Religion is incompatible with modernity
We have all heard this repeatedly that times have changed over the years and the world today would be unrecognizable to someone from say, the eighteenth century. …
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And this has happened in every field and aspect of life. Transportation, for instance was merely a horse and carriage and now there are automobiles, airplanes, cruise ships, even space shuttles. Similarly, the advent of radio, television, computers, and mobile phones, etc, has completely changed the nature of our very lives as compared to those who lived a few decades ago. Business can be conducted between people placed across the world in a matter of minutes over the telephone, an video conferencing, etc. While most people have made the transition into modernity gradually and accepted these innovations into their lives, some people still prefer to hold on to some things that provide solidarity and meaning to their lives; things that do not change with time. Religion is one of those things that people hold dear to them and this can perhaps best be illustrated by using the example of Islam, a religion that has been under fire since the 9/11 incident. Since this debate is almost certainly never ending about the compatibility of religion and modernity, the discussion on Islam shall be used to arrive at a conclusion to the broader topic of religion as a whole.
Before delving further into this debate about the compatibility (or lack of) of religion and modernity, it is important to define modernity in order to provide meaning to this debate. According to Business Dictionary.com (2012), modernity can be defined as: “Characteristics of modern (post second World War) societies that have capitalistic economies and democratic political structures, and are highly industrialized and divided into social classes based on economic status. These characteristics include regular pattern of everyday life, urbanization, influx of women at all levels of employment and business, secular outlook, sexual freedom, sharp reduction in birth rate, standardized education system, and pervasive use of technology specially in communications.” I shall be using this definition and the points highlighted within it to arrive at a conclusion. The first point in the above definition is about capitalistic economies. Esposito (2001) succinctly states that there are no issues in Islam regarding capitalism which can be clearly seen by the example of the Prophet Muhammad, who was a businessman. Also, Esposito (2001) also mentions that the only reservation Islam has for capitalism is the widening gap between the rich and the poor. The amendment, if I may, suggested by Islam is the notion of Zakat, which is one of the 5 pillars of Islam and calls upon wealthy Muslims to give 2.5% of their wealth to the poor and needy. This would help narrow, or at least lessen, the gap between the various income classes. Secondly, does Islam have any issues with democracy? We need not look any further than what happened in Egypt and Libya in the recent past where rebels fought against military dictatorship to establish a just democracy (Gelvin, 2012). The underlying concept of democracy is equality and justice, two concepts that have repeatedly been mentioned in Islamic scripture. It is clearly stated in the Quran: “O you who believe! Stand out firmly for Allah as witnesses to fair dealings and let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just, that is next to piety. Fear Allah, indeed Allah is well-acquainted with all that you do.” (5:8) If democracy serves the intended purposes of equality, justice and freedom in practicality, thoroughly advocated in Islam, then Islam has no issues, rather it would encourage a democratic government. The next major point in the definition of
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