Islamic Renaissance

A Voice for the Muslim Freedom Struggle

Has Western Individualism Affected Our Understanding of Islam?


western individualism

As Muslims, we must be a living manifestation of the Quran and our outlook on life must be defined by Islamic principles. This is what it means to be a believer. However, in my experience, from interacting with the Muslim community over the years, specifically ‘practicing’ Muslims, I have come to the conclusion that our schema, which in psychology is a cognitive framework that helps the human mind to organise and interpret information, is defined by Western individualism, rather than Islam. Thus, it has also affected the very way we interpret Islam.

Let us first explore what Western Individualism is before I explain the premise of my argument. In a nutshell, Western individualism puts the individuals before society. It has come to a stage where it is all about us. Especially with the advent of social media, it is has made more and more people self-centred and self-obsessed. This has also led to a decrease in our care for humanity.

As Muslims – the vicegerents of God on earth – we must partake in the mission entrusted to us: “We sent the Messengers with clear signs, the scriptures and the balance, so that people can uphold justice.” Quran [57:25]. From many verses in the Quran including the above verse, it is clear that our primary duty is to strive for justice.

Yet we live in a time where those who are supposed to uphold justice, are the greatest victims of injustices. And the worst part is that there is a widespread belief among the Muslim community that they must ‘perfect themselves first’ or ‘do the basics first’ before helping the oppressed. This idea is alien to Islam; it contradicts the Quran, Hadith and the verdicts of every classical scholar. This belief represents Western individualism, rather than, Islam.

This has affected our entire understanding of Islam, it has led us to interpret Islam in a more individualistic manner. Let us take the famous Hadith of the prophet (pbuh) as an example: “Not one of you truly believes till he wants for his brother what he wants for himself.” This is another example that should lead Muslims to strive for the betterment of humanity. However, it is interpreted as the Christian saying, “treat others the way you want to be treated.” The difference between the two sayings is that the latter demands we be nice to anyone we come into contact with, whereas the former demands we go out of our way to strive for a better world. Do you see the difference? By interpreting the Hadith along the lines of the Christian saying, we are a limiting ourselves to only be nice to those we come into contact with, whilst ignoring the cries and screams of our Ummah on the other side of the world.

Though I have experienced this behaviour everywhere among Muslims, the personal experience that epitomised it for me was when I was in Egypt. I have never met Muslims like the ones I did Egypt. The Muslims of Egypt treated me as if I was their own blood brother. Yet, those very Muslims, when talking about Palestine, were complaining that Muhammad Morsi (former President of Egypt) was giving free gas to the Palestinians. Absurd right? Those who treated me like their blood brother were ignoring the cries of their brothers and sisters across the border.

The above example is that of a ‘good’ Muslim. Unfortunately, there are many Muslims that would not even treat others as they wish to be treated. They would not treat their brother in Islam as if it was their own blood brother. They are too concerned with their rituals and their personal ticket to heaven.

You see, Islam has become a checklist, rather than a way of life:

  • Salah
  • Zakaat
  • Fasting
  • Hajj

Alhamdulillah, I now have my ticket to heaven!

This individualistic attitude, which teaches us to focus only on rituals and ignore the ethics of Islam, has caused us to ignore the oppression and demonisation of our community. Thus, it led us to catch hell in this life, and possibly the next for ignoring the commandments of God: “And fight them on until there is no more oppression, and justice and faith in Allah prevails; but if they cease, Let there be no hostility except to those who practise oppression.” (2:193)

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