If one were to force a square peg into a round hole, it would either lose its original shape or break. Even a two-year-old toddler understands that square pegs cannot fit into round holes because they are fundamentally two different shapes. Likewise, when one constantly adjusts Islam to fit into postmodern Western philosophies like liberalism, the same thing happens — Islam loses its original shape or must be broken to make it fit. There are fundamental differences between a liberal worldview and an Islamic worldview. In Islam, we believe in God as the highest authority, we abide by His divine law and change our desires based on His guidance. We have a profound sense of accountability based on our belief in Him as the lawgiver and knowing that He will ultimately mete out justice to every individual. How then, can Islam be compatible with the modern secular/liberal worldview when that worldview is diametrically opposed to those beliefs?
Islam will always be seen in the West as problematic through the prism of postmodern liberalism because this society wants to restrict Islam to being a personal religion, not a societal one (this is because there can be any number of personal religions, yet only one societal religion to manage morality, social laws, criminal laws, etc.). Suppose we were to disassociate Islam from the social-economic-political spheres and reduce it to only individual belief and private acts of devotion. In that case, some of the teachings of Islam would appear irrelevant and incoherent, as those rulings need to be viewed from a collective perspective. This is exactly what the West does when viewing Islam (if they are even viewing it earnestly). Thus, instead of seeing Islam as the solution it is, they see it as a problem.
For example, Islam restricts sexual relations to marriage and forbids pre-marital sexual relations. This restriction is not just to bring peace to individuals, but remedies a number of societal maladies, and creates a society that is freed from issues that plague modern day civilizations. So, to make this restriction easier on society, Islam provides guidelines for interactions between individual men and women, guidelines for clothing for all men and women, and distinctions in the marital roles at large. Then, Islam provides divine legislative punishment for those that don’t adhere to those guidelines, in order to fulfill its definition of morality and to ultimately promote a set of values. In this way, Islam details a holistic approach that provides guidance on every level: individual, family, social groups, and society at large.
One cannot attempt to address gender interaction/intermixing without looking at the bigger picture. Without a paradigm like Islam, that takes into account the individual and the collective, any guidelines that define or restrict gender interaction will be seen as backwards and outdated. And so, the postmodern liberal world, preaching personal autonomy and freedom above all else, will look at that sliver of Islam and reject it.
Which Standard to Judge Between Truth and Falsehood?
The problem with exposing Muslims to a modified version of Islam is that the moment they become exposed to pure, traditional Islam, they will deny that traditional Islam comes from God because it does not fit into their postmodern, liberal paradigm, which they unknowingly use as the standard to judge between truth and falsehood.
Hence, when this person then reads an ayah or hadith, one which creates doubt in their mind due to contamination from postmodern philosophies, they will question why they feel doubt about the words of Allah SWT. If we feel uncomfortable with the rulings of Islam, we must ask ourselves, “Am I so programmed and indoctrinated by this society that now the words of Allah SWT, The Most Wise, The All Knowing, feel uncomfortable to me? Is it because His words don’t fit the paradigm of man-made postmodern philosophies?” We must never change pure Islam. Instead, we must identify and remove the preconceived social biases we have been conditioned to accept without question.
We have been calibrated by this society to value things other than what Islam values, and to devalue things that Islam values. So, when we do eventually turn to Islam, we are unable to appreciate its beauty because of what havoc this calibration has wrought upon our objectivity. A society conditioned to value nudity will never appreciate modesty, rather it will look down upon it. A society conditioned to venerate the unrestricted exercise of choice (so often an illusion rather than a reality) will never value submission to God.
Allah SWT says “…Enter into Islam wholeheartedly and do not follow the footsteps of Shaytan…” (Qur’an 2:208). Allah SWT mentions “wholeheartedly” because Shaytan seeks to make us uncomfortable with this or that ruling in Islam. When doubt enters our hearts about one or two rulings of Islam, Shaytan tells us that the religion itself, in its entirety, must be wrong. May Allah SWT keep us firm on the path and keep us in the company of those who change themselves according to the requirements of the Shari’ah, and not those who change the Shari’ah according to their desires or community pressures.
Lastly, sometimes we have a bad habit of responding to one extreme with the other extreme. We may be tempted to tell non-Muslims that their society is backwards, or that their values are flawed. But we must remember that it is praiseworthy to be respectful, gentle, empathetic, generous, and kind in our da’wah. Post-colonial Muslims are still trying to navigate their way across the bridge to modernity without losing their religion, a religion which they cherish. European domination left its mark and still is making them anxious. We need to help them instead of pushing them away with harshness. In politics, the Right (conservatives) uses the Left’s (liberals) blatant dismissal of the scriptures and tradition to antagonize them, and the Left uses the Right’s misconstrued understandings and harshness to antagonize them, leaving little room for common ground. Moderate voices are muted by the yelling from the left and the right. Subsequently, moderate views become the victims of this environment. So, we need to be balanced in our discourse as Allah SWT tells us in the Qur’an that we are the ummat ul-wasat, the community of the middle way. May Allah grant us tawfeeq (success)!