By Abdullah Al Andalusi
The most important thing for a person who seeks truth is to remain objective and be skeptical of so-called ‘given truths’ – especially ideas that are in fashion in his/her day and age. In every age and time, there were always ideas that were fashionable, accepted as given, and taken for granted that they were true – but later rejected as false – even laughed at.
The best approach for the rational mind, is to withdraw oneself from the society and time period one inhabits and look at the ideas around oneself for what they are. Many thinkers and philosophers have done this and have written great books whose content mostly remains timeless. The reason for this, is that they have successfully removed themselves from their times and cultures and used their minds to assess the ideas based purely on their evidence and merit, and come to conclusions of truth, no matter how unpopular or odd they seem to their society at the time.
However, the one thing I’ve noticed, is that most people claim to be skeptical only to ideas they don’t like, or which is not in line with the accepted culture or fashion of their times. Many such people even claim that they are ‘rational’ and want people to ‘think for themselves’, but really they just want people to ‘think’ their way into conformity with popular trends and the dominant fashions.
I’ve always urged Muslims to be skeptical, even of their own beliefs, in order that they can reach certainty and depart from blindly following their parents religion and culture. But unfortunately there is another culture that influences some Muslims and is blindly followed by many of them due to their inability to detach themselves from their society and time and look at the world from a rational and detached perspective – the culture of Western Civilisation.
It is taken as ‘accepted’ in this day and age that religion is a retrograde force, and that only Secularism or Liberalism can bring progress. It is also accepted ‘wisdom’ that the development and technological progression of the West is due to their democratic systems of ruling, and their liberal secular values. The concept of ‘democracy’, ‘nationalism’, ‘feminism’, ‘secularism’ and [the Liberal conception of] ‘human rights’ is taken as given ‘truths’ to the degree that they have attained the level of an unquestioned religious dogma. Most people don’t know how to philosophically justify these ideas, or how they came about – all that people know is, ‘it’s the MODERN way to do things’.
However, just like the proverbial big elephant in the room that everyone is ignoring, these ideas lack any rational justification or intellectual basis. For example, Democracy is impossible, people will always be ruled by one leader or small group of leaders – usually the elites of their society. This was something both Plato, and the classical Muslim philosopher Al Farabi realised and wrote about.
Nationalism cannot be justified, as there is no clear way to delineate one nation from another [is it common language? Then is USA, Australia and South Africa all one nation?]. Secondly, why should humans be separated and discriminated into categories that should hold no moral difference or division??
Feminism cannot be rationally justified either, as basing rights on gender is either arbitrary and unholistic at best, or elitist and sectarian at worst (if men are not also considered equally in the equation). If men and women should be exactly equal in everything, as Feminism claims, then why not egalitarianism instead of feminism??
Secularism cannot be rationally justified, because in essence it posits the absurd notion that man’s purpose in life should be separate from man’s affairs in life. Secularism then results in a materialistic re-interpretation of man’s purpose of life, and the imposition of this purpose in place of a former non-materialistic purpose – with no conclusive reason why one is superior to another. Secularism then naturally ends up being non-neutral to this central question of human purpose, while fooling the people as pretending to be neutral!
‘Human rights’ [as understood by Liberalism] are arbitrary, prone to change depending on society’s current tastes at any given point in time, and lacks any rational justification for where rights even come from in the first place. The irony of Liberalism is, while pretending to be materialistic, it borrowed a lot of its rights from Christianity and theology (which is where the term ‘God given rights’ comes from) then quietly divorced from it later on when it wanted to claim ‘universality’ to the world. Consequently, ‘rights’ can’t be justified. For example, if humans have rights merely for being human, then why are criminals denied the ‘right to freedom’ when they are put in jails?? Surely they are still human, and therefore deserving of their full ‘human rights’? Apparently not.
However, the Modernist ‘Muslims’ doesn’t question these Western imports. They are perfectly happy to be skeptical against all Islamic laws, beliefs and traditions, but never to be skeptical on the Western ideas they blindly follow and adore. Modernists can only defend these borrowed Western ideas with emotional arguments, usually either brushing off the criticism as ‘just wrong’ or ‘out of kilter’ or claim the criticism is just ‘a strawman’ of their beliefs – without providing any evidence to show why its a strawman. I’ve yet to hear a rational argument from a modernist other than merely playing down criticism of Western ideas as merely ‘the ramblings of Islamist fundamentalism’ – which is the equivalent of the dismissive saying ‘you are just haters’.
This reveals something very interesting about the Modernist mindset. As the saying goes ‘you can’t reason someone out of something they weren’t reasoned into’, and the Modernist ‘Muslim’s’ blind faith in Western ideas is just that, an irrational dogma they’ve adopted blindly. But this leads us to the question ‘what made them believe these ideas in the first place??, why are they so alluring??’. The answer is quite simple, ‘might makes right’. The West, though declining, still retains a degree of cultural, technological, economic and military superiority over the Muslim world. The Muslim world, for reasons of social and historical circumstances is currently in a ignorant and declined state – it’s simply human nature for the weak to look up to the strong, just like the Barbarian tribes of europe looked up to Roman culture before and adopted their habits and language.
The are two main problems with this modernist logic. They have made two faulty assumptions, and this leads them to their error.
The first assumption is that Muslim decline is due to the ‘traditional Muslim understanding of Islam. This is easily refuted when we consider that during the first 500 years of ‘traditional Islam’ Muslims were technologically, militarily and economically the most advanced in the world – innovating many new technologies and expanding the boundaries of human knowledge. The fact that Muslims believed in hudud punishments, the traditional family, or wearing turbans and having beards didn’t limit their cultural advancement in the slightest. This demonstrates that the spirit of technological progress and knowledge development has NOTHING to do with the ‘traditional’ Islamic law system, and everything to do with the Muslim state of mind. Consequently, the main problem of the Muslim world is not getting rid of ‘medieval laws’ but to rediscover of the same spirit and state of mind that motivated our ancestors to advance in all spheres of life. The Islamic political system is not limited to only being implemented using medieval technology, but can be implemented using modern technology! Systems don’t change, technology changes. Democracy is 1000 years older than Islam, yet no one believes that implementing it will send people back to the age of wearing togas and worshipping Zeus! Political systems are timeless, because they merely describe a set of relationships between humans, not a technological tool or piece of equipment.
The second biggest assumption made by modernists, is that religion is a retrograde force, and that Western advancement , political stability and economic success is the result of leaving religion and implementation of democracy, liberalism, secularism and nationalism. However history begs to differ.
Christianity was never the reason for the European dark ages, but rather the fall of the Roman Empire and the rise of barbarian tribes is the most glaringly obvious reason. Historians are generally agreed that the last great ancient, or classical period philosopher before the fall into the dark ages was the Christian thinker St Augustine! However, since Christianity can only exist in the minds of humans, if the humans carrying it are ignorant, shallow thinkers, then their understanding and practice of Christianity will also be ignorant and shallow. To believe the dark ages was the cause of the Catholic clergy’s behaviour during this period is to confuse the symptom with the problem.
For most of the last 500 years, technological advancement in the West started, and has mostly occurred, under highly religious non-democratic European monarchies and empires. The Liberal Democratic Europe we see today mostly emerged only in the last century! [1900-1999]. The vast majority of pioneering Western scientists were not Atheists, nor did they live under Secularism, but rather they were devout Catholics and even clergy (e.g. Roger Bacon, Johannes Kepler, Copernicus, Descartes, Pascal, Boyle and even the recent George Lemaitre, discoverer of the ‘big bang theory’…) or protestant Church (e.g. Newton) – and much scientific literature and almost ALL institutes of higher education and research were under patronage by the Catholic [and later Anglican] Church!
Economic success in the West started with colonialism (and continued with neo-colonialism to this day)- but now is seriously declining COINCIDENTALLY with the rise of countries powerful enough to be outside Western control (e.g. india, china, Iran, brazil etc).
As for political stability, it is mostly due to wealth – but even then people should check their history. Many Liberal and Secular countries today are not the result of an unbroken continued implementation of Liberalism, but rather many currently Liberal countries are the results of a second attempt to re-impose Liberalism after a previous attempt failed, which led to civil wars and the collapse into fascist or autocratic regimes (e.g. Spain, France, Portugal, Italy, Germany, Mexico, Japan, Greece etc…over the last 150 years). And the future looks like Liberalism is collapsing again in a number of Western countries, with fascism rising again ‘coincidentally’ as these same countries get poorer [recent example, Greece, Ukraine!].
What took the West out of the Dark Ages, was the change induced by their interaction with the medieval Islamic civilisation which developed a spirit and state of mind that led to the beginning of technological development and the advancement of human knowledge LONG before Liberalism, Secularism, Nationalism were invented [and Democracy re-implemented since Ancient Greek times]. These ideas did not begin the Western intellectual renaissance, but were rather the RECENT PRODUCTS of it [along with Communism and Fascism]. Oh how human memory is short to believe those ideas have existed since the beginning of Western development! If you could take a time machine and go back 100 years, you’d see a europe mostly NOT LIBERAL and 150 years back mostly not secular. Technically, UK is still not a Secular country! The head of state is the head of the national Church – a relic of the not-so-distant past).
In the end, Western development came from a state of mind and spirit, not from an ideology or set of ideas (just look at the modern example of China, a country fast outpacing USA in inventions and industry, despite being not Liberal and not Democratic!).
In contrast, the Arabs developed and advanced not when they removed religion from their life’s affairs (like the pagan Quraysh had been doing for centuries) but change only happened after they CONNECTED religion with their life’s affairs – Islam. It was only then that the Arabs then rose at an intellectually and technologically alarming rate, eventually surpassing all the empires around them in achievements.
What changed the Arabs was not contact with another civilisation, but rather the introduction of Islam – which spread beyond the Arabs, creating a new ‘nation’ (the Muslim Ummah) and assimilation different races and cultures into itself. The ideal that spurred the early Muslims to excel in civilisation, and to expand human knowledge and condition, was the ideal of ihsan – the attainment of the perfection of the Worship of Allah Almighty. Unlike the secular understanding of this in the current Muslim dark age, the classical understanding of Ihsan was the perfection not just of praying, and dhikr, nor just morals and conduct, but the perfection of wisdom, knowledge of God’s creation [the universe] and the worship of him through the highest degree of philanthropy to our fellow human beings – creating hospitals, medicines, mental therapies, sewage systems, health care and technologies that provide ease. The obligation to prayer alone, viewed today as a purely private spiritual affair, created in the medieval Islamic world, the material and knowledge advancements in city planning, street lighting, acoustics, astronomy, navigation, water provision to cities, even domestic plumbing [yes, all that from just the Islamic obligation of the Salah!].
The task of the Muslim today, is not to change Islam in the hope of imitating the West’s current intellectual follies, but rather to recapture the state of mind and spirit that made our medieval ancestors excel in civilisation.
And to our Modernist friends, with the decline of the West, and the social, economic and political problems rising in its societies, perhaps we should ask them this searching question ‘why do you want to imitate the most recent ideas produced by a declining civilisation?’
Perhaps because love is blind…