Recently I have seen several articles on the seeming decline in adherence to Islam by its followers in the Middle East. This may be true. Certainly the corruption within the clerical ranks of Islam would seem to justify this decline. We have been in an era in which many Islamic clerics have become politicians and verbal warriors, demanding death and hellfire for the “enemies of Islam.” On the other hand, the politicians have become clerics , spewing bile and invective toward their rivals and the West, in voicing selected religious terminology. Spiritually, especially in terms of deep reflection there seems to be a void here, but not being a Muslim I cannot vouch for that. In contrast to that however, how can we explain the number of Westerners from secular societies seeking rebirth and solace in adopting Islam.? Actually I find that easy to explain. Our materialistic society is admittedly rather empty. As Christianity has become a quaint antiquated fashion, generally paganized to make it acceptable to the elite, the thinking people wonder , “is this all there is is” ( apologies to Peggy Lee). Even or priests and preachers, water down the bold and sometimes strident strokes in the Good Book to soften the rough edges. No use making people feel uncomfortable.
The problem with this decline of Islam is that we have been through this a number of times before. The extraordinarily perceptive , Hilaire Belloc ( The Great Heresies, 1937), in the 1930’s wrote about this in era in which secular revolutionary ideas were becoming into vogue: communism, fascism, proto -democracy. Western pundits opined that Islam, a religion they saw as a religion of the peasants, and the uneducated, and was gradually -with increasing education- withering away. The Middle East was under Western colonial powers, evidencing the power of Western civilization over the Islamic.Belloc saw that was a mirage– another fashionable idea–passing for wisdom– of the elite that had no substance-as we often see today. Belloc wrote, “May not Islam rise again?”
He continued, ” In a sense the question is already answered because Islam never departed. It still commands the fixed loyalty and unquestioned adhesion of all the millions between The Atlantic and Indus, and further afield throughout scattered communities of further Asia. But I ask the question in the sense “will not perhaps the temporal power of Islam return and with it the menace of an armed Mohammedan world which will shake off the the domination of the Europeans – still nominally Christians- and reaper again as the prime enemy of of our civilization?”
Of course Bolloc took a dim view of Islam, calling it not a religion, but a heresy of Catholic Christianity. So the modernists of this age denigrate Belloc’s ideas, but it is undeniable he was right in the temporal sense. ISIS is the living proof of that.
But next came the Abdul Nasser era of the 50’s and 60’s and again the “Neo-Arabists,” as they are often termed by folks like me. They envisioned a new Arab world, run by “benevolent”military leaders, filled with socialist ideas of the East European programs, e.g., the industrial leap. Leaders like Nasser used Islam when necessary in his doctrinal, and military tracts, but made fun of the clerics in his speeches, such as when he ridiculed a cleric for demanding women wear the hijab. ( how things have changed!)
In 1967, the preeminent American scholar of Islam , Bernard Lewis wrote an article in Commentary, ( Jan. 1967), “The Return. of Islam” in which he accurately forecast the next 50 years of strife in the Middle East and the collision of civilizations, aptly described by Samuel Huntington, in his Clash of Civilizations, ( another book that engenders modernist scholarly angst……. In fact I have learned that usually any book trashed by the princes of Middle East studies usually need a close look; ex: The Arab Mind. the best book -and most useful-on Arab culture written in the English language.
So why are Western pundits and “experts”on Islam ( most not all) so very wrong? Bernard Lewis defines it perfectly;
“We are prepared to allow religiously defined conflicts to accredited eccentrics like the Northern Irish, but to admit that an entire civilization can have religion as its primary loyalty is too much. Even to suggest such a thing is regarded as offensive by liberal opinion, always ready to take protective umbrage on behalf of those whom it regards as its wards. This is reflected in the present inability, political, journalistic, and scholarly alike, to recognize the importance of the factor of religion in the current affairs of the Muslim world and in the consequent recourse to the language of left-wing and right-wing, progressive and conservative, and the rest of the Western terminology, the use of which in explaining Muslim political phenomena is about as accurate and as enlightening as an account of a cricket match by a baseball correspondent.”
I might add, as we see everyday in our mediocre main stream media , Western elitist references to religion are usually accompanied by titters of disdain. To accept the power of religion would be to negate their entire belief system. ( whatever that may be). The other frequent error made as a result of the current zeitgeist, corrupting the academic Middle East community, is the romanticizing of Islam. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all have stern prescriptions and proscriptions and often a bloody history. Immersing them in a bowl of jelly may make them easier to digest but do not represent the reality.
Today this fatuous belief that Islam, meaning radical Islam, particularly that with nuclear power in their near future, like the Iranians, can be examined and understood in terms of economics, politics, “discursive” interfaith dialog, etc. is a recipe for disaster. The Idea that we can lessen our defenses against ISIS and the many other militant Islamic movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood, will be a fatal path to follow.