If Egyptian-born Hamed Abdel-Samad is right, Islam today is seriously ill and is culturally and socially in retreat. Like the Titanic, considered invincible, Islam is facing sudden global collapse with dire consequences for the West, he warns.
Last week in Spain I sat in on a gathering of folk related to Hope for Europe engaged with Muslims across Europe who struggle with life in our secular society. Reports from various western European countries highlighted fears and anxieties of Muslim women especially who find themselves caught in the clash of cultures.
“What is God like?” was a question frequently asked by Muslims, we were told. Many Arabic-speaking Muslims in both Europe and North Africa seek answers by listening to Trans World Radio broadcasts from Monaco, via a very powerful transmitter built on Hitler’s orders to broadcast propaganda during World War Two.
One participant, himself a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood, reported that many Iranians consider the greatest evangelist in the Muslim world to have been the Ayatollah Khomeini. For in the ten years of his rule from the Iranian Revolution until his death in 1989, Khomeini alienated millions from their traditional faith. The stronger Islam grew, the more Muslims turned to Isa (as Jesus is called in the Koran). The speaker added that more Muslims had become believers in Isa in recent times than in the previous fourteen centuries of Islam.
In response to popular ideas that Islam was growing in strength and threatened to overpower the West, the same speaker quoted Hamed Abdel-Samad, the son of a Sunni Imam. Now a German-based political scientist and writer, Abdel-Samad believes that Islam may be many things–except powerful.
In almost all countries with a Muslim majority, he sees the decline of civilization and a stagnation of all forms of life. Islam is in intellectual, moral and cultural decline, he claims. A doomed religion, it is without self-awareness and without any options to act. He sees Islam offering few if any constructive answers to the questions of the 21st century. Instead, it is barricading itself behind a wall of anger and protest.
Googling for more information, I learned that despite his criticism of Islam, Abdel-Samad has not rejected his faith. In one of many interviews in the German media since the appearance of his book Der Untergang der islamischen Welt (The Downfall of the Islamic World), he said his dream was ‘an enlightened Islam, without Sharia law and without jihad, without gender apartheid, proselytizing and the mentality of entitlement; a religion open to criticism and questions.’
While admitting that he didn’t pray regularly or fast during Ramadan, he still considered himself a Muslim.
“It's my cultural community. For me, Islam is also my homeland and my language, and my Arabic can't be separated from all of that. You can distance yourself from Islam but remain within the heart of Islam. I don't want to yield to the fundamentalists who preach violence. They are on the rise.”
This rise of Islamism reflected a lack of self-awareness and constructive real-life options for many young Muslims, says Abdel-Samad. At the same time, he observes, the internet has caused many to mistrust the old traditional structures.
Two options remain: a step forward towards democratization or a step back toward mass fanaticism and violence.
In countries like Iran and Egypt, he sees both trends happening simultaneously, creating a ‘clash of civilizations’ within the Islamic world itself–between individualism and conformity, innovation and continuity, modernity and the past.
Yet, he complains, hardly anyone dares to attack the sanctity of the Koran. Hardly anyone asks, ‘Is there possibly a fundamental shortcoming of our faith?’
”The so-called reformers of Islam still dare not approach the fundamental problems of culture and religion. They remind me of the band on the Titanic, which kept on playing even as the ship was sinking, so as to give the passengers the illusion of normalcy.”
Transformation and modernization will only be reached following collapse. Many Islamic countries will tumble. A rapidly growing, poor and oppressed population, a lagging educational sector, shrinking oil reserves and drastic climate change undermine any prospects for economic progress.
Islam will have a hard time surviving as a political and social idea, and as a culture, he believes. The downfall of the Islamic world would automatically mean that the waves of migration to Europe would increase significantly.
Hard times await us on both sides of the Mediterranean Sea, he warns, adding: “we are all running out of time.”
Till next week.
Till next week,