Islam and the Contemporary Crisis of Humanity
In our modern world, it is becoming increasingly clear that humanity is taking on a new meaning and changing in various ways. This shift in the meaning of humanity has implications for our ideas, practices, ideologies, and even religions that are based on a certain understanding of what it means to be human. How is it possible for the meaning of humanity to change? Can one cease to be human? To gain a better understanding of this issue, let us turn to the work of sociologists, social theorists, and historians who have explored how modern bureaucratic and institutional societies have reshaped our understanding of humanity.
A crucial aspect of being human is having a connection with nature and the rest of creation. In the past, human beings lived in close proximity to nature, and the separation between humans and animals, weather patterns, and other natural phenomena was unimaginable. However, in our modern world, cities and buildings have enclosed us in concrete boxes, creating an artificial environment where we control every aspect of temperature and light. Many people have lost touch with the origins of their food, and their interaction with animals is limited to domesticated ones living in concrete spaces. From a metaphysical standpoint, it can be argued that the Quran presumed a human existence that was closer to nature than what most people experience today. The Quran encourages us to ponder nature and observe the wonders and signs of creation. However, in our air-conditioned homes, cars, and offices, it has become increasingly challenging to genuinely experience and appreciate nature. While science allows us to “see” nature in a limited, quantitative way, many individuals have lost the ability to connect with and experience nature firsthand. This does not render the Quran or Islam irrelevant; rather, it highlights how many people have become disconnected from Allah’s creation, unintentionally altering their understanding of Islam and other traditions to fit this dehumanized condition.
In light of this proposition, we can reflect on the current state of humanity and consider its future trajectory. Before we proceed, it is important to clarify that when we discuss “humanity,” we are referring to a relatively new concept in human history. The idea of a shared humanity transcends the divisions based on ideology, religion, or ethnic identity. While historical, ideological, and social divisions remain relevant and necessary for understanding, the concept of a common humanity represents a revolutionary idea that unites us as inhabitants of a single planet. Therefore, when pondering the direction of humanity, we must transcend the narrower perspectives focused on individual groups or traditions and embrace a broader understanding of our shared existence.
Rather than attempting to predict the future or relying solely on religious prophecies, it is more constructive for us as humans to ask ourselves what kind of world we want to live in and what actions we can take to bring about positive change. This question needs to be asked at different levels, ultimately encompassing all of humanity, as the interconnectedness of our actions in one part of the world can impact other regions. While Muslims did not create the cities or develop the technologies prevalent in today’s world, these societal structures and lifestyles greatly influence what it means to be both Muslim and human today. By addressing the question of humanity in a different way than the prevailing global slogans or exclusionary ideologies, we can open up new possibilities for meaningful dialogue and understanding.
Muslims often perceive Islam as the true path for humanity and view the contemporary crisis of humanity as a result of straying from Islam. This sentiment is echoed by adherents of other religions who believe that the problems of humanity stem from deviating from their respective ideal paths. However, engaging in endless debates centered around these perspectives is unproductive. Instead, we should set aside our differences momentarily and reflect on the essence of being human and how our human identity has been shaped by the modern technological lifestyle. This does not invalidate our traditions, but rather highlights the need to understand our present circumstances before altering our interpretations to fit the prevailing dehumanized state. Technological futurists often envision a notion of human “progress” that veers into absurdity, propagating fantasies of transcending death or the earth, or uploading consciousness into other forms. Such fantasies serve as indications that some individuals have already become severely disconnected from their humanity.
Muslims living in the West may wonder if they can develop a genuinely Islamic humanistic mindset amidst the complexities of the modern technological societies. A great scholar once stated that becoming human is easy, but becoming a fully realized human being is challenging. Islam, like many religions, promotes a profound sense of humanism that aligns with the way humans lived for thousands of years before the advent of the modern era. This way of life involved a close connection with nature and ample time for contemplation. However, in today’s busy world, many people lack these vital elements. They have jobs, cars, TVs, computers, and an abundance of material possessions, but do they truly know who they are? Answering this question may enable us to perceive our traditions in a different light. Without reflecting on the essence of being human, there is a risk of normalizing a state of dis-humanity or altering our religious and traditional understanding to suit the conventions of the present age.
In our quest to understand humanity, we can explore various dimensions of this issue. Secular humanist scholars have argued that the concept of humanity did not fully develop until the time of Shakespeare. However, it is crucial to recognize that every culture believes their particular tradition best defines humanity. To avoid falling into narrow proofs or opinions, we must temporarily set aside our biases and reflect on the concept of a shared humanity as it stands today. Only then can we revisit the great classics of any tradition and appreciate their distinct understandings of being human. It is not that these traditions are irrelevant, but without understanding where we are coming from and where we are now, we risk distorting these traditions to conform to our present dehumanized condition. Engaging with works by dissenting voices from within technological societies can offer alternative perspectives on humanity, expanding our understanding beyond interfaith dialogues or debates centered on secular humanism. Indigenous peoples who live close to nature and practitioners of Eastern religions like Buddhism and Hinduism have unique insights to contribute to this discussion. By breaking free from a love-hate relationship with the West, Muslims can discover entirely new ways of understanding the world and our fellow human beings.
Muslims often wonder how they can demonstrate that Islam is a religion of compassion and humanity. They seek ways to exhibit these qualities through specific acts and conduct, believing that Muslims do not do enough to manifest the humanity of their religion. However, it is important to ask ourselves whom we are trying to show this humanity to and why it is essential to demonstrate it to others when we sometimes struggle to show it within our own communities. This leads us to a more fundamental question: Do we truly understand what it means to be human? While public relations efforts and da’wah have their place, they can oversimplify complex realities and hinder the deeper reflection required to grasp the crisis of humanity. Ultimately, how we live our lives matters, and this consideration extends to living as members of humanity itself, in light of the insights mentioned earlier. To facilitate this reflection, we should ask ourselves why we feel that we do not display our humanity. What does it mean to show compassion and humanity, and how are we judging whether or not someone exhibits these qualities? These questions prompt us to evaluate our priorities and examine the selfishness prevalent in modern society. Many individuals, including Muslims, are too self-focused, prioritizing personal pursuits over genuine connection and compassion for others.