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Islam: A Sinking Titanic?

Islam: a sinking Titanic?

If Egyptian-born Hamed Abdel-Samad is right, Islam today is seriously ill and is culturally and socially in retreat. Like the Titanic, considered invincible, Islam is facing sudden global collapse with dire consequences for the West, he warns.
Last week in Spain I sat in on a gathering of folk related to Hope for Europe engaged with Muslims across Europe who struggle with life in our secular society. Reports from various western European countries highlighted fears and anxieties of Muslim women especially who find themselves caught in the clash of cultures.
“What is God like?” was a question frequently asked by Muslims, we were told. Many Arabic-speaking Muslims in both Europe and North Africa seek answers by listening to Trans World Radio broadcasts from Monaco, via a very powerful transmitter built on Hitler’s orders to broadcast propaganda during World War Two.
One participant, himself a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood, reported that many Iranians consider the greatest evangelist in the Muslim world to have been the Ayatollah Khomeini. For in the ten years of his rule from the Iranian Revolution until his death in 1989, Khomeini alienated millions from their traditional faith. The stronger Islam grew, the more Muslims turned to Isa (as Jesus is called in the Koran). The speaker added that more Muslims had become believers in Isa in recent times than in the previous fourteen centuries of Islam.
In response to popular ideas that Islam was growing in strength and threatened to overpower the West, the same speaker quoted Hamed Abdel-Samad, the son of a Sunni Imam. Now a German-based political scientist and writer, Abdel-Samad believes that Islam may be many things–except powerful.
Doomed
In almost all countries with a Muslim majority, he sees the decline of civilization and a stagnation of all forms of life. Islam is in intellectual, moral and cultural decline, he claims. A doomed religion, it is without self-awareness and without any options to act. He sees Islam offering few if any constructive answers to the questions of the 21st century. Instead, it is barricading itself behind a wall of anger and protest.
Googling for more information, I learned that despite his criticism of Islam, Abdel-Samad has not rejected his faith.  In one of many interviews in the German media since the appearance of his book Der Untergang der islamischen Welt (The Downfall of the Islamic World), he said his dream was ‘an enlightened Islam, without Sharia law and without jihad, without gender apartheid, proselytizing and the mentality of entitlement; a religion open to criticism and questions.’
While admitting that he didn’t pray regularly or fast during Ramadan, he still considered himself a Muslim.
“It’s my cultural community. For me, Islam is also my homeland and my language, and my Arabic can’t be separated from all of that. You can distance yourself from Islam but remain within the heart of Islam. I don’t want to yield to the fundamentalists who preach violence. They are on the rise.”
Collapse
This rise of Islamism reflected a lack of self-awareness and constructive real-life options for many young Muslims, says Abdel-Samad. At the same time, he observes, the internet has caused many to mistrust the old traditional structures.
Two options remain: a step forward towards democratization or a step back toward mass fanaticism and violence.
In countries like Iran and Egypt, he sees both trends happening simultaneously, creating a ‘clash of civilizations’ within the Islamic world itself–between individualism and conformity, innovation and continuity, modernity and the past.
Yet, he complains, hardly anyone dares to attack the sanctity of the Koran. Hardly anyone asks, ‘Is there possibly a fundamental shortcoming of our faith?’
”The so-called reformers of Islam still dare not approach the fundamental problems of culture and religion. They remind me of the band on the Titanic, which kept on playing even as the ship was sinking, so as to give the passengers the illusion of normalcy.”
Transformation and modernization will only be reached following collapse. Many Islamic countries will tumble. A rapidly growing, poor and oppressed population, a lagging educational sector, shrinking oil reserves and drastic climate change undermine any prospects for economic progress.
Islam will have a hard time surviving as a political and social idea, and as a culture, he believes. The downfall of the Islamic world would automatically mean that the waves of migration to Europe would increase significantly.
Hard times await us on both sides of the Mediterranean Sea, he warns, adding: “we are all running out of time.”
Till next week.
 Jeff Fountain

This Post Has 16 Comments
  1. In response to this ww, a reader in North Africa sent this blog entry in from former Muslim Brotherhood member, Osama Dorra, a writer and columnist. This article is an edited version of his blog entry, written in Arabic.

    I decided to deactivate my practice of Islam as a religion because the “cognitive dissonance” between some of its details and what I think is rational, just and logical has reached a limit that is beyond my comprehension.
    I have resolved to reduce the status of Islam to a “cultural reference” that sets the tone for my morals, until I find another reference, or adopt it again as a religion.
    The Arab Spring has shaken our confidence in what we were like before revolutions. It has become clear that the assumptions upon which we built our lives were not all sound, the institutions that led us were not all efficient or honest, and the people we thought highly of were not all worthy of that praise.
    Hence, the current generation carries the burden of re-inspecting everything that has now come under doubt until God shows us the truth.
    In the context of the current volatile situation, I was tormented by three incidents in particular that involved doctrinal controversy.
    First, the violent protests against the film that insulted Prophet Mohamed. These protests highlighted that the penalty for insulting the Prophet in Sharia is execution.
    This penalty seemed to me incompatible with the “tolerance,” “compassion” and “freedom” we attribute to Islam. In fact, it made Western legal codes, which allow for “freedom of expression,” seem more sensible, tolerant and fair.
    Then I heard the Friday prayer preacher telling the story of a blind man who had a female slave who nursed him. The man married the woman and they had two children. But, one day, he stabbed her in the stomach when he heard her saying something about the Prophet of which he disapproved, though she was pregnant with their third child.
    And when he admitted to the Prophet why he killed her, the Prophet said: “Be witnesses that killing this woman has become lawful.”
    This story is taken from Ibn Dawoud’s teachings and was told by Ibn Abbas.
    According to the standards of the Hadith tellers, it is believed to be correct, despite the fact that it is weird, savage and contradictory to what we think of Islam. I do not think the Prophet of Mercy would have approved of such a thing.
    Second, in a TV interview, the host, Wael al-Ibrashy, asked Yasser Borhamy, the deputy leader of the Salafi Dawah movement in Alexandria, about his opinion of the marriage of a girl. Borhamy’s answer was that he cannot forbid what God and his Messenger have allowed, and that underage marriage is permissible if the girl tolerates it.
    He cited a section of the fourth verse of Surat al-Talaq (Divorce), saying “those who have not menstruated” must wait three months before they marry again, meaning that like adults a girl must also wait three months before marrying again.
    I was dismayed that the Quran should have a text like this. And, if the preachers insist that the Quran is not a historically conditioned text that can be a source of inspiration and a base for measurement (qiyas), without being literally applied, I cannot help but wonder if God had really permitted sexual abuse of children in his last message to humans.
    Third, the Mauritanian Initiative for the Resurgence of Abolitionism’s burning of the books of the Maliki doctrine whose violation is seen as a “violation of the values and identity of society.”
    These books distinguish between a free person and a slave regarding the right to life, and exempt a master from penalty if he kills his slave. And, if a master kills another master’s slave, he is only obliged to pay the value of that slave.
    This is what the writers of these books understood from verse 178 of Surat al-Baqarah that says: “Prescribed for you is legal retribution for those murdered — the free for the free, the slave for the slave.”
    It became clear from the debate accompanying this incident that, unless it is interpreted in a humanistic manner, the founding text of religion cannot be referred to in a battle against slavery.
    Furthermore, those who restrict themselves to the literal meaning of the text promise themselves that if jihad returns, the possession of women as war hostages and the slave trade will also return. This is happening while contemporary humans have surpassed all that is honorable and merciful.
    But the matter goes beyond these three issues to larger issues. There is nothing that compels my generation to have confidence in the choices of society or accept its truisms.
    The people of our country have fallen into humiliating failure and poverty. They reminisce that if they return to their past, they will retrieve glory. But the fact is that others on this planet have advanced themselves with the repositories of wisdom and with God’s unequivocal blessings.
    Add to this those who have appointed themselves as the “guardians of belief.” These people think they are carrying out a sacred mission, are more capable of leading the country and are closer to God. But, the fact is, they lie, break promises, spread rumors to satisfy their interests, cast doubts on the chastity of those who have opinions different from theirs, and defer social justice if it contradicts their aim of hegemony.
    Is this religion? Well then, my religion is different from yours.
    When people face new facts that contradict their old beliefs, they pass through pain that could damage their souls. Under such circumstances, they sometimes revoke their beliefs, deny the new facts or interpret these facts in a way that allows for their coexistence with the old ones.
    But I have chosen that most straightforward and unhurried reaction to this crisis: I chose to freeze my old beliefs without dropping them. I chose to deliberate the old and the new without arriving at an absolute conviction. I am reconsidering all religions and philosophies. So help me God.
    Many young people have opted before for a choice similar to mine, some mixing it with unrestrained behavior in oppostion to a society they feel besieges them. But the majority of those who have opted for my choice keep silent, fearing the “delegates of God” who abound in our country.
    Here is the message that my generation sends to those who control this country: Purify religion from all the jurisprudential horror and elevate it above political misuse, or else we will reject you and your beliefs altogether.
    Translated by Ibrahim Hab el-Roman

  2. Hi Jeff
    Excellent piece from you…keep it coming.
    However, if migration into Europe is the consequence, that will only strengthen the hand of extremism, as the experience of the immorality and unfriendliness of Europe generally tends to force people back into movements that provide identity and purpose drawing from the foundations they were seeking to leave behind…unless there is a sympathetic and kind and responsive missional force awaiting them here….
    We need to prepare such a force of people here in Europe…very soon. It would be tragic to loss the opportunity that is coming. These multitude will we arriving looking for new ways of living, but unless there are people to guide them and also translations of the Scriptures that are up to date, then they will not easily find what they seek.

    Rosemary James

  3. Thanks for interesting piece. I agree with the analysis that “In almost all countries with a Muslim majority, he sees the decline of civilization and a stagnation of all forms of life. Islam is in intellectual, moral and cultural decline, he claims. A doomed religion, it is without self-awareness and without any options to act. He sees Islam offering few if any constructive answers to the questions of the 21st century. Instead, it is barricading itself behind a wall of anger and protest. “ However the moderate Muslim speaker is a minority within Islam. Eg. In Ireland of 50,000 Muslims only 10% go to the mosque; there are now 20 mosques and the majority are quite radical but have the ear of the government and of public opinion.
    Your Speaker acknowledges that he does not “want to yield to the fundamentalists who preach violence. They are on the rise.”. He is certainly right the they are on the rise – all through the Middle East, spewing out virulent hatred of Jew and Christian alike. They are also attacking Moderate Muslims as well in many countries..
    Blessings, Paddy

  4. Hi Jeff,
    Very interested to read this. Abdel-Samad is clearly right re Islam’s fatal flaws but have you heard of many Muslims agreeing with his prognosis? I mean, Muhammad is everywhere considered the perfect Muslim yet was a fundamentalist Islamist and it’s blasphemous to criticise him or the Qur’an. Where can they go?

  5. Well, read the first response above, sent in from Egypt. I think we may be seeing the beginnings here of significant questioning. For years Zacharias Boutros has been sending TV broadcasts followed literally by millions in the Middle East encouraging Muslims to take another look at their prophet, as using only Muslim sources, he reveals what sort of man he was. Philip Jenkins makes the point that as Holland was a place for freedom of thought in the 17th century which was to spread to other parts of Europe, so too is Europe now the place where Muslims can begin to express free thought, spreading back to Muslim homelands.

  6. hi jeff
    Thanks for you article. Interesting and challenging as always.

    However, I was just wondering what the objectives were for this piece? Its not clear what you want to achieve in me, the reader…

    Also, the article and its quotes seem to confuse Islam as a cultural heritage and certain modernist (fundamentalist) expressions of Islam… Which one are you talking about? – and are those you quote all talking about the same one?

    eg you say “I learned that despite his criticism of Islam, Abdel-Samad has not rejected his faith”
    But is it not the exact OPPOSITE? He has lost his faith (belief) but is holding onto Islam as his cultural heritage. The fact that he is still calling himself a muslim seems to me proof that Islam is NOT at all doomed, but that it will morph out of modernism (the fairly recent fundamentalist expressions that parallel evangelicalism in many ways) and into post-modern expression of islam… I think that could be quite positive. It is Modernity (in its christian, muslim and secular contextualisations) that has been so “sure” that it has been willing to kill… postmodern believers are a little more humble in their boldness (as Bosch would say). I’m hopeful the extra tolerance would widen some of the border zones and give space for those like Abdel-Samad, who have lost their faith but not their heritage, to follow Christ and yet “remain” (as Paul would say) powerful prophetic voices in their communities.

    Just wondering 🙂
    Blessings
    Brent

  7. Hmm, I thought it would be pretty clear how significant this sort of questioning coming from young Muslims could be for the future. I don’t quite know where to begin to respond to your comments as I don’t understand how you can mix words like ‘modernist’ and ‘fundamentalist’ as if they were synonyms. I don’t think Abdel-Salam confuses his cultural heritage with Islamism – he’s clear about what he rejects but wishes there was more questioning of the foundational assumptions.

  8. Hi Jeff
    Thanks for the response. Just to clarify…

    A google search for “fundamentalism” and “modernity” you will see there is a VERY strong link between the two. Sometimes these are expressed as opposite poles (eg the so called “Fundamentalist–Modernist Controversy”) but on a closer look fundamentalism (like liberal theology, secularism etc, even evangelicalism) is more a expression/contextualisation of modernity than an external response to it. So no, not “synonyms” but fundamentalism is very much a product of modernity, and so it is “modern”. So, after buying into modernity’s sacred-secular dichotomy which one are you going to choose?

    I didn’t say Abdel-Salam was confused about his heritage. It seems more to me he is struggling just as hard as the fundamentalists to respond to the challenges presented by modernity. (eg see his vocab: “enlightened Islam”, “step forward/backwards”, “democratization”, “individualism and conformity, innovation and continuity, modernity”, “culture and religion”,”modernization” etc.. all modern-speak).

    Modernity appears to demand a choice: he refuses fundamentalism, yet he cant go the whole way and pronounce himself an atheist. Many many Muslims are at this point… Many, like Salman Rashdi says in one of his books, are “refusing to choose” and some sort of hybridity will result from this. And of course hybridity is a very postmodern term…. Thats why I think the current pressures on the Islamic world will be more likely to produce postmodern forms of Islam than its “doom”. In the same way, just as evangelical church attendance is plummeting we now are seeing “post-evangelical” or “emergent” forms of Christianity…

  9. Thanks for the response. Just to clarify…

    A google search for “fundamentalism” and “modernity” shows there is a VERY strong link between the two. Sometimes these are expressed as opposite poles (eg the so called “Fundamentalist–Modernist Controversy”) but on a closer look fundamentalism (like liberal theology, secularism etc, even evangelicalism) is more a expression/contextualisation from within modernity than an external response to it. So no, not “synonyms” but fundamentalism is very much a product of modernity, and so it is “modern”.

    In other words, if one buys into modernity’s sacred-secular dichotomy one immediately feels a tension: “Sacred or secular – Which one are you going to choose?”. Often this choice is expressed as between fundamentalist or “not a real Muslim” (even by some Christians unfortunately – whose side are they on?)

    I didn’t say it was Abdel-Samad who was confused about his heritage. It seems more to me he is struggling just as hard as the fundamentalists to respond to the challenges presented by modernity. (eg see his vocab: “enlightened Islam”, “step forward/backwards”, “democratization”, “individualism and conformity, innovation and continuity, modernity”, “culture and religion”,”modernization” etc.. all modern-speak).

    Modernity appears to demand a choice: he refuses fundamentalism, yet he cant go the whole way and pronounce himself an atheist (the true fruit of modernity). Many many Muslims are at this point… Many, like Salman Rushdie says in one of his books, are “refusing to choose” and some sort of hybridity will result from this. And of course hybridity is a very postmodern term…. That’s why I think the current pressures on the Islamic world will be more likely to produce postmodern forms of Islam than its “doom” as the article implies. In the same way, just as evangelical church attendance is plummeting we now are seeing “post-evangelical” or “emergent” forms of Christianity…

  10. While I’m at it, here’s an excellent quote from a friend of yours Jeff, Philip Jenkins:

    “…it would be wrong to imagine that the Bible-based religions are more evolved or sophisticated than Islam, or that they have somehow moved further along a standard evolutionary scale. In reality, religions do not follow neat linear paths of evolution, and [violent scripture] passages that seem forgotten have not vanished entirely. Rather, they have slipped back from conscious reality: they remain in the scripture as unconscious texts. The abhorrent words remain dormant, returning to life in conditions on extreme stress and conflict…
    Islam too has often practiced such scriptural editing and self-censorship in its past, and will do so once again. It is absurd to imagine the world of Islam waiting passively to receive the scholarly and critical benefits of the Euro-American Enlightenment before that faith can proceed to some more exalted and peaceful stage of religious evolution. From the earliest times, some readers of the Quran have used rationalistic and symbolic approaches, which have been popular far beyond narrow intellectual circles…”

    A big quote, but it expresses much more clearly my concerns about the tone of this article. Modern thinking is triumphalist and dichotomistic, it has bought so much into evolution that it sees everything on a more evolved vs less evolved scale. Yes one can say “Islamism is not a new phenomenon: radical Islam has a long pedigree” but it is in the end pretty meaningless because one can also say “Peaceful Islam is not a new phenomenon: pluralistic Islam has a long pedigree”. Many of the problems today have their roots in modernistic thinking (western/Christian triumphalism, colonialism, nationalism, extreme individualism, fundamentalism, industrialisation & environment, sacred vs secular dichotomies, etc etc). I’m not convinced modernity’s paradigms have the solutions for the problem they have caused…

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