Islam in the West

Hijabis, Niqabis, and Religious Liberties in the Secular State

When I was fourteen, my new geometry teacher paused while taking attendance on the first day of class to inform me that she didn’t allow hats in the classroom. “We’ll have to do something about that,” she added, referring to my headscarf.

Sitting at my desk in the back, I gaped like she’d slapped me, while she easily moved onto the next student. “Did you hear her?” I asked my seatmates indignantly, but I guess they chose not to hear me either, because none of them reacted, and class went on that day like math was all that mattered. The teacher ultimately decided to make me write an essay about why I wear the hijab to prove my commitment. Apparently dressing like a nun every day at my public high school wasn’t commitment enough.

I’ve been wearing the hijab since age eleven, a personal decision that took me a lot of pleading my parents to get permission to make at such a young age, and since age eleven, I have been exposed to the overwhelming extent of misunderstanding folks in the West have about the hijab. For the past fourteen years, I’ve had friends express their disapproval of the way I dress, men yell at me on the streets of Boston at night, and somehow worst of all, fellow Muslims completely miss the point of the hijab as they speak out or strive against it in a misguided attempt to assimilate into the West.

Still, my experiences as a hijabi in America have been largely positive, alhamdulillah; for every unpleasant confrontation, I’ve been blessed with so many supportive friends, strangers, and fellow sisters and brothers in Islam. I have also been afforded that great Islamic privilege that is the purpose of the hijab: control over my body and image, the reclaiming of my worth from the objectifying gaze of entitled men, that essential empowerment that modesty offers women. And as grateful as I am for my hijab, I am grateful I live in a place where people are open-minded enough to accept my uncommon attire, where I can talk about it and be met with respect and even enthusiasm. As problematic as the American government’s treatment of Muslims has been, there could be more hostile places for a Muslim to call home.

Places like Quebec.

As the daughter of Iraqi immigrants and as a Muslim woman who has grown up in America during the War on Terror, I believe pressuring minorities to assimilate is a form of cultural oppression, and in light of Quebec’s recent ruling to ban various public servants from wearing “religious symbols,” I feel compelled to attempt yet again, as has been my life’s work, to fight for the beautiful philosophy that is the hijab.

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Let’s examine the ruling in question, the so-called “religious symbols” ban that clearly targets hijabis, of whom there are many in Quebec. Bill 21 was passed on June 17 in an effort to “respect the secularity of the state,” and it applies to a variety of government employees from teachers to police officers. The separation of church and state is meant to prevent the government from enforcing religious laws within a population of diverse beliefs; ironically, preventing citizens employed by the state from practicing their own faith achieves essentially the opposite, as it is literally the forceful imposition of legislators’ beliefs on their citizens. Of course, secularism is in itself a belief, and any stance, when imposed on individuals, becomes an authoritarian one. Since the bill impacts the ability of individuals to practice their religion, it would seem that the interpretation of a secular state according to the government of Quebec is not merely a state that is not associated with any religion, but rather a state whose employees are not associated with any religion. This refusal to distinguish between the state and the people who work for it is at the heart of the controversy. It’s the source of the human rights violation.

Beyond the flawed premise of the bill, it’s also important to push back against its categorization of the hijab as a religious symbol on par with a cross. I sometimes like to wear a pendant around my neck that has an Arabic inscription of God’s name. This piece of religious jewelry could be considered the Muslim version of wearing a Christian cross; the hijab, however, is not. For legislators to place the hijab into the same category as a cross necklace is unacceptably ignorant or else dismissive of the hijab, which Islam requires every woman to wear.

Though I think even banning a cross necklace is too restrictive on an individual’s personal freedoms, I would remove my pendant, a mere accessory, with no issue if I really had to, but my hijab? I’d sooner die. Since the hijab is part of a Muslim woman’s modesty, asking her to take it off is not unlike asking a woman to disrobe; in fact, it is exactly that. While the hijab is indeed a visible indicator of a woman’s Islam, classifying it as a religious symbol is as reductive as referring to a five-star meal as edible. The hijab is the essence of many Muslim women’s approach to life, and to not allow them to wear one at work is to put them out of a job.

But horrifyingly enough, we have yet to discuss an even more loathsome aspect of Bill 21: the denial of public services for people wearing face coverings. Under this increasingly appalling new ruling, Muslim women wearing the niqab are no longer entitled to receive health care or use public transportation. The inability to regard women as worthy of such basic human rights unless they can be seen has a disturbing implication: they are only worth as much as their appearance. Admittedly, a covered face makes a person harder to identify, and the government justifies the niqab ban for security purposes, but I’ve witnessed niqabis at the airport lifting up their face covering for officers with no problem. The manner and extent to which they are singled out in this bill is an evident display of French Canadian officials’ distaste for the cloth. No doubt many supporters of the bill, owing to their ignorance of a widely misunderstood topic, consider the niqab to be an affront to feminism. But legislation enforcing a dress code upon a woman’s life is about as anti-feminist as a law can get, and it’s a delusional man who believes that threatening to withhold a woman’s rights and quarantining from society any woman who doesn’t dress to his approval could ever be framed as feminist.

The part of the bill about niqabis is additionally disturbing because it extends the application of its extremist secular policies from public servants to civilians, so the already paper thin argument that the bill is simply enacting the separation of church and state falls apart altogether, as civilians by no stretch of the imagination represent the state. The concept of the separation of church and state exists not to make practicing one’s faith illegal or impossible, but to prevent faith from getting involved in legislation, which citizens are compelled to follow. Well, the legislators of Quebec clearly have a belief system of their own, one they have no qualms about threading through their laws to suppress the civilians with whom they disagree. If the ban of “religious symbols” wasn’t obvious enough, the face covering rule speaks louder than diplomatic wording ever could: Bill 21 is nothing short of a big “screw you” from the Canadian government to its Muslim citizens.

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We shouldn’t have to explain ourselves or justify what we wear to get “permission” for doing so, yet here we are. It’s a familiar disappointment, but to Muslims reading these words and to minorities in general and those who stand with us, I say: don’t mind the hateful. Aim for the ignorant, and let peaceful, informative outreach be your weapon. Recently, I found the letter I’d written over ten years ago for my geometry teacher, simply titled “My Reasons”:

“[Teacher], I don’t wear my head covering to be cool or rebellious. I don’t wear it because somebody ordered me to. I don’t wear it to be different or to stand out. I wear my veil because God asks this of me…

I would like to be valued for more than just my beauty. I’ve found that [when I cover up], the part of me that people remember and enjoy is my talkativeness (sometimes that bothers them, though), my sense of humor, my intelligence, my kindness, and other positive assets I possess…

Please understand that I don’t mean to be rude when I say that I will take my veil off for no one. And my intentions are pure. It’s not like I wear it because it’s the latest fashion. I used to have nightmares of showing up at school naked… But soon after the start of sixth grade I began to have nightmares of being at school without my veil. Those silly bad dreams actually mean a lot to me now, since they are a sign that wearing a hijab has become a part of me.”

After I turned in my essay, my teacher didn’t give me any more trouble. I realize the government of Quebec is a steeper mountain to summit. My sisters, I ask Allah to grant you the strength to overcome the bullies who wield temporary authority over you. May you never have to compromise, or choose between your faith and your livelihood. But if you do, then above all else, I pray you never feel compelled to remove your hijab, that you wear it proudly, and that more of you put it on as a result of this ruling, just as the Christchurch shooter whose goal was to spread hate lead so many to convert to Islam. I write these words lovingly, from a Muslim woman to the West, the only world I’ve known as home: stop telling us how to dress. Don’t waste your breath.

Why We Should Stop Using the Word “Islamophobia”

Recently the British philosopher Roger Scruton was sacked from his government position for stating in an interview that Islamophobia is a propaganda word “invented by the Muslim Brotherhood”, among other statements. The interview was intentionally redacted by the journalist to put Scruton in the worst light possible. Since then the journalist has disappeared from social media after refusing to release the full tape of the interview.

Roger Scruton

The treatment that Scruton has received is typical. He has dared to sin against what the Western zeitgeist considers sacrosanct. There is no forgiveness possible, and he is given no opportunity to justify himself. The zeitgeist is his judge, jury and executioner, and there is no appeal possible. Scruton has been unpersoned; he is considered to be no longer a human and to not deserve to be treated with human decency.

This is especially sad because Scruton has been one of the very few Western intellectuals who has tried to engage with Muslim intellectuals. Second-rate intellectuals are happy to regurgitate 19th century Orientalist theories about Islam without bothering to actually read a recent scholarly book or two on the religion. The great progress that the Western study of Islam has made in the past few decades has completely passed them by. Scruton, however, has been willing to sit with intellectuals like Hamza Yusuf in dialog. He also has a close relationship with a hijabi Syrian lady trying to rebuild Syria’s destroyed architecture. Scruton has been one of the very few intellectuals willing to treat Muslims as humans rather than as second-class humans to be shunned.

While Scruton’s views on Islam do not always hit the mark, we should acknowledge that he has done far more than others to try to engage with it and understand it. He should be celebrated for this and whatever erroneous statement he makes should easily be forgiven. So even if what he had said about Islamophobia had been unacceptable, it should still be the easiest thing in the world to continue to consider him a respectable intellectual and thinker and to continue to engage in dialog with him.

But the truth is that his view of the term “Islamophobia” hits the mark, whether he is right that it was invented by the Muslim Brotherhood or not.

The problem with “Islamophobia”

According to the New World Encyclopedia,

The term phobia, from the Greek φόβος meaning "fear," is a strong, persistent, and irrational fear or anxiety of certain situations, objects, activities, or persons. A phobia disorder is defined by an excessive, unreasonable desire to avoid the feared subject. Phobias are generally believed to emerge following highly traumatic experiences.

"Phobia", The New World Encyclopedia.

According to this definition of phobia, Islamophobia is an irrational and unreasonable fear or anxiety about Islam.

For a politically-minded person, Islamophobia is a very useful word (similar to homophobia and other modern, politically-instituted “phobias”). It helps insinuate that a person who criticizes or dislikes the object under question is irrational and unreasonable. It helps identify a group of humans as irrational and unreasonable, and in this way helps justify demeaning and dehumanizing them and their concerns.

Islamophobia makes dialog impossible. If you fear Islam, you are the problem, not Islam. It discards the subjective experience of those who fear or dislike Islam while promoting an authoritarian ideology that accepts nothing less than full submission to a positive view of Islam as the only option for a reasonable and rational human.

Making Islamophobia sound like a reasonable word may seem like a great accomplishment for a politically-minded Muslim. It helps create an easy-to-use framework for attacking anyone who expresses criticism of Islam. Calling them an “Islamophobe” automatically suggests that the attacked person is irrational and unreasonable. Whatever concerns or criticisms they have are worthless. And not only that, the politicization of the word also helps take this attack further, making it an attack on their basic humanity. An Islamophobe is not a person with human rights, they are an irrational and insane unperson who should not be treated like a human.

But what do we gain by using this slur against people? It does not change anyone’s mind about Islam. It only helps drive their opinions underground, so that they start to feel that there is an oppressive system above them that prevents them from freely voicing their opinions. Islam restricts their freedom of speech so that the only places where they can voice their opinions become Internet forums and YouTube comment sections.

By forcing criticism of Islam and Muslims into the underground, we only help it grow. Not only do these people hold on to their former opinions, they feel encouraged to only become more extreme because of the feeling that their opinions and their humanity are discarded from the start by Muslims.

The rationality of fearing Islam

Islamophobia implies that it is irrational to fear Islam. This sounds frankly idiotic to someone who feels that the evidence is all around them for why they should fear Islam. Terrorist attack after terrorist attack reinforces the view that Islam is a danger to society. Documentaries are constantly published about the suffering of women under Sharia courts in Pakistan or Britain.

The disgust that our Muslim intellectuals express at terrorist attacks does not help remove the association between Islam and terrorism for the simple reason that most people do not get to see the statements of these intellectuals.

The first step for dealing with the fear of Islam in the West is to acknowledge that this fear is rational. Within the subjective experience of the Western person who is exposed to images of terrorism and abuse of women, it is perfectly rational to conclude that Islam is a source of these evils. Calling them irrational is only taken by them as an insult and a slur. Islamophobia tells them that if they make the rational connection between Islam and terrorism, that they are doing something wrong. But they know perfectly well that they are rational, so the insult does nothing to prevent them from making such a connection. It only reinforces their view actually, because they start to sense that there is an Orwellian force from above that wants them to throw away their rationality for a new, politically-instituted faux rationality that somehow finds it logical not to connect Islam with terrorism and other negative things.

It is perfectly rational for a person to fear or dislike Islam based on the information that they are exposed to everyday. The problem is not with the rationality of these people. The problem is with the information that they are exposed to. Discounting these people’s subjective experience is a most futile exercise. The rational conclusion based on the information that they are exposed to is that Islam is a problem. If we want people to stop making this conclusion, we cannot do it by attacking their rationality, but by changing the information.

The information received by a Westerner about Islam is partly true and partly made up of prejudices. The true part consists of the news of terrorist attacks and articles and documentaries about the suffering of women and women’s rights activists among Muslims. The right course of action is not to attack people who bring such information to people’s minds when it is done with journalistic integrity. The right course is to remove the causes for such information being created in the first place by working to promote a tolerant and civilized Islam that naturally prevents terrorism, the abuse of women and all other incentives for the creation of negative information about Islam.

Humanizing the “Islamophobe”

The way to convincing a person who has a negative view of Islam that their view is wrong or imperfect is not to dehumanize them by calling them an Islamophobe, but by treating them as complete humans equal to ourselves.

Kant’s moral philosophy teaches us that the only proper way to treat a fellow human is to treat them as “ends” rather than “means”. Every human is endowed with infinite worth and inviolable dignity from the moment they are born. This is a moral right possessed by all humans, and breaking it by dehumanizing those we dislike only reflects negatively on ourselves. Breaking Kant’s categorical imperative to treat humans as infinitely worthy proves that we are willing to dehumanize some humans. We do not believe in universal human rights and arrogantly think that we can be judge, jury and executioner against humans we dislike.

So how do we treat someone who fears or dislikes Islam? By treating them as if they have every right to come to their own conclusions about Islam. When a Muslim treats a person who dislikes Islam as if the person has infinite worth and dignity, the result is that the person ends up seeing an aspect of Islam that they did not see before.

Good and evil are not equal. Repel evil with good, and the person who was your enemy becomes like an intimate friend.

But none will attain it except those who persevere, and none will attain it except the very fortunate.

The Quran, verses 41:34-35.

Whenever we treat a person who dislikes Islam as less than ourselves, we are showing them that we are willing to discard their inviolable dignity for the sake of our desire for power and comfort. Sensing that we dehumanize them, they will only feel justified in further dehumanizing us. This creates a positive feedback loop that only increases the radicalization of both sides so that we end up with angry and intolerant Muslims who accept nothing but submission to a positive view of Islam from others, and angry and intolerant dislikers of Islam who feel fully justified in working to further increase people’s negative view of Islam by writing or sharing information on Islam’s negative aspects.

This is not how civilized people should behave. By treating critics of Islam with the utmost respect and consideration (regardless of whether they treat us the same way), we show that we follow a higher, better and more civilized morality and in this way prove that we are worthy of being engaged with intellectually. We should display kindness and consideration to critics of Islam, not out of an attempt to manipulate them, but because that is the type of people we are.

A Muslim imam’s preaching for respect and tolerance sounds rather hollow when they are willing to dehumanize people by calling them Islamophobes. An Islamphobe is a person, and persons have the right to be treated the way we like to be treated ourselves (Kant’s categorical imperative). By calling them Islamophobes we break the first rule of morality when it comes to our fellow humans. Nothing we say after that will have any force or meaning. We have started by dehumanizing those who dislike us.

If Islam truly makes us moral and civilized, this should first of all things come out in our actions and words. By using “Islamophobia” we break the first rule of moral and civilized treatment of others, in this way showing ourselves to be rather immoral and uncivilized. We make dialog impossible by calling critics of Islam irrational. If they are intrinsically irrational, then no conclusion they can reach is valid. If we make it a condition for them to like Islam before we consider them rational, then we are basically telling them to sell their independence of mind and conscience to us so that they can become fully human.

Rather than using Islamophobia to dehumanize our opponents, we should make every effort in the opposite direction, constantly showing them that we continue to see them as respected and dignified humans regardless of what conclusions they have reached. They are humans whose subjective experience has made them develop a negative view of Islam based on the information they have received. We do not fix this situation by putting the guilt on them and their rationality, but by showing them that there is a problem with the information.

Fixing the Information Imbalance

The West’s media is largely owned or run by Zionist Jews or Zionist non-Jews with strong loyalty to Israel (The New York Times, The Guardian, Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, CNN, Fox News, Disney, Universal Pictures, Comcast, Random House Publishing, the list goes on). It is in the interest of these media outlets to promote a negative view of Islam. The difference is that while some Zionist outlets like Fox News and Breitbart are unabashedly anti-Islam, leftist outlets like the The New York Times and The Guardian go about their anti-Islam propaganda in a classier way. For example The Guardian has a policy of never using the word “kill” when Israel kills Palestinians. Israel attacks Gaza and Palestinians “die”. Widespread criticism of this duplicity led them to change their headlines a number of times while sticking to the policy of not using “kill” in reference to Israeli killing of Palestinians.

Another “classy” way in which these outlets bias their content against Muslim is by doing something that I call “controlling word spend”. News articles maintain the pretense of neutrality by speaking of both sides of the conflict when mentioning Israeli-Palestinian clashes, but the Israeli side gets many more words dedicated to it, in this way creating the unbalanced impression that the suffering of the Israelis is much more important and that the Muslims and their suffering is just an afterthought. A case in point of this extremely vicious sleight of hand is the following typical article that covers an episode of conflict between Israel and Gaza:

To a casual observer, the article looks fair and balanced. It shows the picture of a Palestinian infant’s funeral, for example. But if you study the word spend of the article, you find the following:

  • 1115 words are dedicated to mentioning pro-Israel points (discussing the suffering of Israeli civilians and Israel’s need to defend itself.)
  • 141 words are dedicated to mentioning pro-Palestinian points (discussing the suffering of Palestinians and their unfair treatment by Israel)
  • 752 words are neutral, supporting neither side.

To show just how unbalanced this coverage is, below is the same numbers expressed as a chart:

Through this clever and insidious method, The New York Times ensures that Westerners always get to empathize far more with Israelis than Palestinians despite the fact that five times more Palestinians than Israelis were killed.

Besides that egregiously unbalanced dedication of words to the different sides, The New York Times also works hard to humanize the Israelis. The article mentions that a rabbi was killed. Not an “Israeli” but a rabbi. The Israelis destroyed a number of anonymous “buildings” while the Palestinians struck a kindergarten in the town of Sderot and the oncology department at Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon. The interior decoration of one of the Israeli victim’s houses (whose full name and age is given) is described. In this way the article gives its Western readers all kinds of opportunities to empathize with the Israelis and to see their individuality and their suffering, while the Palestinians remain anonymous and their buildings just “buildings”.

The West’s “Islamophobia” is really a media problem, and the solution is for Muslims to create alternative media outlets that do not suffer from the anti-Islam bias of Zionist-owned outlets (which is nearly all of them). We can never expect these outlets to be fair to Muslims because dehumanizing Muslims is crucial to their agenda of supporting Israel at all costs.

This imbalance is not limited to coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is pervasive and easily noticeable by a Muslim (but not by the non-Muslims it is aimed it). The popular YouTube documentaries channel Real Stories has 22 highly anti-Muslim documentaries (discussing Sharia courts, polygamy and terrorism) and only four documentaries that were neutral or positive (discussing hajj and romantic love among Muslims).

It is this grossly biased coverage of Muslims that is promoting so much “Islamophobia”.

We need more Muslim writers, journalists, blogs, news sites, publishing houses and film-making studios. We need to take break the stranglehold of these media outlets over information about Islam so that Westerners may start to get a fair and balanced treatment of Islam and Muslims. By correcting their information sources, we correct the “Islamophobia” problem.

Now, complaining about Western media’s unfair treatment of Muslims is not going to convince anyone to think better of Muslims. We need to completely remake the media environment so that Westerners stop being constantly barraged by one-sided, anti-Islam coverage of Islam and Muslims.

We need to recognize that the mainstream media of the West is our enemy, and we need to exert every effort we can to undo their control over the minds of Westerners.

And we cannot achieve that by creating media outlets that are unfairly biased in favor of Muslims. We need to create media that lives up to the highest standards of Islamic morality, which should begin by embodying a loyalty to the truth above all other considerations.

Conclusion

The West’s “Islamophobia” problem is an information imbalance problem, and correcting it requires creating alternatives to the existing mainstream media.

What happened to Islamic civilization? Why did Muslims fall behind in science and technology?

I wanted your in depth opinion on a particular observation. Muslims, historically speaking, have been responsible for hundreds and thousands of scientific discoveries. What happened to us? Why are we in the stage we are?

Only 100 years ago, which is just a little more than one human lifetime, the Ottoman Empire was a sovereign Muslim nation that could stand up to any Western power. No Jewish colonizer would have dared to terrorize and massacre Palestinians when the Ottoman Empire was there to protect its citizens.

While many Muslims, including scholars, think that Muslims were always powerful, capable and thriving throughout history until modern times, this is mostly a romantic fairy tale told to console and encourage.

The Crusaders were able to take Jerusalem and other parts of the Levant from the Muslims in 1099 CE and ruled it for nearly 100 years. Where were the great Muslim powers in this time that they couldn’t take it back? The Middle East was a mix of weak and fractured “Muslim” powers, who were only Muslim in name but in general acted like any modern power, using religion to justify their actions while being under the influence and sometimes control of foreign non-Muslim powers.

The current weakness and powerlessness of Muslims is similar to their state during the Mongol invasions. Some Muslims thought the end of the world had arrived, thinking the Mongols were the promised Ya’jooj and Ma’jooj (Gog and Magog) mentioned in the Quran. The Mongols utterly destroyed the Sunni Muslim Khwarezmian Empire which controlled nearly all of Modern Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and parts of Afghanistan and Kazakhstan, and which had existed for 150 years, through the wholesale slaughter of men, women and children. After that, they went on to destroy Baghdad and Damascus, although the Abbasid Empire had been in decline for centuries before the Mongols arrived.

On the other side of the Medieval world, Muslims ruled nearly half of Spain for nearly 800 years, until 1492 CE (which is also the year the Americas were discovered). Just as they threw Muslims out of Spain, Christians went on to conquer two continents, spread Christian rule all over them, and eventually built the world’s most powerful nation there.

The Myth of Continuous Power Increase

There is a myth among Muslims that since they belong to God’s chosen religion, they should have been able to establish a globally dominant power that ruled the world forever. But God doesn’t promise us that. He promises that we will be tested:

You will be tested through your possessions and your persons; and you will hear from those who received the Scripture before you, and from the idol worshipers, much abuse. But if you persevere and lead a righteous life—that indeed is a mark of great determination.1

God also threatens us with His ability to remove us from power and replace us with others if we do not follow His guidance:

131. To God belongs everything in the heavens and everything on earth. We have instructed those who were given the Book before you, and you, to be conscious of God. But if you refuse—to God belongs everything in the heavens and everything on earth. God is in no need, Praiseworthy.

132. To God belongs everything in the heavens and everything on earth. God suffices as Manager.

133. If He wills, He can do away with you, O people, and bring others. God is Able to do that. 2

Verse 131 above mention’s God’s warning to the People of the Book. The Old Testament contains many promises by God that if His people disobey, He will abandon them to whatever that may happen to them, and that He will make others dominant over them. In the Book of Deuteronomy (part of the Old Testament, and part of the Torah), prophet Musa (Moses) says:

25 When thou shalt beget children, and children's children, and ye shall have remained long in the land, and shall corrupt yourselves, and make a graven image, or the likeness of any thing, and shall do evil in the sight of the Lord thy God, to provoke him to anger:

26 I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that ye shall soon utterly perish from off the land whereunto ye go over Jordan to possess it; ye shall not prolong your days upon it, but shall utterly be destroyed.

27 And the Lord shall scatter you among the nations, and ye shall be left few in number among the heathen, whither the Lord shall lead you.3

The Quran, too, mentions prophet Musa saying similar things:

6. Moses said to his people, “Remember God’s blessings upon you, as He delivered you from the people of Pharaoh, who inflicted on you terrible suffering, slaughtering your sons while sparing your daughters. In that was a serious trial from your Lord.”

7. And when your Lord proclaimed: “If you give thanks, I will grant you increase; but if you are ungrateful, My punishment is severe.”

8. And Moses said, “Even if you are ungrateful, together with everyone on earth—God is in no need, Worthy of Praise.” 4

Our relationship with God is not one where He constantly supports us just because we say we are His nation, unlike some Muslims and many Jews think. Here is the Jewish feminist author Naomi Wolf expressing her surprise at finding out (by reading the Hebrew Bible) that unlike what many Jews think, God does not promise them never-ending support just because they are “His chosen people”:

He never says: "I will give you, ethnic Israelites, the land of Israel." Rather He says something far more radical - far more subversive -- far more Godlike in my view. He says: IF you visit those imprisoned...act mercifully to the widow and the orphan...welcome the stranger in your midst...tend the sick...do justice and love mercy ....and perform various other tasks...THEN YOU WILL BE MY PEOPLE AND THIS LAND WILL BE YOUR LAND. So "my people" is not ethnic -- it is transactional. We are God's people not by birth but by a way of behaving, that is ethical, kind and just. And we STOP being "God's people" when we are not ethical, kind and just.5

She is not quite correct when she says “my people” is not ethnic. Jews are God’s chosen, but being chosen does not necessarily mean one is chosen for a good thing. Jews are God’s chosen in that He gave them many scriptures and throughout the centuries continuously sent them new prophets to guide them back to the Straight Path. He chose them for a specific test. Their being chosen is not just a privilege, it is both a privilege and a heavy burden. If they reject God despite being chosen, God sends the most terrible punishments on them, like He has done many times throughout history. Many Jews forget the burden and choose to enjoy the privilege of thinking of themselves as God’s chosen elite.

Our relationship with God is contractual. If we obey, He supports us. If we disobey, He stops supporting us and subjects us to unfriendly powers.

The story of the Jews is a good lesson for us. Many times in their history they were extremely powerful. After they left Egypt, they entered Canaan around 1446 BCE. They disobeyed God when they were about to overtake a city and live in it, so God punished them by having them wander in the desert for 40 years. They finally entered Canaan in 1406 BCE and completely conquered it by 1399 BCE. Once they become a sovereign power, they soon start to do evil, abandoning God, worshiping Baal or the Calf, practicing usury or allying themselves with irreligious foreign powers like Egypt. For this reason, as they rejected and sometimes even killed their prophets, every few generations God would send a powerful foreign power to destroy many of their cities and slaughter many of their people.

When they continued to reject God, He sent Babylon to conquer their lands and sent them into exile for 70 years. After that the Persian emperor, whose empire had conquered Babylon, allowed the Jews to return to their lands and reestablish themselves there. Their story continued the same as before, with them doing evil and being punished for it. In 70 AD, a few decades after they rejected Jesus and tried to kill him, they tried to escape the rule of the Roman empire. In return they had their city of Jerusalem utterly destroyed and hundreds of thousands of Jews killed.

The Arch of Titus, which commemorates the Roman victory over the Jews, among other things, still stands in Rome.

Titus, the Roman commander who was in charge of the Roman victory over the Jews, is supposed to have refused to wear a wreath after the victory, saying that he was only acting as a tool of God’s wrath over the Jews. Perhaps this was God’s punishment on them for their rejecting God’s prophet Jesus.

In Jewish history there is an important historical lesson; that just because a nation associates itself with God and claims to be His people does not mean they will always have God’s support.

Muslim nations have had a history similar to that of the Jews. Many powerful Muslim states have risen and fallen throughout history, and this process is not going to end. If we establish a caliphate like some Muslims dream about, and even if it rules the world for 1000 years, if most of the population abandons Islamic values and Islam becomes largely culture and tradition and not faith, then that caliphate too will fail. God will enable another Mongol invasion, or another invasion by the British and the French, to come and divide their caliphate and do with it as they please.

Christianity’s Place in Islamic History

Just as Islam faded in the Middle East and became little more than cultural tradition and ceremony, Christianity rose in the West. The Christians who conquered the Americas thought they were doing it for God’s sake. They read the Bible daily, they established Biblical law in their colonies, and they braved many dangers in order to establish families, villages and cities in empty and hostile lands.

God’s promise in the Quran came true for them for their deeds:

65. Had the People of the Scripture believed and been righteous, We would have remitted their sins, and admitted them into the Gardens of Bliss.

66. Had they observed/enforced the Torah, and the Gospel, and what was revealed to them from their Lord, they would have consumed amply from above them, and from beneath their feet. Among them is a moderate community, but evil is what many of them are doing.6

While it is common for many Muslims to think of Christians as nothing but heathens who should magically disappear now that Islam has come, Christians are as much God’s people as Muslims are, that is, they too have a contract with God, and if they uphold their contract with God, God will uphold His contract with them. If a Christian nation is more faithful, more eager to serve God, and more observant of God’s laws, then we shouldn’t be surprised if God gives them His full support.

This was the case in the Americas and much of Western Europe until 1900 CE. With all of the corruption present, the average person’s actions and thinking were still largely controlled by Christian ideals.

Today, things are different. The West has finally abandoned the religion that made it great. The only reason the West is great today is the momentum of the past. A Muslim may lose hope when they look at the United States and see its immense capacity to dominate and do evil throughout the world. But the United States is already past its prime. It is desperately trying to hold onto its past power, constantly threatening Russia, China and Iran, but incapable of doing anything about them as they continue to rise.

The United States has had a below-replacement fertility rate since the 1970’s. If it wasn’t for their continuous importation of immigrants, their population would have been shrinking by now. A decades-long below-replacement fertility rate is all that is needed to illustrate that a nation is failing.

It is a country’s population that gives a nation its economic, technological and military power, and once the population starts to shrink, its power will decrease, because there will be fewer people to innovate, and fewer people to consume the fruits of these innovations and in this way pay for further innovations. Today the United States can afford to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on military spending every year, and it is this spending that enables various military companies to continue innovating. But as the American tax base and economy both shrink, with this its power to spend will shrink. America is on a trajectory to become the next Portugal, once a global superpower, now almost a complete non-entity (unless it continues to import immigrants, but this cannot go on forever).

One illustration of the continuing fall of the United States is that of the world’s top 15 skyscrapers (those higher than 350 meters) finished in the past 3 years, 10 are in China, and only one in the United States. China continues to rise, the United States continues to stagnate and fall. America’s failing economy has no need for new office buildings, hotels and restaurants, since it already has more than its shrinking economy needs.

The answer to the question of why Muslims are so powerless compared to the West these days is that Islamic history ran into Christian history. Christian power was still rising when it clashed with an Ottoman Empire that was already past its prime, so the Ottomans didn’t stand a chance.

Today, Christian powers too are past their prime, and great change is coming.

The United States is unlikely to become a Portugal any time soon, and if Islam continues to spread, it might change into a new type of superpower without becoming irrelevant.

It should be noted that while China’s rise will probably be a good thing in the short-term, as its rise to power will probably prevent further significant US excesses for the next few decades, once it is firmly established as the world’s most powerful country, it could start acting like the US, forcing every other country to either become a de facto client state or get turned into a war zone.

The Long View of History

Even if Muslims establish a new global superpower that lasts for hundreds of years, it too can eventually fail and get conquered by non-Muslim powers. Imagine if this world continues to exist for the next 100,000 years. The story of Muslims being powerful then weak then powerful again might play out fifty or a hundred times more.

We humans want safety and security. We want to establish Paradise on Earth once and for all and then go on living in it. But that is not the purpose of this world, and dreams of establishing a Paradise on Earth are naive and futile. We are taught over and over again in the Quran that this world is worthless, that it will soon be over, that none of our deeds done in this world will last. The Quranic character Dhul Qarnain shows his appreciation for God’s message when he says the following right after completing building a structure for God’s sake:

He said, “This is a mercy from my Lord. But when the promise of my Lord comes true, He will turn it into rubble, and the promise of my Lord is always true.”7

For us Muslims, it is always about the journey, not the destination. It doesn’t matter what we accomplish in this world, because nothing we do will last. Everything we think we can accomplish, if God is really all-powerful, God can accomplish it in an instant if He wants. The point is not accomplishment in itself, the point is to follow God. What matters is the record of our deeds. No matter what we build, no matter how much power we have, we could see it all destroyed tomorrow. This has happened over and over again in history, though sadly we continue to fail to learn the lesson.

Why did God let the Mongols destroy Baghdad and Damascus if our purpose was to continue to gain power, wealth and fame in this world? Why did He let the Ottoman Empire, the last truly sovereign Muslim power, be invaded and destroyed? Why did He not allow the Arab powers to defeat Israel during their multiple wars?

Because this world is a test. It is not our purpose to build Paradise on Earth. Our purpose is khilafah, literally “to be stewards”. We are stewards of the earth. Our purpose is to take care of it by enjoining good and admonishing against evil, so that humanity continues, and so that the the earth does not become entirely corrupted.

A steward takes care of a farm until the owner returns, continuing the running of the farm as best as they can. It is the owner’s business what they do with the farm. In the same way, our job in this world is to continue be God’s stewards, God’s agents for good in this world, but it is His business what He does with this world, and whether He gives us power or takes it away from us. All that we can say is, “We hear and we obey.”

We are not seekers after power. The Prophet (peace be upon him) did not seek power, it was given to him. Neither did any of the righteous Rashidun caliphs. We do not seek to establish global dominance, or to carry out global war. Our job is to be God’s stewards, to walk on the Straight Path.

Being on the Straight Path does not require gaining power, and in fact the seeking of power is directly opposed to it, for the seeking of power always requires that one abandon one’s moral integrity. This is the story of every political party that starts out with high moral ideals only to become a nest of corruption and evil.

It is God who gives us power if we deserve it, and if the time is right, for His own purposes, and as long as it pleases Him, until He takes it away from us. As for us, we must be thankful and content throughout all of this:

No, but worship God, and be among the thankful ones.8

It is God who manages history for us. We are not in charge, God is.

No calamity strikes except by God’s permission. Whoever believes in God, He guides his heart. God is Aware of everything.9

No calamity occurs on earth, or in your souls, but it is in a Book, even before We make it happen. That is easy for God. That you may not sorrow over what eludes you, nor exult over what He has given you. God does not love the proud snob.10

God does not change the condition of a people until they change what is within themselves. And if God wills any hardship for a people, there is no turning it back; and apart from Him they have no protector.11

God has promised those of you who believe and do righteous deeds, that He will make them successors on earth, as He made those before them successors, and He will establish for them their religion—which He has approved for them—and He will substitute security in place of their fear. They worship Me, never associating anything with Me. But whoever disbelieves after that—these are the sinners. 12

Our job is to do good wherever we find ourselves, to worship God, to be kind and just, to follow His commandments as best as we can, and it is God who will establish us on Earth when He pleases:

God has promised those of you who believe and do righteous deeds, that He will make them stewards on Earth, as He made those before them stewards, and He will establish for them their religion—which He has approved for them—and He will substitute security in place of their fear. They worship Me, never associating anything with Me. But whoever disbelieves after that—these are the sinners.13

We can, of course, be political activists and social critics. We can constantly work toward social justice and the lifting of poverty. But instead of doing these by seeking power first, we do them without seeking power. We do what is right and just and kind toward everyone, and God, if He wishes, can give us power any time He wants.

Ibn al-Jawzi says in his Sayd al-Khaatir (“Quarry of the Mind”):

I reflected upon the envy that exists among scholars, and saw that its source is the love of the worldly life, because the scholars of the afterlife engage in love and do not envy others. What separates the two groups is that the scholars of the worldly life seek power and leadership in it, and they love to accumulate wealth and praise, while the scholars of the afterlife live in seclusion from these things, they fear them and have mercy toward those who are being tested by them.

Truly good and kind people, who fear God and take the afterlife seriously, do not seek power in my experience. Sometimes the right situation arises for a good person to rise and become powerful, as it happened with Saladin. Saladin wasn’t a revolutionary who grabbed power or a politician. He became powerful as part of his job as a military commander, and one thing led to another until he became a powerful ruler.

The writer Frank Herbert says the following in Chapterhouse: Dune, and I find them true from all that I have seen:

All governments suffer a recurring problem: Power attracts pathological
personalities. It is not that power corrupts but that it is magnetic to the
corruptible.

Power attracts the corruptible. Suspect all who seek it.

Scientific vs. Divine Explanations for Islam’s Decline: Islam, Christianity and Indo-European Genes

A mistake many people make, both religious and irreligious, is that when they discover a scientific explanation for something, they start to think that it means that thing is not from God. But it is a principle of God that He will never allow us to have direct evidence of His existence, therefore when God does something, it is always through scientific means, or He makes it appear to be that way. God will not carry out miracles that can be recorded and published on YouTube. The only time that we will have direct proof of the existence of God and the rest of the Unseen is at the end of the world. When the pagans requested that they see an angel before they believe in God, God’s reply was this:

Had We sent down an angel, the matter would have been settled, and they would not have been reprieved.14

If we ever had direct evidence of God’s existence, then there would be no need for faith in God. God does not want that to happen, therefore everything that happens to us must have logical scientific explanations. We can examine Islamic history to find out where things went wrong. But even if we discover every single cause and try to cure it, our success is not guaranteed.

The divine reason for the fall of Muslims is that they abandoned Islam in their hearts, while the scientific reason might be the demographic collapse of the Persian population after the endless flood of Turkic and Mongol attacks that devastated the great Persian-speaking cities of Central Asia (over 90% of Islam’s greatest scholars, thinkers and scientists came from these cities). The divine reasons precede the scientific reasons. If we disobey God, God will bring about logical and scientifically-explainable reasons for our destruction. And if we obey God, and carry out our stewardship in the best manner possible, God will inspire us toward whatever will give us success and power in this world.

Conclusion

As Muslims, our goal in life is not to acquire power, glory or supremacy in this world. Our goal is not to establish Paradise on Earth. We can appreciate technological and scientific accomplishments, and we can work toward them as part of our stewardship on Earth, but we must never lose sight of the fact that ultimately, everything we do is meant to serve God, and that a day will come when all of our worldly works will be destroyed as if they never existed.

In this world, we are stewards of a temporary farm, a farm whose Owner has promised to destroy in the end. We must never get attached to this farm, or seek its improvement or power over it as a goal in itself. We must never get attached to the idea of establishing a global power. Even if we establish one, it too can come and go like every other Muslim power in history. History will continue going in cycles, Muslims will rise to power, fall, and rise again. The only people who achieve success are those who fear God and serve Him in the best way possible. It is only the record of our deeds which lasts forever, everything else is temporary.

If Muslims are weak today, look again in 500 years, and they may be the strongest and most technologically advanced power on Earth. Look again in 1500 years, and they may again be weak,  oppressed and backward. It is God who gives and God who takes. If we are thankful and obedient, He will increase us and improve our station in life, and if we are ungrateful, He can always take it all away from us and subjugate us to others.

Note that I am not saying that Muslims should turn their backs on science and progress. I love science and technology and eagerly follow its news, and I look forward to Muslim societies catching up to Western ones. Last year Muslim-majority Malaysia overtook Japan in its scientific research output per capita, as the graph below shows, and that is a very hopeful sign for the growth of scientific knowledge among Muslims:

The graph shows the number of scientific research papers published by each country divided by its citizens in millions. In 2017 Malaysia produced 936 papers per million citizen, while Japan produced 892.

Other Muslim nations have shown tremendous growth in scientific research as well. Egypt today produces five times more scientific and scholarly research compared to a mere 15 years ago. Iran is on track to catch up with European countries before 2030. These are things to look forward to, but we should not lose sight of the bigger picture.