Myth of the Golden Age

First posted on my short-lived blog Tharwalizations. 

One of the main myths that seems to hamper all efforts at modernizing religious faiths, especially with regard to Islam, is the insistence on the concept of the Golden Age. This myth keeps the Muslim Community focused in its basic outlook on the past. As such, any effort at changing and modernizing Islam is often billed as an attempt at retrieving its erstwhile purity.

The essence of this predilection is captured in the often-used term these days of Salafiyyah or Salafism. The whole purpose of the Salafi thought is to draw lessons from the Holy Past in order to help us navigate our way through the troubling waters of the unholy present, and head towards a future that should be nothing more than a recreation of the Golden Age of the times of yore.

But how can one live up to ideals that are often tied to particular forms and ways of being? Because such an insistence on the past and the holiness of its guidance, leaves no room but to fall into the trap of formal, if not formulaic conformity.

To me, this tendency seems more and more to fly in the face of individual experiential wisdom, that is, the wisdom derived from one’s own experiences in life.

People usually strive continuously to live up to their ideals. Their lives are often nothing but a constant struggle to perfect themselves. But how could they do that, when they are constantly asked to filter the data derived from their own particular experiences through the prism of a sanctified past, and without being assigned the parallel legitimacy of filtering that very past through the prism of their own individual experiences (not to mention their collective experiences as well, as seen through their individual minds)?

If Islam is perfectible, or, at the very least, if our interpretation of it is perfectible, then such a lack of interactibility with the past, and with time ad being as a whole, is more commensurate with degradation than perfectibility.

In short, if Islam is perfectible, then the Past cannot be viewed as perfect, not to mention holy. As such, a Golden Age might perhaps await us in the future, but it has definitely never existed in the past.