Raymond Ibrahim: The Closing of the Muslim Mind

Good Schabbos!

Last week, “Saudi Arabia’s religious police arrested an Indonesian housemaid for casting a magic spell on a local family and ‘turning its life upside down.’” The maid “confessed” to using sorcery, and “commission experts took the magic items to their office and managed to dismantle and stop the spell.”

Far from being absurd aberrations to be dismissed, such accounts, which are becoming better known thanks to the Internet, are stark reminders of the incompatibility between the Western and Muslim worldviews, or, more to the point, the difficulty Western peoples have transcending their own paradigms and understanding the Muslim worldview in its own right—above and beyond the issue of sorcery.

In his book, The Closing of the Muslim Mind, Robert Reilly, a senior fellow at the American Foreign Policy Council, helps explain the Muslim worldview by thoroughly documenting the historic and doctrinal roots behind it; by refreshingly bypassing the overly dramatized question of “what went wrong,” he explains the more pressing “why it went wrong.”

The book is a reminder of the importance of epistemology: before understanding Muslim acts, one must understand the Muslim mind that initiates them. We discover that Shakespeare’s dictum “Nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so,” in Islam becomes “nothing good or evil but Allah says so.”

The author sheds light on the struggles of the different schools of Islam, showing how by the 10th century, the fatalistic, deterministic schools triumphed, delivering the death blow, not only to the notion of free will, but natural law as well: “a theological deformation … produced a dysfunctional culture.” From here one can understand the full impact of the popular assertion “the doors of ijtihad [intellectualizing] closed in the 10th century.”

Reilly chronicles how the giants of Muslim philosophy, such as Ghazali and Ashari, concluded that knowledge was unknowable, that moral truths can only be ascertained through revelation. Accordingly, all knowledge—the very bounds of reality—came to be limited to the words of the Quran and its pronouncer, Islam’s prophet Muhammad.

The ramifications of such intellectual calcification are immense: “All acts are in themselves morally neutral”; “Allah does not command certain behavior because it is good; it is good because he commands it. Likewise, he does not forbid murder because it is bad; it is bad because he forbids it.”

Equivocations, such as the following by Ashari, become commonplace: “Lying is evil only because Allah has declared it to be evil…. And if he declared it to be good it would be good; and if he commanded it, no one could gainsay him.” Of course and as Ashari knew, the Islamic deity and his prophet are on record permitting and even encouraging Muslims to deceive.

Similarly, the spirit of inquiry perishes: “the only thing worth knowing is whether a specific action is, according to Shari ‘a: obligatory, recommended, permitted, discouraged, or forbidden. The rest is irrelevant.” It is precisely for this reason that in Islam, the law—what is right or wrong, how one should live—trumps “theology,” the latter designated as kalam, that is, mere “words.” This is also why in the last millennium Spain alone has produced more books than the Arab world in its entirety.

Likewise in the realm of science: Reilly cites a Pakistani physicist—not an uneducated, impoverished “radical”—saying it is un-Islamic to believe that combining hydrogen and water makes water; rather, Muslims are “supposed to say that when you bring hydrogen and oxygen together then by the will of Allah [which need not always be consistent] water was created.”

The Closing of the Muslim Mind explains the singularity of Muslim epistemology and its antithesis to Western sensibilities: it explains why a maid is arrested and charged with sorcery and the dread of bewitched animals; explains why adult “breastfeeding” and habitual lying pose no moral problems; explains why top Muslim clerics insist theworld is flat and ingesting the feces and urine of Muhammad is salutary; explains why jihadists believe their terror is pious and a libidinous paradise awaits them.

All these “alternate” ways of thinking make sense when one accepts that, in the purely Muslim mind, intuitive reasoning, the human conscience, and even common sense take a backseat to the literal words of Allah and his prophet, seen as the founts of all truth and reality—or, inevitably from a non-Muslim perspective, the words of a deluded or deceiving 7th century Arab.

Raymond Ibrahim, a widely published Islam-specialist, is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center and an Associate Fellow at the Middle East Forum. He writes a weekly column for Jihad Watch.

One thought on “Raymond Ibrahim: The Closing of the Muslim Mind”

  1. Comments from the ‘closing of the Moslems mind’

    In 2008, Tawfik Hamid, a somewhat disaffected or lax Muslim, who claims to be a ‘Qur’an only’ Muslim, wrote a useful article entitled, “The Development of a Jihadist’s Mind”.

    It was discussed at jihadwatch, here:


    The title is, in fact, something of an oxymoron, because Hamid, child of a ‘secular Muslim’ upbringing in Egypt, in describing how he was recruited and indoctrinated by the Jamaah Islamiyah while he was at university, effectively delineates the intensive cult programming by which sharia pushers, working upon the groundwork already laid in a standard ‘basic Islamic’ upbringing/ education, can turn an ordinary somewhat-lax Muslim, into a jihadist ghazi raider.

    And that cult programming involves, quite precisely, the nullification of all independent thought and perhaps even of thought as such.

    I quote the most telling passage from Hamid’s article:

    “During my first year of medical school, a Jamaah member named Muchtar Muchtar invited me to join the organization. Muchtar was in his fourth year, and Jamaah had given him the title amir (prince or caliph) – a designation taken from early Islamic writings that is associated with the Islamic caliphate or amir almomenin (prince of the believers).

    “I accepted his invitation, and we walked together to Jamaah’s mosque for noon prayers.

    “On the way there Muchtar emphasized **the central importance in Islam of the concept of al-fikr kufr, the idea that the very act of thinking (fikr) makes one become an infidel (kufr).** {my emphasis – dda}.

    “(In Arabic both words are derived from the same three root letters but have different meanings.)

    “He told me,
    “Your brain is just like a donkey [a symbol of inferiority in the Arab culture] that can get you only to the palace door of the king [Allah].

    ‘To enter the palace once you have reached the door, you should leave the donkey [your inferior mind] outside.”

    “**By this parable, Muchtar meant that a truly dedicated Muslim no longer thinks but automatically obeys the teachings of Islam.”** {my emphasis – dda}. END QUOTE.
    ‘al-fikr kufr’ – ‘the very act of thinking – FIKR – makes one an infidel KUFR’.

    ‘a truly dedicated Muslim no longer thinks but automatically obeys the teaching of Islam’.
    In other words: the ideal Muslim (Submitter) is …someone who has, effectively, beheaded or, so to speak, brain-wiped himself, becoming a robot whose only ‘thoughts’ are The Programming.

    IN the comments attached to Mr Robert Spencer’s online QURAN BLOG, 27.1.2008, at HotAir, the discussion of Sura 13, ‘The Thunder’, someone noted – ‘thank you Robert for your trenchant analysis and thank you Hot Air for blogging the Koran. No other political blog has the courage to do it.

    ‘I’m always struck with how anti thought the Koran and Islam is. It seems like the major goal of the religion, besides killing/enslaving everybody ELSE, is to not let its own followers think.” – 
Mojave Mark on January 27, 2008 at 12:35 PM.

    Now I’m pretty sure Mojave Mark hadn’t read Tawfik Hamid’s article, nor could he have known of the proverb “al-fikr kufr”…but he had Islam dead to rights.

    Ayaan Hirsi Ali speaks of the same drive to annihilate the person, to suppress or destroy the thinking and questioning self, specifically as regards the Muslim training of women, in her book ‘Infidel’.

    “A Muslim woman must not feel wild, or free, or any of the other emotions and longings I felt when I read those books [‘those books’ being lush Western romances – dda]. A Muslim girl does not make her own decisions or seek control. She is trained to be docile.

    “**If you are a Muslim girl, you disappear, until there is almost no you inside you**

    (my emphasis – dda; she is speaking of the indoctrination of women, but it chimes horribly with what Tawfik Hamid says, the idea that the mere act of *thinking* makes you an Infidel).

    “In Islam, becoming an individual is not a necessary development; many people, especially women, never develop a clear individual will. You submit; this is the literal meaning of the word islam: submission. The goal is to become quiet inside, so that you never raise your eyes, not even inside your mind”. [Infidel: p. 94].

    C S Lewis, in his little book ‘The Abolition of Man’, warned that modern western relativist education was creating ‘men without chests’.

    Islam’s aim, on the other hand, as described by Hamid and Hirsi Ali, seems to be… ‘People Without Heads’.

    Those who saw off or chop off the heads of living people have already – so to speak – beheaded themselves. There is nothing behind their eyes.

    Islam: Women Without Faces; People Without Heads.

    “In 2008, Tawfik Hamid, a somewhat disaffected or lax Muslim, who claims to be a ‘Qur’an only’ Muslim, wrote a useful article entitled, “The Development of a Jihadist’s Mind”.

    Tawfik Hamid were among those who praised Reilly’s brilliant book:

    “I strongly recommend this book to anyone who wants to deeply understand the different ways of thinking within Islam and the phenomenon of radical Islam.”

    In the second last chapter Reilley analyze the sources of Islamism and how the Jihadi mind is created. Here an excerpt:

    “… Islamism is an ideology in the classic sense in that it offers, or rather insists upon, an alternative “reality” – one that collapses the separate realms of the divine and the human, and arrogates to itself the means to achieve perfect justice here in this world or, as Qutb said, “to abolish all injustice from the earth.” This notion of the inner perfectibility of history – the achievement of perfect justice here – is the very heart of ideology, whether sacred or profane. It places alongside reality its false version and insists that reality conform to its demands. Its adherents live in the magical world of this second reality and obey its laws. They may seem to live and move in the realm of the real world, but they are already transposed into the second, false reality. When they behave according to its laws – such as slaughtering innocent people without remorse – others are surprised and disturbed because they do not know the contours of this second reality, which has just been so shockingly imposed on them.

    Jessica Stern, the author of “Terror in the Name of God”, reflected the puzzlement that initially strikes almost everyone encountering Islamist terrorism until they come to understand its ideology as a pseudoreligion rather than as a political movement. She writes:

    “I have come to see that apocalyptic violence intended to ‘cleanse’ the world of ‘impurities’ can create a transcendent state. All terrorist groups examined in this book believe – or at least started out believing – that they are creating a more perfect world. From their perspective, they are purifying the world if injustice, cruelty, and all that is anti-human. When I began this project, I could not understand why the killers I met seemed spiritually intoxicated. Now, I think I understand. They seem that way because they are.”

    The joint commissioner of the Mumbai police, Rakesh Maria, said of the captured terrorist Muhammad Ajmal Kasab, the only surviving perpetrator of the 2008 mass murder in Mumbai, India, “He was led to believe that he was doing something holy.”

    With scathing sarcasm, Abdelwahab Meddeb, the Tunesian reformist, said od Islamist terrorists, “No criminal is more despicable than one who not only fails to feel any guilt after (committing) his crime, but also harbors the illusion that this (crime) will bring him … divine reward. This conversion of bad onto good not only spares him guilt, but also turns an unhappy person into a happy soul.

    Thus, terrorism is not simply terror – some people doing terrible things on the spur of the moment. It is murder advanced to the level of a MORAL principle, which is then institutionalized in an organization. – a cell, a party, or a state – as its animating principle. It is this rationalization that allows, as Meddeb said, “the conversion of bad into good”, on which the organization is based. In order to act, terrorists must first firmly believe that their violence is moral or “holy”, that it will achieve some higher good. Therefore, the very first thing one must understand is the ideology incarnated in the terrorist organization that allows terrorists to do this; it is the source of their moral legitimacy. Without it, they or their organization cannot exists. It is the “ism” in terrorism. In the case of radical IslamISM, already mentioned, they trinity of thinkers behind the ideology is Sayyid Qutb, Hassan al-Bana, and Maulana Maududi.

    The means for the transformation of reality onto the alternative reality is, as in all ideologies, total control based upon absolute power, exercised to annihilate the old order. Qutb said that “only a radical transformation with the complete destruction of the old systems could guarantee the flourishing of the ideal society under God’s suzerainty.” Maududi stated that Islam is a “comprehensive system which envisages to annihilate all tyrannical and evil systems in the world and enforces its own programme of reform which it deems best for the well-being of mankind.”

    While most ideologies are secular attempts to displace religion as the main obstacle to fulfillment, Islamism is based upon a deformed theology that nonetheless shares in the classical ideological conflation of heaven and earth into one realm. It i exactly in these terms that its chief ideologue, Sayyid Qutb, spoke: “Islam chose to unite earth and heaven in a single system.” This means that “the patent purpose of establishing God’s law on earth is not merely an action for the sake of the next world. For this world and the next world are but two complementary states. … Harmonizing with the divine law does not mean that man’s happiness is postponed to the next life, rather it makes it real and attainable in the first of the two stages.” In other words, transcendent ends will be achieved by earthly means, as Qutb said, “to reestablish the Kingdom of God upon earth” or to “create a new world.” This is obviously not a political objective but a metaphysical one. Its achievement will bring about a condition, predicted Qutb, which sounds eerily similar to that proclaimed by Marx for his classless society: “Universal adoption of the Divine law would automatically mean man’s complete emancipation from all forms of enslavement.” To reach this goal, announced Maududi, “Islam wants the whole earth and does not content itself with only a part thereof. It wants and requires the entire inhabited world.” …”

    I strongly recommend everyone here to read Reilly’s meticulously researched book – a must-read. It is in the words of Roger Scruton, “Lucid and fascinating … Brilliant … This book serves a purpose for which we should all be profoundly grateful.”

    Indeed we should!

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