One of the greatest things I’ve come to experience in my public work and engagement, whether it be at mosques, independent workshops/seminars or social media, is the disconcerting level of religious illiteracy that is prevalent and widespread – whilst people are quite confident they know something. Most of those ‘somethings’ are based on wild assumptions, misunderstandings or preconceived ideas picked up from outside of shar’ī sources. Or they’re taken in an atomised way and out of context and consequently make little sense in the way they are functionalised. People who might be considered ‘informed’ are those who’ve simply picked up atomised tidbits from here and there, with a long list of dos and don’ts (And obviously, there’s little edifying about this form of religion, which is why religion becomes a burden rather than uplifting.)
The fallacious ‘chosen people’ syndrome has lulled many into a false sense of security and hubris, one example is the smugness found in the sentiment: “Look at these kuffar, look at their churches, they’re empty!” while Muslims overlook mosques also getting emptier.
Not being a part of the main religious body of this country has led most Muslims to use arbitrary markers to differentiate themselves, many assume (even those who don’t actively practice!) that always trying to maintain a counter-culture is what makes their beliefs and practices valid or ‘authentic’. Not only does it create unnecessary hardship for socially integrated Muslims who seek to live out faithful and godly lives without unnecessarily emotionally-draining friction, but expecting everybody to tow their line creates an unbearable pressure that causes many to leave what they assume to be Islam. Islam is not in random acts but to live out a holistic way that speaks to the overarching intent of God and what He wants of humans on earth. When they eventually recognise it as merely being about counter culture, almost against the fitrah, irrational, and essentially not about God, the potency of what they once thought was a great thing is now lost.
But the truth is that Islam has never been a great thing here. I know it’s controversial to say it, but it’s the truth. Obviously I don’t mean islām as God’s account of true and valid subservience, but ‘brand Islam’ – the political and ethno-cultural entity it commonly exists as.
Think about it like this (similitude): Islam is a gold bar – if articulated correctly its compelling nature to a theist is undeniable, and those who have diverged from the creed of Abraham (unbelievers) are poverty-stricken – greatly in need of it and would desire it if they knew it in its actual form. Now you’d think handing out gold to the poor for nothing in return would be a walk in the park, and that everyone would want to be rich! Yet that hasn’t happened at all, and not because people “just want to follow their desires” but because of what Islam is advocated as (which I too don’t find to be compelling!) – it is unprecedented that such vast amounts of people see Islam as backwards, irrational and unjust. In the past, rejection was based on Islam simply being too radical, egalitarian and just! Statistics show that most who do convert leave the deen soon after, usually due to being around other Muslims and the kind of religion they’re taught. The majority of converts will tell you that it’s been a struggle being around ethno-Muslims, and what they’ve taught. And the reason they go along with it is down to humility: “I’m new to this, maybe what’s not making sense is because I don’t know enough. They say I’m struggling because I haven’t fully submitted my desires, maybe that’s true.”
Although true subservience to God is an uplifting force in every sense of the word, pseudo-Islam remains a cultural inheritance amongst immigrant communities. Beyond this cultural inheritance, the vast majority have no compelling reason why they’re Muslims. They offer arguments about the existence of God, but such ontological arguments just tell us why they’re theists (believe in God), not how Islam (as an account of what God wants) is a compelling account of theism. And if you can’t explain why Islam is compelling to you, they you certainly can’t get others to see it’s compelling nature.
Now when Muslims ask me to explain how Islam is compelling, I usually ask what their motive is. Are they simply looking for some rhetorical arguments that’ll superficially validate the culture they’re committed to? Or are they seeking the truth no matter what it is (even if it completely negates everything they know/do)?
Hypothetically, if I were to prove to them that their islām isn’t true, would they leave Islam and seek the truth elsewhere? How far does the claim of sincerity go in practice? The only people who tend to respond to this line of conversation positively are converts since they’ve actually been through it all before and demonstrated a commitment to what’s true, whatever the case might be. But this then tells us something:
In order to engage true subservience to God as God defines it, we must be willing to go back to the beginning, shedding our baggage, and starting afresh. One must be willing to start again at the (fiṭrī) idea of theism and then build a new coherent and consistent narrative that’s compelling to one’s soul. For all intents and purposes, we need to convert, to go from those who claim an Abrahamic devotion to God to those who truly believe in what the Prophets brought.
Indeed it’s a journey, but how many are willing to sincerely undertake it, submit to God, and the truth?