Mysticism without Sufism: A Guide to Tahajjud, Islam’s Meditation Practice

Samarkand

What does mainstream Islam offer to someone who wants a deep, meaningful and permanent connection with God? When it comes to Islamic mysticism, Sufism is often treated as its main and perhaps even only outlet. But the truth is that it is quite possible to have deep, mystical practice as a Muslim without going through Sufism. While Sufism’s organized and communal nature makes it deeply beneficial and meaningful to some people, it does not fit my temperament and way of thinking.

But in a different sense I am a Sufi. The teachings of Ibn al-Jawzi and Ibn al-Qayyim regarding developing a close relationship with God have always deeply touched me, and these are teachings derived from the lives and sayings of many early Muslim ascetics who are now considered Sufis (despite having little to do with today’s organized Sufism). Like those ascetics, I do desire a close relationship with God, as close as is humanly possible. Different people enjoy different forms of worship. For some, communal forms of worship are the most uplifting. For me, the worship I enjoy the most is reading (or listening to) the Quran. The problem, however, is that it is not easy to integrate Quran-reading into one’s daily life. It requires a great deal of willpower to arrange a specific time bracket in which you read the Quran for 30 minutes or 60 minutes every day. It can be done, and sometimes I have been able to keep it up for a week or two, but something always happens that wrecks my routine and suddenly I realize that weeks have passed by without reading any Quran.

What I have realized is that a certain physical practice is needed to integrate the Quran with my daily life. Sitting down on a couch to read the Quran every day cannot be done for any length of time (except perhaps for a very small minority of people). If you think theoretically it should be possible to do it, I challenge you to try it, and you are practically guaranteed to stop after a few days. The reason is that we humans are not disembodied intellects. We have a flesh and blood part that has its own desires, its own habits and routines, its own nature that gets in the way of the intellect. While intellectually we may desire that we should read the Quran every day for a certain amount of time, in the physical reality of human life, this desire alone is not sufficient. There is a missing ingredient; we need something to subdue the body to make it come along for the ride, every day.

As I discovered, Islam’s formal worship, the ṣalāh, is exactly what is needed to make both body and mind comply with routine, daily Quran reading. You cannot keep up daily Quran reading on the couch for any length of time, but you can keep up Quran reading indefinitely once you integrate it with the ṣalāh. Eventually I realized that the Islamic practice of tahajjud, the nightly voluntary prayer, is practically designed with these concerns in mind; it enables us to maintain daily Quran reading/listening indefinitely. Like the various rituals of Sufism that are designed to bring the seeker closer to God, tahajjud is the great Islamic mystical ritual that enables us to always remain close to God, to renew our relationship with Him daily, to get our sins forgiven (as in the Catholic confession), and to re-orient ourselves away from the worldly life’s pull and stress and toward the far simpler and blessed realm of walking with God through life.

Tahajjud for the Modern World

Sūrat al-Muzzammil (chapter 73 of the Quran), our Prophet is commanded to stay up half the night, more or less, in worship that involves reciting the Quran. This generic term for this type of worship is known as qiyām al-layl, which literally means “to stand or to keep a vigil at night”. When people refer to qiyām al-layl, they could be referring to tahajjud, or to other forms of worship such as reading the Quran outside the prayer, performing dhikr or performing duʿāʾ (supplication), or more commonly, a mix of all of these. The worship commanded in chapter 73 is generally understood, as by the Mālikī scholar Ibn al-ʿArabī (d. 1148 CE) in his Aḥkām al-Qurʾān, to be mainly the recitation of the Quran during the ṣalāh, i.e. the performing of tahajjud.

A modern Muslim reading Sūrat al-Muzzammil may see in it a prescription for permanent sleep deprivation. We have work lives that would be unmanageable if we were to stay up half of the night in prayer. And if you work in an intellectually demanding field (such as computer programming or academic research), your work performance will seriously suffer if you do not get the necessary eight or so hours of undisturbed sleep. The last verse of Sūrat al-Muzzammil, which says “recite as much of the Quran as is easy for you…”, is understood to have replaced the earlier commandment of spending half, more or less, of the night in worship.

Unfortunately for many of us “recite as much of the Quran as is easy for you…” completely overshadows the earlier part of the sūra, so that we think it acceptable to ignore tahajjud unless we really feel like doing it, such as during Ramadan.

I believe that any Muslim who desires a close connection with God should take tahajjud very seriously and should try to follow all of chapter 73, as much as is possible, rather than ignoring it as most of us do. While our modern lives do not permit us to randomly stay up at night without suffering negative consequences the next day, we can integrate tahajjud into our daily routine by spending half or so of our nightly free time to perform it. If the ʿishāʾ prayer is at 9 PM and you go to bed at 11 PM, you have two hours of nightly free time in which you can perform tahajjud. Half of that free time is one hour. I believe that any fair-minded reading of chapter 73 should make a Muslim feel very strongly pushed to spend that hour in tahajjud.

There is something special about tahajjud, as the Quran tells us:

And perform tahajjud during parts of the night, as an extra worship, so that your Lord may raise you to a praiseworthy position.1

The phrase “praiseworthy position” is used only once in the Quran, in the above verse. I have searched in the Quran for the best ways of worshiping and pleasing God, and I have not found anything else described in a similar way. God promises the believers rewards for their good deeds throughout the Quran, deeds like performing the obligatory prayers and paying zakat. But there is no good deed, available to almost every Muslim every day, that is praised like tahajjud. The verse above tells us that those who pray tahajjud will be raised by good to a special status, beyond the status of His ordinary believers (provided, of course, that one’s relationship with God is not marred by sinful activities).

The verse above can be said to be offering to make a trade with us: Do tahajjud, God will raise your status to a praiseworthy position.

Zen Buddhists have meditation as their special mystical practice. Sufis have various forms of dhikr. Catholics have rosaries. Mainstream Muslims have tahajjud, this is the special part of our practice that we can use to connect with God and spend long hours in His presence. Tahajjud is how we comply with God’s command when he says:

And for part of the night, prostrate yourself to Him, and glorify Him long into the night.2

Think about it. Who is this command for if not for us who read the Quran and believe in it? Why should it be so easy for us to think that this command does not apply to us personally? By thinking it does not apply to us, we are telling God that we do seek that “praiseworthy status” that He promises us if we perform tahajjud (note that, technically, verse 76:26 is not a binding command but a strong recommendation, i.e. I am not claiming that 76:26 establishes a new obligatory prayer, but that, for a person who wishes to be the best believer they can be, it is almost a command, it cannot be ignored).

How to Perform Tahajjud

It is often recommended that one sleep for a while then get up to pray tahajjud. I could never do that without disturbing my sleep schedule and productivity, due to lifelong sleep problems I have had. Therefore the way I pray tahajjud is to pray the ʿishāʾ prayer then immediately move on to tahajjud.

Tahajjud is performed in units of two rakʿāt, like the morning prayer. The number of times these units of two should be repeated is not agreed upon. Some recommend eight, others twenty, others thirty six. This is one of those areas of fiqh upon which endless argument is possible. The best opinion I have seen is that any number is permissible, starting from as few as two rakʿāt and going up to any number one can get up to.

There is another type of ṣalāh known as witr that is recommended to be performed after tahajjud. This prayer is in odd numbers and can be made up of just one rakʿa.

Integrating the Quran with Tahajjud

The most important point of tahajjud for me, as mentioned, is that it allows me to read the Quran consistently as part of my daily routine. There a number of different ways of integrating Quran reading with tahajjud:

Reading Quran after Every Taslīma

In this method, every time you say the salām after praying the two rakʿāt, you would pick up a book of Quran and read a certain amount, let’s say two pages. Then you get up to pray another two rakʿāt. Then when you are done with that you sit down again and read some more Quran. Then get up and pray some more. And so on until an hour or more passes and you are ready to go to bed. Instead of reading it, you could listen to the Quran (perhaps using a smartphone app and headphones). This is what I do since, due to my eye sensitivity at night, I cannot use my eyes to read at that time. If I am especially tired or have pain, I pray, then sit back or lie down to listen to 10 minutes of Quran, then get up to pray two more rakʿāt, then sit or lie down again, and so on.

If you do not speak Arabic, you can use a book of Quran that has both the Arabic and a translation and use this as an opportunity to improve your Arabic.

Reading Quran Inside the Prayer

In this method, you would recite or read a the Quran once you are done with reciting al-Fātiḥa during every rakʿa. A person who has memorized the Quran would recite it from memory, while a person who has not can read it from a book, holding it while standing in prayer. Reciting the Quran in a non-Arabic language during the prayer is not permitted by the majority of scholars, therefore it should be avoided.

Another option would be to listen to Quran inside the prayer. While this is unusual and unprecedented as far I know, since there is no evidence to forbid it and since there can be a great benefit in it (especially for those who cannot use their eyes due to eye problems or blindness), then I consider it acceptable to do during the voluntary prayers. It can be thought of as merely reading with one’s ears, one receives the information via the ears rather than the eyes. I am an avid listener to audiobooks and use an Android app called Listen Audiobook Player to listen to them. This is a great app because it keeps track of where I am in the book I am listening to, it can speed up playback without causing the sound to be distorted (essential for me, since I like to listen to audiobooks at 2.5-3x playback speed), and it has a sleep timer so that if I fall asleep while listening to an audiobook it automatically stops the playback after a certain amount of time.

I use this app to listen to the Quran with earphones on while performing tahajjud, whether I do it inside the prayer or outside of it. When listening during the prayer, I use the pause/play buttons on my earphones to start playback when I am done reciting al-Fātiḥa, and five minutes later, the app’s sleep timer automatically pauses playback. At this point I perform rukūʿ and sujūd, then get up to repeat the performance. I set the playback speed at 3x, meaning it goes extremely fast. Listening to this fast playback will sound shocking to someone not used to it, but if you are used to audiobooks, you will know why it is needed. Adjusting playback speed helps sync the playback with your mind’s receptive ability, which is very important because if playback is too slow it is easy to “zone out” for many minutes at a time. But by having the playback at a speed you find comfortable, the information enters your mind at the right speed to keep you interested and engaged. And the strange thing is that fast playback, whether of an audiobook or the Quran, quickly becomes the new norm for the brain, so that it does not feel fast anymore, it just feels right. Slowing the playback down to the normal speed makes it sound grindingly slow if you are used to fast playback. I do not play the Quran fast because of hurry, since I plan to be doing this for an hour or more every night for the rest of my life anyway. I do it because it helps me pay full attention.

At any rate, through tahajjud and Quran-listening, I end up finishing a complete reading of the Quran (known as a khatm) two or more times a month, which is what I have always wanted to do.

Contemplating the Face of God

What is the point of reading the same book so many times in the course of the year when you could instead be doing something more “productive”, such as reading a new book or learning something? That is an intellectual’s question. The point is not intellectual benefit (although I believe there will be much intellectual benefit), the point is to spend an hour or more every day standing in the presence of God, listening to His words. What better way to connect with God?

Other meditative practices often involve speaking to God, asking of Him, or calling His name. Tahajjud, on the other hand, changes the direction of the communication from human-to-God to God-to-human during the Quran recitation, while there is human-to-God communication during the prostrations, in which we ask of Him and pray to Him and praise Him. Tahajjud is two-way communication between the human and God, and this two-way nature of it is a great cure for our inherent narcissism. When trying to perform any mystical practice our egos have this desire to make it all about me, me, me! Satan comes between us and God and wants to make us focus on chasing a spiritual “high” in which we feel connected with something transcendent without facing up to the moral demands that the transcendent makes of us. By listening to God rather than just talking and talking at Him, we are forced to quiet our minds down and truly listen to thr transcendent. The Quran, as many Christian converts to Islam have said, is a scary book in that it does not take any nonsense from the human. It looks deep inside you and sees every one of your faults and weaknesses and exposes them to you. There is no hiding from the eyes of the God of the Quran. He sees everything, He offers us forgiveness, but He requires that we be morally upright in return.

What the Quran absolutely does not accept of us is to be spiritual hippies who hold themselves to low standards by the supposed virtue of wanting to connect with the infinite. In the Quran, the Infinite talks back at you and tells you that He is not buying any of your nonsense. You are only as good as the effort and sacrifice you put into serving Him. Just because you feel “spiritual” does not mean anything to Him, how you feel changes from hour to hour and day to day. What matters to Him is your virtue, your uprightness, your truthfulness to yourself and to Him.

The point of tahajjud and the Quran we recite in it is for us to remain on the Straight Path consistently. Just a few days away from the Quran is sufficient for all kinds of laziness to grow within us; we start to hold ourselves to lower standards, we start to think that we are better people than we really are, our thankfulness for the blessings we have evaporates, we stop seeking God’s forgiveness with heartfelt sincerity because we start to feel good in ourselves as if we are sinless. We start to think that our blessings will last forever, forgetting just how easy it is to lose everything we have. Practicing tahajjud daily helps us remain mindful of our blessings and our reliance on God.

And then there is another benefit, which is the simple fact of standing mindfully in God’s presence. It is the most meaningful experience of our lives to connect with our Creator, and through listening to the sound of His words and worshiping Him standing and sitting, we stretch out our arms towards Him, striving to be with Him. And this striving places us in a different relationship with everyone and everything around us. By being with God, the Constant, the Never-Changing, we acquire a firm foothold in a world that constantly changes and that never lives up to our expectations. The cares and concerns of this world are lifted from our shoulders, to be replaced with nothing but longing and striving for Him and nothing besides Him. Our attachment to the worldly life is weakened, our greed and ambition is checked, so that we end up realizing that pleasing God and obeying Him are more important than anything this world can offer. We become the type of people who can never justify evil for a supposed greater good, because God is our only striving, everything else is ephemeral and secondary. We try to see the world the way He might see it, and act in the world the way He wishes us to act, as His servants and agents on earth, rather than as independent, evil-doing creatures following our own desires and running amok.

Trading with God

The Quran uses the metaphor of trade in a number of places to describe the human relationship with God:

Those who recite the Book of God, and perform the prayer, and spend of what We have provided for them, secretly and publicly, expect a trade that will not fail.3

And among the people is he who sells himself seeking God’s approval. God is kind towards the servants.4

It is said by some mystics, such as Augustine of Hippo and Rābiʿa, that the true mystic should seek God for His own sake alone, neither seeking His rewards nor fearing His punishments. But the Quran does not support that kind of thinking:

And do not corrupt on earth after its reformation, and pray to Him with fear and desire. God’s mercy is close to the doers of good.5

So We answered him, and gave him John. And We cured his wife for him. They used to vie in doing righteous deeds, and used to call on Us in desire and fear, and they used to humble themselves to Us.6

Their sides shun their beds, as they pray to their Lord, out of fear and desire; and from Our provisions to them, they give.7

Above, the Quran describes the appropriate state of the human in the presence of God as awe of His greatness and desire (for His forgiveness, mercy and rewards). I believe that love is something that naturally develops when we feel connected with someone or with God, and I think it a rather wasted effort to try to get beyond fear and desire in order to serve God out of love alone. Desire, fear, and love, are all ways of relating to God. It would be rather unnatural for a person to have a close relationship with God but to only serve Him out of greed for His rewards and fear of His punishments, without any love existing. I doubt that such a human can even exist. Love is a natural byproduct of relating to God through awe and desire.

To think that loving God for His own sake without fear and desire is to make an unfounded assumption about God; it is to think that God appreciates love more than fear and desire. God wants us to fear Him and desire of Him just as He wants us to love Him. He demands all of these modes of relating to Him, because all of these affirm His attributes. It is a rather wasted effort to try to shut down certain parts of our human nature (fear and desire) in preference to other parts that we have arbitrarily decided as superior (love). The balanced way, the Quranic way (which I have found to always provide the balanced approach to every form of extremism and deviance), is to relate to God in appreciation of all of His attributes, and that means to fear Him, to desire of Him, to take refuge in Him and love Him. It can in fact be argued that it is a dereliction of duty to only love God and refuse to fear Him and desire of Him.

One day when I felt really down, as if everything I had ever done had been a failure, feeling stuck in my situation and unable to progress, this thought came to me:

The worship you do is how you pay for God's services to you. If what you have been getting is lowly, maybe what you have been paying has been lowly.

Hearing that thought, everything seemed to start to make sense and I started reading the Quran in a new way. I then ran into this verse:

Remember Me and I will remember you...8

And I realized the thought that had come to me was simply the above verse rephrased. If we want God to remember us, we have to remember Him! If we want God to give us special treatment, we have to give Him special treatment. If we want to have blessed and successful lives, we have to look at ourselves and ask: What payments are we making to God for these things?

I realized that I am willing to spend hours doing work I do not like just to get money. What a great insult to God that I am not willing to spend even a single hour a day working for Him. If I truly have faith in God, then I should be willing to spend an extra hour a day worshiping Him no matter how unproductive it feels. It is, in a very small way, a sacrifice, a payment. I pay God an hour of my labor, He pays me back. How I feel about it is irrelevant, what matters is that I should sacrifice an hour (or more) of my day every day solely for God. Not because it makes me feel good, not because I learn things during it, but because God deserves to be worshiped, because throwing away an hour of my day for God’s sake alone is a way of thanking Him for His blessings and paying Him for future blessings in this life and the next. It is similar to the way the ancient Israelites used to slaughter some of their livestock then set fire to it, letting its meat “go to waste” in the fire, a sacrifice meant for God alone that they themselves did not benefit from.

And it is through tahajjud that I make that sacrifice. I do not always feel inclined to spend an hour of my evening praying and listening to the Quran. On some days I just do not feel spiritually motivated and the verses I listen to do not touch my heart. On such days what motivates me to continue is the idea of the sacrifice. Even if I do not get anything from the tahajjud, the fact that I was willing to throw away one hour of my life for God’s sake has a very important meaning, and I trust in His ability to appreciate it and reward it.

Avoidance of Sin

One of the most important benefits of tahajjud is that if I spend an hour or more of the previous night in tahajjud, today the idea of even the most minor sin becomes unthinkable. The effects of having been in God’s presence the night before linger into the present day, making it feel like a great betrayal to do anything that might possibly displease God. It is not that my “willpower” for avoiding sin is strengthened. Avoiding sin no longer requires any willpower. It becomes an automatic response, the way one avoids poison. The attractions of sinful things no longer “register” in the mind. Enjoying something sinful feels like working to demolish something I spent an hour last night trying to build, it feels as irrational as trying to destroy anything else you have worked hard to build.

Worship versus Activism

One of Satan’s main methods for making us avoid worship is his telling us that we should instead be doing something productive for God’s sake. Instead of spending an hour or more going through a book we have gone through a dozen times before, we could be learning something new, or helping people, or working to earn money so that we can give it away in charity, or working to help Islam or humanity in some way.

The problem with that thinking is that it assumes God needs favors from us. He does not. What He wants from us is piety, perfection of character and worship before any other good deeds. There is a minimum amount of daily worship necessary to keep us on the straight path. Every day we stray away from this path, because the worldly life and its attachments are constantly pushing in various directions and away from God. A Muslim activist who neglects worship in the name of activism, despite their good intentions, can slowly become corrupt and misguided in their eagerness to achieve worldly success. We see this in certain Islamist politicians who use questionable and unethical means in order to supposedly support Islam and Muslims, or in Muslim writers and journalists using biased arguments to promote Islam. God has zero need for that type of action.

Unfortunately losing our away is the easiest thing in this world if we do not hold tight to God’s guidance and remembrance. There are so many people who have fallen into sinful and scandalous things while doing religious work because their focus on their work and eagerness for success made them neglect God. We need to seek balance, and that means spending sufficient time with God daily to purify our hearts, correct our mistakes and renew our dedication to Him.

An easy way of determining whether you have been doing sufficient worship or not is to see how easy it is for you to engage in extremely minor sins. If you are a man and you run into an advertisement in the street that portrays a half-naked woman, do you wait to admire it? Is it difficult to look away from it? Does it feel like a loss or wasted opportunity to not admire it? If any of these are true, then you have not been doing sufficient worship. If you are a woman, you can come up with a different test that is more relevant to your daily experience.

Before you try to fix the world, you have to fix yourself. If you do not bother to develop and maintain a close relationship with God, then neither God nor the world have any need for your favors. God can create a million people like you in an instant, and He can solve all of the world’s problems in an instant if He wanted. What He wants from us is to strive to perfect ourselves then to go out in the world and be His agents for good. If we try to serve Him while our hearts are still corrupt and sinful, we will actually harm His cause. People will see our weaknesses and insincerity and will know that we do not have a good relationship with God.

A father who refuses to approve his daughter’s marriage with a different culture

Can you please give me advice? My sister wants to marry a (Muslim) man that belongs to a different culture. Our mother has accepted the idea but my father is still angry about it- he says he's always had trouble with members of this culture in the past, and he will not give his daughter to a man that is not of the same culture as us. My father is a religious man & I feel his reaction isn't Islamic. In this situation, what should my sister do? Isn't my father in the wrong here?

That is a difficult situation. The best solution is probably to be patient. Wait and perhaps with time his heart will soften. If he is a pious man, then it is going to be very difficult for him to harden his heart permanently against the marriage. I know that waiting is extremely difficult for young people eager to marry, but it might be the best course, because efforts to force a change in your father’s opinion may only antagonize him further.

I do not know your exact situation but your father’s concerns about his daughter marrying into a different culture are not necessarily baseless even if they are not fully justified. You can ask people who have married people from different cultures and while you will find many who are happy and fulfilled, there are also many who admit the difficulties, misunderstandings and hardships involved with trying to unite two families of different cultures. Culture is a human creation built over centuries, designed to facilitate communication and interaction between the people that belong to it. When marrying someone from a different culture, the benefits of culture disappear and a lot of extra work is needed to build some basis for understanding between the two cultures. It can be done and some people are willing to do this extra work, while others want to continue enjoying the comfort of uniting with a family that shares the same cultural background.

Personally I am all for intermarriage between different Muslim races and cultures and I find it very inspiring when I hear about successful marriages between different races and cultures, but I respect the right of people not to engage in it if they do not want to.

For more on dealing with parents in Islam, please see the answers on this page: Dealing with parents in Islam

 

A postmodern critique of postmodernism

The postmodern mode of critique is to try to “read between the lines” to discover what structure of power the text is supporting. A person who reads the Bible and sees in it support for a patriarchal society might actually be “reading patriarchy into the Bible” rather than “reading patriarchy out of the Bible”. Humans are often hopeless bags of prejudice who cannot touch a thing without distorting it. Postmodern critique aims to be a perspective on the world that sees what is really going on without it being part of the world itself.

In colloquial terms, postmodernists always ask “Where is the money?” when they read a text. Who are you supporting and empowering by thinking the thoughts you think and writing the things you write?

But this perspective can be turned on postmodernism itself. What structures of power are you supporting by deconstructing texts? There are tens of thousands of individuals whose careers, salaries and social positions are largely derived from marching through culture and parroting “Where is the money?” at every juncture. This itself is a structure of power; it is a new structure of power that is fed by seeking to undo other structures of power.

The postmodern critique of the world can only be taken seriously as long as we imagine it to be a disembodied perspective on the world, observing the world while being somehow detached from it. But this is nonsense. The postmodern worldview, based on asking “Where is the money?”, is merely a new structure of power that empowers some people at the expense of others. The only person who can truly perform a postmodern critique as postmodernists think it should be done is God, someone who can look at the world while detached from it. Postmodernists, being part of the world, are merely biased and prejudiced humans (as they claim everyone is) who merely repeat the rather banal question “Where is the money?” while deriving power from it.

Postmodernists are no different from another ideological group that asks “What structures of color does this text support?” in their critique of texts. Since there is no objective truth, since every perspective is subjective, the truths arrived at by this stupid question are just as valuable (or worthless) as the truths arrived at by postmodernists. If we posit a world ruled by color as its most important variable (as postmodernists posit power to be) (meaning that when humans reach certain conclusions about a text, it is merely due to their liking for certain color schemes as opposed to others, rather than because there is anything objective in the text), then we have every right to critique everything based on this variable and to go on to derive nice salaries from parroting the question “Where is the color scheme?”

I expect someone has made a similar critique decades ago.

Decolonization

The critique can be extended to the theory of decolonization, the postmodern idea that Western efforts to understand non-Western cultures and traditions are inherently flawed due to Western bias. There is a need for decolonization, for taking the narrative back from the colonizing Westerners. The problem is: based on what foundation do you decolonize? Decolonization theory is a Western invention created by a group of intellectuals who feed upon the structure power upheld by these postmodern theories. Their pretense that they are unbiased observers who are helped the rest of the world open its eyes to Western colonialism is just that, a pretense. They are merely a new breed of colonizers who have invented a new structure of power that allies them with non-Westerners, helped the postmodern power structure continue its process of weakening other power structures.

But to what end? If there is no objective truth then why should I let some rich and privileged academic tell me how to open my eyes? The rational assumption toward these people should be that they are cultural subversives who are merely attacking the present culture in their efforts to establish a new culture that gives them more power.

As someone who studies Islam, I am well aware of the many biases present within Western discourses about Islam. But rather than turning this into some Illuminati nonsense about how there is a Marxian “false consciousness” that we all live in, upheld and maintained by people whose power and prestige is coveted by postmodernist cultural subversives, I see the bias as a logical byproduct of human existence. Muslim discourses about the West are every bit as ignorant and biased as Western discourses about Muslims. There is not one big bad guy who also happens to be a white Christian man who is holding the ropes (postmodernists want you to think that, since such a man has been the object of the envy and hatred of Western cultural subversives since at least Marx’s time).

We are all bad guys in our desire to portray people dislike as worse than they really are and in our desire to portray people we like as better than they really are.

But the biggest bad guys are the ones who pretend that only they are outside human nature, only they are the ones who are aware of bias and try to escape it, only they have the best interests of the colonized in mind, and that all those opposed to them are evil. This pretense of angelic goodwill toward the oppressed enables them to create a new power structure that attacks every other power structure but that is itself immune from attack, because it pretends not to be a power structure.

Taking it to its conclusion

Taken to its logical conclusion, postmodernism nullifies itself. You cannot decolonize unless you have some standard to measure yourself by, but by definition you are a hopeless bag of prejudice, so every decolonizing effort is itself in support of some power structure. Unless you can prove that you are a disembodied intellect with zero desire and bias, every deconstruction and decolonizing effort you engage in is by definition an exertion of power; it is merely one power structure’s demand for power from other power structures.

How do you feel about ISIS?

How do you feel about ISIS? They claim to be Sunni, follow hadith, Sunnah and Qur'an yet are deemed as terrorists and true enemies of modern day Islam. I just wondered if they are right in some ways but wrong in others.. or are they completely wrong and will face Hellfire?

ISIS as an organization, like the Taliban, is almost certainly a creation of Western and Saudi intelligence, as many Iraqi and Russian analysts and politicians believe. For more on this see this previous essay.

As for the ISIS ideology, like almost every terrorist organization with ties and funding from Western and Saudi intelligence, it follows Wahhabism. In the name of fighting bidʿa (false innovations in religious matters), such as the worship of saints, they are guilty of the greatest false innovations of modern times: the belief that they are the possessors of the absolute truth and that they have a God-given right and mission to wipe out all Muslims that disagree with them and that refuse to bow down to their rule. For more on this see my recent essay: The Difference Between “Salafism” and “Wahhabism” and Why I Belong to Neither Group.

As for their fate, only God knows. Its ordinary members may really believe they are serving God.

Salafism, Wahhabism and Mainstream Islam

I'm wondering how you came to the conclusion that salafism isn't the true path to Islam? I'm not salaf myself and I have no idea . But I know that the greatest Islamic scholars are salafs.

Below I present my preliminary views on your question. I hope to one day write a detailed essay or even a book. But as for now, I will only present the shape of my thoughts.

Many things could be meant by Salafism, and that ends up leading to a great deal of confusion. The greatest Islamic scholars were not Salafis but Traditionalists (for a discussion of Traditionalists see the beginning of this article). Salafism actually grew out of the desire of certain intellectuals to break with the Traditionalists and renew Islam by “taking it back to its origins”. They considered the Islamic scholars of their time outdated and against progress and desired to create a new version of Islam that went back to its original aims.

Salafism Type I (Egyptian Salafi Reformism)

This is the Salafism of Azhar-educated Egyptian scholars such as Muhammad Abduh (1849 – 1905 CE) and Muhammad Rashid Rida (1865 – 1935). These scholars wished to go beyond the four school system of Islamic thought in order to create a new type of Islam that took its inspiration from the earliest generations of Muslims. They went against the established scholars who were entrenched within their own school camps, saying that Muslims should stop taking the schools seriously and should instead do whatever they know to be right and just according to available evidence.

I am largely in agreement with their way of thinking, and for that reason you could call me a Salafi. This form of Salafism is simply “historical empiricism”, the belief that Islam should not be based on the opinions of later scholars (if their opinions are not supported by evidence and are merely school dogma) but on the best available historical evidence from the Quran and hadith. This view is no longer limited to Salafis, it has actually become quite mainstream. Almost every major Muslim intellectual today who wishes to be taken seriously has to take account of the earliest sources as the Salafis wanted. The Salafis wanted to break down the barriers to intellectual progress caused by the fossilization of the different schools of Islamic thought, each of which attacked the others while defending its own turf and  ignoring the earliest historical evidence. What they wanted was a more empirical/scientific/scholarly practice of Islamic research, and they got what they wanted.

Today it is quite unnecessary and rather pretentious to label oneself a Salafi, and as far as I know those belonging to Type I Salafism, such as many of Egypt’s Salafi-minded intellectuals, do not use this label and do not separate themselves from society.

Salafism Type II (Saudi Wahhabism)

Type II Salafism is generally what you run into on the Internet when you see someone call themselves a Salafi. These are nearly invariably people influenced by Saudi-funded organizations, mosques and madrasas, which spread in the 1980’s with the support of Western intelligence agencies. According to the Saudi crown prince:1

The Saudi-funded spread of Wahhabism began as a result of Western countries asking Riyadh to help counter the Soviet Union during the Cold War, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told the Washington Post.

Speaking to the paper, bin Salman said that Saudi Arabia's Western allies urged the country to invest in mosques and madrassas overseas during the Cold War, in an effort to prevent encroachment in Muslim countries by the Soviet Union.

Wahhabis are best known for their takfīrī tendencies, they separate the world into two sides, one side with the Wahhabis on it, and the other with the rest of humanity on it (Muslim and non-Muslim).

I should here mention that respected Salafi Saudi scholars such as Ibn Bāz and Ibn ʿUthaymīn are not the subject of my criticism here. While they had Wahhabi leanings and they are revered by Wahhabis, they were independent thinkers and did not necessarily agree with the things I describe here. The Wahhabis I speak of are Saudi-taught propagandists, especially those found on the Internet and in jihadi/terrorist organizations.

According to Wahhabis, since the Wahhabis are obviously the only people who truly follow Islam, all other Muslims have perverted and twisted minds that prevents them from embracing the truth of Wahhabism. Wahhabis use the reform-minded concepts of Salafism as a Trojan Horse to force their views on others using this line of argument:

  • The Pious Predecessors were the best generation of Muslims.
  • The only proper way to practice Islam is to follow that generation’s teachings.
  • Since Wahhabism is all about following that generation, no one will disagree with its doctrines except a corrupt and misguided person.
  • Therefore the Wahhabis, being the only true Muslims, have the right to rule over all other Muslims, and they have the right to work to wipe out all versions of Islam except Wahhabism.
  • Therefore Wahhabis are not bound by any rules of morality and ethics or any sense of fellowship with other Muslims. All actions are justifiable in the cause of Wahhabism. There can never be such a thing as peace, friendship or respect between Wahhabis and non-Wahhabis. A Muslim is either a Wahhabi or a worthless, subhuman and misguided animal.

Wahhabism is very similar to radical Marxism in that neither ideology believes in the intrinsic worth of human life. The only proper human in their views is a fellow Wahhabi/Marxist. Anyone who disagrees with them proves by their very disagreement that they are subhuman and worthless. And for this reason Wahhabis and Marxists are always associated with murder and terrorism; to them anyone who disagrees with them is not really a human anyway and killing them would make the world a better place. Anyone who criticizes Wahhabism/Marxism automatically proves that they are twisted and evil people, therefore according to them everything the person says is automatically false.

Wahhabis believe in the incredibly inhuman idea that hundreds of millions of Muslims can read the Quran, do their best to follow the Prophet’s traditions , spend their lives doing good deeds and end up in the Hellfire because they were not Wahhabis.

Wahhabi sites are very prominent on the Internet The Wahhabi site IslamQA comes up as the top result for most questions about Islamic law on Google and other search engines whether in English or Arabic due to the great amount of Saudi funding behind them.

The root problem of Takfīrī Wahhabism

There are two ways of looking at humanity, and Wahhabis (and radical Marxists and radical feminists) choose the second way:

  • Humans are worthy until proven worthless
  • Humans are worthless until proven worthy

The vast majority of humans, regardless of their religion, would agree with the first way of looking at humanity. We believe in the intrinsic worth, in the sanctity, of human life. We believe that humans should not be treated like objects, but like independent and sovereign beings honored by God, free to act in this world and free to have their independence of mind as long as they do not do evil to others.

Wahhabis and radical Marxists do not think that. They think humans are intrinsically worthless until proven worthy. To a radical Marxist, if you disagree with Marxism, you are a member of the “bourgeoisie”, a pest that has to be wiped out. This is a very, very dangerous way of thinking, because it does not accord you the right to the independence of mind and conscience. You are not allowed to disagree. Either you agree and therefore prove that you are human, or disagree and prove that you are a pest on society that has to be wiped out.

Wahhabis think the same. Its founder, Muhammad b. Abdul Wahhab, made lists of opinions that everyone he met had to believe in. Someone who disagreed with any of those points was free game for slaughter. Wahhabis, similar to radical Marxists, think of humans as animals, as objects, rather than as sacred beings honored by God. It is only once you prove your humanity to them by agreeing with them that they start to treat you like a human. And if you come to disagree with them on any point, if you have some difficulty of conscience with one of their policies, that immediately proves that you are not really human, and that means you can be killed as easily as they would kill a fly. Summary executions are a constant feature of Marxist and Wahhabi-ruled states. (Note that the Saudi state itself is not a Wahhabi state. It funds, promotes and exports Wahhabism as a way of justifying its rule and extending its influence but it keeps strict control over them.)

So mainstream Islam’s disagreement with Wahhabism has nothing to do with the stuff Wahhabism claims to promote (a strong belief in the oneness of God, etc.). It has everything to do with the Wahhabi view of humanity. Wahhabis take Quranic verses out of context in order to dehumanize 99% of humanity or perhaps more. My view, and that of every human with reason and conscience who reads the Quran and studies the life of the Prophet , is that humans are sacred regardless of their beliefs. They should be free to read the Quran and reach their own conclusions about it as honored and free persons, while to a Wahhabi this is not allowed. To them there is only one conclusion you are allowed to reach (namely that you agree with Muhammad b. Abdul Wahhab’s definition of what it means to be Muslim), if you reach any other conclusion, you prove you are worthless and twisted in mind.

For the details of the mainstream, pluralistic Islamic worldview see my essay: Consensual Communities and the Sanctity of Human Life

In mainstream Islam, it is the human who reads the Quran and hadith and from this creates their practice of Islam. This leads to a culturally diverse Islam where every family and community has its own practices and its own scholars that it likes and admires. People are allowed to follow Islam according to their own preferences. In Wahhabism, things are the other way around. One single person’s understanding of Islam, under the pretense that it is the only valid understanding, is forced on everyone else. In mainstream Islam, you never find two people who perfectly agree with one another, because, being humans, each has their own experiences, natures and learning to draw from. A thousand Muslims who pray at the same mosque and who live peacefully with one another in a Syrian city may all have their own particular understanding. They respect that as humans they cannot always reach the same conclusions. For them Islam is about agreeing on a very small set of things and leaving everything else largely blank for everyone to fill in according to their own learning. In Wahhabism, these thousand Muslims are reduced to one person, who, as if he is the perfect human, has the only valid understanding that has to be forced on everyone else.

To the vast majority of Muslims, the Wahhabi worldview is inhuman, even if we cannot clearly state what is wrong with them. We know they look out at the world of humans and only see animals. They are similar to a rapist who looks at women and sees only bodies to be raped. For Wahhabis, everyone around them is a body to be killed, raped, enslaved unless they prove that they are Wahhabi themselves.

Wahhabis have an instrumental worldview toward humanity; you are either part of them or you are their instrument. You either agree with them or you will have to be slaughtered or enslaved by them or reach a ceasefire with them until next time they can slaughter or enslave you.

Wahhabism might be thought of as nothing more than a reading of the Bedouin creed into Islam, in which everyone is either your beloved brother, an ally with whom you are in a cease-fire, or a stranger that can be killed and enslaved at will. All Wahhabi/terrorist organizations function like a Bedouin tribe (but rather than using blood dies, they use ideology to bond themselves); by agreeing with everything in the ideology without question, you prove your ties to the tribe. Being in the tribe gives you the right to attack and kill all outsiders, who are not considered to be really human. In the Bedouin creed “humanity” is defined as the sum of the tribe members; non-tribe members are no different from animals (when facing a non-tribe member, you are allowed to kill, enslave, loot, in short, do anything you could do an animal or insect, with zero repercussions). In the Bedouin creed there is no such thing as living peacefully side-by-side with others. Everyone who is not in the tribe is an enemy or an enemy-in-the-making. Wahhabis extend the Bedouin creed to all Islam. Islam’s teachings regarding kindness, forgiveness, and all the rest of the beautiful teachings of the Quran, actually only apply to tribe members for them. In this way, they practice rip apart the Quran’s foundations, making it a book for Bedouins rather than for humanity. They “abrogate” everything in the Quran that does not fit the Bedouin creed (of being in constant war with outsiders and dehumanizing them) to justify perpetual war and terrorism.

But the vast majority of Muslims, similar to the vast majority of all people, have a humanistic worldview. We like to treat other humans as humans by default, rather than treating them as animals.

To a Wahhabi the Christians around them are non-humans that should either be slaughtered or enslaved. Is this is a normal way of looking at humans around us? The vast majority of Muslims find such a worldview vile, a creation of Satan rather than God. We who read the Quran and study our Prophet and all the Prophets before him feel compelled by this study to love the humans around us, to treat them with respect and honor, to treat them the way we like to be treated, which is to be treated as humans not animals.

To Wahhabis the fact that every prophet of God was peace-loving and extremely kind and forgiving toward everyone around them does not matter. They erase all of that and claim that they live in a new age where they are free to do whatever they like in the name of God. And the fact that most of the world’s Muslims disagree with them does not matter; by disagreeing with them we prove to them that we are animals whose views do not count anyway.

The Wahhabi tactic of dehumanizing the majority of humans and in this way justifying enslavement and slaughter is nothing new. It is the first step of every unscrupulous and power-hungry human to dehumanize others in order to justify why they are morally superior and why no one can be allowed to disagree with them. Some Jews argued that only Jews were humans and should be treated as humans (and that belief remains today, for example in the view that even though usury is evil, against non-Jews it is alright). Some Christians argued that only those baptized were truly human. And Wahhabis believe that only those who agree with Wahhabism are truly human. There are probably Hindus and Buddhists who have similar beliefs.

That dehumanizing view of humans is not necessarily shared by every “Wahhabi”. Wahhabis are humans themselves and there are all shades of opinion among them despite their apparent outward unity. Many in Saudi who consider themselves Wahhabis are only concerned with worshiping God in the best way possible and doing charity and do not concern themselves with judging others.

The root evil of Wahhabism therefore is that they treat humans as animals by default (they can be nice when they want to influence and attract others to their side, but they always need a motive to treat non-Wahhabis like humans). Is it the command of the Quran or the Sunnah of the Prophet to treat others as animals by default? No, in fact, as it is the majority view, our default assumption toward other humans is that they are sacred and intrinsically worthy and should be treated with the mercy that is continuously commanded in the Quran and that is continuously shown by all of the prophets. A person whose default assumption toward humanity is that they are to be enslaved or slaughtered has left the way of the prophets.

We do not actually need long arguments to prove that Wahhabism is wrong. We all know this intrinsically, because we are blessed with reason and conscience. I can never befriend a person who thinks a peaceful Christian priest should ideally be enslaved or slaughtered for God’s sake. A person who thinks like that is working for Satan, not for God. Thanks to the fact that most Muslims intrinsically appreciate these things, we see that Wahhabis make up perhaps less than 1% of the world’s Muslim population, and they have never organically spread in any country. The original Wahhabi expansion in Arabia happened because the Saudi family found it useful in justifying and extending their rule. A CIA program named Operation Cyclone, masterminded by the Jewish American US government strategist Zbigniew Brzezinski, funneled hundreds of millions of dollars to the Taliban to help these Wahhabis spread in Afghanistan, helping kill hundreds of thousands of innocent Muslims (see America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History by Professor Andrew Bacevich). It is widely recognized that the US, Israel and Saudi were very heavily involved in arming and training Wahhabi terrorists in Syria in order to topple the Syrian government.

Due to the close relationship between the Saudi and the Pakistani governments, Saudi propagandists have had some success in spreading their ideology in Pakistan. Many Pakistanis seem to be under the false impression that since Wahhabism comes out of Arabia it must be the true version of Islam.

In summary, Salafism’s original teachings have already been integrated into mainstream Islam. People are more willing than ever to go beyond school boundaries and to follow the Pious Predecessors rather than later authorities. There is no need to call yourself a Salafi. We all respect the Pious Predecessors and wish to follow their example. As for Wahhabism, it is founded upon dehumanizing humanity, considering everyone an animal fit for slaughter until proven otherwise. Wahhabism hijacked the term “Salafi” in the 1970’s according to the Kuwaiti scholar and UCLA professor Khaled Abou El Fadl to pretend to be the one true original and authentic version of Islam and in this way to help spread their dehumanizing ideology.

Wahhabis go on about appreciating the “Oneness”/Tawḥīd of God and call themselves Muwaḥiddūn (“Those who believe in Tawḥīd“) as if this is some new invention in Islam. What they really mean is that by following Wahhabism, they are the only true believers, meaning that everyone else is subhuman at best. Supposedly only they really and truly believe in God’s Oneness, the 1.5 billion non-Wahhabi Muslims, even if they believe in God, the Quran and the Sunnah, since they are not Wahhabis, are not really believers and might all be destined for the Hellfire. And this is what you run into when you make the wrong turn on the Internet and find someone’s profile who talk about God’s “Oneness” in very creepy terms. The Wahhabi doctrine of Tawḥīd (a term found in many terrorist organizations’ names) is in reality always a reference to the Wahhabi belief that they are Islam’s 1% who have the right to slaughter and/or enslave the rest of humanity, including the remaining 99% of Muslims.

The people who carry the most blame for the spread of Wahhabism are not Muslims but America’s Christians, whose lazy morality and love for cheap gas makes them vote in the same utterly corrupt, war-mongering and inhuman politicians into Congress who continue supporting the Saudi agenda of spreading Wahhabism to help fight America’s and Israel’s enemies and divide the world of Islam and turn entire countries into war zones. And these same Americans have the audacity to tell us that Islam is against “Western”/”Christian” values.

The Wahhabi Saints

When speaking of Wahhabism, I refer to Muhammad b. Abdul Wahhab and the second-rate thinkers that have followed him to the present day. Wahhabi ideologues are people educated in Saudi Arabia in Wahhabi doctrines and often have no knowledge of classical Islam.

Wahhabism, however, has certain “saints”, respected scholars like Ibn Taymīya, Ibn al-Qayyim, Ibn ʿUthaymīn, Ibn Bāz and al-Albānī. The stature and prestige of these scholars is used by Wahhabi ideologues to justify the dehumanizing Wahhabi worldview. It is likely that none of these scholars would have agreed completely with the ideology of today’s Saudi-exported Wahhabis, even though they all share certain features in common with Wahhabis, and the latter three are often considered Wahhabis.

The point to keep in mind is that these scholars were well-educated and sophisticated thinkers and unlike the average Wahhabi ideologue, did not have their obsession with dehumanization, power-seeking and killing of other humans. However, all three support a very basic version of Islam that rejects the modern world and is incapable of relating to non-Muslims. The difference is that while Wahhabi ideologues would happily slaughter all of humanity that disagrees with them or gets in their way, these scholars would have followed their basic version of Islam in their own lives while possibly, to some degree, respecting the rights of others to disagree with them and live independently of Wahhabism.

An Early Scholarly Refutation of Wahhabism from 1743

The fact that Wahhabis control Mecca and Medina gives the impression that since this ideology comes from the “source” of Islam, it must represent a true or authentic version of Islam. They do not know that the scholars of Mecca and Medina rejected this ideology until it was forced on them by sword and gun in 1925 by the Saudis with the support of the British. Churchill was responsible for paying Ibn Saud a stipend of £100,000 a year from the British government, or six million US dollars in today’s money. Churchill also described the Wahhabis at the British Parliament as follows:

they hold it as an article of duty, as well as of faith, to kill all who do not share their opinions and to make slaves of their wives and children. Women have been put to death in Wahhabi villages for simply appearing in the streets. It is a penal offence to wear a silk garment. Men have been killed for smoking a cigarette.

In 1743, Muhammad bin Abd al-Wahhab, the founder of Wahhabism, was just starting out. He gained notoriety for ordering the destruction of the tomb of the Companion Zayd b. al-Khattab . The people of Najd wrote the scholars of Mecca asking for their opinions on Muhammad bin Abd al-Wahhab’s views. One result was a 1743 fatwa by the Sheikh ʿAbd al-Wahhāb al-Ṭandatāwī, who was a scholar from the Shāfiʿī school residing in Mecca, that is preserved as manuscript at Princeton University (Garrett collection at Firestone library, MS 3788).2 He called Muhammad bin Abd al-Wahhab a misguided innovator, clearly “insane” and a blasphemer. The interesting part of the fatwa is that many of the most prominent scholars of Mecca added their own support to it. The Mufti of Mecca ʿAbd al-Qādir al-Ṣiddīqī adds his own paragraph at the end, praising the fatwa and supporting it. The Shāfiʿī mufti of Mecca ʿAbd al-Wahhāb al-Ṭabarī adds his support. The Mālikī mufti ʿAbd al-Wahhāb bin Muḥammad Tāj does the same. The Ḥanabalī mufti of Mecca Fāʾiz bin Abū Bakr adds his support (Muhammad bin Abd al-Wahhab himself claimed to represent the views of the Ḥanbalī school). The Ḥanafī scholars Sayyid Muḥammad al-Ḥusaynī and sheikh Muḥammad al-Madanī also add their support. Other scholars who add their support are Sayyid ʿUmar bin Aḥmad al-Saqqāf, Sheikh Muhammad al-ʿAtāqī and Sheikh Ḥusayn al-Manufī.

I believe it is safe to assume that the above represents the attitude of Mecca’s great scholars toward Wahhabism. Since 1925 scholarly criticism of Wahhabism coming out of Saudi Arabia has been nearly non-existent for the simple reason of the authoritarian rule of the Wahhabis. This enables them to use their rule over the country as an important propaganda tool for spreading their ideology. Since their authoritarian rule allows no criticism of Wahhabism, Saudi scholars who disagree with Wahhabism are forced to keep silent.

Cultural Revisionism

Similar to radical Marxists and radical feminists, Wahhabis turn culture into a war zone. To them every aspect of human life and expression should be ruled by their ideology. There is no space for human activity that is not controlled by their doctrines. For example, Wahhabis find the spring festival known as Nowruz , celebrated by Sunni and Shiite speakers of the Iranian languages (Farsi, Pashto, Kurdish, Luri, Gorani) “un-Islamic” even if it does not contain anything that directly conflicts with Islamic commandments. In their view there is no difference between Islam and culture; Islam should be culture. We all believe in God and follow the Prophet , so what right do we have to have any form of cultural expression not derived from the culture of 7th century Arabia?

This is another major point of divergence between mainstream Islam and Wahhabism. In mainstream Islam humans are sacred and have the right to self-expression as long as they do not break the law. In Wahhabism humans are animals unless they act like automatons controlled by Wahhabi texts, so a Wahhabi cannot celebrate Nowruz because Nowruz is not in the Wahhabi texts.

Wahhabis, similar to radical Marxists and radical feminists, “march through culture”, finding nothing intrinsically valuable or sacred; everything is to be wiped out, everything destroyed, unless it fits their ideology. According to these ideologies “the personal is political”. The way you live your life inside your house, the paintings you hang on the wall, the books you like to read, the music you enjoy, the food you like, none of these things are matters of personal preference, they are political statements. Everything you do is either in support of the ideology or against it. There is no neutral territory where you can be just you, because the ideology considers you an animal that has only been turned into a human by the virtue of the ideology, not by any virtue you intrinsically possess.

How dare you call this beautiful? Wahhabis: It was painted by a Christian/non-Muslim! Radical Marxists: It was painted by a capitalist and depicts capitalist society! Radical feminists: It was painted by a man! It supports the patriarchy!

If you hang a painting in your room because you find it beautiful, this is actually considered an attack on the ideology, because you would be claiming that there is an independent source of judgment (“beauty”) that is outside the ideology. A Wahhabi considers it a betrayal of Wahhabism for you to let your desires go so wild as to appreciate the beauty of something without considering its political meaning. Was the painting painted by a Christian? Does it depict Christian society? Does it lack a mention of God/Wahhabism? A radical Marxist thinks very much along the same dehumanizing terms; you are not allowed to appreciate beauty for its sake, you are supposed to worry about its political meaning. Does it support capitalism? Does it depict bourgeois society? And radical feminism changes the question to “Does it support the patriarchy? Is it male-centric? Was it painted by a man?”

You are not allowed to say, “It is just beautiful, stop interrogating me!” because within these ideologies the intrinsic worth and sanctity of the human is denied. You have no right to consider something beautiful if it threatens the ideology. The fact that you as a human find something beautiful is irrelevant. It is the ideology that is paramount. You as a human are worthless, it is only the ideology that gives you worth, therefore it is only the ideology that can decide what is beautiful and what is not.

All of these ideologies, wherever they gain power, create a form of hell on earth; under them you are no longer allowed to be Homo sapiens, they require you to be Homo wahhabicus, Homo marxisticus or Homo feministicus (probably not the correct Latin way to phrase them, but you get the point). And because of that, most humans find them stifling. They destroy the meaning and beauty of life through their extremely petty micromanagement of every aspect of human life and thought.

And that is the biggest reason why none of these ideologies will ever gain a widespread following. They are opposed to being human. They do not want you to be human. They want you to be a tool of the ideology. Human nature rebels against them. For this reason I am not actually worried about any of these ideologies. None of these ideologies can grow organically. They only grow when a group of power-hungry and resentful people find in them a useful tool for gaining power and enforcing their will on others.

Reader Questions

Question 1

I just read your essay about Salafism and Wahhabism. Based on my reading before, Wahhabism started bcs people started to pray at the grave of pious people (for “extra” blessings) and they’re concerned if that act would lead to shirk. That’s why they called certain acts as bida’ah. The extremism is wrong, but I think the concern is legit as the foundation for that belief is for people to be more careful about their aqidah. What is your opinion about this?'

And if possible, may I know your qualifications in talking about this matter. Do you have someone to refer to or is it based only from your references? No harm intended. I’m just being careful in gaining more knowledge 🙂

It is true that a major part of Wahhabi practice is fighting false practices like the worship of saints. But this is nothing new, it is something that scholars had been speaking against for perhaps 900 years before the Wahhabis. What was new was that while mainstream scholars had tried to reform society through peaceful and kindly advice, the Wahhabis’ thought ran like this:

  • The veneration of saints is shirk (idolatry) and should be opposed
  • Idolators are not believers
  • We can terrorize, kill and enslave idolators for the greater glory of God!

The new thing the Wahhabis brought to the table was not an appreciation of God’s Oneness and a desire for reform. This is what they constantly talk about in their propaganda, glossing over the truly new thing in Wahhabism, which was the legalization of killing and enslaving the majority of Muslims around them. Wahhabis invented the radical idea that 1. they had the right to decide what Islam should be for everyone else, 2. they had the right to kill Muslims who disagreed with them without any due process.

One of the first major acts of the Wahhabi-Saudi alliance was the attack on the Iraqi city of Karbala on the 10th of Muharram of 1801 CE, led by Saud bin Abdul-Aziz bin Muhammad bin Saud at the time of the First Saudi State. They killed between 2,000 and 5,000 civilians, damaged their holy places and carried away spoils.

According to Rousseau [an orientalist who was in Iraq at the time], 12,000 Wahhabis attacked the city, set fire to everything, and killed old people, women, and children. "... when ever they saw a pregnant woman, they disembowelled her and left the foetus on the mother's bleeding corpse," said Rousseau.

According to Uthman ibn Abdullah ibn Bishr, a Wahhabi chronicler:

The Muslims [a reference to the Wahhabis, since to them only they were the real Muslims] scaled the walls, entered the city ... and killed the majority of its people in the markets and in their homes. [They] destroyed the dome placed over the grave of al-Husayn [and took] whatever they found inside the dome and its surroundings ... the grille surrounding the tomb which was encrusted with emeralds, rubies, and other jewels ... different types of property, weapons, clothing, carpets, gold, silver, precious copies of the Qur'an."

The above was not a “mistake” or something done by an extremist minority within Wahhabism, it is Wahhabism as Wahhabis think it should be practiced and any true Wahhabi today will still consider the attack on Karbala a great accomplishment. The original Wahhabis were very much exact replicas of today’s ISIS and other terrorist organizations. In the name of promoting God’s Oneness they do such things to their fellow humans that no person with a conscience could even do to an animal.

If you meet a random “Salafi”/Wahhabi on the Internet and you wonder whether they are capable of acting like the above or whether they are different (you may think that maybe the above is just history), it is quite easy to find out after observing what they say. Wahhabis believe they are infinitely morally superior to everyone else around them. Their propagandists treat you like a human if they think there is a chance you can be made to join them. But question something they say, or disagree with them, in other words, express the slightest bit of personal initiative and they will turn around and call you a misguided and mentally perverted person, worse than an animal. To them, similar to radical Marxists (like György Lukács) and radical feminists, disagreeing with their ideology means that you lose the right to live. To them human life is intrinsically worthless; you only acquire worth by the virtue of agreeing with them. This attitude comes out in their speech and behavior everywhere.

So, you see, our problem is not with Wahhabi theology or doctrine about the nature of God. It is about their methods and attitudes. Look at almost any political party and in their description of themselves, they talk about such things as promoting justice, mercy, equality and tolerance. Look at any murderous dictator’s description of his government and you’d think he is an angel who can’t sleep at night because of how much he worries about his people. All of this is propaganda and often tells you nothing about the true nature of the movement, party or individual. Wahhabis can talk about promoting the true worship of God as much as they want, but what they are actually about is dehumanizing the rest of humanity and the promotion of a sense of infinite moral superiority among themselves that gives them the right to do anything they want to their fellow humans.

For references, please see Wahhabism: A Critical Essay by Hamid Algar (2002). His analysis is not as detailed or careful as I would like, but it is a good enough starting point. For my own learning, please see my about page for a list of books and papers I have studied.


Question 2

I've read your essay on Wahabbism /Salafism , but I have got few questions. I read somewhere that Muhammed ibn Abd al-Wahhab started his movement because he was deeply disturbed by the shirk going around him. Can we say that the Prophet's battle against the mushrik was more ethical because of the verdict of Allah? And the fact that he tried to educate people for many years before that? Also is killing people who do shirk a sin, since in Islam shirk is the absolute evil? Also I read that the Hanbali madhab is very similar to Wahhabism/Salafism. But since all four madhabs are legitimate and part of ahl sunnah wa aljama'a. But if Hanbali is similar to Wahabbism, that means that Islam is similar to Wahabism?

I do not know if you saw the fatwa mentioned above. The Hanbali mufti of Mecca signed a fatwa denouncing Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab’s views. And one of the main issues this fatwa had with Ibn Abd al-Wahhab was that he was saying Abd al-Qadir al-Gilani (who was also a Hanbali) and his followers were disbelievers. So the problem of mainstream Islam with Wahhabism is not about their being Hanbalis. Hanbali scholars have been well-respected and honored by other scholars throughout Islam’s history.

Wahhabi sources depict Ibn Abd al-Wahhab as some pious prophet and teacher who only wanted to reform things. His views and actions, and the actions of his followers, tells us very much the opposite. We actually know little about his life beyond the fact that he declared his own views to be the only possibly correct views, declared everyone around him a hypocrite or polytheist, and supported going to war with and wiping out every Muslim that did not submit to his views.

Ibn Abd al-Wahhab was possessed by the idea that he and his followers were the only Muslims in a sea of polytheists (despite everyone around them also being Muslims). His logic was that those who perform tawassul (supplication through someone) at the shrines of saints, thinking this improves the chances of their prayer being answered, are committing shirk (assigning partners to God) because they think that there is another power besides God that can help their prayer get answered.

The problem is that we do not have any conclusive evidence in Islam that praying at the shrine of a person considered holy has any harms or should be forbidden, and we have evidence that suggests otherwise. There are narrations that say the prophets are all “alive” in their graves, that martyrs are alive in their graves, and that Prophet Muhammad is told about anyone who mentions him and praises him (as if he is listening to us the way God is listening to us). We also have a poem by Sawad al-Azdi in which he supplicates to all the prophets and Prophet Muhammad , asking them to be his shafīʿs (intercessors) on the Day of Judgment. The Prophet liked the poem instead of denouncing it as polytheism.

When we perform the formal prayer, in it we say, “Peace be upon you O Prophet”, as if he can hear us. We have no proof that it is only the Prophet who is accorded this honor. Perhaps martyrs and God’s greatest worshipers will also be given the power to listen to what we say and do things for us, since they live in God’s presence. Scholars who have carefully studied this issue have come to the conclusion that they cannot rule that tawassul should be forbidden. Many have disliked it, and personally I would never go to a shrine or expect a saint to be a mediator between myself and God.

You are free to dislike it and to try to persuade everyone around you to avoid it. What you do not have the right to do is denounce a pious Sufi who follows the Prophet’s traditions to the letter and who also likes to visit the shrine of his beloved saint in order to feel close to him and converse with him. The majority of scholars are aware of the complexity of the available evidence so that they are left unable to say anything about it even if they personally do not like it.

Ibn Abd al-Wahhab did not just stop at dehumanizing everyone involved with such practices and declaring them infidels, even though this in itself would be considered a major sin (to call this or that ḥarām without conclusive evidence and to declare fellow Muslims infidels despite having the support of the majority of scholars from all the different scholars, including Ibn Abd al-Wahhab’s own Hanbali school). That would have been bad enough, but he then went the extra step of giving himself the right to be judge, jury and executioner over all the Muslims around him, so that he could freely slaughter anyone who did not submit to his version of Islam.

Ibn Abd al-Wahhab has absolutely no right or authority within mainstream Islam to call Muslims who pray at shrines polytheists. He cherry-picks a group of Quranic verses and hadith narrations to reach this conclusion, a conclusion rejected by almost every scholar of every major school, and for this reason we have a group of Shāfiʿī, Ḥanafī, Mālikī and Ḥanbalī scholars in Mecca in 1743 all coming together to denounce him as an innovator and an ignorant and mentally disturbed person who is incapable of understanding the complexity of the issues at question.

As for dealing with actual polytheists, again in mainstream Islam we do not have the right to massacre them the way Ibn Abd al-Wahhab’s followers in alliance with the Saudi family massacred the men, women and children of so many Muslim villages and towns. Prophet Muhammad did not organize looting raids to attack random polytheist tribes, massacre their populations and take their possessions back to Medina. He was required to sign treaties with them; anyone who asked for peaceful relations had to be treated peacefully:

And if they incline to peace, then incline to it [also] and rely upon God . Indeed, it is He who is the Hearing, the Knowing.3

Eventually an exception was made for the pagans of Mecca. Due to their constant scheming and breaking of past treaties, they were ruled to be non-treaty-capable and so had to be subdued completely:

How can there be for the polytheists a treaty in the sight of God and with His Messenger, except for those with whom you made a treaty at al-Masjid al-Haram? So as long as they are upright toward you, be upright toward them. Indeed, God loves the righteous [who fear Him].

How [can there be a treaty] while, if they gain dominance over you, they do not observe concerning you any pact of kinship or covenant of protection? They satisfy you with their mouths, but their hearts refuse [compliance], and most of them are defiantly disobedient.

They have exchanged the signs of God for a small price and averted [people] from His way. Indeed, it was evil that they were doing.

They do not observe toward a believer any pact of kinship or covenant of protection. And it is they who are the transgressors.

But if they repent, establish prayer, and give zakah, then they are your brothers in religion; and We detail the verses for a people who know.

And if they break their oaths after their treaty and defame your religion, then fight the leaders of disbelief, for indeed, there are no oaths [sacred] to them; [fight them that] they might cease.

Would you not fight a people who broke their oaths and determined to expel the Messenger, and they had begun [the attack upon] you the first time? Do you fear them? But God has more right that you should fear Him, if you are [truly] believers.4

Only a very corrupt Muslim (or non-Muslim Islamophobe) will see in the above verses a blanket approval of massacring polytheists. A fair-minded person will see in it incredibly civilized protocols of foreign policy. The Muslims are required to work for peace and to sign treaties with the polytheists. But since the polytheists keep breaking their treaties and oaths, the Quran declares that they should be treated in a new way: they are given an ultimatum. If they break their treaties one more time, the Muslims are then freed from the need to submit to their calls for peace if they call for it again, because they have finally proven that they are non-treaty-capable and will only attack the Muslims again if they are given a respite.

As for the question of whether killing a polytheist is a sin, in Islamic law non-Muslims (including polytheists) are divided into three categories. These categories are somewhat outdated and we are not required to limit ourselves entirely to them, but this was the view of medieval scholars:

  • Non-Muslims who live under the protection of a Muslim state (dhimmis)
  • Non-Muslims who have a treaty with a Muslim state or society (muʿāhids)
  • Non-Muslims who are actively engaged in a war with the Muslims (muḥāribs)

The killing of non-Muslims belonging to the first two categories is strictly forbidden regardless of their religious views. The Prophet says whoever kills a muʿāhid will not smell the scent of Paradise (Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, 3166). Mainstream scholars are unanimously in agreement that Muslims living under constitutions and laws together with non-Muslims (as in perhaps every country in the world today) are strictly forbidden from doing any harm or injustice to the non-Muslims (let alone kill them). The Quran tells us:

God does not forbid you from those who do not fight you because of religion and do not expel you from your homes - from being righteous toward them and acting justly toward them. Indeed, God loves those who act justly.

God only forbids you from those who fight you because of religion and expel you from your homes and aid in your expulsion - [forbids] that you make allies of them. And whoever makes allies of them, then it is those who are the wrongdoers.5

Wahhabi-inspired terrorists declare everyone around them to be polytheists (including the Muslims), then declare that they are in active war with everyone around them, justifying the murder of anyone they want. This type of thinking is wholly rejected by today’s scholars. The media, of course, ignores the 999 scholars who reject this as a corruption of Islam and give prime time coverage to the one insane preacher they find who supports it.

The Prophet’s battles with the polytheists were not wars of religion in which he attacked people for being polytheists. They were matters of state politics. The polytheists felt threatened by the Prophet’s state in Medina, so they wanted to wipe it out. This forced this Prophet to respond, and in this way one thing lead to another until various battles took place and Mecca itself fell into the hands of the Muslims. Study any biography of the Prophet by a fair-minded writer (Muslim or non-Muslim) and you will find that his battles were never a matter of him wanting to wipe out polytheists. They were always about one tribe allying itself with another and attacking the state of Medina or one of its allies, in this way forcing the Muslims to respond. Polytheists were never massacred as Ibn Abd al-Wahhab’s followers would have done. If they attacked, they were treated according to standard laws of war that were extremely fair and civilized. If they did not attack the Muslims and agreed to peaceful relations, then they were left alone.

On the sanctity of non-Muslim life, we have the important example of Prophet Ibrahim arguing with God’s angels to protect the People of Lot. Why did he do that? If he had been a Wahhabi he would have celebrated, saying it was about time that these infidels were wiped out. But since he was not a Wahhabi, he had sympathy for his fellow humans and considered it his duty to try to protect them (despite their being unbelievers and the greatest of sinners). And even more importantly, after arguing with God’s declared command, God does not condemn him but praises him for his kindness:

When Abraham's fear subsided, and the good news had reached him, he started pleading with Us concerning the people of Lot.

Abraham was gentle, kind, penitent.

“O Abraham, refrain from this. The command of your Lord has come; they have incurred an irreversible punishment.”6

If someone says that Prophet Ibrahim’s way of thinking is not necessarily the Islamic way of thinking, we have the Quran to prove them wrong. In a passage that talks at length about Prophet Ibrahim, the Quran finishes by saying:

Those are the ones whom God has guided, so from their guidance take an example. Say, "I ask of you for this message no payment. It is not but a reminder for the worlds."7

The Quran also tells us that our religion is the same as Ibrahim’s religion:

And strive for God with the striving due to Him. He has chosen you and has not placed upon you in the religion any difficulty. [It is] the religion of your father, Abraham. God named you "Muslims" before [in former scriptures] and in this [revelation] that the Messenger may be a witness over you and you may be witnesses over the people. So establish prayer and give zakah and hold fast to God . He is your protector; and excellent is the protector, and excellent is the helper.

The Quran also tells us that we are all one nation, united with the Prophets that came before:

So We responded to him, and We gave to him John, and amended for him his wife. Indeed, they used to hasten to good deeds and supplicate Us in hope and fear, and they were to Us humbly submissive.

And [mention] the one who guarded her chastity, so We blew into her [garment] through Our angel [Gabriel], and We made her and her son a sign for the worlds.

Indeed this, your ummah, is one ummah, and I am your Lord, so worship Me.8

And in another place:

[ God said], "O messengers, eat from the good foods and work righteousness. Indeed, I, of what you do, am Knowing.

And indeed this, your ummah, is one ummah, and I am your Lord, so fear Me."

But the people divided their matters among them into sects - each faction, in what it has, rejoicing.9

The Quran tells us to take an example from Prophet Ibrahim, who, as mentioned, valued human, even that of non-believers, to the point of arguing with a direct command from God in order to protect people. We know that our Prophet Muhammad was similar in his valuing of human life. He was never involved in senseless massacres of non-believers. He treat non-Muslims who visited Medina with great respect, and even allowed Christians to pray at his mosque. As mainstream Muslims, this is the tradition we follow, a tradition started by Prophet Ibrahim.

Wahhabis always have some twisted logic always prepared to bypass these principles and justify their ideology. The fact that Wahhabism has never spread organically among Muslims, that it has always spread by force, is the strongest evidence for the fact that it is foreign to Islam as it is practiced by the vast majority of Muslims. The Saudi family spread Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia with support of the British, the Taliban did it in Afghanistan with the support of Saudi Arabia, the United States and Pakistan.

Unlike the Prophet , Wahhabis, like Marxists, cannot use reasoned argument and gentle speech to spread their views. People find them and their views repulsive, so the only way they can take over is by force. For that reason I am not worried about Wahhabis taking over Islam. The only way they can get taken seriously is through force. If they ally themselves with a ruling power, they can force their views on others, as happened in Saudi Arabia. But once the power is gone, Wahhabism will collapse and mainstream Islam will become the norm again. The Saudi Crown Prince has made statements suggesting that he might be planning to stop state support for the Wahhabis. If he does that then Saudi Arabia will go back to being a relatively pluralistic and moderate Islamic country like Egypt. This is a very interesting fact that many observers are oblivious about: Wahhabism has never spread unless there was a large amount of force and money behind it. When the force is gone, Muslims revert back to the pluralistic mainstream Islam that we have, being tolerant of disagreement, respecting the sanctity of human life, and having a “live and let live” attitude toward the people around them.

As for shirk or idolatry being a great sin or an “absolute evil” as written in your question, God does not ask us to be executioners against polytheists, atheists or anyone else. It is His business what He does with them. How we deal with them is according to the teachings of the Quran and the example of the Prophet , which means to respect customs, laws and treaties. The Prophet never gave polytheists the choice of either believing or dying for being idolaters as a Wahhabi might do. To a Wahhabi a polytheist is lower than an animal and killing them would only make the world a better place. To the Prophet , the polytheists were humans who were treated on equal terms, human to human. Throughout his life, the Prophet continued to treat the polytheists as he had always done, even before becoming a prophet. His attitude was to respect Arabian customs and tribal and familial ties. Those who had a high status before Islam, like Abū Sufyān, were allowed to keep that status even after becoming Muslim (instead of being told that they were animals before and nothing they did or had is of any worth after Islam). He worked to sign treaties with them in order to have peaceful relations, and just as importantly, he never plotted against them behind their backs, saying polytheists are less than animals so we can do whatever we want in relation to them. He treated them with all of the honor, respect and seriousness that any human deserves.

Indonesia’s unlocked scientific potential?

The Scimago Journal & Country Rank is one of the things I look forward to most to seeing every year. The rankings show each country’s scientific output, a very important measure of a country’s present level of development and its speed of development. The biggest surprise in the 2017 rankings was from Indonesia, whose cited paper count jumped from 11,765 in 2016 to 18,683 in 2017:

Source: Scimago Journal & Country Rank

In 2016, Indonesia was number 45 on world rankings for scientific output. Thanks to the 2017 jump, in 2017 it was number 35.

Indonesia has been a great laggard in scientific output due to its lack of development. Its papers per million capita (PPMC) is 71 compared to Malaysia’s 925. Only 16 years before 2017, in 2002, Malaysia’s PPMC was 72, comparable to Indonesia today. If Indonesia follows the same development trajectory as Malaysia (the way South Korea followed Japan), by 2032 Indonesia will be one of the world’s top scientific powerhouses. Due to Indonesia’s vastness compared to Malaysia, their development will likely take longer; however, the availability of newer and cheaper technologies may speed development up so that they end up following Malaysia’s trajectory despite their handicaps.

If Indonesia ever catches up to Malaysia’s present level of scientific output, it would be publishing 241,000 papers per year, making it the world’s third largest science hub after the US and China.

Almost all of the world’s countries are seeing a great increase in scientific output, caused by adopting Western methods of scientific research and publishing. Pakistan’s output doubled between 2010 and 2017. Egypt did similarly. Iran publishes more papers per capita than Russia. I believe we are in for some very interesting times.

Ending technological servitude: On the need for tariffs on Internet companies (and others)

Aircraft engines for airliners are some of the world’s most advanced technological products. Only a few Western nations can make them. China founded the Aero Engine Corporation of China in 2016 with $7.5 billion in funding to put an end to its reliance on Western-made engines.

In my view the most important reason why protectionism is necessary, or at least one of the most important reasons, is the prevention of technological servitude. A simple example illustrates the point: Your country cannot be a pioneer in aerospace technologies if your country is not producing airplanes. If all of your airplanes come from China, the research and development will happen in China. By buying any technological product from overseas, you are subsidizing research and development pertaining to that product in that country.

Most of the world’s countries are presently in a position of technological servitude when it comes to the products offered by internet companies like Google and Facebook. Short-sighted politicians think that it is sufficient to tax these companies in order to ensure that they partake in the local economy on a balanced basis. This is nonsense. When Google sells hundreds of millions of dollars worth of ads in the Philippines, this helps subsidize research and development in California. The technology and know-how to serve ads, to analyze data, to run data centers and networking hubs, all of these involve extremely advanced skills and tens of thousands of skilled workers, and most of them are going to be in California. The Philippines, by letting Google operate in the country without tariffs, is literally paying cash to Google to train people and develop technologies and ecosystems in California that helps it continue to maintain its technological edge over the rest of the world.

There is no way for a Filipino company to compete with Google in a free market, because Google is vastly ahead both in technology and in economies of scale. Without tariffs, the rest of the world will be stuck in a position of permanent technological servitude, the United States will always be ahead; it will have the most advanced technologies AND it will have tens of thousand of highly trained engineers with years of experience in using and developing these technologies. The United States becomes the “brain of the world” where all the interesting things happen, and every other nation has to beg it for its high-tech products, which it can use to force them to comply with its foreign policy.

In order to help create a Filipino innovation ecosystem in Internet advertising, the country will have to place tariffs on every ad Google sells in the country, making it more expensive to advertise in the country using Google’s services. This will help Filipino companies grow, hiring more people, but most importantly slowly acquiring the technological knowledge to innovate.

Instead of tariffs, the Philippines could ask Google to open engineering centers in the country. While that will certainly help in some ways, only a very small portion of Google’s skill-set will be transferred to the locals in this way, because the services Google offers in the country will still greatly rely on US infrastructure. To properly implement this, the country will have to require Google to serve the Philippines’ market entirely from inside the country, through data centers and networking and engineering hubs all inside the Philippines. But this may not be doable, because Google will have to replicate all of its major teams and technologies for the Philippines’ market (such as its search product). If this is done, it would create tremendous value for the country, helping create thousands of “Google veterans” who can go on to launch other technology companies.

It is true that tariffs cause inefficiencies and require reinventing wheels already invented in other countries. It is extremely costly to develop a local aerospace industry in a developing country. Why not just buy all of your airplanes from the US or Europe? Because that puts you in a position of permanent technological servitude. You will always have to go begging when you need new airplanes, as Iran and Turkey have to do today. No self-respecting nation should allow the US or Europe to hold this club over their heads.

Today, Iran and China are the two countries that recognize these facts better than any other country. Iran produces most of its cars locally, an industry that accounts for 10% of the country’s GDP and employs 700,000 people. It is true that this industry leads to various inefficiencies and the need to reinvent the wheel that could be avoided by importing foreign cars and helping subsidize German and US automakers. But so what? Iran’s car industry helps provide jobs for thousands of scientists and researchers in materials, electronics and robotics.

To be a technological slave or a technologically independent nation

Developing countries have two choices: either to remain technological slaves of developed economies and be treated with the usual contempt these countries have for developing nations, or use tariffs to build local technological innovation ecosystems.

What the US and Europe want from developing nations is free markets that enables them to keep these nations in a position of permanent technological servitude. This achieves four very important goals:

  • Providing markets for US and European products
  • Helping subsidize the jobs of hundreds of thousands of scientists and researchers in the US and Europe who will go on to build the next generation of technological products
  • The ability to use the threat of withholding these products as enforcement tools for making these nations do your bidding
  • Helping ensure US and European military superiority over these nations, since by lacking a powerful technological-industrial base, developing nations will be forever begging the US and Europe for military technology (and will own airplanes and satellites with US/European back-doors and vulnerabilities built in that prevents them from being a threat)

The attitude of the US and Europe toward countries like Indonesia is “We would love for you to develop, but don’t you dare develop in a way that makes you our equal!”

President Trump is really upset about China’s Made in China 2025 initiative because it is designed with the exact goal of escaping technological servitude. Until recently it was easy to dismiss China as a backward copycat that couldn’t innovate. The US and Europe incessantly made fun of China for its technological servitude, while using every tool in their toolbox to ensure that China remained that way.  This is the default Western attitude toward the rest of the world. China eventually took notice and decided to hit the US/Europe where it hurts by working to be an equal.

The problem with an equal is that an equal can hurt you. The West does not want equals, it wants the whole world to be one big family with them as the big brothers holding clubs over everyone else’s heads.

China, Iran and to a lesser degree Russia seem to be making the right decisions for escaping technological servitude. It remains to be seen whether other countries can follow their example.

The types of touching between spouses or strangers that nullify wudu

I recently went to a Mastura group and was told that women’s wudu is invalidated if she so much so touches her husband but when you sleep it isn’t invalidated. So if you go to Makkah again if you touch a non Mahram it’s not invalidated because of the crowds and circumstances. Things like this make me question the logic behind the rulings. Why is it so inconvenient for us? I genuinely struggle with believing it’s so rigid. My husband constantly asks for massages so I need to retake wudu 24/7?

There are many differing opinions on this issue. According to the Ḥanbalī school touching a spouse or a stranger does not nullify wuḍuʾ because they interpret the relevant Quranic verse (4:43) as referring to sexual intercourse (Ibn Taymīya, d. 1328 CE) (Ibn Bāz, d. 1999 CE) or erotic touching (al-Mardāwī, d. c. 1480 CE).

Ibn Nujaym (d. c. 1562 CE), representing the Ḥanafī school, says that mere skin contact does not nullify wuḍuʾ regardless of whether the contact is accidental or intentional, and regardless of whether it is done with erotic intent or not, and regardless of whether it is with one’s spouse or a stranger.

Al-Nawawī (d. 1277 CE), representing the Shāfiʿī school, says that any form of contact between members of the opposite sex who have reached puberty nullifies wuḍuʾ, regardless of whether the two persons are married or not. It is probable that what you heard was from a Shāfiʿī source.

The Egyptian jurist Muhammad ʿIllīsh (d. 1882 CE), representing the Mālikī school, says that the only type of touching that nullifies wuḍuʾ is that which is done with erotic intent (i.e. with the intention of obtaining sexual pleasure), regardless of whether the person obtains the pleasure they sought. It is also nullifies wuḍuʾ if a person obtains sexual pleasure from touching even though they did not intend to obtain pleasure.

The main matter at issue here is the interpretation of lāmastum in verse 4:43. The Shāfiʿīs interpret it as “if you touch”, while the Ḥanafī and Ḥanbalī scholars appear to interpret it as “if you have sexual intercourse with”. Both of these interpretations involve taking an extreme position that is not implied by the verse. The phrase lāmastum literally means “if you caress”, it suggests prolonged contact and has a sexual connotation to it. The Mālikī opinion in my understanding best represents the intent of this verse. Touching a person of the opposite sex only breaks wuḍuʾ if the touching is done with erotic intent or if the touching leads to erotic pleasure without intent. This would apply whether the touching involves a stranger, relative or spouse. The Mālikī opinion represents a middle road between the extremely strict Shāfiʿī view and the extremely lax Ḥanafī/Ḥanbalī views.

On this issue I prefer the Mālikī view, which is that touching between spouses or strangers does not nullify wuḍuʾ unless the person does it with erotic intent or gains erotic pleasure from it. Giving your husband a massage wouldn’t nullify wuḍuʾ if there is no erotic intent or pleasure involved. The Ḥanbalī scholar al-Mardāwī also appears to share a similar opinion.

Source for the opinions of the scholars mentioned above: IslamWeb, fatwa 41160 [archived link], Ibn Baz’s website, fatwa 2961 [archived link].

Suicide and self-harm in Islam

This is a sensitive but also important topic. I remember at my lowest and my worst, needing to connect myself to Allah. It was during college . I was dealing with clinical depression, I also had PTSD. I was extremely suicidal, and I had been self-harming since years. I knew little about Islam, so I searched what islam says about being suicidal, self-harm, etc to be comforted, but instead I saw verses of Quran condemning suicide& threatening with harsh punishment.

I saw ahadith mentioning how the ones who commit suicide will repetitively kill themselves in such a way in the hereafter. many Islamic websites saying it’s a sin to self-harm. On top of my struggles I was dealing with, I felt like I was carrying a heavy burden on the religious side .I tried to numb my depression and to stop my self-harm behavior and suppress my suicidal thoughts,but it got worse. I thought I was a bad person. Then it hit me, why would The Creator of heavens not understand

Since then I’ve struggled with my faith. I realize that I needed Allah’s comfort and not fear. Since its taboo, I can never speak about this. I have no sense of directions, but just guilt of so many years thinking I indulged in sinful behavior by being sick. I don’t think common people understand self-harm and the mechanism of it , Which I can understand. But Allah? It’s a dark place to be mentally ill & ive crossed many sisters who are told they don’t have enough faith and they too feel bad.

I appreciate the difficulty of your situation. The problem is that you have read a few verses of the Quran without taking the rest into consideration, which always leads to an unbalanced view of God. And you should never let other people color your understanding of Him. Regarding suicide, the Quran has only this to say:

And spend in the cause of God, and do not throw yourselves with your own hands into ruin, and be charitable. God loves the charitable.1

The Quran also says:

O you who believe! Do not consume each other’s wealth illicitly, but trade by mutual consent. And do not kill yourselves, for God is Merciful towards you.2

But this second verse is actually referring to one Muslim killing another, as can be seen from the fact that first part of the verse is talking about interactions between Muslims, and from the fact that in verse 2:54, the same wording regarding killing is used to refer to a certain group of Jews killing another group, rather than their committing suicide. Another piece of evidence is that the same wording is used in the same chapter, in verse 4:66, in reference to God commanding a group of people to fight another. Interpreting 4:29 as referring to suicide is a bit far-fetched for someone who is familiar with the Quran, although the literal wording of the verse can be thought to mean that.

In Ṣaḥiḥ Muslim there is the story of a man who commits suicide but who is assumed by the Prophet to be forgiven by God, and he himself prays for him. Imam al-Nawawī, in his commentary on the narration, says that this means that God judges each case of suicide individually, deciding whether it deserves punishment or not.3

Back to the Quran, regards those who have sinned:

Say, “O My servants who have transgressed against themselves: do not despair of God’s mercy, for God forgives all sins. He is indeed the Forgiver, the Clement.”4

It also says:

God does not forgive association with Him, but He forgives anything other than that to whomever He wills. Whoever associates anything with God has devised a monstrous sin.5

If you rely on the understanding of other people of the Quran, you get a skewed picture that reflects the person’s biases. But if you read the Quran itself, all of it, you get a balanced picture. You recognize that God is far more intelligent, kinder and wiser than any human. It is due to relying on other people’s interpretations that we end up questioning God’s wisdom and kindness. If we read the Quran itself, we see that it nearly always keeps things vague, showing us that for every rule there nearly always are exceptions, and that it is God who ultimately judges things. It is illogical to assume that God, who created humans, is less wise and kind than humans, or that His justice may contain faults.

God understands us perfectly. He does not want us to become lax in our faith, saying that He will forgive us regardless of what we do. It is for this reason that the Quran continuously reminds us to fear God. But that is only part of the picture. The Quran also continuously reminds us of God’s kindness and mercy, and the fact the He does not expect us to be super-human in our resolve and self-control:

God does not burden any soul beyond its capacity. To its credit is what it earns, and against it is what it commits. “Our Lord, do not condemn us if we forget or make a mistake. Our Lord, do not burden us as You have burdened those before us. Our Lord, do not burden us with more than we have strength to bear; and pardon us, and forgive us, and have mercy on us. You are our Lord and Master, so help us against the disbelieving people.”6

And do not come near the property of the orphan, except with the best intentions, until he reaches maturity. And give full weight and full measure, equitably. We do not burden any soul beyond its capacity. And when you speak, be fair, even if it concerns a close relative. And fulfill your covenant with God. All this He has enjoined upon you, so that you may take heed.7

As for those who believe and do righteous works—We never burden any soul beyond its capacity—these are the inhabitants of the Garden; abiding therein eternally.8

We never burden any soul beyond its capacity. And with Us is a record that tells the truth, and they will not be wronged.9

The wealthy shall spend according to his means; and he whose resources are restricted shall spend according to what God has given him. God never burdens a soul beyond what He has given it. God will bring ease after hardship.10

The God of the Quran is utterly just and kind. He never asks us to do the impossible, and He is always willing to forgive, and He understands us better than we understand ourselves. There is no human on earth as kind or understanding as God. God does not accept laxity in us, He always wants us to be better, for this reason He constantly commands us to strive to be better. He is not like a spoiling mother who will let us go to ruin by accepting our negative and selfish behaviors; He shows our true natures to us, like a good teacher and mentor. But He is always willing to forgive if we go back to Him with humility and submission.

If other Muslims do not understand you and quote random verses and narrations that make you feel misunderstood, this shows you the limits of human kindness and empathy rather than God. I recommend that you read the Quran many times (if you do not speak Arabic, a good translation would be Abdel Haleem’s), so that when someone quotes to you a random verse out of context you would be able to remember other verses that counterbalance it. There is no excuse for letting other people become middlemen between us and God when God has sent us the best book ever written.

Best wishes inshaAllah.

Living as a Muslim and a homosexual

I wanted to ask a q about being gay. I’m a gay Muslim that has never been intimate with another man, I love Islam & want to get into jannah inshallah, But I don’t know how one can live a life without being able to love, what should I do in this life? I did fall in love with another gay Muslim however we both are religious & made it clear that nothing could happen for the sake of Allah swt. This is too much of a burden on me & I’m tired of having to explain that I did not choose to be this way

You have probably been taught that one can only fall in love with a person they find sexually attractive, and since you only find men sexually attractive, you can only love men. For a young person this might sound very true, since for them sex is one of the most important things in life. The truth is that love is a feeling of admiration, trust and reliance that develops between two people who become emotionally close to one another. You find cases of a husband and wife both of whom are over 70 years of age and who are deeply in love with one another despite the fact that at that age most people have lost their ability to feel sexual desire, and neither of them probably finds the appearance of the other sexually attractive. Love does not need sexual intimacy to make it real.

Being gay is merely a label one chooses for a far more complex physiological reality. Human sexual desire is on a spectrum; most gay men are probably capable of enjoying sexual intimacy with a woman even if they find other men far more sexually attractive. I have also read cases of gay men, who say they only sexually desire other men, who fell in love with a woman. Rather than accepting today’s highly-politicized Western ideas about gender and sexuality, judge things for yourself. You might be perfectly capable of falling in love with the right woman and enjoying sexual intimacy with her, even if you feel a strong preference for men. If I am not mistaken, in the past homosexuality was recognized as merely a strong preference for one sex over the other, rather than a defining part of a person’s identity. It is only today that it has become an identity, and there is no reason why you should submit to this, letting others tell you what you are and how you should live your life. Just because you have a strong preference for men does not mean that you are incapable of loving and enjoying sexual intimacy with a woman.

Even if women are not your first choice, you may be able to enjoy a married life with the right woman that is as happy and pleasurable as most other people’s. Most marriages are not an erotic romance story; marriage is about two people agreeing to create a single enterprise, similar to two co-founders of a business. While sexual intimacy is very important for young married couples, it continually loses its importance as they age. This is not a tragedy; sexual desire requires hormones whose levels continue to fall as we age. One’s weakening appetite for sex does not mean that one also loses their love for their spouse. The opposite actually happens often, where a young married couple have little respect for each other in the beginning while after a decade or two of marriage they start to truly love and appreciate each other, even thought they are older and may rarely have sexual intercourse.

If you think it would be unfair to marry a woman while identifying as gay, you can share the fact with her and let her decide. People marry for many different reasons, and there may be women who will prefer you to the other men available to them because of your personality and other qualities even after you tell them you have a preference for men.

At the present, your case is similar to that of a man who is in love with an already-married woman. There might be no immediate solution, although I believe that as you mature and your sex drive quiets down your ideas may change with it. For now, you will have to accept your fate and appreciate that others have worse fates. Being born gay is probably better than being born blind. There are millions of men in India who desire women but who will never be able to marry simply because the country has millions more men than women. We all suffer from conditions that are outside our control, be it illness, family problems or poverty, and your case is no different.

For now, what you should do is endure patiently and always work to improve yourself and your knowledge. And always remember Prophet Ibrahim’s saying:

And who despairs of his Lord’s mercy except those who are truly lost?1

Life occasionally places us in situations where we lose our patience and want to simply give up rather than go on suffering. It is during those moments that we can prove our loyalty to God.

Best wishes inshaAllah.

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