Dogmatism, Modernization and Islam

Sunday June 24th, 2007, by Muhammed Asadi

Secularization of social thought, of worldview is an indicator of what has been described as “modernization”, a Gesellschaft, when the collective conscience and individual conscience are not in harmony. This is in contrast to a Gemeinschaft, or a community-type social system where both collective conscience and individual conscience are perfect matches for each other and as a result tradition and dogma rules.

What happens with pluralization is a breakdown of tradition, and a weakening of what can be understood as ’faith-based’ religion. When the Quran emphasized reason and thinking in order to break the hold of tradition on people, a tradition that had entrapped them and made them un-free, it attempted and was successful in achieving a type of ’modernization’, a freeing of the thought process that the West achieved only slowly because of the nature of their ’faith based’ religion, Christianity.

Martin Luther (1483-1546) achieved only much later, what the Quran had achieved regarding dogma and tradition, a freeing of the mind. However since Christian doctrine could not handle reason, reason and religion were incompatible in Christianity (the concept of the Trinity, a ’just’ God that kills an innocent to wash the sins of the guilty, a man-god that is all man and all god at the same time etc.), most in the West, after this emancipation became secularized. As all social scientists know, it was this ’Protestant Ethic’ that began as a religious tradition which led to a totally secular modern (capitalistic) economic system, as elaborated by Max Weber in his “The Protestant Ethic & the Spirit of Capitalism”.

On the other hand in Islam a move towards a different direction took place after the initial emancipation. Whereas the Quran broke the role of dogma and tradition by freeing the mind and led to wonders that included learning from all diverse sources, using critical evaluation and testing based on the ’reason’ emphasized by the Quran; imitating the organized religions of their time, the later so-called Muslim ’scholars’ of certain groups tried to traditionalize and standardize their interpretation and extra-Quranic doctrines as Islam. They played into the hands of their enemies, framing Islam after a sinister caricature of it that was drawn by followers of competing religious groups, fragmenting the exclusivity of the Quran, these groups politically dominated the scene and hence effectively blocked the spirit of inquiry inherent in the Quranic system, converting Islam into a faith-based religion like Christianity. Similar developments in the international political arena during the Afghan-Soviet War and its US proxy intervention led to the rise of the Jihadist groups. Their entire being and theology is based on the Western caricature of Islam to the dot, which is alien to its only authoritative text, the Quran.

Forcing their contrived extra-Quranic worldview by seeking to politically dominate the scene, as the Mullahs are trying their utmost to do these days and succeeding due to the ’major enemy’ status given to them by the U.S. elite, will lead to a similar cycle as what transpired in Christianity (assuming a rise in the standard of living), a totally secularizing effect among followers of ’dogmatic’ Islam (as opposed to the rational Islam of the Quran). The mullah is therefore helping to bring about a total elimination of the Islamic identity, by moving away from the Quran. He is ensuring by his perversion of the message of the Quran, that what happened in the West happens to Muslim societies that are increasingly pluralized. It is quite interesting to note that the Quran explicitly stated this and warned against it:

“Is it not time for those who believed to open up their hearts for Allah’s message, and the truth that is revealed herein? They should not be like those to whom was given the book before but long ages passed over them and their hearts became hardened, consequently, many of them became perverted.” [Quran 57:16]

To explain this modernization [by which I mean freeing of the mind and not the nonsense that is commonly portrayed in the US dominated world] and its effect on tradition, let me quote sociologist Peter Berger, from his book, The Homeless Mind (1973). Words in parenthesis are added for clarity:

“The pluralization of social life-worlds has a very important effect in the area of religion. Through most empirically available human history, religion has played a vital role in providing the overarching canopy of symbols for the meaningful integration of society…Indeed from a sociological and social-psychological point of view, religion can be defined as a cognitive (having to do with understanding the world) and normative (having to do with values) structure, that makes it possible for man to feel ’at home’ in the universe. This age old function of religion is seriously threatened by pluralization (because it involves plural and various definitions of reality-cognitive and plural and various definitions of values- normative). Different sectors of social life now come to be governed by widely discrepant meanings and meaning systems. Not only does it become increasingly difficult for religious traditions, and the institutions that embody them to integrate this plurality of social life-worlds into one over arching world view (this also leads to the subjective hold of religion, the subjective definition of reality held by the individual to be threatened as well)….pluralization has thus a secularizing effect…which leads to a privatization of religion (in modern society)…” (Berger 1973:79-80)

The ’privatized’ religion, detached for all social-justice components, busies itself with ritual, formulae and personal salvation. Religion that emphasizes dogma gets privatized leading to ’secularization’ of the society in which it operates and an eventual loss of religious identity.

The Quran, that was a challenge to the dogmatic religions of the day, presents rationality and reason as criteria to arrive at the truth, therby freeing the thought process from being choked by narrow formulae that inevitably lead to ignorance and falsehood. It therefore preserves the religious identity of a believer from being lost due to privatization in a pluralistic society and enhances the ’public’ or social justice function of the believer. It therefore guards against eventual secularization of religious identity.

This relationship between the ’private’ dogmatic religion of the traditionalists and the ’public’ (3), social justice system of the Quran, which holds all private aspects of religion secondary to its social justice component, is clearly elucidated in this Sura (chapter) 107 of the book (words in parenthesis are added for clarity):

“Have you observed (seen) him who belies the Deen (loosely translated as religion). It is he who repels the orphan and does not exhort the feeding of the needy. Woe onto the worshippers, who are heedless of the purpose of their worship (see the context and what follows to understand what the purpose of their prayer is, i.e. the purest form of social justice, basic need fulfillment). (Woe unto those) Who would be seen at worship but refuse (or deprive people) even (of) basic necessities.” (Quran 107: 1-7)

All attempts at protection of the (dogmatic) religious identity through isolation and separation from the wider society, as is attempted by followers of the ’faith-based’ religions (the traditionalists) and the various groups and sects that do not participate in the mainstream, in order to guard their identity, are bound to fail in the long run; while the Quranic emphasis on rationality makes it flourishes in pluralistic societies and combats through reason any resulting secularizing effects. Come what may, dogmatic religion is bound to disappear or become privatized and hence secularized, of little consequence and subordinate in any pluralistic system, unlike the Quran’s system of truth arrived at through reason.

The Quranists within Islam might be a minority at present in a sea of dogmatic traditionalists but their victory as the sole bearers of the Muslim ’public’ identity in the future is quite certain. History as well as reason is on their side.


(1) The Quran: translated from the Arabic
(2) Berger, Peter. 1973. The Homeless Mind. Vintage Books. New York
(3) Mills, C. Wright. 1960. The Causes of World War 3. Ballantine Books. New York; ( chapter 23, ‘A Pagan Sermon’)

Muhammed Asadi can be reached at masadi@aol.com



1 Response to “Dogmatism, Modernization and Islam”

  1. March 21, 2008 at 5:53 pm

    interesting that you see modern Islamic movements as a “corruption” of the Koran, but Western culture as the “fulfillment” of the Bible. I would contend that Western capitalism, while rooted in a Christian Ethos, is inherently a distortion of the Bible, not the fulfillment of it.

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