The Humble "I"

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Liquid Modernity & the Assault on the Fitrah

THE MODERN WORLD IS RADICALLY different to anything and everything that has gone before it. Defining what modernity actually is tends to be elusive, even to philosophers and to those in the social sciences. But it does have certain traits.

Modernity – this ‘brilliant series of distractions,’ as it’s been called – is the great leveller: Where once there was meaning, there is now anomie and meaninglessness. Where once there was optimism, there is now discontent and despair. Where there was religion and spiritual ambition, there is now a yawning gulf. And where there was direction, there is now a maelstrom of confusion and a lack of inner purpose.

To mask this bleak reality; to anaesthetise us, modernity offers us a plethora of gadgets and technology so as to distract us like kids with their new toys. A basic religious insight Islam offers us is that sa‘adah – human ‘happiness’ is to do with the soul. It’s to do with hope, optimism, security, and of having a sense of direction, purpose and meaning. And this is something modernity simply cannot supply.

Another religious insight concerns the fitrah, this primordial nature of man, in that it views some things as immutable. For modernity, though, all is up for grabs. Nothing is constant or unchanging. ‘Forms of modern life may,’ Zygmunt Bauman writes, ‘differ in quite a few respects – but what unites them all is precisely their fragility, temporariness, vulnerability and inclination to constant change.’ He explains that to be modern means to obsessively modernise; not ‘just to be’, but forever ‘becoming.’ He goes on to contend that what was not too long ago dubbed post-modernity, which he terms ‘liquid modernity,’ is the growing belief that ‘change is the only permanence, and uncertainty the only certainty.’1

All this stands in contrast to what Islam teaches about the fitrah. The Qur’an states: So set your face to the upright religion, the primordial nature which God has instilled in man. [Q.30:30] So as the assault on the fitrah – the Adamic norm that God created us upon – intensifies; and as we see war waged against traditional Abrahamic ethics grow ever more robust, where inversion of values seems to be the name of the game, the believers must ask God for the grace to remain firm on the upright religion. To not see that the monoculture is set on course to further corrupt the fitrah, is to be blind to the nature of the age, or to the way of living God’s purpose for us. As the Qur’an puts it: It is not the eyes that grow blind, but the hearts in the chests that become blind. [Q.22:46]

1. Bauman, Liquid Modernity (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2012), viii-ix.

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5 thoughts on “Liquid Modernity & the Assault on the Fitrah

  1. I can’t somehow help but feel depressed after reading this. As you said may Allah grant us istiqama, especially our youth and future generations.

    • Abu Aaliyah on said:

      I understand the feeling. Nonetheless, the believer always has much to be optimistic about (without negating being realistic or pragmatic).

      We know this world’s End of Days story is one of decline and degeneration. But tawhid requires that we be grateful in the good times and patient in the not so good. And both are beautiful means to seek our Lord’s acceptance, pleasure and proximity. And that, as far as Islam is concerned, is the greater purpose of life – all else is a sort of footnote!

      So let us sincerely ask for istiqamah; be optimistic that the future is for iman, tawhid and the establishment of the prophetic way of living; and turn to Him in sincere tawbah, devotion and worship. All is unfolding as per the Divine Plan, and He has not lost control for even a blink of an eye. In that, let believers take comfort.

  2. That is a brilliant post. We face a systematic or unsystematic liquidation of culture, family, language and all other pillars of our moral conviction. We are losing the human society under the guise of freedom and rights. Thank you Shaykh Abu Aliyah.

    • Abu Aaliyah on said:

      So true.

      Barakallahu fikum, Shaykh Ahmed. May Allah increase you in goodness, protect you, and continue benefitting the ummah through you.

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