Dr. Murad Wilfred Hoffman, a former German diplomat, author of Islam: The Alternative, Islam 2000, A Journey to Mecca, turned to Islam in 1980. This article is an excerpt from his recent lecture “Islam and the Future of the World” given in New Delhi. Any objective study of the history of mankind shows that a person cannot help asking questions: where am I from? Why did I come to this world? Where will I go after death? These inevitable questions make each of us a philosopher, whether we like it or not.
The search for answers to these fundamental questions has led to the emergence of numerous myths, legends about the creation of the world and other concepts. In the end, all attempts to understand the world led to the emergence of religions. The most ancient of them — Taoism, Hinduism and Buddhism, not to mention the various forms of shamanism.
Polytheism arose when people began to associate supernatural forces with various natural phenomena — thunder and lightning, sun and fire, fertility and death. Such polytheism is peaceful because it has no claim to universality. Each / of the polytheists / is satisfied with those gods whom he worships.
At the same time, polytheism has a tendency towards monotheism. When one of the tribes captures a neighboring tribe, the winners try to impose their deities and push the deities of the vanquished to a lower level. A similar situation occurred in pre-Islamic Arabia, where the “supporting goddesses” — Lat, Manat and ‘Uzza — were objects of worship in addition to al-Elyah, the supreme deity.
Monotheism displays the history of religion in a completely different plane. Of course, the idea of some ancient Jews that their God is the deity of one people contains an internal contradiction. If there is one and only God, He is the God of all people, and not some of their chosen group.
At the same time, simultaneously with the onset of the period of universalism in religion, humankind entered into one of the bloodiest periods in its history. Christians were guided by the doctrine of the One God and the Only Church, outside of which, as they believed, salvation is impossible. The Catholic Church adhered to this dogma (in Latin: extraecclesiamnullasalus) for 1900 years, until the Second Vatican Council of 1965-66. Because of this dogma, Christian adherents began to show deadly aggression. This led to the physical suppression and eradication of all other confessions — Judaism, Islam, as well as the “trends that do not coincide with the general line” in Christianity itself. In the name of Christ, the Germanic tribes were exterminated, the blood of Muslims in Al-Quds was shed during the crusades, «witches» and «heretics» were burned at the stake,
It is obvious that during this bloody era, which lasted until the 17th century, the Christian religion was used primarily as an ideology, that is, as a political tool for imparting legitimacy to the existing power. Similarly, to some extent, it touched Islam. It also became the ideology of a mighty empire, stretching from Medina to Damascus, Baghdad, Morocco and Istanbul.
However, it was only starting from the proclamation of the Age of Reason in the 18th century that we entered a real era of ideologies. As religion disappeared from public consciousness, it was replaced by various so-called secular ideologies of the Enlightenment. After rebounding from religion, they were pseudo-religious in nature. This concerned both the romanticism of the 19th century and positivism (scientism). The first ideology in the modern sense of the word was Marxism — the teachings of Marx, Engels and later Lenin.
Marxism was a whole worldview. His dialectical materialism explained the functioning of nature, and historical materialism explained the functioning of human society. Like religion, Marxism tried to control the daily life of its adherents. Certainly, religious “atavism” was present in this seemingly completely materialistic doctrine. “The Communist Manifesto” and “Capital” were elevated to the rank of sacred writings, Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin became the apostles of the new “faith”. The Communist Party assumed the role of an infallible church headed by its own high priests — members of the Politburo. The idea of Paradise was replaced by a picture of a bright, classless future, where everyone can receive according to his needs, and people will achieve universal happiness.
The various branches of fascism that arose in Italy, Germany, Spain, Portugal and Greece only revised the communist doctrine, adding to it a hefty dose of national chauvinism, designed to justify the most bloody crimes against members of a “different race”, for example, Jews and Eastern Slavs. In fascism, again, there was some similarity with religion. The book “Mein Kampf” became the holy scripture of Germany, and Adolf Hitler appeared in the role of savior, who was called upon to lead the country into a better future: a thousand-year-old empire. The Nazi party, like the church, determined what was right and what was not, and the SS detachments successfully acted as inquisitors.
In contrast to Marxism and fascism, new ideologies have emerged. Among them, first of all, it is necessary to mention Western liberalism (including capitalism), as well as French-type secularism — with the complete elimination of religion from the sphere of public life. However, in the postcolonial Arab world, none of these ideologies could take deep roots: nationalism, liberalism, fascism, socialism were little in demand.
In light of all this, the 20th century can be called the century of ideologies.
Typical features of the ideology of 19-20 centuries
Focus on those features that are common to all ideologies of the 19th and 20th centuries. All of them, by their nature, are secular, materialistic, not containing a transcendental element. As a result, none of them could provide an answer to the eternal questions: where did the person come from? why? where will he go?
Even during the era of the Enlightenment, as well as after its end, such thinkers like Immanuel Kant and Hegel believed that a person freed from the paths of religion could master this world only thanks to the abilities of his mind. Rationalism was intended to provide a prosperous and humane world.
Now we can judge this better, and this is not surprising. The modernization project, with its attempt to subordinate human passions to reason, failed ingloriously. Instead of a post-religious paradise on earth, we received the most brutal wars in the history of mankind, chemical and nuclear weapons, ethnic “cleansing” and other elements of the “bright” future picture.
This is not surprising, since only religion can be such a strong motive that a person will be able to curb his animal passions, base instincts and colossal egoism. When a person becomes the measure of all things, having pressed God, all laws are written according to human discretion. So, the sacred law was discarded, and attempts to find a «natural law» failed.
Insightful Western observers even a generation before us came to the sad conclusion that humanity will destroy itself together with the planet if it does not return to religion. Daniel Bell, a professor of sociology at Harvard, realized in 1976 that capitalism ultimately destroys itself, because economic success undermines the human virtues on which a healthy economy can be based. In his book The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism, Bell calls for the revival of a certain kind of religion (possibly reinvented), which should be the basis for the establishment of moral values in society.
The same criticism of Western civilization, former American diplomat William Ofuls, showed the same insight. In his work Requiem for Contemporary Politics — the Tragedy of the Enlightenment and the Challenges of the New Century, written in 1997, he predicted that the West was waiting for decay just as it had happened to communism.
Both observers discovered what is actually commonplace: human civilization cannot survive without spirituality.
Against this background, it is very important to note that since the 70s of the 20th century in Islam an unprecedented period of revival has begun. What could be expected from a religion that has been in stagnation for the past 400 years, except for the appearance of some prominent figures. What could be expected from a religion, almost all of whose adherents were colonized by European powers?
You cannot blame Western orientalists for lack of insight, because they studied Islam in the same way as a biologist studies an endangered species. Islam was for them only of historical interest. Max Henning, publishing his translation of the Quran into German, wrote in 1901: «Obviously, Islam has already played its role in politics.» This point of view was generally accepted. No one expected the rebirth of Islam.
However, today, no matter how incredible it might seem only a few decades ago, no country in the world can be found where there are no Muslims actively practicing their religion — from Korea to Colombia, from Iceland to New Zealand. While the number of Muslims just a hundred years ago was 1/7 of the world’s population, now it is 1/5 of the population. Large mosques were built in cities such as London, Paris, Rome, Vienna, Lisbon, Zagreb, New York and Los Angeles.
More importantly, thanks to labor migration and the attractiveness of Western universities, there are now millions of active Muslims living in Europe and the United States, and Islam is everywhere becoming the second largest number of its adherents. Now you can not deploy a newspaper or turn on the TV, so as not to stumble upon questions that are somehow related to Islam. Now all the wealth of Islamic literature has become available, which can be read in all the major languages of Europe. The Qur’an has become the most frequently translated and most quoted book on the globe.
Since this all happened during the “ideological” 20th century, some Islamic movements set political goals for themselves, and some Muslims, driven by despair, began to resort to the use of violence. Because of this, Islam has now also become treated as an ideology. However, this is true only as far as Islam regulates the management of «worldly» affairs. At the same time, we must avoid turning our faith into an ideology, making it an instrument in the hands of politicians and a means of achieving success and selfish goals in this world.
Be that as it may, at the beginning of the third millennium only two models of worldview remained, capable of winning the hearts and minds of people in the West: postmodern secularism and Islam. Such is the existing alternative — the third is not yet foreseen, although some intellectuals who want to make another attempt in another earthly life are attracted to Buddhism.
Thus, we come to the question, as they say, “for a thousand dollars”: what is the future for? To understand this, first you need to answer the question: will the 21st century be a century of religion? Currently, it seems that religion is leaving the life of society. True, this picture is observed in Europe rather than in the United States. People leave Christian churches in crowds. These churches bring the end of the Christian religion even closer, allowing for various compromises to “keep up with the times”. Thus, homosexual priests appeared, female priests, abortions were allowed at any time and under any conditions, in fact, fasting was no longer observed. Churches give up their positions. Currently, many of the parishioners, and some Protestant priests, no longer believe in the holiness of Jesus (peace be upon him) or in life after death.
However, this is not the whole picture. It should be noted that in society, however, the search for a religion or its surrogate continues. Religion is trying to occupy new niches of existence. Go to any bookstore: you will see that the esoteric section takes up much more space than the religion section. People still want to know what will happen to them, they want to be privy to secrets, they want to be happy. These aspirations, basically religious, caused a boom in the new industry. People experiment with everything: with shamanism, satanic cults, “traveling in themselves” under the influence of drugs, the teachings of Indian gurus, fantastic diets and ways of healing, and even dancing ecstatic tango.
I believe that such people, most of whom are representatives of the younger generation, are dealing with some kind of «transitional» form of religion. They are tired of the meaninglessness of their lives, of the spiritual vacuum; they seek certainty in a world where «everything is possible.» They were raised without any restrictions. They strive for spiritual leadership, real values and social norms that can be relied upon. In short, there is a huge religious potential in such people. This can make the 21st century a century of religion.
But then the question arises: can Islam be a better alternative than Christianity was? Do people prefer common prayers to the performance of religious rites alone, prevailing at the present time? As for the first question, I believe that Christianity in Europe is “beyond repair”. I am also convinced that the West will not be able to find salvation in an artificial new religion, an eclectic faith, similar to the language of Esperanto. The latter is due to the fact that religion must come from God. You can only rely on the religion obtained by Revelation.
As for the last question, I am rather optimistic. Today’s younger generation is committed to communication. It does not want to be alone. Therefore, one of the attractive properties of Islam for young people is that it proclaims the value of family, community and the global Muslim brotherhood. This is a real social community, not an abstract love of neighbor, proclaimed by Christianity. Against the background of the emotional cold existing in the modern Western (European) society, the Islamic Ummah attracts young people with its warmth and compassion.
Separated from life, the nature of cyberspace, the sexually overheated atmosphere and widespread competition and rush from school to work, from work to sex joys in the West, mean that the average American consults with at least one psychiatrist who is for him «outlet». Such people cannot fail to appreciate the fact that most Muslims are satisfied with life, are not subject to constant stress, do not run all the time somewhere, are in harmony with God, themselves and their surroundings. For this reason, many people who are tired of the daily “rat race” will seek to discover something new in Islam.
Whether they discover this religion for themselves depends on whether Muslims can present Islam in the right light, or whether they will offer various false interpretations instead. Yes, Allah leads His way whom He wills. And many new ones (for example, Jeffrey Lang from San Francisco) come to the bosom of religion without any prior communication with Muslims, simply by reading the Quran. But, as a rule, Allah uses Muslims to call for His faith.
I would like to say a few words about what Muslims should do to promote Islam. All these recommendations can be reduced to a single phrase: Islam must be presented as a cure for most of the deadly ailments of Western society and «modern civilization.» One must be self-assured and take an active position, rather than stand in the attitude of an unjustly accused person and constantly look for excuses. One should not be one who asks for something, but one who can himself offer something to other people.
What can we offer? Here are some of the above:
A) Our main asset is the Muslim idea of God, the One and Only, both immanent and transcendent, timeless and spaceless, the Only one endowed with real essence. Such a concept is fully capable of satisfying a modern, educated person. Tauhid, monotheism in its most pure form — these are the main dignity of Islam.
B) No civilization can exist when the structure of the family is destroyed, what we are seeing at the present time. The family is under real threat, even if the state does everything to preserve it. The divorce rate is extremely high. In most homes in the West, the economy is managed by one person, including women who want to have children, but not a husband. A huge proportion of children grow up without a father. To what imbalances this leads, shows the increasing susceptibility of adolescents to violence. Their respect for elders and their families is so low that in the US children are even entitled to file a lawsuit demanding to be separated from their unloved parents. Obviously, the threat also looms over Muslim families, aided by globalization, economic pressure and the influence of television. However, in general, members of Muslim families are more closely related to each other, and in a Muslim family a person feels much more protected. Muslims should not forget about this asset either.
C) Another threat to Western society is the increasing spread of all sorts of addictions — addiction to cigarettes, drinking, cocaine, LSD and other drugs, as well as to television and the Internet. It can be said without exaggeration that the entire West is dependent on something. It is sad to see people unable to do without a glass, pill or cigarette. In fact, they profess the modern form of shirka (paganism). They are slaves to something other than God. Such a situation would manifest itself most vividly if these people tried to observe the fast of Ramadan: they would not be able to do this because they are no longer masters of themselves.
Muslims can be proud of their sobriety, the fact that their mind is always clear, that they do not fall into a car accident under the influence of alcohol. It is unlikely that anything else can so clearly demonstrate that Islam is an alternative way of life that can save the West from self-destruction.
D) Another internal threat to Western society is created by various forms of ethnic prejudice, racism, chauvinism, and religious discrimination of people. In the United States, there are still some recurrences of slavery. Most of the wars in which European countries participated until recently were caused by such prejudices.
Given this, Westerners will be pleasantly surprised to find that Islam (at least in theory, but mostly in practice) is the only religion consistently pursuing the establishment of national and religious pluralism. He prioritizes God-fearing, not skin color, proclaims Muslims to be a single Ummah and genuinely tolerant of other religions.
This dignity of Islam must be realized. We must show that among Muslims, skin color, language and other similar differences are not significant. Many African-Americans prefer Islam, not least because Bilal (may Allah be pleased with him), the Prophet’s muisin (peace and blessings be upon him) was black. Why would millions of other people not make their choice, guided by similar considerations?
Equally impressive, of course, is the religious pluralism proclaimed by the Qur’an (5:48 and 2: 256). Such toleration, commanded by the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and embodied in life for 1,400 years before the appearance of the current World Ecumenical Movement, may seem to the people of the West so extraordinary that they cannot help but admire it. We should only remind people that the Greeks remained Orthodox during the 500 years of Turkish rule, and ask where the Muslims today are the indigenous people of Spain, the country in which they lived 800 years before their exile.
D) Young people are very emancipated. They want to stay free. They hate various hierarchical structures, church officials, performing sacraments, mystical dogmas, and other similar elements of the church mechanism. These people will be pleasantly surprised to learn that there is no church in Islam, that there is neither the Pope, nor the priesthood, nor such incomprehensible things as the incarnation, trinity, salvation on the cross or sin born. They will be shocked to learn that there are no more free believers than Muslims who do not need any kind of mediation — not priests, not even saints, when they turn directly to Allah in their prayers. They will be just as surprised when they learn that every Muslim, regardless of religious “rank,” may be an imam.
E) Muslim restraint in matters of sex may seem attractive to those young men and women who are conservatism in these matters. Many Western women who feel that when they go out on the street, they become the object of sexual harassment, they envy Muslim women whose clothes and behavior are a signal to men that they are “out of the game”. Many women’s advocates for women’s rights in the West, who cannot but be outraged by pornography, beauty contests and the use of female attractiveness for commercial purposes, will realize that their Muslim sisters strive for the same thing — respect for the dignity of women, but they have achieved much greater success in this area. .
Muslim attitudes toward homosexuality will also appeal to the silent majority in the West, which condemns the current policy of giving homosexual relations the status of a normal kind of relationship between «partners.» Many Westerners fear that public promotion of homosexuality, including the state registration of marriages between same-sex “spouses,” is a sign of the decline and degradation of civilization. They are outraged, for example, by the fact that there are two quarters in San Francisco completely occupied by homosexuals. It is not surprising that their sympathy is caused by the position of Muslims: do not recognize homosexuality as an “alternative” for society and consider it unacceptable.
In the West, attitudes toward sex are like a pendulum, which ranges from a complete demonization of sex (even in marriage) to sexual promiscuity and permissiveness. Therefore, a balanced and sober approach of Muslims to this issue, taking into account the natural needs of men and women, cannot but look advantageous. Islam does not proclaim marriage as “sacred,” like Christianity, and assumes that marriage can be eternal. At the same time, matrimonial relations are considered in Islam a form of ibadat — worship of God. This approach is consistent with common sense.
G) Even in the field of economics, Islam is able to teach the West a good lesson. The prohibition of interest, at first glance, may seem naive and impractical. However, with a little thought, people will understand that such a ban protects the foundation of capitalism — the spirit of enterprise. Why? The fact is that, by offering instead of a fixed interest rate an agreement on the participation in the profits and losses, Islam allows to avoid stagnation arising in the «risk-free» model of the economy.
H) In Islam, there are many other advantages that can attract Westerners (for example, the healing effect of fasting in the month of Ramadan).
At the same time, all the mentioned aspects, by and large, boil down to one fundamental difference between the West and the East: the priority of quantity or quality. The West is focused on a quantitative aspect, forgetting about the true value of things counted in monetary or other similar forms. As a result, there is a denial of what is not applicable quantitative approach (for example, spiritual values). You can say that the goal of human life in the West is to have, and in the East to be.
The East, including the Muslim world, is, of course, not against the modern material goods available thanks to globalization. However, there the qualitative aspects of life are valued above quantitative. Indeed, the quality of life, including peace, leisure, reflection, friendship and hospitality that the Muslim world possesses, can attract many Westerners who are tired of crude materialism.
So, as has been shown, Islam can and should be used as a cure for many diseases of Western society. Therefore, it can become the leading spiritual force of the 21st century.
However, there are factors working in the opposite direction. Muslims have never implemented a real Islamic economic model anywhere. Their position on many key issues, such as democracy, human rights and women’s rights, is still vague. And the educational system is in many ways stuck at the level of the Middle Ages.
In addition, the behavior of Muslims is often contrary to their own efforts to call people to Islam. Many Muslims living in the West, in the first place — illiterate, are unlikely to be able to defend their faith. For this reason, they tend to create closed ethnic groups, driving themselves into some sort of ghetto. Protecting, first of all, their ethnic identity — the right to preserve their own characteristics in food, clothing, their language, their music and traditions — they turn Islam into an exotic “national” religion.
Worse, many immigrants show interest only in their home country they dream of returning to. A Turkish resident in Germany, who is thinking about how to make his homeland a truly Islamic country again, is largely lost to da’vat (the Islamic call) in the country of residence.
Those who try to propagate Islam in the West often do so in such a rude and formalized (one might say talmudized) form that the emerging impression of the absence of spirituality frightens people. The form is put above the content, and minor issues are presented as having the most importance.
For all these reasons, the presence in the West of Muslim immigrants in itself does not make such a large contribution to the Islamic appeal.
There is another factor preventing the transformation of Islam into the dominant world view: the amazing ability of a person to move away from the existing problem, switching attention to another. A sick person — and the West is sick — should not only recognize the presence of the disease, he should swallow the pills prescribed to him, and not keep them on the bedside table. Understanding is one thing, and action is another. As the former German president Roman Herzog admitted: “Our problem is not in understanding, but in application.”
There are many parables in the Qur’an about the peoples of the past, who failed to recognize the signs sent to them and rejected all the warnings. The path of these civilizations ended tragically. Perhaps the modern Western world will also not find the courage and determination to change its way of life in accordance with Islam. The West, recently defeated communism, can destroy itself: to become a victim of internal contradictions and mistakes, among which the most dangerous is the deification of man.
This should happen if the West does not discover for itself the sacred, transcendental reality — Allah, and will not live in accordance with the absolute values and Divine precepts sent to us in the Quran and the Sunnah of the Last Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him).