The relationship between religion and society is a matter of concern for all world religions. Religious people, whether they are Christians, Muslims, Jews, or Hindus, do face this issue on the daily basis. Over the years, different theologists and philosophers have come up with various ways to implement religious belief, opinions, doctrines, principles, and traditions into modern secular life. These ways do not necessarily affect the principles of Islam and perception, through which the society views religion.
In the book Islam: the Straight Path, historian and religious analyst John L. Esposito confronts the issue of establishing a proper relationship between religion and society. This arises from the fact that the pre-modern revivalists and the modernists movements do not agree on some principles of the Islam culture and worldview. These issues arise from the implementation of religious values in the current world, which is full of different cultures and thoughts. The pre-modern revivalists include the Wahhabi movement, who lives in Arabia, the Mahdi and the Sanusi movements, situated in the north of Africa, and lastly, the Shah Wali Allah and Shaykh Ahmad Sirhindi groups, who reside mostly in India.
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The modernist movements were shaped by men of the strong Islamic faith from all over the world. Among such men were Jamal al-Din al-Afghani, Muhammad Iqbal, Muhammad Abduh, Sayyid Ahmad Khan, and Rashid Rida. These two groups, the pre-modernist revivalists, and the modernist movements believe in the five pillars of Islam. These pillars are: the profession of one’s faith, almsgiving, prayer, the Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca), and the Ramadan fast. The two schools of thought, however, had slight differences and disagreements on some issues. These factors included: family law, especially concerning the issues of inheritance and divorce, Shii, Sufism, and Quranic prescription in comparison to customary practice, in regard to rules and guideline on seclusion and veiling among the Muslim faithful.
The pre-modern revivalist movement insisted on reclaiming the authentic teachings of the Sunna and Quran and implementing them to the real life. According to them, these teachings are often influenced and corrupted by the western world. Urgent and strict actions, therefore, have to be taken to shape modern society. The modernist movements, on the other hand, had a different opinion and view on the matter. According to their thoughts, many practices of the Islam religion that have existed for many centuries are no longer relevant to the today’s tendencies of the society. The representatives of this group advocate for the need of formulating new regulations that will lead to the adaptation of Islam to the modern world, in order to improve lives and cooperation of the Muslim people with representatives of other religions.
The modernist movements, which mainly comprise of modern Muslims, advocate for change in politics, law and the general way, in which people live in the society. The modernists have also called for total embrace of science and technology by the pre-modern revivalists, as they consider it to be the right way of life. The modernist movements acknowledge the presence of western secularism that is threatening the principles of the Islamic religion. However, people, who are supporting leading the modernist movements, want these issues to be tackled with a clear and concise understanding that will not affect the relationships between Muslims and representatives of other religions.
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The modern Muslims are advocating for uniting both sexes, male and female, in the education process. On the other hand, the pre-modern revivalists are against this step. Modernists prefer different way of expressing their religious beliefs and the Islamic faith to the common, ordinary ways, generally accepted by other people. Concerning this issue, the right to choose is essential. The modern Muslims advocate diversity in the way of life, dressing and interacting with other members of society. Modernists also insist that this diversity should not be confused with influence of the western secularism.
The modernist movements support these movements fully, in terms of family law, especially, the issues of marriage, divorce, and inheritance among the Muslim faithful. On the other hand, they would want political, social, and other human rights, ensured by the constitutions of other democratic countries, to be incorporated into the laws. According to Islam, women do not have sufficient rights to own property in the marriage. Women also face belittlement when it comes to issues of inheriting property, in case their spouses lose their lives. Modern Muslims would like these issues to be changed in the Islamic laws.
Modern Muslims would also like to achieve equal rights for both male and female children. Both male and female children should be given leading roles in society. This would foster a better relationship between the society and religion, as a whole. According to modern Muslims, abiding by all societal rules would go a long way in making a clear cutline between religion and society.
In conclusion, most people in the society consider religion to be a tremendous hindrance in the lives of people, attached to religion. Some rules and principles differ among various religions, and thus, create a conflict of interests. However, addressing various political, moral, constitutional, and societal issues would solve the disagreements between religion and society. Modern Muslims have tried to address these challenges from the beginning of the 20th century, through forming associations and creating movements to address these challenges. All in all, a proper relationship between society and religion should be developed. Society should respect the religious beliefs and guidelines to morality. At the same time, religion should respect the societal rules. Constitutional laws, which govern matters that are not strictly in line with the Islamic religion, should also be given the first priority.
Finally, science and technology play a pivotal role in the development of any society. The Islamic faith, therefore, should align itself with the technological aspects of the society to develop and avoid conflict with religion. This will ultimately foster a healthy relationship between the society and religion.