Change is not instantaneous; it takes time.
So by the time the present has been changed, it is already the future. So I see the future as the only arena where real change — positive or negative — is possible. But I look at the future not in the singular — as the future — but in the plural, as futures. Futures are an arena for numerous possibilities — where all kinds of alternatives to the present can be envisaged and developed.
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I am not too interested in predicting the future, although forecasts and predictions are a very significant and important part in our world. I am much more interested in shaping the future. Futures of Islam, like futures of most cultures, are open to numerous pluralistic and democratic possibilities. The emphasis of my own work has been on shaping pluralistic and sustainable futures for Muslim societies.
But I have to admit that Muslims, as a whole, are not very good at looking towards the future or exploring alternative futures paths. We tend to be nostalgic about the glories of our history and fatalistic about our current problems. It should not come as a surprise to discover that the first book on the future of Islam was written by an Englishman: Wilfrid Scawen Blunt.
Blunt was an accomplished Orientalist, and wrote a numbers books on the Middle East. He was also a close friend of Jamaluddin Afghani, the famous 19th-century Muslim reformer of Egypt. The Future of Islam was written as a series of essays for the Fortnightly Review in the summer and autumn of and published as a book in the following year.
Considering the period the essays were written, The Future of Islam is a very perceptive book, with a genuine futuristic understanding of the political and intellectual trends of the time.
The Future of Political Islam | Foreign Affairs
Yes, indeed, Blunt made many predictions, and quite a few turned out to be true. I think Blunt was spot on when he argued that the future survival of Islam depends on an internal reform of law and ethics. But he was sensible enough to suggest that such reforms are best undertaken by Muslims themselves. How is your next recommendation, The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam, connected to the future?
Most people think that The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam is a religious text focused on theological issues. But in my opinion, Muhammad Iqbal, who is renowned in the Indian subcontinent as a poet and philosopher, was the first Muslim futurist.
And this powerful and challenging book is packed with deep insights on the future of Islam. Like me, Iqbal is concerned with shaping rather than predicting the future. He wanted to develop a modern epistemology of Islam as the basis for the reconstruction of a future Muslim civilisation. He saw the future as an open possibility, not closed and predetermined, and life as an organic unity where everything was connected to everything else. He wanted to change everything, particularly the sharia, or Islamic law, which he saw as arcane and outdated.
Shock as time capsule found inside house wall predicted future of Islam
He argued that every generation has to rethink Islamic law and recast it in a futuristic framework. He was certainly one of those who inspired me to write The Future of Muslim Civilisation.
I accepted his assertion that time within Islamic cosmology is largely future time: devout Muslims are always preparing for a future life, both here in this world, where as trustees of God they are responsible for maintaining the integrity of the abode of their terrestrial journey and preserving its good health for future generations, and the hereafter, where a full account of earthly activities is due.
The book presents an alternative vision of a dynamic, thriving future civilisation of Islam. It starts with an observation that is also a glaring dichotomy.
The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam
Given that Islam is perforce a future-orientated world view, why is the future so conspicuously absent from contemporary Muslim thought and discourses? So — single-handedly for almost a decade — I tried to shape a current discourse on Islamic futures. When The Future of Muslim Civilisation was first published, way back in , most Muslim scholars found it difficult to comprehend. Part of the difficulty was due to the fact that there was no internal language for discussing the future of Islam: I had to invent my own language.
But there was another problem: the inertia associated with thinking about the future. Considering the mountains of problems that the Muslim world faces today, why should we be concerned about the future? But now it is seen as a classic in the field. I had to tackle the difficulty that most Muslims — indeed most people — experience with thinking about the future.
Islamic Futures: The Shape of Ideas to Come, tries to overcome this resistance by showing the sheer depth of futures consciousness within Islamic concepts and ideas that most Muslims take for granted. I like to think I succeeded in raising the future consciousness of a small segment of the international Muslim community. Faksh looks at the future of Islamic fundamentalism in Egypt, Algeria and Saudi Arabia and concludes that it has no future.
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Faksh offers a refreshing and powerful analysis of the vacuous nature of Islamic fundamentalism. He is very far sighted but his book is largely neglected. I think it deserves to be read and re-read. He argues that the threat of Islamic fundamentalism is overstated, and the deep cultural and moral principles of Islam, and its overarching emphasis on diversity and pluralism, will eventually sweep it aside.
I think the future of all three monotheistic faiths is intertwined and interconnected. Islam was revealed to its followers in a pre-modern era, when Islam imbued an entire social, moral, political and religious architecture. It has proven difficult to adapt it to the modern nation-state era. The second factor relates to the Quran. This can be one of the reasons why secularists have failed to gain traction in Muslim-majority contexts. Given the divine nature of the text, it is difficult to argue against the Prophetic model and convince believers of its inability to replicate itself in the modern era.
This founding moment of Islam and role of the Quran has implications fourteen centuries later in the modern era, in everyday politics in West Asia and North Africa. Another political event, the formal abolition of the Ottoman Caliphate in , is particularly important in understanding modern conflicts in the region such as the Iraq war, the Arab Spring and its demise, or the rise of ISIS.
Cohen After however, with the advent of modern nation-states, there has been a constant struggle to establish a legitimate Muslim political order in West Asia and North Africa. Hamid describes Islamists as those that believe Islam or Islamic law should play a central role in political life. Islamism was essentially created in response to one fundamental challenge of the 20 th century, that of secularisation and western ideologies being imported into West Asia and North Africa.
Islamists can only exist in opposition to secularists; when they believe that their way of life is under threat and that political organisation is necessary to defeat the secularist impulses. This fundamental divide between Islamists and non-Islamists or secularists was evident during the Arab Spring and its aftermath. It follows then that identity matters very much and is almost an existential crisis for Islamists as well as secularists.
The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam
This severely undermines the governance process since these parties represent a significant section of the population in most countries in the region. Democracy is based on accommodating and respecting people with different beliefs, but doing so peacefully. Democracy, even if illiberal by western democratic standards, is preferable to authoritarian, repressive, and exclusionist regimes.