Do Muslims hope to establish a World Caliphate? It is undeniable that some Muslims, including religious scholars, look forward to one day there existing a new Islamic empire that represents “true” Islam and that brings back the glory of the olden days. As is usual with fantasy-land Islam, the thinking is top-down, the caliphate has to be established first, then good things will come.
This is the thinking that drives Islamist political parties, who believe in acquiring power first, then doing good with it. Fortunately, most Muslims do not find their fantasy-land ideologies practical or interesting, therefore throughout the world the history of Islamism has been one of perpetual failure.
Among Muslims there are also ideas about the coming of a “Mahdi” who will establish some holy kingdom before the world ends. Similar to the way Robert R. Reilly thinks that Ash‘arite doctrines are causing a closing of Muslim minds, there are Western books that study Islamic End Days literature and from that make sweeping claims about the thinking and potential future behavior of Muslims. They ignore that almost all of that literature is open to doubt, including the coming of the Mahdi, since it is not based on the Quran. It largely relies on dubious and likely fabricated materials. In the view of many Muslims, End Days literature is entertainment for the masses rather than an intellectually compelling framework to base one’s thinking on.
The truth of the matter is that among Muslims, there is little agreement over what a Muslim’s priorities should be and what they should be working for. Like the Christians of Victorian England, they are happy enough to just get along. This is good, because, like the Christian society of Victorian England, it means there is little room for radical ideologies. People do not expect magic solutions to their problems.
Islam is a democratic religion in that everyone is a civilian. Religious scholars, intellectuals, free thinkers, radicals, conservatives, modernists, ultra modernists, feminists, Western spectators and Western saviors all vie for control of the heart and soul of Islam to reform it, to drag it kicking and screaming into the new century, to open its eyes, its mind, to elevate it, to secularize it, to stop it from having such a hold over people’s minds. All of them largely fail to recognize the limits of their power over human nature, this human nature that everyone tries to mold, unaware that it is a sovereign, a self-molder.
A few months before writing these words I randomly happened upon an online article by Claude Polin, a French professor at Paris-Sorbonne University that I did not read, except for its first paragraph, which said:
What used to be Western civilization is indeed threatened today with progressive extinction at the hands of Muslim immigration, which considers the West as a worthless relic of a useless past, at best, or, in the minds of Islam’s more or less hidden leaders, as a hostile multisecular force to be destroyed, either by sheer violence or by submerging it under a demographic tsunami.1
His phrase “Islam’s more or less hidden leaders” is such a sad misconstruction of Islam that it is almost charming.
In truth, Islam has no leaders, and this is its great strength and weakness. Even if all of the Muslims in the world were wiped out by some calamity, and the world continued without Islam for 500 years, all it takes is for some random person to discover a Quran for them to restart Islam anew.
Islam does not work to establish God’s Kingdom on Earth. Islam is best envisioned as similar to yoga; a person can carry it out daily and expect health benefits from it, but it does not promise to magically solve their problems, turn humans into angels or make this world other than what it is.
Muslims, like bees, are a life form that gives shape to the world, only to go on to die. There is no bee master plan to turn the whole world into one big hive, it is sufficient honor for a bee to take part in the dance of a bee’s existence, and this dance leads to complex and interesting hives that are not the product of a master plan, but the product of each bee following its instincts.
Those who envision secret Muslim plans and societies should actually be far more worried about Islam the way it is. A Leaderless, plan-less movement cannot be fought. There are no leaders to bribe or kill, no plans to obstruct. A person has believed the negative propaganda about Muslims may despairingly wonder what one can do about Muslims. Discovering a hidden organization of shadowy Muslims who have no good intentions toward the West and prosecuting its leadership will give one a nice sense of accomplishment. But there is no such accomplishment to be had.
The best way to envision the functioning and thinking of Muslim societies and their ideas about the world is to compare them with late 19th century English society. This society was Christian, yet Christianity was considered nowhere sufficient to give society everything it needed of meaning and identity. It was a Christian society that looked outward. God’s free men and women experienced the world and tried to make the best of it. In that society, everyone probably had a relative who saw nothing wrong with bringing up religion in polite conversation, using it to propound how society should work and how people should behave. But most people considered such a person deficient in civility. This is not to say that those Christians did not let religion affect their lives. For them religion was an important part of their personal meaning-making projects and strongly affected their behavior, but they would have found it insulting to be considered “Christians” only, as if that said everything one needed to know about them.
The same applies to the Muslims I am describing. There is a reason why “Islamic” social media networks, magazines and newspapers almost all invariably fail. An “Islamic” alternative to Facebook sounds useless to Muslims (some, out of a sense of religious duty, may praise the idea while never actually wanting to use it). Muslim users of social media in the West almost all invariably have non-Muslims in their networks. An “Islamic” social media network narrows down the scope of their lives. It is does not do justice to the complex cultural lives they lead. Muslim users of social media in the West almost all invariably have non-Muslims in their networks. An “Islamic” social media network narrows down the scope of their lives. It does not do justice to the complex cultural lives they lead.
The embodied Islam of Muslim populations, compared to the embodied Christianity of Christian populations, are extremely similar in their real-world consequences. When reading novels like Pride and Prejudice, I was always amazed at how Islamic the ways of thinking and behavior of the characters were. Certainly my father did not drink wine like Mr. Bennet, but the social atmosphere is so similar to the social atmosphere of my Iranian Sunni background that I could have been reading a novel about a Muslim society. The same extends to later works by Christians, such as The Lord of the Rings by Tolkien and the Harry Potter novels by Rowling. There is nothing in the human fabric of these novels, in their ideas and ideals, that feel foreign to me. The characters in these novels could have been Muslim; “Islamizing” the novels would only cause minute aesthetic changes. For example, the people of Rohan wouldn’t drink wine when celebrating weddings.
J. K. Rowling, Dostoevsky and Shakespeare are bestselling authors in Iran, according to Adinehbook.com, one of Iran’s major online booksellers.
Comparing cosmopolitan Muslim societies of today to the cosmopolitan Christian societies of the 19th century is a very fruitful exercise. If we focus on religious discourse among Muslims and compare that to religious discourse among Christians, we get the misleading idea that the two communities are fundamentally different. But if we look at the embodied Islam of today’s cosmopolitan Muslims to the embodied Christianity of late 19th century England, we see two very similar societies whose differences are aesthetic rather than essential.
For a Westerner, it is of course not easy, and in fact often quite impossible, to get a true sense of the experience of embodied Islam. George Orwell writes:
It is quite easy to be on terms of intimacy with a foreign ‘intellectual’, but it is not at all easy to be on terms of intimacy with an ordinary respectable foreigner of the middle class. How many Englishmen have seen the inside of an ordinary French bourgeois family, for instance? Probably it would be quite impossible to do so, short of marrying into it. And it is rather similar with the English working class.
Orwell beautifully sums up the difficulty in understanding the inner life of a foreign society, and it is this very same problem that has made it so difficult for Westerners to understand Islam. To understand Muslims, it is not sufficient merely to spend time in a Middle Eastern country. It is quite possible for a Westerner to spend a decade or more in an Oriental country only to go back home with nothing but a large bag of prejudices, as so many British colonial servants did.
Westerners who have the best understanding of Islam, as Orwell predicts above, are those who have married into Muslim families. Even Western converts to Islam can have highly inaccurate pictures of the functioning of Muslim societies. They can occasionally be observed on the Internet complaining about how none of the Muslims they meet act as the Muslims of their imaginations. It can take them quite a long time to come to terms with the fact that self-consciously religious people are always a minority whether in Muslim or Christian societies, and that most believers by and large judge things based on custom and do not often think to differentiate between what is religious and what is merely cultural.
A Westerner who wants to find out what will happen if the number of Muslims increases can look at the Muslim middle class of Cairo, Turkey, Tehran and Kuala Lumpur when they get the rare opportunity to do so and see how they conduct themselves. They are busy as intellectuals, researchers, scientists and professionals doing what they can to make the world a better place. Their daughters go to university, write books and read even more books. What is on their minds is not Islamic law and Islamic plans, it is solving the problems they see around them.
A faithful Muslim eager to live a useful life will naturally look in the Quran to find out if God has any pointers to give regarding what they should do with their lives. For radicals wishing to destroy society then rebuild it, the Quran is vexingly deficient when it comes to utopian ideas. A Muslim who carefully reads the Quran learns that a Muslim’s purpose in life is to be God’s steward. In a farming society, a steward is someone who takes care of a farm when the master is absent, for example when the master goes on a long journey abroad. Stewardship is the purpose of humanity:
When your Lord said to the angels, ‘I am placing a steward [i.e. Adam] on earth.’…2
It is He who made you stewards on the earth, and raised some of you in ranks over others, in order to test you through what He has given you. Your Lord is Quick in retribution, and He is Forgiving and Merciful.3
13. We destroyed generations before you when they did wrong. Their messengers came to them with clear signs, but they would not believe. Thus We requite the sinful people. 14. Then We made you stewards on earth after them, to see how you would behave.4
It is He who made you stewards on earth. Whoever disbelieves, his disbelief will recoil upon him. The disbelief of the disbelievers adds only to their Lord’s disfavor of them. The disbelief of the disbelievers adds only to their perdition.5
‘O David, We have made you a steward in the land, so judge between the people with justice, and do not follow desire, lest it diverts you from God’s path. Those who stray from God’s path will have a painful punishment, for having ignored the Day of Account.’6
The Arabic word for ‘steward’ is khalīfa, which is often translated as “successor”, “deputy” and “vicegerent” in translations of the Quran. The word “steward”, however, expresses its meaning better. A steward cares for the land and manages it for the sake of a master, taking the master’s wishes into account, but having great freedom to use his or her own creativity. A Muslim is a steward who looks after the earth in the apparent absence of its master. He or she is God’s steward, God’s agent on earth.
Muslims, as God’s stewards, do what they can to promote what is good and to reduce what is evil and harmful. And this means for every Muslim to do what is best with what they have wherever they are. Every single good act done in this world is an act of stewardship, and thus an act of worship, whether it is the planting of a tree, helping a friend in need, or donating money to a scientific research institute with the aim of making the world a better place. To make the world a better place, to leave it better than you found it, is to be a steward, and by extension this is what it means to be a Muslim.
In Islam, there is no utopian goal to achieve. Even if we create a worldwide caliphate that rules the world for the next 500 years, it too will perish like all the caliphates before it. Whether we rule or are ruled, whether we are weak or strong, it does not matter; what matters is to do good with the time given us.
The Quran teaches a long view of history that is best expressed in the thinking of the elves in the Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings novels. The elven lord Elrond says:
I have seen three ages7 in the West of the world, and many defeats, and many fruitless victories.
The Quran’s long view of history teaches that the end never justifies the means. Even if we establish what we suppose to be a state that best represents God’s wishes, any evil we do in the process will be counted against us. This is a crucial moral teaching that is opposed to the utopianism of Marxists and various other man-made ideologies that always justify evil and murder if it is done for a supposed greater good. The Quran, in fact, goes to an extreme length to teach its lesson that the end never justifies the means:
Because of that We ordained for the Children of Israel: that whoever kills a person—unless it is for murder or corruption on earth—it is as if he killed the whole of mankind; and whoever saves it, it is as if he saved the whole of mankind. Our messengers came to them with clarifications, but even after that, many of them continue to commit excesses in the land.8
Killing an innocent person is the same as killing all of humanity. There is a mathematics of infinity in this; the life of a human is of infinite worth, meaning that no expected good, no matter how great, not even the founding of the world’s greatest and happiest empire, justifies the killing of a single innocent person.
I can think of no greater affirmation of the transcendence of the human individual and no greater obstruction to Marxist-style utopianism. The verse’s other teaching, that saving a single life is like saving all of humanity, is equally important. A glorious, population-wide victory that is accomplished through evil is of no worth compared to uplifting a single human soul.
The Quran’s view of history is wise and sad. It deflates glory by teaching that it always comes to an end. It deflates human arrogance by teaching that nothing we achieve will last forever, except the good we do that God records for us. It does not teach hopelessness, however. A steward has duties that he or she must carry out, and that means they must try to be the best they can be wherever they are. It teaches to work for good but to not get carried away by this, like it happens to so many, through teaching that hurting even a single human is a grave sin no matter what we hope to accomplish.
Westerners who learn that there are positive and constructive interpretations of Islam, and that there also are negative and dangerous interpretations, go on to worry about the bad interpretations taking over. Am I not just one moderate voice among a sea of radicals? What defenses do Muslim societies have against radicalism? We have a very strong defense, and that is our humanity. Muslims, being humans, are blessed with reason and conscience. Coming into contact with non-Muslims, they are capable of appreciating the humanity in them and empathizing with them. No Muslim I know will happily watch a Christian girl get tortured, they would in fact do their best to stop it. Their empathy for this girl is not due to theological principles. They do not need to go look it up in an Islamic law reference whether empathy for Christian girls is allowed. It is due to their being human and their not believing in a tribalist ideology that dehumanizes outsiders.
Our humanity is sufficient for us as Muslims to make us good and kind people who are not intent on turning this world into Hell. Our history and our present shows this. Radicals like Wahhabis have never been able to take charge except with the support of powerful sponsors, such as the Saudi family in Saudi Arabia (with help from Britain, see Professor Mark Curtis, Secret Affairs: Britain’s Collusion with Radical Islam) and the CIA in Afghanistan (see Professor Andrew J. Bacevich’s America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History).
Muslims, of course, are not paragons of virtue. They are subject to all of the human weaknesses and vices. But they are humans who also embody the same morality that built Western civilization. In Tolkien’s Return of the King, Gandalf says:
But I will say this: the rule of no realm is mine, neither of Gondor nor any other, great or small. But all worthy things that are in peril as the world now stands, those are my care. And for my part, I shall not wholly fail of my task, though Gondor should perish, if anything passes through this night that can still grow fair or bear fruit and flower again in days to come. For I also am a steward. Did you not know?
The character Gandalf represents what an ideal Muslim would be in this world. Gandalf arrives at Middle Earth (where the story takes place), spends his entire time improving, protecting, educating, not expecting anything in return, never seeking power, and expecting to one day leave it all behind, as he does at the end of the story. I like to use the example of Gandalf because he is a Western character created by a Christian man. This highest ideal that this Christian man could conceive of gets amazingly close to the highest ideal of Islam, showing the closeness of Islam and Christianity once we can get beyond technicalities and see what truly drives Muslims/Christians. Tolkien’s embodied Christianity is very similar to my embodied Islam.
A Muslim is like a steward who watches over a farm with a sense of duty, knowing that he or she is not its master and that one day he or she will leave it. This stewardship does not seek mastery. It does not condescendingly look down on the world, wanting to control it and remake it for the benefit of the unwashed peasants, like Marxism does. It rather approaches humanity with a sense of respect, honoring it, being considerate toward it, recognizing the dignity of its own meaning-making projects, then wants to do good where it can, without force, but with gentle persuasion. The steward treats his or her fellow humans as equals, claiming no authority beyond speaking the truth.
A Muslim, unlike Gandalf, is denied the pleasure of considering themselves crucial to the course of history. History does not depend on my success or failure. Even if I fail, even if all my works are lost, God is capable of raising another person like me in very little time the way he measures time. This denies us the pleasure of self-importance, while bestowing upon us the pleasure of knowing that we cannot fail. God is already in charge, so nothing we can do can add to his power.
Rebels, radicals, revolutionaries and fundamentalists are closet aristocrats, as was recognized by Frank Herbert.9 They patronizingly look down on the masses, invalidating the meaning-making project of ordinary mortals, considering themselves the chosen elite who see through the mirages that the gullible masses cannot see through who will remake the world in their own image. They always create a feudal mini-aristocracy with themselves at the top, making decisions for everyone else, always with everyone else’s good in mind, of course. A Marxist radical has no plans for being a peasant in Siberia, contributing in their little way to the communist project. They want to be in Moscow at the heart of things, part of a celebrated, powerful and conceitedly benevolent elite that decides things for everyone else. Those who oppose the revolution of course should be shot and wiped out like insects, it is for the greater good.
A Muslim steward is exactly what the above are not. A defining characteristic of Muslim stewardship is the non-seeking of power, which is a very morally demanding requirement. We like to think that we need to gain power in order to do good. The Quran teaches to do good right now, without regard for power.
Whoever seeks glory, then [let them know that] to God belongs all glory…10
All doers of good run the risk of becoming tyrants in the name of the greater good. It is very morally demanding to remain humble, to actually respect other humans and listen to them, when one thinks of themselves as a doer of God’s will, one whose actions are sanctioned by the Transcendent. A Muslim, eager to do good and spread God’s message, may fervently wish to increase the number of Muslims, which should help achieve some imagined utopia. But the Quran deflates these glorious hopes:
Had your Lord willed, everyone on earth would have believed. Will you then compel people to become believers?11
6. Perhaps you may destroy yourself with grief, chasing after them, if they do not believe in this information. 7. [But] We made what is upon the earth an ornament for it, to test them as to which of them is best in conduct. 8. And We will turn what is on it into barren waste.12
The second passage quoted above, speaking to someone who is upset that the people around them refuse to live up to their expectations, reminds the reader that this world is a testing hall and that it will one day become a barren waste, so why be so eager, why let desire overcome you, even if it is desire to do good?
Being a doer of good also runs the risk of being a busybody who does more harm than good with their good intentions. The ideal steward gets beyond this too. By respecting other humans as sovereign meaning-makers, they have a humble approach that admits mistakes and claims no divine sanction or guidance. All power-seeking, glory-seeking and influence-seeking are shunned. If they deserve power, God will grant it, if and when he chooses. Stewards are the servants of an all-powerful master who is already in charge of the universe and who lacks nothing; a steward cannot do God any favors. God has zero need for the steward; rather, any role granted to the steward is a gift and favor from God.
The above is an ideal that Muslims can hope to emulate, although most of them do not achieve it. And the majority of Muslims will likely not be able to describe their role in the above terms. A Muslim who reads the Quran dedicatedly is gently nudged along to recognize and avoid mistake after mistake until they form a vague modus operandi that is to some degree like that of the Gandalf-like steward of God mentioned above. They know that they should not be attached to wealth, to power, to results, always being reminded that this world will end sooner or later, always being told to be kind and forgiving and to do good deeds, and all of these slowly narrow down the scope of possible behavior in the name of God, so that a Muslim who is a dedicated follower of the Quran can, in most circumstances, know the pitfalls to avoid. Through years of falling, of making mistakes, of achieving fruitless victories, and of being reminded and taught by the Quran, a devout and religiously eager Muslim’s character is slowly developed into that of a steward.
By learning all the things that a Muslim should not be, a Muslim learns what they should be. And along the way, they are offered various Gandalf-like characters in the Quran that they are encouraged to emulate. Gandalf, of course, being a divinely-sent guide who helps humanity and then leaves, is almost certainly inspired by the Biblical/Quranic prophets.
All of the lovers of the Quran I have met have been kind, compassionate humanists who can appreciate the humanity even in those who disagree with them and oppose them.13
The effect of the Quran’s teachings is very clear for those willing to see it. Extremism only results when the Quranic program is abandoned for a man-made program, often put forward by a prominent thinker who replaces the stewardship core of the Quran with a focus on seeking power in the name of the greater good.
To not seek power but try to do good, relying on God, will naturally feel naïve, especially for young people who are eager for action and glory. It may sound like nothing but foolishness to not want to seize the world and make it better, and certainly this is how some will interpret these views about God’s stewards. But if there is a God, and if he is as he says he is in the Quran, then the steward’s mode of behavior makes perfect sense. The Quran teaches that, when it comes to power, the game is already over. God is already in charge and he needs no favors. What he wants is just one thing:
1. Blessed is He in whose hand is the sovereignty, and Who has power over everything. 2. He who created death and life—to test you as to which of you is better in conduct. He is the Almighty, the Forgiving.14
We are in the presence of an all-powerful Mentor-King; while we cannot do him any favors, and while he already has total power, he is interested in seeing what we will do. He is interested in seeing us work toward the highest ideals we can imagine. This world is nothing but God’s factory for producing humans who worked toward those ideals.
To a person who does not believe in the metaphysical, a belief system that rejects power may sound self-defeating. How can one hope to do good if one lacks power? If the metaphysical did not exist, it would naturally make sense to seek power, to act according to the physical laws of the world, including sociological laws.
But if the metaphysical exists, if the God of the Quran is a true God, and if one believes in him, then it makes sense to take him at his word; to do as he says, rather than as our human desires would have us do. As Muslims who believe in the Quran, we believe that all power already belongs to God, therefore what must be sought is what is with God, not what is with people.
An ideal steward does not seek power; therefore he or she cannot be part of a political party without suffering inner moral conflict. To them politics is a game for power-hungry, pathological personalities, or naïve do-gooders.
While Islamists have a top-down view, where they have to be at the top to force goodness on everyone else, Muslim populations have a grassroots view, the view that if everyone were good and wholesome inside, the country’s leadership would be good and wholesome. The example of Muhammad and Saladin support this grassroots view, and so does the Quran:
God does not change the condition of a people until they change what is within themselves/their souls.15
God has promised those of you who believe and do righteous deeds, that He will make them established stewards on earth, as He made those before them established 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…16
128. Moses said to his people, ‘Seek help in God, and be patient. The earth belongs to God. He gives it in inheritance to whomever He wills of His servants, and the future belongs to the righteous.’ 129. They said, ‘We were persecuted before you came to us, and after you came to us.’ He said, ‘Perhaps your Lord will destroy your enemy, and make you established stewards in the land; then He will see how you behave.’17
The last passage with Moses shows the opinion of one of the Quran’s main characters when it comes to politics. He calls his followers to be patient and tells them that God may choose to one day make them powerful. He does not tell them to seek power or to be up in arms against the Pharaoh. Muhammad’s life shows the same pattern. Despite years of persecution, abuse and torture, his followers patiently took it all without striking back and without organizing into a mob or militia. In the end, God’s promise came true the way it came true for Moses’ people; Muhammad was invited to become the ruler of the city-state of Medina, and from there a worldwide power was established,that was soon to be corrupted and turned into an instrument of evil and injustice, again, similar to the story of the people of Moses, who, no sooner had they been established in Canaan than they started to worship other gods and engage in evil.
None of the prophets mentioned in the Quran took part in a power struggle as part of furthering their message. Moses did not try to stir up a rebellion against Pharaoh despite the hundreds of thousands of Hebrews who probably took him seriously. The prophets try to effect reform within the existing power structure, through persuasion rather than force. They often attract a following of largely poor and powerless people. They are laughed at and are threatened with expulsion. The prophet and his followers endure until God grants them refuge and safety, such as in the form of Muhammad’s migration to Medina. Only then he had to be involved in politics.
While the Quran’s teachings and its long view of history strongly discourage political power-seeking, they do not discourage political activism. The great stewards of the Quran were people who spoke up against evil and injustice and tried to make things better. In fact, it appears that part of the function of a steward is to be a gadfly to the strong and powerful:
And to Median, [We sent] their brother Shuaib. He said, “O my people, worship God; you have no god other than Him. A clear proof has come to you from your Lord. Give full measure and weight, and do not cheat people out of their rights, and do not corrupt the land once it has been set right. This is better for you, if you are believers.” “And do not lurk on every path, making threats and turning away from the path of God those who believe in Him, seeking to distort it. And remember how you were few, and how He made you numerous. So note the consequences for the corrupters.”…The arrogant elite among his people said, “O Shuaib, We will evict you from our town, along with those who believe with you, unless you return to our religion.” He said, “Even if we are unwilling?”[/note]
We meet this same steward in another passage where we meet the only instance of the word “reform” in the Quran:
88. He said, “O my people, have you considered? What if I have clear evidence from my Lord, and He has given me good livelihood from Himself? I have no desire to do what I forbid you from doing. I desire nothing but reform, as far as I can. My success lies only with God. In Him I trust, and to Him I turn.”
89. “O my people, let not your hostility towards me cause you to suffer what was suffered by the people of Noah, or the people of Hud, or the people of Saleh. The people of Lot are not far away from you.”
90. “And ask your Lord for forgiveness, and repent to Him. My Lord is Merciful and Loving.”
91. They said, “O Shuaib, we do not understand much of what you say, and we see that you are weak among us. Were it not for your tribe, we would have stoned you. You are of no value to us.”18
Shuaib is such an annoyance to the power elite of Median that they threaten to stone him to death. His ideas about financial reform are met as follows, which is one of the rare places in the Quran where we see sarcasm used:
They said, “O Shuaib, does your prayer command you that we abandon what our ancestors worshiped, or doing with our wealth what we want? You are the one who is intelligent and wise.”19
Muslim stewards, who are meant to emulate these stewards before them,20 are called, through following their example, to be political activists and reformers without being power-seekers. It is perhaps every politician’s wish to be allowed to do whatever they think is good without being taken to task for it, and for most politicians, this often means doing evil in the name of the greater good, something that is wholly rejected by Islamic morality. Muslims are taught to think that all power belongs to God. This teaches them to not be intimidated by powerful people. A steward looks at a king or dictator and sees them become a footnote in the history of such and such 100 years from now. It is an annoyance and a challenge for the elite oligarchy of a nation to not be taken seriously; for their wealth and power to be devalued and their authority rejected whenever they justify evil in the name of good. And that is exactly what the ideal steward does.
The ideal stewards are also perhaps the ideal citizens of a democracy, because they hold politicians to the highest standards and take them to account whenever they deviate. They cannot be silenced or intimidated because they do not take the world and its powers seriously. They cannot be bought with promises of wealth and power because they reject these things, believing that the wealth and power that God grants is better. And since they themselves do not partake in the game of politics, they have no attachment that blinds them. They critique everyone and speak their minds freely, considering none too holy or dangerous to be critiqued. Ideal stewards are threats to established power whether they are in a Muslim or non-Muslim country, unless the power is truly benign and benevolent. In Saudi Arabia they would criticize the excesses of the Saudi family, the evils of Saudi’s servility to the United States, the evils and corruptions seen in their own neighborhoods and towns. In the United States, instead of acting like an interest group that allies itself with whatever politician who promises Muslims good things, they judge everything the way God would judge them. A politician who tries to woo Muslims but has a record of supporting unethical corporations will be judged by that record by a true steward.
The Muslim population, like any population, is subject to manipulation and intimidation. The above only describes the ideal steward that the pious and intelligent among the Muslims try to emulate.
While political power-seeking is rejected by the best Muslims, political activism is not. A Muslim can be involved in all kinds of activities meant to reduce corruption and create reform, as long it does not involve power-seeking. Instead of creating the American Muslim Party that seeks to gain power to do good, they donate their money to institutes that seek to hold the government accountable, or they themselves work as writers, journalists and activists working for various political causes.
Turkey’s Muslims support Recep Tayyip Erdoğan because he is a charismatic personality who promises to work toward empowering the Turks. The fantasy Islam view would seek to find in Erdoğan an embodiment of Islam, then it would seek to generalize this; this is what Islam looks like if it were to be allowed to gain power.
In reality, had Turkey been an entirely Christian country, an Erdoğan would still have been very much possible; a populist who seeks power in the name of nationalism and caters to the religious feelings of the population is nothing special. This is what any clever populist would do, and this is what many Eastern European leaders do to attract Christian voters.
Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood has tried to spread its ideology of seeking power in the name of the greater good to the rest of the world, yet despite the fact that it has a moderate Sunni ideology, its history has been a history of perpetual failure. Even though its various offshoots claim to have nothing in mind but the betterment of Muslims, Muslims, being humans with independent and skeptical minds, judge them as humans do. The Islamist parties may claim to have the best ideas about how society should function, their ranks may even contain certain individuals admired for their piety and sincerity, yet due to their politicized nature, the average Muslim feels uncomfortable associating with them; there is no compelling reason to do so, and the existence of hierarchies of power within these organizations makes them feel dirty to Muslims. Even if a Muslim has a positive view of them, joining them feels like losing one’s independence and freedom, since one immediately becomes subservient to the party’s power structure.
The translation of the Western institution of a political party into an “Islamic” one leads to inherent contradictions and dysfunctions. The Quran teaches an extreme egalitarianism where no person is superior to any other and where every person retains the right to critique any other. The Islamic political party invariably clashes with this framework of thought; for a self-respecting intellectual to join them is to degrade himself or herself. One automatically becomes associated with a power structure full of individuals of questionable sincerity (even if a few are known to be sincere). This attachment to this structure is a loss of intellectual independence and a loss of the God-given freedom of the soul, and it always feels too similar to associating oneself with the rich and powerful for it to feel elevating, regardless of one’s intentions for joining the party.
In the Kurdistan region of Iraq (population over 5 million), there are multiple moderate Islamist parties seeking power, the main one considering itself the Kurdish branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. Despite the fact that the region is a Muslim-majority, Sunni-majority region, these parties have had little success, even among devout Muslims.
When it comes to an Islamist party, the individuals working for it are judged individually. Some of them are the butts of jokes, others are admired. And to devout Muslims, joining the party feels like taking part in some ridiculous pantomime, the way joining a political party feels to many Americans and Europeans. It feels especially degrading to an intelligent person who values their own independence of mind. They may, of course, vote for an Islamist candidate in a local election if they consider him or her to be sincere and worthy, or if they consider him or her the lesser evil compared to other candidates.
The example of the failure of political Islam to gain ground in Iraqi Kurdistan has been repeated everywhere else in the Islamic world. When the Islamic world is given a chance to function on its own without foreign interference, as in Malaysia, what comes about is a very Western-style civilization where Islamists have little reach. Muslims, rather than giving into Islamist hysteria, remain culturally conservative, respecting their institutions and shunning radicals.
Iran had a democratic government that was overthrown by the CIA and British intelligence.21 A violent and incompetent military dictator was reinstated, whose forced secularization project and all-powerful police state engendered sufficient hatred and disgust among the Iranian population that they were glad to accept any alternative. The Islamist Ayatollah Khomeini exploited this opportunity, attracting both the religious and the secular through professing respect for the principles of democracy and religious freedom.22 After gaining power, Khomeini quickly moved to secure his position, making himself absolute ruler, with direct control of the military and the political process.23
It would be a mistake to see in Iran an expression of the natural tendencies of a Muslim people. Iran is what happens when a country is made the plaything of Western powers that support a despotic dictator and his police state. Khomeini appeared at the right time and was given constant coverage by the West’s media during his stay in France, helping convince the Iranians that he was their natural leader against the tyrannical Shah. Khomeini did not show his true colors until months after the founding of the revolutionary government, and for a few years into his rule, the pretense of true democracy was maintained.
I consider the failure of political Islam a good thing despite the fact that I consider many of the people involved in it good people, and despite the fact that I believe them when they say they have the best of intentions, because political Islam always ends up being a vehicle for oppression if it achieves its goal of gaining power. Let us think of an imaginary Muslim village in which there is an Islamist who wants to create his own political party. The Islamist thinks, “If only everyone joined this party, we would be able to do so much good!” This thought, in itself, is dehumanizing toward his fellow humans, because it ignores the fact that many among his fellow villagers could have powerful human reasons for not associating with him and his friends and for not wanting to belong to a power structure that operates in parallel to the one already in force (law, custom, societal relations). Perhaps they remember his past, and knowing that he is not infallible, are not comfortable with giving him even more power.
The Islamist has to believe in the utopian but inhuman idea that everyone could become a member of his party. It is only in the heights of arrogance that a person cannot see that people could have thousands of reasons for not wanting to join him. What occurs in reality is that the Islamist is able to attract a following of like-minded people, closet aristocrats who, just like Marxists, think they should think for the benefit of everyone else and make their decisions for them. The party grows until it attracts perhaps 5% of the village’s population, more if it has wealthy backers.24Then it stalls. Unless a preponderance of unfortunate circumstances enables them to gain power as happened in Iran, the party will remain on the margins of society. People may appreciate any good they do, they may even befriend them closely, but they will not submit themselves to it.
The reason that Muslims do not join Islamist parties is the same reason that most Americans do not join political parties. Americans may identify more with one party than another; the Republican Party continues to profess some allegiance to Christian morality, and this helps attract devout Christian voters. But the parties are not treated as representative of the heart and soul of the population; they are rather treated like artificial structures, similar to corporations. They are not the will of the people; they are the will of the people who work for the party.
Similar attitudes can be seen among Muslims toward Islamist parties. Even in a conservatively Muslim country like Egypt, in the 2012 presidential elections, the Brotherhood candidate Mohammed Morsi won by a narrow margin over the secular candidate Ahmed Shafik (51.73% versus 48.27%). Morsi’s government, reflecting the usual Islamist mindset (as is also seen in Erdoğan’s Turkey), tried to give itself sweeping powers, leading to violent protests and opening the way for the Western-backed coup the ousted him.25Morsi appeared to be a sincere and a well-meaning leader, but this does not excuse his lack of interest in dealing with his detractors on equal terms. Feeling himself blocked and hindered at every turn by the seculars, he tried to give himself the leverage of power in order to overcome these obstacles. This is not stewardly behavior, since a steward works through persuasion rather than compulsion. His thinking was probably that he could do so much good if only these dinosaurs left over from the previous regime could be taken out of the way. His wish for leverage was nothing more than a wish for overcoming the will of nearly half the population supposedly for their own good. This is not civilized behavior, since it discounts the human sovereignty of this section of the population. If he had been rightly respectful of his fellow humans, he would have worked to create a new political system that equally pleased the seculars. This would have meant creating a secular government that respected religious freedom and that did not impose Islam on secular citizens.
If a Western country ends up having a population that is half Muslim, this in no way suggests that this would open the way for an Islamist takeover of the government. Islamists have failed miserably in the heartlands of Islam, it is sheer fantasy to think that they would have more success in the West. Albania’s population was 56.7% Muslim in 2011,26 yet it has a stable Western-style government. The president is Ilir Meta, a Muslim who claims adherence to Islamic values, yet he is indistinguishable from any Western statesman in his manners and politics.
Similar to so many other issues concerning Muslims, the issue of Islam and politics has a “fantasy Islam” version imbibed with the worst prejudices, and a real-world version that is complex and full of human elements.
It is a fact that up to the 20th century there was a mainstream view that jihad (literally “striving in the way of God”) was meant as a military endeavor aimed at the constant expansion of Islam. Taking such views seriously, as representative of Islam-the-sociological-phenomenon, is like reading the sermons of the Catholic Church in support of the Crusades as representative of Christianity.
The vagueness of the concept of jihad in the Quran lends itself to many interpretations. The religious scholars, from their ivory towers, continued to favor the interpretation that jihad was a call to constant expansion. The Muslims were the good guys, so it only made sense to spread this goodness as far and wide as possible, and to only make peace with the infidels only when too weak to carry jihad forth.
The world-jihad idea continued to survive in the madrasas of the scholars while the real world around them completely ignored it. Muslim states maintained diplomatic ties with those around them and acted similar to non-Muslim states, dealing with the world according to the needs of the time. The concept of jihad continued to be used by rulers who wished to drum up support for their wars, but the theoretical idea of permanent, non-stop jihad was just that, a theory, that was used when convenient without defining the modus operandi of any Muslim government.
It has been common to take the scholars at their word, completely ignore history, and paint the picture of Islam as a permanently aggressive force that can never live in peace with the outside. One should distinguish between the fantasy Islam of the scholars and the real-world Islam embodied by Muslim populations. It is completely irrelevant what scholars write in their books if the average Muslim does not take their writings on some topic seriously. And this has been exactly the case when it comes to jihad. There is no urgent need for reform of the Islamic literature to prevent the Middle East from blowing up as some reformers think. The overwhelming majority of Muslims themselves stand against Jihadi ideologies because they have a human understanding of the world around them and know that the utopia promised by Jihadism is complete nonsense, and the American-trained head-cutters in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria provide ample proof to Muslims for the horror and misery that Jihadism promises. For Muslims, it is not necessary for the jihad to be taken out of their medieval books for them to be safe from Jihadism; being blessed with living somewhere that is not relevant to the United States’ geopolitical goals, such as Morocco, is the best way to be safe.
Things are actually even better than that. With the increase in literacy and learning over the past 200 years and the wide dissemination of Islamic references among the population (references are no longer locked away in madrasas) has enabled Muslim intellectuals to start engaging with the scholars and challenging them to reform their thinking when it comes to jihad, so that throughout the world today Muslims, including the most respected and admired scholars, are busy redefining and clarifying the concept. As already said, this is not of crucial importance to the world’s Muslims, what is taking place is that embodied Islam is finally seeping into theoretical Islam now that Islamic scholarship is no longer bound to the ivory tower atmosphere of the madrasas.
500 years ago, the majority of Muslims lived in states that acted like modern states; with borders, diplomatic policies and sophisticated diplomats and statesmen. That continues to this day. Modernizing jihad doctrine will not change anything when it comes to the realities of daily life for Muslims. It will only help remove an annoyance; that of Muslims being considered potential Jihadists by the ignorant.
As a devout Muslim, I naturally take the Quran’s statements regarding jihad seriously. My interpretation, which is the interpretation of the overwhelming majority of Muslims one way or another, is that jihad refers to two things at the same time: the duty of every Muslim to contribute toward defending theirs states against aggressors, and the more general duty of every Muslim to strive to please God: to be a steward. Most of the Quran’s discussions of jihad are centered on warfare, but not all of them. While he was a subject of the pagans of Mecca, Prophet Muhammad was commanded to conduct jihad against them (in the Meccan chapter 25 of the Quran). Did this mean that he started to gather up an armed group to take over the city? Of course not, since he was receiving revelations from God, not from the CIA. God had forbidden him from fighting. While being commanded to conduct jihad, he was also commanded to forgive the pagans and be lenient toward them (verse 86:17, 15:85, 15:94). An intelligent reader of the Quran has therefore to reconcile these facts, and the reconciliation, which has been conducted everywhere in the Muslim world in some form, is that jihad’s general meaning is to strive for the sake of God in whatever way possible, while one of its specific applications is toward conducting warfare when the circumstances justly demand it. Violent jihad is a matter of statecraft; it was only permitted to the Prophet once he had become the ruler of the sovereign state of Medina.
I have been asked why the Quran contains violent verses; why is it not a nice book telling us just to be nice? The reason is that life is not nice. Is there a single state in the world whose rulers say that they will not keep an army because niceness is sufficient? Even Sweden, perhaps the most strongly environmentalist and feminist nation in the world, keeps a powerful army. The Quran, among its many moral and ethical teachings, provides suggestions toward proper foreign policy; it recommends that Muslims keep well-equipped fighting forces (as every country today does), it defines where and when fighting can take place and where and when it cannot, and always recommends that the Muslim side should accept peace offers from the other side (2:193, etc.), and asks Muslims to respect their contracts and treaties. The Quran has a no-nonsense but ethical view of foreign policy. Calling the Quran violent because it defines and regulates the violent requirements of foreign policy is like calling the US Constitution violent, since it does the same.
The Fate of Western Civilization
The comparatively high fertility rate of Muslims living in the West has created fears of an “Islamization” of the Western world. Some people talk about Eurabia and Londonistan. By placing the issue of the growth of Muslims outside the bounds of public discourse, leftist media organizations like the New York Times have been able to stifle discussions of the topic, so that anyone who brings it up can be automatically dismissed as a bigot.
Opposite them stand a minor group of dissident intellectuals who think they are bravely fighting for the fate of their civilization against foreign invasion, having fallen into the trap of confusing fantasy Islam with real-world Islam.
Today, Portugal’s population is shrinking. Its countryside is being abandoned, thousands of villages are being reclaimed by nature.27 As the population deteriorates, the remaining citizens have to move to larger towns in order to get the services they need. According to the World Bank, Portugal’s fertility rate has been below replacement levels since 1982, meaning Portuguese women have been having fewer children than is needed to maintain their population.28 It usually takes 30 years for a population to start shrinking once it hits below-replacement fertility. Portugal’s population peaked at 10.57 million in 2010. By 2016 it had fallen to 10.32 million.
Portugal’s fertility rate in 2015 was 1.23, meaning that women of fertile age were on average having 1.23 children throughout their fertile period. The women in a population need to give birth to about 2.1 children in their lifetimes in order to produce a new generation that is the same size as the one before it. What Portugal’s fertility rate means is that each generation will only reach 58.5% the size of the previous generation. In this way, a village that has a population of 250 fertile-age women (total population 1000) will only have 10 fertile-age women left in 6 generations (168 years), due to the successive shrinkage of each generation. By then, this imaginary village would probably have long been abandoned.
What is happening to Portugal, which has been spared Muslim immigration, seems to be a run-of-the-mill process that happens to all civilizations. A socially conservative, high-fertility-rate population establishes itself in an area and builds it up. Prosperity and growth come about until a stage of civic life is reached where people question the virtue of having children; life goes on well enough without them, so why burden oneself with them? Having children becomes a choice rather than an unquestioned part of life as it used to be for the supposedly naïve forefathers of old. Why burden oneself with children when there is so much to do, and when one hasn’t yet figured out the meaning and purpose of life, and when one is already under so many financial pressures?
Western youth by and large do not consider themselves part of the project that is Western civilization and those who have passed through the Western university system are likely to have been taught by their professors to consider this civilization evil and harmful, something to apologize for and dissociate themselves from. Such youth will naturally not feel bound to contribute to this civilization, nor will they look forward to the civilization’s flowering.
It is culture that lead to civilizations. The Victorian bourgeoisie (i.e. middle and upper classes) had a reliable and predictable social system that led to so much free time and energy that everyone was in some way thinking of doing good works, of making themselves useful. In an uncivilized society people do not have to worry about being useful. One is either useful or dead. The material world’s demands fully capture one’s attention. One has to seek food, shelter, avoid predators, avoid social threats, find mates and keep mates. Victorian Christianity suppressed that “noise” of the material world; it put them all out of the way. Food and shelter were plenty; a rigid social code made social life very predictable; a rigid sexual morality made mates reliable. While religion is often thought of as a restrictor of freedom, it can actually be thought of as a creator of freedom. It suppresses the noise of the material world and its demands, creating a reliable structure within which one is free to act.
Seek freedom and become captive of your desires. Seek discipline and find your liberty.29
An imaginary “free” society where no man can trust his wife (who is free to flirt and cheat), where he cannot trust his business partner, where he cannot trust his own children, where he uses drugs and prostitutes without being sanctioned, is not a free society. It is a society that is very much oppressed by the material world. Hence it is an unproductive society.
The best sign that a society is too oppressed by the material world to have free energy for other things might be below-replacement fertility rates. Having and raising children requires great commitment of one’s energies, and the presence of trust in one’s mate and the social system. In a modern society these are lacking. The material world drains one’s energies through financial need, unhelpful relatives, unkind and uncharitable employers who are determined to give as little as they can to their employees, and not the least of its oppressive qualities: the unreliability of mates. In this world of misanthropes, how is a man or woman to find the energy and stability to produce children? Women’s strong instinctive desire for children ensures that many will have at least one child in their lifetimes, and a few will have two. But they stop there. And that is nowhere enough to sustain civilization.
The usual story of a civilization is one of acquiring a culture. Note that I am including religion in my definition of culture, in fact it is culture’s most essential element. The culture suppresses noise and makes life stable (think of the Germanic tribes converting to Christianity and becoming the rulers of the Holy Roman Empire), which leads to the freeing of energy to build and create. Eventually the population questions the worth of their culture, so that its elements are slowly abandoned. Life loses its reliability and stability, noise reasserts itself and drains energy, fertility rates fall below replacement levels, the civilization enters into a centuries-long era of twilight until it either goes extinct, is conquered, or acquires a new culture that revitalizes it.
A civilization can continue functioning for centuries during its twilight. If Portugal’s population continues to shrink at its 2014 rate of 0.5%, it will still have 6.2 million people a hundred years from now, and 200 years from now it will have 3.7 million people.
What will happen if this dying civilization acquires Islam? To avoid the racial issue, let us imagine that this happens through the conversion of the local population, rather than immigration.
If we are to use ideas from fantasy Islam to make projections about what may happen, as is so often done, one may imagine a militant Wahhabi dystopia coming about.
But if we are to think about real-world Islam, the embodied Islam of Muslim populations, we get a very different picture. Iranian society provides a very useful data point. Being the largest Muslim Indo-European nation, they are distant cousins of the Portuguese. Looking at Iranians (whether the Shia majority or the millions of Iranian Sunnis), we may ask if they are doing anything that is fundamentally at odds with the Portuguese Western-style way of life. Are Iranians systematically destroying their pre-Islamic heritage and rejecting it? No, in fact they are quite proud of it and celebrate it. Iran’s national epic is the Shahnameh, which is largely concerned with pre-Islamic Iran. Iran’s most important annual festival is Noruz, which is a pre-Islamic celebration.
Iranian women, instead of being docile women in need of rescue, could shock Victorian women with how independent and opinionated they are. You can scarcely meet a middle class Iranian girl who does not consider herself something of a philosopher and a poet, and who does not have a strong voice in her family, feeling free to contradict and make fun of her brothers and give advice to her father.
Iran has a thriving intellectual atmosphere, with most Western bestsellers translated into Persian within months. Not everything is well with Iran, of course, but despite the fact that the government uses and propounds Shia Islam to maintain its rule, the population itself is made up of independent-minded citizens who think for themselves.
We can use the example of Iranian society to project what may happen if a Portuguese ghost town was to be re-inhabited by 100,000 Portuguese Muslims.
I should mention here that I do not wish to suggest that I support open borders and uncontrolled migration. I respect each country’s sovereign right to decide its own fate.
Similar to Christianity, Islam would suppress the noise of material life, making social life stable and predictable. While the Portuguese cultural elite are content to merely exist and enjoy life while it lasts, this town’s population will have an optimistic, purposeful, forward-looking culture. The town will have above-replacement fertility and a growing economy.
Similar to the way a person in India can go from a Muslim to a non-Muslim town with ease, a person can visit this town without feeling like they have entered a foreign, non-Portuguese land. There will be more women wearing the hijab, and fewer places to drink alcohol at, but the city’s growing economy will likely attract many non-Muslim workers from the rest of Portugal.
The town will not be a utopia, but it can be expected to show the best features seen in other intelligent and cosmopolitan Muslim populations, such as in Tehran and Kuala Lumpur. It will be a society similar to late Victorian society, a mix of religiosity and European common sense.
The fear of Islam among Western intellectuals is the fear of loss. We do not want a beautiful German town full of beautiful Gothic architecture to become an Arabian desert. Would Muslims not want to destroy the Western heritage to replace it with an “Islamic” one?
What would be lost if a Portuguese town converted to Islam? The town’s alcohol-drinking culture would be lost. Casinos and brothels would have to close down due to the lack of a customer base long before any law is passed banning them. If the town is on the Atlantic coast, there would no longer be scantily clad young women to view on the beaches. Any existing pig farms would close down. Restaurants would stop offering pork-containing dishes.
It is actually quite difficult to come up with anything else beyond these largely cosmetic differences. The same way that devout Muslims have no trouble contributing to Egypt’s various civic institutions, devout Muslim Portuguese would have no trouble continuing their town’s hundreds of institutions. Newspapers, book clubs, libraries, philosophical societies, animal welfare societies, sports clubs, museums, in short, everything a Westerner considers “Western” institutions would continue to function like before. Egypt, Iran, Turkey and Malaysia have these same institutions, why would the Portuguese fail to maintain theirs?
Migrants and Converts
Economic growth requires increases in population or increases in productivity. Since increases in productivity are limited by physical laws, the European elite prefer immigration as a way of replenishing lost productive capacity and going beyond it. Immigration helps increase economic growth, which leads to increases in military, economic, technological and political power on the world stage, and most importantly, helps ensure that the government can continue to make interest and pension payments by importing more young people to tax.
Canada has had below-replacement fertility rates since 1972. By now it would have been a country with a shrinking population, with villages and towns suffering Portuguese fates. Instead, thanks largely to immigration, the population has doubled since 1960. Canada is a rising star that will soon overshadow Spain in achievement and power. Canada’s immigration policies prefer people with educational achievement. This has ensured that the migrant population has been productive and largely problem-free, so that the Canadian population has a far more positive attitude toward immigration compared to other Western countries. Canada’s over one million Muslims are so boringly middle class, similar to California’s Iranians, that they rarely make the news.
The issue of immigration is a sensitive one. The very rich of the West like it because it means that they can maintain their wealth and power. Their real estate would lose value and their businesses would lose customers if the population shrinks, therefore they constantly lobby for increased immigration while confident that they can continue living in exclusive and expensive mostly-white neighborhoods that migrants cannot afford to live in. The rest of the population either like it or dislike it depending on where they live and their social positions and cultural values. For some immigration means increased taxes, fewer jobs and worse services, and they dislike it for these. Some dislike it for increasing the number of strangers in their societies, they dislike constantly meeting people whose morality and beliefs are a mystery. It was so much simpler back in the old days when basically everyone you met throughout the day followed the same cultural protocols as yourself.
And then there are those who out of humanitarian considerations like the idea of helping less privileged people enjoy a Western life.
If the Syrians in Germany are less prosperous and slightly more criminal than Germans, the exact same thing would be seen if Brazilian Christian immigrants or even Appalachian whites from the United States were to be admitted into Germany. Making it about religion feels satisfying to some Westerners since it “shows” the superiority of their civilization. This is a hasty jump to conclusions that does not bother to look beneath the surface since focusing on the surface is so gratifying.
Whatever good or bad things that Islam (rather than Arabs or whatever race or ethnicity) will cause to the West can only be studied accurately if we hold all other things constant. This is one of the basic principles of the social sciences. It means that we should look at converts to Islam in the West and their descendants rather than foreigners, since foreigners do not just bring Islam with them, but a far larger cultural heritage. Converts have the same cultural heritage as the native non-Muslims, with their only difference being religion, helping us see the effects of Islam in isolation from confounding factors like culture.
Do Europeans become less productive, less intelligent or more criminal when they convert to Islam?
Der Spiegel reported in 2007 that 4000 Germans were annually converting to Islam.30 In 2011, there were supposed to be 100,000 converts to Islam in Britain.31 If we keep in mind the imaginary Portuguese example, these conversions do not represent a loss to European culture, but a gain. While secular Westerners are not carrying their weight, not doing what they must to continue their civilization, these Europeans are embracing a new conceptual framework that enables them to continue their civilization. Even if there are only a few hundred thousand converts to Islam among ethnic Europeans in Europe and North America, these people are perfectly capable of carrying forth both their European genes and their European heritage. Iranians are not rejecting their pre-Islamic Iranian heritage, why would Europeans do that?
The Europeans who could synthesize their humane and beautiful Christianity of the Victorian era out of the rigid and sometimes inhuman Christianity of the Middle Ages can very well do the same with Islam. Iranian intellectuals have done that for Islam, why not Europeans?
An important convert demographic in the United States is African American inmates who convert in prison. These men, when they are released, rather than becoming more criminal as a simple-minded view of Islam might suggest actually, perhaps for the first time in their lives, start to think very seriously about forming a family and holding down a job.
My long view of history prevents me from gleefully looking forward to the Islamization of the West. Even if Islam spreads greatly for the next century or two, some new force can come about that wipes it out, as it happened to every former Islamic power. The Quran says this regarding past nations:
That was a nation that has passed; for them is what they have earned, and for you is what you have earned; and you will not be questioned about what they used to do.32
My view of future nations is the same. Whatever good or evil they do is their business, and nothing they accomplish will last forever. Our duty is to do good with the time given to us.
It will, of course, be very interesting to see what Europeans will do with Islam. I trust in their humanity and common sense to enable them to make something good and beautiful out of it. European Muslims have already produced incredible Islamic works, such as Brown’s Canonization and Wymann-Landgraf’s Malik and Medina, works that are just as sensible, moderate and sophisticated as any other European work of scholarship.
If we want to perform an intellectually honest comparison between Western civilization’s representatives and Islam’s representatives, we must compare the best of the West with the best of Islam, rather than comparing the intellectual elite of the West with the criminal underclass of Muslim societies. Look at the American math professor Jeffrey Lang, the American scholar Hamza Yusuf, the British philosopher Martin Lings, the British scholar Timothy Winter, the German diplomat Murad Wilfried Hofmann, all of whom deeply studied Islam and embraced it yet remained every bit as dedicated to contributing to Western civilization as any Western intellectual.
The only way we can have an intelligent discussion about Islam’s future in the West is to compare the intellectuals Westerners respect with the intellectuals Western Muslims respect. Conceptualizing Muslims as a horde of invaders may be satisfying to some, but it does not get us anywhere toward making empirically accurate predictions about future Muslim behavior. It is our intellectuals who are busy preparing the Muslim “program” in the West. One needs to be familiar with the thought of this intellectual elite of Western Islam before considering themselves in any shape or form well-informed about Muslims and their thought and potential future behavior.
For the question of “Sharia law” and pluralism please see my essay: Consensual Communities and the Sanctity of Human Life: The Path to Moderate Islam between Pluralism, Authoritarianism, Conformity and Individualism
A post in your website titled "The Muslim Plan for Western Civilization" talks about how Muslims should not seek power, and I do found that there is no explicit verse in The Quran that says for Muslim to establish an Islamic State. Back in my times being in a halaqa, there is a hadith that narrates about The 5 Periods of Era (The Prophetic Era of Muhammad, Caliphate, Mulkan Jabriyan, Mulkan 'Adhan, and Caliphate based on Prophethood). I hope you would explain it to me. Jazakallah.
There is no verse in the Quran that clearly and unequivocally asks Muslims to establish an Islamic state. It also never asks Muslims to seek power. Everything the Quran says about governance is vague and can be interpreted in many ways. Mainstream Muslim thinkers believe that this means that the Quran leaves it to each Muslim community to decide its own governance matters according to whatever works best in their particular time and place. I will be happy to discuss any particular verse you have in mind.
As for the hadith you mentioned, the final part that says “then a caliphate will be established according to the methodology of Prophethood” is narrated by only one person (Ibrāhīm al-Wāsiṭī) whose narrations are matrūk (”abandoned”) meaning they are so unreliable as to be unworthy of being cited. Please see the study (Arabic PDF) on this by the hadith scholar Dr. Salah al-Din al-Idlibi.
So there is no authentic narration (as far as I have heard) that talks about the establishment of a utopian caliphate in the future.
There is a serious problem with hadith narrations where there is a short authentic version and a longer version that someone modified according to their own imagination. For example there is a famous hadith that says Muslims will be divided into 73 sects. This is authentic. But then someone added this to its end: “And all of them will enter the Hellfire except one.” And that completely changed its meaning and turned it into a tool for intolerant groups to claim to possess the truth and claim everyone who disagrees with them will go to Hell (see my article on this hadith).
- Chronicles Magazine, ‘Love Thyself: The West’s Fatal Flaw’, https://www.chroniclesmagazine.org/2017/November/41/11/magazine/article/10841894/ (retrieved Januray 28, 2018).
- The Quran, verse 2:30.
- The Quran, verse 6:165.
- The Quran, verses 10:13-14.
- The Quran, verse 35:39.
- The Quran, verse 38:26.
- In Tolkien’s legendarium, these ages span many thousands of years.
- The Quran, verse 5:32.
- See Frank Herbert, The God Emperor of Dune.
- The Quran, verse 35:10.
- The Quran, verse 10:99.
- The Quran, verse 18:6-8.
- One of the greatest lovers of the Quran in the 20th century was the Quran philosopher Muḥammad ʿAbd-Allāh Drāz, famous for his compassionate, humanistic worldview. See Muḥammad ʻAbd-Allāh Darāz, La morale du Coran. Paris: Éditions Arrissala, 2002. See also Aḥmad Muṣtafā Faḍlīya (ed.), Muḥammad ʿAbd-Allāh Drāz: Dirāsāt wa-Buḥūth bi-Aqlām Talāmidhatih wa-Muʿāṣirīh, Cairo and Kuwait: Dār al-Qalam, 2007.
- The Quran, verses 67:1-2.
- The Quran, from verse 13:11.
- The Quran, verse 24:55.
- The Quran, verses 7:128-129.
- The Quran, verses 11:88-91.
- The Quran, verse 11:87.
- The Quran, in reference to the prophets who came before Muhammad, such as Shuaib, has this to say: “Those are they to whom We gave the Book, and wisdom, and prophethood. If these reject them, We have entrusted them to others who do not reject them. Those are they whom God has guided, so follow their guidance. Say, ‘I ask of you no compensation for it; it is just a reminder for all mankind.'” (The Quran, verses 6:89-90)
- See Stephen Kinzer, Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq, New York: Macmillan, 2007.
- For Khomeini’s relationship with the Sunni Kurds and his later betrayal, see Ali Ezzatyar, The Last Mufti of Iranian Kurdistan: Ethnic and Religious Implications in the Greater Middle East, Palgrave Macmillan, 2016.
- See Robin Wright, In the Name of God: The Khomeini Decade, Simon & Schuster, 1989.
- Iran is a major financial backer of Iraqi Kurdistan’s Sunni Islamist parties as was admitted by the leaders of multiple of these parties on TV. Iran finds them useful in spreading its influence over the region.
- Der Spiegel (November 26, 2012), ‘Egyptian Revolutionaries Take on Radical Islam’, http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/egypt-at-a-crossroads-after-morsi-grants-himself-sweeping-powers-a-869291.html
- INSTAT Albanian Statistical Institute, ‘Address of the Director General of INSTAT, Ines Nurja, during the presentation of the main results of the Population and Housing Census 2011’, https://web.archive.org/web/20170326091156/http://www.instat.gov.al/media/177358/njoftim_per_media_-_fjala_e_drejtorit_te_instat_ines_nurja_per_rezultatet_finale_te_census_2011.pdf (retrieved January 22, 2018), p. 3.
- Reuters (April 28, 2016), ‘Bled by emigration, abandoned Portuguese villages lose hope of surviving’, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-portugal-villages-widerimage/bled-by-emigration-abandoned-portuguese-villages-lose-hope-of-surviving-idUSKCN0XP1HC (retrieved February 1, 2018).
- All demographic figures quoted in this chapter are from the World Bank, available at http://data.worldbank.org.
- Frank Herbert, Chapterhouse Dune.
- Der Spiegel (January 18, 2007), ‘Angst-Ridden Germans Look for Answers — And Find Them in the Koran’, http://www.spiegel.de/international/spiegel/muslim-converts-in-germany-angst-ridden-germans-look-for-answers-and-find-them-in-the-koran-a-460364.html (retrieved January 14, 2018).
- BBC News (January 4, 2011), ‘Converting to Islam – the white Britons becoming Muslims’, , http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-12075931 (retrieved January 14, 2018).
- The Quran, verse 2:134.