Clash of ideologies among Muslims

March 31, 2008 at 12:30 am (Islam, Islamism, The West)

It cannot be denied that there is a veritable clash within Islam and between a certain aspect of Islam and the West.

The clash within Islam is between modernists and non-modernists. (Although Islamism is usually touted as the enemy, and whereas even modernist Islamists usually believe in and promote the superiority of Islam, the Islam that modernist Islamists believe in is usually modified to coexist with other religious and political systems or modified to adopt the values and standards of other religious and political systems, making that form of Islam more compatible.)

This debate used to be confined mainly among the higher levels of Islamic societies, among the thinkers and theologians and clerics, but because this debate has practical consequences for all Muslims, average Muslims are taking interest, speaking their mind, and campaigning for their preferred ideology.

This debate affects Muslims on two levels. The first level is at the personal level of practice and belief. Each side has a separate set of dictates as to what Muslims are supposed to do and believe. This is a matter of salvation and fulfilling the destiny of Islam, and so is important. Thus, average Muslims believe they have a right to participate in this debate because it affects which set of rules they will follow with regard to practice and belief.

The second level with regard to how this affects Muslims is at a meta level. Each side, along with dictating what a Muslim must do and believe, also dictates what sort of policies, laws, thoughts, ideas, and whatnot a Muslim polity must engage in. This significantly affects the way a Muslim polity relates with the world and how it organizes and administrates itself.

In reality, the debate boils down to one question that many of the other religions have answered (for the most part): is Islam a personal entity or a communal/political entity?

Note that a very significant issue in the debate is whether Islam can change or to what degree Islam actually dictates a polity’s policies and structure. While this is significant, the issue of being personal or communal/political is far greater because that will indicate to what degree a Muslim must exert himself in ensuring the application and spread of Islam (whatever Islam is said to be).

If Islam is a personal phenomenon, then all the Muslim has to concern himself with is himself. The only way others factor into his sphere of concern is instructing and teaching others about Islam, encouraging adherence to Islam, and promoting Islam. But each person would otherwise be free to accept or reject obedience to the mandates of Islam. As such, the mandates of Islam would have no binding role in society and certainly not in government. The mandates of Islam would then govern personal behavior and beliefs without imposing themselves on others or have themselves imposed on others.

But if Islam is a communal/political phenomenon, then the Muslim’s sphere of concerns expands greatly to include really everyone. He must preach and teach and promote Islam to non-Muslims; he must exhort Muslims to follow Islam’s mandates; he must teach wayward Muslims about Islam’s mandates; and, most significantly, he must contribute to the state’s embrace of Islam’s mandates and efforts to impose it. As such, the behavior and belief of others is of the Muslim’s interest and concern, and he must concern himself with the sins and fidelity of all Muslims.

The former will leave everyone to their devices. The latter will stick his nose into everyone’s business (because everyone’s business is his business too).

The West strongly promotes the idea of religion being a personal phenomenon. Many Muslims who are very active with Western people and companies, who live as Westerners, are greatly perturbed by the busy-bodiness of the other Muslims who stick their noses into everything. The Western Muslims want to be left alone while the traditional Muslims want the Western Muslims to drop the West and (re)embrace traditional Islam. The West and Islam are not compatible, according to many Muslims, and a Muslim’s residence in the West is simply a residence and must never become a manifestation of allegiance to or assimilation with the West.

There is a significant amount of resentment being built up among Westernized Muslims, far more recently than I have ever seen. People are openly criticizing traditional and hyper-Islamist Muslims. While some of it is for somewhat not good reasons (ashamed of the backwards image traditional Muslims present, for example), a lot of the resentment is provoked by the traditional Muslims’ incessant harping.

The clash of ideologies within Islam is filtering down the levels of Muslim communities. Confrontations are becoming more open, and this will only continue. Whereas many people believed they simply could not talk back to traditional Muslims (partly because other Muslims would side with the traditional Muslim and oppose the Westernized Muslim, and partly because the traditional Muslims may be, at a certain, actually correct), more and more are stiffening their spines and speaking up. This is a very welcome sign, the opposite reaction to the spread of traditionalism and extremism among Muslims. (Example: A far greater percentage of Muslim women today wear the hijab than did a few decades ago. And more and more are beginning to support the extremists and traditionalists.)

What role does the West play: Only one role, that is providing a safe haven for Muslims who want to challenge the orthodox authorities.

These days, it is difficult if not impossible for a Muslim who openly challenges the orthodox authorities to thrive in Muslim communities. Other Muslims are turned against him. In the West, it doesn’t matter if one is accepted or rejected by the Muslim community: he can still work, have fun, marry, raise a family, and all that jazz with great ease and freedom. The government won’t throw him into prison, no law force will accuse him of apostasy and deprive his legal rights, no police force will send him into a psychiatric institution. He can do whatever he wants. The West must foster this safe haven-ness.

And, in that line of thought, the West must step away from the debate. It may be important to teach, through books or articles or highly academic writings, about personal liberties, about secularism in government policy, about the role (and limits) of religion in society, about democracy and tolerance and diversity. But it must be in an educational role, not in a role to win them to our side. If they agree, great. If not, at least they know what we believe. The reason I say this is because the Westernized Muslims will have lost the moment we take upon our shoulders their battle. This is battle of ideologies between Muslims, and we should let the Muslims sort it out. Many Muslims do not have a solid grounding in the theories we are familiar with, which I just mentioned, and so we can help them learn about such theories and ideas. But we cannot dictate to them or make them adopt our ways. This is not our war, even though its consequences affect us.

We should also listen to Westernized Muslims. What are they saying about Islam? How does it differ from the orthodox rhetoric? What can we do for the Muslim peoples? How can we help their Westernized thinkers?

By the way, one very good idea which would go a long way to help legitimize Westernized Muslims, is to ignore the traditional authorities of Islam as legitimate or authoritative speakers while inviting and listening to the Westernized ones. This will, in a subtle manner, decrease the legitimacy of the traditional and orthodox thinkers and speakers, especially if the Westernized ones are constantly quoted and referred to. This will filter down among the Muslims too, who will take greater interest in the Westernized thinkers or, for that matter, cannot simply ignore them.

Rant over!



  1. Nora said,

    Magnificent post, Muslihoon. I will link you in the blog. That part:

    one very good idea which would go a long way to help legitimize Westernized Muslims, is to ignore the traditional authorities of Islam as legitimate or authoritative speakers while inviting and listening to the Westernized ones.

    is the more logical thing which should have been done since a lot of time ago…

  2. Spanish Pundit said,

    Comerciantes holandeses eigirn responsabilidad a

    Dhimmi Watch: Dutch businesses threaten to sue Wilders over”Fitna”:

    “Dutch businesses Saturday threatened to sue far-right lawmaker Geert Wilders if his anti-Islam film led to a commercial boycott, as several more Muslim countries condemned i…

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