Material fallacy

What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish?
T. S. Eliot, The Waste Land.

Marxism is back in fashion. To be more precise, historical materialism is. This is largely anecdotal, but it seems to have become a widely held theory among religious critics of modernity. Like many widely held theories, it is easier to know in one’s gut that it is wrong than to identify precisely where the fallacy lies. Nonetheless, it is fallacious, and this essay will try to explain why.

Historical materialism holds that social conditions are the result of material forces, meaning basically economic interests, though in some versions including the pursuit of political and social power too. Historical change is therefore driven by changes in those forces, with social, religious, or ideological causation playing only a minor role.

Simplistic arguments that this is an “atheistic” doctrine are no good. It is not incompatible with the existence of God and of Revelation. God just has be outside the normal process of history. Normally, humans seek overwhelmingly to pursue their material interests, but every so often God intervenes to provide guidance, which humans either accept, reject, or progressively corrupt (on the basis of their material interests). So far, so good.

The problem is with the anthropology this involves. The religious worldview holds that man is a spiritual animal. He has a faculty which naturally responds to transcendent forces. We might call it a religious faculty, but it is usually taken to include all promptings to disinterested pursuit of values, be they moral, aesthetic, or narrowly “religious”. This faculty does not rely entirely on the provision of external revelation, though without it he may not be able to acquire any certain knowledge. Man’s behaviour is essentially a result of the struggle between the prompting of this faculty and the desires of his lower, animal self.

In the Islamic tradition we call the spiritual faculty the ruh and the lower self the nafs. Christians believe that man is made in God’s image, but tempted by degenerate urges that entered the world with the Fall. In the Dharmic religions, man must escape the cycle of samsara by limiting his physical desires, which trap him in illusion. Plato, too, in his allegory of the charioteer, believed the human drama stemmed from a conflict between spiritual drive and a physical one (these being the two chariot’s two horses).

All societies until the modern age believed in transcendent values. Modernity has bastardised transcendence but the religious faculty cannot be entirely suppressed. People who describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious” acknowledge this fact, and modernity still believes in moral values, which can only be explained as transcendent forces. A secular human rights activist still experiences tension between her moral ideals and her personal inclinations, and how she resolves this tension determines much of her behaviour.

Historical materialism is based on a completely different anthropology. It has to hold that human behaviour, on average, is mainly the result of the animal faculty alone, because it is this that desires material comfort. The religious worldview implies a different account of history. Material forces are important, but the disinterested pursuit of values can also bring about change.

Defenders of materialism can say that God, acting outside the normal rules of history, provides guidance, which humans than interpret in light of their material interests. However, if the defender believes there is an extant religion whose interpretations of revelation are true, this creates a larger anomaly. It requires him to say that God specially intervenes in this one tradition (in contrast to the non-materialist, who can parsimoniously explain its preservation through the normal cause-and-effect relationships God has established).

Moreover, the receipt of revelation is also problematic for the materialist. Why do some humans accept it and some reject it? If this is the result of their material circumstances, can we really condemn the unbelievers, for simply–in a manner of speaking–being in the wrong place at the wrong time? Again, the non-materialist explanation is simpler: the believers believed because they had better character, leading to a choice that merits Divine reward.

Through explaining issues such as these, the religious materialist has to make more and more ad hoc exceptions to their materialism. Spiritual practises are also difficult to make sense of. Surely, the behaviour of saints and mystics is the paradigmatic example of disinterested action, and to explain it materially is silly, insulting, and possibly impious. A worldview supposed to simplify history ends up requiring more and more miracles.

Finally, what can the materialist say of other religions? Their corruption may have been the result of material causes, fine, but don’t they still contain many good and sincere people among their adherents? People can act disinterestedly in pursuit of honest error as well as truth. It seems the materialist has to either deny that significant numbers of them do, or invoke further ad hoc interventions.

Of course, I am speaking in generalities. Historical materialism does not exactly contradict the religious worldview. Rather, it requires belief in a huge number of special interventions to explain the accumulating anomalies. A theory that prides itself as being scientific should surely suspect that it might be falsified. The world of historical materialism is an arid waste land that is metaphysically hostile to Prophecy, religion, and genuine spirituality.

I would also point out that is unproductive. The world is desperately in need of spiritual renewal, but materialism would imply it is not possible. The spectre of Capital (strangely reified) stalks the land, making the triumph of secularism a foregone conclusion. We know from Prophecy that deep decline will take place before the end of times, but we do not know that this age of darkness has to be here and now.

The traditional, pre-Marxist view of history is infinitely more hopeful and inspiring. True ideas, persuasively expressed, have the power to inspire multitudes. Sound arguments really can prick the consciences of those in power and make them do the right thing. We do not need to borrow ideas from a failed revolutionary project completely hostile to our values in order to explain the modern predicament. If we do, we gain only the comfort of the defeatist, and risk condemning he who would escape the waste land before he has even tried.

 

On Englishness (2)

“To move from Christianity to Islam, for an English man or woman, is not the giant leap an outsider might assume. It is simply the logical next step in the epic story of our people.”

Sheikh Timothy Winter, British and Muslim

“An Englishman can visit his pub on the regular, but may not find alcohol there; no matter, he believes in God’s commandments on it. He may visit his Church as he used to, though the main congregation will be on Fridays.”

I have been writing about England’s virtues. Had I wanted, I could also have written about its vices. Our obtuseness, our philistinism, our cold and atomised families. Our acceptance of injustice, our enormous hypocrisy. I do not want to do so because I do not wish to preserve these things. Custom, by default, has the weight of law in shar’iah, but not vicious custom.

But alone among the scriptures of the Abrahamic faiths, the Qu’ran does not mention the Tower of Babel. Man’s division into nations and tribes is not a punishment. We are enjoined to love and to enhance the particularities of our native lands, but also to purify them. Englishness is a constellation of customs, institutions, and traits of character that flourished in a particular spot of dunya, and which, lacking God’s guidance, often veered to excess. Islam offers a middle way between extremes of any trait; and Aristotle, in the Western tradition, also recognised that both too much or too little of a virtue can make it into a vice. What is precious in a specific inheritance is generally the constellation and not the stars within it, some of which may in themselves contradict the Sacred Law. An Islamic England will not, therefore, be unchanged, but it will be enhanced in its distinctive cultural genius.

Exactly what should an English Islam look like? How should the Sunnah be instantiated in our sceptered isle? What of its ‘urf should be preserved, what should be revived, and what should be forgotten? These are difficult questions, complicated even more by the confusion created by the dominance of the global monoculture and its war against the fitrah.

Thankfully we do not have to begin afresh. The British Isles have a tradition of native Muslimness going back to the middle of the 19thcentury, when Darwinism and modern archaeology began to disrupt Christian self-confidence, and after the Trinitarian Act of 1812 removed the legal penalties on non-Christian worship. The outstanding figure in this movement was Sheikh Abdullah Quilliam, a Liverpool solicitor who converted to Islam in the 1880s after a trip to Morocco and, in recognition of his efforts to spread the faith in his native country, was appointed Sheikh-ul-Islam of the British Isles by Abdul Hamid II, the last Ottoman Caliph to have real power.

The Liverpool Muslim Institute which Sheikh Quilliam founded involved close to a thousand people at its peak, and gained enough respect for the city’s mayor to attend their celebration of Eid. As part of their daw’ah at a time when most English men and women were still at least occasional churchgoers, the Institute offered Sunday “services” to the city’s non-Muslim population in competition with the local churches, at which they would explain the message of Islam in a familiar idiom. As part of their missionary effort, the city witnessed a brief flourishing of genuinely indigenous English (and Welsh and Scottish) Islamic forms of music, poetry and art. Notable examples from Quilliam’s time include Yahya Parkinson, whose martial poetry is redolent of Men of Harlech, and Amherst D. Tyssen, who composed Islamic songs in the style of the Anglican Hymnal. This tradition continues today in the poetry of Paul Sutherland, who celebrates the landscape of both England and his native Canada through the medium of his Muslim faith. The lines below are taken from Tyssen’s An Appeal to Christians, and were probably sung during one of the LMI’s missionary services:

And Jesus to his hearers
Prescribed a rule divine,
Call no man Lord, but worship
One God, your Lord and mine.

Then hold his name in honour,
Pursue the path he trod,
Observe his worthy precepts,
But make him not your God;

Nor list to heathen fables
That picture him God’s son,
For God was ne’er begotten,
And He begetteth none.

When He on aught decideth,
He saith – So let it be;
And lo! It is; for all things
Conform to His decree.

Then all good Christian people
Come worship God alone,
And place not Christ nor Mary
As rivals on His throne.

Sheikh Quilliam always claimed to be a patriot and a loyal British subject, but living at the time of the British Empire’s most rapid expansion, he found it increasingly difficult to reconcile his loyalties to Queen and Caliph, and eventually left for Turkey, only to return to England after the Ottoman collapse to live a strange, more private existence under a new name and identity. The Liverpool community floundered in the absence of their charismatic leader, but he remains the spiritual grandfather of English Islam. Since his time, and throughout the twentieth century, a succession of English (or British) men and women have made great contributions to the din, from Marmeduke Pikthall, who translated the meanings of the Qu’ran, through Martin Lings, famous for his biography of the Prophet(saw) and Sheikh Abdulqadir As-Sufi, to Sheikh Winter today.

Almost all these men seem to have felt that being Muslim not only did not contradict their British patriotism but actually strengthened it. This is surely because of the deep areas of convergence which I explored last time. When he was not receiving prizes from Al-Azhar for his English sira, for example, Dr Lings was also a world-renowned scholar of Shakespeare and even published several books in which he argued that his plays amounted to an expression of the sufi path. Today, even His Royal Highness Prince Charles has shown he has a deep and genuine sympathy for the faith, to the point of penning forwards to Dr Lings’s books and serving as the patron of the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies and accompanying the ulama there on foreign trips.

There have been significant converts from other European nations. One thinks of France’s René Guénon or the Italian sufis inspired by Julius Evola. But there is not, I think, the same sense of convergence between Islam and native patriotism.

I have been writing about English culture as if it still exists. It does not. Scruton called his book An Elegy for a reason: he describes a period of cultural destruction in the late twentieth century which he calls the “forbidding of England”.

England has a complex relationship with modernity. On the one hand, it was the first country to become “modern”, so much so that in many ways modernity is really the export of Englishness abroad. Society based on the individual, government based on consent, the impersonal rule of law, a privatised religious faith: all these archetypical features of modernity were native to England, the only difference being that here they actually made sense, because part of a wider culture in which they had evolved over centuries.

Consequently, for a time England weathered modernity very well. One of our greatest achievements in this period was the maintenance of domestic peace and political stability; there has been no fundamental revision to our constitution since 1688. Even industrialisation did not really disrupt our sense of belonging: doubtless it was traumatic for the labourers fleeing rural starvation into the armies of the dark, Satanic mills—in the 1840s, Edwin Chadwick found that life expectancy in the slums of Manchester was nineteen. But culture survived. We never felt truly at home in the city, and the nineteenth century witnessed the strange spectacle of the world’s first industrial nation setting almost all its art and literature in the countryside. Meanwhile, in an effort to re-enchant their world, the Victorian bourgeoisie built themselves little suburban imitations of the gentry’s stately homes, while they built whole districts of their commercial cities in sweeps of fairy-tale neo-gothic, full of crenulated office blocks and turreted warehouses that sicken contemporary onlookers because they try so desperately hard not to be what they are.

As England’s folk traditions disappeared in the grist of the factory floor, they were recovered and preserved for posterity by men like Vaughan Williams, who collected dying folk songs and set them to modern music, at the same time as the expansion of hymn-singing, music hall, and brass bands ensured that some of the old cultural expressions could be preserved in modernity, distributed by the phonograph record and then the wireless in the industrial cities. Civic life eventually came to flourish too, with a network of institutions—the boy scouts, the Rotary Club, the cricket team, associations for every conceivable kind of hobbyist—evoking in their half-contrived rites and rituals a sense of continuity with the rural past which was more than half real. In the mid-twentieth century English schoolchildren played the same outdoor games as they had in the eleventh. Now, of course, they play Angry Birds.

The forbidding of England is a phenomenon of the last few decades, beginning in earnest only in the nineteen sixties. Peter Hitchens is right to call this period a “cultural revolution”: it was the beginning of the greatest, most rapid and most unprecedented change in the way of life of any people ever experienced. The collapse of religious belief, the sexual revolution, the growth of pop culture—all these things transformed every Western country, not just England, and they are now being rapidly exported to the rest of the world through accelerating globalisation.

But in England their effect was qualitatively different. Our identity as denizens of an enchanted land was dependent upon the feeling that it was enchanted. The revolution destroyed that feeling because it destroyed the beliefs, customs, and moral code that sustained it. It destroyed the Anglican Church, which baptised over half the nation’s new-borns in 1960 and claims barely ten percent of them now. It destroyed our ethic of restraint and self-control. It destroyed our customs and institutions of leisure and replaced them with the habit of gawping at screens.

At the same time, it was accompanied by two phenomena that were peculiarly English: an upheaval in the physical environment and a deliberate assault on historical consciousness. Until the ‘sixties England had resisted the excesses of modernism in architecture, and had refused to adopt the utopian experiments of the likes of Le Corbusier. Since town councils started re-housing slum dwellers in the late 19th century, council houses had been imitations of the homes of the middle class, suburban villas in miniature, complete with bay windows and tidy front lawns. Suddenly, the last of England’s slum dwellers found themselves in giant towers of concrete, blasphemously gesturing at the heavens, trapped in box-like apartments where the only neighbours were the people on television. A people who define themselves through privacy and rootedness cannot live in such conditions and remain themselves.

Simultaneously, the countryside was transformed through a wave of agribusiness, motorway-building, and suburbanisation. The great industrial cities were tight and compact and did limited damage to the rest of the country, for all their filth and squalor, but until this time we could live in them while still pining for the familiar old pattern of the countryside that was our spiritual home. When the landscape of that countryside was transformed beyond recognition this was no longer possible and we began to despair. And as if to add Divine insult to this injury, from 1967 Dutch Elm disease swept the country, all but wiping out the giant guardians of England, often growing to over a hundred and fifty feet, so prominent in the landscapes of Constable and Turner, towering over our churches and houses like haggard soldiers, whose disappearance left the landscape unprotected and spiritually flat.

And as their world was being turned into a concrete playground, the English found that even their memories were under attack. At the exact moment that the family was breaking down, that rebellious youth cultures were breaking out, that the rising generation began to adopt more of their values from their peers than from their elders, England’s schools ceased to teach its young about its culture. Even today, French schoolchildren are expected to be able to quote from an established literary canon in their exams and are taught a sweeping narrative of their country’s history designed to instil pride and confidence. To some extent, the other countries of Great Britain also still promote this form of patriotism, through, for instance, the celebration of Burns Night or the invocation of the alleged heroism of William Wallace. England has no equivalents with any hold on the national consciousness. This is the result of choices made quite deliberately.

In 1960, O-level exams in English literature (the equivalent of today’s GCSEs) involved the study of a list of canonical writers, from Chaucer, through Spencer, Milton, and Swift to Wordsworth, Dickens, Arnold, and Kipling; whilst history was a (not uncritical) narrative arc from Anglo-Saxon settlement to the First World War via Agincourt, Plassey and Waterloo. Within a few years, the authorities, wracked by anxiety about identity in the wake of Imperial collapse and trying to accommodate new arrivals from former colonies with their own cultural heritage, dropped all this and replaced it with a course in multicultural citizenship. Today children learn no history to speak of. They might analyse in minute detail the causes of some specific development in the Civil War, and probably know a lot of random biographical facts about Hitler or Martin Luther King, but for the most part, the new history, which focusses on so-called skills that children will only use if they choose to become historians, goes completely over their heads and leaves them with no story to make sense of whom they are.

The trashing of England’s literature is even more tragic. GCSE candidates study one play of Shakespeare and are lucky to even read all of it, while the rest of the course is a dreary dissection of Of Mice and Men and possibly another short novella, and the dredging up of “personal responses” to an anthology of seemingly randomly selected poetry, most of it subversive, postmodernist drivel written by the sort of fake intellectual who thinks that neglecting to use punctuation is a challenging metaphysical statement.

Wisdom, as the Prophet(saw) said, is the lost property of the believer; and the English have lost a treasure-house of wisdom in their literary heritage. William Blake, for instance, who penned Jerusalem, the closest thing England has to a national anthem, rejected Trinitarian obfuscation in favour of pure monotheism and consequently expressed a moral vision very close to that of Islam. And this is to say nothing of the profundity of Shakespeare, who is plausibly the greatest English-language articulator of the inner realities of the din that we will see. As Hitchens sums up this work of destruction, “a culture that in living memory still read The Pilgrim’s Progress and readily recognized quotations from Isaiah now watches Sex in the City and thinks Vanity Fair is a magazine.”

Last glimpses of this culture can still be seen at eight o’clock on a Sunday morning in a village or market town. In the ancient parish church, a dozen or so octogenarians, stiff and formally dressed, will assemble to celebrate Holy Communion according to the rites of the Book of Common Prayer, in a cold stone house whose walls exude English modesty, with no music and no jolly modern hymns, with only the occasional cough interrupting the haunting, melodious liturgy of Thomas Cranmer. This is what England must have been like: but it is extinct.

Thus, a great culture and a great country was trashed, sold off, and concreted over. All the facets of this revolution taken together amount, for Scruton, to the Forbidding of England: the loss, never to be regained, of an enchanted home, of those “happy highways where I went / and cannot come again” as Housman put it. It is not, therefore, for nothing that Hitchens can write, with justice, not just of England’s decline but of its abolition.

And yet. Though England may be extinct as a culture, the English still exist as a people. Hitchens did not think it would be so. Seeing the revolution ultimately as a political project, he foresaw the next stage being England’s final dismembering and carving up into administrative regions of the European super-state, shortly antecedent to the abolition of the monarchy and the smashing of the altars. He has so far been wrong.

In the referendum on leaving the European Union, Britain (really, England: Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain) was faced with a choice about whether it wished to continue to exist as a people. The EU is a bureaucratic, Bonapartist institution based wholly on the Continental model of civil law and completely alien to England’s legal and political traditions. It is also wholly committed to the never-ending process of “ever closer union” and the final merging of European nations into a single repugnant super-nation. It does not aim in doing this to transcend the nation-state, a modern political contingency that is an improper object of a Muslim’s patriotism; merely to recreate it on a larger scale and a more arid and artificial basis. If England had voted to remain it would have been our end as a people and a nation. Instead, in the face of the almost unanimous advice of our supposed betters, of legions of technocratic “experts”, of armies of economists, econometricians and professional politicians, we voted to be a nation and not an aggregation of cheap labour.

So if England was an enchanted land, we might say that though it has been destroyed, the English have not. Critics of so-called “nationalism” claim that nations are invented by the states they claim to represent. There is some truth in this; certainly, the idea of a British people seems to have been partly constructed after the Act of Union with Scotland, and involved the expropriation of the culturally dissident crofters of the Scottish highlands after they revolted against our Protestant constitutional monarchy in 1745. England is obviously not a modern invention, however: the concept was already a basis for governance from the earliest period of political unification in the 10th century; consequently, the Anglo-Saxon historian Nicholas Higham has even claimed England could somewhat plausibly be considered a nation-state at this time. And far from being sustained in existence by the British state, that state has actually been considerably hostile to specifically English patriotism over the last few decades, especially under Labour governments. So what we are dealing with is a reality, an authentic instance of the nations and tribes into which man has been divided by God.

And the English have one enormous strength. Other Western nations base their identity either on ethnicity—as in most of Eastern Europe—on Christianity, or on secular liberalism, as in America and to some extent France. English identity is based on none of these things: we are simply the people who identify with the memory of our once-enchanted land; a community grounded in residence, not race or creed. Becoming Muslim will therefore not change this identity. Whereas it must in a nation whose very being consists in rejecting Islam, as in constitutionally Christian or liberal societies, and generally, too, in an ethnic nation. In Germany, for instance, Turkish migrant communities were expected to eventually return home until the middle noughties. Consequently the idea of being a fully German Muslim is still very difficult for the natives to comprehend. State-led promotion of a multicultural identity is therefore provoking huge resistance because it so obviously makes no sense: it seems to deny the distinctive existence of the group who until yesterday defined the German nation.

This is why odious movements like Generation Identity seem to be flourishing on the European Continent but are not doing so in Britain. The Alternative für Deutschland, which came third in the last Federal election, claimed in 2016 that “Islam…is not compatible with the constitution” and calls for bans on burkhas and minarets. Similar movements thrive in Norway and Denmark, while Geert Wilders’s Partij voor de Vrijheid declares that it will fight the “growing influence of Islam in Dutch society”, inspired by the memory of Pym Fortuyn, murdered by a left-wing activist in 2002 and the grandfather of a specifically homosexual strain of anti-Islamism, who argued that our religion must pass through the “laundromats” of Reformation and Enlightenment before it will be compatible with the liberal, fun-loving Netherlands.

This kind of open hostility is not, thank God, anywhere near as prominent among serious movements in the UK. Of course prejudice and hostility exist, but our own version of the recent populist uprising, the bucolic UKIP, largely stuck to the rhetoric of a banal civic nationalism. In Europe, a multiculturalist political elite utters platitudes about tolerance and diversity that make no sense to peoples who define themselves in opposition to Islam; in Britain, this tension does not exist, and polling evidence also suggests that popular hostility to Islam is far less intense. It is, at any rate, less bound up with the state: it is impossible to imagine the vicar’s daughter Theresa May telling Muslims to rewrite the Qu’ran as France’s former President Sarkozy recently did.

The English, therefore, have the opportunity to become a Muslim nation while still remaining themselves, in a way that other Western countries perhaps do not.

And we will become a Muslim nation—or we will perish. All particular communities will eventually perish in the monoculture beneath the weight of global capital and communications, and sink giggling into the sea in fits of fornication. Ultimately, of course, unless stopped, the monoculture will abolish humans altogether: its scientists are well on the way to working out how to replace us with an upgraded, more compliant model.

If I am right, we English still have a better chance of combining orthodox Islam with genuine indigeneity than the other parts of the West.  In doing this we have, already, a trail blazed for us in the work of Sheikh Quilliam and his successors. Our people are of course still prejudiced. But they will be cured of this only by this indigenisation of Islam; for although they are alienated from their heritage, they still define themselves in terms of its memory—the memory of their land of lost content.

Let us pray that Allah(swt) makes that land once again the home of angels as well as Angles.

Wa allahu alam.

Why Islam is True (2)

Secondary evidence for Islam

 

In January’s essay on Why Islam is True, I explained my understanding of what we might call the primary evidence for its truth: the existence of God and his unity and simplicity, the possibility of Prophethood, and the divine origins of the Qu’ran. Here I will try to explain secondary evidence, points which do not, even if correct, make it certain that Islam is true, but make it substantially more probable.

 

As all the points I will discuss here appeal to a notion of what a true religion should look like, I will combine my analysis of Islam’s superiority with discussion of this question.

 

The first piece of evidence is that Islam has not changed over time. A true religion should have  teachings that are unchanged since its inception. This is because a revealed religion claims to be based upon a message from God, who does not change, and if it deviates from the original message it becomes false. God might, of course, tell us that he will update the message in the future, but the criterion then just applies to whatever is the latest message.

The Church has used the notion of the Holy Spirit to justify justify changing its teachings, claiming that God is imminent within the institution and guiding it ever closer to the truth. However, this can’t explain either why it didn’t even reach the core doctrines of what we now call Christianity for three hundred years after Jesus’s(pbuh) death or why it initially claimed that the Spirit would actually prevent it from changing its mind. Moreover, reforms like those of Vatican II were blatantly following secular values.

 

Also, the Holy Spirit does not exist because the doctrine of the Trinity is false. Dr Brian Leftow at Cambridge, one of Christianity’s most eminent theologians, has spent over a decade trying to prove that the doctrine of the Trinity is internally coherent and has admitted that so far it has been a failure. After two thousand years, with all the resources of modern logic, Christianity can’t even prove that its basic conception of God is logically possible, let alone true. So we should probably forget about it.

 

Fragments of the Qu’ran have been carbon-dated at the University of Birmingham to within the lifetime of Muhammad(pbuh), and even before this, hardly any Western scholars seriously doubted that the Qu’ran we have now is the version assembled by Uthman in 651AD. The few who did, like Patricia Crone, have mostly retracted their theories.

 

Uthman’s manuscript was assembled from the oral traditions of those who had heard Muhammad’s(pbuh) recitation of the Qu’ran, each of whom had to provide two witnesses for their verses. Western scholars have only been able to doubt the validity of this guarantee by assuming that his Companions were basically dishonest and cynical, an arbitrary supposition that goes against everything else we know about their lives. Even the modern critical method, applied properly and without prejudice, would find that the Qu’ran is unchanged.

The same goes for the Muhammad’s(pbuh) sayings, the hadith, from which most of Islam is derived, which were meticulously investigated by Islamic scholars and graded according to the reliability of the people who transmitted them, using normal (and very exacting) standards of honesty and intellectual competence. One of the greatest hadith collectors, Ahmad ibn Hanbal, is once supposed to have traveled from one end of the Arabian peninsular to the other in search of a single hadith. Seeing the transmitter trick his donkey into obeying him, he decided immediately that this treachery undermined his trustworthiness, turned on his heels, and left.

 

Western scholars who criticised the hadith collections either knew nothing about the subject, or, once scholarship improved, used completely illogical strategies to undermine them. Some used a cynical understanding of human nature to convict transmitters of forgery, with Joseph Schacht notably assuming that any common link in the transmission of a hadith through multiple chains must have been the person who forged it. As Dr Jonathan Brown has shown, this is all very well if you believe all humans are naturally liars, despite all the evidence to the contrary in the case of the transmitters of (most) of the hadith that Islamic scholars assembled over centuries; but it suffers from the same problem of all such ridiculous, simplistic theories of human nature, like classical Marxism. All humans are basically machines, their adherents, proclaim, motivated only by this or that and not by truth or righteousness—except I, exalted be my genius, who truthfully discerns this and judges them. Well, I wish the best of luck to people who can stomach this approach.

The other strategy they used was to question the content of the hadith. If they report miracles or other seemingly unlikely events, Western scholars claimed they can’t be true, no matter how reliable their narrators. This approach defeats the entire point of religion. If God exists—and He does—He can do anything, and so can His messengers if He lets them. So evaluating the content of hadith in this way only makes sense if you presuppose that Islam is false, and thus is completely useless as a criticism of it.

 

So Islam has an unchanged scripture and unchanged sources of authority. Of course, some of its moral and spiritual teachings have varied between time and place, but the unchanged texts give us constant standards of orthodoxy. There are also constant methods of interpretation. The four madhabs, or schools of jurisprudence, have not altered their methodology in the twelve-hundred odd years since their codification. Four schools exist, and even within them they allow different opinions on many subjects, because some of Islam’s texts are genuinely ambiguous, so multiple equally valid interpretations are often possible. But there are very strict limits to this, established through application of rigorous, scientific study of Arabic grammar, logic, and rhetoric, to make sure reason operates only within the boundaries of revelation. Sects that deviate from this, like the so-called Wahabbis, are easily identified and rejected by mainstream scholars.

And consequently basic fundamentals of the religion are exactly the same as they were in the time of Muhammad(pbuh). The method of prayer, the five pillars, and the essential moral commandments have not changed one iota in fourteen-hundred years, and they obviously come from an unchanged scripture.

This is not true of other religions. As I mentioned earlier, the Catholic Church has constantly changed its teachings over its history, preserving the fiction of “unchanging doctrine” only through slight of hand, and has now adapted most of its values to secular modernity. How many “conservative” Catholics now believe that error has no rights, which was the official teaching of their Church in the nineteen-fifties? The point hardly needs to be made about liberal Protestants, whilst “conservative” evangelicals like America’s Christian Right want, at most, to selectively restore parts of the status quo of around nineteen-sixty, minus the overt racialism, and actually see secular ideas like liberal democracy as sacred. The Orthodox churches, though retaining a more ancient liturgy, were just as mired in the theological controversies of the first five Christian centuries and have also now changed their historic teaching on matters such as the morality of contraception, divorce, and the perpetual virginity of Mary. Similarly, in the Jewish tradition, all groups aside from the “ultra-orthodox” haredi consciously interpret religious law in light of modernity, even if they retain orthodox beliefs about the Torah’s ultimate origins. This approach is rare and marginal in Islam.

 

Secondly, Islam is untainted by the modern world. The so-called Enlightenment was a giant movement away from understanding God to manipulating His creation, and involved a disastrous attempt to derive secular values from unaided reason. It destroyed the Christian tradition in the West and the traditions of most of the societies the secular West colonised and put nothing substantial in their place. No uncontroversial moral conclusions were reached because none can be reached without God; we have never been more morally ignorant, to the point where most Westerners believe that morality is subjective, putting them one stop away from total nihilism. The Enlightenment was wrong: its premises are false. Adapting religion to them is therefore also wrong, and will render an adapted religion equally false.

 

We don’t need to prove how Christianity is compromised by the Enlightenment. Consider some of the world’s other traditions. In China, “neo-Confucian” scholars claim to be continuing an indigenous tradition but their political theory, based largely around the idea of a “fiduciary community”, is basically the secular, Western theory we call “communitarianism”, and consciously draws on Enlightenment methods of analysis. There are even neo-Confucians who develop complex communitarian arguments for “homosexual” “marriage”, but the idea that Confucius would have endorsed this is absolutely deranged. Buddhism, similarly, has compromised much of its historic integrity. Western “buddhism” is obviously a joke, but even in the East, Tibetan lamas teach ignorant foreign seekers advanced yogic practices previously accessible only after years of spiritual training.

 

Thirdly, Islam is vibrant and alive. While Christianity evaporates in the West, violent atheism remains state orthodoxy in China, and most of the rest of the world muddles along by retaining some kind of superficial commitment but adapting its important beliefs to the demands of modernity, only in the Islamic world is serious, orthodox piety still normative.

 

Islam is the world’s only complete din, a total, fully-described religious way of life with its own source of authority, that can in any way compete with secular modernity. The pre-colonial traditions of America have been almost completely destroyed. Native African religions are rarely practiced in a manner uninfluenced by Islam or Christianity. Some Hindu traditions have retained genuinely ancient worldviews and practices largely intact, but most do not offer a complete way of life, and are part of a hugely fragmented religious system, and the ruling BJP’s Hindutva ideology is utterly modernist. China’s Daoist and Confucian traditions are almost dead as lived systems, the former retaining only some fading practices in rural areas, largely stripped of their original meaning-giving context, and the latter only the nominal adherence of certain scholarly and political elites. In a very real sense Islam is therefore the only alternative to modernity and secularism.

 

This is important evidence for its truth because a good and loving God would not allow a true religion to go extinct. God promises in the Qu’ran to preserve the revelation for humanity; if other religions claim similar promises, they cannot claim they have been fulfilled.

 

Fourth, Islam is the din-al-fitr, the religion of primordial human nature. It did not begin with Muhammad(pbuh) but with the first human, Adam(pbuh). There is nothing more basic to humanity than the prostration of the Islamic prayer, which involves the entire mind and body in the affirmation of the foundation of all religious and spiritual life, the sense of dependence on something that transcends the physical universe. Equally, there is no better antidote to the baffling world of electric light and heat than the compulsory timing of the prayer, tracking the movement of the sun’s disc across the sky. It forces you to connect with the rhythm that is supposed to govern our lives, awareness of which is itself a form of ibada or worship. In this and other ways Islam fulfills the intimation, common to every single human being, for a way of life that is oriented to the transcendent, and does so in a way that is complete, systematic, strict but not rigid, and completely rationally satisfying.

 

Finally, and related to this last point, Islam’s moral system is evidence for its truth. Secular moral philosophers use a method called “reflective equilibrium”, in which they weigh general and specific intuitive judgments against each other until they reach a consistent overall system. A true equilibrium, however, would accord different weightings to moral intuitions depending on how universally they are shared. The people who do moral professional moral philosophy are almost all WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich, and Democratic) and therefore have totally different intuitions to most humans, especially if you count the ones who are already dead, i.e. most of us. If we do reflective equilibrium properly we will get to a moral system very similar to that of Islam. As Jonathan Haidt has shown, authority, loyalty, and purity are as integral to moral psychology as the fairness, freedom, and prevention of harm valued by WEIRDos.

 

Islam strikes the perfect balance between these values. It is neither hedonistic nor repressive, neither enjoining celibacy and asceticism nor the wanton enjoyment of the flesh at the cost of family, health and sanity. It recognises the equality of all individual souls before God while supporting the authority of the righteous and knowledgeable among us, and acceptance of the complimentary roles of the sexes and of a society’s different social classes and stations. It commands us to fight oppression, cruelty and the worship of worldly power wherever we find it while also forbidding the sowing of discord and sedition against any reasonably just ruler. It makes salvation a matter between the free individual and his Lord but forbids him from neglecting his duties to others. It is neither belligerent nor pacifistic. It is universal but particular, uniting all nations and tribes with a single direction of prayer while elevating their local customs to the status of sacred law. It tells us firmly that we must live in the world but not for it.

 

It is, in short, the middle way between our competing moral intimations, and at a deeper level the middle way between pantheism, which sees God everywhere, and atheism, for which He is nowhere.

 

—-

 

All these are among God’s signs and among the ways He calls us to Islam. All are evidence for its invincible truth. If I have not proved this here, it is partly due to my own ignorance and partly because this world was made for us as a test, in which we must use our own intellects and our other faculties to come into God’s presence, and seek his guidance for ourselves, insha’allah.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On an Islamic West

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.

 

 

Why Islam is True

Please note that I have conducted only the most superficial study of Islam and am therefore obviously unable to offer any kind of authoritative comment on it or the evidence for its truth. However, since–having recently converted–setting out my understanding might be of some help to others who are as uncertain about the purpose of life as I was, by directing them to minds far greater than my own, and since it will clarify and focus the future of this blog, I have done so below.

Firstly, belief in the single, unitary God of the Abrahamic tradition is by far the most rational worldview.

Arguments for and against God abound in post-Christian Western philosophy, but few people are swayed one way or the other by pure ratiocination. The argument that most avoids the pitfall of supporting only some “God of the gaps”, a useful explanation until further notice, is called the kalam cosmological argument (kalam is in fact an Islamic term roughly meaning “theology” but most of its Western proponents are Christians).

This states that God is the only explanation for why anything in the universe exists at all. Everything is the universe exists contingently, i.e. it could possibly not exist. You can explain one contingent thing with another but eventually you reach an infinite regress – what was the “first cause”? There are three options: the universe is not actually contingent (but necessary, i.e. it has to exist), it just exists for no reason at all, or it was caused by something outside the universe that is necessary.

The first option doesn’t fit with science – we know that the basic structure of the universe is contingent because the particles and forces that make it up don’t have to exist. The second is arbitrary – we don’t accept this idea in the ordinary course of our lives; if we did we could hardly live at all, so why make special pleading for the universe? Only the third is reasonable, because it renders the universe explicable.

This is not a cast-iron proof. If it were, we wouldn’t have any real freedom to believe or not to do so, which would make life rather meaningless. Whether it proves that belief in God is rational depends on what philosophers call your “prior commitments”. If you think it’s already very likely that the universe just exists for no reason at all you won’t be convinced; if you think it’s fairly likely it has a reason for its existence, in the same way everything else seems to, you will. Hence belief is a choice, but reason can show that it is an extremely good choice.

It also gets us very close, already, to the Islamic idea of God. Allah (Arabic for God) is utterly transcendent (outside the universe) and exists necessarily by His nature (i.e. He could not fail to exist). Crucially, he is also perfectly unified: if any other transcendent being existed, it would either have power over God (meaning God is not fully necessary, i.e. not God), God would have power over it (so it would not be God), or both or neither would have power over the other (so neither would be God!)

And that is pretty much sufficient. Different schools of thought have different opinions, but in general in Islam, there is not much else you can affirm about God until He reveals His nature to you (e.g. through speech that can be transcribed as a holy book).

Here we have one of the great advantages that Islam has over all other religions. Not only is belief in a single God so deeply logical, but it avoids all the improbable complications other faiths have added. Unlike in Christianity, God did not become a man; since He is transcendent and necessary, the idea makes no sense at all. Jesus was a prophet, given a sacred mission to teach God’s word, but he was not the “son of God” and there is no “Holy Trinity”.

Historically, most of Christianity was based on the theology of Augustine of Hippo. Because of Adam’s sin in eating the forbidden apple, thought Augustine, all humans following him were corrupted by nature, and doomed to Hell by default. The only way to make up for our original sin was for God to become a man and die in agony, and therefore the only way to be forgiven is to accept this sacrifice. Consequently, a baby who died before being christened would–deservedly!–suffer in the fires of Hell.

Original sin offends against the most basic idea of ethics, that it is only just to punish someone for something they actually did. Islam, on the other hand, affirms that you can only be punished for sins you yourself committed. So, logically and ethically, it fits far better with common sense than Christianity. It seems very likely that one of the main reasons Christianity is declining so fast in its former strongholds is exactly this — once we lose the cultural attachment the implausible doctrines are simply unappealing.

We could make similar arguments regarding other religions too. For example, Hindu traditions feature a multiplicity of Gods and Goddesses who kill, eat, and become “incarnate” as one another, and almost all such traditions fall well short of rational monotheism.

This brings us on to Islam’s second great advantage: the historical evidence for Muhammad(pbuh) being a Prophet (i.e. receiving a message from God) versus the doubtful evidence for other religions’ historical claims. Qur’anic verses have been carbon-dated, with about 95% certainty, to within the lifetime of Muhammad(pbuh), by secular archaeologists with no vested interest in the subject.

It could have been written by some other of his contemporaries, but this would go against everything we know about the period, from both secular and religious sources. So if Muhammad(pbuh) (who as is widely known was illiterate) did produce this book, we have a simple question as to its origins. That he claimed to have received a message from God is as well established as anything else in the history of the period, not only from the hadith (sayings of Muhammad(pbuh)) collections that were painstakingly built up by Islamic historians but also from all the available records from Muslim and non-Muslim observers of events.

Since we have no reason to doubt that he claimed to be a Prophet, there are three possibilities. Either he was a liar, he was insane, or he really was one. All the available evidence shows that the first two are unlikely. Before announcing his Revelation, he was known to his community as as-Sadîq, “the trustworthy”. Even his most bitter opponents like Abū Lahab did not deny this reputation.

Nor did he ever exhibit any kind of loss of his rational faculties, but on the contrary exhibited consistently excellent judgement in his twenty-three year career as a religious leader and statesman. All his contemporaries reported that he behaved in a perfectly balanced way as a father, husband, friend, teacher, and leader and never exhibited any evidence of mental disturbance.

Does this prove he was a genuine Prophet? Again, it is not a cast iron proof. That would render faith meaningless; it depends on your prior commitments. If you already think God exists and that it’s pretty likely he would try to communicate with humanity, it surely does; if you’re certain He does not, logically his alleged messengers must have been insane or lying. But it certainly establishes, combined with the evidence for God, that it is unreasonable not to believe that he was genuine.

The Bible, on the other hand, has been shown in the last two centuries not to have the origins claimed for it. It is widely known, and accepted by Christian experts, that most of the books of the New Testament were not written by the people whose names they have been given, and that all of the surviving Gospels were written long after Jesus’s life by people we know nothing about. This is set out in a series of books by Bart Ehrman, but it is not original research and is completely accepted by leading Christian thinkers like Alastair McGrath. So we don’t have in Christianity a reliable record of what Jesus actually taught.

And other religions have the same problem. We can probably never know the original message of the Hindu Vedas because they are composed of so many layers and have been revised so many times over the millennia. While in the Chinese traditions, most of the words ascribed to Confucius in the surviving texts are not old enough to be his, and books were many times moved in and out of the official collections to suit political agendas with the changing of the dynasties.

There are other reasons that Islam is compelling, but most of them relate to the insanity of the modern age and will not be persuasive if you do not already have a certain detachment from it. So I’ll finish here with this summary of my reasons for converting, and what I think is at least a skeleton of a rationally compelling case for doing so.