Modernity and the Quran

One of the main drivers of moral progressivism is the belief in scientific progress. If our knowledge of science and technology has advanced so much in the modern era, then it stands to reason that we as a civilization have also advanced morally, that our moral knowledge also is superior to those of peoples in the past. This line of reasoning is not new. It is something all major civilizations have believed of themselves, and it is a mindset that is directly opposed in the Quran when Allah tells us to look at the remnants and ruins of past civilizations who, despite their great technical achievements, were destroyed for their arrogance and rebellion against God and His messengers. In fact, the Quran goes further than this by saying, not only are you wrong for being arrogant in thinking that your strength and technical achievement translates to rectitude and moral superiority, but you are also wrong for thinking that you are the strongest and most technically advanced civilization of history. There were others greater in strength, numbers, and impression on the land.

“Have they not traveled through the land and observed how was the end of those before them? And they were greater than them in power.” (35:44)

“Have they not traveled through the land and observed how was the end of those who were before them? They were greater than them in strength and in impression on the land, but Allah seized them for their sins. And they had not from Allah any protector.” (40:21)

“Have they not traveled through the land and observed how was the end of those before them? They were more numerous than themselves and greater in strength and in impression on the land, but they were not availed by what they used to earn.” (40:82)

“Have they not traveled through the earth and observed how was the end of those before them? They were greater than them in power, and they plowed the earth and built it up more than they have built it up, and their messengers came to them with clear evidences. And Allah would not ever have wronged them, but they were wronging themselves.” (30:9)

“We raise in degrees whom We will, but over every possessor of knowledge is one [more] knowing.” (12:76)

We might wonder whether there were past civilizations that were more technically advanced than ours today. Only Allah knows. We shouldn’t automatically assume that there weren’t. More importantly, we should not judge a people’s values by how “modern” they are but by how completely they accord with what the last Messenger ﷺ has brought.