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Thank God for Atheists: An Opinion Piece On Why Muslims Need To Better Understand Our Faith

Because of atheists and their focus on the question of whether God exists or not, and their relative success in convincing so many that it does not, I have myself, as have so many other Muslims and believers, had to step up our philosophical game, and it has made me a much more solid and eloquent believer as a return, and I know I am not alone.

Because of atheists and their focus on the question of whether God exists or not, and their relative success in convincing so many that it does not, I have myself, as have so many other Muslims and believers, had to step up our philosophical game, and it has made me a much more solid and eloquent believer as a return, and I know I am not alone.

It might seem like this title is a provocation, and to a degree, it is. But I mean it. Isn’t it a primary tenet of Islam that we can find blessings in trials, and signs of God’s mercy in the unlikeliest of places?

That is how I have come to see the seemingly unstoppable rise of atheism in the 19th and 20th centuries – a rise that in the 21st century is, all of a sudden, not looking all that unstoppable anymore. If anything, atheism is living through an unprecedented crisis that it not only does not have answers to – its contingent seemingly does not have the wherewithal to even realize the humungous crisis that it is going through.

Though it is not the root of atheism’s troubles, one of the main signs of atheism’s rising troubles came in the form of a rare example of integrity: A man whose whole career was built on believing and defending one thing, suddenly had a change of heart and declared that he had been wrong all along. This man was Antony Flew, one of the, if not the best atheist philosopher of his generation, “announced in 2004 that God probably did exist”.

There is a joke initially used by the comedian Stephen Colbert to berate George W. Bush, in which he said “the greatest thing about this man, is that he is steady, you know where he stands. He believes the same thing Wednesday that he believed on Monday, no matter what happened Tuesday. Events can change, this man’s beliefs never will”. It is, of course, a humorous critique of just how apparent consistency can often just be stubbornness in accepting new facts that have come to light. In that regard, Antony Flew was not consistent, he was something much better – a man of integrity that knew how to admit it when he realized he had been wrong practically his whole life.

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But can we see atheists as a blessing? Simple. Before atheism, Islam, Christianity, and other believing philosophies were stuck in technical arguments over doctrine. Then came atheists and said: “Your arguments are fascinating, but what about this central concept that your religion seems to depend on, this God you speak of… Does it really exist?” For some time, it seemed that the tide had turned irrevocably. And it seemed like for the most part, intelligent people, especially scientists, were mostly atheists. And worst of all, most debates between atheists and believers would almost inevitably end up with some sort of clear defeat for the believers. 

But why? Simple. We strayed from God.

For too long we became obsessed with details, protocol, orthodoxy, rules, prohibitions, demonology, jurisprudence… And to a degree, we still do. Muslims argue incessantly about Islamic history, let themselves go into fits of anger whilst discussing sectarian affairs, go into detail about what is haram and halal. And this was certainly true throughout history. We discuss everything and anything, but often fail to talk profoundly about the nature of God, the reasons that make believing in God rational and necessary, and why it is imminently more coherent than atheism or adherence to polytheism or believing in an anthropomorphic “god”.

All because we thought our basic foundation, the belief in one God, was safe, and would only be solidly questioned by other religions who themselves also tend to believe in some sort of transcendental divine being or beings. Then came along atheists, and swept us off of our collective philosophical feet, if you will.

But the tide seems to be turning once again. Believing philosophers such as Muhammed Hijab and Jordan Peterson can square up in a debate and easily rake in over a million views. 

But why? Simple. Because atheists and their belligerence forced us to start reconnecting with God on a higher philosophical level. In essence, the rise of atheism gave us no choice but to stop focusing on details and to return to specializing in what we do best – believing in God in a rational and structured manner.

Does God not remind us that He created us that we may return? Does God not promise to test the believers so that we can return back in penance and humility? In this regard, the Quran clearly states:

“Calamities have appeared on land and sea because of what the hands of the people have earned, so that He (Allah) makes them taste some of what they did, in order that they may return (to the right way)” – Surah Ar-Rum, verse 41 (30:41).

And this is not only important for the Islamic contingent. Atheism is in retreat, and this presents a wonderful opportunity for Islam to come out of the shadows and start to challenge atheism in the biggest, global stages. Islamic philosophy, and in particular, its dynamic, streamlined, uncompromising belief in an abstract, non-anthropomorphic, non-material God certainly stands the test of time, unlike, for example, polytheistic beliefs such as Greek mythology which can only ever be used as a series of analogies and metaphors, which, for all their philosophical value, cannot possibly hope to be believed in properly and literally in modern times.

Indeed, the advance of science and philosophy has come no closer to solving certain mysteries, and at the center of this enduring mystery lies a key question – where does the mechanical intelligence that we see on display all around us come from, from the larger picture of a functional and mostly-harmonious natural world to the ultra-functional nature of atoms and their structure, to the apparent fine-tweaking of the basic laws of physics which allow for and accommodate for life?

All of these elements make Islam’s description of an abstract, omniscient and omnipotent God which is the source of all intelligence that we see reflected in matter, without itself being constrained by matter, more and more, and not less and less, rational and applicable.

The Paradigm Shift: Why Is Atheism On The Rise?

In short – Islamic monotheism has fully stood the test of time, and we can even claim that scientific knowledge has only, if anything, gone in the direction of confirming and strengthening it.

Now add to this the increasing spiritual discontent that is visibly sweeping the world, and is doing so even more intensely and evidently in the most materially and technologically developed nations of the world, and Islam’s position all of a sudden looks even more auspicious. If we also consider that this is something that is a central element of Islamic philosophy, that is, the belief that the material realm, i.e., that which is worldly and mundane, i.e., the dunya, will never satisfy nor pacify the human mind nor soul, and you might just have the perfect storm that will allow Islam to not only survive, but thrive and even who knows, become a sort of philosophical vanguard at a global scale.

For all of these reasons, Muslims should relish debating with atheists. And we should not just engage with atheism and atheists – we should be looking to win, using Islamic points, and in the name of Islam.

Because of atheists and their focus on the question of whether God exists or not, and their relative success in convincing so many that it does not, I have myself, as have so many other Muslims and believers, had to step up our philosophical game, and it has made me a much more solid and eloquent believer as a return, and I know I am not alone.

That is why I say, with no hint of irony or sarcasm – thank God for atheists.

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