I remember one day, while sitting on my lunch break back when I worked in IT at UPenn, I happened to sit near a guy, non-Muslim, who oversaw me reading my Qur’an and we struck up a conversation. In summary, he stated he wasn’t religious because he didn’t, “believe in a man up there in the clouds”. I replied that while I did believe in God I also rejected the notion of the Creator being “a man in the clouds” or a man at all. we must never forget that some people are much closer to Islam than they even know. Their rejection of God being a man is in many ways a confirmation of half the shahadah (Testimony of Faith). They need only confirm illa’Allah (no deity except God!) and of course Muhammad is His messenger.
Dr. Shadee Elmasry posted something on his Twitter feed that reminded me not only of that conversation but also the important need for Muslims to precisely articulate what Islam professes, and simply because we believe in God or the Creator in no way implies we believe as others do. We must struggle to combat the straw-man argument that “all religions are the same”. Indeed they are not.
1 Everything that has a beginning must have a cause. 2 The universe had a beginning. 3 Therefore the universe must have a cause that itself had no cause.
Time, space, matter, cause & effect all at one point did not exist and then came into existence. They were created. Their creator must have existed before them, and therefore could not have been subject to them.
“For the wise men of old, the cardinal problem of human life was how to conform the soul to objective reality, and the solution was wisdom, self-discipline, and virtue. For the modern, the cardinal problem is how to conform reality to the wishes of man, and the solution is a technique.” — C. S. Lewis
Edward Humes Garbology is a fascinating read. In it, he points to numerous challenges plaguing modern man, namely the issue of waste and how it not only degrades the natural environment but actually cases harm to humans. I know many secular humanists who hold to the notion that, to quote Matt Damon’s botanist, Mark Watney, “I’m gonna have to have to science the shit out of this”.
But what’s most striking is that it’s science, or perhaps more accurately, scientism, that got us into this issue in the first place. I make the designation of scientism, in that it is precisely that humanist strain of science which has sought to divorce itself from religious and spiritual ethics. Humanism, according to dictionary definition is “a system of thought criticized as being centered on the notion of the rational, autonomous self and ignoring the unintegrated and conditioned nature of the individual”. It is specifically this “autonomous self”, detached from the natural world — through its “rational” mechanics — which gives license to itself to treat the world as mere objects, having no sign or significance beyond their molecules and atoms.
So how, precisely, are we going to science the feces out of our conundrum when the malady points to a much deeper diagnosis: schizophrenic god-complex. Schizophrenia in that modern man is caught between expelling God and attempting to be God himself. Thus far, the “science-ing the shit out of this” theory doesn’t seem to hold water.
Daniel Haqiqatjou, of the Yaqeen Institute, brings to light an important topic challenging American Muslims: the pressure many feel to be on the “right side” of a whole cadre of subjects ranging from Darwinism and eurocentric science to homosexuality. Paraphrasing Marwa Elshakry1 from her Reading Darwin in Arabic, 1860-1950, Haqiqatjou says,
“…accepting Darwinism was due less to a careful intellectual assessment of the theory and more to Muslim intellectuals, politicians, and elites simply signaling their social and political alignment with modernization, secularization, and Europeanization. Likewise, the rejection of Darwinism by traditional Muslim scholars and their students was at times a marker of their general opposition to colonialism and its cultural and religious impact on Muslim society.”
What’s important to note here is that while Haqiqatjou’s article speaks to the question of will American Muslims adopt Darwinism wholesale or not, the phenomenon he outlines is even more critically important. The bigger question is not the embracing Darwinism “inevitable”, but more urgently, is the abandoning of an independent skepticism — regarding all that is western and its implied bias that that which is western is inately better — inevitable? Will Muslims, due to pressure from their society as well as a collapse of a relevantless leadership in the face of these challenges, relinquish the ability to think on their own? If this happens, the question not only becomes “how will Muslims thrive in the West”, but also how can they contrinute to it as Muslims, with any sort of Muslim genius, if intellectually Muslims cast themselves into the dustbin of bygone ideas?
The modern world prides itself on its scientific and technological advance, in particular the advances which have garnered some in the west great wealth and prosperity. But central to the core of scientific tenets is the claim that in order for a thing to be scientifically true it must also be replicable. The question to be asked then is: why has science not shown itself to have bequeathed to poor black and brown populations, in the Americas for example, that which it has done to its whiter and wealthier populations? In other words, science’s prophecy of prosperity for all has not come to pass. In fact, when factoring in modern science’s collusion with capitalism, science seems that it should have no other choice other than but retreat from the one-stop-shop that it’s presented itself as, in modernity, for what is good, beneficial, and true. Clearly, something other (some other knowledge- or truth-claim) than exclusively science is needed in order to bring dignity and prosperity to these groups and others.