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Postmodernism and Truth

Published February 10, 2021

By Sh. Suleiman Hani

Imagine a scenario in which a friend informs you that he believes there are aliens in his closet. You check the closet and find nothing, and you respond, “there are no aliens in your closet.” Your friend is taken aback at your stance and he responds, “That’s your truth. My truth is that there are aliens in my closet.” Perhaps your friend here is suggesting that truth is relative, and that people might have different truths that contradict one another. Furthermore, your friend is clearly implying that your claim – that there are no aliens in his closet – is simply your truth and thus is insignificant to his beliefs. What is the problem here?

One of the greatest characteristics of the postmodern world is the lack of certainty in any objective truth. We live in an era in which many people, like in the simplified example above, make no distinction between personal beliefs and objective truth. In such a postmodern scenario, what your friend believes to be true does not need to align with what you believe to be true, even if what you believe to be true is, in fact, true. While it is possible to have subjectivity in some everyday scenarios, truth is objective (i.e., factual) in most scenarios. For instance, after checking your friend’s closet, you would establish an objective truth: there are no aliens in the closet. However, your friend is free to believe that there are; it doesn’t make the belief true! Otherwise, human beings would be free to believe any number of ridiculous ideas, such as the belief that one can fly, without any evidence to warrant such a claim.

Unfortunately, the idea of subjective truths in objective matters has become more common today, and it has led to the watering down of religious beliefs, universal truths, and confidence in objective matters. With religion in particular, what people used to consider objectively true has simply come to be considered a “created truth” or subjective worldview, one that has been created on a human level, in contrast to transcendent truth that has been established or proven through research, reflection, and analysis.

A Relativist World?

The idea of relativism posits that all perceptions and judgments depend on and vary according to the individual and environment, and the historical context. Accordingly, nothing is absolute, including morality and truth.The discomfort of relativism as a worldview eventually, for many if not most people, gives way and they come to face the real issue: Is there a transcendent meaning and purpose in this life or is there none?

Without delving into complex terminologies or concepts, one can consider the notion of relativism evident in the 1965 novel The Crying of Lot 49, in which there is a relative notion of value and truth. In this postmodern novel, the protagonist finds herself struggling with conflicting standards of meaning, but she comes to the most fundamental existential challenge, one that is represented in binary form. The author describes the protagonist’s predicament as a metaphor:

For it was now like walking among matrices of a great digital computer, the zeroes and ones twinned above, hanging like balanced mobiles right and left, ahead, thick, maybe endless. Behind the hieroglyphic streets there would either be a transcendent meaning, or only the earth. . . . Ones and zeroes. . . . Another mode of meaning behind the obvious, or none.

There would be either some form of transcendent meaning (e.g., a divine reality), or only the earth she walked upon (i.e., a plodding material existence). The character’s dilemma is “either/or,” a zero or a one; either there is meaning behind the mundane, an objective truth, or there is none. Yet, the proponents of postmodern relativism have consistently claimed that the desire to distinguish between a “truth” and a “falsehood” is in need of revision.Unfortunately, the consequence of such a philosophy is alack of belief in a verifiable truth.Furthermore, postmodern relativism, as manifested in everyday thought, is one that does not believe it is possible to establish a truth, due to a number of factors, or that there is no need for it.

Thus, in the postmodernist ethos, people have moved away from claims of traditional truth and have anchored themselves in a form of self-created spirituality and ego-worship, where truths are subjective and created, purpose is invented by the individual’s preferences and experiences, and structures of religion or objective morality are no longer relevant or verifiable. Such an invented “truth” – a relative worldview – has no specific doctrine, no scripture, no objectivity, no sound methodology, and no claim to philosophical coherence. It is simply whatever the individual desires, prefers, and chooses to believe is his or her “independent truth.” These assumptive and relative beliefs, however, hold no weight against objective truth, just as God says: “…they merely follow assumptions, and assumptions are of no value against the truth” (Qur’an 53:28).

A World of Objective Truth

From an Islamic theological and philosophical perspective, postmodern philosophy — specifically, relativism— holds no weight whatsoever and can be exposed for what it truly is: worship of the self and an abandonment of God and objective meaning and purpose. Muslims believe in an objective truth when it comes to religion (“Indeed, the true religion in the sight of Allah is Islam…” (Qur’an 3:19), and that God gave human beings the necessary faculties to distinguish between truth and falsehood in order to fulfill their purpose in this life.

Truth can be established via sound reasoning, a sound natural disposition (i.e., the fiṭrah), sincerity, humility, and research. Sound reasoning and intellectual pursuits, so long as they are built on the foundations of sincerity, may be used to establish a number of objective truths.

Sound reasoning and a sound methodology of study and analysis can establish the following:

1. The reality of God

“Have they not reflected upon their own selves? Allah only created the heavens and the earth and everything in between for a purpose and an appointed term. Yet most people are truly in denial of the meeting with their Lord!” (Qur’an 30:8).

When one considers the astronomically precise fine-tuning of the universe, the existence of the laws of the nature, and the origins of purpose-driven organisms, one can clearly establish that there is asupreme designer of such precise and intricate design. The denial of God’s existence is not based on any objective truth or evidence, as everything observed in the natural world is, in fact, clear signs of God, for people of sincerity. One might observe, for instance, the manner in which many deniers of God will continue to evade the truth by depending on speculative beliefs (e.g., a multi-verse in order to avoid addressing the fine-tuning of this universe) or, for example, thinking that science can prove or disprove the reality of God while, at the same time, denying any other source of knowledge (such as revelation).

Rather than allowing the evidences of God’s truth to shape their beliefs, dogmatic disbelievers in the existence of God use their own existing beliefs (i.e., a denial of God) to shape the evidences in their minds. God tells us in the Qur’an, “God alone is the truth, and what they invoke beside Him is false. He is the Most High, Most Great”(31:30).

2. The truthfulness of Prophet Muhammad as a messenger of God

About the Qur’an being brought by Prophet Muhammad, God instructs the Prophet what to tell his people: “Say: ‘If God had so willed, I would not have recited it to you, nor would He have made it known to you. I lived a whole lifetime among you before it came to me. How can you not use your reason?’”(10:16).

An objective study of the proofs of prophethood (https://yaqeeninstitute.org/series/proofs-of-prophethood),signs that Prophet Muhammad was truly a chosen messenger of God, leads to the obvious conclusion that cannot be denied by anyone sincerely pursuing truth.One needs to objectively consider the historical context, the integrity of Prophet Muhammad, the prophecies and predictions of the future (which clearly is revelatory knowledge from God), and the miracles he came with, including the Qur’an.

God says about those of the Prophet’s contemporaries who tried to find any reason not to believe in him as a true prophet and messenger, “Has it not occurred to them that their companion is not mad, but is a clear warner?” (Qur’an 7:184).

3. The reality of the Qur’an being the Speech of God

God tells us in the Qur’an, “Do they not then reflect on the Qur’an? Had it been from anyone other than Allah, they would have certainly found in it many inconsistencies” (4:82).An objective study of the miraculous nature of the Qur’an(https://yaqeeninstitute.org/suleiman-hani/introduction-to-ijaz-al-quran-the-miraculous-nature-of-the-quran) would lead any reader of sound mind and sincerity to recognize the truth that the Qur’an is from God. The truth can be established by eliminating any possibility whatsoever of human authorship, beyond just observing specific facets of the Qur’an’s miraculous nature. The miraculous facets of the Qur’an, such as its literary inimitability, then-undiscovered knowledge of the natural world (e.g., the detailed description of the embryo’s development), knowledge of the future (e.g., the Romans, Abu Lahab, the Conquest of Makkah, the victory (al-Naṣr) and spread of Islam, the preservation of the Qur’an, lost knowledge of the past (e.g., Prophet Yusuf [Joseph], the Sleepers of the Cave, the correct historical usage of “pharaoh” versus“king,” and other corrections to the Old and New Testaments), universal maxims and moral laws, its impact on hearts and souls — all these and more are standalone arguments against any claim of human authorship.

“Say, ‘People, the truth has come to you from your Lord. Whoever is guided, is guided only for his own soul, and whoever goes astray, strays only against it [his own soul]’” (Qur’an 10:108).

Ultimately, the erosion of certainty that there is objective truth leads to the erosion of religious practice, transcendent purpose, and the pursuit of paradise. Additionally, and dangerously, the erosion of objective truth in society leads to a greater worship of desires, oftentimes far from their natural disposition, and objective morality disappears with objective truth. As objective morality disappears, oppression, violence, and all sorts of evil will continue to increase and spread throughout the world in different forms and to different degrees. The loss of objective morality leads to the corruption of family ties, political systems, social justice, and true world peace. A great predecessor supplicated, “O Allah, show us the truth as truth and guide us to follow it, and show us falsehood as falsehood and guide us to refrain from it.”

God guides us accordingly: “Had the truth followed their desires, the heavens, the earth, and all those in them would have certainly been corrupted. In fact, We have brought them their Reminder but they turn away from it” (Qur’an 23:71).

Sh. Suleiman HaniAuthor Imam Suleiman Hani is the Director of Academic Affairs at AlMaghrib Institute and a research scholar for Yaqeen Institute. He has master’s degree from the University of Jordan’s College of Shari’ah and a master’s degree from Harvard University.

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