The dogma of modernism: scientism, secularism and laissez faire capitalism

Developing Just Leadership

K M Azam

Sha'ban 01, 1418 1997-12-01


by K M Azam (Features, Crescent International Vol. 26, No. 19, Sha'ban, 1418)

The unfettered speculative reasoning of modernism has led to great social and cultural dislocations in the west. It is, however, pertinent to ask what does the modernist dogma rest on. Upon inquiry, we find the following triad:

1. Scientism as epistemology (theory of knowledge, specially with regard to its method and validation). Scientism regards science as the only reliable source of knowledge. It negates intuition, spiritual insight and divine revelation.

The current ‘state of the art’ of the scientific method is constrained by severe limitations. At a lower level, these limitations pertain to the direct verification of an occurrence (the null hypothesis) and at a higher level to the fragility of human observation (the Hisenburg principle of uncertainty) and to the relativity of observation (Einstein). Compared to this, the Qur’an has emphasized the importance of firm observation: ‘The (Prophet’s) mind and heart in no way falsified That which he saw’ (Al-Qur’an 53: 11).

The basis of scientism was also demolished by Kurt Godel (1906-78), a Czechoslovakian mathematician, when in early 1930s, he demonstrated that within any rigidly logical mathematical system, there are propositions that cannot be proved or disproved on the basis of the axioms within the system and that, therefore, it is uncertain that basic axioms of arithmetic will not give rise to contradictions.

2. Secularism as sociology: the three components of secularism are: (i) Secularization of the intellect: that intellectual authority is not divinely and uniquely sanctioned. Reason replaces revelation; (ii) Secularization of politics: that a prince could establish the form of religion practised in his domain - cuius regio, eius religio; and (iii) Secularization of the market: the transition from a moral economy to one based on the impersonal operation of the market for the sake of profit.

3. Capitalism as ideology: The principle of profit maximization versus the pleasure of Allah. Marxism was an attempt to cure the problems of capitalism and the modern society based on it. While marxism failed due to its bad economics, capitalism will fail for lack of spirituality and its allied virtue - consciousness. Only Islam, as the great spiritual force, can rescue humanity from these twin scourges.

Post-modernism admits that it is lost in a sea of uncertainty. According to Michel Foucault, the post-modernist French philosopher, we are living in an hetrotopia, where things are different than in utopia and dystopia. In hetrotopia people do not have intelligible connections with one another. To feel being lost is the dominant feature of the post-modern world. No one is sure about the future. The prevalent mood is that of uncertainty which leads to scepticism ending in anarchy or fundamentalism, i.e. going back to the past in search of a panacea.

Francis Fukuyuma has declared the end of history, because liberal democracy has triumphed over marxism and ideologically there is no going beyond it. The French social critic, Jean Baudrillard argues, however, that history may have ended because we have realized progress was an illusion from the beginning. The optimist of the right sees post-modernism as the triumph of laissez faire capitalism. The post-modernist of the left sees the collapse of the Soviet Union as the opening up of new prospects of liberation. Some see post-modernity not as a triumph over oppression but as the triumph of oppression.

The west does not care how intensely a Muslim performs his worship. In fact, it feels quite satisfied if Muslims remain lost in their prayers and other religious rituals. The question then arises, why the west is so afraid of Islam. Is there a particular trait of Islam that they are afraid of? This is the issue which we will have to look into closely in order to reach an adequate conclusion.

It is the spirit of jihad in Islam which continues to create unjustified apprehensions in the west. A jihad which suits the perceived interests of the west is welcome while the one opposed to their interests is condemned. Islam’s jihad is not for national aggrandizement but for the elimination of oppression (zulm) and the establishment of justice. Its greater jihad is for bringing about changes in the hearts of men and women, without which no lasting progress in the human condition can be achieved.

On this issue, both Islam’s progressive thinkers and the fundamentalists stand together. What the west is really afraid of is the Muslims’ readiness to sacrifice their lives for Islam (Imam Khomeini’s logic of martyrdom).

It is both interesting and ironic to note that western modernists consider Orthodox Sunni Islam more suited to dealing successfully with the modern world. Thus, surprisingly, the western modernists are prone to accept a rigid, immobile Islam than a dynamic, spiritual Islam. This reveals more about their thinking than meets the eye.

History is a mighty stream which tests nations and times on its eternal divine principles. It never stops, whether its antagonist be an Etonian Master in 1911 or a CIA consultant, Francis Fukuyama, in 1990. While the west wants to save itself by engaging in a new confrontation with Islam, we want to tell the west to save itself by making a lasting peace with Muslims.

(K M Azam is a former Senior Economic advisor to the United Nations.)

Muslimedia: December 1-15, 1997

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