Modernizing The Islamic Message
Albert Einstein said that the speed of light was the only absolute quantity in the universe. He received a Nobel and became the most celebrated physicist in modern time. His peers were working on a different theory, which dealt with the minutia of matter, whereas Einstein’s theory addressed the “majora” in the universe. Einstein was not convinced that his peers were correct, and doubted the results of their work.
Recent discoveries by the protégés of Einstein and Bohr, have cast light on both theories; General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics, and have shown that, while both works had valid laws governing physics and the universe, none could be farther away from the cosmic absolute.
In theology, much like in Physics, the three monotheist religions; Judaism, Christianity and Islam, hold the idea that only the divine is absolute with an iron fist.
Muslims take this notion further and define the omnipotence of an absolute creating power in terms that leave no doubt in the minds of theologians and seculars alike, that the supreme divine being, unlike the universe, had no beginning for he is the beginning, and has no end for he is the end.
Islamic tenet projects a vociferous message that the Supreme Divine Being is the only Truth in the universe, therefore, his immutable message to humanity; the Quran, is also a Truth since he, the Truth, is the author.
When asked by a non-Muslim about the bearer of the message; Muhammad; the prophet of God, a Muslim does not mince words in asserting God’s dictate that since the Quran is an absolute truth, the bearer was endowed with everything needed to deliver the message intact as authored by God.
The prophet of Islam said; “I was given the Quran and an equal of revelation along with it.” This is interpreted to mean he was given a tradition by revelation which complement and explain the divine text. This very notion, Muslims believe with absolute conviction, places the tradition of the prophet second only to the Quran in terms of truth, necessitating the extension of the umbrella of divine protection upon it to safeguard it from the fading effect of time and literary mutilation.
The Quran was reduced to writing during the lifetime of the prophet and was guarded dearer than life by those who had received it to the point that hundreds of thousands of the early Muslims committed it to memory; a tradition that was passed from generation to the next. The result was that after 1500 years, the Quran is held as the oldest and only surviving immutable document in human history.
The tradition of the prophet, on the other hand, was not collected and reduced to writing during his lifetime, but was held in the highest esteem by his companions, contemporaries and three generations that followed, each generation collecting and reducing it to a written form, while a number of scholars dedicated their lives to gathering, collecting, sorting and editing the duplicate documents over the period of an entire century.
A supreme effort that had spanned the duration of more than five generations, and which culminated in preserving the tradition in the encyclopedic form that we now have. We call it “The Hadith” or Oral Tradition.
Reading the various editions of the prophet’s encyclopedia of tradition, a modern observer notices the literary aroma of time. Language, archival system, classifications as well as literary presentation are all out of date, and are hindrances to scholastic research, not to mention difficult if not outright repelling to the casual lay reader. the stark truth absent from the minds of many is: since they are not absolute, they can be modernized.
Many scholars have called upon the major Islamic academic institutions to take initiative and attempt to modernize the archival system of the tradition and reinterpret its text in a language commensurate with both modern time and a far superior receiving intellect. Many if not all those calls have gone unheeded, sometimes outright ignored. This must never go on unaddressed.