Any objective study of the history of mankind will show
that man cannot but pose the questions: where do I come from? Why am I here?
Where do I go from here? These unavoidable questions make a philosopher of each
of us, whether we know it or not.
The search for answers to these fundamental issues have
produced many different myths, foundational legends, and other visions. In the
end, these visions – attempts at interpreting the world – developed into
religions proper. The oldest surviving ones we know are Taoism, Hinduism, and
Buddhism, not to forget different forms of Shamanism.
Polytheism arose when people associated supernatural forces
with individual aspects of nature – thunder and lightning, sun and fire,
fertility and death. In a way, such polytheism is peaceful because it has no
universalistic aspirations; everybody is content with his particular family of
Nevertheless, in polytheism there is a built-in trend
towards monotheism. When one tribe conquers his neighbouring tribe, the victor
imports his deity and relegates the local deities to a lower rank. We had such a
situation in pre-Islamic Arabia where secondary goddesses – Lāt, Manāt and ‘Uzzā
– were worshipped in addition to al-Ilāh, the supreme deity whom the Muslims
address as Allah.
Religious history entered a new stage when monotheism
appeared, first – for a very short period in Egypt during the reign of Echnaturn
– and later with the Israelites. The Jewish idea that there is only one God Who
is their tribal God, is of course a contradiction in itself. If there is one
single God, it must be everybody’s, not God of a particular Chosen People. It
was therefore only logical that Jesus (sws), and after him St. Paul, insisted on
the universality of the belief in Jahwe, the One and Only God.
At that moment, with the advent of religious universalism,
mankind entered one of the bloodiest phases of its history. The Christians
thought in terms of One God and One Church, outside of which there is no
salvation. To this dogma called in Latin extra ecclesiam nulla salus, the
Catholic Church hung on for 1900 years, until the 2nd Vatican Council in
1965/66. On the basis of this dogma, Christianity – supposedly a religion of
love – became aggressively virulent. It engaged in the physical suppression and
elimination of any other denomination or religion, be they Christian in outlook,
Jewish, or Muslim. Thus Germanic tribes were massacred for Christ; Muslims were
slaughtered in al-Quds during the Crusades; witches and so-called heretics were
burned; Orthodox Eastern Christians were outlawed; and all the Muslims and Jews
in Spain expelled.
It is obvious that during this painful phase, lasting
beyond the 17th century, the Christian religion was first used as an ideology,
ie, as a political instrument for the legitimization and motivation of power
projection. To some extent the same thing happened to Islam. It, too, became a
power-conscious empire, expanding in all directions from Madīnah to Damascus,
Baghdad, Morocco and Istanbul. True, there was a religious basis for these wars
which led Muslims all the way to Southern France and the suburbs of Vienna.
Therefore, for that period only, it is not entirely wrong to project on to Islam
the Christian notion of ‘holy war’ (sacrum bellum) for what we call lesser jihād
(al-jihād al-saghīr). Whether we like it or not, Islam, too, was used as an
ideology, an instrument for power projection.
But only from the 18th century onwards, following the
proclamation of the Age of Reason and the Project Modernity, do we enter the
real ideological era. To the extent that religion disappeared from public
consciousness and view after the Enlightenment, ideologies functionally replaced
them. Secular ideologies divorced from religion, now became pseudo-religions.
This was as well true of the 19th century romanticism as it was of positivism,
also called scienticism. Nevertheless, Marxism – as developed by Karl Marx,
Friedrich Engels, and Vladimir Ilyich Lenin – may be considered as the first
modern ideology, as its very prototype.
Marxism posed as a complete world view, a monistic,
materialist ‘Weltanschauung’ which through its dialectical Materialism (Diamat)
explained the functioning of nature and through its Historical Materialism (Histomat)
explained the functioning of society. Marxism, like a religion, tried to engage
and control its adherents totally with a moral commitment worthy of any cause.
Clearly, there were many religious overtones within an otherwise atheistic
environment. The Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital became holy scripts: Marx,
Engels, Lenin, and Stalin turned into Apostles of the socialist faith. The
Communist Party acted like an infallible church and the Politbureau members as
its priests. Heaven was replaced by the wonderful vision of a classless future
where everyone would receive according to his requirements and work would turn
The different branches of Fascism, in Italy, Germany,
Spain, Portugal and Greece simply repackaged this socialist vision with a strong
dosis (dose) of racist chauvinism – justifying and motivating the most atrocious
crimes against hated outsiders, be they Jews, Gypsies, or Eastern European
Slavs. Again, religion was ever present. ‘Mein Kampf’ became a holy scripture in
Germany and Adolf Hilter a saviour who would lead the country into a prosperous
future: an empire lasting 1000 years. Again it was the Nazi Party which, like a
church, determined what was right and what was wrong, and SS-troupers were
organized like religious orders.
In reaction of Marxism and Fascism, counter-ideologies grew
up strongly. I am referring here to Western liberalism, incorporating
capitalism, and French type laicism – the complete elimination of religion from
public life. In the post-colonialist Arab world, every one of the Western
ideologies mentioned was tired; nationalism, liberalism, fascism, socialism –
and all failed miserably.
In view of all this, the 20th century can be called the
Typical Feature of 19th/20th Century Ideologies
We should now focus on one common element typical for all
19th and 20th century ideologies: they were all materialistic, secular in
outlook, without any transcendental vision. Therefore, none of them could answer
the basic human questions of wherefrom? why? and whereto?
During and shortly after the Enlightenment, thinkers like
Immanuel Kant, Auguste Comte and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegal believed that
man, liberated from religion, could master his world with his rational faculties
alone. Rationalism would guarantee in the end a prosperous, peaceful,
We know better now, and are not surprised. We know that the
Project Modernity failed miserably in its endeavour to tame destructive human
instincts by reason alone. Instead of post-religious paradise on earth, we had
the most incredibly savage world wars, chemical and nuclear warfare, the
holocaust, and ethnic ‘cleansing’ – to name only a few disasters.
We are not surprised because it is obvious that only
religions can motivate people to such an extent that they can overcome their
base instincts, their sexual desires and their monumental egotism. When man
became the measure of all thing, dethroning God, all laws were at man’s
disposal. In the process, the very idea of divine law was discarded, but all
efforts finding a binding ‘natural law’ failed.
Shrewd western observers already a generation ago came to
the bitter conclusion that mankind will destroy itself, and the globe with it,
unless it rediscovers religion. Deniel Bell, Harvard professor of sociology,
already in 1976 discovered that capitalism in the long run is self-destructive
because its very economic success poisons the virtues on which the economy is
built. In his book The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism Bell therefore
pleaded for the re-adoption of some sort of religion, even if one had to invent
a new one for the purpose of re-establishing morality.
Equally perceptive was another devastating critique of
Western civilization, written by the American ex-diplomat William Ophuls. In his
Requiem for Modern Politics – the Tragedy of the Enlightenment and the
Challenges of the new Millennium in 1997 predicted that the Occident will
collapse, like Communism before it, as a result of its lack of a compelling
Both observers rediscovered what is a banality: that no
human civilization ever survived without spirituality.
Against this background, it is of the highest significance
that Islam made an unexpected, spectacular comeback as from the 70s of the 20th
century. What could one expect from a religion which had slumbered in a state of
stagnation for the last 400 years, personalities like Sirhindī, Shāh Walīullāh
and Muhammad Ibn Wahhāb notwithstanding? What could one expect from a religion
virtually all of whose adherents had been colonized by European powers? Western
orientalists could not be blamed when they studied Islam just as biologists do
when studying a disappearing species threatened to become defunct. Islam was of
merely historical interest for them. Max Henning, when issuing his translation
of the Qur’ān into German wrote as late as 1901 that ‘Islam has obviously played
out its political role.’
This was everybody’s view. Nobody considered Jamālu’l-Dīn
Afghānī and Muhammad ‘Abduhū as harbingers of a new Islamic spring. Nobody
foresaw the impact people like Muhammad Iqbāl, Hasan al-Bannā, Sayyid Qutb, or
Mawdūdī and Muhammad Asad might have for a world wide Islamic Sahwā and Nahdā.
But today, unbelievably, there is not a single country on
this globe in which one does not find active Muslims, from Korea to Columbia,
from Iceland to New Zealand. Muslims – only 1/7th of mankind 100 years ago – now
make up 1/5th of the world population. There are now representative mosques in
places like London, Paris, Rome, Vienna, Lisbon, Zagreb, New York and Los
Angeles. More importantly: thanks to labour migration and the attraction of
Western universities, there are now many millions of Muslims active in Europe
and in the United States; everywhere Islam is becoming the second biggest
religious community. You cannot open a newspaper or turn on a TV-program today
without running into Islamic issues. Now, and now only, the wealth of classical
Islamic literature is available in all major European languages. The Qur’ān has
become the most frequently translated and most often recited book on earth.
Since all this happened during the ideological 20th
century, since some Islamic movements are primarily pursuing political aims, and
since some Muslims out of sheer desperation are driven to use violence – for all
these reasons Islam, too, is often now referred to as an ideology. This is true
inasmuch as Islam offers a set of ideas also for running affairs in al-dunyā.
But we should avoid referring to our faith as an ideology because that term now
smacks of politics and this-worldliness.
Be that as it may, what counts is the fact that at the
beginning of the 3rd millennium there are only two worldviews left which compete
for the hearts and minds of Western man: post-modern Secularism and Islam. That
is the alternative, and there are no other option in sight, even though Buddhism
attracts a few occidental intellectuals here and there who would like to have
another chance in another life.
Thus we have arrived at the one-hundred thousand dollar
question: to whom belongs the future? The outcome will be determined by the
answer given to another question: will the 21st century become a religious one
or not? Currently, it looks as if religions were on their way out, more so in
Europe, though, than in the United States. People are leaving the Christian
churches in droves. And these churches even help speed up their demise by making
many compromises, one after the other, with the spirit and fashions of our time.
Thus you have homosexual priests, abortion of children as and when you like,
female bishops and virtually no period of fasting any longer. Believe me, the
churches are selling out that way. No wonder that a near-majority of the
‘faithfuls’ (and even some Protestant clergy) no longer believe in the divinity
of Jesus (sws) or life after death.
However, this is not the entire picture because there is
still much vagabonding and privatized religion around. Religion is seeking new
niches for its existence away from the established churches. Go into any
occidental bookshop and you will see that the esoterics section is by far larger
than the one of religion. People still want to know their future, be introduced
to all secrets, and become happy. These basically religious desires have made
whole industries boom. People experiment with anything: Shamanism, Celtic
Priestesses, Satanic Cults, drug induced ego-trips, Indian gurus, fantastic
diets and health fads, and even ecstatic Tango dancing.
My diagnosis is that these people, mostly from younger
generations, are seekers of religion in transit. They are sick of the
meaninglessness, the spiritual vacuum in their lives, and looking for certainty
in a world in which ‘anything goes’. They have been raised without restrictions
and are craving for leadership, real values, and reliable norms. In short, these
people represent an enormous religious potential. They may turn the 21st century
into a religious one.
The question therefore is: will Islam be perceived as a
better choice than Christianity before? And will worshipping together be
preferred to the private type of religion now so prevalent? As for the first
question, it is my considered opinion that Christianity in Europe is beyond
repair. I am equally convinced that the Occident cannot get its act together
through an artificial new religion, an eclectic Esperanto religion. It won’t
work because religion presupposes authority beyond doubt. Only a religion built
on revelation can qualify.
As for the latter question, I am rather positive because
the young generation is again cherishing togetherness and getting increasingly
worried about the fate of ‘singles’ as they grow older. It is indeed one of the
major assets of the young that Islam comes together with a family, the Ummah,
and that brotherhood and sisterhood in the Islamic community is more real, more
touchable, than the idea of loving-thy-neighbour is among Christians. If the
emotional cooling of Western societies (not the promised ‘Greening of American’
– as Charles Reiches envisions) is a fact, as I think it is, then the Islamic
Ummah in offering warmth and compassion fulfils the basic need of contemporary
The autistic nature of cyberspace, the sexually over-heated
atmosphere in which Westerners live, and the brutal competitiveness of life in
the West – from school to job, from job to sexual relations – with the constant
pressure to over-achieve have led to a situation where the average American is
consulting at least one psychiatrist, their so-called ‘shrink’. Such people
cannot fail to be impressed by the obvious fact that most Muslims are
self-content, unstressed, not under undue time pressure, in short in harmony
with God, themselves and their environment. For all these reasons I feel that
many people, tired to their daily rat race routine, will be eager to discover
more about Islam.
Whether people will in fact discover this religion depends
a lot on how the Muslims present their Islam, or misrepresent it. True, it is
Allah Who guides those on the right path whom He wills. And many a convert –
like Jeffrey Lang in San Francisco (author of Struggling To Surrender and Even
Angels Ask) – has been sucked into the fold without any previous contact with
Muslims, exclusively by reading the Qur’ān. But on the whole it is Muslims whom
Allah uses as His Da‘wah instruments.
Let me first address what the Muslims should do in order to
propagate Islam. This recommendation can be summed up in one sentence: present
Islam as a major contribution to the healing of Western society and civilisation
and as a precious medication for the most crucial woes which are about to
destroy the Occident. I am calling for assertiveness and pro-active measures,
not for an apologetic posture and defensive reactions. Not to appear as someone
who is asking for something but as someone who has to offer something.
And to offer we have a lot beyond what I mentioned already:
a) The Muslim concept of God – the incomparable One and
Unique Divinity, both immanent and transcendent, beyond time and space, the only
being that has real Being – is the only concept which will satisfy the educated
modern man. Tawhīd, pristine monotheism without any frills, is our major asset!
b) No civilization can survive for long the break-down of
family structures as we observe it currently. The family is virtually under
assault, even by the state that does everything to promote extra-marital
relationships. The divorce rates are appallingly high. Half of the households in
major towns are now run by ‘singles’, including women who want a child but no
husband. A large sector of children is growing up without a father. How
unbalanced many kids are shows in their growing propensity to violence. Their
respect for elders and the family is so low that now it is even possible in
America for children to sue for divorce from their unloved parents. It is
obvious that Muslim families are also under strain, given the impact of
globalization, economic pressures and the influence of television. Still,
however, Muslim families in general are much more tightly knit and provide much
more security than the average Western one. This asset Muslims must bring to
c) The second existential danger to Western society is
posed by the spread of all sorts of addictions – to cigarettes, alcohol,
cocaine, LSD and other drugs, but also to TV and the internet. One can say
without overstating the case that the West is structurally addicted. It is so
sad to see people who cannot cope with life without that glass, that pill or
that cigarette. Such people are in fact practicing a modern form of Shirk. They
are slaves to something else but God – and that would become even more glaringly
clear if they attempted to abide by the rules of Ramadān: they can’t because
they are no longer their own bosses.
Muslims can be proud in demonstrating that they are
structurally sober: always ready, always alert, never with a mind or their
language blurred, never guilty of fatal car accidents under the influence.
Hardly anything shows more clearly that Islam is an alternative way of life,
capable of saving the West from self-destruction in delirium.
d) Western societies are all threatened from within the
various forms of ethnic prejudice, racism, chauvinism, and the discrimination of
other religions. Their slave history is still visible in the United States. All
the many wars fought until recently in Europe and in America were due to such
Against this background, it must seem like heaven to
responsible Westerners when they realize that Islam, at least in theory and
mostly also in practice, is the one religion which has solved the problems of
race and religious pluralism: by making piety, and not colour, important; by
accepting anybody in the same Ummah; and by tolerating other religions
When Malcolm X discovered the multi-racial nature of the
Ummah, that was for him a revelation.
Let us make the best of this virtue by living it, by making
colour, caste, language and similar distinctions irrelevant among us. Millions
of Afro-Americans have chosen Islam last not least because Bilāl (rta) was
black. Why should not millions follow for similar considerations?
Equally impressive is of course the manifesto of religious
pluralism contained in the Qur’ān (5:48 and 2:256). This foundational tolerance
– commanded and practiced 1400 years before the modern World Ecumenical Movement
– is so extraordinary in the eyes of Western people that they cannot but
applaud. All we need to do is to point out that Greece remained Orthodox during
500 years to Turkish rule – and then ask where the Muslims are in Spain, where
they lived for 800 years before being expelled.
e) Young people feel emancipated, and want to remain so.
They hate hierarchies, sacraments administering clergymen, mysterious dogmas,
and anything that reminds them of the church institutions. Such people are
pleasantly surprised when they find out that Islam knows no church, no Pope, no
sacraments, and no mind-boggling dogmas like divine incarnation, trinity,
salvation on the cross, or hereditary sin. They are thrilled to learn that there
are no more emancipated believers than Muslims since they do not tolerate any
intercession, be it by priests or saints, when they face Allah, fully
individually, in their prayer. They are likely to be as impressed when learning
that each and every Muslim, regardless of rank, is qualified ad hoc to serve as
f) You may be surprised to hear that Muslim discipline in
matters of sex strikes a positive note with many young people nowadays who lean
towards modern ‘value conservatism’. Many a Western woman who feels hunted down
by men in the street as a mere sex object admires Muslims at whose dress and
composure send the clear signal that they are not cheap game. Given the ongoing
exploitation of women in pornography, fashion shows, beauty contests, and
sexually explicit commercials, many Western women, partisans of women’s
emancipation, now understand that their Muslim sisters pursue the same aim –
female dignity – but do so more successfully.
In the context, the strict Muslim position on abortion –
ruling in out except if the mother’s life is in clear and present danger –
commands more and more respect in ‘pro life’ Western circles who deplore that
even Catholic bishops nowadays permit abortion for all kinds of reasons. Islam
is seen as taking a clear-cult pro life position in favour of the child.
The Muslim position on homosexuality also commands respect
with the silent majority in the West who condemns the new Occidental policy of
treating same-gender relations as an optional life style, one ‘orientation’
among others. Many a Western observer fears that the wholesale public up-grading
of homosexuality, including homosexual marriages, is a symptom of decadence,
indicative of a declining civilization. Such people are scandalized by the
existence of two entirely homosexual city quarters in San Francisco. No wonder
that they sympathize with the Muslim attitude: to show compassion with seemingly
‘born’ homosexuals while refusing to treat homosexuality as such as a normal
affair in public.
In the occident, the pendulum constantly seems to swing
back and forth between a Puritanical demonization of sex (and even marriage) and
sexual licentiousness, without limits or taboos. Thoughtful Western people are
therefore impressed by the more balanced and sober Muslim approach to the sexual
nature and needs of man. Islam does not sanctify marriage by raising it to the
level of a Christian ‘sacrament’ but, with common sense, treats this union
rather as a possible non-permanent contract. At the same time, however, Islam
considers the sexual life between married partners as ‘Ibādah, ie an act of
devotion and worship. People who have been able to maintain a sense for what is
natural of man – for his Fitrah – may well realize that Islam’s approach to
sexuality makes good sense.
g) Even in the field of economics, Islam might be perceived
as a saving grace. At first sight, the prohibition of ribā is likely to be
considered naïve and highly unpractical. But then people may have second
thoughts when realizing that this prohibition may help defend the very spirit of
entrepreneurship on which capitalism is built. How is that? By insisting on
profit-and-loss-sharing financial arrangements, Islam fights the saturation and
stagnation which sets in when capital is mainly used in risk-free modalities.
h) There are quite a few other features of Islam which
might attract Western people to this faith, including the health aspects of the
But all these aspects, in the end, boil down to the most
basic difference between Occident and Orient: the quality of life symbolized in
different attitudes towards quantity and quality. The Occident obviously
cherishes quantitative aspects to a point where nothing is of real value, i.e.,
money value that cannot be quantified. In fact, there is a general denial of
non-quantifiable values and merely spiritual truths. Seen from this standpoint,
Western man’s life is more oriented toward having while the Muslim’s life is
more dedicated to being.
The Orient, including the Islamic world, is certainly
sensitive to the pleasures of consumption, transported through globalization.
But, in this region, qualitative aspects of life are still frequently valued
above quantitative ones. Indeed, that quality of life – composure, leisure,
contemplation, friendship, hospitality – as a specifically Islamic concern
should ring a bell with many Westerners frightened by crass materialism.
As we have seen, there are a lot of reasons why Islam
should and could be perceived as an antidote against most Western short-comings.
Thus, Islam might become the leading ideology of the 21st century.
But there are also factors working in the opposite
direction. Muslims have not yet realized anywhere a true Muslim economic system.
Their positions on the decisive questions of democracy, human rights, and
women’s rights are still too vague to be convincing. And their educational
systems in several respects are still medieval.
In addition, their behaviour is frequently counteracting
their Da‘wah efforts. In the West, many Muslim immigrants, especially if
illiterate, are hardly able to project their faith. They naturally tend to form
tightly knit ethnic groups, thereby causing a sort of ghettoization. By
defending the civilization of their home country – its food, dress, music,
social mores, and language – they turn Islam into something of folkloristic
interest only for their environment.
Worse, many immigrants seem only interested in their
countries of origin, to which they want to return at the earliest. A Turk in
Germany who wants to re-Islamize Turkey is of course pretty much lost for Da‘wah
in his guest country.
Inasmuch as some do try to propagate Islam in the West,
they frequently give it such a rigid, legalistic, even Talmudic appearance that
Western people are startled about the absence of spirituality. So much form
seems to be valued over substance, and so often marginal issues seem to be
treated like central ones.
For all these reasons, the mere presence of Muslim guest
workers in terms of religion is making too little impact on their Western
And there is one more factor that may keep Islam from
becoming dominant: the human talent to avoid issues by conveniently looking the
other way. A sick man – and the Occident is sick – must not only admit to being
sick; he must swallow the prescribed pills rather than leaving them on his night
table. Insight is one thing, acting upon it another. As the former German State
President Roman Herzog put it: ‘our problem is not cognitive but one of
The Qur’ān abounds with stories of nations of old who
failed to read the signs on the wall, rejecting all warnings until their
civilizations collapsed in tragedy. It is possible that the contemporary Western
world too will not have the courage and determination to change direction in
mid-course and opt for the Islamic way of life. If so, after having triumphed
over Communism only recently, the Occident, too, may go down in an orgy of
self-destruction: as a victim of its internal contradictions of which the most
destructive one is the deification of man.
This is bound to happen unless the West re-admits the
Sacred, Transcendental Reality, Allah that is, and starts all over to live in
accordance with the absolute values and divine norms as revealed in the Qur’ān
and reinforced by the Sunnah of Allah’s last and final Prophet (sws).