Dr Murad Wilfried Hofmann, Ex-German
diplomat and author of ‘Islam: the Alternative’, ‘Islam 2000’, ‘Voyage to Makkah’,
reverted to Islam in 1980. The article is an excerpt from his recent lecture on
‘Islam and the Future of the World’ delivered in New Delhi and printed in the
‘Radiance Viewsweekly’. (Editor)
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 universalist aspirations; everybody is content with his particular
family of divinities.
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 Banu Israel. 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 legitimisation 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 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 it 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 into fun.
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 organised 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 ideological century.
Typical Feature of 19th/20th Century
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
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, humanitarian world.
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
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 civilisation, 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 vision.
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 entering one compromise 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, are 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 quality.
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 Western kids.
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
And to offer we have a lot beyond what I
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 civilisation 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
globalisation, 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 prejudices.
Against this background, it must seem
like heaven to responsible Westerners when they realise 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
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
Bilal (rta) was black. Why should not millions follow for similar
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 an imam.
f) You may be surprised to hear that
Muslims 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
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 whole
sale public up-grading of homosexuality, including homosexual marriages, is a
symptom of decadence, indicative of a declining civilisation. Such people are
scandalised by the existence of two entirely homosexual city quarters in San
Francisco. No wonder that they sympathise 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 realise 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 realising 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
h) There are quite a few other features
of Islam which might attract Western people to this faith, including the health
aspects of the Ramadān fasting.
But all these aspects, in the end, boil
down to the most basic difference between Occident and Orient: the quality of
life symbolised in different attitudes towards quantity and quality: The
Occident obviously cherishes quantitative aspects to a point where nothing is of
real value, ie, 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
globalisation. 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
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
But there are also factors working in
the opposite direction. Muslims have not yet realized any where 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, Muslims 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 civilisation 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-Islamise 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 neighbours.
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 application’.
The Qur’ān abounds with stories of
nations of old who failed to read the signs on the wall, rejecting all warnings
until their civilisations 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).