This is one of the shorter essays in my forthcoming book, God-willing, entitled: Modernity & Muslimness: Sixty Short Essays that Should Matter. As part of the introduction to the book, I wrote: In his travelogue on Islam in late nineteenth century England, Asmay started by saying: ‘Eight years ago, a faint sound began to come from the West to the East. Realising that the sound was significant, the Muslim umma sat up and took notice, cupping their hands to their ears. Giving all their attention to the sound, they could only make out this sentence, “Islam has started to appear in England.”’1 This book and its essays are a continuation of that sound, that faint murmur, which has only grown louder and more significant with the passage of time.
ONE COULD ARGUE that Islam, despite what we are being led to believe, is actually a modern success story. Now this might sound strange to some, perhaps to many. So let me explain:
No doubt, media portrayals are negative, dark and gloomy. And of course, events around the world involving Muslims, or at least the ones we tend to hear about and that get most media exposure, don’t lend themselves to much joy or cheer. So perhaps we as Muslims could be forgiven for feeling somewhat overwhelmed; feeling like little corks bobbing up and down in a raging sea of Western liberal, modernity. Yet despite this, if we look at it more broadly, Islam is actually the unsung success story of modernity.
How is that?
Well let’s ask ourselves what religion is for? That will indicate how well or not Islam is doing. Here, there’s much to give thanks for, much to admire about our current situation; and there’s much more to look forward to in the coming future too – God willing.
Islam, as religion, must be judged in terms of: Does it still offer authentic, practical guidance for salvation? The answer to that is a resounding, Yes! It certainly does.
In fact, Islam continues to be relevant and practical to a growing number of people, and accessible to them too. And one significant reason for this is that Islam is universal. The Prophet ﷺ said: bu’ithtu li’l-nasi kaffah – ‘I have been sent to the whole of humanity.’2 This echoes what we read in the Holy Qur’an: Say [O Muhammad]: ‘O mankind! Truly I am the Messenger of Allah to you all.’ [Q.7:158]
Islam, therefore, has the inbuilt capacity to be native to any soil. And we Muslims must remember this, and not practice Islam in a way which blurs this universality, or makes it appear that it is an Asian or an Arab thing. It ought to be remembered that one of Islam’s great founding stories is of a gentile, Egyptian mother; Hagar, along with her Hebrew Canaanite young child; Ishmael, and their inculturation into the native Arabian landscape, language and cultural life. That’s to say that Islam has the socio-spiritual technology to become native to any soil.
Another reason it’s a success story has to do with numbers. What the data shows is that the number of Muslims is increasing here in Europe, and that by 2030, there will be more Muslims than Christians in Britain.
Related to this is the number of people who continue to convert to Islam, despite media negativity and Islamophobia; and inspite of us born Muslims being asleep to our higher vocation of living and spreading the truths of tawhid. Islam’s message of tawhid, healing and hope, with its universality, still has a powerful appeal to people.
Yet another proof of its success is that its mosques are overflowing. Part of the reason for this, in fact a significant part, is because Islam remains practical and liveable today, even in the modern West, when other religions are capitulating to the juggernaut of modernity, or simply being stamped out by it.
All in all, then – and all praise is for God – Islam as a religion is doing what it says on the tin. It is still offering practical, liveable ways of connecting with God and living godly lives, even amidst today’s turbulence.
1. In Yusuf Samih Asmay: Islam in Victorian Liverpool: An Ottoman Account of Britain’s First Mosque Community (Swansea: Claritas Books, 2021), 49.
2. Al-Bukhari, no.438; Muslim, no.521.