Mediating Islam and Modernity – An Excerpt

An effort in mediating Islam and modernity, and reconciling traditionalism with modernism, this book—building on, and blending, the scholarship of past and present—brings together some major themes and issues of diverse nature (from educational and religious to political and contemporary issues) as propounded and promoted by Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan, Muhammad Iqbal, and Abul Kalam Azad—the three pioneering and prominent South Asian modernist/reformist thinkers—within the broader context, and reveals their contemporary relevance. It analyses and examines their thoughts and visions on some important, contemporary and crucial issues like Islam-democracy discourse, Ijma and Ijtihad as dynamic legal tools and their relevance, ‘integration’ (and adoption of some Western values, like educational system) as one of the Muslim responses to ‘Imperialism’, and other interrelated issues. It will, thus, prove useful and helpful to the students in the field of South Asian History and Islamic Studies and general readers as well.

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But We shall be sure to guide to Our ways those who strive hard for Our cause’. {NOBLE QURAN, 29: 69}

The ideas which Sir Sayyid was putting forth, and the religion he fashioned, was explicitly and in fact an Islam thoroughly compatible with progress, and specifically with … the culture of 19th century Britain, with its new learning, its liberal and humanitarian morality, and its scientific rationalism. {W.C. SMITH}

Iqbal looked to an Islamic revival as a solution to Muslim political predicaments, and sought to empower Muslims by reforming and reviving Islam, and infused it with rationalism. Iqbal’s brand of Islamic modernism was reminiscent of Sir Sayyid’s thought. However, Iqbal became the most lucid advocate of Islamic reform and revival, especially through his poetry, making reconstruction and reform of Islam central to Islamic intellectual discourse. {VALI NASR}

Iqbal’s ‘The Reconstruction…’ exemplifies Islamic modernism’s response to European modernity both in its style and its content. …, and it is wide ranging in its eclectic use of European thinkers. {JAVED MAJEED}

The best form of government for a Muslim community is democracy, which as a political ideal, is the most important aspect of Islam. There is no aristocracy in Islam. MUHAMMAD IQBAL}5

MUSLIM MODERNIST INTELLECTUALS from the mid-19th century—throughout the Muslim world, from Middle East to South Asia—asserted the need to ‘reinterpret’ and ‘re-apply’ the principles and ideals of Islam, formulating new responses to the challenges of Europe and of modernity. In South Asia, it was Sir Sayyid and Muhammad Iqbal (among others) who pioneered the modernist visions and agendas, during the 19th and 20th centuries. Sir Sayyid—devoting his life to religious, educational, and social reform—called for a bold ‘new theology’ or ‘reinterpretation’ of Islam and acceptance, not rejection, of best in the Western thought; and Iqbal—judging the conditions of the Muslims as one of five centuries of ‘dogmatic slumber’ as a result of taqlid—called for the ‘reconstruction’ of religious thought (in Islam) to revitalize the Muslim Ummah, and advocated ijtihad, the essential dynamism and adaptability, as the key to Islam’s ability to adapt to ever-changing circumstances. Thus, one of the significant and systematic activities introduced and advanced by these modernists was an emphasis on the need for the reinterpretation of Islamic Law through dynamic legal tools like ijma and ijtihad, and an extensive programme of urging fresh approaches to Qur’anic interpretation.

While both Sir Sayyid and Iqbal called for a new theology, Sir Sayyid stressed on ‘a modern ‘Ilm al-Kalam’ (scholastic theology) or new theology—either to ‘render futile the tenets of modern sciences or show them to be doubtful, or bring them into harmony with the doctrines of Islam’; whereas Iqbal, in categorical terms, stressed the need of ‘a period similar to that of the Protestant revolution’ (or Reform Movement) of Martin Luther (1483-1546) and the lessons it teaches.

It is this very theme that is explored and expounded in this chapter by presenting comparatively and collectively the religio-political thought and the views and visions of Sir Sayyid and Iqbal. It focuses, collectively, on their opposition to taqlid and advocacy of dynamic legal concepts like ijma and ijtihad; Sir Sayyid’s approach to religion-science (reason) relationship; and on Iqbal’s views on Islam—democracy (in) compatibility discourse; and is followed by a brief comparative assessment.

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Saloni Sacheti, Manager – Marketing, Viva Books


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