Tag Archives: Islam in the West

The Closing of the Muslim Mind: How Intellectual Suicide Created the Modern Islamist Crisis by Robert R. Reilly

In The Closing of the Muslim Mind: How Intellectual Suicide Created the Modern Islamist Crisis, Robert R. Reilly argues that the Islamic theological doctrine of predestination (your fate is sealed even before you are born) and other Ash’arite principles have driven Muslims to a fatalistic, anti-intellectual dead-end, a “suicide” as Reilly quotes Fazlur Rahman as having described it.

Reilly makes the error, that I too have made, of thinking that the ulema (religious scholars) are somehow largely responsible for what Muslims think, what they value and how they behave. Reilly’s thesis is that scholarly theological positions hamper Muslim curiosity and intellectual openness. He thinks that religious scholars and their doctrines have the power to put a damper on the freedom of thought of Muslims. In his dystopian vision, intelligent Muslims are almost mind-controlled by a fatalistic Islam, and if only they would abandon this version of Islam, they would, as if by magic, acquire the ability to stop being closed-minded.

As is typical of Western discourses on Islam, Reilly compares the very worst examples of the people of the Middle East with the best of the West, and from this highly skewed comparison he concludes that Islam must be the reason why the Middle East is not doing as well as the West. Taking apart the many unfounded premises of his thesis to show why his conclusions are fatally flawed will take some doing, and I will attempt it in this review.

We must first take an important source of confusion out of the way; that the majority of people in Europe and the Middle East are not interested in intellectual achievement. Construction workers and truckers are not interesting in reading books and talking about philosophy whether they are European or Egyptian. Such people judge things according to their own senses, and it would be the height of fantasy to think that a Baghdad street grocer is going to be any less cynical and world-weary than a European one due to some theological doctrine.

It is only a minority of people who have libraries in their homes, who are interested in philosophical discussions, who think of the long-term good of their societies and come up with ways of achieving said good. The majority are happy to spend their time watching football and films and engaging in other non-intellectual pursuits. It is the intellectual minority, to whom I will refer as the “elite”, who are responsible for a country’s intellectual progress. These are middle and upper class people whose children go on to work in medicine, engineering, science and other demanding fields.

If Reilly is right that the presently dominant version of Islam causes closed-mindedness and is tantamount to “intellectual suicide”, then we’d expect this most important demographic when it comes to intellectual progress, this elite, to be severely affected by this suicidal doctrine. Men and women who would have been scientists and inventors in a different reality would instead be closed-minded and anti-intellectual worshipers at the feet of the religious scholars.

It sounds like the set-up for a good novel to be the one to free this neglected intellectual capital from the yokes of religious unreason to  cause an explosion in creativity and genius that should cause seismic changes in the fabric of the Middle East. But is there any reality to this scenario? The question to ask is:

Are the elite of the Muslim world hampered in their intellectual curiosity by Ash’ari doctrine?

Reilly’s answer should be yes. These people would be responsible for intellectual progress; but there is supposedly little intellectual progress, therefore these people are instead closed-minded anti-intellectuals who need to be freed from harmful Islamic doctrines.

But the answer, in my experience of Muslims in various countries, seems to be a resounding “No!” The Muslim elite either create their own personal theological syntheses that are as rationalist, humanist and intellectually curious as that of any Westerner, or they become secular if they cannot find a way to reconcile the version of Islam they have received with their intellect and conscience.

Throughout the world, the religious scholars have very little power over actual, living and breathing Muslims. In the Western imagination, Muslim hordes listen to their religious scholars then zealously go on to implement whatever backward thing said scholars recommend. In the world of reality, Muslims politely listen to the preachers at the Friday sermons, then go out to think whatever they themselves choose to think. For over a thousand years generations of scholars have complained about how little power they have to enforce right-thinking over their populations.

Reilly writes:

There are people in Saudi Arabia today who still do not believe man has been on the moon. This is not because they are ignorant; it is because accepting the fact that man was on the moon would mean also accepting the chain of causal relationships that put him there, which is simply theologically unacceptable to them.

Reilly keeps quoting things like the above, thinking that they are somehow representative of Muslims, when in reality 1. the majority of Saudi’s educated Muslims find that laughably stupid, and 2. there are perhaps tens of thousands of Americans who do not believe the moon landings ever happened; is this because of Christianity’s incompatibility with science? and 3. Saudi Arabia, this supposed capital of Islamic backwardness, now produces more scientific research1 than Hungary, Thailand, New Zealand, Israel or Romania.2

A good illustration of this independence of the Muslim mind from religious scholars is the way Iran’s middle class reject the Shiite practice of temporary marriage, rightly recognizing it as legalized prostitution3despite scholarly approval of it.

The Quran says:

There is no compulsion in religion… (The Quran, verse 2:256)

That is not just a prescription, but a prediction. In Islam, religious scholars universally have no power to prescribe, they only have the power to persuade, and failing to persuade, they get nowhere with the people. Regardless of what the religious scholars say, cosmopolitan Muslims continue to think what they consider to be correct and sensible, as best seen in Iranian middle class’s rejection of temporary marriages.

I respect Reilly’s valiant effort to explain an important issue within Islamic theology, but his error, that the religious scholars and their prescriptions and ideas make up the core of Islam and determine Muslim thought, is a very much fatal error, because it does not accord with reality. It sounds very sensible, it just doesn’t explain Muslim experience. This error is thoroughly critiqued by Shahab Ahmed in his What is Islam? He calls Reilly’s position (which is also that of many Western and Eastern scholars and intellectuals) the “legal-supremacist” position, the idea that the religious scholars somehow control Islam and the Muslim mind. While this sounds natural from the way we tend to conceptualize how a religion functions, it fails to explain the reality of Islam, in which religious scholars have little power and the Muslim elite only think and act after being persuaded by reasoned argument.

Most Muslims come from low-IQ nations and their thinking reflects this. But if you want to verify my view, simply talk to Muslims working in high-IQ fields; doctors, engineers, mathematicians. Talk to them, to these real-life Muslims, and you will find that they are just as rational and intellectually curious as the Europeans next door.

This does not fit with the way most Europeans envision Muslims simply because their (often negligible) experience of Muslims has been of low-IQ immigrants and news reports and documentaries about the horrors of the third world. These low-IQ immigrants are not interested in pursuits of the intellect similar to low-IQ Europeans. Philosophy is that last thing in the minds of the low-IQ populations of America’s Appalachian country. The error of considering Muslims closed-minded is very much the error of comparing high-IQ Europeans to low-IQ Muslims, an invalid comparison.

Compare high-IQ Europeans to high-IQ Muslims, and then tell me about closed-mindedness and other problems that Muslims supposedly suffer from, which they do not.

Islam has real theological problems, but these problems are largely limited to the religious scholars, who have little power over their cultures compared to the non-scholarly Muslim elite, who are often adept at Islamic reasoning and can argue with and critique what religious scholars say. These high-IQ Muslims rarely challenge the religious scholars in public, since this always leads to unpleasantness, therefore instead, Muslims by and large think whatever they want, practice Islam according to their own personal syntheses and the syntheses of their better educated relations, and let the preachers continue preaching what they preach unchallenged.

This situation is not ideal, but it is a far cry from the intellectual captivity of Muslim minds imagined by Reilly and others. Egypt is a very conservative country, yet its scientific output has increased from 4515 scientific papers published in 2005 to 17300 in 2016. It is common to brush such data aside by saying this progress is happening despite Islam. But have you actually visited the research institutions of Cairo and Alexandria and talked to the devout Muslims who work at these institutions and love and appreciate science and scholarship for their own sake? The next step in brushing these data aside is to say that these Muslims are suffering from some horrible cognitive dissonance as their faith and reason fight wars of attrition inside their heads, but are you a Muslim yourself or do you just really like psychological thrillers?

Among the Muslim elite there is no conflict. They dislike what they are told by the preachers when it contradicts reason, but they are perfectly capable of ignoring it and, again, creating their own personal syntheses; they read the Quran and see the vast room for interpretation contained therein; they pray and fast and follow Islam to the best of their ability, then maintain their own intellectual independence and love for reason despite what the scholar say, but not despite Islam, because their Islam has no conflict with reason.

This is a very complex sociological situation and unfortunately very few people have the sophistication to appreciate it the way it is instead of forcing their own Hollywood-inspired dystopian visions onto it.

And as is so common for Western scholars (and secular Middle Eastern scholars), he considers Wahhabism somehow a natural form of Islam that has the danger of spreading to all Muslim minds, despite the fact it is only practiced by a few percentage points of Muslims, largely sponsored by Saudi Arabia due its usefulness in justifying the Saudi family’s rule, and despite the fact that the vast majority of Muslims consider it a limiting and unrespectable form of Islam. Wahhabism has no attraction for the majority of Muslims. The reason why Reilly has to focus on Wahhabism is that he is trying to explain why Islam is causing so much terrorism. Like almost all those who try to answer this question, he tries to find the reasons for Islamic terrorism within Islamic cultures and societies, when Islamic terrorism is always a political tool for different groups that seek power. Islam is not the cause for terrorism but the pretext for it, the way that “national security”, “democracy” and “freedom” are the pretext for the CIA’s murder of innocent people and its toppling of democratically elected governments. And the proof for that is that most devout Muslims are not terrorists and find terrorism repulsive.

Another reason for Reilly’s and other scholars’ mistaken understanding of the way Islam-the-sociological-phenomenon functions is the need to explain why Islamic science flourished for a few centuries then died out. The rise of the rationalist Mu’tazilites coincided with the rise of Islamic science, and the fall of the Mu’tazilites and the rise of Ash’arites coincided with the fall of Islamic science, and this correlation is taken as causation by such scholars.

It is just as likely that the rise of the Mu’tazilites was due to demand for it and its fall due to the end of that demand and the rise of demand for Ash’arite thought. The true start of the Islamic golden age was with al-Ma’mun, as is recognized by Reilly, who was a half-Persian surrounded by Persians, and who recreated the Persianate court culture of the non-Muslim Persian emperors before him. Al-Ma’mun started the process of the Indo-Europeanization of the Abbasid Empire, so that for over a century the caliphate was ruled by emperors who were over 90% Indo-European (Greek and Persian).

Think of almost any great “Islamic” scientist, thinker or scholar and there is a 95% chance or higher that they are Persian. Persians demand philosophy and rationality. The greatest patrons of Islamic intellectual efforts were the Indo-European Abbasid caliphs, their rich Pesian viziers (such as the Barmakids, who would be billionaires in today’s US dollars), and the Persian Samanid and Buyid rulers. The fall of Islamic intellectual culture started from around the year 1000, just as the Islamic world’s Persian elite were replaced by a Turkic military elite. The Turkic Mahmud of Ghazni started the trend of Muslim rulers ruling by force of arms and depending on war booty to survive rather than on economic development. Reading the history of the Medieval Islamic world, it can be seen that the Turkics demanded orthodoxy and promoted it; the Ghaznavids, the Seljuks, the Khwarezmians, the Mamluks, the Timurids, the Mughals, the Safavids, the Ottomans, the Qajars, all of these Turkic dynasties were staunch defenders of orthodoxy as a matter of national security, while also being patrons of the aesthetic and sensual arts (architecture, calligraphy, poetry, music) but ignoring intellectual pursuits. The Turkic military elite had little interest in philosophy while loving wine, poetry, massive buildings and sex with male concubines.

Therefore the story of the “closing of the Muslim mind” may actually be a story of the collapse of the demand for intellectual pursuits caused by an increasingly Turkic elite. The slaughter of perhaps more  than half of the world’s Persian Muslims by the Mongols in the 13th century may have put the final nail in the coffin, preventing the rise of Persian dynasties or elites within the ruling Turkic Muslim dynasties.4

And things are changing. History has not stood still. The Turkic stagnation continued until 1799 when Napoleon crushed the Turkic Mamlukes, it also continued in the Turkic Ottoman Empire until some time later when the superiority of the Europeans in most areas become undeniable and painful enough to require change. The Turkic Qajars of Iran and the Turkic Mughals of India continued to staunchly defend their backwardness until, again, external forces caused their collapse.

And now that the Turkic control over the Islamic world is finally gone, we can see what instead is happening; throughout the Muslim world there is vast interest in philosophy, in science, in literature. Iran now publishes more scientific papers than Sweden, Poland or Belgium. Muslims, actual living and breathing Muslims, have thoroughly embraced the modern world and everything it offers. It is true that the religious scholars have yet to update their thinking, that their frameworks and paradigms are in some ways thoroughly out of date and clash with the modern world, but that is a problem for the religious scholars, not for Muslims. It is only a problem or crisis for Muslims if one buys into the falsehood that religious scholars have the power to prescribe and control culture. They have no such power. The only thing they can do is persuade, and faced with the Muslim elite, they very much fail at persuasion when what they say is unreasonable.

Reilly and many others make the error of reading the Islamic texts and listening to what the religious scholars say then going on to conclude that this explains Muslim behavior. It does not. It is time we abandoned this myth. Make an actual sociological study of the determiners of Islamic culture (the elite) and you will find that reason and common sense abound, and that the religious scholars and preachers are not taken seriously whenever they do not make sense—whenever they clash with the very-European modes of thinking of educated high IQ Muslims, whether in Malaysia or Morocco.

Misunderstanding simulations

Reilly and many others have blamed people like al-Ghazali for their denial of causality; that causes do not necessarily lead to effects, as in the following passage that he quotes from al-Ghazali:

The connection between what is habitually believed to be a cause and what is habitually believed to be an effect is not necessary, according to us. For example, there is no causal connection between the quenching of thirst and drinking, satiety and eating, burning and contact with fire.

Al-Ghazali and others were doing their best to describe what a simulation is; they were in fact amazingly ahead of their time. They reconciled theology and science through this concept. Think of this universe as a simulation, similar to the universe inside a video game. In a video game, a tree does not burn because the fire touched it, it burns because the video game engine decided to run the tree-burning sequence when the apparent cause for the burning happened (The fire touching it). This is an incredibly advanced thinking that teaches that this universe, like the universe inside the film The Matrix, is entirely under the control of a higher power that can do with it whatever He wishes, but who maintains its integrity for His own purposes. Thinking of the universe as a simulation is in no way anti-science, and in fact is a hobby of certain advanced scientists and thinkers. Al-Ghazali goes on to say:

…it is within [divine] power to create satiety without eating, to create death without decapitation, to continue life after decapitation, and so on to all connected things…

What he is saying is that the one who is in control of this simulation can make any change to any variable from the outside, without having to follow the rules of causality within the simulation, the way that a video game engine can cause a tree to burst into flame without a fire touching it. What al-Ghazali was reaffirming was God’s absolute power; the theological idea that God is not limited by the laws of physics or any other limits existing within our universe, because our universe is like a simulation, and the One in charge of it is outside of it, not limited by it. This in no way discourages one from studying the world and appreciating it; one merely appreciates that there is a God beyond it all who has absolute power over it. Al-Ghazali was vastly ahead of his rationalist competition who couldn’t think outside of the box of the universe, imagining that God would have to obey the laws of physics.

The rationalist Mu’tazilites said that God cannot be unjust, that He is incapable of it. The Ash’arites said that God is capable of willing anything. This argument was a product of the limits of the imagination of the time; God can will anything, and He can make it obligatory upon Himself to be just even though He can be unjust if He wants. The Quran, in fact, gives us a clear pointer on this matter:

…He has prescribed mercy upon Himself… (The Quran, verse 6:12)

God can make things obligatory upon Himself, and reading the Quran, we get the sense that God has made a perfectly rational and logical universe, ruled by a perfectly just God who is capable of willing anything, but who, inside our simulation is the way He has described Himself in the Quran.

Reilly thinks that al-Ghazali’s doctrine impeded reason and rationality. He uses the example of the Islamist political party Jamaat-e-Islami’s criticism of the acknowledgment of causality in science textbooks as an example of its “profound effect”, when this is a political party who only has a minor following in Pakistan and whose opinions are not taken seriously by the majority of Muslims. This is very much like saying that the attack of certain Christians on Darwin’s theory proves that Christianity is anti-science. Reilly says:

The elimination of cause and effect makes prediction epistemologically impossible and theologically undesirable. This can result in some unusual behavior affecting everyday matters. Thus, points out Hoodbhoy, “Many, if not most, orthodox ulema contend that prediction of rain lies outside of what can be lawfully known to man, and infringes on the supernatural domain. Consequently, between 1983 and 1984, weather forecasts were quietly suspended by the Pakistani media, although they were later reinstated.

The above passage actually disproves Reilly’s thinking; even in a traditional and supposedly backward country like Pakistan, the ulema couldn’t get predictions banned for more than a year. What does that tell you? That Muslims by and large respect their own reason far more than scholary abuses of theology. The scholars won for one year and consistently lost every single year before and after that, despite Pakistan remaining a very much Muslim country.

Reilly takes side with Averroes (Ibn Rushd)’s misunderstanding of al-Ghazali, who says “whoever repudiates causes actually repudiates reason.” That’s only true if you cannot imagine what a simulation is. God is perfectly capable of maintaining a simulation that functions according to reason without Himself being bound by the simulation, and that is al-Ghazali’s point, and it is only the failure of Averroes’ and Reilly’s imagination that they cannot get this point.

Again, he [Averroes] points out that if causality is denied, “there is no fixed knowledge of anything,” because “true knowledge is the knowledge of the thing according to what it is in itself.”

Not necessarily. True knowledge can be an accurate description of how the simulation functions, and that is science. You can have exact knowledge of the functioning of a simulation without requiring the simulation to be “real”, realness is not necessary.

In this way, Ash‘arite metaphysics makes epistemology impossible and closes off its adherents from knowledge of reality.

Absolutely not at all.

I do not deny that Ash’arite ideas have been used to discourage and discredit science, but that is merely the pretext for it, it is done by anti-intellectual people, and their thinking is easily rejected by upper class Muslims who are the determinants of culture. In fact, whenever there has been a need for science and technology, the Ash’arite anti-intellectuals were summarily dismissed, as in the use of the cutting-edge of European thought in the development of guns and cannons in all modern Islamic empires (Ottomans, Safavids, Mughals).

When religious scholars abuse Islamic theology to attack science, the majority of Muslims will not say “They have the right idea, let’s turn back the clocks!”, they will instead exasperatedly say “God save us from your stupidity!” and in this way nearly the whole population will decidedly not abide by the unreasonable requests of the religious scholars, while remaining authentic, pious Muslims.

My point here is not to defend Ash’arite theology, which I believe needs updating, but it should be criticized for real faults rather than supposed faults. Reilly continually uses the excesses of certain minor sects and political groups in their support for unreasonable policies using Ash’arite theology as proof of its extreme influence on Muslim thought, despite the fact that the majority of Muslims consider these groups unrespectable and unworthy of being taken seriously. He ignores the opinion of the majority in favor of the minority, then considers the minority representative of the majority.

What will happen if Islam’s theological problems were resolved?

The sense one gets from Reilly and other writers is that if Islam’s theological problems were to be resolved, this would open wonderful new vistas to the minds of us limited Muslims. In reality, those vistas are already totally open to us, and all that would be accomplished by solving Islam’s theological problems would be the removal of an annoyance. We would hopefully hear fewer things at the Friday sermon that make us want to cringe.

It is very tempting for an intellectual, especially a Westerner, to think of himself or herself as a knight in shining armor chosen to rid the Muslim world of its backwardness, chosen to bring the Muslims out of the darkness of faith into the light of reason. But such a person, if they were to go to a cosmopolitan place like Cairo or Tehran, and if they were to have dinner at a devout upper middle class Muslim’s home, they will find that there is no need for the battering ram of reason and rationality they brought with themselves to break the closed gates of the Muslim mind, because there are no such gates. This can be quite disappointing, since it is so pleasurable to our egos to be knights and saviors.

Look at the books sold on the streets of Cairo, Tehran or Baghdad. The openness of the Islamic world of today to ideas from around the world would shock Medieval Islamic theologians (and Medieval Christian theologians). In the Islamic theocracy of Iran the books of freethinkers like al-Razi (Rhazes) and Ibn Sina (Avicenna) and Western thinkers like Nietzsche and Weber are read and talked about and no one bats an eye. This alone should be sufficient to show that the idea of “closed” Muslim societies and minds is uninformed fantasizing.

Islamic Egypt vs. Latin Christendom

Reilly quotes many Arab intellectuals lamenting the way Ash’arite theology caused backwardness and stagnation. Arab intellectuals, regardless of their position on the political spectrum, seem to be invariably almost Marxist in their trust in the infinite malleability of human nature. If only we could plant the correct ideas in the heads of the Arabs, we could create such a utopia! Islamic scholars share a similar belief; thinking that with indoctrination comes utopia.

What these Arab intellectuals are actually lamenting is that most Arabs are not as smart and skeptical as themselves, then, searching for the reason for this, they conclude that it is Islam’s teachings. This amateurish sociology of Muslims is emblematic of 20th century Arab thought, every Arab intellectual seems to consider himself or herself qualified to diagnose society’s ills and prescribe cures.

Human nature is not infinitely malleable, and a person’s IQ, which is largely genetically-mediated, is crucial to their patterns of thought and their ability to receive and adopt new knowledge.5 Arab intellectual achievement is in line with non-Muslim populations of similar IQ, therefore a professional sociologist who does not willfully choose to ignore IQ will see that the issue likely lies more with genetics than culture.

Arab intellectuals compare Egypt (IQ 81) with Sweden (IQ 100), then say that it must be some problem within Islam that is causing Arabs to not be like the Swedes in their intelligence and accomplishments. But if we were to actually make a fair comparison, we’d compare Egypt with countries of similar IQ, such as Nicaragua (IQ 81). In 2016 Egypt’s scientific output was one paper for every 5531 citizens, while for Nicaragua it was one paper for every 54166 citizens (according to SJR). Nicaraguans, despite not being limited by Ash’arite theology, despite being blessed with Christianity, are performing ten times worse than Egyptians at this important measure of intellectual achievement, despite similar IQ. If we were amateur sociologists like Reilly and the Arab intellectuals he quotes, we could conclude that Ash’arite theology improves intellectual output; Egypt, with its Ash’arite theological beliefs, is ten times more productive intellectually compared to a Christian country of equal intelligence. Should I write a book calling Nicaraguans to embrace Ash’arism so that they end their Christian closed-mindedness?

In fact, there isn’t a single non-Muslim country in the world that has an IQ similar to that of Egypt that is doing better intellectually from that data that I have looked at. Egypt, with all of its supposed Arab-Islamic mentality/backwardness, is outdoing all non-Muslim competitors of equal intelligence. Egypt is even outdoing Venezuala, Paraguay and Peru despite these countries’ higher IQs.

Iran’s average IQ is 84. Christian Armenia’s average is is 94. Guess who is outdoing who in intellectual achievement? Iran publishes 41% more scientific researcher per capita than Armenia6, despite its Islam and despite its IQ being lower by 10 points!

A hasty look at these data would suggest that Islam improves intellectual creativity. Egyptians are Muslims, yet they are outdoing non-Muslims of equal or higher intelligence at producing peer-reviewed scientific papers, a very difficult and intellectually demanding task. These data should be sufficient to show that Reilly and the Arab intellectuals’ belief that Islamic beliefs are holding Arabs back is likely all in their imagination; it is a hasty jump to conclusions that ignores the science of intelligence and its effects on intellectual outcomes.

[Note that saying Arabs have a lower IQ than Swedes does not mean that all Arabs have lower IQs than Swedes. It means that the frequency of high IQ people among Arabs is lower than among Swedes. If out of every fifty Arabs you meet, only one is interested in reading books, out of every 20 or 10 Swedes you meet, you will be able to find a similarly intellectually motivated person. Higher IQ nations have more high IQ individuals, lower IQ nations have fewer high IQ individuals, but they still have them.]

Reilly delves into the typical discussion of how Islam and democracy are incompatible, apparently totally unaware that Christian countries of similar IQ have equally dysfunctional systems of governance. He quotes Arab poets making fun of the Arab trust in God, unaware that Latin Americans have been saying very much the same things about their own countries and cultures, despite their being overwhelmingly Christian (see Roberto Bolaño’s 2666 for criticisms of Latin American culture).

The fact that Malaysians have a proper democracy and legislature has nothing to do with Islam, it must be despite Islam. It is almost as if all negatives are of Islam and all positives despite it. There is no way that Muslims, as intelligent humans, could make up their own minds about the proper way to organize their societies to maximize the good of the whole.

When Latin America’s problems are talked about by Western pundits, problems such as child brides and very high crime rates, they are treated as complex sociological problems; Christianity is never even considered as a potential contributor. Christians are treated as humans and their problems are treated as sophisticated human problems. Muslims are extended no such kindness; they are Muslim, this is more than enough to explain everything that is wrong with them. The reason for this bias is likely the fact that Westerners never compare like for like, instead of comparing a Muslim country to a non-Muslim country of similar IQ, they compare it to a Western European country, and of course the Muslim country always falls short, and from this, being amateur sociologists, they conclude that Islam must be the reason why these countries are not similar to Western Europe, not realizing that Muslim countries are actually outdoing many non-Muslim countries of similar IQ when it comes to intellectual achievement, and that these “backward” Arab countries totally put Christian Latin America to shame when it comes to crime; Brazil’s homicide rate is 26 per 100,000, Egypt’s is 3. Should we call Brazil to abandon their homicide-promoting Catholic Christianity for Islam?7

The presence of petroleum gives credence to the Saudi claim that its Wahhabi form of Islam is the legitimate one. It is because of the oil that other Muslims are willing to give this claim consideration. This is why Wahhabism has spread so significantly, even in parts of the world like Indonesia that would seem, from their cultural backgrounds, to have little sympathy with its radical literalism. Therefore, it is not only through Saudi oil largess but also because of where the oil is that Wahhabism enjoys such prominence.

Wahhabism does not enjoy “prominence” except in the heads of Western pundits (and Middle Easterners who have something against Islam), who love having such a convenient straw man. The majority of the world’s Muslims likely do not know a single Wahhabi except from TV where they are always given prime time due to their usefulness for pushing agendas about Islam. And not just that, but among the Muslim elite, Wahhabis are almost entirely non-existent; you cannot have a high IQ and be a Wahhabi unless someone is paying you. There has never been an organic Wahhabi growth anywhere in the world as far as I know, wherever they exist, it is because someone sponsored them, starting with the original sponsorship of the Saudi family for the founder of Wahhabism. Saying they are somehow representative of Muslims is one of the most ignorant things a person can say about Islam, it is like saying some crazy West Virginia Christian sect represents Christianity; it is breathtakingly out of touch with the realities of life for the overwhelming majority of Muslims.

Conclusion

It is very easy to blame Islam for the problems of Muslims. Non-Muslims almost invariably conceive of Muslims as automatons having swallowed books of scripture. This naive sociology is a disease that infests almost all discussions of Islam; real-life Muslims are ignored in favor of imaginary Muslims existing entirely in the heads of the speakers. We Muslims are often given the nonsensical choice of either choosing to be human or choosing to be Muslim, and in Western works like S. Frederick Starr’s Lost Enlightenment and Christopher de Bellaigue’s The Islamic Enlightenment, the writers make it amply clear that they could never see eye-to-eye with a faithful and devout Muslim, who is invariably an enemy of rationality and intellectual progress, they cannot conceive of someone as intelligent as themselves (or God forbid, more intelligent) being a faithful Muslim. The more secular a Muslim is, the more human they are.

With the increasing participation of Muslims in Western discourses about Islam, there is hope that this reductionist view of Muslims will be corrected.

Islamic scholars are no more in charge of the minds of the Muslim elite than novelists are. High IQ humans take their knowledge from diverse sources then make up their own minds, creating their own personal syntheses. Every Western scholar admits this about themselves and their own personal way of life (that they read from a vast selection of sources and reserve the right to act according to what their reason and conscience finds to be best), it is time they admitted it of Muslims as well. Humans are not blank slates and they cannot be controlled by ideas; they are agents who think, reason and decide, and this power cannot be taken from them. The Marxists thought that humans were blank slates who could be beaten into becoming communist creatures, but they failed. Communist propaganda could not override human nature. In the same way, unreasonable theological ideas cannot be forced upon Muslims despite the best efforts of scholars.

Caught between Western scholarly and casual discussions of often imaginary Muslims are actual, living and breathing Muslims who are experiencing no crisis, who are perfectly happy to engage in intellectual pursuits, and who while respecting the religious scholars, do not take them seriously when what they say goes against reason and conscience. Are Muslim doctors systematically avoiding studying philosophical ideas because of their Ash’ari indoctrination? Are Muslim parents systematically forbidding their children from reading Western classics and studying the humanities at Western universities because of their theological beliefs? No. They see no conflict between intellectual pursuits and Islam because to them there is no conflict, and it is their opinion that matters; it is they who make Islam’s history. What the religious scholars think in their ivory towers is of little concern to them when there are Quranic verses that sound more reasonable and better fitted to their own experience of the world than scholarly doctrines.

Imaginary Muslims live in Muslim “no-go zones”, do not read except strict religious literature, do everything the scholars tell them, and keep their women in cages. Real Muslims live wherever they want, read whatever they like, are respectful but inwardly skeptical toward the religious scholars and treat their women according to whatever is their human instincts and culture. It is time that we started considering real Muslims in our discussions of Islam.

Robert R. Reilly’s thesis is flawed due to the fact that it does not fit the observable facts of actual, lived Muslim experience, which is vastly more sophisticated, and far less dependent on or derivative of scholastic theology, than Reilly believes.

The crisis that Reilly talks about is largely a theological war between ivory towers that has little bearing on the lives and motivations of modern Muslims, especially the educated elite, who moved on to embrace the virtues of the intellect and philosophical inquiry long ago. What remains is for the traditional Islamic scholars to catch up, but whether they do or do not is of little historical importance; the train of reason left long ago, the cat is out of the bag, and the entire elite of the Muslim world lives and acts as if science and philosophical inquiry are worthy pursuits. Imaginary Muslims need to be taught reason, rationality and humanism. Actual Muslims do not, they have already embraced these ideas and integrated them into their own lives.

In just a single century the Islamic world’s scientific output has increased by orders of magnitude, nearly all Muslim families have started to send their children to secular universities that have popped up all over the Muslim lands, and almost all Muslim countries have adopted some form of constitutional democracy. Isn’t this sufficient progress for just one century? Isn’t it the height of injustice to blame Islam for the problems of the Middle East when Christian Latin America suffers from the exact same problems?

How Islam Can Adapt to the Modern World: The Persian versus the Arabian Approach to Handling Complexity

Review of Western Muslims and the Future of Islam by Tariq Ramadan

Tariq Ramadan’s Western Muslims and the Future of Islam, written in 2003, is a visionary book on reconciling Islam with the West, advocating for a truly Western Islam that does not consider itself a stranger in the West, and that does not have an inferiority complex with regards to the Middle East’s Islam.

An important part of my review focuses on the way IQ affects the way Islam is interpreted, and how this goes on to lead to very different approaches to reform; a “Persian” approach the uses the intellect and conscience to renew Islam, and an “Arabian” (Salafi) approach that rejects the intellect and conscience because of its inability to handle complexity.

An adaptable Islam: The Persian versus the Arabian approach

A key effort within this book is to show that Islam must be a constantly updated derivation of the ancient texts and the modern context. Instead of trying to emulate the Prophet’s dress, we must emulate the choices that lead to him to dress that way (respecting decency, cleanliness, aesthetics and modesty).

The Shariah rests on three sources: The Quran, the Sunnah and the state of the world (the environmental context), and all three must be used as inputs to determine our practice of Islam.

Ramadan mentions that the Hanafi school acknowledges that a new consensus can be reached by jurists that cancels out an older consensus. This is something of a radical view, since it admits that our understanding and practice of Islam can improve with time. This was the view of the Hanafi jurist Abu al-Yusr al-Bazdawi in his book Usul al-Fiqh.

I have noticed that Abu Hanifah and al-Ghazali, being Persians, had a top-down approach to religion, deriving principles, then using them to reinterpret Islam. The approach of the Arabian scholars, however, has usually been to have a bottom-up approach (Salafism taking it to its logical extreme), where you gather a million individual facts about early Islam and try to follow them accurately all at the same time, even if this leads to clear philosophical contradictions.

These are different approaches to handling complexity, and I think it has a great deal to do with IQ. Persians, with their higher IQs, were comfortable with complexity and embraced it within their thinking, believing that following Islam in each age was about reviving the Islamic spirit through applying Islamic principles to new eras. The Persian approach is therefore:

The Islamic texts -> Principles derived from them -> The modern context, intellect and conscience -> Islam

The Arabian approach, however, is to avoid complexity by strictly sticking to the texts, thus their approach is (to simplify):

The Islamic texts -> Islam

Instead of dealing with complexity, it gathers individual facts from the texts and tries to apply them all, and that is Islam. If you think about, to someone who is desperate to stay true to God’s way, while being challenged from all sides by a harsh and unforgiving world, this approach makes complete sense, if you are unable to do anything more.

The Persian, multi-step approach to Islam (later adopted by Egyptians after Western colonization) requires a massive amount of intellectual work; one must first understand the literal meaning of the texts, then do pattern analysis on them to derive overarching principles, a “philosophy of Islam” that tries to find out what Islam’s mission and priorities are, and when this is achieved, this philosophy of Islam feeds back into the texts, qualifying one’s understanding of them and sometimes leading to completely new interpretations. This work is not for the faint of heart, and a lower IQ person is likely to reject it all and call it misguided, being unable to appreciate the rationale behind it.

Enabling the human intellect and conscience to have an active role in our understanding and application of Islam causes an explosion in complexity that the Arabian approach does not like and is incapable of handling. Salafism avoids this complexity by denying the intellect and conscience any role whatsoever. If Salafi Islam leads to an Islam that conflicts with one’s intellect or conscience, it is one’s intellect, or one’s conscience, that are at fault. For someone struggling to handle complexity, this allows them to live in a peaceful comfort zone; follow the texts no matter where they lead you, even if your intellect and conscience occasionally object, even if you notice glaring contradictions, it is all for the greater good, and you will be safe no matter what happens, since who can blame you for trying to strictly follow the Quran and the Prophetic traditions?

The Persian approach revolts at this way of thinking, because Persians are not desperate for a comfort zone, and they have a deep, Western-style (Indo-European?) appreciation for the human intellect and conscience. If Islam recommends something that seriously goes against one’s intellect and conscience, the Persian approach sees this as a sign for the existence of a problem within Islam; there has been a misinterpretation or a mistake made somewhere, and it must be corrected by building a better model.

The Persian approach comes from a genetic propensity (I believe) to have extremely high respect for the human intellect and conscience, and a very good ability among the elite to appreciate and handle complexity. Islam must fit the intellect and conscience, if it doesn’t, either it is a false religion that is not worth following, or there has been a mistake in our understanding (this latter conclusion being the choice of the scholars who follow the Persian approach).

The Arabian approach, in similar circumstances that challenge one’s intellect or conscience, is to retreat back to the texts and say that humans are fallible. If humans find something unacceptable, it is because they themselves are corrupt or misguided. The Arabian approach comes from a genetic propensity to try to manage complexity by cutting it into manageable parts. Each verse of the Quran and each hadith is its own little unit of Islam and the sum total of them make Islam. If your intellect and conscience revolt at something mentioned in a particular hadith narration, you are the problem, not the hadith narration. This approach must not be laughed at or belittled; it must be respected for what it is. It tries to solve a very difficult problem and comes up with a low-resolution solution that works well enough among many of those who practice it.

It is no surprise that the greatest advocates for orthodoxy have all been Arabs; Imam al-Shafi`i, Ibn al-Jawzi (he recommended that people not read books of Quranic exegesis written by the `ajam, i.e. Persians, probably considering their interpretations too unorthodox), Ibn Tamiyyah, Ibn al-Qayyim, Muhammad ibn Abdulwahhab (founder of “Wahhabism”), Ibn Uthaymeen, Ibn Baaz. To them relying on the texts and discarding the intellect and conscience makes complete sense, since this is necessary for keeping complexity manageable. By sticking to the texts as closely as possible, you ensure you are on the right path. If you do not stick to the texts, if you allow the intellect and conscience to take part in your interpretation of Islam, this immediately leads to an explosion in complexity that would quickly put you out of your depth (if you do not have the intellect to deal with it).

Deriving overarching principles from the Quran automatically leads to some supposedly “authentic” narrations being considered false or inapplicable. This cannot be handled by Salafism, since the entire corpus of “authentic” narrations are taken literally, since not doing so requires too much intellectual work, it gives the intellect and conscience some role, which is unacceptable. The Salafi solution is abrogation. If there is an “authentic” narration that contradicts the Quran (such as a narration recommending that atheists be killed, even though the Quran guarantees religious freedom), the hadith is given preference. The Salafi approach often has infinite scorn for the intellect and conscience and entirely relies on the texts as its only safe haven.

The hadith corpus is massive and highly specific, greatly limiting the role of the intellect and conscience, and in this way greatly reducing complexity, and therefore it is given preference by Salafis over the Quran.

The Quran, on the other hand, is often vague, makes very few rulings, and is far more concerned with moral philosophy than specific actions, therefore Salafism often ignores it, since following the Quran by itself requires much participation of the intellect and conscience, and to a Salafi this is always a hopelessly wishy-washy process that is bound to lead to dangerous corruptions. If Salafism is the Arabian approach taken to its logical conclusion, the Quran-focused school is the Persian approach taken to its logical conclusion. The Quran-focused school takes the Quran literally and uses all available tools to derive an accurate interpretation of it, then feeds back this understanding of the Quran into all of Islam. The Quran is the program, the intellect, conscience and hadith are helpers toward following the program.

The Salafi approach forces 10,000 pages of text on you, greatly limiting your ability to think and act for yourself, for your own good. The Quran-focused school asks you to follow the Quran’s 600 pages, much of which is made up of vague philosophical lessons, giving you vast freedom to think and act for yourself, and asks you to use hadith as a resource in helping you find the best thing to do in specific circumstances. These approaches are polar opposites. The Salafi approach is to use a massive text to remove your freedoms, enabling you to take the safe route instead of thinking and acting for yourself. The Quran-focused approach is to teach you a moral philosophy and respect your intellect and conscience as you try to follow it.

I doubt Salafism can ever become the majority religion in any country with an average IQ higher than a certain point (perhaps 90). It can take charge in Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan, since it offers great utility for managing complexity. But once a certain percentage of the population has an IQ above 120-130 (perhaps 1-2%), these intellectual elite will revolt at Salafism and discredit it, so that it becomes impossible for it to spread. Even if higher IQ Muslim cannot point out exactly why Salafism is wrong, they will consider it unrespectable. This is the attitude of most high IQ Muslims I have met.

Salafism is totalitarian, it wants to give the religious establishment great powers to manage one’s life. I doubt there is a single Salafi in the world with an IQ of 135 or higher. High IQ people like Yasir Qadhi who are taught in the Salafi school eventually grow out of it. Yasir Qadhi abandoned Salafism saying it was not “intellectually stimulating”, if I remember correctly, and this is a very apt description. Salafism is designed to be the opposite of intellectually stimulating. It is there to make the world manageable for lower IQ Muslims struggling to live in the modern world.

We must be thankful for the existence of Salafism. “Why is Salafism not the answer?” is one of the most challenging questions of our time, forcing us to rebuild the complexity-embracing version of Islam from scratch.

Tariq Ramadan tries to make mainstream Islam even more complexity-embracing than it is now by further decreasing its reliance on texts (since this is at the expense of the intellect and conscience), in this way pushing Islam further in the Persian direction, having a top-down approach to Islam that starts with intelligently driven principles and priorities.

He does not, however, clarify what is exactly wrong with the old structure of Islam; he tries to cure various ills, carving out paths of progress here and there without overhauling the structure. His newer book Radical Reform is meant to be something of an overhaul, so I will have to read that to understand his latest thinking on reform.

Zionist detractors of Islam like Robert Spencer, Pamela Geller and Daniel Pipes all focus on the non-mainstream Arabian approach (practiced by the Salafi minority), ignoring the mainstream Persian approach and saying that the Arabian approach is the one true version of Islam. The fact that the majority of Muslims disagree doesn’t matter to them. Somehow they think they are better fitted to tell us which version of Islam is better (the version the lowest IQ Muslims prefer).

What they do is start with a conclusion: Islam is non-adaptable to the modern world, then they go on to find a non-adaptable form of Islam practiced by a low-IQ minority (Salafism) that justifies their preconceived biases, then they say this is the one true version of Islam, and that all Muslims will one day want to follow this. The fact that the vast majority of Muslims are repulsed by Salafism, the fact that the Sunni world’s most prestigious authority (Al-Azhar University) has rejected it, and that Muslim intellectuals East and West reject it, means nothing to them, since these are inconvenient facts getting in the way of putting on a good show.

To them, any Muslim who does not accept Salafism has not truly understood Islam, even if they have followed Islam all of their lives and come from a tradition that started with some of Islam’s earliest authorities (Abu Hanifa). The minority version of Islam that helps the Zionist Jewish propaganda effort against Muslims is the only true version of Islam, and Westerners must be told this again and again until the lie is accepted as truth (dehumanizing Palestinian Muslims as brainless barbarians helps make the Israeli occupation and expansion more palatable to the Western mind).

This is very much like paying a few Muslim hacks in China to put all of their focus on fundamentalist Christians from West Virginia so that they can convince the Chinese public that Christianity is a horrible and intolerant religion. And when a few Christians complain that this is inaccurate and biased, these hacks have the audacity to say it is these Christian complainers who are wrong, that they have not truly understood their religion, and that the hacks themselves are the true authorities on Christianity who are there to enlighten the Chinese public on the great dangers of allowing Christianity into their country.

Against nihilism

He mentions that Islam rejects the nihilistic view, occasionally expressed in Western literature and media, that humans are lost and abandoned within a “tragedy of life”, that it is possible for someone to just suffer and suffer endlessly and meaninglessly for years until the day they die. Instead,

God always makes available to humankind tools and signs on the road that leads to recognizing Him.

God is present. He interacts with us. Those who seek guidance in sincerity will be guided by Him. He will not leave us alone and uncared for, controlled and thrown here and there by nature. This is not a naive optimism, it comes from accepting the Quran’s truth on its own virtues, then adopting its philosophy.

The Quran teaches that God will not abandon a person who calls out to Him. This is a very much anti-nihilistic, anti-post-modern worldview that can have world-moving consequences.

The Abodes of Islam and war

Ramadan argues that that the old juristic practice of separating the world into dar al-Islam (“Abode of Islam”) and dar al-harb (“Abode of War”) is no longer valid:

This reality has completely changed: it is becoming necessary today to go back to the Qur’an and the Sunna and, in the light of our environment, to deepen our analysis in order to develop a new vision appropriate to our new context in order to formulate suitable legal opinions. To reread, reconsider, and “revisit” our understanding of the teachings of Islam therefore appears to be a necessity.

For me, the necessity of going back to the Qur’an and the Sunnah in the light of a new environment is not something to do in exceptional circumstances, when we discover that part of our thinking is outmoded. It is something we must do as a matter of course on a daily basis. The fact that most scholars up to date have considered these concepts valid and binding is just another manifestation of the fossilization of thought that occurs as a result of the deep human desire for reducing complexity and defeating the chaos lurking everywhere.

Ramadan prefers dar al-dawa (“Abode of Calling People to God”) as a new designation to be used in Muslim-minority countries, suggested by Faysal al-Mawlawi. In my opinion even this appellation is too limiting and reactionary, because dawa suggests the calling of an “other” to Islam. I prefer the choice of certain Hanafi scholars, as mentioned by Ramadan himself, in using dar al-Islam to refer to every place where Muslims can live in safety. Muslims are not meant to be outsiders; they are meant to be full members of their societies.

Focusing on dawa turns me into a salesman that thinks of everyone as potential customers. Focusing on stewardship (embodying the Quran) turns me into a full citizen wherever I live, everyone I meet is a human, not a project to be worked on. If I carry out my stewardship properly, dawa will automatically take place. Ramadan says most of the same:

Once legitimately oversensitive and even hidden in the realms of the “abode of war” and the “abode of unbelief,” Muslims can now enter into the world of testimony, in the sense of undertaking an essential duty and a demanding responsibility—to contribute wherever they can to promoting goodness and justice in and through the human fraternity.

Ending the East-West divide

In answer to certain extremist groups that say that we Muslims cannot pay allegiance to a constitution that allows unlawful things like usury, Ramadan says that while these countries allow these things, they do not compel us to use them, therefore we can be part of such societies, respect their laws, while also following Islam.

While this is largely true, the reality is that these countries, and perhaps all countries on Earth, force Muslims to engage in certain unlawful things, therefore it is a matter of degrees, not absolutes. The taxes a Muslim pays in a country like the United States goes toward the government paying off the interest on its debt (over $200 billion USD per year in interest payments alone at the moment), therefore paying taxes does compel us to do something that goes against our conscience (paying interest).

The Salafi-style Muslim thinking deals with this matter like so many others by glossing over the complexity in order to reach a simplistic black-and-white decision. Either a Western government does not ask us to do something that is against our conscience, in which case allegiance to it is justified, or it asks us to do things that are against our conscience, and therefore allegiance to it is unjustified.

Saudi Arabia is one of the world’s biggest usurers, as it invests much of its oil revenue in interest-bearing US bonds. This means that the millions of Saudi citizens who benefit from Saudi’s welfare state are to some degree eating the fruits of usury. Therefore the behavior of a Saudi cleric acting as if there is something special and un-Islamic about the Western context is one of the most naive things imaginable. Eastern, Muslim-majority countries are in many ways just as “evil” as their Western counterparts in similar and different ways, and the Western focus on common law (a commonly accepted ideal of justice) is far more Islamic than the governance systems of perhaps every Middle Eastern country in existence.

I would much rather be ruled by a humanist Christian than an autocratic Saudi prince who has the support of a hundred scholars but who does not understand, is incapable of understanding or appreciating, the right of an individual to express his or her mind freely.

As Muslims, every country on Earth will ask us to do certain things that go against our conscience, the most common (and least appreciated) of which is the worldwide practice of usury by governments in the East and West, North and South. Therefore instead of deluding ourselves into thinking that some utopian Islamic government is the only government that deserves allegiance, we instead give our allegiance to the social contract of every country we exist in, the country respects our right to live in safety and to practice our religion, and the good of this far outweighs the evils the government forces us to engage in.

We must respect contracts. Those who allow us into their countries do it because they think we are entering their societies in good faith, they think that by the act of entering their societies, we have made a binding promise to act toward them with kindness and a lack of malice. Therefore it is obligatory upon us to act according to these implied or explicit promises and contracts, and a Muslim who does not acknowledge is, is incapable of acknowledging it, has no right to be in the West.

The United States is no less “Islamic” than Saudi Arabia. The United States respects my right to practice my religion and express it freely, it respects my human dignity. Saudi Arabia, with all of its capital-of-Islam hankerings has close to zero respect for a human’s dignity when the interests of its ruling class are involved. I much prefer the Anglo-Saxon love and appreciation for common law to the lip service that Saudi Arabia gives to Islamic principles.

In general, any government that to some degree believes in rule by consent, allowing its citizens to partake in governance to some degree, is going to be more Islamic than an autocratic Muslim-majority government that dehumanizes its citizens, because this democratic government is similar to the form of governance of our Prophet ﷺ, while autocratic governments are not.

We Muslims must grow up. Instead of becoming the tools of everyone who pretends to serve Islam, we must judge every nation by its adherence to the Quranic principles; justice, truth, respect for human lives and dignity. The nation whose laws and practices fit these principles the most is the most Islamic. If a Muslim feels more at home, more respected and dignified, in Iceland than in Pakistan, then Iceland is a better home for Muslims than Pakistan, and their government deserves more love and allegiance than the Pakistani government.

My allegiance is not to people who call themselves “Muslim” but betray the principles of Islam. My allegiance is to truth and justice, and if a Christian or atheist represents these ideals better, then my allegiance is to them rather than the so-called Muslim.

The minority mindset

Ramadan speaks against the “minority mindset” that afflicts many Muslims, and I fully agree with his assessment. This was in 2003 and things have gotten somewhat better, except that the influence of radical leftist ideologies are now undoing the progress among some Muslims, making them think of themselves as a political interest group rather than as citizens morally bound to contribute to their societies.

Too few Western Muslims are able unself-consciously to take an intellectual position that, in the end, acknowledges that one is speaking from home, as it were, as an accepted member of a free society, and in full awareness of that—with causes and fundamental values that must be respected.

He describes the minority mindset as belonging to an intellectual ghetto, a beautiful way of describing it.

Islamic education

Ramadan criticizes the way Islamic education is conducted, saying:

The school puts forward a  way of life, a space, and a parallel reality that has practically no link with the society around it.

Modern education is hopelessly dysfunctional because shoving 7 or 8 topics down the throats of unwilling students, as if they are robots being programmed in an education factory, is never going to be effective.

Instead, students should be taught the basics of reading, writing and perhaps math at elementary schools for a few years, perhaps until the age of 9. After that, they should be allowed to choose what to study next. A child who wants to be a computer programmer can then go on to learn programming and everything that goes toward helping them be a better programmer (such as certain fields of mathematics). If at the age of 13 or 14 they decide to switch fields, they can do it, studying economics, or medicine, for example, or continuing toward advanced degrees in computer-related fields if they still like their field. By the age of 20, able students could easily put today’s computer science PhD’s to shame.

A benefit of this system is that it encourages advanced interdisciplinary studies. A child can be taught to be a really good computer programmer by the age of 14, only to go on to study biology, and bring his or her knowledge of programming into this new field. At the age of 20, they can then go on to study economics, and bring their advanced knowledge of these two fields into their new area of study.

Ideas about education have barely advanced beyond 300 BC in most of the world. Most educators foolishly think that force-feeding children 7 or 8 areas of study for 10 or 12 years is going to produce children who will have a very good selection of “general knowledge” embedded in their heads. In reality, the majority of students will hate everything to do with this education system and will relish the chance to forget everything they have learned once they pass the end of year exams.

Forcing children to go through this system is little short of child abuse. It has zero respect for the dignity and individuality of these children. Instead of letting a budding scientist who really loves physics actually dedicate himself or herself to physics starting from the age of 9 or 10, they are made to waste their most energetic years studying topics they have little interest in, until they can finally go to college, only to discover that they have to take yet more irrelevant nonsense designed by a bunch of short-sighted and pompous middle aged men and women.

The factory model of education is an utter failure. What is needed instead is a system of independent academies, each focusing on a specific area of study, with children going to the ones that are relevant to their areas of interest. A child who wants to major in psychology will go to their city’s Academy of Psychology at the age of 9, let’s say. The child can also go to a different academy at the same time, if they want to study another area (so that they major in two fields), or if their study of psychology requires knowledge of other fields.

Islamic education can follow the same pattern. Instead of teaching students a hodge-podge of Islamic history, hadith, the Quran and jurisprudence, students should first be given an advanced education in Arabic, in Islamic rituals, and in the manners of the Prophet (not from a book of history, but a book that focuses on his manners, such as Ramadan’s own In the Footsteps of the Prophet). Once they have learned sufficient Arabic, they can go on to learn the Quran. From then on students should be free what they study next, branching off into the various Islamic areas of study as they see fit.

As for today’s Quran schools, teaching children Quran without teaching them Arabic is little more than foolishness. I met two teenagers who could recite Surat Yaseen (chapter 36 of the Quran) from memory, but who had absolutely no idea what any of it meant. I feel that a teacher who inflicts this on children deserves to be flogged. How many hours did they have to sit and memorize random sounds that had no meaning for them whatsoever?

The system of allowing students to branch out at the age of 9 or so to go on to study at different academies would fix the problem of Islamic schools having to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars building facilities to teach things like physics, and would also solve the problem of Muslim children being isolated from the non-Muslims around them, a problem that Ramadan speaks of in detail, leading to a form of detachment from one’s wider society. A child who goes on to study Arabic or Islam at 9 will go to an Arabic Academy where non-Muslims study too. And if they want to take physics, they go to the city’s Physics Academy (or Science Academy), where Muslims and non-Muslims study together.

Islamic feminism

Ramadan expresses support for the concept of an Islamic feminism, saying that Muslim women can fight for their rights, follow Islam, and reject everything within Western thinking that is un-Islamic, in this way ensuring women’s rights within an Islamic framework.

 

There are different types of feminism ranging from constructive to genocidal, therefore any support for an Islamic feminism must be highly qualified. See my article Islam versus Feminism for more on this.

Social responsibility

Ramadan criticizes the way some Muslims in the West justify holding themselves to lower standards, saying:

One hears many voices in the United States, Britain, Germany, and France legitimizing this position by insisting on the fact that Muslims are “a minority,” “in a weak (political and financial) position,” “without great means” of influence on the society at large. The universal message of Islam that should move Muslims’ civic conscience to promote justice, right, and goodness everywhere is reduced to this: “since we are a feeble minority”—a defensive, self-pitying discourse, narrowly concerned with the protection of self and “the community.”

He recommends that citizens be given some form of education so that they become better voters and partakers in the society and civilization around them:

Calls and slogans and singing the praises of “the good fortune of being a citizen” will change nothing: understanding one’s society, its history, and its institutions, developing one’s intelligence, and building an independent spirit—these are the things that will teach us, and everyone should be given the means to undergo this training.

In my opinion, even forcing people to take multiple courses on civic education is going to only make them marginally better citizens. It will give them a false sense of education while they continue to make the exact same mistakes as before. In reality, a minimum IQ is needed to properly appreciate one’s context and partake in it effectively, and judging by the extreme naivete of American college students, that minimum IQ is probably higher than 115, meaning that among Muslims, only the top 10% in intelligence and/or socioeconomic status (which are closely linked, see The Bell Curve) will benefit from such a program. The rest will not, but they will benefit from this 10%’s education, in an intellectual trickle-down process describe by Sayyid Qutb in his idea of a Muslim “vanguard” that takes responsibility for the well-being of their societies (which I extend to include non-Muslims).

Ramadan goes on to make this comment regarding reform:

Perpetual criticism of political authority or of the police is futile and meaningless when, alongside it, we as citizens do nothing to change things. Posing always as victims is a kind of cowardice. To be up in arms at every police blunder when we have become passive observers of the breakdown of the social fabric and watch silently (without showing any inclination toward concrete involvement) when young people display unspeakable violence and steal and assault and insult adults in their communities (particularly the police) does not make much sense and is, above all, unworthy.

In today’s hysterical climate, some people can be very upset by such lucid thought. It is dangerously rationalist and not sufficiently leftist, and quite possibly fatally racist, as I’m sure many would be happy to point out. So it is good to see Ramadan writing something like this, although whether he could write something similar today, I do not know, since this is from 2003.

Appreciating Western Civilization

Ramadan writes:

It is said that it is necessary to develop a critical mind capable of taking account of things. The West is neither monolithic nor demonic, and its phenomenal achievements in terms of rights, knowledge, culture, and civilization are realities that it would be unreasonable to minimize or reject.

Again, Ramadan breaks from militant post-modernists to speak some sense.

The failure of the zakat system

Ramadan reiterates the Egyptian reformist idea that the Islamic zakat system is not merely about random acts of charity, it is about a way of life, a basic income system designed to eliminate poverty. The way the zakat system is implemented in the West to this day is quite a pathetic failure, as I explain in Islam, the Good Parts: A Basic Income System that Encourages Employment, Productive Investment and Automation.

He writes:

Moreover, the funds are very often used to finance  building projects (e.g., mosques, centers), rather than to provide direct support to people, who are then helped in a very perfunctory way, with no precise consideration and no purpose beyond alleviating a financial difficulty here and there. Ultimately, it is the social philosophy as a whole that leads to this way of acting and maintaining only the outward form of zakat, which is thus undermined and even betrayed.

I am far more radical in this regard. The “Muslim community” that so many imams talk about is little more than a feel-good myth when barely a single imam can be found who actually seeks out his constituents and talks to them to find out if they can pay rent, if they are in debt, if he can help find them better job opportunities. A community cares about you and takes care of you. Almost no “Muslim community” does that. Islamic centers provide a form of social insurance in allowing people to apply for zakat in exceptional circumstances. That is perhaps about 1% of what they should be doing.

Dialogue with non-Muslims

Ramadan thinks that dialogue with the non-Muslims around us is crucial. I am not convinced of the value of formal interfaith dialog “to get to know one another”. Individuals from the two communities can do this if they are interested. But when it comes to the actual foundations for unity and peace between people of different faiths, a meeting of hearts is far more important than a meeting of minds, and a meeting of hearts does not even require talking about religion, at all.

It is sufficient for one to have a good Muslim coworker to understand that the Islamic texts lead to this type of person, therefore not everything about these texts is necessarily evil. This Muslim’s behavior actually convinces this observer about the possibility of the existence of shared values between them and the Islamic texts, while a formal interfaith dialog will only convince a Christian observer that there are well-spoken Muslims who are good at being polite. This is a meeting of minds and I doubt lasting effects can come from it.

A meeting of hearts is what is needed, and this is done through a Muslim treating people with an open heart, looking for the goodness in other people’s hearts regardless of their religion. A kind-hearted priest and a kind-hearted imam belonging to the same geographical area can promote much goodness toward each other’s communities without ever discussing anything about theology with each other.

Discussions of theology should be done not as a way of beginning interfaith dialog, but as its final stage, when one side is curiously interested in the topic, rather than discussing it because it is on some list of topics to be talked about.

Conclusion

Ramadan writes:

Western Muslims need to free themselves of their double inferiority complex—in relation to the West (and the domination of its rationality and technology) on the one hand and in relation to the Muslim world (which alone seems to produce the great Arabic-speaking spirits of Islam who quote the texts with such ease) on the other. We shall have to liberate ourselves from these faults by developing a rich, positive, and participatory presence in the West that must contribute from within to debates about the universality of values, globalization, ethics, and the meaning of life in modern times.

A skeptical reader may see the above paragraph as feel-good babble not meaning much of anything, but the many concrete suggestions provided by Ramadan show that he is very serious about these things. For him this is not just talk, this is his program.

Western Muslims and the Future of Islam is an important contribution and a necessary stepping-stone to getting us where we need to be in the West. You do not have to agree with everything he says to appreciate the spirit of his message.

Keeping your Islamic faith when going to a Christian school

Salam. I have a question. I am in 8th grade, and I also live in America. The school I go to is a private school, and we have religion class there. Do you have any advice on how to stick to Islam, even though my head is being filled with Christianity teachings??

If you do sufficient work to maintain closeness to God, such as supplication, worship and Quran reading (30 minutes a day or more), then those Christian teachings will be a minor influence.

I recommend that you get Yasmin Mogahed and Tariq Ramadan’s books and read them occasionally, this will help you maintain your Islamic identity.

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 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, killing and destroying while using religion to justify their actions, and 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, what they don’t generally realize is that being chosen doesn’t 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 punishment 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. 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.

Another recent example from Jewish history is Germany in the first few decades of the 20th century. In 1920, Jews owned most of Germany’s media, banks and large corporations and controlled Germany’s academia. They continually promoted homosexuality and sex outside of marriage in books, plays and films in the name of progress. In short, they acted exactly the way they act today in the United States and Europe.

That ended abruptly with the rise of Hitler, who utterly destroyed everything the Jews had worked for.

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 it its power to spend will shrink. America is on a trajectory to become the next Portugal, once a global superpower, now a complete non-entity.

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 went 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.

Islam in the West

There already are tens of millions of Muslims living in the United States and Western Europe. Just as the native populations of these countries continue to shrink, the Muslim population continues to increase.

At the moment, of course, Muslims are extremely poor and powerless in the West. But demographics decides the destiny of a nation. It is this fact that is terrifying Zionist career Islam-haters like Robert Spencer, Geert Wilders, Daniel Pipes and Pamella Geller and the billionaire Jews supporting them.

They know that it is only a matter of time before Muslims have the political power to affect the foreign policy of these nations, and that means they will have the power to affect the policy of these nations toward their beloved Israel.

Ten years ago, in 2007, every terrorist attack and every crime that could potentially be blamed on Muslims would be plastered all over the Jewish-owned or operated Western media (which is nearly all of the West’s media) for weeks on end. It appears that some time between 2014 and 2016 the Jews decided that it was more in their self-interest to protect Muslims and promote unfettered Muslim immigration to the West, to prevent white Christians from ever gaining total control of a Western country and in this way having the power to dictate Jew-unfriendly laws, as happened in Nazi Germany. Their media today does its best to hide the identities of terrorists, and whenever a terrorist attack occurs, Jewish-operated companies like Google can be seen promoting articles (in this case, in search results and on Google News) that blame these attacks on white people rather than on Muslims.

The Jewish-owned and operated Salon Magazine, a leftist publication, is a big defender of Muslims at the moment. This is a magazine that hasn’t made a profit in the past 20 years, it is entirely a tool of propaganda for leftist Jews. If they pretend to care about us, if they defend us, should we celebrate and join forces with them?

In ten years, when winds change again and the Jews7 decide, like they did in the first decade of the 21st century, that it is in their best interest to promote a negative image of Islam in the West, then they will do that all over again. We in the West are on a collision course with Jews. As our population, and thus our political power, increases, so will our power to sway Western governments against Israel. And when that happens, when we become a threat to Jewry’s beloved Israel, they will turn around overnight, attacking us left and right and portraying us as evil barbarians intent on destroying Western civilization, like they were doing 24/7 a few years ago, and like so many Jewish Islam-haters and “conservative” Jewish media outlets like Breitbart continue to do today.

We must learn to develop long memories, and our best help in this regard is the study of history. We must never ally ourselves with an evil force that has decided at the moment it is in its self-interest to defend us, because tomorrow it can decide that it is in its self-interest to attack us. We must never justify evil for the greater good, and we must never lose our moral integrity for the achievement of political goals.

Islam might go on to become the dominant religion of the West in 100 years, as non-Muslim white people continue to die out, and as white people who convert to Islam continue to increase and have higher fertility than non-Muslim whites. And of course, there are the millions of Muslim immigrants currently residing in the West.

While Muslims continue to be strangers in the West at the moment, this is going to change soon. Today it is still common for us to be viewed as barbarians and outsiders. But a point will be reached when everyone will know a few Muslims and accept them as ordinary citizens, and when that happens, the number of conversions to Islam could multiply very fast, because these people will finally see that Islam is nothing but an updated and improved version of Christianity.

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 wants 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.”8

For us Muslims, it is always about the journey, not the destination. It doesn’t matter what we accomplish in this world. 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 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 “for the greater good”. 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 can take 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.9

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.10

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.11

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.12

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. 13

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.14

We can, of course, be political activists and 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

Islam’s great revolution in science and scholarship came from Sunni Persians. Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Dawood, Tirmidhi, al-Nasaa’i, and Ibn Majah were all Persian. The first formal grammarian of the Arabic language was Sibawayh, a Persian. Some of the greatest names in Islamic history, such as al-Khawarazmi, al-Ghazali, Abu Sinaa, al-Biruni and Ibn Hayyan were Persian.

Persians are an Indo-European race, and to this day have continued their superiority in learning and scholarship over Arabs. In Iran over 70,000 books are published per year, compared to less than 20,000 per year in the entire Arab world.

It appears that historical events like the Mongol destruction of the Khwarezmian Empire, Shiite rule over Iran, and the centuries of conflict between the Persians and the Ottomans, caused Persian populations to shrink and become isolated, and in this way they fell out of the mainstream history of Islam. This might be the single most important historical reason for the decline of Islamic science.

Just as Islam lost its main source of Indo-European genes, Christianity acquired a tremendous new source in northwestern Europe. Christianity went through a similar process to that of Islam’s scientific rise, inspired by Greek philosophy and carried forward by religious thinkers like Thomas Aquinas. Christianity had far better access to Indo-European genes for many centuries compared to Islam, therefore the scientific revolution happened in Christendom. Christianity continued to ensure above-replacement fertility rates, Christian ideals continued to inspire and motivate people, and Indo-European genes supplied the high IQ needed for scientific progress.

This might be the scientific explanation for why Christianity overtook Islam after the Middle Ages.

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.15

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 is the above. 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.

Today, mainstream Islam is again acquiring Indo-European genes in the form of European converts to Islam. As these people increase in number, just as the number of seculars and Christians dwindles, among them will come great scholars and scientists, and soon (within a lifetime or two) Muslims could be responsible for half or more of the West’s scientific output.16

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, like He did to the Andalusian Muslims.