By: Saeed Bahmanpour
It has always been fashionable to regard religion as something belonging to the past, to a time when man was ignorant, lacking in knowledge, incapableof understanding, and incapable of properly analysing the course of events. Human beings, from the very inception of history, started to learn from nature and find out, through experience, the amazing relationships by which it was governed. This process of new discoveries and findings was taken by some people to be a good excuse to brand their predecessors as unenlightened and ignorant and to do away with the duties they were supposed to perform as purposeful creatures created by an All-Wise Creator.
It is interesting to note, that the early prophets such as Noah and Abraham, as we are informed by the Qur'an, were accused by their peoples as having no understanding of their times and of repeating the tales of the ignorant people of the past. Today, those people and their ignorant beliefs have themselves been turned into tall stories. Nevertheless, the call of Noah and Abraham is still alive and vibrant. And, thanks to the accumulated experience of generations, people have come to the understanding that the more they know, the less they are able to answer the basic questions of existence: Who am I? Where have I come from? Why do I live? What is going to become of me? And, above all, who has created me?
Of course, not all people ask themselves these questions and that is why not all people are religious. However, as long as the human process of reproduction creates men and women who ask such questions, religion reinstates itself in one way or another. The case of the Soviet Union after its collapse is a significant confirmation of this fact. In Tatarstan, a small republic in central Russia where only 18 mosques were officially functioning during communist rule, 500 new mosques sprang up immediately after restrictions were lifted. The statistics from other republics and for other religions are comparable. This was despite the atheistic proselytising and educational campaigns carried out vehemently for over 60 years.
Reflecting on such religious trends, and considering the high tide of religious fervour in the closing decades of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century, one can safely surmise that these trends will continue well into the whole of this century.
Two important factors will aid the promotion of religion and intensification of religious feelings in the coming years, both of which are somehow related to science. The first is a general feeling of disillusionment with science, and the second is the ever - increasing separation of religion and superstition due to scientific achievements. The disillusionment with science cannot be appreciated unless one examines the history of hopes and ambitions placed on scientific achievements. Contemplating the future of science in the 18th century, Nicolas de Condorcet predicted that the day would soon come when death could be cured by science, and morality would prevail due to man's scientific progress. No question would remain, and nothing, even in the fields of human relations, human morality, and human philosophy would persist unless it was addressed, in one way or another, by scientific progress.
Death was not cured. Two centuries after Condorcet the morality of the scientific age, in alliance with its scientific knowledge, created the fiercest wars ever recorded in human history. The upbeat attitude towards science and technology is now also dead, along with millions of people who lost their lives during the two world wars. Science is now returning to its proper place as a means, an instrument, and a tool that assists umankind towards its ends, without being able to define those ends. Scientists are no longer so ambitious as to allow themselves to address questions such as whether there is a Creator or not; if there is, then what are our duties towards Him; and is there life after death? They do not interfere anymore with judgements belonging to the ethical domain or issues related to right and wrong. These questions are left to where they have always belonged - religion.
However, in this century religion will, thanks to science, be disentangled to a large extent from many of the superstitions which once surrounded it. Such superstitions are usually borne of ignorance, from the assumption of different gods and unseen beings having power and control over human life. But such beliefs have been greatly diluted during the past century. Even those who still believe in such ideas construe them in a way that insinuates monotheism and belief in one and only one God, the Creator of all things. The 21st century promises to usher in the return of religious convictions in a more enlightened way. And not before time. For the planet is still in need of the answers given by divine religions to the big questions most of us continue to ask.
Saeed Bahmanpour is Head of Research at the Islamic Centre of England. He is the scriptwriter of a TV series on the Virgin Mary shown on many Muslim television channels around the world.
Originally published in islam today magazine UK, Vol. 1 No. 2 | December 2012. It has been republished here with permission.