“All of you descend from Adam and Adam was made of earth. There is no superiority for an Arab over a non-Arab or a non-Arab over an Arab, neither for a white man over a black man nor black man over a white man except for the superiority gained through consciousness of God. Indeed the noblest among you is the one who is deeply conscious of God.” – Muhammed, 632CE. (1)
Jean Baudrillard asserts that the concept of God is a result of the simulacra, and asks “what becomes of the divinity when it reveals itself in icons?” (2) He argues that the refusal of belief in the divine material images of God by iconoclasts provides the images with the notion that God did not primarily exist, and instead, represent God as a simulacrum of Himself. Thus, the concept of ‘God’ by Baudrillard’s definition is reduced to mere meaningless accumulative simulations that have infiltrated our language and reality(-ies).
“All of Western faith and good faith was engaged in this wager or representation: that a sign could refer to the depth of meaning and that something could guarantee this exchange – God, of course. But what if God himself can be simulated?…Then the whole system becomes weightless, it is no longer anything but a gigantic simulacrum – not unreal, but a simulacrum never again exchanging for what is real, but exchanging in itself, in an uninterrupted circuit without reference or circumference.” (3)
Here, Baudrillard argues that ‘faith’ initially encompasses a value-balance or “principle of equivalence” (4) between the ‘sign’ of God, and the ‘real’ God, whereby the ‘sign’ is a ‘true’ reflection of the ‘real’. However, “the radical negation of the sign as value [is the] death sentence of every reference” (5) as simulation is also generated fro this principle of equivalence. The ‘sign’ is reproduced and processes an understanding of reality, and loses itself in its own simulations and replications, bearing no link to the ‘real’ God. The notion of ‘God’ then, has been “reduced to the signs which attest his existence” (6) and the notion of ‘religion’ only emerges through the “death of God” (7), in the sense that societal belief in the ‘real’ God has become depleted through these simulations, which break themselves off from the reference.
By example, the Qur’an can be held up as being Baudrillard’s ‘sign’ whereby the strict readings of the Qur’an become Baudrillard’s ‘simulations’. The Qur’an or Shari’ah adheres to the ‘word’, and this belief in the material representation of God inadvertently represents the death of God. This results in Muslims attempting to provide and re-establish the existence of God and morality in societal chaos through these readings and representations, whereas the inverse effects are, again, actually being iterated.
The monotheistic principle of spiritual worship of Allah is held up as being the binary opposition of the Western materialist and consumerist lifestyle, where eclecticism is the new religion. Lyotard expresses his notion of realism as a “sense of reality [that] is generated through the beliefs and ideals of a particular culture” (8), akin to Baudrillard’s idea of reality as simulation, and defines realism through the realisation of contemporary capitalism:
“Eclecticism is the degree zero of contemporary general culture: you listen to reggae, you watch a western; you eat McDonald’s at midday and local cuisine at night; you wear Paris perfume in Tokyo and dress retro in Hong Kong; knowledge is the stuff of TV game shows…Together, artist, gallery, owner, critic, and public indulge one another in the Anything Goes – it is time to relax. But this realism of Anything Goes is the realism of money; in the absence of aesthethic criteria it is still possible to measure the value of works or art by the profit they realise.” (9)
Although Lyotard expresses eclecticism in terms of art and literature, we are able to gain a broader sense of understanding and meaning that relates to the materialist Western culture. Our lifestyles, submerged in our ability to consume for aesthetic desire and pleasure, have become ‘commodities’. We purchase our lives and identities through capitalism, and produce a structure of life where the means and gains of maximum consumption are the utmost ideals to which we aspire. The apotheosis of a ‘perfect’ life and a ‘perfect’ identity is subject to ‘how much?’. Our sense of reality then, is no longer how or what we are exposed to: it is a reality we are able to buy if we have the desire and wealth. For example, a lottery winner exchanges their ‘pre-lottery reality’ with a new reality through the purchase of a new lavish home, new (sports) car etc. thus aspiring for a fully materialistic lifestyle: ‘the best that money can buy’. The investment in this pleasure principle is a result of pagan belief that undermines the “insistence of a Beyond of the pleasure principle” (10), which in Islamic terms, is the belief in life after death.
This introduces the tension between Islam and the West, embodied in the cultural difference between the materialist worship of consumerism and the spiritual worship of God:
“O ye who believe!
Eat not up your property
Among yourselves in vanities;
But let there be amongst you
Traffic and trade
By mutual good will” (4:29)
This surah suggests that believers (in Allah) should refrain from indulging in ‘property’: “something of value, either tangible…or intangible” (11), which relates to objects and possessions that are both exorbitant and inexpensive. ‘Eat up not your goods’ relates to the accumulation of such goods that would lead society and humanity into the consumption of material items, that would then, become the ultimate goal of our lives. If society and humanity become increasingly enjoined to the ‘vanities’ of the material life instead of the spiritual life, the more likely we are to drift away and become detached from our relationship with God. ‘Traffic and trade’ must operate and ensure ‘mutual good will’ and benefit to all parties concerned. The ‘workers’ must work because they want to and not due to force, a historical example being that of the Slave Trade, where free peoples were taken from Africa and forced to work against their will as slaves (12). The benefit or profit generated must be equal: the lowly coffee farmer in Ethiopia must have the same benefit or profit as its buyer, the Western multinational company. This would lead to an equal society where any given person would have the same value as the next, where exploitation of a human life is not problematic, and where humanity aspires to spiritual morality through Allah, or God. This is the pivotal point of imbalance between Islam and the West: the former strives to keep God from dying, while for the latter, God no longer exists.
Friedrich Nietzsche interrogates the Christian belief system, and this simultaneously applies to the tradition of the Islamic belief system, and religion in general. These interrogations relate to our initial discussions of ‘knowledge’ by asking how religion influences the human mind, and the implications of this influence. Nietzsche describes Christianity (and thus religion) as providing “a more refined sense of truth…an almost uncontrollable desire for absolute spiritual and intellectual certainties”. (13) This is coupled with the need for a transcendental and supreme value – the belief in a higher order, God. Nietzsche believes that this search for knowledge and transcending value is effectively self-destructive, in the sense that “the boundless faith in truth…will in the end dislodge every possible belief in the truth of any faith”. (14) In order to grasp the ‘truth’, Nietzsche believes that full utilisation of philosophical, psychological, historical and scientific knowledge will result in the belief of ‘nothingness’. Humankind’s desire for knowledge will be fulfilled, what more will we be able to learn if have the entirety of knowledge at our disposal? Which direction will the future take us if not to a path of no faith? (15)
This notion of nihilism, is portrayed in “The Madman” (see Appendix 4) where Nietzsche describes the immediate reactions of the ‘listeners’ to the Madman’s assertions that he is seeking God:
“Why, did he get lost? said one. Did he lose his way like a child? said another. Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone on a voyage? or emigrated? Thus they yelled and laughed.”
The analogy between God and physical matter, such as ‘child’, are materialistic responses whereby the listeners are unable to conceive the entity of God in the spiritual essence. God is able to ‘hide’ or ’emigrate’ as humans and animals do, and the Madman’s seeking of God is not received by the listeners in the spiritual sense, for example, in prayer. This ridicule and astonishment of the listeners is usually characterised as being the response to a prophet’s message of the ‘living god’, but here, we have it in response to the message of a ‘dead’ god. The listeners embody the lack of fear and interest in the divinity of God, the seeking of God is no longer the assumed goal of their lives. Humankind trusts that there is a transcending meaning to life, however, the knowledge that ‘God is dead’ or in fact that there was no God at all, leaves us in an unstable position. Thus the Madman asks “are we not straying as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space?” (16) We are no longer able to attach value to a belief system, (full) knowledge has destroyed any sense of the belief systems that previously assured an ordered society. The final question asked by the Madman, “what are those churches now if they are not the tombs and sepulchers of God?”, reflects the inverse effects of the attempted re-establishment of the divine ‘word’: the word is now the corpse of God.
The Madman runs to the ‘marketplace’, this location and setting are important to Nietzsche’s allegory as it sets up the conflict between material consumerists, and the spirituality that God represents. The vendors, buyers and traders within the marketplace are the ‘murderers of God: “we have killed him – you and I” cries the Madman, “how shall we, the murderers of all the murderers, comfort ourselves?” The marketplace depicts productivity and profit as being the murder tools, reflecting the marketplace as a microcosm of capitalist society. The comfort that the Madman claims is no longer attainable, as it was previously sought from God. However, God is presently decreed as being dead, so who will forgive us now? Instead of forgiveness, we shall appease ourselves with material riches and wealth that economies can afford.
Labelling the Madman as the ‘mad man’ also reinforces the notion that the idea of God is see as being ‘insane’, and the ‘truth principle’ of God is thus submerged. (17) Material economies and revenue in the marketplace, on the other hand, are the ‘logic’ that the traders in said location and Western societies utilise to justify their positions.
However, in terms of Islam, the fight against capitalism is a historical battle originally fought by Muhammad, at the time of his revelations in the midst of the Quraysh tribe exploiting their wealth. Thus, from the time of colonialism through to the industrialisation of the ‘modern’ Western world, Islam has become rich in Qur’anic tradition. The identity of the Muslim has been weakened: it became a product of cultural erosion when Islamic society attempted to integrate itself into the Western capitalist economy. Thus, Muslims isolated themselves from the world and became more attached to faith, “reaffirming the traditional way of life with increasing and frantic vigour”. (18)
If Islam accepted the wave of nineteenth-century industrialisation, it would have accepted the new materialism as a way of life. The theology of Islam would have ceased to exist in the same way that the tradition of Christianity collapsed for Nietzsche: “the Eternal had been vanquished by Time and [the] Immortal suffered dead at the hands of the mortals: God is dead”. (19) This leads us to the crisis that Islam now faces, in that the fate of God must be determined. The death of God in the West is final whereas His death in the East is still in the balance, whereby the continuation of God lives through ‘Islamic politics’. An example was Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, where his government defended itself against USA-UK-Spanish war effort which involved the co-operation of forty-eight other countries. The aim of the war was to ‘liberate’ the Iraqi people and install a Western democratic system of politics once Saddam was defeated. The dilemma for Muslims in the case of political alignment, is that any government which pertains to Islamic rule consequently becomes a fascist, oppressive and fundamentalist or dogmatic regime: contemporary examples include Khomeini in Iran, the Taliban in Afghanistan, Mugabe in Algeria, and of course Iraq, who have continuously clashed with Western ideology(-ies).
The politics of Islam is heavily embedded in strict religious doctrine, and Islamic countries portray their piety through the integration of the Shar’ia. However, these countries also pledge allegiance to the West and the ‘death of God’ through the buying of armaments from the Western world and the acceptance of financial ‘bribes’ (conventionally financial aid). For example, Mohammed Reza Shah, who ruled Iran from 1941 to 1979, invested in the Islamic belief system. However, the Islamic doctrine failed while his repressive political policies increased Shah’s dependence on the Western world, in terms of oil revenues, allowed him to purchase $18billion of arms from the United States. The United States escalated the situation by “annointing his regime [as] the policeman of the Persian Gulf”. (20) This led to the revolution of 1979 and the installation of Khomeini’s regime. A more recent example is that of the United States government agreeing to null Pakistan’s outstanding debts and loans in return for America to set up military camps on Pakistani land in order to capture Osama bin Laden and members of the Al-Qaeda network in Afghanistan in 2001.
Islam has not been able to marry the doctrine of religion to the economics of capital. Instead, the two combine to fragment and destroy Islam’s spiritual essence: dividing into many interpretations of Islam, each with its own set of aims, objectives and ideologies. For example, countries and governments that claim to advocate Islam are in fact disagreeing with fellow ‘Islamic’ countries and governments, each claiming ‘their Islam’ as the ‘truth’ which continues the disunity within Islam itself, already having begun from Muhammad’s death. Thus, Islam has idealistic and transcendental values that are no longer available in either Eastern or Western reality(-ies), spiritual awareness in the five daily prayers have become impossible in a world where economic growth and personal wealth are increasingly essential to ‘living’ and ‘fitting in’ with society.
The notion of ‘itjihad‘, the right to interpret Islam on the basis of changing conditions, is a dialectical process: “the urge to reinvent eternity itself in new historical conditions.” (21) The Shar’ia and Qur’an are revered by Muslims for their eternal relevance, applicable to any given situation and circumstance: past, present or future. However, Islam finds itself unable to move forward into the future while Western societies continue to progress. For example, Islamic punishments such as public stoning and beating are widely used whereas its use in the main body of Western corporal punishment system ended in the late nineteenth-century. Islam disables the interpretation of the law, whereas the West is able to evolve ethical issues surrounding the ‘criminal’ activities of individuals and their sentences, and in this sense, itjihad fails.
Islam pursues the transcendental ideology of religion by striving for moral codes through the human spiritual relationship with Allah. Ultimately, jihad is being fought against the concepts of Western economics and politics upon which our societies are based. Islam, in essence, is submission to the ‘Will of Allah’ (3:19) and the maintenance of high moral standards. From an Islamic viewpoint, the submission and maintenance of personal gain has become the perceived immoral behaviour(s) of the West. (22) We are immersed in the materialism of capitalist and thus consumerist environments, and herein lies the conflict, war and disruption between the Islamic and Western worlds.