I explain why I don't want to go to the New Year's party to my boss?, I said wait, that's an American problem, that's an Australian problem, how's this a Saudi problem, how's this a Qatari problem, how's this a Malaysian problem, when did that happen?, I'm used to hearing this in New York City, I'm used to hearing this in Los Angeles, why am I hearing this somewhere else?

So secularism has spread in different ways, and in the minds of many people, religion is best served if you keep it to who?, yourself, just keep it to yourself, it's a personal matter. I want to start with that because of course we're seeing Islam as a way of life, but in the new world Islam is a way of personal life, just personal life, don't bring it anywhere else, and of course this is not a war against Islam, this actually an idea that all religions have problems, all religions are problematic when they get to that point, if you bring them to public oppression will happen, craziness will happen, extremism will happen. So that's the first thing I wanted to bring to your attention.

The next thing I want to bring to your attention is the result of secularism. I've given this talk in different places in different ways but I'll summarize it here quickly for you. When you remove religion from the picture, three or maybe four changes happen in the minds of people, four changes happen. The most important focus in a religious society is Allah, in a religious society the focus, the primary focus is Allah, every event begins with the Vicar of Allah, every gathering has a Dhikr of Allah (Remembrance of Allah), every few hours you hear the Adhan (The call to Allah), Allah is at the center of that society, when you become a secular society Allah is removed from that picture, when He (Allah) is removed from that picture the focus has to go to somewhere else, well where does it go?, it goes to the next biggest thing, the universe, in other words all your attention used to be on God, well you can't see God, well at least you can see what?, the universe, so lets explore and study the universe, science become far more important than religion, science become number one and religion is somewhere down there.

In a religious society, what's the highest knowledge? religion,  the aleem, the mufassir, the imaam, these are people of very noble position, because they're studying the highest of all sciences, actually in Islamic studies we call them high sciences, high knowledge, The Quran is High Knowledge, but in a secular society they asked a question, what are you going to invent if you study Quran?, what are you going to discover when you study Hadith?, I mean you gonna feel good about yourself and maybe you'll pray or something, but we need to build a better hospitals, we need better road systems, we need better infrastructure, and that's not going to happen until you study what?, science. So the focus becomes what?, science. Now I'm not criticizing science, we'll balance the equation at the end, bare with me. So God is replace by what?, science, the study of the universe. Before, in a religious society the most important matter is your heart, the most important thing is our hearts, so the reminder, the spirituality, closeness to Allah, these are things we talk about all the time, the worst thing that could happen is what happen to Bani Israel 'Your hearts became hard'. We pray 'Make my Deen firm, make my heart firm on Your Deen', the heart and spirituality is the most important things, but in a secular society they're not even sure if there is such thing as spirituality, what is this spirituality?, Imaan (Faith) goes up and down, where does it go up and down?, we did a scan of your body and we didn't see any Imaan (Faith) going up and down, and you say your heart becomes soft and your heart becomes hard but I did a heart surgery and it's still squishy, nobody's heart became like a rock, I don't see where this spirituality comes from, what kind of scan do I have to do of your brain or your heart to find this Imaan (Faith), you can't see it, so why are we focused on God who we can't see, lets replace Him with science, why we focused on the heart, the spiritual thing we can't see it, this Imaan (Faith) we can't see it, lets focus on something we can observe, so lets replace spirituality with psychology and the physical body.

So spirituality gets replaced with psychology and medicine, you can't prove this unseen thing, this Rooh (Spirit) nobody has ever seen it, forget that, we should just replace that with the observable sciences about the human beings, if you want to improve your life, improve your diet, improve your exercise, improve your health, take the best medical procedures if you get sick, and if you're having problems like depression, sadness, anger, which used to be spiritual problems now we don't call them spiritual problems, what do we call them?, psychological problems, so the solutions will not come from a spiritual source, the solutions will come from a psychological source, but nowadays in bio psychology it's even more interesting, if you are feeling really depressed then there's probably a pill for that, if you feel a lot of unrest there's a pill for that too, and if you have a big anger problem there's a pill for that too, usually all of your emotions are probably some kind of chemical imbalance inside of you, and if we could give just give you enough pills you'll become a Zombie and you'll be fine. I'm not by the way insulting the science of psychology, I'm a student of psychology myself, and I respect the science, I really do, but I'm trying to tell you a shift happened, from God to the universe, from the soul, from the heart to the body and psychology, the study of the mind.

Now the next shift that happens, so the first one was God to universe, the second was soul to the body, and the third one that happens is, all these religions, all they talk about is heaven and hell, do this and you will go to heaven, do that and you will go to hell, but I want to do something that makes me better now, I want to improve my life now, no, no, no, you shouldn't eat that, that's not good for you, why isn't it good for me?, well because it's Haram (Impermissible), well so what if it's Haram (Impermissible)?, what's the problem if I eat I like it, no you might like it now but it's bad for you in your Akhira (Hereafter) in your next life, but nobody has ever seen the Akhira (Hereafter) just like nobody has ever seen God, nobody has ever seen the soul, nobody has ever seen the Day of Judgement, and nobody has ever seen heaven, and nobody has ever seen hell, at least nobody ever came back and told me. So instead of focusing all my attentions on making the next world better, why don't we become more practical and focus all our attention on what?, making this world better, lets study sociology, lets study more political science, lets study more urban development, lets study public services, lets make this world into something good that you don't have to worry about some imaginary heaven, lets turn this place into heaven, lets improve this life, lets improve the standard of living here. Now these three shifts have happened so far, God to the universe, soul to the body, and what's the third one?, afterlife to this life.

Here's the last one, this is the scariest one to me. this is the scariest one. The last shift that happened was, in religious society what is wrong is clear and what is right is clear, morality is clear, permissible the Halal is clear, and the impermissible the Haram is clear, you know why it's clear because Allah clarifies the Ayat (Verse) for you, He (Allah) makes it clear, like the Prophet SAW would say "the permissible and the impermissible are absolutely clear", there's no confusion, but those of you that have ever gone, like I did when  I was in college, I went to my first philosophy class, two days after the class becomes very unclear, I don't know what is right and wrong anymore, I don't know what's right and I don't know what's wrong. If you remove God from the picture, and you remove revelation, because Revelation says this is what's right and this is what's wrong "Allah the one Who makes the verdicts between you", then I will have my perspective on what is right and you will have your perspective on what is right and we're going to disagree, we're going to disagree, so the definition of right and wrong will be become not absolute but it will become relative, and if it becomes relative maybe today I will win the debate and maybe tomorrow you will win the debate, so what used to be right yesterday will be wrong today and what is wrong today will be right tomorrow and the standards will keep shifting, they won't stay in one place, the standards will keep shifting. I'll give you an easy example of that, in the United States, in 1978 I believe it was, 71 to 78, the American Psychological Association unanimously declared homosexuality a psychological disorder, unanimously declared, from then until now which is not a long time, it's not centuries, it just thirty-five years, now we're at the point where in the United States if somebody is going to become a psychologist or a therapist, then part of their license is to make sure if someone comes to them and says, I think I have homosexual tendencies that they are not allowed to say that, that might be a problem, they're supposed to say, well if you feel that way that must be a good thing, you should do what you feel, you should do what makes you happy, because overtime what used to be wrong became what?, not only right but it became absolutely celebrated. The standard shifted, didn't it? And you know the recent law that was passed in the US, right? Usually on medical forms and others you say single, married, now they say married to what?

You know what's interesting about this last one, every time they change the standards, they expect the entire world to submit to their new standard, they expect the entire world to submit, and if you don't submit you are backwards, you're not moving forward with the times, you people are stuck, they tell the Muslims you're stuck in the seventh century. I say, Allhamdulillah (Praise to Allah) I'm glad I'm stuck in the seventh century.

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