On Tradition and Modernity: How do we best live?

Bonds are what hold us together
and love transcends all boundaries
in whatever way we live, friendship is what brighten’s the day
so love and be loved
live and let live
This question raises a very interesting thought pattern. Especially now that the words ‘traditional’ and ‘modern’ are used interchangeably with ‘cool‘ and ‘uncool’ respectively. The generalization that everything modern is inherently good. And the subconscious labeling of anything traditional as not worthy of the 21st century. On this, I am limiting the argument to particular communities that so desperately want to be modern. I am not against modernity. But then again, we’d have to critically examine the concept of modernity. I simply want to re-affirm both their values in our societies. I shall try to relate these ideas with practical instances.
Again, we shall consider the case of the individual and society; explore the elements that make up a society (modern and traditional); understand from the very essence what it means for a civilization to be modern, and how it differs from a traditional one. Hopefully at the end, we will be able to reconcile our world views in terms of what we discover.


I am going to jump to the answer right away, and identify ‘reasonable utility’ as the yardstick for making any decision on a adopting a value/trait/habit etc. After reading S Maiwada’s article on tradition and modernity (https://www.taitclub.wordpress.com/2015/08/14/on-tradition-and-modernity), the coined phrase certainly explains it all. I must admit, he makes compelling arguments which I agree with. His approach of the whole endeavor makes it redundant to argue from that perspective. So I will take on the general idea and simply explore. At the end, it is important to remember the ‘reasonable utility’ argument
Although the modernity we are considering is that which spurred from the west post medieval era, it should not be mistaken that modernity is limited to that. Every civilization attains modernity in its own way. The rise of an empire to its peak utility in that context could mean modernity. I will not limit modernity to what is in vogue of the day; I will consider it a dynamic process that every society experience at some point. This argument binds closely the concept of tradition and modernity. So then, just because a society exists this day does not make it modern. But is it really a bad thing? Maybe. Maybe not.
In the conventional perspective of modernity I would argue that it is a bad thing. If we take the fashion industry for example, the whole idea of trends is simply maddening. In this new (technically not new) perspective, I will argue that modernity is a good thing. As every individual/organized body strives towards excellence, every society yearns for modernity.

My problem with modernity coming from the west is not the autonomy of reason, but the process which established reason as the only source of valid knowledge. The epistemological and in a way ontological sphere. Other civilizations (notably the Islamic empire) had no such dichotomy between faith and reason. That is by the way. So then (considering the reasonable utility argument), is belief in God traditional and modern? (I’ll simply leave this one here too J)
We shall begin by understanding what it means to live. That individuals live in groups called societies. And every individual has roles in the society. The society has institutions and social functions: of marriage, friendship, family, etc. I shall consider the concepts of tradition and modernity to be mutually exclusive in expression but sharing a basic form of norms and values, attitudes, etc. For this “living”, it is very cogent that we do away with what’s not important and only adopt those that add value to our existence and livelihood, thus “reasonable utility”.

The classical definition of any tradition has inclinations towards domination of an imposed dogma, unquestioning established principles, norms, values. So there is fear of being labelled as traditional because of the generalization that tradition is bad and modernity is good. Of course every generalization is false. And tradition in that sense is very vital in our identities and in establishing a memory link to the past (which is very important in psychotherapy). So we can’t throw away tradition lest we throw away our humanities.
What does it mean for a civilization to be modern? Following our train of thought, the place of reason in the hierarchy of knowledge. Others argue that it is the presence of elements of freedom and democracy (but how do we define freedom? https://taitclub.wordpress.com ). The most interesting response I got is the definition in terms of serving a function. That a society is modern, if in carrying out its duties and functions, gets a better way of doing it. It sees modernity as that process of a society and different from any other society’s. Still, it doesn’t give a full scoped definition. The reality is, civilizations clash and the vanquished subconsciously either mimics or label evil the conqueror and his system of values.
We shall now consider elements of a society and perhaps find convergence or divergence in the various spheres. We will briefly consider said elements in terms of economic, social, political and intellectual realities.
In economic terms, the modern society identifies itself with capitalism. I shall not consider the other ‘-isms’ that were spurred but died out post medieval era. Before ‘’modernity’’ there was an economic system, and it didn’t crash the world economy just by a few greedy wall street people


The social structure of the modern society is quite interesting. In fact, up until about 150-200 years ago, marriage was based on economic reasons, and love/emotion played little or no part in it. The idea of a romantic courtship before marriage is a very modern concept. Perhaps the “traditional” way was dull and boring, at least the rate of divorce and unhappy homes were insignificant relative to the numbers we have in the “modern” marriage.
The political sphere has democracy. This, I consider the biggest triumph of modernity.
We have already discussed the position of reason in the epistemological chain. My only problem with this aspect of modernity is the illusion that faith has no place in it.
As a Muslim, I shall consider tradition and modernity in terms of Islamic reform. As with any religion, Islam has an established system of norms and values, codes, principles to guide and laws to govern the affairs of its followers. Lately there has been a call for a reformed Islam. While traditionalists argue for a static Qur’an, emphasizing the need to stick to the original interpretation of the text, the modernist argue for a living Qur’an, calling for a modern re-interpretation of the principles and laws in terms of modern living conditions. Perhaps applying the “reasonable utility” argument straight forward wouldn’t cut it, but it goes a long way if we think about these things in different perspectives
The discussion on tradition and modernity is very vital for our societies. Even in the least of terms, of dressing and cultural inclinations, we must be critical and ask the right questions. Perhaps we can consider Turkey as a middle ground for discussion, where modernity and tradition are fused.




I think whichever way we choose to live, it is important to uphold the principles of justice and tolerance. After all, we are simply exploring the best way to live. Modernity is not so bad, but we can’t just discard tradition. In the end, perhaps there are a few things here and there to adopt. In the words of Issiakson H Ibrahim, I say, “come modernity, check tradition..

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