If my impertinence can be forgiven, I’d like to present a few modest thoughts as to why an Islamic West is so important and how it might, insha’allah, be brought about.
Given the appalling condition into which colonialist abuse has forced the Islamic world in the last two centuries, no Muslim can be blamed for seeking to use Western liberalism against Western oppression. Westerners claim to believe in human rights and equality, so logically, we might feel, shouldn’t they also oppose the wanton killing of civilians in pointless wars and the propping up of brutal dictators? If we could only get them to overcome the Islamophobia that so obviously contradicts their gentle and kind (if sadly irreligious) moral system!
Actually – no. This approach does not wash. First, even if Westerners should, given their beliefs, treat Muslims vastly better than Western governments currently do, the modern nation-state is by its nature amoral, because it recognises no external ends, and the legal fiction of the nation’s sovereign will justifies its unlimited power of coercion. It therefore almost always acts completely selfishly in international affairs, even if its leaders sincerely believe in, and try to apply, principles at home; and this is not a bug in the modern system but a central part of that system.
Second, at a deeper level, modernity is Janus-faced. Liberalism and racialist colonialism are two sides of the same coin. Both are Godless systems, based on “science” and “progress”, that seek to make over the world in accordance with a merely human will to power. The logic of teleological history, marching towards ever expanding personal autonomy, easily justifies the violent modernisation of recalcitrant populations, and the corollary that Western nations are more morally advanced easily justifies their exploitation of these populations. They stem equally from the Enlightenment drive to dominate a morally inert world, which so naturally led to the European drive for military dominance. Democracy–whatever it even means–grows out of the barrel of an M16.
Third, liberalism is completely unstable and arbitrary. Most Western states have been officially liberal for less time than the reign of some European monarchs. The even more violent systems of Fascism and Marxism are just as consistent with the Enlightenment world view and for most of the last century seemed more progressive too. And liberalism is constantly mutating at a breath-taking pace. In barely a hundred years, Protestant Europe went from manufacturing chastity belts to hosting parades in which drag queens dowse each other in HIV-positive blood.
Most crucially of all, secular man makes up his morality as he goes along. Without God there is no reason whatsoever to be a liberal rather than a Nazi. In fact the latter probably makes more sense, since it doesn’t rely on the idea of moral equality, a concept that is pretty implausible if humans are just animals, in light of our grossly unequal animal capabilities.
So when we Muslims complain about Western oppression on liberal grounds we just reinforce the system that grounds the oppression. Whole states have gone from multi-cultural liberalism to genocidal ethno-nationalism almost overnight in the past, and they could easily do so again. Nothing in the secular world can prevent it.
The only thing that can ground a stable moral order is religion, and the only plausible (and uncompromised) religion is Islam. Therefore the only thing that will reliably stop the West from oppressing Muslims is converting the West to Islam. How can this be done?
Unfortunately, most Westerners have never once heard a Muslim explain why Islam is true. They have, though, heard lots and lots of Muslims explain why Western society is racist. Consequently they generally think Islam is a race, or at least an ethnic religion. It’s therefore no wonder they don’t bother investigating it. Even if they are atheists, the God in which they do not believe is a still a nice, white, Christian one, a blond-haired, blue-eyed Jesus. Islam isn’t even on their radar, but all the (admittedly anecdotal) evidence I have seen suggests that most individuals have mostly good intentions, and are very willing to listen to evidence if is presented to them without too much effort being asked for on their part.
The current discourse of Western Muslims therefore has to change. Though it might be very hard in the short-term, Western Muslims need to stop using liberalism to plead for rights and resources and instead use our public voices to explain why Islam is true—and liberalism, consequently, false—and invite individuals and society to embrace it. For the reasons explained above, this is not only our religious obligation of dawah but the only way any stable condition of respect for Islam and Muslims can be engendered.
The diversity discourse has two other big problems. First, by reinforcing the popular illusion that Islam is an ethno-cult, it greatly strengthens right-wing hostility, which can then tap into all the confusion and displacement—both legitimate and not-so-legitimate—that is bubbling away in Western nations that have become multi-ethnic and multi-cultural overnight. Secondly, though some of the domestic grievances are real (the grievances with Western foreign policy are obviously so), in other cases it acts is a subversive force against what is still good in Western countries. This is most obvious in the tragic alliance of American Muslims with the priests of LGBT; but it also promotes the weakening of legitimate Western cultural particularities, which atomises and alienates populations from their own traditions, thus creating the very sense of siege and estrangement into which the alt right is tapping.
This last point is profoundly important because it is through attaching itself to cultural particularity that Islam has historically spread. The message did not convince the Javanese, the Bosniaks and the Turks by merely asking for rights and resources within their non-Islamic systems, but by demonstrating its deep convergence with the best traditions of their people and grafting seamlessly onto their native cultures.
Man, mercifully, was created heedless, and most people, Muslim or otherwise, have no real idea why they believe what they do. Hence Islam grafts seemlessly into the cultures of peoples it convinces, so that it can be transmitted through the generations securely without most people ever having to consciously reflect on the reasons their ancestors embraced it. In fact part of its great genius is its extroardinary capacity to do this in such a bewildering range of cultures. Even original conversions historically came about through embedding a message within a specific cultural worldview. Individual eccentrics might sometimes change their entire weltenschauung in response to intellectual proofs, but societies are converted by messages encoded in their native modes of expression, and sustained in faith by creeds embedded in their native traditions. There is a reason only one Prophet has ever been sent to more than just his own nation.
Hence the wali songo of Java used the native tradition of puppetry to demonstrate the triumph of the One God over their Hindu idols, and brought the local folk heroes into the tale, adapting the epic narratives of that people to demonstrate the futility of polytheism. Hence the Ottomans, on conquering Istanbul, set about building the mosques of Anatolia and Macedonia in the style of the mighty Hagia Sophia of the Christian Byzantines, to show that Islam came to enhance, not destroy, the spiritual style of those lands. Hence in China, the Hui people, who embraced Islam soon after the time of the Prophet(saw), wonderfully synthesised their own culture with Islam without compromising on the religious core: their mosques look like native pagodas, their scholars studied the Wǔ Jīng of Confucius, their people practised Daoist martial arts, and their artists learned to represent Qu’ranic texts in the style of beautiful Chinese calligraphy.
The same thing must happen here. For all their modern anomie, Western nations have their own wonderful traditions, with which their populations still identify, if only as a vague memory. With Christianity dead and no Resurrection forthcoming, with atheism wholly unable to supply any meaningful culture to replace it, Islam is the only thing that can revive the West’s best traditions, and it is only by doing so that it has any hope of converting its populations. It must become “native” and commit itself to a work of retrieval, whereby it will recreate authentic Western cultures which can be carriers of an embedded Islam, adapted in expression to local conditions, and properly instantiated in the communities it needs to convince.
This is the polar opposite of liberal multiculturalism, a bureaucratic torment which extirpates all that is nobly particular in what is native to the West and makes indigenous traditions equal competitors with the stripped-down, trivialised cultures of a hundred other groups, all competing for resources from the State’s grasping hand.
Another reason this is so vitally important is because the other crucial aspect of communal conversions is the straightforward power of conformity. When nations, tribes and ethnicity change their religions they do so as groups, because it is simply more comfortable to believe the same things as your neighbours. For this to happen, though, you have to identify with your Muslim neighbours. Otherwise you react by retreating into your shell—or voting for Donald Trump. No doubt, racism is part of the reason white Westerners don’t identify with their Muslim compatriots in this way, but it is probably not the main reason. A bigger reason is that the public discourse of Western Islam isn’t remotely Islamic, and thus actually reinforces the dynamics of ethnic boundary-drawing by becoming just another interest group within the liberal bureaucracy, and another one of the rainbow of toy religions that all subscribe to the meta-narrative of the overlapping liberal consensus. When this discourse succeeds, the result is that Mr Smith becomes pleasingly well-disposed towards what seems to be the cultural folklore of his nice brown neighbours, but why on Earth would this make him want to convert to it? And when Muslims increase in number and he starts to feel threatened, he might very well change his mind.
Which brings us back to the starting point: the goal of Western Islam should be mass conversions (insha’allah); but insofar as protecting Muslims from oppression is more important, this will also require mass conversions, because any secular “respect” for Islam is inherently, demonstrably, unstable and arbitrary.
Here in England, we have all around us the marks of a unique and precious culture as rich as any other. In every village and market town the most prominent building is a church which it is impossible for any conscious person to enter and not be moved by in some way. In our cathedral cities, in their totalities a unique phenomenon among the world’s peoples, are some of the finest religious buildings ever created by man. In their extroardinarily restrained décor, in the way their generous and pondering architecture creates renders the holiness of their ground contiguous with the ground around them, they evince an intense desire for modesty in expressing even the deepest devotional states and a sense that, really, all ground is holy; that all is a veil for His reality, and religious structures are built to acknowledge this, not to concentrate God’s power through mysterious sacraments—for all that we so sadly embraced the Christian error. The task is urgent, but recognising and building on this genius, and similar beautiful traditions that can no doubt be found elsewhere in the West, is perhaps a place to start.
Wa Allahu alam (And Allah knows best). And I am, of course, most happy to be proved wrong.