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Apr 13, 2019 | Rather Nasir

Postmodernism: Compatible or in conflict with Islam

The term postmodernism suffers from the absence of an exact meaning, so to define it accurately is an arduous task. Postmodernists analyze all texts in terms of their socioeconomic, political, and cultural contexts and assert that all readings are interpretations likewise contextualized and therefore subject to reinterpretation. Contemporary Muslim thinkers using postmodernist theories and methods of interpretation (hermeneutics) characteristically question traditional interpretations of religious teaching, recognizing their relevance to certain historical contexts but seeking interpretations of eternal truths more suitable to changing contemporary realities. This hermeneutic is often identified with the Islamic legal reasoning process known as ijtihad.

Before touching the dimensions of the concept, one should give his/her mind a recall of William Boyds, famous novel 'the new confessions" in the concluding lines author captures the mood of said age."As I stand here on my modest beach, waiting for future, watching the waves roll in, I feel strange, light -headed elation. After all this is the age of uncertainty and incompleteness. John James Todd, I say to myself you are in time with the universe".

Post modernism is a critique of modernism or modernity. The contemporary man of post modern age has no faith in objective truth. For him any talk of ideology or ethical code is nonsense. He has lost faith in the very thing which is his existential necessity. Consequently he falls in the severe crises of meaninglessness. Prior to it, modernism would argue that reason is a distinctive power that would enable humans to dominate nature and create moral and just society.  However, certain postmodernist philosophers including lyotard, Foucault, Derrida and the most significant of them Nietzsche disparage the notion of truth altogether. Nietzsche argued that truth to be nothing than the mobile army of metaphors and more useful errors of mankind. He declared that there are no eternal facts just as there are no absolute truths. It was tirade against Meta narratives, various tenants of rationality including objective reality and absolute truth. Derridean deconstruction is the main driving force for post modernists to undo the structures of rationality and objective truth. 

They claimed that philosophy and literature in the western tradition had falsely supposed that the relationship between language and world was well founded and reliable. It implies that the meaning of a word has its origin in the structure of reality itself and hence makes the truth about that structure directly present to the mind. This false logo-centrism in language as the mirror of nature is an illusion. For Derrida, all this amounts to a false metaphysics of presence. His skepticism allowed his followers to attack the beliefs that philosophy, science or the novel really described the world accurately, or that a historical narrative can be true.

Whatever humans speak, they are caught within a linguistic system that does not relate to external reality in the way they expect. This is because every term within each system also depends upon the existence of other terms that are absent. For example, in English there is a family of words for degrees of anger- from 'irritated to 'furious'. So has the French its own different family of words for this area. All the terms within each language’s family rely upon one another to divide up the field of ‘anger’ for native speakers. But neither system, English or French, can fairly claim to finally encode the 'truth' about states of anger in the world. Therefore, for Derrideans, language only seems to mark out clear differences between concepts. For meaning continuously slips away from word to word within the linguistic chain.

The concept of difference used by Derrida in this regard holds the key. Since, Islam is a world-view that is for all and equally applicable for all time. Islamic thinkers can’t turn blind eye to philosophical incongruities emanating from post modern mind, like nihilism, skepticism and relativism. Now the question is – what kind of relationship does Islam posses with this postmodern condition? And the answer may be that, postmodern consciousness is partly applicable to Islam. This new consciousness offer several new methods in Islamic jurisprudence especially in the epistemological level. It has gained strong attraction on some parts of Muslim society as it promotes new ideas such as promoting equality of rights among citizens and genders and safeguarding the minority group’s rights, honoring spectrum of opinions in society.

In the contemporary global world, these ideas are highly acceptable and are also pertinent with Islamic faith. In this respect postmodernist thought is complementary to understand Islam. Postmodernism has also liberated human being from the shackles of the authority of reason. Postmodern attitude to the superiority of reason is almost similar to that of Islam. Islam does not accept the authority of reason as the supreme power; instead it encourages using reason to understand the Islamic fundamentals by proclaiming in Holy Quran in different verses. In Islam, reason is not contradictory to the revelation, but cannot operate in a proper manner without the guiding force of revelation. Ibn Taymiyya, in this connection, says that as Holy Quran is the gift of God, reason is also one of the gifts of God. Therefore, through reason we have to understand revelation. It does not mean that reason is the final authority, which is also admitted by the postmodernist.

Reason cannot determine what is good or evil without revelation. Yet, through reason people can determine what they should do or should not do; only revelation can show them why they must do so. Thus reason may help to discover the existence of God and identify His most important qualities, but cannot determine the correct forms of worship. There are certain fields of knowledge that are beyond reason. In this sense post modernists claim there is no absolute truth. The Muslims believe revelation is the true word of God, hence truth lies in Holy Quran .There are some fundamental principles which are unchangeable and absolute everywhere, this is the departure of postmodern thought of Islam, rejection of post modern thought of author as constructor of the meaning is relatively appropriate in understanding the Holy Quran.

The most fundamental task for an Islamic intellectual is to provide knowledge a new basis from a new perspective. It appears that it is only possible through one way and that is to reconstruct knowledge. By reconstructing knowledge, one can restore and rehabilitate man's confidence in the truth, in the objectivity of truth and finally in Islam itself. Moreover, the Holy Quran is not an ordinary philosophical book but also is the book of knowledge and spirit, which is revealed as the Word of God to the Prophet Mohammad (SAW) for all mankind. So, the language of the Holy Quran is different from any worldly text. There is a vast difference between philosophical interpretation and Quranic interpretation, where the former is unrestricted and open and the latter is restricted with certain conditions. And Allah has provided the restrictions while protecting the Quranic language from becoming distorted. This has been proved that the language of the Holy Quran is still undistorted and intact. Theologically, in the Holy Quran Allah (SWT) proclaims “He has revealed the Quran and He Himself will protect it”. (15:9)

 We have to understand this time bound issues with critical approach of postmodern perspectives that respect openness, plurality of opinions, and alternative views. However, not all aspects of postmodernism are applicable to Islam since there is an absolute Being who is ultimate reality and as a Word of that absolute God, the Holy Quran is true for Muslims. It does not mean that as a whole the Holy Quran is not the subject of interpretation, still there is scope for independent reasoning to understand and interpret the changeable issues. These interpretations may vary from one to another due to the differences in understanding, and the diversity of interpretations is accepted until they do not contradict with the basic faith of Islam.

To conclude, Ibni Arabi, who writes in kitabul-Fusus al Hikam (Ringtones of wisdom): “The Quran is a book about which we can know nothing – an infinitely well-kept secret that turns all our attempts at interpretation, into a series of hopeful guesses. Despite huge human endeavors, there is some hidden text which will remain forever ‘incomparable’ with all its interpretations. Such incomparability will always engage more human intellect that will also end in further interpretations”.

(Author is a Teacher)

nkashmiri786.nr@gmail.com

Apr 13, 2019 | Rather Nasir

Postmodernism: Compatible or in conflict with Islam

              

The term postmodernism suffers from the absence of an exact meaning, so to define it accurately is an arduous task. Postmodernists analyze all texts in terms of their socioeconomic, political, and cultural contexts and assert that all readings are interpretations likewise contextualized and therefore subject to reinterpretation. Contemporary Muslim thinkers using postmodernist theories and methods of interpretation (hermeneutics) characteristically question traditional interpretations of religious teaching, recognizing their relevance to certain historical contexts but seeking interpretations of eternal truths more suitable to changing contemporary realities. This hermeneutic is often identified with the Islamic legal reasoning process known as ijtihad.

Before touching the dimensions of the concept, one should give his/her mind a recall of William Boyds, famous novel 'the new confessions" in the concluding lines author captures the mood of said age."As I stand here on my modest beach, waiting for future, watching the waves roll in, I feel strange, light -headed elation. After all this is the age of uncertainty and incompleteness. John James Todd, I say to myself you are in time with the universe".

Post modernism is a critique of modernism or modernity. The contemporary man of post modern age has no faith in objective truth. For him any talk of ideology or ethical code is nonsense. He has lost faith in the very thing which is his existential necessity. Consequently he falls in the severe crises of meaninglessness. Prior to it, modernism would argue that reason is a distinctive power that would enable humans to dominate nature and create moral and just society.  However, certain postmodernist philosophers including lyotard, Foucault, Derrida and the most significant of them Nietzsche disparage the notion of truth altogether. Nietzsche argued that truth to be nothing than the mobile army of metaphors and more useful errors of mankind. He declared that there are no eternal facts just as there are no absolute truths. It was tirade against Meta narratives, various tenants of rationality including objective reality and absolute truth. Derridean deconstruction is the main driving force for post modernists to undo the structures of rationality and objective truth. 

They claimed that philosophy and literature in the western tradition had falsely supposed that the relationship between language and world was well founded and reliable. It implies that the meaning of a word has its origin in the structure of reality itself and hence makes the truth about that structure directly present to the mind. This false logo-centrism in language as the mirror of nature is an illusion. For Derrida, all this amounts to a false metaphysics of presence. His skepticism allowed his followers to attack the beliefs that philosophy, science or the novel really described the world accurately, or that a historical narrative can be true.

Whatever humans speak, they are caught within a linguistic system that does not relate to external reality in the way they expect. This is because every term within each system also depends upon the existence of other terms that are absent. For example, in English there is a family of words for degrees of anger- from 'irritated to 'furious'. So has the French its own different family of words for this area. All the terms within each language’s family rely upon one another to divide up the field of ‘anger’ for native speakers. But neither system, English or French, can fairly claim to finally encode the 'truth' about states of anger in the world. Therefore, for Derrideans, language only seems to mark out clear differences between concepts. For meaning continuously slips away from word to word within the linguistic chain.

The concept of difference used by Derrida in this regard holds the key. Since, Islam is a world-view that is for all and equally applicable for all time. Islamic thinkers can’t turn blind eye to philosophical incongruities emanating from post modern mind, like nihilism, skepticism and relativism. Now the question is – what kind of relationship does Islam posses with this postmodern condition? And the answer may be that, postmodern consciousness is partly applicable to Islam. This new consciousness offer several new methods in Islamic jurisprudence especially in the epistemological level. It has gained strong attraction on some parts of Muslim society as it promotes new ideas such as promoting equality of rights among citizens and genders and safeguarding the minority group’s rights, honoring spectrum of opinions in society.

In the contemporary global world, these ideas are highly acceptable and are also pertinent with Islamic faith. In this respect postmodernist thought is complementary to understand Islam. Postmodernism has also liberated human being from the shackles of the authority of reason. Postmodern attitude to the superiority of reason is almost similar to that of Islam. Islam does not accept the authority of reason as the supreme power; instead it encourages using reason to understand the Islamic fundamentals by proclaiming in Holy Quran in different verses. In Islam, reason is not contradictory to the revelation, but cannot operate in a proper manner without the guiding force of revelation. Ibn Taymiyya, in this connection, says that as Holy Quran is the gift of God, reason is also one of the gifts of God. Therefore, through reason we have to understand revelation. It does not mean that reason is the final authority, which is also admitted by the postmodernist.

Reason cannot determine what is good or evil without revelation. Yet, through reason people can determine what they should do or should not do; only revelation can show them why they must do so. Thus reason may help to discover the existence of God and identify His most important qualities, but cannot determine the correct forms of worship. There are certain fields of knowledge that are beyond reason. In this sense post modernists claim there is no absolute truth. The Muslims believe revelation is the true word of God, hence truth lies in Holy Quran .There are some fundamental principles which are unchangeable and absolute everywhere, this is the departure of postmodern thought of Islam, rejection of post modern thought of author as constructor of the meaning is relatively appropriate in understanding the Holy Quran.

The most fundamental task for an Islamic intellectual is to provide knowledge a new basis from a new perspective. It appears that it is only possible through one way and that is to reconstruct knowledge. By reconstructing knowledge, one can restore and rehabilitate man's confidence in the truth, in the objectivity of truth and finally in Islam itself. Moreover, the Holy Quran is not an ordinary philosophical book but also is the book of knowledge and spirit, which is revealed as the Word of God to the Prophet Mohammad (SAW) for all mankind. So, the language of the Holy Quran is different from any worldly text. There is a vast difference between philosophical interpretation and Quranic interpretation, where the former is unrestricted and open and the latter is restricted with certain conditions. And Allah has provided the restrictions while protecting the Quranic language from becoming distorted. This has been proved that the language of the Holy Quran is still undistorted and intact. Theologically, in the Holy Quran Allah (SWT) proclaims “He has revealed the Quran and He Himself will protect it”. (15:9)

 We have to understand this time bound issues with critical approach of postmodern perspectives that respect openness, plurality of opinions, and alternative views. However, not all aspects of postmodernism are applicable to Islam since there is an absolute Being who is ultimate reality and as a Word of that absolute God, the Holy Quran is true for Muslims. It does not mean that as a whole the Holy Quran is not the subject of interpretation, still there is scope for independent reasoning to understand and interpret the changeable issues. These interpretations may vary from one to another due to the differences in understanding, and the diversity of interpretations is accepted until they do not contradict with the basic faith of Islam.

To conclude, Ibni Arabi, who writes in kitabul-Fusus al Hikam (Ringtones of wisdom): “The Quran is a book about which we can know nothing – an infinitely well-kept secret that turns all our attempts at interpretation, into a series of hopeful guesses. Despite huge human endeavors, there is some hidden text which will remain forever ‘incomparable’ with all its interpretations. Such incomparability will always engage more human intellect that will also end in further interpretations”.

(Author is a Teacher)

nkashmiri786.nr@gmail.com

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