Major challenges facing Muslims in the West

Crescent International spoke to prominent Muslim blogger and intellectual Daniel Haqiqatjou about major challenges facing Muslims in the West.

Daniel Haqiqatjou was born in Houston, Texas. He attended Harvard University where he majored in Physics and also studied Philosophy. He completed a Masters degree in Philosophy at Tufts University. Haqiqatjou is also a student of the traditional Islamic sciences. He writes and lectures on contemporary issues affecting Muslims and modernity.

Q. As a popular Muslim blogger, what would you say are the three of the most crucial topics Muslim bloggers need to address today and why?

Obviously, the topics that I address are the most crucial! Joking aside, I think Muslim bloggers and intellectuals need to pay closer critical attention to the issues of feminism, liberalism, and scientism. These are ideologies that unfortunately many Muslims simply assume despite their caustic nature and the dangers they pose to Islamic faith and practice. I feel that we pay way too much intellectual attention on Islamophobia. Yes, it is important to oppose anti-Muslim forces. I do not deny that in the least. But, at the end of the day, that is a very dunyawi (i.e., worldly) issue. If one day we live in a world free from Islamophobia, what good does that do if the Muslims — or the descendants of Muslims — of that time have a corrupted religion and reject the fundamentals of Islamic values and beliefs? This is the greater disaster we are headed towards as evidenced by the sheer number of youth leaving Islam every day. Not to be alarmist, but it is a mass exodus in both the West and the East. And the main culprits responsible are those three ideologies I mentioned. And I know not everyone will agree with me on that.

Q. Science is a topic you frequently write about. What would you say are the biggest misconceptions of science by the religious communities and of the scientific community about religion?

The biggest misconception that Muslims have about science is that they take science as synonymous with truth and reality and believe that “Islam and science can never conflict.” Not even scientists themselves believe that their work is the final word on the matter. Science is constantly in flux in the sense that what scientists believe today may be completely overturned tomorrow or in 50 years. We see this throughout the history of science. Galileo’s views on dynamics were overturned by Newton. Newton’s view on motion and gravity were overturned by Einstein. And today, even some of Einstein’s formulations are being questioned. Some might describe this as a process of “self-correction” and getting ever closer to the truth, but, in reality, this is another misconception. Newton’s laws of motion have very little to do with Galileo’s work, such that it is hard to see how the former built upon the latter. When Einstein is theorizing gravity, i.e., General Relativity, his theoretical construct and its underlying ontology has nothing to do with anything Newton conceived of. But modern people like to view history as a continuous progression of thought: primitive ideas (beginning with the Ancient Greeks, of course) get modified, improved, and become increasingly advanced such that modernity is the peak of human achievement and knowledge. But this is a bias — I call it “chronocentrism” — that is not justified by historical facts. And Muslims, of course, have independent reasons to reject progressivism, some of which I describe here.

As for the scientific community, they in general ignore any critique of their own discipline. Scientists often have a very impoverished caricature of the “scientific enterprise” itself. The truth of the matter is, there is no consensus on what science even is. I studied physics and philosophy at Harvard University and no one there or elsewhere has made a definitive statement on what science as a process or as a human activity more broadly actually consists in. You will find a lot of people with a naive view of science, namely that the essence of science is the “scientific method.” But this is more of a fiction than anything else, as numerous philosophers and historians of science elaborate, the foremost being Paul Feyerabend. What he points out is that the kind of activity you find, say, in an experimental chemistry lab is very different from anything a medical doctor practices, even though we call both of those activities “science.” If you look at what Isaac Newton was doing, his methods, his thought process and compare it to what a modern zoologist does, there is nothing in common there, yet we think of it all as science. Muslims make it worse by claiming that scholars like Avicenna or Ibn Al-Haytham were “Muslim scientists,” but this is anachronistic in the extreme. There is just no common ground inherent to the work of all of these disparate thinkers that can be subsumed into a consistent, meaningful, functional category of science.

Q. You frequently write about Islamic perspective on gender relations and contemporary dogma of feminism. Do you think cultural perspectives within Muslim societies that are not rooted in Islam provide an opening for feminist dogma to infiltrate Muslim minds and present itself as a “liberating” alternative? What can Muslims do to eliminate cultural biases they have on the topic of gender relations?

Yes, there are cultural factors that contribute to Muslims seeing religion as a source for gendered abuse and the best way to address that is to insist that people learn about the justice that Islam teaches with respect to women and men. However, I think the biggest cause of bias comes from Western culture and this very particular, idiosyncratic fiction of what freedom and equality consists in. It is Muslims buying into this fiction that causes so much dissatisfaction with Islamic law. For example, Muslims are constantly told that if you aren’t allowed to sleep with whoever you want, whenever you want, that is oppression, that is curtailing your freedom, when the reality is that such behavior results in plenty of harm, undue responsibility, and the limitation of human life (as I explain here, here, and here for example). Muslims are told that equality means the law has to treat men and women exactly the same despite the actual difference between men and women anatomically, physiologically, psychologically, socially, etc., (a standard of equality, by the way, that not even Western secularism abides by — there are significant differences in how Western law treats men vs. women, but those differences are not recognized as breaches of equality). Since Islamic law (nor any other system of law in the history of humanity) accepts such a simplistic and irrational notion of gender equality, this becomes a reason to portray Islam as backwards and contrary to the interests of women. The best way to counter this is to radically critique feminist and secularist conceptions of gender and gender equality and spread skepticism and doubt about these false ideologies throughout the Muslim world in order to break the spell, while simultaneously elaborating upon how Islamic law anticipates and bypasses the failures of the liberal alternative.

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Q. How do you explain the rise of Donald Trump?

I personally don’t make too much of a distinction between Trump and other politicians, like Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton. When you look at the actual positions the mainstream Democrats and Republicans have on any number of issues, they are actually not very far apart. The illusion is that these are two diametrically opposed sides battling on every issue, but for the most part, both sides agree on most issues. Both sides believe the Muslim world needs to be controlled and manipulated somehow — though they may disagree on the finer details. Both sides believe Israel’s geopolitical interests need to be supported no matter the cost to Muslim lives. Both sides are not interested in challenging corporate theft and the swindling of the middle and lower classes of their wealth and property (though there are always a couple of defectors on this issue within the parties, like Bernie Sanders or Ron Paul). Both sides agree that American Muslims are collectively responsible for terrorism and must accede to specialized government surveillance, scrutiny, and curtailment of rights.

And yes, Trump is definitely more open about prejudice towards Muslims, and that is very concerning. But I attribute that to emotions that were always bubbling underneath the surface since September 11, 2001. In other words, Trump is a symptom, not a cause of increased anti-Muslim sentiment in America.

 Q. Being a Muslim of Iranian background who follows the Sunni Islamic school of jurisprudence, what practical steps can Muslims in the West take to reduce the externally instigated Sunni-Shia tensions?

Humans tend to divide themselves into sub-groups based on (sometimes) meaningless distinctions. It is something that feeds the nafs and is ultimately Satanic (because it is shaytan who loves to see this kind of strife between Muslims). I have seen a group of 50 Muslims in a university Muslim student association divide and break up into two separate associations because of ultimately trivial disagreements. That being said, I don’t mean to deny that there are important theological differences between Sunni and Shia. But there is much that we all have in common.

Just because Sunnis and Shiis disagree on certain points of theology does not preclude them from working together to face the existential threat that is facing all of us equally. When the US invaded Iraq in 2003 with their “shock and awe” carpet bombing campaign, they didn’t care if the people buried in the rubble were Sunni or Shia. When a new atheist like Sam Harris or Richard Dawkins rants about the “evil of Islam,” they don’t make any distinction between Sunni or Shia. When Western NGOs go to Muslim countries to “educate” the people on the “freedom” and “beauty” of Western values of “sex positivity” and “homosexuality,” promoting all kinds of crimes and destruction, they don’t care if the ones falling into these calamities are Sunni or Shia. When they are banning halal meat in some European countries on the basis of liberal secularization, they don’t care if the people without meat are Sunni or Shia. So, yes, there are theological differences between the two groups and that is a legitimate conversation that can be had in a civil fashion, but it is hard to prioritize that conversation when there is a boot on all of our necks, collectively.

You can follow Daniel on Facebook and Twitter. 


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