The March Of Time: How Dogma Adapts To Modernity
When Giordano Bruno proposed his cosmological theory of an infinite Universe with many worlds, he was castigated by academics and theologians alike and was eventually burnt at the stake by the Catholic Church. Copernicus and Galileo, too, were persecuted for proposing the heliocentric model of the Universe, while countless women were burned and drowned after being labeled ‘witches’ for discussing and indulging in ideas that contradicted the Church’s doctrine. Over time though, it was the Church that had to change; it adapted itself to the values of Science and Humanism as humans increasingly indulged in evidence-based thinking founded on rational thought and discourse rather than passive acceptance of information passed down since ancient times as the Absolute Truth by default.
George Bernard Shaw claimed that “All great truths begin as blasphemies,” as they upset the established order that benefits many with the comfort of delusion and opportunity. So when it was theorized, and later proven, that the Earth is not the center of our Solar System let alone the Universe, the dogma of the time tried to resist this fact through violence and torture. But today, a few centuries later, it is an established fact, and the doctrine that once tried to suppress this fact, has had to adapt accordingly, but not after killing and persecuting many innocent thinkers – men and women who observed, questioned, and discovered all that we take for granted today.
Over time, as the Renaissance, the Enlightenment and Democracy took hold in Europe, the Church lost power to the rising tide of Secularism, Science, Arts and the Humanities – it has since then been relegated to the private spheres of individuals’ lives and holds but a sliver of the power it once commanded in the Western world. After Science, Art and Humanities broke away from the clutches and tyranny of dogma, it was free to take humankind on a journey to unveil the Universe and its mysteries without fear of being persecuted, excommunicated, or killed by the religious and moral police.
There are often claims that Islam doesn’t need to evolve, or that there is no such thing as moderate or modern Islam, and that there is only one Islam which has been the same since its inception 1,400 years ago. But is it so?
When the printing press was invented, it was not welcomed by the Ottoman Caliphate. This led to an imbalance as the Europeans became increasingly educated – due to the availability of books en masse – while the Muslims fell behind. Eventually the printing press was accepted by the Muslim world because they had no choice. It was not only a useful invention but also necessary for their survival. The same all-too-familiar pattern occurred with the radio, the loudspeaker, the television and countless inventions : the Muslim clergy initially opposed these inventions, but with time they not only accepted them but also used them for their own benefit and profit.
Today, Muslims and their interpretation of Islam continue to adapt to modernity that now differs significantly from the lives and interpretations of Muslims of the 7th century. Would the early Muslims have accepted and allowed co-education where na-mehram boys and girls freely interact and often date? Would they find uploading pictures and videos on social media in tandem with Islamic teachings? What would they say when they see Muslim women wearing clothes that do not adhere to the Islamic notion of pardah? Will they accept people listening to all kinds of music and dancing with each other? What would their view be on Islamic countries operating as interest-based economic systems?
So in no dubious terms, Muslims have had to adapt to modernity too: their beliefs too are susceptible to the march of Time, human progress and intellectual evolution. Through jurisprudence of scholars and personal desires of States and individuals, Muslims have accepted so many aspects of modern life that are in clear terms forbidden to them (as per 7th Century Islamic values), and they continue to do so in order to fulfill their desires or to survive and compete in the modern world. For instance, today, despite the prevalent homophobia in the Muslim world, many Muslims are increasingly accepting homosexuality not as a social illness, but an inherent part of human diversity – the evolution, adaptation, acceptance is already happening.
Muslim societies today don’t resemble ones that existed a hundred years ago, and those didn’t resemble the ones hundreds of years before them. This is because with the passage of time, religion adapts to progress and not the other way around; those who continue to hold tightly to the delusion that today’s Islam is the same as the early days, suffer from an inertia that is simply delaying the inevitable, and that too at the cost of being left behind by those who are adapting at a much faster pace. It is important for modern Muslims to realize and accept that their descendants will not have the same values as them as they will belong to a different future; for them many of the things that are considered taboo or un-Islamic today will be commonplace and acceptable – this is simply the inevitability of the unstoppable march of time.