Never before in the history of Islam has it faced a danger such as this. For the first time, Muslims en masse are reclaiming their place in humanity and rejoining history. Islam has always relied on Muslims being unequivocally Muslim in clear contradistinction to the kafir, the unbeliever, treating the values and mores of the infidel with utter disgust and contempt. But history has played a trick on Islam and increasing numbers of Muslims find the values and mores of the infidels growing within their own hearts, gradually forcing out the Qur’an so firmly lodged there during their early childhood. This drama plays out as Islam struggling against Muslims and Muslims struggling against themselves. This short series explores aspects of that complex struggle. Part 1 is here and Part 2 here.
Part 3: Living
Cast your mind back to your wistful backpacking days of travel guides and folded maps and bewildering coins and phrase books. Days of visa applications and weird vaccinations, of Kodak and Fuji and sleeping bags and hiking boots, of beers and guitars on roof terraces and condoms (because you never know), of hoping you can still find something to eat after having arrived late at night and of dying for a shower and… Perhaps in your day, backpacking included time out to write postcards to friends and family, finding a post office and briefly noticing the picture on the stamp; or maybe you’ve only ever known emails and selfies and Facebook, er, “friends”? Either way, you will have noticed the large, colourful wall maps in the youth hostel receptions. The ones bristling with pinheads and bordered with little flags of the many countries from which guests have hailed. If you looked carefully, and had a modicum of geography to your credit, you will have picked out your own homeland, naturally, then gone to the other familiar ones such as the USA, Germany, the UK, Italy, Brazil, Canada, Australia (or is that New Zealand? — whatever), Israel, Japan, South Korea, and on to unfamiliar ones, such as Jamaica, the Philippines, Russia, South Africa, Uruguay. And perhaps you noticed, but did not wonder about, why there seemed to be no flags of Muslim countries anywhere around that map.
“Allah did not create man so that he could have fun. There are no jokes in Islam. There is no humour in Islam. There is no fun in Islam. There can be no fun and joy in whatever is serious.” (Ayatollah Khomeini)
The life that Allah created the Muslim for is tightly prescribed, bound by rules and duties, and mind-numbingly dull. From Muslim family to Muslim school to Muslim friends to Muslim festivals to Muslim weddings to Muslim holidays (to visit yet more Muslim family) to Muslim pilgrimage to Muslim funerals. The purpose of life is preparation for the life Hereafter: “Do you want success in this life or the next life?” — as if they’ve been there and can vouch for it.
But here’s the thing: a closer look at the daily life of Muslims reveals a fundamental contradiction right at the heart of their faith: Islam makes it impossible for Muslims to be human. That’s it.
The physical confinement of life to a Muslim-only universe — and it is a universe, the containment of all reality — is a life barricaded against a meaningless world for which there is only disdain, officially, at least. And when, in extremis, they must venture out amongst the infidel, the sullied, a personal barricade is donned in the form of a relic beard, ultra-retro couture, hijab, niqab, chador, burka, abayah or other body sheath, all-in-all, a pre-mediaeval precursor to the space suit, a life-support system for the body in a hostile environment. It seems impressive and convincing: such faith, steadfastness as would make a saint proud. And that appearance endures, must endure. The Muslim universe is the physical manifestation of the greatest and most important doctrine of being Muslim (or of “Muslimness,” as per the latest spin) — note, not of Islam, but of being Muslim — the unspoken, unwritten, unacknowledged doctrine of hypocrisy.
Only in the narrowest sense of the word can the Ayatollah Khomeini be said to have been alive. The same holds true for anyone who lives according to “no jokes, no humour, no fun and no joy,” because human passions, likes, preferences and predilections, i.e., happiness, are part of our evolutionary inheritance. Even animals, once they are sentient, have preferences that can set one specimen apart from others of its kind. Delight is an emotional force innate to us. Islam, therefore, in its jihad against enjoyment, is fundamentally anti-human, so much so that it becomes incumbent on each Muslim to enforce its anti-human prescriptions on every other Muslim.
“The believers, men and women, are Auliya’ (helpers, supporters, friends, protectors) of one another, they enjoin (on the people) Al-Ma’ruf (…all that Islam orders one to do), and forbid (people) from Al-Munkar (…all that Islam has forbidden)” (Qur’an 9:71*). This police-state verse is further codified and operationalised in Shari’a. Reliance of the Traveller devotes an entire book to [Imaam Ghazali’s] Commanding the Right and Forbidding the Wrong. While verse 3:104 seems to make such policing a communal, rather than personal obligation, “And let there be [arising] from you a nation inviting to [all that is] good, enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong, and those will be the successful,” Muhammad quickly steps in to clarify Allah’s perfect words: “Whoever of you sees something wrong, let him change it with his hand. If unable to, then let him change it with his tongue. If unable, then with his heart. And that is the weakest degree of faith,” (Sahih Muslim, Book 1:79). In other words, violence is the first resort in keeping your fellow Muslim in line, and minding your own business is “the weakest degree of faith.” Islam’s co-option and usurpation of the Muslim’s humanity and innate ethics is well illustrated in this opinion on Nawawi 34 (the same hadith, Sahih Muslim, Book 1:79).
When conversing with infidels, all Muslims talk the rules of Islam as if they practise them (here I am not even referring to those who demand time off work to pray, or who pray in the street or in airplane aisles, as if praying is something they do five times a day without fail). Amongst themselves, Muslims pretend the rules of Islam are second nature to them: “absent-mindedly” fingering worry-beads while chanting “la-illaha-illallah, la-illaha-illallah…” just loud enough for others to hear; quoting Hadiths at every opportunity; excessively long invocations of the name of Allah before doing the simplest things; energetically proclaiming approval or disapproval of whatever is Islamically allowed or disallowed. Such animation, note, pertains to observance and transgression in the abstract, and not when it involves a friend, an acquaintance, or someone in authority over them (although Allah has a strong injunction against such loyalty to anyone other than himself and, of course, his prophet). Every Muslim knows that every Muslim does wrong, but every Muslim pretends that every Muslim does right.
This universal hypocrisy makes it possible for someone to be both a Muslim and more-or-less humanly alive at the same time. It is an expediency that has stood the test of time and afforded Muslim societies sustainability within a framework of obedience, hierarchy and social relations of personal dependence. Within that system, Muslims do more or less anything they want, so long as they exercise discretion and never talk about it. Things can unravel pretty rapidly if the code of hypocrisy is breached, as in, for example, when a young woman is suspected of impropriety, something that, by its nature, cannot be concealed for very long. Then everyone will “protest too much,” and the Shari’a stipulation that a parent may kill such a child without blame is vehemently insisted on, especially by closest family. It will be a lucky woman indeed who escapes with her life, mostly the ones who live in the accursed West, where Muslims are haunted by the prospect of their daughters becoming “too Westernised.”
The Western Muslim ghettos face a far more sustained, full-frontal assault from the conspicuous and celebrated pursuit of happiness beyond its barricades. On a daily basis, the ghetto’s inhabitants must on so many levels engage with a world quite the antithesis of “no jokes, no humour, no fun and no joy,” and from which they must return in the evening to the yoke and stranglehold of the perfect religion. At any moment, an unsuspecting parent can discover that its sweet child, who’s been doing all the right for 18, 19, 20 years, has actually been doing wrong for the last two or three or four years (which is fine so long as it’s discreet, nobody mentions it, and it’s a son and not a daughter), except that the wrong increasingly includes the one wrong that no hypocrisy can cover for: “I don’t believe in Allah.”
The very hypocrisy that for 1400 years has shielded the humanity of Muslims from the inhumanity, or more precisely, anti-humanity, of Islam, is now coming home to roost. Whereas the pursuit of human pleasures and interest have, until the twentieth century, generally been confined to what was attainable within the limits of Muslim societies**, such pursuit now aspires to what is globally attainable from societies of free peoples. What is globally attainable far exceeds what is available in the Islamic world, even if surreptitiously acquired. And it is Islam that took it upon itself to invade the world of the free peoples, certain that it could not but prevail. It yet might, but that is by no means assured.
The destabilisation of the centuries-long hypocrisy does not always work in favour of the Muslim’s humanity. It can also work against it, as when a “moderate” Muslim one fine evening clearly sees that, “Allah did not create man so that he could have fun. …There can be no fun and joy in whatever is serious,” and decides serious means doing what Allah expects of every Muslim and so that night, after Isha’a, he finally stays behind in the mosque after the congregation has left. Perhaps tonight, perhaps another night, he will learn how to get to Syria. Either way, the hypocrisy that provided the ummah with a workable equilibrium for so long has become critically unstable.
It is not only in the Western Muslim ghettos that the barricades have been breached. Ever since the arrival of satellite television, and much more so the Internet, the unspoken social contract of hypocrisy has come under severe strain. The Muslim world does not enjoy the identity-reinforcing advantages of geographic segregation into Muslim ghettos. The Islamic world’s barricades, such as they are, are diffuse, and as such dissolved rather than breached. Here, unlike in the West, there is no “diversity” mediation, where the fiction of Muslim piety is maintained for jihad purposes, as a device for milking jizya from the multicultural cow. In the Dar al-Islam, it is Muslim-as-human against Muslim-as-adherent-of-Islam in its pure form. It is all or nothing. By the time the dam bursts, the Muslim is far more likely not only done with Islam, but done with religion altogether. The Western Muslim reinforces fake Islam while the Eastern Muslim erodes real Islam.
While it is pretty obvious that there is no such thing as “moderate Islam,” it is harder to see that there is also no such thing as a “moderate Muslim.” Various formulations exist, but one of the most damaging to clarity was conceived by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who invented the tripartite classification of Muslims into “Mecca Muslims,” “Medina Muslims,” and “Modifying Muslims.” This formulation did understanding a disservice (clumsy alliteration aside). Muslims who are not strict followers of the Qur’an and the Sunnah are not followers of the Qur’an and the Sunnah at all. It is not as if they’ve studied the verses of the Qur’an and reviewed the words and deeds of Muhammad and decided, I’ll have this verse and this hadith, they’re cute. I like that. But that one and the other over there, they turn my stomach. I’ll just give them a miss. There are no Muslims who decide to sift out the Meccan verses from the Medinan verses (a few verses are even uncertain as to their provenance) and resolve to lead their lives according to one or the other. While Muhammad’s “revelations” prior to the hijra might collectively have been referred to as “The Recitation,” while the expanding canon post-hijra might have been referred to as “The Book,” the singular nature of the revelations (as yet uncodified) is confirmed by the doctrine of abrogation, for which there would have been no need, had the Meccan verses constituted an earlier “version” of the Qur’an, rather than being integral to the canon as a whole.
The point here is that apart from the Ayatollahs, the Sheikhs and the caliphate-junkies of this world, few Muslims actually take their guidance from Islamic scripture. This does not mean that Muslims do not read the Qur’an; many do, but most cannot, even if they think it the right thing to do (their children read it in madrassa, that sort of makes up for their not reading it themselves). But those who do read the Qur’an, read it not for guidance, as a Christian might read the Bible; they read it to recite. The good lies in making the sounds that correspond to the symbols on the page, most of which is not understood at all. So much for Allah’s perfect choice of language. But it makes them feel they’re not going adrift as they live out their human passions, preferences, comforts and predilections to the extent that they can socially get away with, in other words, to the extent that the system of hypocrisy will bear. Certainly, the prohibitions and restrictions they observe derive from the sacred texts, but this is via longstanding social convention (hence the many local variations), rather than because they’ve read them in those texts themselves.
This is not to suggest that all Muslims are constantly torn between being human and being Muslim and would jump at the chance to break another chain. As discussed in Part 2, fear plays a central role in why Muslims indulge in hypocrisy, rather than simply walk away from Islam. It is the fear of doing something wrong that motivates many of the truly pathetic enquiries made to the ulema for fatwa determinations, such as whether a desperately ill wife may be given this, that or the other specialist medical treatment that will cure her. The fact that these so-called “scholars” don’t know the first thing about medicine cuts no ice; they know the Qur’an, and the Qur’an knows everything. It is truly heart-rending to read page after page of a fatwa website and observe the pathos and tragedy that is the tortured Muslim soul. Thankfully, they are a relatively shrinking constituency. Muslims want to get on with their lives just like everybody else. Everybody else, though, does not have Islam holding them back and compelling them to live a lie. Given the widespread exposure of the bankruptcy and barbarism of Islam, to increasing numbers of Muslims hypocrisy will no longer do. Only Ayatollahs, Sheikhs and the likes of ISIS, on the one hand, and apostates, on the other, avoid hypocrisy, each in their own devastatingly different way.
Hypocrisy is the mortar that holds Muslim societies together, not the Muhabarat, not the mutawa, and most certainly not piety. The powerful echelons maintain the same fraud, but generally have nothing to fear from those lower down the social hierarchy. They have both the means and the opportunity to commit every wrong in the book, and they do. Egypt’s King Farouk’s transgressions — and they were spectacular — unfortunately, became public knowledge, necessitating every Egyptian to howl his indignation at the Heavens, so much so that the former King’s dead body was refused repatriation, in defiance of his will stipulating his burial in Al Rifa’i Mosque in Cairo.
On your way to check out from the youth hostel, perhaps you decided to quickly peruse the bookshelves for anything interesting that previous guests have left for others to help themselves to. You will have seen an eclectic mix of university textbooks and fiction, and perhaps even recognised the odd novel in another language. There would have been books in English, Spanish, Russian, Greek, Mandarin, Thai, Japanese, Hindi, Hebrew, Norwegian and so many more, but nothing in Arabic, Farsi, Urdu, Dari, Indonesian or Malay. You might’ve wondered why books in these languages get snapped up so quickly, or why books in these languages are not left behind, or whether speakers of these languages ever carry along anything to read on their character-building world adventures. …and finally back in reception, you notice that the missing flags correspond to the missing languages.
* Verse 9:71, along with verses 2:2, 5:3 and 6:115, amongst others, vindicate ISIS and at the same time make Islamic reform impossible. All it takes is one Muslim and it will only be a matter of time before the world again faces the calamitous decline it faces today, as it had many times in the past. In other words, the only way to reform Islam is for Muslims to cease being Muslims and to seize their humanity instead and live it to the full in open pursuit of happiness, not the depraved happiness of Allah’s Jannah, but the delightful and fulfilling happiness of humankind. All the energy that so-called moderate Muslims and Muslim reformers expend on hypocrisy and denial could be much more constructively applied if they were able to be honest. But they cannot be honest. So they do not leave Islam nor free their brethren from its yoke, but instead double down and reinforce the barricade, and continue to sing the praises of the book of which there is no doubt, until, should that day ever come, the call of their own humanity can bear no more.
** An exception to this will have been the choices and opportunities that became available to the Muslim elites during colonialism.
From a comment:
Disagree with the thesis since virtually all Muslims appear to move towards greater religious fidelity over time, even ones that were highly educated and very intelligent sceptics for decades. And their disdain for Kuffars, whom they increasingly perceive as oppressors of Muslims, intensifies with the rediscovery of their faith.