The paradox of autonomy

Nowhere is the modern world’s preference for form over content more apparent than its obsession with “freedom”, its belief that the value in human action resides choice rather than the things that we choose. This belief is used to justify all manner of aberrations that any sane society would immediately identify as perverse and which revolt most of us even now. It underlies the ferocious zeal of the feminists, the homosexualists, the “transgender” lobby and almost every movement that adheres to the cultural zeitgeist.

The great “liberations” of the last sixty years were supposed to be victories for individualism, a triumph of free, heroic men and women over the stagnant, tie-wearing conformity of bourgeois society. Consequently they went in hand-in-hand with a total upheaval in dress and manners. In reality, however, they have achieved the complete opposite.

Reading any of the literature produced before the middle of the twentieth century, it is very apparent that we could then imagine a far wider range of human types than we can now. Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast is a vivid tapestry of human weirdness, from the schoolmaster Deadyawn, so bone idle that he is wheeled around in a special high-chair, to the morbidly obese, viciously sadistic chef Swelter. Dickens’s characters are similar does but less grotesquely Gothic, whilst Herman Hesse’s “steppenwolf” wanders the streets of Berlin in a state of agonised alienation we would now treat with citalopram.

Orwell, in his journal of slum life in Paris, relates the story of Roucolle the miser, a near-millionaire who wore sack trousers, ate tinned cat food, and finally died of a stroke after being cheated of six thousand francs. Exaggerated or not, no one could invent or believe this now. People are more similar than ever in their tastes, habits, attitudes and beliefs. If our external behaviour is evidence, our inner lives seem to be converging more and more into the same shape.

Allan Bloom, writing in the late 1980s, described the new conformity wonderfully (though we should add religion to literary genius as a source of awareness of diversity of character):

The psychological obtuseness of our students is appalling, because they have only pop psychology to tell them what people are like, and the range of their motives. As the awareness that we owed almost exclusively to literary genius falters, people become more alike, for want of knowing they can be otherwise. What poor substitutes for real diversity are the wild rainbows of dyed hair and other external differences that tell the observer nothing of what is inside.

The student revolutionaries of ‘sixty-eight were deeply influenced by thinkers like Marcuse, Althusser and Horkheimer, who believed that capitalism was repressing humanity’s higher aspirations, degrading our culture and leaving us hollowed out, “one-dimensional” men and women incapable of critical thought. The sexual freedom the new movements demanded in the ‘sixties was supposed to be part of a wider restoration of human wholeness, which would also challenge capitalism, imperialism and inauthentic modern culture. Sexual repression was identified as the most pressing site on which to fight modernity’s stunting of human potential.

Their revolution succeeded in its goal of destroying bourgeois morality but little of the wider transformation they desired has occurred. In part, this was because capitalists quickly realised that bourgeois morality was no longer really necessary for bourgeois society, and single women, liberated into the offices of bloated multinational megacorps, actually made excellent employees. However, it was also to do with the new culture that liberation created.

Charles Taylor describes the shift as one from an “age of mobilisation”, in which our pre-reflective idea of humanity was centred on self-discipline, to an “age of authenticity”, where it is centred on self-expression. The problem with self-expression as a cultural ideal is that it has no content. I am to express my “self”, but which of the thoughts that flicker through my consciousness are important to it? And since my actions can obviously effect the thoughts I will have in the future, which of them should I seek to encourage and which should I seek to suppress? Every day we are faced with a myriad of choices that our very thin code of public morality, which amounts to little more than refraining from directly harming others, can give us no guidance in.

Hedonism has not filled this gap. The sexual revolution has not led to a society that values sex. Only about 3% of British adults identified sex as the most important part of a romantic relationship in 2016. The “hook-up culture” of our university campuses actually leads to young people having much less frequent sex than those in stable relationships.

Driven by the desire to express one’s authentic self, but with no guidance in how to identify or to form it, the only feasible way to live is to conform to whatever everyone else happens to be doing, because it is the only way to supply our dominant ideal with content. Bloom’s students were the first generation to have no memory of the old culture. What did they do with the freedom their parents only dreamt of? They certainly didn’t live lives of unbridled pleasure-seeking. They chilled out, went with the flow, died their hair green and expressed – what? We still don’t have an answer.

 

On Englishness (part 1)

“And did the Countenance Divine shine forth upon our clouded hills?”

William Blake, Jerusalem
“For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”

King James Bible, Mark 8:36

The Venerable Bede, England’s first native historian, records that Pope Gregory I, on seeing a group of fair-haired Anglian children at Rome’s slave market, exclaimed that they were “non Angli, sed Angeli!” (“Not Angles, but Angels!”) and was subsequently inspired to convert their homeland to Christianity.

If Gregory imagined that their country was a place where the Divine Countenance, or at least His incorporeal servants, were especially proximate, he was echoing a sentiment of the English themselves throughout their history. To be more precise, the English did not feel they were especially close to God, but that they lived in a place which was an especially direct means of coming into His presence. In other words, they felt that England was a land especially enchanted.

Not, however, that you would know it today. A land of trash and garbage, filthy from each weekend’s debauchery, unsafe after dark for half its residents; its children abandoned, murdered in the womb, or drugged into compliance in schools whose teachers can be sacked for ignoring their “gender identity”; its elderly abandoned in authoritarian Care Homes to slowly die of loneliness; its popular culture pure junk and its high culture pure subversion; its religion an empty relic, its institutions fossils; its people haunting soulless streets and byways owned by someone else as they stare at the latest gimmick of the globalist entertainment industry on their hand-held computers, it sits festering on the edge of Europe like an open sore.

Of course most of this is nothing special. Half the world is the same and the other half is quickly catching up. England does, though, have the distinction of almost the world’s highest rate of family breakdown, a culture of binge-drinking and football hooliganism that earn us the deserved contempt of the otherwise similarly degenerate nations on the European continent, and an unparalleled absence of national purpose. The citizens of other Western nations can at least offer a serious answer to the question of who they are and what they stand for. All we can think of to distinguish us are trivialities like the habit of complaining about the weather. And that is what our country is: trivial.

 

Within living memory, things were completely different. The oldest generation remember an utterly different, now unimaginable, country with plays and films strictly censored, religion respected, buggery illegal, immigrants rare, deference, temperance hotels, schoolmasters who wore gowns, and people with hot water bottles instead of sex lives. On the whole, it was a better country. It was harsh and repressive but it upheld normal, healthy human values like faith, chastity, family, loyalty, and self-control. It still had living traditions, a real culture, and a way of life, in sum, much closer to the human fitrah.

It was also a country which, in the modern period, committed great crimes. I will not discuss this here. My excuse is two-fold: first, that so much has been written about it elsewhere, by people far more knowledgeable than myself; second, that it is not relevant to my aim in this essay. That is to explore what an Islamic England might look like, and to examine points of convergence with Islam in our national tradition and how they might be built on. I will therefore largely stick to our virtues, for so much has already been written about our vices. Suffice it to say about Empire that other countries have committed worse crimes, and that they too have cultures worth preserving. That Germany produced the Nazis does not mean that Germanness should be abolished: it means it should be purified, God willing, by the Divine filter that is the shariah. The same goes for England.

—-

The notion of England as an enchanted land is the central theme of Sir Roger Scruton’s England: An Elegy, by far the most thoughtful attempt to understand a culture that was extinguished within the writer’s lifetime. This notion provides the linchpin of a people’s self-understanding and explains the institutions and customs that they built. I will consider a few of these here and show the virtues which they share with Islam, before returning to the concept of the enchanted land to consider how it might affect our future.

First, England was a land of freedom. This is a commonplace, in fact a cliché. It would be better to say that it was a land of individualism. The freedoms which we prize today—to fornicate, to abandon our families, to behave indecently—have nothing to do with it. I won’t recount the tedious magna carta mythology of the nineteenth century here. It is significant, though, that the Anglo-Saxons already seem to have practiced, in common with other areas of North-West Europe, the system of manorialism, whereby serfs would work a piece of land individually assigned by the manor’s lord. This led to weak extended families and spending a lot of time with relative strangers. Partly as a result, tribalism seems to have been replaced by impersonal law as the basis of justice as early as the tenth century reign of Aethelstan.

From very early on, England was therefore a society whose basic unit was the individual rather than the family, tribe, or clan. This had enormous virtues. It produced a people given to innovation, scepticism, and personal initiative, and it explains much of the rest of our national character. The Qu’ran tells us that no bearer of burdens shall bear the burden of another (35:18), and we know that the eternal drama of souls that is the reality of human existence knows no tribe or nation. We also know that the individual soul is tested through its obligations to its family and neighbours, but nothing in English society rejected this. It was a society that believed in God and in a moral law: it differed from less individualistic cultures in that it more clearly affirmed that the duty of obedience has only the individual as its fundamental subject. This in no way weakens the duty.

English individualism was really a noble ideal: that a man should obey the moral law out of real choice and knowledge, not blind conformity to convention or the wishes of others. This is the basic message of Shakespeare, whose characters are individuals par excellence. “This above all: to thine own self be true” says Polonius to Laertes; but he does not mean the nafs but the ruh and its sense of God and justice. Shakespeare’s heroes pray and ponder, fear God, believe in the Hereafter, and seek purity and forgiveness; but they do all this as individuals, thinking for themselves and aspiring to be independent of others’ good wishes. It is perhaps the Bard’s concern for authenticity that allows even moderns to appreciate him; but as Sheikh Winter puts it, his values “are closer to the ethics of Islam than the ethics of the monoculture. He is not the spiritual ancestor of Jade Goody”.

This individualism is now completely foreign to us, even though a memory of it is used by fake traditionalists to promote their de-moralising agenda. In tandem with all the other facets of national decline in the last sixty years has come an erosion of traditional liberties. Suspected “terrorists” can now be held without charge for up to two weeks, in flagrant violation of the medieval principle of habeas corpus, or else placed under virtual house arrest indefinitely through so-called Control Orders, and the State, tiny before 1914, now intrudes impulsively on every aspect of our lives. Individualism is also dead as a cultural ideal: television and then the internet put paid the ideal of self-direction, and the young inhabit a culture of abject conformity, believing they are expressing their authentic selves by all doing, and enjoying, exactly the same boring things.

The other side of the individualism of the manor was a premium on self-control. The poor could often not marry until a plot of land became available through death, and they therefore had to practice delayed gratification. Thus, another central virtue of the English—much as this will be incomprehensible to most Englishmen born after about 1950—was sexual restraint, and a related culture of self-control.

The Victorians, and even our own grandparents in the middle of the twentieth century, believed freedom and self-control were inseparable. This saturates their Imperial propaganda and explains the strict code of moral censorship and the restrictions on the rights of moral deviants which they upheld, seeing absolutely no tension with their ideal of individualism. Astonishingly, the 1956 Sexual Offences Act made it a crime for a man to introduce a young woman to a third man with whom she subsequently fornicated.  Meanwhile, the Obscene Publications Act strictly prohibited any kind of positive representation of sexual immorality in writing. Lady Chatterley’s Lover, D.H. Lawrence’s trashy piece of soft porn whose 1960 test case undermined that law, had a power to genuinely shock that the Tinder generation can’t even imagine.

Of course, this culture of repression was excessive. It did not understand the value of sensuality, and it could on occasion lead to moral catastrophe. The idea of Victorian England as a gigantic brothel run by a hypocritical, hedonistic bourgeois is, however, complete rubbish. Most people must have managed to practice self-control because in a world without truly reliable contraceptives less than four percent of children were born out of wedlock. Until the nineteen-sixties, an even smaller number of marriages ended in divorce. And although late marriage has been a custom of the English for centuries, we didn’t completely lack moderation in our repression, and the role of marriage in taming uncontrollable desire was prescribed as a cure for the vice of self-abuse by most Victorian writing on the subject just as it is in Islam.

Scruton, who admits it was excessive, shows that it could also make people beautiful. In the opening chapter of his book he describes his grammar school chemistry master, Mr Chapman, a devout Anglican and former colonial officer, abandoned by his wife somewhere in the tropics, but in his own mind still married—this being an indissoluble sacramental bond, as per the teaching of the Church in his time. A humble, kind, and powerfully dignified figure, whatever desire he might still have felt was sublimated into a pure and (to anyone’s knowledge) chaste affection for the boys he tutored.

The basis of all moral elevation is the riyadat al-nafs (the war against the lower self), and its corollary is, as Ghazali puts it, “breaking the two desires” of the stomach and the genitals. The English, though since the eighteenth century we lacked a spiritual tradition to make sense of this process, excelled at breaking both, even we erred too much on the side of repression, rather than Islam’s great via media. There is a reason our food, too, is terrible: it reflected a puritan fear of sensual indulgence, and the boys of the nation’s elite were consequently served a tasteless cuisine of chopped meat and overcooked vegetables at their terrifying boarding schools, which probably achieved its intended effect of making them tough and disciplined young men.

Connected to this was a predilection for modesty and restraint. I have previously commented on the schizophrenic attitude of Western conservatives to hijab (Hijab: A Great British Tradition, November 2017), which was actually worn (though not at all times and places) by English women until a few decades ago. Her Majesty the Queen still wears it often, and Mitchel and Kenyon’s films of Edwardian England show us, as a BBC costume drama never will, that working class English women then often dressed more modestly than Muslim women do now.

This was paralleled by a desire not to impose one’s personality upon others, or to have oneself so imposed upon, typified by the “English eccentric”. An Englishman’s home is his castle, as the old saying goes, and his greatest ambition was to own a little piece of his country, where he could rule his own private kingdom in peace and solitude, undisturbed by his neighbours. Orwell called us a “a nation of flower lovers… stamp collectors, pigeon fanciers and amateur carpenters” in 1941. Peter Hitchens, who justly called the destruction England has faced in the last sixty years The Abolition of Britain, contrasts the funerals of Winston Churchill and Princess Diana: the former involving controlled, dignified grief and tolerance for different responses, the latter a scene of a television-imposed conformity in narcissistic emotional incontinence.  Scruton comments that, until this time, for the English “there was no need to express an emotion simply because it happened to be one’s own”; despite having a vocabulary far larger than other Latin languages, English has few words for the subtler inner states.

Some of this tendency still survives. It is reflected in our habit of apologising when shoved in the street, which is a way of avoiding emotional imposition, and the love of the private sphere is apparent in our relatively high rate of home ownership. The culture reflected a deep modesty of character which is also an Islamic value. For instance, it is of the Prophetic Sunnah to speak very little, and this is fundamental to Sufi practice: while Scruton observes that foreigners were routinely amazed that “the natural condition of the English, both in public and in private, was silence.”

Another virtue of the English was our reverence for law. The English system of common law and equity is very different to that of other Western nations: the law was originally made by judges, not by the state, based on specific judgements on the cases that came before them, rather than abstract principles of justice.

Although much (but by no means all) of the common law system has now been replaced by statute, it was originally a system very similar to the structure of the shar’iah. Magistrates interpret law according to the precedent of their seniors, who at the highest levels of scholarship have the privilege of ijtihad or independent reasoning, and this process takes place outside the direct authority of politics. Of course, the content of English ijtihad is very different, because common law is inductive and fiqh is deductive: the former is not based on Revelation but on custom and intuition, which given our lack of access to uncorrupted Revelation was no bad thing.

Nevertheless there is a deep similarity in spirit. Wael Hallaq in The Impossible State explains the difference between Western and Islamic law in terms of “paradigms”. Western civilisation is based on a Schmittian paradigm which privileges “the political”; law flows from the decree of the state and there is no structural mechanism to ensure it reflects morality. By contrast, shar’iah is an inherently moral system, incorporating subjects that the West doesn’t recognise as law at all, and its “judiciary” of qadis, muftis, and fuqahah is institutionally separate from the ruler and holds him accountable to a higher authority. The Sultan and his men are accorded only a narrow sphere of leeway within a system that bases law on the Divine, and thus places morality above politics. This may be alien to Continental systems of civil law, with their Napoleonic Code and inquisitorial tribunals, but in England it was in fact the law’s central ideal.

Doubtless it rarely realised this ambition in practice, but ideals still regulate men’s conduct when they fail to live up to them by preventing them from becoming totally depraved. The reverence for law as an impartial realm of justice, beyond the reach of power and privilege, has run through English history for over a thousand years. Magna Carta was substantially based on a charter issued by Henry I over a century before, and even his bastard father, for all the brutality of his Conquest, had sworn to rule by the law of the land. In modern times, all the critics of the injustices of our elite admitted this ideal of law had at least some impact on their conduct. As Orwell put it in the same 1941 essay, in which he called for a radical upheaval in favour of democratic socialism, “Everyone knows that there is one law for the rich and another for the poor” but at the same time, “the hanging judge, that evil old man in scarlet robe and horse-hair wig…who will at any rate interpret the law according to the books and will in no circumstances take a money bribe, is one of the symbolic figures of England”.

This convergence may be no coincidence: recent scholarship has suggested that the shar’iah had a huge impact on the development of English law in the middle ages, and whole areas, such as the law of trusts (roughly, waqf) seem to have been imported wholesale. The attitude of reverence that this ideal inculcated in the English is derived from its connection to our enchanted isle. The common law was the law of the land and its authority came from the land: it represented the system of natural justice appropriate to England itself. Hence in the trial of Somersett’s Case in 1772, which determined that masters could not forcibly remove their slaves from the country, an advocate could declare (for all his hypocrisy) that “England was too pure an air for a slave to breathe in”, and it was natural that his words became famous. Something of this reverence survives into the present: we are no longer the safe, orderly country we were a few decades ago, but we still feel, more than most comparable peoples, that The Law can be invoked as the final moral, as well as practical, arbiter in our disputes.

Finally, the empirical, pragmatic tendency of the law reveals a wider disposition for scepticism and intellectual humility. In the modern period, all our great philosophers, except during a brief period in hoc to Hegel in the late 19th century, have been of an empiricist bent, and until around 1910 our art was stolidly, resolutely realist. Our politicians, too, have been averse to abstract thought. Ian Gilmour spoke for centuries of English leaders, and not just for his own party, when he said that “when it comes to ideology, the Conservative is advised to travel light”, while the Labour Party famously “owed more to Methodism than Marx”. This, combined with our reverence for legality, is probably the reason we avoided succumbing to the great ideological death-cults of the twentieth century in significant numbers. Moseley’s British Union of Fascists never caught on because people simply laughed at them when they paraded in the street. Continentals may have mocked our aversion to theory, but it was Theory which sent the kulaks to Siberia and the Jews to Auschwitz.

This is also apparent in our religious traditions. The 14th century Cloud of Unknowing, perhaps the greatest surviving work of indigenous spirituality, sees the embracing of one’s ignorance, and the surrender of conscious cogitation, as the beginning of wisdom. “On account of pride”, its anonymous author argues, “knowledge may often deceive you, but love builds”. England was also the first major European country to embrace religious toleration. The first Elizabeth, who ended the period of doctrinal chaos immediately following the Reformation, proclaimed that though she would require outward conformity to the rites of the newly restored Church of England, she would “not make windows into men’s souls” by prying into their private faith, a notion which finds clear parallels in Islam’s approach to apostasy.

With the extension of toleration in the wake of the Glorious Revolution, this same suspicion of dogma eventually gave rise to a flourishing network of Unitarian churches, who rejected Trinitarian mysteries in favour of pure monotheism. It also informed the first Westerner to launch a serious defence of Islam, Henry Stubbe, who concluded that “the sum of Mahometan religion” consisted in “not clogging Men’s Faith with the necessity of believing a number of abstruse notions which they cannot comprehend, and which are often contrary to the dictates of Reason and common Sense”.

England’s unique religious style can most clearly be seen in its religious architecture. The cathedrals of Salisbury or Lincoln are buildings as great as almost any in the world. But they do not intimidate like those of Chartres or Amiens. There are no dizzying facades or impossible buttresses, no challenges to normal metaphysics. Their glory is humble; their spires, tall is they are, do not try to rise up to meet God but to coax Him into joining us down below. With their rambling cloisters, their illogical rural settings, they are vernacular buildings which grow out of, rather than sitting on top of, their surrounding communities. They are horizontal rather than vertical. They affirm tasbih rather than tanzih. They tell the onlooker that he need not feel distant from God because He is already here, in England.

—–

This brings me back to the centre of the English culture, which was the sense of inhabiting sacred land. It unites all the virtues I have discussed. It was the reason for our reverence for a law which grew out of that land and expressed the conception of justice appropriate to it. By imbuing awe for the sacredness of the everyday it promoted our striking diffidence and modesty of character. It was the natural companion of an identity based on ties of geography rather than ancestry, and hence also of our anti-tribal individualism. And its uncompromising particularity and earthy rootedness explains much of our aversion to dogma and abstraction, for we did not need such things to know whom we were. For that we relied on gestures, not genealogy—and certainly not on ideals.

This did not entail any kind of ethnic chauvinism, though it was appropriated for such by the Victorian and Edwardian shills of Imperial grandeur. It could accommodate any number of immigrants, so long as they remained a trickle rather than a flood and had time to make the land their own. We did not think ourselves superior to others, but more fortunate, for inhabiting a land where the Divine presence could more easily be felt—here, in “this blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England”.

Here I will end part 1 of the essay. In part 2 I intend to discuss the role of Islam in England’s future. Wa Allahu alam.

—-

 
“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 19th century, 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 Majesty 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 bourgeoise 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 Hausman 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 a land of angels as well as Angles.

Wa allahu alam.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On patriotism

I’ve heard from a few sources that a lot of people think my embrace of Islam is some kind of volte face, or represents a reversal of the moral and political standpoint I’ve previously expressed. So I just thought I should clarify that nothing could be further from the truth.

I’m still a patriotic traditionalist, and if anything I am more patriotic, and more of a traditionalist, than before I converted. Converting to Islam did not mean embracing an exotic, foreign religion but returning to everything that is good in my own upbringing and my own culture, nation, and tradition, only purified.

As the great scholar Umar Faruq Abd-Allah puts it, Islam is the clear water of pure monotheism that takes on the colour of the cultural bedrock over which it flows. So far from being incompatible with the English way of life it is, in our post-modern age of liquid, global monoculture, the only way of retrieving an authentic Englishness, as opposed to ignorant nativism or grotesque live-action role-play. I have not changed the way I dress or the food I eat (save that I take halal beef with my eggs rather than bacon). I have not changed my love of my country, its landscape, and the unique spiritual sensibility that grows out of it (which does not mean I take it to be superior to any other), or my loyalty to its monarch (after God).

 

Nor have I changed my moral and political views. (With a few exceptions: for example, unlimited “free speech”, a cause I only ever supported for strategic reasons, is not compatible with Islam; I prefer the traditional British approach of prohibiting blasphemy and indecency in public spaces.) I still believe in defending family life against the wicked cults of feminism and “LGBT” rights. I still believe in preserving and reviving my country’s wonderful literary and cultural heritage, and its character, customs, and institutions, against those who would render us homeless in the name of a “multiculturalism” that will really leave us with none. I still despise the wretched, worn-out post-modern ‘sixties ethos that rules our society and destroys all self-respect and self-control in the name of a hollow and specious freedom, a banal orgy of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll. I still oppose the European Union and think mass immigration does much more harm than good (though I don’t think it’s of primary importance, and it is in any case now a fait accompli).

 

For that matter, I still believe Britain should pay reparations for some of its colonial crimes, a cause incomparably more worthy than that of destroying “violent” statues of colonial statesmen (Islam forbids statues but that’s a quite different matter).

 

I believe in the shar’iah (orthodoxy obliges me to), a system of Divine law that upholds the common sense values in which your ancestors believed through firm but compassionate means whilst allowing a great measure of personal liberty, and enjoining–not just permitting–the organic development of particular cultures, which must of course include our own. It is, in any case, structurally very similar to, and probably the source of much of, England’s own common law tradition.

 

I am still a traditionalist because traditionalism, at its best, is a philosophy of fitrah, the Islamic concept of primordial human nature, which is visible everywhere and shapes every traditional society in its image. Islam is the ultimate tradition, as old as the first humans; in fact it is the only tradition left, now that every other system is compromising with the ever-changing modern zeitgeist. It’s not an ethnic movement that negotiates for resources within a liberal, secular system it basically accepts, but a holistic, inherently political creed that fulfils the end and purpose of mankind through enjoining and facilitating willing obedience to its Creator, and thus the logical endpoint of everything for which I’ve previously advocated.

 

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.