Deen and the rise of Atheism
by Mohamed Ghlian
“The Hour will not commence until it’s not said: there is no God except Allah”
The statement quoted above is an authentic Hadith of the Prophet, peace be upon him, in which he reveals what the final state of belief will be among the people; complete and utter atheism. To see how such a dramatic transformation will take place, all we need to do is look at history and we’ll get a sense of how this event will unfold itself. Generally, one who reads history will have one of two reactions. They will either learn from mistakes committed in the past so they don’t fall into them, or they will get depressed as they observe everyone around them fall into the same cycle of error in spite of their best efforts to warn them.
Some Muslims might be a bit taken back. After all, Islam is purported to be the fastest growing religion and those living in metropolitan cities will find that hardly a Friday prayer will go by without at least one individual declaring their conversion to Islam. Especially amusing (at least to me) are the YouTube videos of Muslims pulling “random” people on the street and after a 15 minute conversation somehow convincing them of the Truth of Islam in the same way a car salesman convinces people to buy the latest model in the showroom (I’m serious, they talk just like car salespeople and even use similar sales tactics). We hear the testimony of la ilaha illa Allah Muhammadun rasool Allah to declare their entrance to Islam, and then comes the inevitable order from someone in the back: Takbeer! (Sometimes I wonder if it’s the same guy shouting it and he just goes around mosques to say it). Then of course comes the hugs and handshakes followed by the “Chicken Soup for the Muslim Convert’s Soul” Do-It-Yourself fiqh books.
Of course no one really qualifies what the claim about Islam being “the fastest growing religion” actually means and whether it’s about the change in total number of Muslims year to year in comparison to other religions, or if it’s about the percentage change of Muslims, or even if the number or percentage are more about the number of new babies to Muslim families rather than about the number of converts to Islam. More aggravating about all of this is the short-lived excitement over the new convert that quickly subsides after a few days, which are followed by indifference to their presence and the challenges they face after their life-changing decision. It’s no wonder that according to some statistics, up to 75% of converts to Islam in the US leave Islam (a smaller but still significant 30-40% of converts in the UK apostate). I haven’t come across hard numbers for born-Muslims leaving Islam, but based on how many that are increasingly coming out publicly with websites and various support groups and organizations, and the several anecdotal reports from different universities, it’s not an insignificant number by any means.
What are the main drivers behind these troubling figures? A quick read of history combined with a general observation on how Muslim leaders, religious practitioners, and imams and some scholars have decided to carry out the delivery of the message of Islam will answer this question. More specifically on history, something similar to the Protestant Reformation seems to be slowly brewing for Islam.
The Protestant Reformation was somewhat like a pot of boiling water covered by a lid that eventually couldn’t sustain the vapour pressure anymore and blew off. The lid blowing off came in the form of Martin Luther‘s Ninety-Five Theses, which all revolved around the power of the Pope, rituals, repentance, and points of theology. Although Martin Luther is one of the most important figures, others were quite influential in their efforts to “reform” (ringing a bell here?) the Church. As part of his work, Luther translated the Bible into German, sought to make scripture interpretation less centralized, and also revolted against the extensive ritual based monastic Christianity (OK this is an overly simplified narrative but drawn out details are not pertinent to the forthcoming points). Eventually, the reformers themselves disagreed with each other at fundamental points in their belief systems and depending on where they came from they formed various denominations that included Lutherans, Presbyterian, Anglicans, etc. An interesting point to note here is that it was the use of the newly invented Printing Press that allowed for the initial wide dissemination of early Protestant Reformers’ works.
Another effect of how the Church played its role in Europe was the rise of empiricist atheism. It’s not surprising either. One of the mistakes of the Church was the persecution of those who dared to claim things about the world that contradicted Doctrine. In other words, if God said the Sun is the one to revolve around the Earth, then He meant it as a scientific fact, and if you disagreed you signed your own death warrant (you might want to read Islam & Science). We can see today how successful the Church was in maintaining its power through its various policies such as this one. Today, approximately 25% of Europeans are non-believers, and a continually decreasing small percentage attend church services. By and large, religion has hardly any role in society, and atheism is continually rising with every new poll conducted.
Across the pond, in North America, and let’s focus on the US here, we see somewhat of a different story than Europe. The place of escape from religious persecution, built on complete separation between the Church and state, happens to boast over 70% self-identified Christians. In spite of a constitution that is all about secularity, religion plays a major role in politics. Science topics that are taught without any discussion about their merit in European schools are debated in US courts. Somehow, against all odds and evidence, there are people in the US who believe the World is 6000 years old and have dedicated millions of dollars to build make-belief museums to propagate this dogma. Moreover, in looking to be free from religion, Americans have somehow yearned for religion so much they couldn’t get enough of it, and through the Do-It-Yourself Protestantism we now have thousands of sects and denominations of it.
In spite of the strong religious presence in the US, atheism is making its mark. More importantly, one of the tools atheism is using is science in order to assert that religion is nothing but a product of evolutionary development. Being completely man-made, yet crude in its nature, we have arrived at advanced enough understandings about human nature and about the World to allow us to dispose of it. The problem for Christianity when it comes to this argument is that Protestantism undermined what were taken as absolutes in Catholic Christianity and changed what were considered foundations in Christian theology. Interestingly, it started with Christian theologians who sought to “reform” the Church, and they used their reading of their very own Scripture to do it. Once the absolutes of Christianity were under question, the whole establishment was undermined. This is why the Counter-Reformation was initiated by the Catholic Church. Their challenge, however, was to determine what was absolute from that which was not.
With all this back and forth between Protestants and Catholics, corruption of the Church, all of which were in reality based in the use of religion to advance personal interests and the assertion of certain absolutes into Christianity that were never meant to be as such, it’s no surprise that people who look into all of this can see religion as a whole to be problematic and possibly a man-made establishment for people to control the masses and assert power. Add to that a bit of an evolutionary account for religion coupled with neurobiological explanation for how someone could believe they’re having a religious experience or better yet receiving Revelation, and voila, you have a nice serving of science-worshipping atheism. This journey to science-worshipping atheism can be facilitated by researching the history of the Bible, how it was compiled, and the fact that depending on whether you’re Catholic or Protestant, and which version you have, you could be reading a different Bible than your next door neighbour.
After this crude and simplified account of what happened with Christianity (if you’re interested there are numerous books and papers written on this subject that you can find), it doesn’t take much to see how Islam is heading down the same road in its own way. The only difference is, Islam does have absolutes. For example, no two Muslims will disagree about what the Quran contains. The tools of interpretation are also absolute. The Hadith literature has undergone rigours authentication processes that gained consensus among the scholars over the past 1400 years. Even how the Islamic Tradition is approached is agreed upon. In fact, the problem is not with Islam; it’s with modern day Muslims.
Muslim scholars have identified two major themes that Islam deals with: acts of worship, and transactions. The transactions can be further divided into two subcategories: monetary and societal. The acts of worship deal with Muslim belief, prayer, fasting, etc., and the various articles and rulings dealing with them. The sole sources for theology and acts of worship are the Quran, the Hadith, and consensus of the scholars on what was transmitted and how it was interpreted. What essentially makes one a Muslim and how to correctly perform a valid prayer are not matters of dispute. The transactions theme is where things get more elaborative. While the fundamental sources for these are still the aforementioned ones for the acts of worship, other Foundational Principles of Jurisprudence come into play, as well as applications of Higher Objectives of the Sharia.
Where things have gone terribly wrong with Muslims is where some have deemed certain societal transaction rulings that, despite having an absolute basis in Islam are ultimately relative in their nature, to be absolute. It’s where some Muslims coming to the West from the East have decided that cultural customs are actually absolute parts of Islam. Having their children grow in the West and raising them to be cultural schizophrenics who unjustifiably feel guilty about their adopted culture is now showing its ugly face. We now have a growing movement of young educated Muslims who all of a sudden discovered that what they took for granted as absolutes turned out to be nothing more than relative cultural manifestations of Islam or worse yet, the Islamic Tradition actually didn’t have anything to say about them.
After realizing they’ve been duped the whole time as a result of their own and their parents ignorance of Islam, the whole religion became an open question. Given the intricate relationship between Islam and culture, which is a result of Islam allowing culture to thrive and only making some adjustments, without proper training in the Sacred Sciences we now have all kinds of absurdities arising. A woman wants to lead the prayer with a mixed congregation having men and women side to side, while another says hijab is not obligatory. Some have gone to the extreme of claiming homosexuality was permissible and even want an Islamic approval for gay marriage as part of their “reformation” efforts. More dangerously, the old Printing Press of the Protestant Reformation has taken a new faster and more efficient form to spread these absurdities as legitimate “reformation”; the Internet.
Interestingly, the places where cultural baggage is being exported as an absolute part of Islam happen to also be the places with the most vocal and strongest growing atheist ex-Muslim movements. With the rise of fast communication, social media, and the advent of the “global village”, people are no longer secluded to their own societies. To see how others live is as hard as typing it in the YouTube search field. A few hours-long flight can take you to a whole other culture and challenge what you hold to be absolutes. A survey course in social anthropology will test anyone’s assumed established notions of how one should live.
To add insult to injury, we have “scholars” and “imams” whose sole concern is letting Muslims know that wishing non-Muslims well on their holiday celebrations is akin to giving approval for the validity of their beliefs and can therefore translate to being kicked outside the folds of Islam. It’s impermissible to say “Merry Christmas”, “Happy New Years”, or “Happy Hanukkah”. Also impermissible to eat turkey on Thanksgiving or to drink regular eggnog because these are associated with kuffar occasions (make sure you emphasize the f ‘s in kuffar so it has an extra intensity of hate to it when you say it). Don’t listen to music, you’re not allowed to take pictures, and don’t use social media. Don’t write it inshallah but write it In Sha’ Allah. Don’t say God, but say Allah even when you’re trying to call non-Arabs to Islam who believe in God and due to misinformation think Allah is a moon god. Does God have a hand or no? What’s the Throne?
You get the point. Instead of dealing with the intellectual invasion of post-modernism, the Muslim discourse is all about frivolity. We could be talking about the role of science, naturalism, empiricist philosophy, Western education, what Freedom means, the subjection of women, rise of atheism among born-Muslims as a result of not seeing an intellectual defence of Islamic theology, challenges converts face with their family and community, etc. But no! All the “imams” will talk about is how mixing is impermissible or what will happen to you in the grave. In fact, they’ll warn you against thinking and reading certain subjects for fear you might lose your faith. It’s no wonder the contribution of Muslims to science for example, is less than… well, it’s too embarrassing to mention.
What we have is a massive gap where Islamic scholarship is supposed to be. Sadly, the “imams” with the loudest speakers are undermining the possibility of qualified scholars to fill that gap with their focus on peripheral matters that mostly have more to do with societal transactions rather than essential foundations of Islam. In doing so, they allow for some Muslims to leave Islam, while for others who are unqualified to attempt and fill in the gap without having an ability to discern what’s absolute from that which is not, let alone their lacking the most rudimentary tools of knowledge to even know what the Quran or Hadith are actually saying. The final consequence of all of this will be the gradual false realization of the upcoming Muslim generations that Islam is just the latest version of a line of made up religions that can be disposed of just like the rest.
Instead of feeding into this madness, educated Muslims need to first recognize that the Islamic Tradition is not a superficial tradition that can only produce scholars only able to issue rulings on permissibility or lack there of to greet non-Muslims on their holidays, or the lawful nature of musical instruments, or if you have to have your feet and shoulders touch people beside you during the congregational prayer. Secondly, the Islamic Tradition is a field of specialization just like that field they specialized in when they got their degree in engineering, sociology, political science, or whatever else they studied. If they really want to serve Islam, it’s best they don’t pretend that reading a couple of books by a couple of Orientalist scholars on Islam qualifies them to speak on what Islam is for or against. Instead, we have a body of scholars who have spent lifetimes upon lifetimes digging into the Tradition and extracting the jewels from it. But they’re being subverted by people whose only source of authority to speak is having the financial resources and loudest speakers. Hence, young educated Muslims need to unplug those speakers and seek out those who truly are deserving of being listened to.
This issue is quite complex and requires a longer exposition than provided here. It’s a serious matter that must be attended to and addressed properly. The Muslim discourse needs to be elevated to a higher level and Muslims need to be made aware of the bigger picture. If things continue down the road they’re heading on, it won’t be non-Muslims that undermine the Final Message; it will be Muslims who do it.