The De-spiritualisation of the West
In March 2020, Young Muslim Digest asked its readers to offer a reasoned review – critical or otherwise – of a chapter from Muhammad Asad’s classic work, ‘Islam at the Crossroads.’ We are pleased to announce the winner of the same contest as SADIA FIRDOSE, from Bangalore, although her criticism is not very accurate.
Asad’s statement is correct because, the sense of belonging to a religion is of two types: a heart-felt allegiance to it, or a superficial allegiance to it. The first type drives humbleness to its adherence: of the type, for instance, of the Jew of Prophet Muhammad’s time, Abdullah b. Salam; while the second type is that of the elites and the masses, who are hardly religious, but who are proud of it because it is their national religion. Asad is speaking of the first type. Muhammad Asad was a highly intelligent and a man of thought. He must be read carefully. The prize winning response from Sadia Firdose is reproduced herein below.
‘Islam at the Crossroads’ is indubitably a masterpiece, written by Muhammad Asad. The eloquent presentation of author’s views and observations are sure to have a strong impact on the reader. Nonetheless, there are a few points which contradict the actual facts from history.
The author says, “The Romans never in reality knew religion. Their traditional gods were a pale imitation of Greek mythology, mere colourless ghosts silently accepted for the benefit of social convention. In no way were those gods allowed to interfere with real life.”
However, on the contrary, one of the authentic narrations from the prophet’s life, has the following message. In 6 A.H after the treaty of Hudaibiyyah, Muslims were provided an excellent opportunity to spread the message of Islam, across and outside the Arabian Peninsula. Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, sent emissaries to various kings and rulers inviting them towards Islam. One such letter was carried by Dihya al-kalbi(ra) to Heraclius, the then Roman emperor.
During this very time, Heraclius had defeated the Persians who were in his territory, and drove them out. Having recaptured his great cross, which the Persians had plundered, he walked from Hims to Aelia, as a mark of gratitude towards God. On his return, he was presented the letter inviting him and the other Roman nobles towards Islam. After having investigated, and enquired about Prophet Muhammad from Abu Sufyan, Heraclius was convinced that Muhammad(saws) is the true prophet. Yet the fear of persecution from the other Roman nobles stopped him from accepting Islam. Therefore, with this, one can infer that Romans followed Christian doctrines, obviously diluted with their own cultural inputs. Prophet Muhammad (saws), too, addressed Romans as ‘People of the Book’ in his letter.
The main reason for the Romans, as well as the Persians, to reject Islam was their arrogance and pride. They considered Arabs to be inferior to them, and that they could enslave them little effort and time. Thus, any change coming from them was bound to be rejected, irrespective of it being the ultimate truth.
The author further vividly elaborates on the principle, based on which the European enlightenment began, tragically it is still the state of mind of the majority. He says: “Modern Western civilization does not recognize the necessity of man’s submission to anything save economic or social or national requirements. Its real deity is not of a spiritual kind: it is comfort. And it’s real, living philosophy is expressed in a will to power for power’s sake. Both have been inherited from the old Roman civilization.”
And in yet another place the author says: “All that is real today in Western ethics and world-view is directly traceable to the old Roman civilization. Western civilization does not strictly deny God, but has simply no room and no use for Him in its present intellectual system. It has made a virtue out of an intellectual difficulty of man- his inability to grasp the totality of life. Thus, the modern occidental is likely to attribute practical importance only to such ideas as lie within the scope of empirical sciences, or, at least, are expected to influence men’s social relations in tangible way. And as the question of the existence of God does not belong prima facie to either of these two categories, the western mind is, on principle, inclined to exclude God from the sphere of practical consideration”.
Objecting to the author’s view, that the real intellectual foundations of the modern West, as mentioned in the above quoted paragraphs, to be found in the old Roman conception of life, as a purely utilitarian proposition, incapable of grasping the essence of spirituality in the holistic development of the human race, has no substantial support to it. However, if one digs back in to the history of Europe and its people, one can track the missing transcendental considerations of its people to the influence of Judaic ideologies, as perceived by the enterprising Jews of that time, on the commoners of Europe. Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, the author of ‘Judaism for everyone’ has following points while defining Judaism:
- Judaism has been focused on the world of man.
- Where fun is as important as achievement, Judaism can provide it.
- Judaism offers a spirituality-based philosophy that is concerned primarily with life in this world, rather than the hereafter.
- This idea of struggle against God found only in Judaism, traces its origin to the name Israel, literally, “he who wrestles with God”.
- Judaism can be defined as the long-term introduction, and ultimate triumph, of feminine values over masculine ones.
- Judaism enjoins man to create heaven on earth.
- What ultimately separates Christianity from Judaism is not the belief in Christ or sainthood. Rather, it is that the Christians believe in heaven, whereas the Jew believes in earth.
- “…..We should be able to see, with our very eyes, God’s presence on earth and all of his blessings. Therefore, we might say that Judaism’s purpose is to make us lose our faith.
- Serious discussions of divine reward or the afterlife have little place in Judaism.
- Judaism’s insistence on immutable law (of Torah) as the sole guarantor of society’s decency applies not only to soldiers, but even to well-meaning scientists.
On a brief note, Jews had made their presence in Europe since the time they were expelled from Palestine. This dates back to the era when Christianity had not yet reached the European soil. Jews had succeeded in converting the local people to Judaism in considerable numbers. However, when Christianity started spreading in Europe by seventh century, it encountered resistance from the Jews. Unable to persuade the Jews to join the mainstream, Christians began to persecute them. A wave of anti-Jewish feeling, combined with forced conversion of Jews to Christianity, spread all across the Europe. In Spain, the practice of Judaism was altogether prohibited, until the Muslims took over Spain and ruled from the early eighth century to late fifteenth century.
Tolerant and peaceful Muslim Spain attracted many Jews, they were freely employed in the universities, laboratories, and research centres. The Jewish merchants indulged in every kind of trade. Under the Muslim influence, the growing Christian kingdoms of Europe learnt to tolerate them, Jews now returned to Europe. They worked as artisans and tradesmen, took charge of “the trade of usury”, perhaps something like the banking system. They were soon controlling commerce to the envy of the Christians. Another round of persecution and expulsion of Jews from the Western Europe followed during the 13th, 14th, and 15th centuries, they moved to Eastern Europe and mean while began to wait for another right opportunity to return back. The enterprising Jews took advantage of the period of Renaissance, and returned back to Britain and other western European countries to carve a place for themselves in the fast- growing industrial economy. The unfortunate, not so enterprising Jews were the ones who were hated, discriminated and assigned to the ghettoes by the supporters of Renaissance.
A 1993 press release from Chicago says, though the Jewish community barely form 2% of the population of the USA, close to half the nation’s billionaires are Jews. The chief executive officers of three major television networks, and the four largest film studios belong to Jews, so also the nation’s largest newspaper chain. By mid- twentieth century, they constituted 20% of the faculty of the elite universities, and 40% of professors of elite law schools are Jews.
This aptly explains, as the author says: “The average occidental – be he a democrat or a fascist, a capitalist or a communist, a manual worker or an intellectual – knows only one positive ‘religion’, and that is the worship of material progress, the belief that there is no other goal in life than to make that very life continually easier or, as the current expression goes, “independent of nature”. The temples of this religion are the gigantic factories, cinemas, chemical laboratories, dance-halls,…and it’s priests are bankers, film stars, captains of industry, record sportsmen.”The concept of creating heaven on earth, one of the key-hole views held by a sect of Jews.
The author’s statement: “After a period of enlightenment, European thinkers instinctively shrank back from the conception of God as present in the teachings of the church: and as this was the only conception to which they had been accustomed, they began to reject the very idea of God and, with it, of the religion itself,” is objectionable, because the revolts in Europe were not against the religion or God, but against the priests and clergy who, holding highest position in the society, exploited the poor and the ignorant.
The season of European revolution first began in France, and other countries followed suite. The French society in the eighteenth century was divided into three estates, the first estate consisted of clergy, the second of nobility and the third of the big and small businessmen, country officials, lawyers, peasants, artisans and servants. The feudal system taxed only the third estate, whereas the clergy and nobility were exempted from it. With meagre wages and high cost of living, the tax burden added fuel to fire. Gap between the rich and the poor widened with time. Peasants were the most effected, they revolted against the prevailing feudal system. Lacking means and knowledge to proceed further, they took help from the other groups within the third estate.
The prosperous tradesmen who earned their wealth through expanding over-seas trade and manufacturing of goods like woollen and silk textiles, which were mainly brought by the rich section of the society, came to the rescue of the downtrodden. Perhaps these were the Jews or their counter parts, who controlled much of the European commerce. They are also responsible for bringing in the scientific ideas from the Arabs, after having worked with them in their laboratories, research centres and Universities. They propagated the idea of preferring materialistic progress over the spiritual development, they promised luxuries on earth as opposed to the non-tangible and un-definite life in heaven. They denied the existence of heaven and hell, and supported their idea through scientific experiments and calculations. In the name of equal opportunity for all, they pulled women from their homes and made them work in factories and industries. Thus, the poor, gullible and ignorant common men and women of Europe were deviated from the real purpose of life, in pursuit for a better and progressive life.
Finally, to the original question which the author raises: “Whether it is possible to adapt the Islamic way of thinking and living to the exigencies of Western civilization, and vice versa?” The answer to this question cannot be a straight forward “Yes,” or “No.” As we all know, many of us have been struggling to balance the Islamic life style in the non-Islamic, western environment. Right from the attire and food, to the family values and personal relations. And the struggle continues as we pass on these Islamic values to our next generations. The Western ideologies have been proved fatal to its followers, the blind followers on the foot-steps of the west have been stimulated with many eye openers, nevertheless, only the intelligent ones pay heed. While for a sincere Muslim, the fight continues as he/she shoulders the representation of Islam in every action of his/her, until Islam becomes the way of life for both East, and the West.