The following is an excerpt from an address Hadhrat Moulana Ashraf Ali Thaanwi Rahmatullahi to a group of modernists. The meaning of istibaaq (make haste towards goodness) is progress.
“While you (i.e. the modernists) say that progress is rationally necessary, we say that it is waajib (compulsory) in terms of the Shariah. We are therefore more ardent supporters of progress than you. While we all (you and us) are unanimous in claiming the need for progress, you will have to agree that every progress is not desirable. The increase and spreading of a boil / sore/ wound are also a form of progress. Similarly you take steps to prevent obesity despite it being progress of the physical body.
It is, therefore, clear that only progress which is beneficial is desirable. A progress which is harmful is not desirable. So far, in these views you and we are unanimous. We, however, differ in the definition of beneficial progress. Which progress is beneficial and which is harmful? Here lies our difference.
You regard only worldly benefit as progress even if it is harmful for the everlasting life of the Aakhirat. On the other hand, we consider Deeni progress unconditionally beneficial, and worldly progress which is devoid of harm (i.e. not in conflict with the Shariah) is also beneficial. If it is harmful, it will be like the progress of obesity and of a wound.
The Qur’aan Shareef in the aforementioned aayat commands the pursuit of this beneficial progress. Thus it says:
“Make haste towards goodness.”
Only that which is beneficial is described as khair (goodness).Further, it is alleged that the Ulama do not deliver lectures on even lawful worldly progress. In reply I have to say that the need for such lectures would be justified if you were not aware of worldly ways and means of progress. In fact, you are so much engrossed in such worldly pursuits that you have even transgressed the limits of the Shariah. What need do you have for our lectures on subjects dealing with material and mundane progress?
Allah Ta’ala has explained this issue with great clarity in the Qur’aan Majeed. In this regard, first the worldly life of Qaaroon is mentioned,
“He emerged on his people with pomp…..”
Then Allah Ta’ala, mentions the statement of those who hankered after only worldly progress. Those who desired this worldly life said:
“We wish that for us there was like that (worldly wealth) which has been given to Qaroon. Verily he is the owner of a great fortune.”
Thereafter Allah Ta’ala mentions the response of the Ulama. This is the Qur’aanic narration of the dispute between the people of the world and the people of the Deen. Then Allah Ta’ala states His decision. In fact, His decree was a practical enactment. Thus, the Qur’aan says:
“Then, We caused the earth to swallow him and his palace. Thus, there was no group to help him besides Allah nor was he (destined to be) among those to be helped.”
When the people of the world (the materialists) observed this practical decree of Allah Ta’ala, they changed their earlier opinion.
In this regard the Qur’aan says:
“Those who had yesterday wished for his (status of progress) said: Alas! Allah bestows provision (rizq) abundantly to whom ever He wishes If it was not for Allah’s favour on us He would have us also among His servants, and (likewise) does he restrict (provision). swallowed by the earth. Woe on him (Qaaroon)! The Kaafiroon do not attain success.”
Indeed, I swear by Allah that you too will acknowledge at the time of decision that what the Molvi said was correct. But when will this decision be made? When maut suddenly dawns, then you will confess your error and exclaim: ‘ Alas! The Ulama were proclaiming the Haqq!”
Malfoothaat of Moulana Ashraf Ali Thaanwi Rahmatullahi Alaihi, Part two pg 65