Recently the British philosopher Roger Scruton was sacked from his government position for stating in an interview that Islamophobia is a propaganda word “invented by the Muslim Brotherhood”, among other statements. The interview was intentionally redacted by the journalist to put Scruton in the worst light possible. Since then the journalist has disappeared from social media after refusing to release the full tape of the interview.
The treatment that Scruton has received is typical. He has dared to sin against what the Western zeitgeist considers sacrosanct. There is no forgiveness possible, and he is given no opportunity to justify himself. The zeitgeist is his judge, jury and executioner, and there is no appeal possible. Scruton has been unpersoned; he is considered to be no longer a human and to not deserve to be treated with human decency.
This is especially sad because Scruton has been one of the very few Western intellectuals who has tried to engage with Muslim intellectuals. Second-rate intellectuals are happy to regurgitate 19th century Orientalist theories about Islam without bothering to actually read a recent scholarly book or two on the religion. The great progress that the Western study of Islam has made in the past few decades has completely passed them by. Scruton, however, has been willing to sit with intellectuals like Hamza Yusuf in dialog. He also has a close relationship with a hijabi Syrian lady trying to rebuild Syria’s destroyed architecture. Scruton has been one of the very few intellectuals willing to treat Muslims as humans rather than as second-class humans to be shunned.
While Scruton’s views on Islam do not always hit the mark, we should acknowledge that he has done far more than others to try to engage with it and understand it. He should be celebrated for this and whatever erroneous statement he makes should easily be forgiven. So even if what he had said about Islamophobia had been unacceptable, it should still be the easiest thing in the world to continue to consider him a respectable intellectual and thinker and to continue to engage in dialog with him.
But the truth is that his view of the term “Islamophobia” hits the mark, whether he is right that it was invented by the Muslim Brotherhood or not.
The problem with “Islamophobia”
According to the New World Encyclopedia,
The term phobia, from the Greek φόβος meaning "fear," is a strong, persistent, and irrational fear or anxiety of certain situations, objects, activities, or persons. A phobia disorder is defined by an excessive, unreasonable desire to avoid the feared subject. Phobias are generally believed to emerge following highly traumatic experiences."Phobia", The New World Encyclopedia.
According to this definition of phobia, Islamophobia is an irrational and unreasonable fear or anxiety about Islam.
For a politically-minded person, Islamophobia is a very useful word (similar to homophobia and other modern, politically-instituted “phobias”). It helps insinuate that a person who criticizes or dislikes the object under question is irrational and unreasonable. It helps identify a group of humans as irrational and unreasonable, and in this way helps justify demeaning and dehumanizing them and their concerns.
Islamophobia makes dialog impossible. If you fear Islam, you are the problem, not Islam. It discards the subjective experience of those who fear or dislike Islam while promoting an authoritarian ideology that accepts nothing less than full submission to a positive view of Islam as the only option for a reasonable and rational human.
Making Islamophobia sound like a reasonable word may seem like a great accomplishment for a politically-minded Muslim. It helps create an easy-to-use framework for attacking anyone who expresses criticism of Islam. Calling them an “Islamophobe” automatically suggests that the attacked person is irrational and unreasonable. Whatever concerns or criticisms they have are worthless. And not only that, the politicization of the word also helps take this attack further, making it an attack on their basic humanity. An Islamophobe is not a person with human rights, they are an irrational and insane unperson who should not be treated like a human.
But what do we gain by using this slur against people? It does not change anyone’s mind about Islam. It only helps drive their opinions underground, so that they start to feel that there is an oppressive system above them that prevents them from freely voicing their opinions. Islam restricts their freedom of speech so that the only places where they can voice their opinions become Internet forums and YouTube comment sections.
By forcing criticism of Islam and Muslims into the underground, we only help it grow. Not only do these people hold on to their former opinions, they feel encouraged to only become more extreme because of the feeling that their opinions and their humanity are discarded from the start by Muslims.
The rationality of fearing Islam
Islamophobia implies that it is irrational to fear Islam. This sounds frankly idiotic to someone who feels that the evidence is all around them for why they should fear Islam. Terrorist attack after terrorist attack reinforces the view that Islam is a danger to society. Documentaries are constantly published about the suffering of women under Sharia courts in Pakistan or Britain.
The disgust that our Muslim intellectuals express at terrorist attacks does not help remove the association between Islam and terrorism for the simple reason that most people do not get to see the statements of these intellectuals.
The first step for dealing with the fear of Islam in the West is to acknowledge that this fear is rational. Within the subjective experience of the Western person who is exposed to images of terrorism and abuse of women, it is perfectly rational to conclude that Islam is a source of these evils. Calling them irrational is only taken by them as an insult and a slur. Islamophobia tells them that if they make the rational connection between Islam and terrorism, that they are doing something wrong. But they know perfectly well that they are rational, so the insult does nothing to prevent them from making such a connection. It only reinforces their view actually, because they start to sense that there is an Orwellian force from above that wants them to throw away their rationality for a new, politically-instituted faux rationality that somehow finds it logical not to connect Islam with terrorism and other negative things.
It is perfectly rational for a person to fear or dislike Islam based on the information that they are exposed to everyday. The problem is not with the rationality of these people. The problem is with the information that they are exposed to. Discounting these people’s subjective experience is a most futile exercise. The rational conclusion based on the information that they are exposed to is that Islam is a problem. If we want people to stop making this conclusion, we cannot do it by attacking their rationality, but by changing the information.
The information received by a Westerner about Islam is partly true and partly made up of prejudices. The true part consists of the news of terrorist attacks and articles and documentaries about the suffering of women and women’s rights activists among Muslims. The right course of action is not to attack people who bring such information to people’s minds when it is done with journalistic integrity. The right course is to remove the causes for such information being created in the first place by working to promote a tolerant and civilized Islam that naturally prevents terrorism, the abuse of women and all other incentives for the creation of negative information about Islam.
Humanizing the “Islamophobe”
The way to convincing a person who has a negative view of Islam that their view is wrong or imperfect is not to dehumanize them by calling them an Islamophobe, but by treating them as complete humans equal to ourselves.
Kant’s moral philosophy teaches us that the only proper way to treat a fellow human is to treat them as “ends” rather than “means”. Every human is endowed with infinite worth and inviolable dignity from the moment they are born. This is a moral right possessed by all humans, and breaking it by dehumanizing those we dislike only reflects negatively on ourselves. Breaking Kant’s categorical imperative to treat humans as infinitely worthy proves that we are willing to dehumanize some humans. We do not believe in universal human rights and arrogantly think that we can be judge, jury and executioner against humans we dislike.
So how do we treat someone who fears or dislikes Islam? By treating them as if they have every right to come to their own conclusions about Islam. When a Muslim treats a person who dislikes Islam as if the person has infinite worth and dignity, the result is that the person ends up seeing an aspect of Islam that they did not see before.
Good and evil are not equal. Repel evil with good, and the person who was your enemy becomes like an intimate friend.
But none will attain it except those who persevere, and none will attain it except the very fortunate.The Quran, verses 41:34-35.
Whenever we treat a person who dislikes Islam as less than ourselves, we are showing them that we are willing to discard their inviolable dignity for the sake of our desire for power and comfort. Sensing that we dehumanize them, they will only feel justified in further dehumanizing us. This creates a positive feedback loop that only increases the radicalization of both sides so that we end up with angry and intolerant Muslims who accept nothing but submission to a positive view of Islam from others, and angry and intolerant dislikers of Islam who feel fully justified in working to further increase people’s negative view of Islam by writing or sharing information on Islam’s negative aspects.
This is not how civilized people should behave. By treating critics of Islam with the utmost respect and consideration (regardless of whether they treat us the same way), we show that we follow a higher, better and more civilized morality and in this way prove that we are worthy of being engaged with intellectually. We should display kindness and consideration to critics of Islam, not out of an attempt to manipulate them, but because that is the type of people we are.
A Muslim imam’s preaching for respect and tolerance sounds rather hollow when they are willing to dehumanize people by calling them Islamophobes. An Islamphobe is a person, and persons have the right to be treated the way we like to be treated ourselves (Kant’s categorical imperative). By calling them Islamophobes we break the first rule of morality when it comes to our fellow humans. Nothing we say after that will have any force or meaning. We have started by dehumanizing those who dislike us.
If Islam truly makes us moral and civilized, this should first of all things come out in our actions and words. By using “Islamophobia” we break the first rule of moral and civilized treatment of others, in this way showing ourselves to be rather immoral and uncivilized. We make dialog impossible by calling critics of Islam irrational. If they are intrinsically irrational, then no conclusion they can reach is valid. If we make it a condition for them to like Islam before we consider them rational, then we are basically telling them to sell their independence of mind and conscience to us so that they can become fully human.
Rather than using Islamophobia to dehumanize our opponents, we should make every effort in the opposite direction, constantly showing them that we continue to see them as respected and dignified humans regardless of what conclusions they have reached. They are humans whose subjective experience has made them develop a negative view of Islam based on the information they have received. We do not fix this situation by putting the guilt on them and their rationality, but by showing them that there is a problem with the information.
Fixing the Information Imbalance
The West’s media is largely owned or run by Zionist Jews or Zionist non-Jews with strong loyalty to Israel (The New York Times, The Guardian, Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, CNN, Fox News, Disney, Universal Pictures, Comcast, Random House Publishing, the list goes on). It is in the interest of these media outlets to promote a negative view of Islam. The difference is that while some Zionist outlets like Fox News and Breitbart are unabashedly anti-Islam, leftist outlets like the The New York Times and The Guardian go about their anti-Islam propaganda in a classier way. For example The Guardian has a policy of never using the word “kill” when Israel kills Palestinians. Israel attacks Gaza and Palestinians “die”. Widespread criticism of this duplicity led them to change their headlines a number of times while sticking to the policy of not using “kill” in reference to Israeli killing of Palestinians.
Another “classy” way in which these outlets bias their content against Muslim is by doing something that I call “controlling word spend”. News articles maintain the pretense of neutrality by speaking of both sides of the conflict when mentioning Israeli-Palestinian clashes, but the Israeli side gets many more words dedicated to it, in this way creating the unbalanced impression that the suffering of the Israelis is much more important and that the Muslims and their suffering is just an afterthought. A case in point of this extremely vicious sleight of hand is the following typical article that covers an episode of conflict between Israel and Gaza:
To a casual observer, the article looks fair and balanced. It shows the picture of a Palestinian infant’s funeral, for example. But if you study the word spend of the article, you find the following:
- 1115 words are dedicated to mentioning pro-Israel points (discussing the suffering of Israeli civilians and Israel’s need to defend itself.)
- 141 words are dedicated to mentioning pro-Palestinian points (discussing the suffering of Palestinians and their unfair treatment by Israel)
- 752 words are neutral, supporting neither side.
To show just how unbalanced this coverage is, below is the same numbers expressed as a chart:
Through this clever and insidious method, The New York Times ensures that Westerners always get to empathize far more with Israelis than Palestinians despite the fact that five times more Palestinians than Israelis were killed.
Besides that egregiously unbalanced dedication of words to the different sides, The New York Times also works hard to humanize the Israelis. The article mentions that a rabbi was killed. Not an “Israeli” but a rabbi. The Israelis destroyed a number of anonymous “buildings” while the Palestinians struck a kindergarten in the town of Sderot and the oncology department at Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon. The interior decoration of one of the Israeli victim’s houses (whose full name and age is given) is described. In this way the article gives its Western readers all kinds of opportunities to empathize with the Israelis and to see their individuality and their suffering, while the Palestinians remain anonymous and their buildings just “buildings”.
The West’s “Islamophobia” is really a media problem, and the solution is for Muslims to create alternative media outlets that do not suffer from the anti-Islam bias of Zionist-owned outlets (which is nearly all of them). We can never expect these outlets to be fair to Muslims because dehumanizing Muslims is crucial to their agenda of supporting Israel at all costs.
This imbalance is not limited to coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is pervasive and easily noticeable by a Muslim (but not by the non-Muslims it is aimed it). The popular YouTube documentaries channel Real Stories has 22 highly anti-Muslim documentaries (discussing Sharia courts, polygamy and terrorism) and only four documentaries that were neutral or positive (discussing hajj and romantic love among Muslims).
It is this grossly biased coverage of Muslims that is promoting so much “Islamophobia”.
We need more Muslim writers, journalists, blogs, news sites, publishing houses and film-making studios. We need to take break the stranglehold of these media outlets over information about Islam so that Westerners may start to get a fair and balanced treatment of Islam and Muslims. By correcting their information sources, we correct the “Islamophobia” problem.
Now, complaining about Western media’s unfair treatment of Muslims is not going to convince anyone to think better of Muslims. We need to completely remake the media environment so that Westerners stop being constantly barraged by one-sided, anti-Islam coverage of Islam and Muslims.
We need to recognize that the mainstream media of the West is our enemy, and we need to exert every effort we can to undo their control over the minds of Westerners.
And we cannot achieve that by creating media outlets that are unfairly biased in favor of Muslims. We need to create media that lives up to the highest standards of Islamic morality, which should begin by embodying a loyalty to the truth above all other considerations.
The West’s “Islamophobia” problem is an information imbalance problem, and correcting it requires creating alternatives to the existing mainstream media.
Islamic Law and Jurisprudence: Studies in Honor of Farhat J. Ziadeh (published 1990) is a collection of papers written in honor of the Palestinian-American professor Farhat Jacob Ziadeh (1917-2016), founder and first chairman of the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilization at the University of Washington.
I bought this book after seeing it cited in Omar Farahat’s 2019 book The Foundation of Norms in Islamic Jurisprudence and Theology and finding it for sale for only $6 on Amazon.com, without looking into the book’s contributors. I was therefore pleasantly surprised to find that it had articles by some of the best scholars of Islamic studies in the late 20th century: Wael Hallaq, George Makdisi, his son John Makdisi, and Bernard Weiss.
The first article is by Wael Hallaq and studies the problem of inductive corroboration in Islamic legal reasoning. How many witnesses are required to prove a point beyond doubt? Hallaq studies the issue of the mutawātir report (a hadith report that is transmitted by so many people that a person can be completely sure of its authenticity). Some scholars fixed the number for establishing tawātur at five witnesses, while others chose 12, 20, 40, 70 or 313. But during the tenth and eleventh centuries, the dominant view emerged that only God knows how many witnesses would be required for tawātur.
The opposite of a mutawātir report is an āḥād (“singular”) report; a report that does not come from a sufficient number of transmitters to establish certainty. Hallaq argues that according to the jurists, an āḥād report had a probability of authenticity of less than 1 (i.e. less than 100%) but higher than 0.5 (50%). By the mere fact of a report having an unbroken chain of transmitters to the Prophet PBUH, it was considered more likely to be authentic than not. And when two singular reports support a particular point or issue, the probability increases.
In my essay Mathematical Hadith Verification: A Guide to the New Science of Probabilistic Hadith Transmitter Criticism I propose a way of formalizing these probabilities. But unlike the jurists, I treat the probability of the reliability of each transmitter independently. Each transmitter is given the benefit of the doubt by being considered as 60% likely to be truthful and accurate. But when more transmitters are added to a chain, their probabilities are combined, lowering the integrity of the information transmitted.
The second article is by Jeanette Wakin of Columbia University (d. 1998) and focuses on the views of the Ḥanbalī scholar Ibn Qudāma (d. 1223) regarding interpreting divine commands. When God tells us in the Quran to do something, does this imply permission, recommendation or obligation? In verse 5:2, God tells us, “when you leave the state of iḥrām, then hunt.” Interpreting this command as implying obligation means that every pilgrim is obligated to go hunting after they are done with the rituals of the pilgrimage to Mecca. But of course, it is widely known that hunting is not obligatory; so the command must only imply permission. While jurists like al-Ghazālī adopted the moderate view that divine commands cannot be interpreted as permission, recommendation or obligation unless we can find out more information about the command (for example in the Prophet’s traditions PBUH), Ibn Qudāma’s view was that all commands imply obligation unless proven otherwise, except in the case of a command that comes after a prohibition, in which case the command only implies permission (as in the hunting example above).
Bernard Weiss’s article is on the problem of objectivity in Islamic law. How can objectivity be ensured in the interpretation of the law? Do the differences among scholars on matters of law imply a lack of objectivity? Weiss argues that the jurist’s performance of ijtihād (of re-analyzing the sources of the law and reaching new decisions) is how objectivity is ensured within our human limitations. Studying revelation (the Quran and the Sunna, i.e. the Prophet’s words and actions) always has a chance of leading to new results. But in order to have practical law, we must be able to establish an end to this process, otherwise we will never reach a conclusion; we will always be suffering the uncertainty that better knowledge and understanding will lead to different results.
The process of ijtihād solves this dilemma by giving a qualified jurist the right to do his own independent research until he reaches a point when he can in all honesty say that he has done his best with what is available. At that point he can issue a ruling that will be considered objective and applicable for himself and his followers. The process of ijtihād therefore leads to a historically-limited instance of objectivity; the best objectivity that can be had within our human limitations. And when each jurist performs this through time, we get a historical series of objectivities, each presumably better than that which preceded it.
Farhat J. Ziadeh’s article is on the issue of ʿadāla (“justice” or “justness”), the quality of a witness being considered reliable and trustworthy by an Islamic court. He mentions the interesting anecdote of a man who refused to pay the voluntary separation gift that a man owes to his divorced wife. The judge who presided over the separation later refused to accept the man as a reliable witness in a different case because the man had refused to be charitable and God-fearing in the previous case. Another interesting anecdote is that al-Ḥakam I (d. 822 CE), a ruler of Umayyad Spain, was rejected as a reliable witness by a judge that he himself had appointed.
Ziadeh argues that Islam led to a transformation of the Arab ideals of virtue. In the pre-Islamic era, virtue was a warrior’s courage, a rich person’s generosity, and the dedication to keeping one’s word even at the cost of losing a loved one. But in the civilized atmosphere of the Islamic city, the virtues were those qualities that enabled the law to function properly.
The fifth article is by David F. Forte, a law professor at Cleveland State University. He tries to clarify the Islamic principles of property rights by studying how Islamic law deals with the issue of lost property. He concludes that Islamic law is more concerned with the rights of a property owner than the English common law.
George Makdisi’s article is going to be of the most interest to Western readers. He defends his thesis, that he has defended in many other places, that Islam created the concepts of professor, doctoral dissertation and academic freedom.
Since Islam lacks an ecclesiastical hierarchy that can decide issues of orthodoxy, the only way to ensure arrival at consensus in a legitimate way was to adopt academic freedom. A legitimate fatwā in Islam is one that is given by a professor who enjoys perfect academic freedom to agree or disagree with anyone else. The West had no need for academic freedom because the true authorities on matters of religious doctrine were the bishops in unity with the pope. Islam, lacking such authorities, was forced to adopt a rational way of arriving at authoritative religious rulings in their absence. And the solution was the academic freedom of the professor or muftī. When all the professors, in perfect freedom and autonomy, agreed on a particular ruling, that meant that the ruling was authoritative.
Orthodoxy in Christianity was determined by the ecclesiastical hierarchy. Orthodoxy in Islam was determined by the autonomous consensus of the professors, just as in modern science. In science a particular theory can only become “orthodox” when all eligible scientists study it and arrive at a consensus about its reasonableness and likelihood of correctness. Islam was forced to create this “scientific method” of arriving at consensus due to suffering the same situation that science suffers: there is no higher authority than the scholars, researchers and professors themselves to help them come to legitimate conclusions on the issues under question.
The West took many centuries to digest the imported Islamic concepts of professor and academic freedom. Western professors in the 13th century still lacked the academic freedom that Islamic professors had enjoyed since at least the 8th century. In Christianity, dissent among the professors was considered an evil that led to heresy. In Islam, dissent was the most important way of ensuring orthodoxy, which is why it developed a vast literature of dissent where the disagreements of the professors were recorded.
The idea of a professor freely expressing dissenting opinions had no place in Western civilization until the power of the Church weakened and the professors were able to acquire some autonomy from it.
John Makdisi’s article focuses on the possible Islamic influences on the English common law. His article is an earlier version of his famous 1999 article “The Islamic Origins of the Common Law” (which can be downloaded here). He argues that the assize of novel disseisin, a crucial aspect of the development of the common law established by Henry II in the wake of the Assize of Clarendon of 1166, may have had an Islamic origin, and studies the historical context in which this Islamic influence may have been acquired.
The last four articles by William Ballantyne, Ian Edge, Ann Mayer and David Pearl respectively deal with the issue of the application and integration of the Sharia in modern Islamic states. I discuss the contents of some of these articles in my essay Solving the Problem of the Codification of the Sharia.
It is common in religious thought to dismiss atheists as obstinate wrongdoers who reject religion out of a combination of irrationality, egotism and their preference for their base desires. But if we appreciate the great honor and dignity that God bestowed on all of humanity (the angels bowed down to us)1, we should perhaps be more willing to explore the atheist’s subjective experience. Another reason to respect the subjective experience of atheists is the great dedication to morality and uprightness that some of them display.
The first book by an atheist that I read was Terry Pratchett’s Small Gods (published 1992). As if by some Discworld magic, the book was being sold by a street bookseller in my Kurdish city of Sulaymaniyyah, Iraq at a time when it was very difficult for me to find English books to buy and read since they were so rare. Since then I have gone on to read 40 novels by him, some of them many times.
Pratchett’s Small God is an all-out attack against Christianity that shows some aspects of Pratchett at their best; his humor and his willingness to admit the good even in the religious. But he also displays a great deal of ignorance about religion like in all his other novels. Since his view of the universe is entirely materialistic, he is unwilling to explore the foundation of religious experience: the possibility of the existence of a soul that instinctively recognizes its creator. By discarding this essential aspect of religion, religion becomes just a silly experiment involving good and bad humans. Good humans like the Prophet Brutha in Small Gods can wield religion to create goodness in the world, while bad humans like Vorbis in the same novel use it to gain power and control.
Terry Pratchett’s view of history is perhaps best summed up in footnote 19 of his Last Continent:
In fact it's the view of the more thoughtful historians, particularly those who have spent time in the same bar as the theoretical physicists, that the entirety of human history can be considered as a sort of blooper reel. All those wars, all those famines caused by malign stupidity, all that determined, mindless repetition of the same old errors, are in the great cosmic scheme of things only equivalent to Mr Spock's ears falling off.
It is one of the greatest failings of Pratchett’s philosophy that he never explores what it is that makes humans morally special. As his career progressed as a writer, he became more and more of a moralist, frequently repeating his teaching that “evil starts when people are treated like things,” which is just a rephrasing of Kant’s categorical imperative to treat humans as ends in themselves rather than as means (things to be used).
But why is it evil to treat humans like things? Shouldn’t a wise person make it one of the goals of their lives to discover this? Pratchett seems to just take it for granted.
In this essay I wish to do for atheists what they are rarely willing to do for the religious: to study their subjective experience in full seriousness. But as a religious person who has studied the questions of morality, I cannot study them on the materialist terms they dictate, since that will get us nowhere. The question of the rightness or wrongness of atheism can only be answered by studying it from a perspective that enjoys a vantage that is outside the box of the universe.
The Covenant of Alast
The Quran tells us:
And when Your Lord summoned the descendants of Adam, and made them testify about themselves. “Am I not your Lord?” They said, “Yes, we testify.” Thus you cannot say on the Day of Resurrection, “We were unaware of this.”The Quran, verse 7:172.
According to the Quran, all of humanity have already testified to God’s Lordship, and by extension, His existence. By taking this Covenant as our starting point, the justification for God’s perspective on atheism becomes clear; His extreme dislike for it and His view that it is an unjustified choice within our universe.
Humans are not blank slates that go on to either choose theism or atheism based on their upbringing and personal reflection. Humans start out as theists then the knowledge is embedded within their souls while being absent from their brain’s memory.
Imagine our universe as a sphere. The soul is not a part of it, it is outside the universe and looks into it. As Kant and Pratchett tell us, the soul is not an object within our universe and the greatest wrongs of morality start when we treat souls as objects. Souls are subjects, they are like eyes that look into the universe from the outside.
The brain is an object with its own memory and knowledge. The soul is a subject with its own memory and knowledge. The human experience involves a unity of these two different realities.
The soul has knowledge of the Covenant while the brain does not. The point of religion is to bring that knowledge into the brain’s awareness, uniting both body and soul in the Covenant.
The Arabic term kufr is used to refer to what atheists do when they reject God. Kufr has a dual meaning that makes it impossible to translate into a simple word in English. It means “to cover”, thus a farmer performs a physical act of kufr when he covers a seed with soil. It also means “to show ingratitude”, thus the Prophet Muhammad PBUH was accused of kufr toward his pagan society when he rejected what they considered holy; they had given him honor and social status, but he displayed kufr in return for these favors.
Speaking from the perspective of the Covenant of Alast, kufr toward God involves two actions: covering and repressing the knowledge of the soul about the Covenant, and displaying ingratitude toward God for His favors upon us, the most important favor being the fact of existing. For every human that exists, an infinite number of humans can be imagined that do not exist.
The very fact of being a self-aware subject looking into this universe is an incredible blessing and favor that requires gratitude.
The Quranic phenomenology of kufr
According to the Quran, one of the essential distinctive features of atheism is hesitation and uncertainty.
Those who disbelieve will continue to be hesitant about it, until the Hour comes upon them suddenly, or there comes to them the torment of a desolate Day.The Quran, verse 22:55.
Whoever associates anything with God—it is as though he has fallen from the sky, and is snatched by the birds, or is swept away by the wind to a distant abyss.The Quran, verse 22:31.
Since kufr involves the brain rejecting what the soul knows, it is literally impossible to achieve complete contentment with atheism. The heart cannot settle on it; there is constant tension between the soul and the brain.
The way out of this tension is to build up a rational framework in the brain that can overpower the soul’s knowledge.
Those who took their religion lightly, and in jest, and whom the worldly life deceived. Today We will ignore them, as they ignored the meeting on this Day of theirs, and they used to deny Our revelations.The Quran, verse 7:51.
The Quran calls this rational framework “being deceived by the worldly life”. In involves taking religion lightly and in jest, and seeking arguments to fortify one’s defenses against their soul’s knowledge. Terry Pratchett and Richard Dawkins are great examples of people who do their best to use both strategies. They cannot help but constantly seek new ways of mocking religion, while also constantly seeking consolation in extra-religious constructs, the most important today being evolutionary science.
This explains a common atheist phenomenon: disgust when religion is mentioned, and celebration when yet another argument is found in support of their reasons for rejecting religion:
When God alone is mentioned, the hearts of those who do not believe in the Hereafter shrink with resentment. But when those other than Him are mentioned, they become filled with joy.The Quran, verse 39:45.
Religion is an annoyance that always threatens to bring back to sense of tension between the brain and the soul. It is a nuisance that is best dealt with by disgust: the atheist must never study religion too deeply in case this increases their existential discomfort. So they should rather only study religion through the works of atheist preachers like Dawkins who can present religion to them safely; in a way that causes no discomfort but only reinforces the person’s ability to overpower the soul. Dedicated atheists therefore always seek “safe spaces”; atheist echo chambers that can filter out all that is discomfort-inducing about religious thought and philosophy. All that is actually meaningful about religion must be ignored in favor of consoling mockeries about it and consoling scientific theories about how God’s existence is unlikely.
The most difficult thing in life for an atheist is taking religion seriously; to study it as if it is true and finding out where that takes them. This is a heart-wrenching experience because it intensifies the pain of the tension between the brain and soul. It is much better to build an idea of religion made up only of negative facts about it. An atheist has to build a special neural network in their brains that can reassure them that religion is stupid dangerous.
This “atheist theory of religion” is constantly maintained and fortified through the consoling works of atheist preachers. An image of religion is formed that is entirely made up of slivers of historical knowledge that present religion in a negative light: the Inquisition, jihad, terrorism, the abuse of women, the suffering of freethinkers in past ages or modern Islamic societies, the burning of witches, the Crusades, the European wars of religion. This carefully sculpted religious edifice serves as a reference point whenever the atheist is in doubt. Whenever the possibility of God’s existence comes to mind, a cinematic reel starts in the brain that shows images of inquisition, crusade and jihad.
The sin of jaḥd
In fact, it is clear signs in the hearts of those given knowledge. No one disacknowledges Our signs except the wrongdoers.The Quran, verse 29:49.
The Quran calls the process of finding arguments against God jaḥd (“denial”, “disacknowledgment”). This is not a morally neutral action; it is wrong and brings guilt on the person who does it. Denial of God always involves lying:
Who does greater wrong than he who fabricates lies about God? These will be presented before their Lord, and the witnesses will say, “These are they who lied about their Lord.” Indeed, the curse of God is upon the wrongdoers.
Those who hinder others from the path of God, and seek to make it crooked; and regarding the Hereafter, they are in denial.The Quran, verses 11:18-19.
Atheism therefore involves dishonesty. The soul knows something but uses the brain to express its opposite. Atheism also involves scheming:
In fact, the scheming of those who disbelieve is made to appear good to them, and they are averted from the path. Whomever God misguides has no guide.From the Quran, verse 13:33.
Divine rights and human arrogance
Not one of their Lord’s signs comes to them, but they turn away from it.
They denied the truth when it has come to them; but soon will reach them the news of what they used to ridicule.The Quran, verses 6:4-5.
From the Quran’s perspective, one of the laws of morality within our universe is to admit the truth of the “signs” (revelations and other pointers) of God. The Quran says the “truth” has come to them but they ridiculed it, and the news of what they ridicule will soon come to them.
This is a very important point for understanding the Quranic view of atheism. The Quran’s view is that within our universe, there is a moral law that requires humans to admit to God’s truth. By the mere fact of existing in this universe, this law applies to us and makes demands on us.
The Quran’s view is that there can be no truly honorable, just and moral position against God.
Those who reject Our revelations and are too arrogant to uphold them—the doors of Heaven will not be opened for them, nor will they enter Paradise, until the camel passes through the eye of the needle. Thus We repay the guilty. (The Quran, verse 7:40)
And they said, “No matter what sign you bring us, to bewitch us with, we will not believe in you.” So We let loose upon them the flood, and the locusts, and the lice, and the frogs, and blood—all explicit signs—but they were too arrogant. They were a sinful people. (The Quran, verses 7:132-133)
Those who do not expect to meet Us say, “If only the angels were sent down to us, or we could see our Lord.” They have grown arrogant within themselves, and have become excessively defiant. On the Day when they see the angels—there will be no good news for sinners on that Day; and they will say, “A protective refuge.” (The Quran, verses 25:21-22)
Rejecting God’s signs is not a rational position; it is an emotional one. It always involves arrogance. So when humans demand hard evidence for God’s existence, God does not say they are making a rational demand. Rather than answering their demand, God (1) calls them arrogant and (2) promises them that those rational proofs will only be given them when they will no longer be of any use to them.
This goes to the essence of the argument between atheists and God. Atheists demand hard evidence, God says they are arrogant to make such a demand. There is no dialog possible between the two positions: atheists claim to be making a rational demand, God says they are making an emotional one. Atheists believe they have a right to hard evidence, God says they have no such right and that demanding such a right can only be due to arrogance.
It is God’s view that He deserves to be believed and worshiped without hard evidence. It is the atheist view that God does not deserve that. God’s view is that His “signs”, the soft evidence of revelation and the evidence of design in our universe are sufficient to prove beyond doubt to a human that He exists and deserves to be worshiped. The atheists, however, “harden their hearts” to this evidence and use the emotion of arrogance to prevent their souls from seeing this evidence and giving it the respect it deserves.
To put it another way, God, through His creation of the universe and His interventions (His revelations), has created a system that makes it morally compulsory on all humans to believe in Him and follow His wishes. An atheist, by breaking this moral law, deserves eternal punishment for being so arrogant as to believe that they are above this law.
The atheist’s crime is therefore to believe and act in a way that expresses their view that they are above the cosmic law instituted by God in this universe.
God gives no weight to their rational criticisms of religion; it can only come through arrogance because He knows that the system He has created guides millions to believing in Him and worshiping Him everyday.
As for those who dispute about God after His call has been answered [by others], their argument is null and void with their Lord; and upon them falls wrath; and a grievous torment awaits them.The Quran, verse 42:16.
The atheist, therefore, claims that their rational experience makes them disbelieve in God. God’s view is that they are lying. There can be no such thing as rational experience making one disbelieve in God. It can only be emotional experience that leads to disbelief; the emotional experience of arrogance. And this arrogance, in God’s view, deserves an answer.
The wrath of God
When those who disbelieve see you, they treat you only with ridicule: “Is this the one who mentions your gods?” And they reject the mention of the Merciful.
The human being was created of haste. I will show you My signs, so do not seek to rush Me.
And they say, “When will this promise come true, if you are truthful?”
If those who disbelieve only knew, when they cannot keep the fire off their faces and off their backs, and they will not be helped.The Quran, verses 21:36-39.
It can be difficult even for a religious person to justify why God expresses so much anger against atheism. If a human honestly seeks the truth and concludes that God is unlikely to exist, why should this be treated with extreme anger rather than neutrality by God?
The reason is that atheism can never be an honest, neutral choice. It involves the action of a soul that feels God’s presence at all times but that chooses to build a rational framework to justify why it should not submit to God and then uses the emotion of arrogance to uphold this seemingly rational framework.
The soul of the atheist is like Satan who was in the presence of God, knew God’s power and lordship, yet chose knowingly and intentionally to disobey Him and condemn himself to eternal damnation.
God therefore appear to challenge the human soul: You know I exist, but you have the power to justify to yourself disbelief in Me for a while. So what will you do?
God does not merely let humans rely on their soul’s knowledge of Him. He goes the extra step of convincing the human brain of His existence:
We will show them Our signs on the horizons, and in their very souls, until it becomes clear to them that it is the truth. Is it not sufficient that your Lord is witness over everything?The Quran, verse 41:53.
When knowledge of God’s lordship are united in a human’s brain and soul, the human finds himself or herself fully in the position of Satan; standing before God while having the power to obey or disobey Him. They also know that by disobeying Him they are asking for a ticket to Hell. So what will they do?
Life is not a simple matter of a brain seeking to know itself and its relationship with the universe–a blank slate that is slowly formed into a theist or atheist. It is something much more serious. It is a matter of standing before an infinitely powerful God, in full awareness, while having the choice to disobey Him.
For a soul, therefore, disobeying Him is not an innocent mistake, it is a crime against a cosmic law. God has empowered each soul with His own power of free will. He has raised us to a position of equality with Him in the matter of choice. And this elevation of our status brings us face-to-face with a terrifying reality. Our choices are not simple and innocent choices; they are the choices of a minister who stands before the King. Denying His power and greatness means knowingly choosing to clash with this terrifying power. God, being infinitely great and worthy of worship and submission, accepts nothing short of infinite suffering as punishment for the soul that dares to knowingly stand up to Him.
We may wish for a simpler and nicer universe. But whether we like it or not, we find ourselves stuck in a terrible game where the stakes are infinitely high.
God is utterly kind and merciful toward those humans who do not abuse their freedom in this game and who do not turn their backs on the knowledge that they have deep within their souls. And as for those who knowingly disobey God, God treats this as a challenge to His greatness and power. When you challenge the Infinite to do what He can to you, what do you expect in return? What higher power, what morality, is there to justify you?
We said to the angels, “Bow down to Adam.” So they bowed down, except for Satan. He was of the jinn, and he defied the command of his Lord. Will you take him and his offspring as lords instead of Me, when they are an enemy to you? Evil is the exchange for the wrongdoers.The Quran, verse 18:50.
It is easy to ignore Satan role in our world since as religious people we tend to focus on God. But Satan is an active presence in our lives, and he may explain some of the behavior we see among atheists.
When We said to the angels, “Bow down before Adam,” they bowed down, except for Satan. He said, “Shall I bow down before someone You created from mud?”
He said, “Do You see this one whom You have honored more than me? If You reprieve me until the Day of Resurrection, I will bring his descendants under my sway, except for a few.”
He said, “Begone! Whoever of them follows you—Hell is your reward, an ample reward.”
“And entice whomever of them you can with your voice, and rally against them your cavalry and your infantry, and share with them in wealth and children, and make promises to them.” But Satan promises them nothing but delusion.
“As for My devotees, you have no authority over them.” Your Lord is an adequate Guardian.The Quran, verses 17:61-65.
Satan may be called the king of the atheists. By actively rejecting God, an atheist cannot help but passively fall under the sway of Satan. When God is taken out of the picture, what is left is Satan. Satan is like a natural force that inspires and reaffirms the atheist mindset. An atheist, after rejecting God, can open their heart to the universe and seek spiritual satisfaction and actually get something back; a religious alternative to religion that continually receives inspiration from an active spiritual presence in our universe.
An atheist can feel that what they are doing is right and good and even spiritual. There is beauty in our universe that inspires the soul. But the atheist, rather than using this as a way of connecting with God, uses it as a way of connecting with Satan. Satan’s promises become a spiritual religion: the universe has no creator; we will cease existing after death; but the universe is beautiful and we are self-aware; so our task is to find beauty and meaning in a Godless world. The atheist attaches their heart to this new religion which becomes the most meaningful and beautiful thing in their lives. They go on to become extremely intolerant and militant preachers of this new religion that must end all other religions.
According to the Quran, there is no such thing as innocently choosing to be an atheist. Atheism involves a soul that stands in God’s presence but that arrogantly chooses to build a rational framework for denying Him in order to gain comfort and consolation for a short while during its lifetime in this world. The atheist, like Satan, knowingly challenges God to do His worst.
Atheism involves a lifetime of asking God to give oneself a ticket to Hell. This wish comes true sooner or later.
I do not wish to suggest that any atheist individual is going to Hell. The fate of individuals is in God’s hands and it should be left to Him to judge each case. But it certainly seems to be the case that to be an atheist is to challenge God to do His worst, at least once the point is reached when both soul and brain are united in their knowledge of God.
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