A Young Muslim’s Guide
to the Modern World
Seyyed Hossein Nasr
The Islamic Texts Society (1993)
A Young Muslim’s Guide to the Modern World, by one of Islam’s greatest contemporary scholars, was written specifically for Muslims, and in particular young Muslims—urging them to become familiar with their religion and to gain an understanding of the modern world from the Islamic point of view in order to respond positively to its challenges.
This guide, the first of its kind in any language, presents a lucid exposition of the teachings of Islam as revealed in the Qur’an, explained in the Hadith and Sunni of the Prophet and commented upon by Muslim scholars and thinkers, as well as outlining Western religious and intellectual traditions.
Seyyed Hossein Nasr was born in Teheran to a family of traditional scholars and physicians. After receiving his early education in Iran he went to America where he studied physics , and the history of science and philosophy at M.I.T. and Harvard, where he received his doctorate. Nasr was Professor at Teheran University and founder and first President of the Iranian Academy of Philosophy. He is currently Professor of Islamic Studies at George Washington University and author of numerous books including: Islam and the Plight of Modern Man, Ideals and Realities of Islam and Science & Civilization in Islam, all published by The Islamic Texts Society.
‘Of all the books Seyyed Hossein Nasr has written, this is the most elegant and informative. It is an extremely valuable and highly commendable introduction to the message of Islam and the contemporary world.’
- The Muslim News
‘Packed full of information on the modern world and the world of Islam...There is much of interest for the non-Muslim readers as well who feel intrigued, fascinated and threatened by Islam as a potent force in the modern world.’
- Journal Institute of Muslim Minority Affairs
Table of Contents
Part One: The Message of Islam.
Islam, the Noble Qur’an and Hadith
God, Man and Universe
Islamic Spirituality and Thought
Literature and the Arts
The Islamic World in Modern Times
Part Two: The Nature of the Modern World.
Religion in the Modern West
Modern Western Philosophy
Modern Science and Technology
Political, Social and Economic Life
Art in the Modern West
The Modern Lifestyle
Part Three: Epilogue - Responding to Modern Challenges.
The Young Muslim and the Islamic Response to the Modern World
For some two centuries the world of Islam has confronted the assault of an alien civilization and worldview which have challenged the very tenets of Islam itself. This assault has also destroyed much of the civilization created by Islam over the centuries. Although during the past few decades nearly the whole of the Islamic world has gained its political independence, the philosophical, cultural, artistic, political, economic, and social impact of the domination of the modem West continues in one way or another through the width and breadth of dar al-islam, threatening not only the traditional institutions of Islamic society, but the Islamic religion itself.
From the family to the state, from economics to mosque architecture, from poetry to medicine, all are affected by the alien worldview which the modem world, as its ethos was first incubated and nurtured in the West and then spread to other continents, has imposed upon the Islamic world and its peoples.
Numerous Muslims, especially the young, journey to the West in quest of modem education. Many others confront the challenge of the modem world within the geographic confines of the Islamic world itself and within educational institutions and certain social circles which, although in Muslim lands, are in reality outposts of the West.
Many are alienated from Islam as a result of the crushing influence of alien ideologies, while others react mostly with emotional outbursts and occasional violence. But few gain a deep enough knowledge of the modem world to be able to preserve Islam in the light of the challenges of that world and to succeed in providing the necessary Islamic response to the problems posed by current ideologies.
There are very few Muslim maps of the modem “intellectual” landscape which would allow Muslims to travel through this landscape without becoming lost and without losing their faith (al-iman), that most precious of all divine gifts, in the process.
The task of providing such a guide is made difficult not only by the complexity and chaos that characterizes the modem world, but also by the fact that parallel with the domination of the Muslim world by the West, Muslims have come to forget many aspects of their own religious teachings. The result of this conjunction of conditions is that many aspects of the Islamic tradition which are crucial for an in-depth understanding of the modem world and for providing Islamic answers to present day issues have come to be eclipsed and forgotten.
The Muslims of earlier generations not only did not suffer from many of the problems faced today, but were also more fully aware of many dimensions of the teachings of Islam which provided for them a complete worldview and satisfied their need for causality, for the explanation of the nature of things, and for the meaning of life.
What is needed, therefore, is first of all the reassertion of the eternal truths of Islam as revealed in the Noble Quran, explained and elucidated in the Hadith and Sunnah of the Blessed Prophet and commented upon by centuries of Muslim scholars and thinkers. This reassertion must present the heart of the Islamic message beyond all sectarian biases and divisions, and emphasize that unity which is the very heart of the Islamic message.
But such a presentation requires a contemporary language which can be understood by Muslim youth, the great majority of whom have not experienced the traditional madrasah education and are therefore not familiar with the intellectual language of the classical Islamic texts, even though they may know Arabic or other Islamic languages well.
Moreover, the guide for the Muslim to the modem world must be based on a thorough and in-depth knowledge of both the Western religious and intellectual tradition and the modem West. It is not enough to make certain generalizations about Westerners being materialistic or dynamic, hedonistic or hardworking.
The West must be understood in its core so that the development of modernism and the historical roots of ideologies and forces which are at play can be understood. The West has produced many orientalists who have studied Islam from their own point of view, but the Islamic world has produced very few occidentalists who can study the various aspects of Western civilization from its science to art, from religion to social behavior, from the Islamic point of view.
Finally, on the basis of the truth of Islam and the nature of the modem world, a “map” can be drawn which can guide Muslims, especially the young, through this bewildering world of contending and opposing forces and anti-religious elements which make up the modern scene. With the criteria of truth provided by Islam at hand, one can be discerning when confronted with the various components of the present day world.
One can understand the challenges posed by different forces and ideologies to the Islamic worldview and seek to provide an Islamic answer to them. One can, moreover, obtain the necessary intellectual and moral armor to survive and function in the modem world without losing one’s faith and even to have the possibility of presenting the challenge of Islam itself as a living faith capable of providing meaning for human life to a world which has lost its direction and orientation.