Friday, August 05, 2022

Too Hot to Handle: Islam Fading

In which our regular writers toss around subjects a little more volatile than usual.

This is a curious little video:

Tom: As you know, IC, I tend to take such things with a dumpster-sized grain of salt. There’s enough disinformation circulating these days to keep the Christian perpetually on his or her toes. But the gist of this video is that Islam’s popularity and reach may not be all it is cracked up to be. Rather than growing prodigiously as we have assumed, the evidence may suggest the influence of Islam is actually shrinking.

Here is a link to the original data at The Muslim Issue if you’d like to check out the videographer’s sources for yourself.

My first reaction was disbelief. We’re hearing about the rising Islamic State almost daily, and about young converts (reverts?) in the West buying into extremist ideology.

Islam and Public Relations

Immanuel Can: Yes. But how many do we hear about? It’s actually a very low number. Most pro-extremist Westerners are young people from “moderate” Muslim families already, or those already strongly culturally associated with Islam. We don’t see hordes of converts from non-Islamic backgrounds. Meanwhile, the public reputation of Islam is hardly made better by the throat-slittings of ISIS or the wife and child killings in the West. To put it mildly, Islam has a serious PR problem.

Tom: Yes, I think notwithstanding the endless parade of bloviating politicians at every level who uniformly reassure us after each terrorist incident that Islam is a religion of peace and there’s nothing to see here, the public seems well aware that there is, in fact, a fundamental problem with Islam, not just Islamic extremists. A recent poll found that the majority of American Muslims want Sharia law rather than the Constitution. The same poll found that 25% of American Muslims believe violence against Americans is justified as part of global jihad, and another 29% agreed that violence is “sometimes acceptable”.

That means more than half of American Muslims are willing to bite the hand that is currently feeding them, and it seems to me that people in North American are finally beginning to recognize this.

The Vacuity of Western Materialism

IC: It’s not a very pretty religion, is it? And it doesn’t offer people much. It might be more a testament to the vacuity of Western materialism than to the value of Islam that a few people are still willing to convert to it. Meanwhile, on a daily basis, I meet many, many nominal Muslims who are deeply into the Western way, and who have essentially abandoned Islam in the same way many Catholics have abandoned that organization: that means that they get mildly religious around Christmas or Ramadan, and the rest of the time pretty much live as Westerners. So the optics there certainly suggest Islam’s drying up.

Tom: I suppose the visibility and vitality of political Islam are effective in distracting observers or even its adherents from any deficiencies in the perceived value of religious Islam or any decline in pure numbers. There are probably lessons in that for the church.

IC: “Vitality”? It gets into the news a lot, but a lot of that vitality takes the form of a kind of death throes. When a religion is ready to immolate not just its enemies but also its own people — men, women and children alike — without conscience, I think that’s a played-out ideology, don’t you? As the end approaches, and as people abandon ship, Islam becomes ever more desperate, fanatical and self-destructive: but it’s really an indication that nothing is working anymore.

Politics and Rotting Carcasses

Tom: I think that’s a reasonable conclusion. But just because something is a spiritual dead-end — and Islam is — that does not mean its rotting carcass cannot be employed very effectively to political ends, which is what I think we see happening. The argument we often hear is that the jihadists do not represent the “real” Islam. But the polls suggest they do. The number of Muslims willing to take up arms and perform acts of terror is currently relatively small, but the number willing to help out financially is larger and the number willing to cheerlead or passively aid through disinformation and lies is larger still.

The spiritual component of Islam is more of interest to us though, and as someone who has studied it extensively you may have some thoughts. Where does Muslim theology let down its followers?

IC: In many ways, I think. But to start, we have to understand that Islam is more a culture and a political orientation than what we think of as a religion. That is, it’s not just a thing that anticipates people will believe it privately and carry on as they see best in other ways. It’s a demanding system, one that requires “submission” (the meaning of “Islam”) in all external areas of life — personal, social, cultural and political — but at the same time, has neither power nor will to revitalize the inner person; indeed, it does not even claim to do so. Thus Islam is always in tension between human nature and external demands. It cannot renew and transform human nature, so must compensate with rigid authority and demanding externals. “Submit”, not “be born again” is its prime dictum.

Tom: So it manages human behavior but cannot change the human heart. But there is still a very visible appearance of religious piety involved. My limited experience with Muslims has been with those who were minimally devout or nominal and dressed like the rest of us. But we have mosques in my neighborhood now, and the serious practitioners seem to be everywhere in full garb. Still, I’ve never been inside one.

The Muslim and Relationships

How does the devout Muslim relate to Allah, or does he?

IC: The notion of “relationship” with God is quite alien to Islam. What a Muslim must DO is not hard to discover: for example, you can refer to the famous “Five Pillars” of Islamic obedience. But the more important point is this: that like all legalistic religions, and indeed, like all utopian ideologies as well, Islam expects that all that is necessary for human fulfillment of purpose can happen with only the resources of human nature. Human nature is perfectible — or at least as improvable as necessary — to obtain favor with Allah, without regeneration. So “relationship” with God, in the literal, Christian sense, is neither claimed nor imagined in Islam.

Tom: So for people with any sort of desire for a relationship beyond legalistic subservience, Islam is bound to be unsatisfying.

The video moves rather quickly over a lot of information but this point is interesting:

“In my experience those on [the] Dawah bandwagon take advantage of the fact that the general public [is] relatively ignorant about the Quran. They do a disservice to their religion as they spread disinformation. They are like desperate salespeople trying to earn favours from their boss, and as soon as people see they’ve been lied to, they promptly leave the religion.”

Dawah, by the way, is the word Muslims use to describe witnessing, proselytizing or generally spreading the word. Does that statement ring true with you? I have a friend who is pestered almost daily to convert by her Muslim shuttle driver, so this is familiar territory.

Bring on the Witnesses

IC: Yes, this is familiar. I found a similar lack of knowledge, coupled with a fervent desire to proselytize, with a barber I used to go to. Most Muslims have no real exposure to the Koran or the Haddiths (the other body of Muslim “scriptures”), and out of reverence, they fear to question their leaders and teachers. For them, it’s cultural more than religious. But some of them do have some sort of dawah techniques in hand. I know that some actually train for it, though if you get them “off script”, they’re often just as perplexed as the rest of the Muslims. In general, the knowledge base there is not deep: being told it’s haram (forbidden, heretical) to question your religion’s beliefs will do that to you.

But there’s another word that anyone who discusses with Muslim’s needs to know: taqiyya. If a Muslim feels threatened by a line of thought you are suggesting, he or she is invited by Islam to deceive or omit information, so long as the goal is to escape or to expose some vulnerability in a perceived “enemy”. Thus, even what a Muslim asserts to be true about his or her religion may or may not be true. This makes their true level of knowledge and satisfaction with Islam very difficult to detect. They don’t always tell you what they really think, especially if they have doubts about their own belief system.

Lies and Leaving

Tom: And getting back to the legal and political side, taqiyya gives the general Muslim population license to do things in the name of jihad that moral people in this culture would not, which is something our own politicians ought to take into consideration before they jump reflexively to Islam’s defense.

What do you think about the videographer’s assertion that Muslims feel they have been lied to and are leaving the religion because of it? He certainly seems to be referencing statistics that have been legitimately and independently arrived at when he talks about the “shrinking” of Islam.

IC: I think Islam fails to ring true at almost every level. It fails to ring true historically for sure, and it fails morally in regard to mercy, justice and kindness, to say nothing of women’s rights or the rights of “infidels” to life. It fails on a political level since it is premised on naive anthropology and cannot ground a workable polity, it fails existentially because it does not meet the needs of the human soul, but most of all it fails theologically, for it misrepresents God.

Why then would we be surprised if people living under its dark, heavy shadow are increasingly glad to leave it?

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