In the past few years, many Muslims have been doubting their faith and some have left the religion all together. There are numerous factors as to why, ranging from intellectual confusion, emotional issues, and pressures from dominant societies. However, one aspect has rarely been discussed: the fact we also live in what is called the ‘Information Age’ and its negative influence on the way we perceive and understand Islam and Muslims.
But not in the way that you may think.
Many hail the rise of the Internet and its peripheral services as a form of progress – and indeed it is. However, with all major developments in the world, there are usually negative byproducts. The negative byproduct of the Information Age has been the over-saturation of information to the extent where the majority of people cannot distinguish between credible knowledge and pseudo-knowledge. And this dilemma has been exacerbated by a hyper-individualism promoted through Western hegemony, which regards all people as not only capable of self-study, but also self-expertise (even if it’s not explicitly stated).
The situation we have today essentially amounts to a limitless buffet of food provided to individuals who believe anything that can be consumed is nutritious simply by virtue of the fact that it can be consumed. Unsurprisingly, this analogy is not merely an analogy, but also a real life problem that has resulted in epidemics of obesity and natural diseases throughout the world.
As the author Nicholas Carr has largely proven in his book ‘The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains’: “Technology is making us shallow thinkers — multi-tasking, unable to digest speeches, even songs, perpetually flicking.”
And there is no greater testament to this than the recent phenomena of popular online atheism and apostasy from Islam.
Take for example a recent video released by Yaqeen Institute for Islamic Research titled ‘Our Muslim Youth Are Hurting’, which showcases that nearly 23% of young Muslims no longer identify as Muslims (or struggle with their faith) due to their doubts. While it garnered a large amount of support, it also got the attention of numerous ex-Muslims and atheists online who used the video as a means to declare they were winning some intellectual war and that the Internet was largely responsible for this. For example, Abdullah Gondal stated in a recent post:
“The tides are definitely changing…There is only so much you can do to defend ideas that you have absolutely zero evidence for. Let us all ask questions that were deemed uncomfortable in the past. Let’s normalize dissent!”
Here, Gondal implicitly promotes the view that the reason behind Muslim’s doubting their faith has to do with the fact that their ideas are not rationally justifiable – largely in part because their questions were deemed “uncomfortable” and dissent against such ideas was somehow suppressed. But what reasonable argument (or evidence) has Gondal offered for such a conclusion? The answer is simple: none.
There has been no deep statistical analysis performed here nor any reference to any sort of erudite academic publication declaring as such. Rather, it’s merely one person’s unsubstantiated anecdote in a sea of online anecdote. But the problem isn’t the fact that it’s anecdote – the problem is that most of these people don’t care that it’s anecdote.
Due to the negative byproducts of the Information Age, anecdote has become a reasonable justification in and of itself. It doesn’t matter if your opinion isn’t backed by any sufficient evidence or reason as long as it fits a narrative facilitated by a culture that deems knowledge as a popular democracy. Thus, the irony of attacking people who apparently believe in things “without evidence”.
But what reasonable justification do we have of the above claim regarding anecdote? Since this post is primarily about doubts Muslims are experiencing, we need only revisit the ex-Muslim phenomena that is currently thriving online:
Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a well known figure who has often called for violence against the Muslim world in general. Having no formal education in Islamic studies nor other subjects she discusses, she has been granted asylum in the United States after constantly lying about her personal biography regarding “the dangers of Islam” in Somalia. She is now a fellow at a Harvard think-tank and has been offered several honorary degrees – all because she is an ex-Muslim.
Armin Navabi has declared in the past that “Islam is worse than Nazism” and runs the popular online atheist hive Atheist Republic – a Facebook group that largely functions through memes and cliches of religion and its followers (not exactly MENSA worthy achievements). Armin’s qualifications are in finance, but he is considered by many an authority on the subject of Islam simply because he’s an Iranian ex-Shia Muslim. Recently, he has promoted the burning of Qur’ans in the Islamic Republic of Iran, because apparently this is indicative of an intellectual protest (said no rational person ever).
Ali Rizvi, a Pakistani clinician, has become popular for his Secular Jihadists podcast and his book ‘The Atheist Muslim’. He has recently suggested that “Anyone who believes truth can be arrived at via revelation cannot, by definition, be called a critical thinker”, ironically despite his own attempts to rationalize the self-identifier ‘Atheist Muslim’ through postmodern semantic gymnastics. Curiously, his constant calls for evidence and reasonable justification of beliefs is often found missing in his own claims, such as the following: “Human beings have rights and are entitled to respect. Ideas, books, and beliefs don’t, and aren’t.” Once again, he is granted authority on matters concerning Islam simply because he is an ex-Muslim.
Maryam Namazie, another Iranian ex-Muslim, has become popular for being the spokesperson for the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain (CEMB) and has no real formal education to speak of. However, it is unlikely that she needs any as her career is solely based around her being an ex-Muslim and only an ex-Muslim.
Sherif Gaber, a popular Egyptian YouTube ex-Muslim, has recently become the subject of news headlines due to his unsubstantiated claims to an arrest warrant being issued because of him being an atheist. He is largely uneducated, having dropped out of college to make YT videos full-time. Many people give him their money, not because he holds any credentials in the subjects he’s speaks about, but because, once again, he is an ex-Muslim. That’s it.
And the list could really go on – all with similar if not identical profiles; all having no real education or expertise in the subjects they’re discussing while commanding large followings of similarly uneducated individuals and being opposed by nearly all academics in the field. Yet, those who follow these figures have little concern for academic credentials or actual erudition; having conflated the discipline of Islamic Studies with “learning about fairy tales”.
However, such a sentiment exposes their ignorance, because even if it were the case that these were studies in “fairy tales”, it doesn’t take away from the complexity of the subject nor the reality that there can be facts about fairy tales. For example: it’s one thing to disagree with Christianity, but it’s another to declare that Christianity and Jainism are exactly the same or have the same teachings and theology. There are even facts about fictional stories. I mean, no one would reasonably conclude that Voldemort is the head of Gryffindor when reading Harry Potter; it’s literally impossible to do so – fiction or not.
Likewise, these same individuals attack academic institutions and faculty members as being insufficient to inform them of the nature of other people’s beliefs – often even going so far as to suggest that these institutions are part of some grand conspiracy headed by an Illuminati regressive shadow government attempting to stifle free speech and intellectualism among the masses. But such sentiments not only reveal a profound ignorance, but also a profound arrogance that completely undermines the educational institutions which made the Information Age possible to begin with.
No doubt, there are problems in many university departments (nothing is perfect), but to suggest that one doesn’t require any formal education in these subjects – or needs to refer to formal research – is the height of arrogance and indicative of a catastrophic stupidity facilitated by myths of self-grandeur.
But, more importantly is the fact that neither of these individuals have actually earned their right to be authorities. None of them have been rigorously peer reviewed by those with an actual education in the subject matter. None of them have ever submitted articles to peer reviewed journals. None of them have ever displayed any erudite arguments or profound insights on the world. None of them have actually contributed to knowledge or advanced civilization in the slightest. All they’ve done is served as cheerleaders for those who already agree with them — and earned hefty paychecks in the process. They are literally entertainers and nothing more. Much like SJWs, they merely identify as authorities and demand others submit to their lived experiences. Facts need not apply.
If you asked them all basic things about Islam that even a first year student of Islamic studies should know, they wouldn’t be capable of answering. If you asked them to provide evidence and reasons for their own assumptions about ethics, morality, reality, science, etc. they wouldn’t know where to start with respect to researching or even writing an article in defense of their ideas — they literally can only resort to memes and anecdotes. And their followers? Memes and anecdotes are all that matter.
Needless to say, my post will be controversial for calling out such a culture. Certainly, it will be considered offensive. But the fact is these individuals and their “skepticism” have not gained traction on the basis of merit or any sort of intellectual acumen. Rather, they have all gained a following because of a general lack of concern for real education and research embedded in the hateful biases of the masses towards Islam and Muslims.
This is further evidenced by the fact that these polemicists wouldn’t be popular today had it not been for 9/11 and the War on Terror. No one would care to listen to them had Western culture not been fertile for their message. Ironically, it’s the very bigotry these ex-Muslims claim to fight which has given them a platform (and in many cases, fame and fortune). They are literally nothing without it. And yet, we are asked to be fair in analyzing their arguments? But what arguments have they proposed that haven’t been heard before from the likes of other arm-chair scholars like Bill Warner, Sam Harris, and Robert Spencer – all of whom likewise hold no formal education in any of the subjects they’re discussing?
And yet, all of these people are being taken seriously in the so-called “Information Age”. But is this what the Age of Enlightenment is supposed to promote? A lack of concern for real academic credentials and research? Is this what the Age of Intellectualism has bred? Polemicists that can only be regarded as relevant because of their identities? Should we really be doubting our religion when the standards for doubt today are so low that we disregard our own educational institutions and prop up pseudo-intellectuals in their stead?
In summary, the doubts faced by many Muslims today are merely the product of vacuous ridicule by an online mob that has become far too narcissistic for its own good; an intellectual peasantry that have risen up to overthrow the monarchs of old and replace them with court jesters.
Needless to say, in the next few decades, all the names I’ve mentioned and those like them will be forgotten in the annuls of history. They will not be mentioned as having done anything significant for the world. They will not be mentioned as intellectuals or pioneers of civilization. They will merely be turned into the very dust blown off the books they’ve dismissed; books which will still be used in the academic institutions that outlive them.
And it will be the last time these jesters are considered relevant or make anyone laugh. Because those books will still extol the achievements of the Prophet Muhammad (sallAllahu alayhi wasallam) and his followers. Those books will still mention names like Al-Ghazali, Ibn Rusdh, Ibn Al-Haytham, Fakhr Al-Razi, Sallahuddin, and the numerous other figures in the intellectual tradition of Islam as people who actually gave something to the world.
A delicious irony for all those celebrating their Pyrrhic victory of casting doubts into the Muslim youth, if I do say so myself.
 The Atheist Muslim: Journey from Religion to Reason, p. 71.
 The whole idea that ‘Islamophobia’ is just a term used to stifle free speech and criticism of Islam is yet another myth that backs this. Neither of these individuals have ever bothered to provide evidence of this conspiracy theory, yet it’s swallowed up so easily by their gullible followers.