Rabat – A friend to whom I can refuse nothing wrote to me asking my opinion about what he called the degradation of the notoriety of Islam. The question took me by surprise. In fact, the impression I had was contrary to his perception. For me, Islam was making a strong come back, a surge unprecedented since the first centuries of its advent. I thought that fewer Muslims were challenging the foundations of their faith. I was thankful to my friend for his question because he gave me a new perspective. I decided to review the dominating religious discourse. I analyzed the data based on how rational, coherent, historically sound, and objective it was. This was especially important considering the “faithful” who are making news promoting, fighting, dying, killing, and seeking political power through Islam.
To address my friend’s question in a manner pertinent to his concerns, I tried to understand what made him ask that specific question. I assumed he must have supposed that Muslims are going through some sort of cultural or identity crisis and/or that their religion has been suffering from some fatal ailments. Maybe he saw signs that Islam was undergoing a sudden anarchic multiplication of malign ideological outgrowths or that it is splitting into competing segments. Perhaps, just as many others, including Muslims, my friend must have difficulties identifying which is the authentic Islam from the feuding scores each of which claims it, alone, is the true one, and therefore, the only one entitled to prevail. This conviction of prevalence would not have been a problem were it of a pure intellectual nature.
It appears that the multiple rites and sects of the faith that have been until recently celebrated as being able to coexist, and may actually have done so at times, has suddenly and unexpectedly diverted from their peaceful trajectories. As a matter of fact, after long centuries of complete darkness and silencing of the mind, the aura that maintained the myth and sacredness of religious discourses, started to dim and to allow clearer visibility. Religious discourse grew vulnerable, exposed to the close scrutiny of all.
The spread of education, literacy and of information technology as well as satellite television broadcasting freely from non Muslim countries exposed flaws in religious discourse to a wider majority. The once well kept secrets that empowered the privileged few could now reveal their incoherence, ambiguity, lies, and their treachery. Women are among those formerly excluded who have stepped in with force. In fact, the entry of women to the field has already had significant impact in many countries including Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria. The hard line discourse has given way under collective political ideological pressure placed by women and other new scholars.
Increased literacy rates have stripped the old scholars of the myth they had built around themselves for centuries. New scholars have brought voices and attitudes to the population. While the denial of reason, of intelligence, of questioning and of challenging is rejected, the right to know, to be listened to and to require relevant and updated answers is being claimed. Furthermore, propositions of translations into vernacular and local varieties of the Arabic language that have gone viral on social media have demythologized texts. No wonder, the gatekeepers of the religious temple have opposed and are opposing these translations and these programs with utmost violence.
Likewise, doubt, which is a prohibited intellectual faculty to the layperson in the religious tradition, has become unavoidable as scientific information has become more accessible. New information challenges many fundamentals of the rigid religious discourse about the universe, creation, biology, physiology, history, psychology, sociology, etc.. The stubbornness of religious scholarship has thus become its major foe.
The discourse of the religious establishment and of its leading scholars has become esoteric, inaccessible, and unreliable. Books about the end and the death of the major pillars of the religious heritage are widely circulated. New profiles of scholars trained in religious matters but also in the modern human sciences are entering the discourse. Arguments deconstructing the foundations of common knowledge, beliefs and convictions have never been as accessible to as many as they are nowadays.
One such example is the reduction of the dominating religious discourse of all peoples in North Africa and the Middle East into one origin, namely, that of Arabia. Kurdish, Amazigh, Yezedi, African and other origins are forced into a conception of the region that either acknowledges its Arabism or is treated as heathen, sold out to Western ideologies and interests, and anti-Islam. The forced overlap of a faith onto a racial condition in defiance to historical and geographical facts that have been occulted for centuries but which science has proved wrong has led this religious discourse to absurd theories positing the Arabic language and race as the prototypes of all others in the region. Such discourse has thus defeated its own agendas and has become responsible for its own decay and degradation.
The role social media is playing in this transformation of the relationship of individuals and groups to religion and religious discourse is of paramount importance. In addition to providing platforms to all the trends, sects, rites and to all types of attitudes and cultures, social media has also exposing the private lives of leading figures of the opposing parties. Whether through fake news, fabricated images or through reports of actual events, social media has disclosed the contradictions and hypocrisy of manipulative opinion leaders.
Cases of lecherous behaviors bother men and women who teach and claim modesty, chastity, loyalty and generosity. One issue that is being discussed is the invitation of Muslims to engage in jihad. The paradox lies in that those proselytizers campaigning for jihad do not engage in it themselves nor do they engage their own offspring to sacrifice their lives in exchange of better ones in the thereafter in compliance with their propaganda. Instead, they collect huge amounts of money from their campaigns and spend it on themselves and on their children to enjoy the pleasures of life on Earth.
Such discourse is especially appealing among younger generations and adolescents who have difficulties relating to the mainstream way of life both in their own societies and in foreign countries, which are predominantly Christian. This is due to the chronic insufficiency of socializing institutions, the lack of success models, the unavailability of viable opportunities, school failure, idleness, unemployment, marginalization and discrimination. Other reasons are more subjective and include perceived racism that may be real at times, a deep feeling of pain resulting from being left out. Not the least of all these factors is the culture in which wealth and luxury are the measure of worth and relevance of humans. The consequent disappointment, feeling of loss, hopelessness and despair of all the categories of factors create situations conducive to the positive response to the radical and extremist discourse of these propagandists of fundamentalist attitudes.
Claims of the urgency of drastic reforms of millenary legislation deeply rooted in the tradition of religious teachings and commandments are not only being discussed and claimed but actually acted upon and implemented. The social status of women that is being transformed away from the mainstream religious tradition in many countries is but one example. Overt challenges of religious ideologies and imposed behaviors are witnessed in the most suppressive and oppressive regimes and more people, women and men, are standing up against them and taking huge risks to their freedom and their lives. Resistance is, however, literally deadly and is justified by the obligation to maintain the status quo that is presented as the divine will and natural order.
The confrontation is among trends that limit the approach to tradition to acceptance, total adherence and submission and those that range from questioning it, submitting it to criticism, and to reasonable adaptation and updating to calls for the total removal of the religious factor from the public sphere. Religion, for the latter trend, is and should remain a private variable that has to be kept away from legislation, politics and professional and social ethics and morality. The argument is that throughout history the closest religion had been to any of these spheres, the consequences were the rise of egocentrism, ethnocentrism, hatred, exclusion of minorities, excessive exploitation of humans in diverse forms of forced labor, abuse of the dignity and physical integrity of humans, monopolization of power and of wealth by a few that do not hesitate to impose their authority by coercion and extreme violence. Increased accessibility to new and critical versions of history has disclosed the absurdity of many accounts that had been held at face value to be self evident and which were manipulated to support and maintain convictions and beliefs and to justify the status quo and the rule of dynasties, tribes, other groups.
The crisis which my friend, who must be waiting for my response to his query, has mentioned must be one of the types that accompany every metamorphosis and renewal. In other words, it is the pain that heralds radical change. The syndrome that transformation is underway in societies in which Islam has been part of the culture for so long it has shaped mindsets, behaviors and imagination and in which people are aware they have either to reinvent their religion to make room for contemporariness and modernity or it will slip out of their control before they can see it disappear or turn into something they would not be proud of. The crisis may be the symptom of the attitudes that support ignorance, imitation, the skill of reproducing models, of mistrust, of fear and of essentializing marginal issues. This is to invest the universe of knowledge, creation, innovation, critical thinking, responsibility, solidarity, acknowledgment of the centrality of the human, the prominence of reality over any transcendence, confidence, responsibility and accountability.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent any institution or entity.
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