By Hamid Golpira
The Islamic world is at the crossroads — either we have an Islamic Renaissance now or we will experience many years of backwardness.
The Islamic world has been in decline for over five centuries.
Once we experienced a golden age, and there is good reason to mourn its loss.
But the Moor’s last sigh shouldn’t last 500 years.
Something must be done to rectify the problem now.
It seems that we need a bit of etherealization, which is an expression used by historian Arnold Toynbee to describe what takes place when a civilization is flourishing.
So how do we etherealize the Islamic world?
Well, first we have to understand what we got right in the golden age.
To start an Islamic Renaissance, we have to return to our roots, but this does not mean returning to the past as Taleban-type elements would like to do.
We have to balance modernity and tradition.
And this is what we got right at the advent of Islam and during the golden age.
We understood and adapted to the times we lived in while maintaining our religious ideals.
We had spirituality and also academic scholarship and science.
Muslims never had a great Dark Ages where science was superstitiously rejected like the Europeans experienced.
However, we are in the middle of a 500-year decline that is like a dark age.
We Muslims have to understand that we live in the Information Age.
Yet, we must learn how to balance Information Age modernity and Islamic tradition.
We should not become materialists with little or no spirituality, like the Westerners, but we should also not try to become spiritual people disconnected from the times we live in.
Everything is in the balance and we must learn to strike that balance.
The new Islamic Renaissance must be an Information Age Islamic Renaissance because this is the era we live in.
The beauty of Islam is that it is adaptable to every era.
When the Europeans were in the middle of their Dark Ages, the Islamic world reached the heights of art, culture, science, philosophy, literature, architecture, and many other fields.
Many historians say the Islamic civilization actually inspired the European Renaissance.
So what went wrong in the Islamic world?
The answer is obvious.
We forgot who we are. We lost our identity.
We lost sight of that beauty of Islam which is adaptable to every era.
Most of the Islamic world was colonized by the Europeans, and our identity crisis became exacerbated.
After the colonial era ended, we became the victims of neocolonialism.
Even the minds of most Muslims have become colonized in the ongoing cultural war.
South African revolutionary Steve Biko once said: “The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.”
The Muslims broke up into different groups.
One group is influenced by the Westerners and tries to be secular materialists like them. They are sometimes called moderate Muslims but most of them are not very Muslim at all in reality.
Another group rejects the West and has adopted a form of Islamic traditionalism that is sometimes called fundamentalism but which is really not fundamentalism because they are out of touch with the modern world, whereas the fundamental teachings of Islam require Muslims to be in tune with the times we live in.
A third group rejects both of these approaches and opts for a form of Islamic mysticism disengaged from the world, which is not really Islamic mysticism because true Islamic mystics are engaged with the world and seek to help people, especially the oppressed masses and those who are spiritually lost.
All of these groups are going in the wrong direction, but each of them also has a piece of the answer.
We Muslims must synthesize these three approaches to regain our identity and start the new Islamic Renaissance.
We must utilize Information Age technology, but avoid getting lost in materialism.
We must hold fast to the Islamic tradition and the Islamic law, the sharia, but avoid stiff interpretations of the law, arrogant self-righteousness, and intolerance.
And we must understand mysticism and live the mystical life, but avoid selfish individualism and narcissistic fantasy.
If we can do this, we can reconnect with the beauty of Islam which is adaptable to every era, balance modernity and tradition, regain our Islamic identity, and start the new Islamic Renaissance.