The Coming Islamic Renaissance


http://www.flickr.com/photos/matley0/3616669592/By Saadia Khan

With all the negative media associated with Islam these days, it can be quite disparaging for the average Muslim. Every time we see another Muslim rapist, suicide-bomber, corrupt politician or backwards adherent using Islam to justify his or her deplorable actions, we almost want to scream from the rooftops: “These people do not represent Islam!” Feeling disheartened about the state of the ummah (Muslim community), many of us lose hope in the general Muslim condition. The inevitable impulse is to become negative and turn inward. 

But what if I told you that is not the case? What if I told you the global ummah is actually on the cusp of a worldwide Islamic renaissance? What if I told you that despite all the upheaval, and the myriad challenges, most Muslim countries are actually gaining influence in the international political arena?   What if I told you, that among all the negative hype, there exists a concurrent Islamic movement—a movement based on education and empowerment—that is slowly but surely transforming Muslim practice and will have immense influence on the global socio-political landscape in the generations to come?

Some people will immediately critique what I’m asserting here based on the idea that there is no ummah.  There is no central authority, no unity, and certainly no consolidated vision. How can we possibly overlook the differences between Muslim practice in California or Canada as compared to Morocco, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan or Indonesia? The reality on the ground for each of these groups is vastly diverse, not only between different regions but also within them. My response is that despite these differences, the Muslims of each of these communities, whether they practice Islam or not, still follow a deeply Islamic social script—a script with far more similarities than differences—and that has profound consequences on their socio-political affairs.

So what evidence do we have that the Muslim world is on the incline? The first and foremost sign is the emphasis on and acquisition of education within the Muslim world as compared to the developing world at large. The Muslim world is defined as those countries with a Muslim majority population, and with the unfortunate exception of Afghanistan and some countries in sub-Saharan Africa, educational access among Muslims has dramatically improved all over the world. Muslims are also more likely to pursue tertiary education than most other groups.

The other significant factor here is the Muslim diaspora. Whether you are in the United States, Canada, Australia or most of Europe, the Muslim diaspora has come to represent a very rich, very informed and highly influential group that is often ignored in conversations about the Muslim world.  The most interesting thing about this diaspora for the purposes of this discussion is that not only are many of them highly educated, a rapidly growing number of them are actively seeking Islamic knowledge. So we are not just talking about the pursuit of ‘secular’ or mainstream education but also the increasing grassroots momentum of traditional Islamic knowledge. This has all the ingredients to foster a resurgence of Islamic philosophy. As an extension of this, an increasing number of the most highly-educated Muslim women in the West are choosing to home-school their children. This seems to be born of recognition of the centrality of education to character and nation-building as well as a concentrated community effort to synthesize secular and Islamic education. This development is also indicated by the growing number of Islamic schools being established in the West—with a few of them even starting to outperform mainstream schools. These trends are only in their infancy but if they continue, the effects will be quite substantial.

As any historian will attest, the rise of education and philosophy are directly linked to the rise of civilization. However, there is a new factor at play in the current scenario that historians have not really had the opportunity to study in great detail. That is the intensification of communication made possible by modern technology, or in other words, the growth of social media. The effects of social media on the distribution of information, as well as the development of a globalized Muslim identity, are already quite profound. Of course, Internet access and literacy are definitely not universal and many Muslims are obviously being left out of the discussion, but what is slowly happening among those who do enjoy such access is an intense negotiation including scholars, regional stakeholders and average Muslim participants. This is ultimately (and quite unintentionally) leading to some level of consensus-building that predictably defies borders, in essence defining a modern Islamic worldview and the contours of Muslim behaviour for a large (and influential) subset of contemporary adherents. To cite just two examples, one of the most fundamentally powerful and obvious political developments born out of social media was the overthrow of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in 2012, but a far less discussed development has been the colossal role of social media in defining an emerging Islamic feminism.  So the potential implications of what we are talking about here cannot be overstated. And in the coming decades, social media will only grow in influence among the worldwide Muslim population, particularly among its youth.

The third point is the changing nature of global politics. In the coming era, Western countries will have relatively less power than they have had for most of the last century. China, Russia, India and the Muslim world will have substantially more influence. As a natural result, Western liberal-democracy, despite its many strengths and contributions, will no longer be the dominant global ideology. Western ideals are not going to collapse, obviously, nor should they. But there will definitely be greater room for new, competing ideologies and these will slowly work themselves into mainstream consciousness.  Many countries have just now reached a comfortable level of economic viability and stability; many more are about to.  This opens up a stage where citizens start exploring their pre-colonial history, essentially reconstructing their identities and redefining their politics in the process.  This is why—in a development that absolutely baffles many Western observers—many Muslim countries are democratically electing so-called “Islamist” governments. In Western scholarly circles, Islam is often regarded as antithetical to democracy but obviously, most Muslims would disagree. So what we are seeing now is with the increasing democratization of the Muslim world, that there is simultaneously an increasing Islamization. And though this phenomenon is riddled with violence, corruption, and other setbacks, it is slowly but surely empowering people, strengthening the ideas of an Islamic identity and worldview and in the process, augmenting the reality of Muslim political power. When we couple this with the sheer growth of Muslim demographics in the next few decades, we are talking about a potential political powerhouse with Islamic ideals at the core.

There is obviously a lot of work to be done; and many, many challenges on the road to an Islamic renaissance. But the ground work has already being laid. And the blueprint for change need not be universal. So do not give up on your fellow Muslims and do not lose hope. Concentrate your energies on the inward as well as the outward. Educate yourself and your loved ones, engage with others and support the work of legitimate Islamic organizations and parties. Choose a cause that is important to you and be of service.  Strategize, build bridges and emphasize justice. And above all, be patient and put your trust in Allah, exalted is He.

“Surely, Allah does not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.” (Qur’an 13:11)

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24 Comments

  1. anthony says:

    Strands of fabric weave a common message and the
    beauty of Islam is continuity through time.
    The modernity of being Muslim is as simple as the outer
    bark of a tree, a constant presence within the tenses.
    The inner bark, maturation of time, gives an internal
    heart beat as if ripples beyond a drop placed in water
    is moved within the bark of a tree and rings of time ever present from day one of worship bestows forbearance to
    such greater ordinance!

  2. Ahmed says:

    Are you describing an upcoming Islamic renaissance or an Islamist renaissance? I fear that the an Islamist growth will result in a dark age for the “Muslim World.” While the dark age was followed by the Renaissance (and wouldn’t have happened without it) no one who saw the beginning of the dark ages got to see the Renaissance. Personally, I think it would be better to bank on an Islamic renaissance in a place where Islamism loses its foothold and I doubt that place will be either the Arab World/Middle East or Subcontinent. Inshallah I am wrong.

  3. S'aad says:

    Yes I agree with Ahmed: we do not need Islamism but an Islamic Renaissance is very welcome, in shaa Allah.

    • Luqmaan Fazal says:

      Sorry i fail to understand the difference between Islamism and Islamic Renaissance. Please clarify?

      • Kirana says:

        I guess perhaps a simple means of describing the distinction as people usually mean it, is that an Islamic renaissance focuses on the fundamentals of Islam as a guide for life – priorities on monotheism, conduct to others, personal application first, etc. From this lens, two Muslim countries outwardly looking dissimilar in apparent practice might be very similar if they have a similarly strong people’s commitment to faith in God’s plan, social justice, personal autonomy/responsibility in belief, respect for others, valuing of education (in a holistic sense), women and children, and valuing of all beneficial work as potentially being worship. It’s inside first, then outwards. While supportive of a society conducive to religious practice, there is space for believers to make mistakes sometimes while ideas and life are being experienced.

        Islamist renaissance can be said to prioritise the outward appearance of Islam perhaps in the belief that the created atmosphere will cultivate adherence to the rules of Islam and inspire the inner beliefs. This is not to say that this form does not prioritise the things that are mentioned above, but it holds as very important – or even more important – observable signs of Islamic commitment such as clothes, prayer attendance, loudness of prayer calls, frequency of Islamic mention in public messages and government policy, to the extent that some things like personal autonomy or privacy is considered acceptable to be curtailed. It’s premise is that outward influence should be exerted to cultivate the inner faith. The idea is to severely limit the space in which any believer might make a mistake and sin. Outwardly though, two nations looking very similar on the outside might actually be quite opposed to each other’s choice of priorities, since one of them might actually inwardly be more like the previous type (“Islamic” not “Islamist”).

  4. joymanifest says:

    This article is full of hope and it is hope we need. Hope and trust in Allah. History is repeating itself and there needs to be cleansing before rising. Allah help us all

  5. A says:

    Can someone please explain to me

    Why is SaudiArabia against Syrian government? why is Saudi govt urging for an attack on Syria by US?

    What are Saudi interests in all of this?

    Every rational person can see, a US invasion on Syria will only lead to more turmoil to Muslim Ummah and the entire region? Evidence in Iraq, Afgahnistan speaks for itself! If US actually cared about chemical weapons, action on Israel should have been first on their list

  6. Barr says:

    “educational access among Muslims has dramatically improved all over the world.”

    I don’t think it has improved “dramatically”. Many Muslim nations still face high illiteracy.

    “Muslims are more likely to pursue tertiary education than most other groups”

    This may only be true for countries like the US and Canada. I doubt this holds true for those in India, countries in South East Asia etc.

    Sharing statistics in your article would be very useful.
    I hope you can provide statistics of education and literacy of majority-Muslim countries (or countries which Muslims hold a higher literacy rate than “other groups”).

  7. Anonymous says:

    What the heck is an “Islamic Renaissance”?

  8. houstonabadi says:

    An article or analysis is generally composed of three things – claims, proofs, and conclusion. You have provided zero proofs (numbers, statistics, etc) to back any of the claims you make. Sounds harsh but a report like this would have been shredded by my professors back in the day.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Wonderful article! As a young Muslim I do see the growing efforts of our community to educate ourselves on religious matters not only dealing with external but internal issues as well. This will have an extremely beneficial outcome in the anticipated generations, insha Allah.

  10. Kareem says:

    I think an Islamic Revival would be the better term and to achieve that would require to cease and desist all sectarian beef, challenge American imperialism, Zionism, the complicity thereof and backward adherent groups that originate out of the gulf arab states.

  11. Saadia says:

    Assalamu Alaikum,

    Typically the format at Suhaibwebb does not involve extensive use of footnotes and a bibliography. This was not meant to be a scholarly dissertation but an (informed) opinion piece.

    The research pertaining to the growth of educational access among some segments of the global Muslim community is based on statistical work I conducted while working on my Masters at Wilfrid Laurier University and further while I was working at CIGI, one of Canada’s top think tanks. I was subsequently approached to do a PhD to continue this research but unfortunately, due to personal reasons, had to decline.

    Other scholars have noted this trend as well, both Islamic and secular. I even distinctly remember a whole page being devoted to it in one of the UN Development Reports although, since it has been many years, I cannot remember at this time which of the reports it was. My apologies for that.

    I used the word “dramatic” purposely. There is an interesting Ted Talk by Hans Rosling on this. For those parts of the world where educational access has increased the change has indeed been dramatic.

    As to the growth of homeschooling among educated Western Muslims, it can easily be googled and has been discussed extensively by scholars such as Shaykh Hamza Yusuf.

    If you require further clarification please do not hesitate.

    • Hyde says:

      I agree with your article overall. But I still am bit perturbed why attention is not being paid the “liberals” and “progressive” who do equal damage to Islam; instead of just focusing only on the fundamentalists and takfiris.
      Most of their ideas are so far fetched and absurd (homosexual Imams ?!?)

      P.S. WebStaff:
      Can we get some articles or posts about the Dajaal or the Signs of the End of Times ? Why are they not more articles on it ? It as if the mention of the End of Times is becoming inconspicuous…hmmm which I think is a sign in itself ?

      • ZAI says:

        Plenty of articles have taken on the unqualified scholarship, bizarre methodology and absurd positions of the “progressives”…as well as characteristics such as hawaa, etc. Many imams have also spoken about it.

        That being said Br., I think it’s inaccurate to to put them on the SAME level as the liberals, fundamentalists, and takfiris. They are not killing anyone, advocating murder, taking over countries at the point of a gun, etc. To say they are the same as the takfiris, jihadists, etc. is disingenuous.

        Might not agree with Reza Aslan on some issues, but he is not at our doors with a violent mob. Nor any follower of his serving as a bodygaurd of one of our imams and then treacherously shooting him dead with other progressives then spilling into the streets to celebrate. Nor is he kicking you out of Islam because your pants are not long enough, beard not short enough or because you disagree with him.

        • Hyde says:

          Agreed! Certainly they are not on the same level, but they do poison the pond for the next generation to come. You do agree with me, that they each subsequent generation becomes more progressive as time goes on. I think instead of trying to hard to integrate ourselves into mainstream American society, we should not forget that they are underlying factors that we ought to be differentiating from the same exact society.

          A watered-down liberalized “Prostentstantizied” Islam should not be our goal.

  12. Tre says:

    I agree with Hyde. Our Prophet SAW detalied exactly what would happened to the Ummah in the end of times and today we see many of these signs happening before our eyes. Yet I notice so many of these educated muslims living in the West either frown on this discussion or are largely unware of it. They can talk for hours about Islamic history or the state of Muslim countries today but ask them about the future of this Ummah which Muhammad SAW himself prophecised and you get met with blank stares. Western Muslims don’t like to talk about Imam Mahdi, Dajjal, return of Isa in Damascus, Gog and Magog. Perhaps because these Hadiths challenge their liberal idealistic view of the future. An imaginary future where war or military conflict doesn’t exist. How about instead of speculating about some cultural revival which may or may not occur on Twitter; we talk about our future in the context of what we KNOW WILL HAPPEN FOR A FACT.

    • ZAI says:

      As for avoiding the subject and Western Muslims: Please type in “Hamza Yusuf” and “end times” or “signs” on YouTube. They talk about it plenty, they’re just not obsessed with it.
      I’m a Western Muslim, no where near a scholar and even I know plenty of ahadith about the signs, Dajjal, etc. because it was talked about plenty while I was growing up.

      That being said, speculating about the future serves no purpose. Yes we know these things will happen and we see the signs of them approaching…but the purpose in recognizing them range from strengthening our faith to reforming ourselves. They do not exist as a blueprint to inform strategy or future planning. These things are in God’s hands and we believe in them and respond when they COME. They are in God’s hands and will happen according to HIS will.

      Therefore it makes perfect sense to concentrate our energies on TODAY and on things that we where we can make a difference. Peace TODAY is good. Working for the environment TODAY is good. Helping others TODAY is good. Working to reform the economy TODAY is good.
      Whether we are successful is irrelevant. We act as we’re supposed to act while believing in the qadr.

      As Hassan al Basri (rahimullah) said:

      “The world is 3 days: as for yesterday it has gone and all the was in it, as for tommorow you may never see it, as for today its yours so work in it”

      More importantly, as our Rasulallah (S) said:

      “If your are planting a sapling and see the Day of Judgement arrive, then finish planting”.

      • Sithara says:

        As Salamu Alaikum,

        I completely agree with ZAI. I used to be obsessed with this topic myself – if anything, I think its over emphasized.

        There is a real fascination that goes with this topic…

        Many people spend hours hunting for the signs (including me in the past), researching whether the Dajjal has been born yet, who he will be, whether the Gog and Magog are likely to come from and whether they have already arrived, how scientifically the sun may rise from the West and set in the East, etc, etc etc.

        There is lots of talk about the minor signs (buildings, airplanes, wars and corruption, etc).

        But at the end of the day, I’m not sure what purpose all this serves, that is not served by a fear and awareness of our own deaths and what will happen afterwards.

        While an awareness of the signs is a good thing, our time is much better spent on strengthening our iman and perfecting our worship, rather than obsessing over the signs. That is what will ultimately get us through these terrible tribulations.

        All that being said, reciting Sura Al-Kahf every Friday will help protect us from the Dajjal. So, its good to take what means we can.

      • Kirana says:

        I also completely agree with Zai. Just like some Christians in the US whose attempt to “help along” God’s plan for the end of days as per their belief lead them to fervently support the state of Israel, I am more inclined to think, by attempting to meddle and think we know best about how to bring about God’s promise, are we perhaps making that promise come true in a way that dooms our own fates on judgment day? Or are we actually better off treating it on an FYI basis and focus on the things revealed to us with the explicit instruction of DOING them? after all, no ACTION is ordered on us in relation to all these prophecies.

        I tend to suspect that if we are prepared as Muslims, if those major prophesied signs should actually come to pass in our lifetime, we would be responding correctly anyway despite not having obsessed over it for years beforehand. If we are not prepared, then realising it is imminent wouldn’t actually suddenly make us observant – it would be too late by then, we would already be among the unfortunate ones (may God preserve us all from that). Obsessing over these things takes time away from doing the things that we are actually told to DO. time that we will not get back.

        There is no point obsessing over knowing exactly how to tell every sign that a hurricane might be coming just a bit closer and just a bit closer, and thereby neglect preparing to evacuate. It is enough to know that a hurricane is coming, evacuation time will roughly look like this, and spend the rest of the time in between actually preparing to be ready to evacuate AT ANY TIME.

      • H&H says:

        Beautifully said.

    • Hyde says:

      Alhamdulillah! Exactly brother! One of the underlying points of Western democracy, is the notion that world will continue to get better and that “an end of history” will approach where western liberalism is trumpiant. That the world will get better continually on and on is, I think an ideology that hides the fact the world WILL not get better. The world is continually getting worse. Yes we must not lose hope, but that does not mean we should be coerced to believing an idealistic, “kuffaric” optimism.

      Yes you are quite right, in fact you nailed it on the head dear brother. Most people do not want to think about the future in pessimistic manners because it causes injury to their homely cozy liberal mindset. Like the muslims who go out of the way to promote gay marriage (an issue that I am indifferent about), thinking they are doing a great service to the world. In their mind these causes are the set point of a “wonderful” utopian world…which of course will never exist.

      Sure nobody is arguing against an Islamic Renaissance, and I am certainly not advocating that we should be paranoid about the end of times, but it is fair to assess that there is serious lack of understanding and promulgation of Islamic eschlatogly.

  13. Hyde says:

    @Zai Indeed young brother, SHY opened my eyes to the studying the end of times like no other. He is an asset to the Muslims in the West that no other Imam, Sheikh mufti, etc.

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