Seven Reasons Why European Agnostics and Atheists Should Consider Islam

Eiffel-tower-at-night

Eiffel Tower: The most recognized landmark of France

Written and collected by Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times

A recent article in Huffington Post, by Jack Sommers, Assistant News Editor, Huffington Post UK, Christians Outnumbered By Atheists In England And Wales, Religious Identity Report Reveals, examined the growing evidence of decreasing religious identity in Europe.

A similar trend can be demonstrated in USA, Canada and Australia.

Christians are now outnumbered in England and Wales by atheists, research has shown.

Analysis shows 48.5% of people identified in 2015 as having no religion, compared with just 25% who said the same in the last census in 2011.

This means atheists outnumber the 43.8% who identify as Christian.

The figures, in the report Contemporary Catholicism in England and Wales, reviews trends religious identity in the Social Attitudes Surveys over three decades and is to be launched today in the House of Commons.

Report author Dr Stephen Bullivant, an academic at St Mary’s Catholic University, analysed data collected through British Social Attitudes surveys over three decades.

“The striking thing is the clear sense of the growth of ‘no religion’ as a proportion of the population,” he told The Guardian.

“The main driver is people who were brought up with some religion now saying they have no religion.

“What we’re seeing is an acceleration in the numbers of people not only not practising their faith on a regular basis, but not even ticking the box. The reason for that is the big question in the sociology of religion.”

Dr Bullivant’s report showed the percentage of people identifying as Anglicans fell from 44% to 19% between 1983 and 2014.

Tower Bridge

Aerial view of Tower Bridge and the River Thames at night. Photograph: Jason Hawkes/theguardian.com

The report only looked at England and Wales but data shows 52% of Scots identified as not religious, compared with 40% in 1999.

Similar statistics exist in other countries of Europe, USA, Canada and Australia.

There are several reasons, why Europe is becoming non-religious and one of them is that the conventional presentation of concept of God by Christianity, in this age of information is not holding the attention and more specifically awe of the Europeans.

At any rate, many people around the world think it is necessary to believe in God to be a moral person, according to surveys in 39 countries by the Pew Research Center. However, this view is more common in poorer countries than in wealthier ones.

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In 22 of 39 countries surveyed, clear majorities say it is necessary to believe in God to be moral and have good values. This position is highly prevalent, if not universal, in Africa and the Middle East. At least three-quarters in all six countries surveyed in Africa say that faith in God is essential to morality. In the Middle East, roughly seven-in-ten or more agree in Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, the Palestinian territories, Tunisia and Lebanon. Across the two regions, only in Israel does a majority think it is not necessary to believe in God to be an upright person.[1]

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There are also significant divides within some countries based on age and education, particularly in Europe and North America. In general, individuals age 50 or older and those without a college education are more likely to link morality to religion.[1]

Is it possible that the aged, the uneducated and the poor intuitively know something better than the others that every human being needs God, in his or her life?

We will tackle belief in God as our fourth reason, in this article and belief in accountability as the fifth one. But, first let us look at some of the more visible and tangible benefits that I believe agnostics and atheists can gain in Islam.

Some of my comments in this article will seem critical of Christianity, but, the intent is not to marginalize Christianity. It is only to make points in favor of Islam so that we are able to learn and benefit from all traditions and I believe all of them have wonderful things to teach us. I have personally learnt as much from the Christian authors as the Muslim authors.

A. Saving the Family Unit

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Pope Francis rejected any link between Islamic extremism within Europe and Islam itself. Instead, he condemned the way in which migrants were “ghettoised” rather than integrated into society.

“In Brussels, the terrorists were Belgians, children of migrants, but they grew up in a ghetto. In London, the new mayor took his oath of office in a cathedral and will undoubtedly meet the Queen. This illustrates the need for Europe to rediscover its capacity to integrate.”

He said integration was even more necessary today than in the past because of the “grave problem” of Europe’s declining birth rate, saying a “demographic emptiness is developing”.

There is a break down of family unit in Europe and it is unable to sustain its population that is perhaps the main reason, why there are 44 million Muslims in Europe, who migrated to take up the low paying jobs that native population was unable to fill.

Along with the decreasing fertility rate we see that the majority of the births in Europe these days are out of the wedlock and the two trends go hand in hand. In the graph below based on the data by OECD, note that the countries with majority Christian population have seen the biggest increase in out of marriage births.

non-marital births

In the above picture, we note that conservative societies like Israel, Japan, Korea and Turkey are the exception. Turkey is the only European country, in the list, which can provide a model for the rest of Europe with large Turkish populations in many a European countries.

The conservatism and family values in Turkey are certainly entrenched in the religion of Islam, with 97.8% of the population identifying itself as Muslim.

B. Fighting the Drug Epidemic

According to WHO someone dies because of alcohol related issues every ten seconds. There is an epidemic of binge drinking in USA campuses. Moderate use of alcohol is the gateway to alcoholism for the 10-14% of the population that is vulnerable. Additionally, alcohol is the drug of entry for many other drugs.

The Holy Quran provides a very categorical prohibition of alcohol and there is the 1400 year history of Islam and the Muslims to back that up. The same cannot be said about the Bible and the Christian world.

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is an international mutual aid fellowship[1] founded in 1935 by Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith in Akron, Ohio. AA’s stated “primary purpose” is to help alcoholics “stay sober and help other alcoholics achieve sobriety“.[2][3][4] With other early members Bill Wilson and Bob Smith developed AA’s Twelve Step program of spiritual and character development.

The first 3 of the 12 steps talk about God or the Higher Power:

1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol that our lives had become unmanageable.
2.Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
3.Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

To share their method, Wilson and other members wrote the initially-titled book, Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How More Than One Hundred Men Have Recovered from Alcoholism,[21] from which AA drew its name. Informally known as “The Big Book” (with its first 164 pages virtually unchanged since the 1939 edition), it suggests a twelve-step program in which members admit that they are powerless over alcohol and need help from a “higher power”. They seek guidance and strength through prayer and meditation from God or a Higher Power of their own understanding and take a moral inventory.

Alcohol Anonymous experience is a powerful testimony that to overcome drug addiction, belief in the Higher Power and issues of morality take center stage. As the influence of Christianity recedes in the West, perhaps Islam can fill in the necessary gap.

It is estimated that AA has almost 2 million members worldwide. According to AA’s 2014 membership survey, 27% of members have been sober less than one year, 24% for 1–5 years, 13% for 5–10 years, 14% for 10–20 years, and 22% have more than 20 years of sobriety.[7]

The Muslim Times has a very extensive collection of articles on the issue of addiction.

Absolute standards provided by religion, in this case Islam, give the necessary anchor to keep the population from drifting gradually and falling prey to alcoholism and other drug addictions.

C. Peace of Mind

Many of the drug and family problems as alluded to above play havoc with the peace of mind of every one involved especially the young children. According to a 2007 BBC estimate, a billion people in the world are suffering from anxiety and depression. For UK, BBC reported in 2016: One in four adults has been diagnosed with a mental illness at some stage during their lifetime, the annual health survey for England suggests.

God and Science

Scientific link between spirituality and health shows that children who have a positive, active relationship to spirituality are 40% less likely to use and abuse substances, are 60% less likely to be depressed as teenagers, are 80% less likely to have dangerous or unprotected sex, have significantly more positive markers for thriving including an increased sense of meaning and purpose, and high levels of academic success.

A wholesome outlook to life, as provided in Islam can certainly create the desired balance in our lives. Often our desires and ambitions are infinite and our resources limited. A belief in the All-Powerful, All-Seeing, Merciful and Gracious God can certainly come to our rescue; if not immediately in our contemporary world, at least in the eternal bliss in the promised afterlife.

The next two segments are about God and afterlife.

D. A Living God and the Creator of Our Universe

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Michael Angelo drew God as an old man, a fatherly figure; God the Father of the Trinitarian Christian tradition. That made greater sense to the people of his generation than it does to the contemporary Europeans, who more clearly see God as beyond time and space, especially the younger generation, whom we call millennials in USA.

When Baylor University researchers asked their 1700 participants about what they think God looks like, 60 percent drew abstract or nature scenes.[2]

Stated in another way, the sons and daughters of the Abrahamic faiths, believe in a Deist God, Who is the Creator of our universe and is Transcendent, beyond time, space and matter.

Many a physicists have made the case for a Creator God: Deism: Common between Islam, Christianity and Judaism, in the tremendous complexity and beautiful organization of our universe.

Deism or belief in a Creator God, is common between Judaism, Christianity and Islam. However, Monotheism of Judaism is only reserved for the Jewish race and Monotheism of Christianity is spoiled by the theology of Trinity.

“We have been created for infinity,” says Rick Warren a famous US pastor, in his very well written book, with more than 32 million copies sold, The Purpose Driven Life: What on Earth Am I Here For?  But, in this book, he has talked about the God of Islam and Judaism. He has not defended the concept of Trinity or dual nature of Jesus, perfect man and fully divine, at all, to say the least.

Rick Warren says, “You were made by God and for God – and until you understand that, life will never make sense,” and I agree. With these two short paragraphs, as he describes the God of Judaism and Islam, I adopt and proclaim the whole of his well written book, for the service of Islam and my thesis here and encourage you to read his book. In this age of information, it should be easy to search the equivalents of quotes that he has provided from the Bible, in the Quran and any student with a little proficiency in the Quran can help. Incidentally, the Muslims agree with many of the quotes from the Bible, as well, considering Jesus as a prophet of God the Father, and not a part of the Triune God.

A genuine belief in God restores a sense of purpose in our lives that is paramount to over come the social and psychological issues discussed above.

The Messiah, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad Qadiani, the Founder of Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, wrote about the Living God, as he contrasted Islam and Christianity:

The God of a true religion should be so much in accord with reason and the light of nature that His existence should be a matter of proof for people who possess reason but who have no heavenly book in which they believe. He should be such as does not savor of coercion or artificiality. Such perfection is characteristic of the God Who is presented by the Holy Qur’an. The followers of other religions have either abandoned the True God, as have the Christians, or have attributed improper and low attributes to Him, as have the Jews, or have deprived Him of His attributes, as have the pagans and the Aryas. The God of Islam is the same True God Who is seen through the mirror of the law of nature and is visible in the book of nature. Islam has not presented a new God but has presented the same God Who is presented by the light of man’s heart and by man’s conscience and by heavens and earth. Another quality of a true religion is that it should not be a dead creed. The blessings and greatnesses which were cultivated in it in the beginning should persist in it till the end of the world for the promotion of the welfare of mankind, so that ever fresh signs should confirm its past signs and should not permit the light of its truth to become an old tale. I have been writing over a long period that the Prophethood which was claimed by our lord and master Muhammad, the chosen one [peace and blessings of Allah be on him] and the heavenly proofs in the form of signs which he had set forth, still continue in Islam and are bestowed upon his followers so that they should arrive at the state of complete understanding and should witness the Living God directly. [Majmu‘a Ishtiharat, Vol. 2, pp. 310-312]

Once we believe in a Creator God, the only way we can know about Personal God is if He chooses to reveal himself through His prophets and there were several among the Jews and according to Islamic and Unitarian Christian understanding, Jesus was also a Jewish prophet until people started obsessing over him and made him into a man-God: Video: How Jesus Became God: The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee.

Rev. Elwood Morris Wherry (1843- 1927) was an American Presbyterian missionary to India, who wrote a number of books and was a famous Christian apologist and Orientalist in his time. He wrote acknowledging the beauty of Unity of God in Islam:

A few passages, like the oases in the deserts of Arabia, stand out as truly beautiful both in their setting and in their thought. Take the first chapter, the Fatihat:

‘In the name of God, the compassionate, the merciful. Praise be to God, Lord of all the worlds! The compassionate, the merciful! King on the Day of Judgment! Thee do we worship, and to thee do we cry for help! Guide then us in the right way! The path of those to whom thou art gracious! Not of those with whom thou art angered, nor of those who go astray.’

The celebrated throne verse in Chap. II., 255, is as follows: ‘God! there is no God but he; the living, the self-subsisting: neither slumber nor sleep seizeth him; to him belongeth whatsoever is in heaven and on earth. Who is he that can intercede with him, but through his good pleasure? He knoweth that which is past, and that which is to come unto them, and they shall not comprehend anything of his knowledge, but so far as he pleaseth. His throne is extended over heaven and earth, and the preservation of both is no burden unto him. He is high, the Mighty.’

The question is often asked why a book of such singular composition should hold such sway over the millions of the Moslem world. In reply two reasons may be given: first, the beautiful rhythm, and often sweet cadences of the original language, which like some enchanting song hold multitudes with rapt attention who understand scarcely a word they hear; secondly, there is a vast amount of truth contained in the book, especially the truth of the divine unity and of man’s dependence upon God, as seen in the throne verse just now quoted.[3]

Read more about Unity of God in Islam: God of Islam: God of Nature and the Creator of our Universe.

If we accept the paradigm of prophethood rather than one of incarnation of the Divine in human form, then we can learn from any teacher or prophet, without the exclusion of those, which our group does not officially recognize or promote and in so doing we set ourselves on a journey of genuine wisdom and universal brotherhood and sisterhood, borrowing from all religions, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Sikhism, Buddhism, Hinduism and others.

A lot of literature is coming out recently documenting the benefits of meditation and Islam provides a perfect paradigm to draw all the benefits of meditation and much more with the practice of five times daily prayers or Salat as it is called in Arabic, in Islam.

I conclude this section with some suggested reading to further understand Monotheism: The Transcendent God of Abrahamic Faiths Does Exist: The Kalam Cosmological Argument; and: How Islam has Influenced Christian understanding of God.

E. A Balanced understanding of Accountability

Conventionally Christianity has talked about eternal reward for those who believe and eternal hell fire for the condemned. Eternal punishment for finite crimes is counter-intuitive to testimony of human conscience in favor of justice. The Holy Quran talks about proportionate punishment and skews judgment in favor of reward, with a promise for eternal bliss, for every one eventually, even those who deserve some initial punishment.

The Quran also emphasizes that paradise and hell are in a very different dimension and with our present state of mind, we can hardly conceptualize any details, like a fetus cannot conceive of, earthly adult human life.

Agnostics and atheists argue against accountability and stress that they can also be moral without belief in God.   They can certainly be.  As every human being has a conscience and each one of us embellishes it to variable degree, in that sense both theists and atheists can be moral.

However, theists have an additional factor deriving them to be moral, namely a belief in All-Seeing God. I do not want to argue this issue at length here, but would just suggest watching 6 minutes of a recent 50 minute documentary by National Geographic starring Morgan Freeman, season 01, episode 05, starting at minute 32 of the video below and focus on the work of a New Zealand researcher with 6 year old children, how a belief in invisible Princess Alice affects their behavior and their honesty:

F. Keeping our Science and our Faith

There is a long history of conflict between Christianity and science since the time of Galileo Galilee and if you are a European agnostic or an atheist this is no secret to you. Three authors, who have best documented this historic conflict are worth special mention, Joseph Priestly, Andrew Dickson White and John William Draper.

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Andrew Dickson White: founding President of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York

Andrew Dickson White was the founding President of Cornell University, one of the leading US universities and his book on this theme is perhaps one of the best and the most comprehensive: A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom, 2 vols. (1896), online at Gutenberg text file.

The Quran proposes no theology that runs counter to reason. Within the religion of Islam faith is not an irrational position; rather, faith is the conviction that we live in a spiritual universe characterized by purposefulness, meaning, and mercy.

There are almost 750 verses in the Quran inviting us to ponder and study different phenomena of nature, as Signs of Merciful God of Abrahamic faiths.

The Bible, The Quran and Science is a book by a French surgeon Dr. Maurice Bucaille and could be described as a commentary of the following verses of the Holy Quran:

The disbelievers say: This Quran is naught but a lie that Muhammad has fabricated, and other people have helped him with it. They have, thereby, perpetrated an injustice and an untruth. They also say: These are fables of the ancients which he has got someone to write down for him and they are recited to him morning and evening. Say to them: The Quran has been revealed by Him Who knows every secret that is in the heavens and the earth. Indeed, He is Most Forgiving, Ever Merciful. (Al Quran 25:5-7)

He examined the Holy Quran in the light of modern science and found, ‘The Quran has been revealed by Allah Who knows every secret that is in the heavens and the earth.’ The whole of Bucaille’s book can be read online.

The Quran proposes in many ways that the person who reflects on “God’s signs,” both in nature and in one’s own inner being [Quran 41:54], will find faith reasonable.

Repeatedly the Quran urges human beings to engage in “reflection” (tafakkur) and “use their intelligence” (‘aqala).

Altogether in nearly eighty instances it mentions the importance of reason and reflection [2:220; 3,192; 30,9; 45,6], one example of which is “are the blind and the seeing man equal? Will you not reflect?” [6:51].[4]

Let me end this section, in the words of Charles Darwin, as he quoted Francis Bacon from his book, Advancement of learning, in the later editions of Origin of Species to establish the proper relationship between religion and natural science:

To conclude, therefore, let no man out of weak conceit of sobriety, or an ill-applied moderation, think or maintain, that a man can search too far or be too well-studied in the book of God’s word, or in the book of God’s works; divinity or philosophy; but rather let men endeavor an endless progress or proficiency in both.

G. Utilitarian value of Islamic Teachings

The Islamic teachings when properly understood and interpreted in the context of time and space are not arbitrary, but of profound utilitarian value to the human societies.

We have a sizeable collection of articles on this theme in the Muslim Times.

References:

1. http://www.pewglobal.org/2014/03/13/worldwide-many-see-belief-in-god-as-essential-to-morality/

2.  The Spiritual Brain: Science and Religious Experience.  Taught by  Andrew Newberg  University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.  The Teaching Company Course, Guide Book, 2012. Lecture 20, Pages 139-144.

3. Islam and Christianity in India and the Far East By Elwood Morris Wherry. Fleming H Revell Company, 1907. Page 25-26.

4. https://themuslimtimes.info/2016/05/28/is-the-morality-of-islam-suitable-for-the-modern-world-or-antithetical-to-it/

 

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