Islam as a Social Order in the West

words | kauser adenwala

The following piece forms a personal reflection on how the writer views Islamic principles, virtues, and values existing in a secular world, in the Western hemisphere today. In this riveting article, the author asks questions that she ponders about daily and endeavors to offer a reason behind why our Islamic society is not where we want it to be in any form –– whether that be politically, socially, economically, or culturally.

I’ve often pondered on the attention that Islamic revivalism receives because of Islam’s ability to provide a code of social and individual behavior and development in a myriad of fields. I’ve thought about how Islam, in all its glory, could have prevented colonialism and imperialism from flourishing; how the race superiority complex, capitalism, communism, and fascism would never have been born had Islamic society continued to play the humanitarian role it did in the early centuries; how Islam in its purest form is the best countermeasure for the aforementioned debacles. Alluding to the history of colonialism and imperialism, the West has a habit of usurping credit for whatever good practices exist in the world.

How does Western liberalism, existentialism and religion interlace? Why does it seem as if there is no definitive answer? Why is religion often to blame for historically ingrained wars and how does that affect the way religion is viewed today in Western society?

I draw parallels between the West today and the Byzantine empire in the early 7th century –– for instance, how Muslims rejoiced at the defeat of the Romans and how today, Muslims are viewed as opponents of Western ideologies and norms. It’s fascinating to connect the two powerful empires, head-to-head in a war that had holy cities at stake, to the secular world that exists today. This domain of unabridged roads, linking monumental phenomena in history keeps me awake at night. How do we go about explaining the history of colonialism and imperialism, without the West relapsing back to its habit of expropriating credit for achievements and practices that evidently do not belong to them?

I don’t think I can easily find definitive answers to my questions, but what I do know is that Islam developed a new civilization, a new culture, a new philosophy of life. The Ottoman empire’s conquest of Islam throughout the terrains of the Mediterranean brought about reforms in Western culture embedded in modern years, even if the fifteenth-century medievalism was regarded as a barrier. The balanced forces of Islam produced trends of assimilation with territories conquered and emphasized that spiritual nationality knows no geographical boundaries. Islam as a social order has endured a moral philosophy with special concentration to the absolute truth as well as the relative truths –– a philosophy of dynamic spiritualism and materialism. Regarding materialism, the modern materialistic civilization will, of course, try to restore the lost foundations of purpose and spirituality through an Islamic lens, but yet somehow, materialism is still the one aspect Islam seems to fall back on to restore the foundational principles in today’s society. This underlying segregation of religion from progress has made us forget that our limited powers are derived from Allah (SWT). The pursuit of power, possession, and material acquisition throughout history and today, especially in the West, has put us at a crossroad with cohabitation. However, cohabitation isn’t the only issue; there is also the case of our nafs (soul) and our willingness to turn towards our own hearts, asking for true answers from Allah. Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali, one of the most prominent Islamic theologians who lived in the eleventh century, once said, “Never have I dealt with anything more difficult than my own soul, which sometimes helps me and sometimes opposes me.”

I think of Islamic society in the West like the moon. The first phase of the moon starts off as a crescent, which can be compared to how Islamic principles tended to vary in the early stages. Once the crescent starts to become brighter and more luminous on its journey to the glistening full moon stage, gleaming streaks of light of a new order in Islamic society gradually unfold. These phases carry on in an incessant cycle of differing levels of luster, the current crescent showing us that we have work to do –– our nafs to overcome –– in order to attain the full moon.

photos | wardah seedat


"They will question thee concerning the new moons. Say, "They are appointed times for the people, and the Pilgrimage." - Quran, 2:189