The threat to “islam” (subservience to God) today is not simply the West or secular ideologies which actually have relatively little impact on the individual lives of ordinary believing people who carry on with their faith, nor do I believe God will allow truth to be overcome. He says:
God has decreed: ‘I shall most certainly win, I and My messengers.’ God is powerful and almighty.Quran 58:21
But one of the greatest threats to such submission is reactionary religion, it is changing the face of the faith. Nearly everything, from aqidah to fiqh, not to mention political engagement, is being framed or determined by the insecurities of Muslims. Nuance and intelligence are massacred by ignorant dogma, and as much as some despise secularism, their entire outlook is shaped by it, by reacting to what they perceive as secular hegemony and then framing their positions in contradistinction to it. That is an entirely incorrect understanding of what God has revealed. We ought to define Islam and the interests of Muslims by God’s standards, and sometimes those positions will agree with others, at other times they won’t.
Sincere and informed shar’i advocates are not absolutists, nor are they binary in their reasoning. They get that most things are on a spectrum and that there are many variables to consider in a range of circumstances. The less knowledge a person has the more simplistically they tend to look at things of a complex nature. And when they’re met with what they don’t know or are unable to comprehend they disparage it. But this is nothing new, the prophetic companions faced much the same. The mother of the believers, A’ishah, said:
ما أسرع الناس إلى أن يعيبوا ما لا علم لهم به
“How quick people are to disparage that which they have no knowledge of!”Muslim
And this brings me to another significant threat, and that is populism. It is where things are framed as a battle between the virtuous ordinary masses and a nefarious or corrupt elite – where there is an insistence that the general person knows as much about God and what He has revealed as one who has dedicated much time and thought to it. Now I’m not saying that there isn’t a crisis of scholarship or leadership in our communities, but the idea that religious opinion is democratic, or that anyone by virtue of calling themselves a Muslim or exhibiting a bit of proactivity in the public realm, has a valid thing to say on behalf of God is not only logically absurd, it also contradicts God’s own sentiments. He says:
Yet still there are some who, with no knowledge or guidance or any book of enlightenment, argue about God.Quran 22:8
Say, ‘How can those who know be equal to those who do not know?’ Only those who have understanding will take heed.Quran 39:9
(And the hadith are replete with specific statements and examples.)
Many will disparage those far more informed than them because the latter do not happily nod along with their ideological inclinations, and the former will then hark back to the scholars of the medieval era, only to completely misunderstand or misrepresent what they wrote or said, either by misquoting them or taking their statements completely out of context. There are various types of scholars, yes the government-type who exist to maintain the power of the corrupt, but there is also the populist type who rabble rouse and say what’ll please the masses. And that’s scholars, so what of laymen?!
We need informed opinion and a diverse range of deep thinking that isn’t caught up for/against the ideological battles of the day, nor out to prove something against someone, but those who celebrate God, who are thankful and worshipful, informed about revelation and the real world, and find profundity in God’s guidance (and how He expects humans to conduct their affairs), which they want to share with the world for its rectitude.
But before I end, let me be clear: I do not want to suggest that militant secularism (and I wouldn’t want to be reductive here – there’s all sorts of secularism) has no impact on the overall nature of religiosity for that would be absolutely absurd; it’s a hegemonic paradigm forced onto many peoples. I’m speaking to the individual lives of ordinary Muslims who work 9-5, pray and go to umrah when they can. This demographic (which is the majority in my humble opinion) have no idea about ideologies and tend to keep it simple. What seems to affect their individual piety more in my own experience is the way religion is framed (i.e. reactionary religion); either it doesn’t make sense or fails to resonate with normal everyday life and bring about optimum outcomes, both of which cause a great degree of dissonance. However, my belief is that there will always be ideologies/beliefs that will attack the very core of imaan and ubudiyyah, so it’s both to be expected and something that’ll never end. Knowing this, God has given us security in the shari’ah but when that is (mis)presented in a damaging way, then there’s a serious problem.