Over the last 100 years, the Muslim world has seen the birth of a number of trends that have tried to find answers to the critical problems facing it. The trends have included traditionalists, modernists and revivalists. The traditionalists have failed to grasp the reality of what is going on, with a focus on self improvement, with no critical discourse on the realities which the Muslim world is going through, with blame put on the self, without consideration of the political structures and processes that impact the self, in particular one’s thoughts, concepts and behaviours. Given the failure of this trend to offer much in solving structural problems, the modernist’s trend was able to present itself as being able to solve critical problems facing the Muslim world, but within a modernistic framework. This modernist trend, tried to squeeze Islam into the paradigm in which the Muslim world came to find herself in the post Ottoman Caliphate. Given that the Muslim world was given a complete new political makeup, with nation states being born, borders drawn, new political systems introduced, and new identities born, the modernist trend began to take this new reality on board and make it the determinate through which they would view the world and come to try to re-shape the fundamentals of Islam.

For example, an Al Azhari Scholar by the name of Ali Abdel Razzaq, who was affected by the political changes taking place in the Muslim world in 1925 wrote the book ‘Al Islam wa USool al Hukm (Islam and the principles of ruling), in which he caused a political earthquake, as he argued that Islam was secular and that there was no defined political system in Islam, with Muslims allowed to take any political system that was consistent with the realities in which they lived. This was seen as heresy by Al Azhar itself, with Ali Abdel Razzaq, being severely refuted, by many leading Al Azhar scholars, such as the Mufti of Al Azhar, Shaykh Khidr Hussain and with his Al Azhari certificate being revoked, as Ali Abdel Razzaq was believed to have gone against 1400 years of Islamic scholarship that had agreed upon Islam presenting a defined political system that Muslims were obliged to believe in and implement. This strong reaction had buried the modernist trend in the Muslim world, but it continues to exist on the margins in the Muslim world, given that it has no space to exist in. A case in point is here in Pakistan, with modernists such as Dr Javed Ghamdi, over the last few weeks trying to raise the same debate that Ali Abdel Razzaq raised in 1925, but only to be buried similar to Ali Abdel Razzaq, with a strong reaction from the scholarly circles in Pakistan that were able to defend the political components of Islam from a scholarly perspective, even journalists known to be secular nationalists have written that Ghamdi’s plan backfired with more and more articles being written in favour of the Khilafah than the reverse as Ghamdi might have expected. This in itself shows how modernists are bizarre from many angles.

First, modernism somehow rests on the assumption that the great minds of the Muslim world all got it wrong and they just did not understand Islamic texts how the modernists do. So the modernists have seen the light whereas everyone else was in the dark and ignorant of a true comprehension of Islamic texts. This assumption itself is arrogant and self-righteous, dismissing the contribution of 1400 years of Islamic scholarship, with no rigorous tackling of their evidence and arguments; dismissed as being old and out dated. Second, modernists have failed to provide a rigorous methodological framework within which debate can take place. Instead they have preferred to play on semantics and twisting meanings to confuse and deceive. An example of this, is Ghamdi’s argument that ‘Khilafah’ is a term coined by scholars and not Islam itself, but the point is: from where do scholars conjure terms? Isn’t it in reference to Islamic epistemology? Even if the case is argued that the term ‘Khilafah’ is not mentioned in the Islamic texts from a legislative angle, is it not permissible for scholars to present a term to denote ruling, governance and politics? If the answer is no, then many terms such as Muttawatir, Ahad, Saheeh, Aqeedah, Ghareeb, Azeez and Tawheed should be done away with as no mention of these terms can be found in Islamic texts but were devised to convey meanings that were consistent with the Arabic language or inferences from the Islamic texts. Third, modernists have taken the existing political structures as the lens through which they see, assess, determine and argue, with the Syke-Picot agreement of 1916 and the Treaty of Severes of 1920 being the templates which they want to impose on Islam to make it consistent with the lens that they are wearing.

So they work consistently to re-engineer Islam so that it fits the modern nation state framework, whereas academics such as the Christian Arab Islamic studies professor Wael Hallaq in his book ‘The Impossible State; Islam, Politics, and Modernity’s moral predicament’ states quite clearly that Islamic projects that have arisen over the last 100 years, whether in Iran, Pakistan, Sudan or Afghanistan have failed miserably as they tried to compact Islam into the nation state parameters and mechanisms, which led to inevitable strains, tensions and contradictions, only for the projects to collapse, fail or run out of steam at some point. It is unfortunate that modernists continue to persist with their failed project, even though there is ample scholarly and practical evidence to show the futility of what they are trying to do, which then raises an important question: why the persistence? And in whose interests is the modernist trend working? In the 2003 RAND Report titled ‘Civil Democratic Islam; Partners, Resources and Strategies,’ it is mentioned clearly that ‘the modernist vision matches our own’ and that ‘on ideological grounds, the modernists are the most credible vehicle for developing and transmitting democratic Islam’. The geo-political drive behind modernism cannot be dismissed, as it seems geo-politics is what is allowing modernists to breathe given that they find no fertile ground in the Muslim world to exist.