It’s no secret to any Muslim that the community at large is facing a crisis. A crisis of modernity and the wave of new age Muslim Atheists. Some would argue that this is a western problem, faced only in non-Muslim countries. However the reality is that across the globe, Muslims are beginning to question their faith, their community, and Islam itself.
Don’t get me wrong – asking questions is both permissible and encouraged from an Islamic perspective. Being inquisitive is an asset, being critical can lead to strengthening ones faith, and learning more (with sincere intentions of course) can be beneficial. If this is the case, why are so many young Muslims leaving Islam? What are the root causes that lead people to doubt Divine commandments? The answer to that, interestingly enough, has nothing to do with Islam; it begins with a history lesson, albeit a very concise and generalized one.
After the fall of the Roman Empire the European World fell into what is known as the Dark Ages: a time of great intellectual, spiritual, economic, and cultural deterioration. In the 16th and 17th century’s, during the Reformation (a political and social movement to denounce the corruption of the Catholic Church) many Protestants argued that the Church had wrought so much darkness and corruption which had taken religion out of the hands of the people and had forced them to be answerable to the Pope as opposed to God.
I’m sure you’re wondering what this has to do with modernity and Islam but we’re getting to that.
During a time of great religious persecution, it is expected that people will eventually resent and rebel against oppression. As intellectual thinkers and philosophers emerged, once again they had come up with an altered world view. Because of the centuries of state repression rooted in religion – philosophers and intellectuals rejected the notion that religious leaders should be the source of all knowledge. They decided to bring what they called individual reasoning: rational thinking that is as far away from the rulings of religion as possible. And thus secularism is born. Not only were there political shifts during this time from the ruling of the Church to popularized democracy (for the people by the people) but there was a massive intellectual shift in the way Europeans saw the world.
The framework with which they understood the world was now rooted in the material, scientific, and emperical world. No longer did Divine knowledge, or the unseen world matter because for too long that had only wrought oppression. You can have your religion and your God, but what really mattered was the study of science and emperical, individual knowledge which to this day has had a profound effect on the way that people think. Fast forward to colonialism and you have an entire socio-economic, and political structure which forced its cookie cutter ideals onto the rest of the world and just like that, the entire world has embraced modernity and secularism rooted in the enlightenment.
Our framework of thought shifted from God-centric to Material-centric. Muslims today are trying to seek answers to their spiritual questions from a material reality. Now we have questions of modernity versus tradition, west versus east, extreme versus moderate. All of these binaries are actually a manifestation of the colonial framework which is based in the European experience of extreme religious oppression and is then made to seem like a universal experience.
And now here we are, lost and confused, trying to make sense of a beautiful religion through a framework that was imposed on us instead of the Divine framework through which it was meant to be understood. We are trying to understand why women can’t lead prayer from an epistemological perspective of gender equality. We are trying to wrap our heads around the increase in Muslim violence and “terrorism” in a way that is detached from a violent history of colonialism.
The Muslim psyche has been tormented, twisted, and abused into such an inferiority complex that it is easier to identify as a “muslim atheist” or a “cultural muslim” than to try and understand the deeper spiritual absence. And once again history has repeated itself only this time the community that suffers is Us. Muslims are now going through their own Dark Ages. Intellectual and spiritual thinking has been forced out of many Muslim countries and replaced with religious dogma. We have almost fully embraced a modern identity, and those that refuse cling tightly onto what’s left of what could be considered classical Islam.
Even the English language has been imposed and universalized which has had a profound impact on the way people think. English is rapidly becoming the standard language; it is wiping out local and indigenous languages which in turn, change the material and social realities. In other languages, there are numerous words for love, and yet in English there is only one. Other languages have words to describe the most beautiful, and human experiences and emotions, yet English denies us of the ability to communicate these things. As unrelated as it might seem to this phenomenon of the growing trend of Muslim atheism, it is actually quite interconnected. If one does not have the linguistic capacity to understand the spiritual world then it makes it difficult to reap the benefits. People are complex beings with a capacity for meaningful and deep spiritual connections however our current state has reduced us to experiencing the world merely in the physical sense.
To understand God means to go beyond the material reality; to experience the love and mercy of God means one must become deeply in tune with the inner workings of their own Soul. This new wave of Muslim Atheism comes from a long history of spiritual beings trying to find answers about the world with scientific facts when the reality is that the Ultimate Truth remains with God.