IntroductionI was listening to a very interesting podcast the other day. In it, during a conversation about contemporary intra-Muslim theological squabbles, one of the participants in the discussion pointed out that atheism is on the rise in places like Saudi Arabia and that Muslims need to step up and focus on that issue instead of wasting time on long-obsolete medieval controversies. I of course have no qualms with the contention, but I would like to present the argument that singling out atheism as the problem is (unintentionally) misleading and distracts us from the real issue. It also puts us at a disadvantage when trying to tackle the problem we wish to resolve. It isn’t atheism per se that the apostate Muslim is embracing; atheism is simply one (I would argue quite inconsequential) feature of the worldview that he is attracted to. By focusing on this one feature we are neglecting the real crux of the issue, and we will therefore prove unsuccessful in combating this trend. To put it differently: we need to understand the problem properly in order to resolve it.
That being said, the bad news here is that we will only be able to mitigate the problem; we are in a way doomed to be unsuccessful in resolving it at this point in time since it isn’t an intellectual matter in the first place, it is a civilizational one; it needs to be understood not philosophically but sociologically yet can ultimately only be solved by strengthening the Muslim civilization which will take a colossal amount of time. Nevertheless, what cannot be accomplished fully shouldn’t be abandoned entirely. The proper way to understand the issue at hand is that the Muslim-turned-atheist has decided to switch civilizational allegiances not because he is intellectually convinced but because the Western civilization is the superior one at the present moment, and it is only natural for people to be attracted to that which shines and glitters, as Allah Himself pointed out to us:
And if it were not that the people would become one community [of disbelievers], We would have made for those who disbelieve in the Most Merciful – for their houses – ceilings and stairways of silver upon which to mount. And for their houses – doors and couches [of silver] upon which to recline. And gold ornament. But all that is not but the enjoyment of worldly life. And the Hereafter with your Lord is for the righteous.
The fact that the person in an inferior social position strives to imitate his superiors has famously been pointed out by Ibn Khaldun, and it was bin Laden (of all people) who presented us with this Khaldunian maxim in a distilled form that gets a point across: “When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature they will like the strong horse.” It’s as simple as that, it really is.
Now, since the Muslim apostate will naturally object to my analysis (he of course fancies himself a freethinker as opposed to an imitator of someone superior to himself), I offer the following proof for my claim. Since we human beings are social animals, we tend to conform to the society in which we have been brought up and we internalise the ideas and values of our peers. It would therefore generally follow that the Saudi Muslim-turned-atheist should retain the general values and ideas of the society to which he belongs, minus the theism. Atheism, after all, is simply the absence of belief in a particular deity (as they say) and shouldn’t entail the wholesale embrace of a foreign value system and culture along with it. So why doesn’t this story square with the reality on the ground? What we instead observe is that the newly minted Saudi atheist in fact rejects not only theism but the entire value system in which he was brought up, embracing something else along with his atheism; and it just so happens that this something else certainly looks and smells Western. He has rejected Muslim civilization in favour of the Western one; this is the reality of what has happened. Now, it could be claimed that this is explained by the fact that the Muslim civilization is built upon theism, making it natural for the atheist to change team jerseys. This could perhaps have been a compelling argument if it weren’t for one detail: it doesn’t follow from this that one has to become an imitator of the West per se. Why isn’t it the case that the atheist begins identifying with, say, the current Chinese society which after all is atheist at its core, as opposed to the Western one which grew out of Christendom (I will be returning to this point since it is highly significant)? The answer to this is that there might actually come a time when the Muslims in the Middle East do start mimicking the Chinese, just like the 14th century Egyptians began cutting their hair like the Mongols who were at that time associated with power and prestige, but unless and until the Chinese achieve world hegemony the Western civilization will stand out as more shiny and glittery than the Chinese or other ones out there, and this is why the Saudi Muslim-turned-atheist wishes more than anything else to be Western and to emigrate to, say, Toronto. What I am saying here is this: the Muslim-turned-atheist has merely grown tired of riding a weak horse (or more accurately: standing by the side of a dead one) and likes the looks of the strong one; he hasn’t (primarily) turned atheist – he has turned Farangi.
The Farangi seeks to make life a perpetual feast;
A wish in vain, in vain, in vain!
– Muhammad Iqbal
But if the primary motivation for turning atheist is a yearning for belonging as opposed to the pursuit of truth (I repeat: this phenomenon needs to be understood sociologically, not philosophically) why does the Muslim-turned-Farangi choose atheism over Christianity? After all, I did clearly point out that Western civilization grew out of Christendom. The short answer is that the defining feature of contemporary Western civilization isn’t Christianity but modernity, it is the basis upon which Western civilization is built. However, it is important to understand that modernity is a Christian heresy. So in a sense, the Muslim apostate who embraces Western civilization indeed has, kind of sort of, embraced Christianity, only a heretical version of it, one in which the Creator isn’t worshipped anymore. Christendom, by way of the Renaissance and by unleashing the Reformation and with the aid of the Haskalah, embarked upon a trajectory which led to the discarding of certain theological precepts, among them the authority of the Catholic Church, belief in the purity of the Bible, belief in Heaven and Hell, belief in the divinity of Christ and yes, ultimately, the belief in God Himself. Only they didn’t fully discard these Christian beliefs, they secularised some of them (such as millenarianism) and redirected their worship away from an Abrahamic transcendent god beyond the material world to the worship of sacralised concepts within the material world – and this is paganism. Modernity, then, is a mishmash of Christianity, Judaism, and paganism; Western civilization is Judaeo-Christian-pagan. So the Muslim apostate who fancies himself an atheist is in fact a Judaeo-Christian-pagan (a Farangi for short) without acknowledging it. This explains why atheists demand empirical proof for Allāh’s existence. Like all pagans, they can only worship a material god, not one that transcends the material. (This point cries for elaboration, so I will be returning to it in a minute.)
To be absolutely clear: when I talk about Farangism I am basically talking about Western modernity. And to be even more clear: Farangism is a branch of Jāhiliyah and it is crucial that it be understood as such; Muslim apostates should be understood as having reverted to Jāhiliyah in general and Farangism in particular. Fortunately, we have many resources at our disposal to understand Farangism; the research on modernity is quite advanced (I will provide an introductory reading list at the end of this article). It is simply up to us as Muslims to familiarise ourselves with the literature, benefit from it and, most importantly, contribute to it. Max Weber famously said that modernity has disenchanted the world; we need to disenchant modernity. We do so by “unmasking” it.
Generally, there are two ways to critically analyse a belief system: one is to engage in standard polemics about certain of its precepts, with the refutations and counter-refutations that follow. This, typically, is how Muslims deal with atheists; they discuss the so-called evidences for and against theism. I argue that this is near-worthless. It is the wrong approach. It won’t get us anywhere because it is a distraction from the real issue. The other approach, the one that I advocate, is to unmask. The term is borrowed from the German sociologist Karl Mannheim, who explains it thus:
This is a turn of mind which does not seek to refute, negate, or call in doubt certain ideas, but rather to disintegrate them, and that in such a way that the whole world outlook of a social stratum becomes disintegrated at the same time. […] In unmasking ideologies, we seek to bring to light an unconscious process, not in order to annihilate the moral existence of persons making certain statements, but in order to destroy the social efficacy of certain ideas by unmasking the function they serve. (From Essays on the Sociology of Knowledge)
This entails deconstructing and analysing the foundations upon which someone’s convictions are built, disclosing thereby reality for what it actually is. In this case: Muslims-turned-atheists aren’t the freethinkers they think they are, they are in fact juhhāl in every sense of the word, useful idiots (no offense) for Farangi imperialists who wish to get rid of Islam after having gotten rid of Muslim civilization. Farangis themselves revel in unmasking Islam (Robert Hoyland’s and Stephen Shoemaker’s work come to mind) but they won’t, of course, like it when the sceptical and questioning attitude is turned back at the metaphysical assumptions and superstitions of Farangism. And metaphysical assumptions and superstitions there are a-plenty. Allow me to give some examples.
Unmasking Farangism: Examples
Before providing examples of how to go about unmasking Farangism, it needs to be pointed out that the reason for doing so isn’t to badmouth the West; not everything about Farangism is bad, even pre-Islamic Arab Jāhiliyah had its positive aspects such as the chivalry and the poetry. And in an important sense, we all share in a common human civilization binding us together. I am no chauvinist. But since we have been taught (forced, really) to look at modernity through rose-tinted glasses, which leads to people uncritically accepting everything about it including the secularism and its logical end-point which is atheism, there is a need to balance out our understanding. Even when Farangis acknowledge the problems with modernity, such as the racism (a pagan element which is rooted in the concept of ancestor and in-group worship) which gave us colonialism and the Holocaust, it is somehow understood as having happened despite modernity not because of it (as if efficient killing on an industrial scale justified by science is even imaginable in any other time). And since atheism is a consequence of processes that are part of modernity, Muslims end up embracing the former by being enchanted by the latter. Hence the need for unmasking and disenchanting modernity.
The first step in unmasking and disenchanting modernity is to stop calling it that. The word has altogether positive connotations which inevitably skews our understanding. When we hear the word we think of progress and technology, the triumph of reason and the Enlightenment, human rights and equality, etc. This isn’t a rational, academic understanding, it is childish and Sunday school-esque. Also, modernity as a term sounds unbiased and nonaligned, concealing its rootedness in Judaeo-Christianity-cum-Paganism. Baudelaire famously stated that the greatest trick that the Devil played on man was to convince us that he doesn’t exist. Well, he played another trick as well in convincing everyone that Farangism is universal, religiously neutral, rational and that there is no clash between being a Muslim and being a Farangi. He did so by calling it “being modern”. The study of Farangism as opposed to modernity, then, entails balancing out the distorted narrative by, first, calling Farangism what it is and, second, studying it from a non-enchanted (and, frankly, Muslim – there’s no such thing as neutrality or true objectivity) perspective; pointing out that it stands on religious and metaphysical foundations and that it has given us such things as colonialism and the Holocaust, two world wars, a whole host of failed political experiments such as Communism, Fascism, Nazism as a result of immanentizing the eschaton. It gave us Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it gives us continuing civil strife in our societies (just compare, for example, the stability of Iraq under the Ottomans with the chaos under Farangi hegemony), atomisation and meaninglessness, AIDS and gender dysphoria, pornography addiction and opium epidemics, environmental catastrophes, and the list goes on. Below are two examples – the last one perhaps a bit banal but certainly telling – of how we may analyse and unmask Farangism, demonstrating that it isn’t based on a rational view of the world but rather full of superstitions and Jāhili ideas.
I previously mentioned that paganism is a constituent part of Farangism. First, let me cite a hadith, from the collection of al-Bukhari:
Two old ladies from among the Jewish ladies entered upon me and said’ “The dead are punished in their graves,” but I thought they were telling a lie and did not believe them in the beginning. When they went away and the Prophet entered upon me, I said, “O Allah’s Messenger! Two old ladies..” and told him the whole story. He said, “They told the truth; the dead are really punished, to the extent that all the animals hear (the sound resulting from) their punishment.” Since then I always saw him seeking refuge with Allah from the punishment of the grave in his prayers.
This hadith tells us that Muslims may sometimes benefit theologically from the People of the Book, and on that note, I believe that we may learn a thing or two from a Farangi (didn’t I tell you that I’m not a chauvinist?), the American Christian law professor Steven D. Smith, who (inspired by the poetry of T.S. Eliot) has pointed out an interesting thing about the nature of paganism. One way to define paganism is that it is based on a tendency to immanentize the sacred. What this means is that whilst Abrahamic monotheists sacralise the Creator who is beyond the material world, a pagan is someone who instead sacralises aspects of the creation. Farangis, for example, sacralise the state (remember that citizens are expected to go to war and die, i.e. sacrifice themselves, for the state); or their so-called Western values (And when it is said to them, “Follow what Allah has revealed,” they say, “Rather, we will follow that which we found our fathers doing.” Even though their fathers understood nothing, nor were they guided?); or their sexual lusts; or other dunyawi concepts. Farangis (many of them) might be nominal atheists, but they are in fact pagans.
Keep the above point in mind and consider the pagan and Catholic religious procession. From Wikipedia:
Processions have in all peoples and at all times been a natural form of public celebration, as forming an orderly and impressive ceremony. […] Processions played a prominent part in the great festivals of Greece, where they were always religious in character. The games were either opened or accompanied by more or less elaborate processions and sacrifices, while processions from the earliest times formed part of the worship of the old nature gods, as those connected with the cult of Dionysus and the Phallic processions, and later formed an essential part of the celebration of the great religious festivals (e.g. the processions of the Thesmophoria, and that of the Great Dionysia), and of the mysteries (e.g. the great procession from Athens to Eleusis, in connection with the Eleusinia). […] After the ascendency of Christianity in the Roman Empire, the consular processions in Constantinople retained their religious character, now proceeding to Hagia Sophia, where prayers and offerings were made; but in Rome, where Christianity was not so widely spread among the upper classes, at first the tendency was to convert the procession into a purely civil function, omitting the pagan rites and prayers, without substituting Christian ones. Only after Theodosius did the processions become a religious event, replete with icons, crosses, and banners.
Now, having read the above, tell me if something like the Gay Pride parade doesn’t strike you as a form of religious procession? In fact, the pagan sacralization of material objects and concepts is all around us. I remember travelling in certain Christian Orthodox parts of Europe, finding crosses and rosaries for sale at magazine stands; the same thing can be found at the magazine stands in Scandinavian countries, only instead of crosses and rosaries it is the rainbow flag that is for sale. These are merely different varieties of Farangism: some Farangis venerate the cross and what it represents, others venerate the rainbow flag and what it represents. Both are forms of shirk.
Ponder these three varieties of religious dogma, all of which can be found in the West on different points of the Judeo-Christian-pagan spectrum. 1. According to Jewish dogma, a Jewish soul might sometimes be born in a gentile body. However, such a gentile has the opportunity to convert. 2. According to Catholic dogma, wine might sometimes turn into the blood of Jesus; this is called transubstantiation. 3. According to fashionable pagan dogma, a male soul might sometimes be born into a female body (and vice-versa), however, such a male may turn into a female (and vice-versa); this is called transsexuality. Do you not recognise the metaphysical basis for all these beliefs, even if the last one is camouflaged as secular?
The pioneers of Farangism studies
Question: Why have I chosen to derive the name for this field of study from the word Farangi? Answer: Because this is how Muslims have traditionally referred to Westerners (i.e., Franks), and because of the centrality of the French revolution in modernity mythology (with the indicative brutality and bloodshed of la Terreur, most evident in the Vendée genocide). If someone else has a better suggestion, I am all ears. On that note, Muslims engaging in the study of Farangism isn’t something new. We may trace it back to the likes of Ibn Fadlan and his studies of the Vikings, or Usama b. Munqidh who among other things marvelled at the cuckoldry of the Farangis (some things never change). Another classical interesting work on Farangism that I recommend is that by Mirza Abu Talib; a less interesting one is that by Rifa’ah al-Tahtawi. The Ottoman sefaratnames could also be described as belonging to the Farangism studies genre. One could also say we have a proto-Farangist in the Sahābi ‘Amr b. al-Ās, with his analysis of the Farangis of his time:
They have four good characteristics: they are the most able to cope with tribulation, the quickest to recover after disaster and to return to the fight after disaster, and are the best as far as treating the poor, weak and orphans is concerned. They have a fifth characteristic which is very good; they do not allow themselves to be oppressed by their kings.
But with all respect to the pioneers, us English speaking Western Muslims are obviously in an even better position to analyse Farangism than they were due to our intimate familiarity with it and since we possess the language skills to benefit from the works of Farangi scholars themselves, much like Ignaz Goldziher was able to benefit from Azhar scholars whom he studied under.
My favourite of all Farangists was Muhammad Iqbal, except that his treatment of the topic wasn’t scientific in nature, as it is to be found in his poetry. Still, very valuable.
Introductory Reading List (or, namedropping)
In this starter-pack I will only be focusing on insightful treatments of Farangism in European languages, even though many interesting analyses can be found in the works of Sayyid Qutb, Abdesslam Yassine, Safar al-Hawali, Taha Abdurrahman, Jalal Al-e-Ahmad and others. There are also non-Muslim, non-Western writers who have contributed to the field, such as Junichiro Tanizaki. It is my hope that Muslims in the West will begin to establish institutes dedicated to the study of this subject, with libraries containing the books of these and other writers, so that Farangist specialists might delve into different aspects of Farangism and produce new works on such topics as the theological and metaphysical underpinnings of Farangism based on Christian, pagan and Jewish ideas, its ribawi economy (which, I believe, leads to a materialist mindset which ends up immanentizing the sacred), its ethics, its aggressive expansionism (based on Farangi supremacism), etc. There is so much to research, so little time. I envision a London Institute for Social Analysis (LISA) with researchers, fellows, a grad school, the whole thing. Why London? Because it is the capital of Western Islam. I foresee a future in which London – abuzz with Muslims contributing to Islamic sciences, Farangism studies, works on adab, akhlāq and spirituality, creative literature (look out for my novel which is to be serialized online) and the arts – has turned into a new Cordoba or Nishapur or Lucknow.
Where was I?
I recommend the works of the following authors (without, of course, endorsing everything they have to say on this or any other topic):
- Alasdair MacIntyre
- Zygmunt Baumann
- José Ortega y Gassett
- Bertrand de Jouvenel
- René Guenon, Seyyed Hossein Nasr and Gai Eaton
- Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer, Herbert Marcuse
- Liah Greenfield
- Steven D. Smith
- Wael Hallaq
- Robert Bellah
- Talal Asad and Saba Mahmood
- Marshall McLuhan and Jean Baudrillard
- Erik von Kuehnellt-Leddihn
- Curtis Yarvin
- Alija Izetbegovic
- Michel Foucault
- Peter L. Berger
- Peter Wagner
- Eric Voegelin
- Hannah Arendt
- Augusto del Noce
- Rosa Hartmut
- Roger Scruton
- Jonathan Israel
- James Billington
- Pankaj Mishra
- Juri Slezkine
- Ulrich Beck
- Byung-Chul Han
- Charles Taylor
- Michael Allen Gillespie
- Leszek Kolakowski
- Brad S. Gregory
- The various authors at Diwan Press (particularly their works on the ribawi economy)
- Jane Bennett
- Bruno Latour
- Friedrich Nietzsche and Martin Heidegger
- Jeffrey C. Alexander
- Salman Sayyid
This cursory glance at some of the names of people who have dealt with this topic is, of course, unsatisfactory. Perhaps in a future article I might go over what these writers have contributed to the field and how we might build upon their works, but until such time this will have to suffice.
So much to do, so little time …
 Al-Qur’ān 43:33-36
 “A nation dominated by a neighboring nation thus provides a whole host of examples of assimilation and imitation. Currently, this is the case in Spain. The Andalusians are found to copy the Galicians in their attire, emblems and most of their habits. This has gone so far that they are now drawing pictures on the walls inside their buildings and houses.”
 As pointed out by the likes of Tom Holland and Douglas Murray who describe themselves as Christian atheists. I would simply call them typical Farangis.
 A European Jewish enlightenment movement.
 Christians, Jews and pagans are, incidentally, the three non-believing groups addressed by Allāh in the Qur’ān, along with the hypocrites (in our day: the errand boys of the Farangis who do not abandon Islam openly).
 Read Ali Allawi’s The Crisis of Islamic Civilization (2010) to understand the point about Muslim civilization being dead.
 This refers to the attempt to create Paradise on earth which inevitably leads to human suffering and environmental problems.
 Another work (completely unrelated to the subject) by a Farangi that Muslims can benefit from is Michel Cuypers’ The Banquet: A Reading of the Fifth sura of the Qur’an (2009)
 Of course, Christians cheat by worshipping human beings such as Jesus and saints, but in theory they are monotheists.
 Al-Qur’ān 2:170
 Found in Sahih Muslim. Note again that this description is positive. As I said: not everything about Farangism, even though it is a form of Jāhiliyah, is bad. Remember that the Arab Jāhiliyah grew out of the religion of Abraham, just like Farangism (mainly) grew out of the religion of Jesus.