Why West Is Incapable Of Understanding Islam

Why West Is Incapable Of Understanding Islam

Western culture is unique in that it has broken completely with its past except as an historical curiosity. Since the eighteenth century of the Christian era (if not before) people in the West have been incapable of understanding the mindset of their ancestors, incapable of empathising with those ancestors. There has been a break in continuity that has no parallel elsewhere in the human world. Belief in “progress” has made it possible to ignore and even to despise the men and women who lived as Christians in the European Middle Ages, the “Ages of Faith”. They were ignorant. We live by the light of science. They were superstitious, but we know the world as it really is. The fact is that most of us today are comparable to amnesiacs who remember nothing that happened a few years ago and, if we are reminded of some important event in our past life, cannot make any connection with it.

If people today were capable of understanding their forebears they would have no difficulty in understanding Islam, but to say this is inevitably to step on one of those mines that litter the landscape. “Medieval” has become a derogatory term, a term of abuse. Even Muslims, when they have been subjected to a modern – therefore western – education, readily accept this definition of the European Middle Ages as a period of darkness, although they regard their own past very differently. The fact remains that Islam is a religion of certainty and the Middle Ages were an age of certainty. Islam is a totally inclusive religion which leaves no crack or crevice outside its orbit; medieval Christianity was no less all-embracing. Christians accepted and Muslims still accept that the purpose of life is to attain a good death, one that opens the doors of heaven to the departed soul and closes the doors of hell. It would be almost sacrilegious for a Muslim to believe himself better and wiser than the early Muslims and he knows, if he has any knowledge of his religion, that the passage of time can only have brought about a falling away from the ideal, a dimming of the light. The Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) said that his own generation was the best, after that the next generation, then the next and so on, following a downward curve until the end of time. The contemporary Muslim hopes to model himself upon the “pious ancestors” of long ago and to share, not only in their faith but in their certainty. One thing that confuses the average westerner about the typical Muslim is that he is not confused.

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Certainty is out of fashion in the West, not least because so many people are certain that they are right when, in fact, they are blatantly wrong. This applies particularly to matters of religion, but certainty is still acceptable when it relates to science, even if so much of modern science is incomprehensible to the layman. Seen from a different perspective, unquestioning acceptance of the latest scientific theories cannot be justified. It depends upon blind faith, first in the total reliability of the human senses to perceive objectively what is “out there”, secondly in the mental processes through which these observations are interpreted. Neither of these propositions can be proved.
They are taken as self-evident. For Muslims, the truth of the Quranic revelation and the prophethood of Muhammad (ﷺ) are self-evident. The doubter may ask: “Where is your proof?” The Muslim will answer: “I know the truth when I see it.” The fact that religious certainty has led both to conflict and to oppression in the past is irrelevant. The only question is whether human creatures are capable of knowing anything with certainty. If this is denied, then there is nothing more to be said and we must resign ourselves to living in darkness, no better informed concerning the nature of things than a worm burrowing in the earth. If, however, the possibility of true knowledge is affirmed, we must accept the existence of those who attribute certainty to their errors. The fact that there are blind people in the world does not extinguish the light.

[Remembering God: Reflections on Islam by Gai Eaton, p.7-9]

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