Islamic Studies

On Engaging Modernity: Beyond Symbolic Critique Towards A Robust Assessment (Part I)


Descartes’ analysis of star systems, circa 1644.
S is the sun, epsilon is a star, RQD… is a comet’s path.

The Form Of Principled Critique: Characterization Before Deconstruction

In principle, and according to sound research method when dealing with modernity we must first look to:

a.) its history (the development of modernity: causes and architects)

b.) its politics

c.) its epistemology (theory of knowing and knowledge)

d.) the reality of the scientific method

e.) its ethics

f.) its metaphysics

There are a number of issues regarding modernity that have not been properly treated by Muslim critics. Of those is a sound characterization of modernity which involves dealing with the topics listed above (see: a-f). Furthermore, after a sound characterization of modernity a critical assessment is demanded of it in light of Qur’anic Epistemology and Islamic tradition. The lack to do so is a deficiency in method and a detour from the methodologies of Islamic scholarship. This deficiency must be overcome in order to realize a robust assessment of modernity. To date Muslims in the West are taking their cues for a critique of modernity from the school of perennialism and not Islamic tradition.

A Metaphysical Cue Taken From The Habaaib Of Yemen

Habib Umar, from the Ulema of Yemen, the reknown “Sufi” in his close to 9 minute discourse in Arabic on You Tube established a nice traditional exposition of the problem of modernity without referring to Perennialist thinkers or sources. In brief the whole of what Habib Umar (h) said is summed in the following phrase: “… despite technological advancement (i.e., going into space) contemporary civilization is materialistic and is not informed about the reality of the purpose of life”

The problems of modernity as framed by Islam can be summed as the following:

a.) the supremacy of man over the Divine

b.) the dominance of the material over the spiritual

c.) the dominance of rationality over revelation and the heart

d.) the rise of the individual (ego) over the community

e.) personalized truth (subjectivity)

(Descartes’ (The Father Of Modernity) Mechanical View Of the World)

Modernity has afforded man a technological-know-how that is unprecedented in the history of man but has left him empty in relation to Being. The techne (skill and ability) that humanity has gained and which we employ to serve the aims of material and intellectual life do little to serve life as a whole given that they only aid us at the phenomenal level of reality, the material sphere. Aside from revealing to us great potentials to master the material sphere of life Modernity  given man the potential to engage good or great destruction in an unprecedented manner…(to be continued)


About the author

Yusuf Rios (Abul Hussein)

Yusuf Rios (Abul Hussein)

Yusuf Rios was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. While becoming a Catholic priest, Yusuf discovered the path to Islam. He studied Islamic sciences for a period of seven years, studying with scholars in Cleveland, Ohio before receiving a work-study contract with the Islamic American University. At the Islamic American University, he read Arabic and a limited number of Islamic sciences intensively for one year. He then traveled to Cairo, Egypt where he resided for five years. There, he attended a number of intensive courses at Arabic learning centers. After these courses, he joined various scholarly circles, reading Islamic sciences with a host of scholars of diverse expertise and orientations. Yusuf takes particular pride in having studied intimately with a number of scholars from al-Azhar University. Likewise, he has great love and attachment to Egypt and especially al-Azhar Mosque where he studied for the major portion of his residence in Egypt. Yusuf has a Bachelors in Western Philosophy and Sociology and is working on a Masters in Education. He serves as an instructor in Islamic Sciences with Islamic American University and in local mosques in Dearborn, Michigan and Cleveland, Ohio. His four main research areas in Islamic sciences are in the areas of Usul al-Fiqh, Maqasid ash Shar’ia, Hadith Sciences, and Fiqh.

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  • As salaam ‘alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakaatuhu akhee al kareem Suhaib,

    Just dropping by to convey salaams.

    May Allah grant you the tawfeeq to benefit yourself and others from your talab ul ‘ilm and grant you sincerity in speech and action. Aameen.

    Hope all is well with you and your family.
    Take care and all the best.
    Was salaam
    ~Navaid Aziz

  • AA,
    Im taking philosophy class right now and ive been looking for an article like this. Ive always found modern philosophy unsatisfying b/c it completely ignores the spiritual aspect of people.

  • Assalaamu alaykum wa rahmatullah ya Imam,

    We’re planning a very unique mid-summer event in the Chi. Please Email me so we can see if you’ll be around to throw it down. (my Email can be found in the Email I put in my comment).

    JazakAllah khair bro 🙂

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