You would enjoy this post more if you took out a little bit of time and read what Imran Khan has to say in his article Why the West Craves Materialism and Why the East Sticks to Religion. But even if you don’t, you will get a sense of the issues and the problems.
Imran Khan starts by saying that his generation “grew up at a time when colonial hang up was at its peak.” Islamic studies were not taken seriously and our role models were from the West. When he arrived at Oxford he discovered that not just Islam, all religions were considered an anachronism. Science had replaced religion and the terrible experiences of religious bigotry and conflict had turned the Western mind away from theology.
Imran then returns to himself and says that what had turned him away from religion was the selective Islam practiced by its preachers and the exploitation of Islam for political gains by groups in society.
And then he goes on to explain how he became a born-again Muslim:
First, our family life is superior to that in the West. Second, science cannot tell us what is the purpose of our existence and what happens to us when we die. Third, the absence of religion leads to a materialistic and hedonistic culture in which only money matters causing psychological problems and an imbalance between the body and the soul.
This is certainly a case that can be argued. To support his case, Imran cites the following evidence: In the US 60 percent of the population consults psychiatrists; Sweden and Switzerland have the highest suicide rates; plastic surgeons are having a field day in the West; immorality has progressively grown there since the 1970s and in the UK the divorce rate is 60 percent with over 35 percent single mothers; the crime rate is rising in almost all Western societies with an alarming increase in racism; between 1991 and 1997 there were racially motivated attacks all over Europe while in Pakistan despite the influx of over four million Afghan refugees there was no racial tension.
I leave it to you to decide if this evidence is convincing that the West is rotten because it has no religion while we are better off because we do.
Whatever the logic, the end result is that Imran claims rediscovering Islam has made him a better, more humble, tolerant and giving human being who feels compassion for the underprivileged.
This is to be lauded and Imran is to be congratulated for having arrived at this state of enlightenment. But here Imran swings the ball the other way and turns his entire argument on its head by stating that: “in Pakistan we have selective Islam. Just believing in God and going through the rituals is not enough. One also has to be a good human being. I feel there are certain Western countries with far more Islamic traits than us in Pakistan, especially in the way they protect the rights of their citizens, or for that matter their justice system. In fact some of the finest individuals I know live there.”
So what was the whole point of the article? The West has given up religion and gone down the path of hedonism and immorality while we have religion and are much superior in the values that matter. Now suddenly, there are Western countries with far more Islamic traits than us in Pakistan and some of the finest individuals live there. What is one to believe? The only conclusion that I can deduce is that perhaps being a good human being has very little to do with religion and a lot more to do with the norms of society.
Here it also becomes obvious that Imran has generalized too much in talking about the materialistic West and the religious East. There are many staunchly Catholic countries in the West and there is China in the East without any traditional religion at all. And yet, China is doing quite well in the absence of religion with just as high a proportion of good human beings as anywhere else and few of the problems that Imran attributes to the absence of religion.
So, Imran’s antagonism towards the West must be emanating from somewhere else. Let him state it in his own words: “What I dislike about them is their double standards in the way they protect the rights of their citizens but consider citizens of other countries as being somehow inferior to them as human beings, e.g., dumping toxic waste in the Third World, advertising cigarettes that are not allowed in the West and selling drugs that are banned in the West.”
This is fair enough but it has nothing to do with the presence or absence of religion – this is a purely political argument about clash of interests. So, it seems Imran is annoyed with Western powers, as many people are, for their exploitative policies with regard to developing countries. But instead of following through with the political analysis, Imran finds it easier to go off on a religious tangent condemning the West for its immorality and irreligion and congratulating his own side for its high moral values.
This is very much like the illiterate and bigoted Mullah holding forth at the Friday sermon. Except that Imran is plagued by doubts at the end and concludes by being totally confused. He has to thank the rational education given to him by the colonial masters for this ability to question his own logic. It is far better to be confused than to have the certainty of the Talib – Imran should thank his stars he didn’t go to a madrassah and become a true Muslim.