“Las Vegas is the savage heart of the American dream”

Hunter S Thompson

All dreams eventually turn to nightmares. It reminds me of the opening from the film Blue Velvet. Blue skies, a green lawn, a white picket fence – the very personification of the American dream. As the camera pans down below the grass, the reality of the root of this dream is if anything but pleasant. Telling us again that below all these Rockwellian pleasantries lies something horrifying. Sometimes, the deeper we go into the root of ideas and dreams, the root is on foul foundations. All dreams eventually turn to nightmares.

If the American dream has gone sour due to its foundations and ideas, then equally so has the dream and idea of the Islamic state. The Islamic state corresponding to the state of our minds and the governing bodies we call ‘Muslim’ countries.

The epitome of this is the Gulf states. A mirage so real that it defies the eyes. Concrete and metal cover the skyline. Large malls, fountains of water and trees that would never sprout from dead ground. All of this growing from the desert. Nothingness giving birth to ‘progress’. It is an unholy foundation, built on the precipice of hypocrisy and slavery. These shiny things, will one day lay as dust, blowing in the desert wind as if it were just a bizarre delusion.

Nothing is more relatable to the Muslims, more than the sharp images of Makkah (Mecca) and Medina. Two of the holiest sites for Muslims. Providing safety and sanctity for the Muslims across the world. Representing the opposite of materialism, a direct renunciation of all worldly desires, creeds, colour and status. Yet, the opposite seems true now.

I eagerly did Umrah (lesser pilgrimage) two years ago. Only for the motivation of getting closer to my faith. I wasn’t as fervently excited as some Muslims who would happily spend that obscene amount of money to fulfil their Muslim ‘Vegas’ trip. I don’t jest, I do call the holy cities of Makkah and Medina, a Muslim ‘Vegas’ without the gambling. I’m not making this unholy juxtaposition to arouse controversy. It is a Muslim ‘Vegas’ insofar as – for the capitalist ‘westerner’ he has Vegas for decadent hedonism, the Muslim Makkah/Medina for the sacred. In both of these places, the symbolism is the same thing in terms of a desired destination. In this polarity exists in the current divide of East vs West. At least, that’s how it should be.

As I entered my quest for spiritual enlightenment. Impassioned by the previous travellers who came back changed, who reported the feelings of delight and completion. I departed on my journey. I now look back at that time, looking at myself from above. I realised, I didn’t achieve any more spiritual benefit than I would have praying at home. I didn’t need to see Makkah or Medina to find God. He was always in my heart. In fact, I probably found more peace on my prayer mat than I did there.

I saw a desert, with protruding columns professing a glory to materialism. This is efficiently symbolised by a clock tower overshadowing the ‘House of God’ itself. The epitome reflected is in no uncertain terms the hypocrisy of the regime there. Surrounding the Kabaa (symbolically called the house of God) a few metres away are ‘megamalls’. From Kaaba to Calvin Klein, from the Ihram (white cloth representing equality and nothingness) to Issaye Miyake. These juxtapositions lie in the face of the true spirit of Islam and its state.

As I walked the streets of Makkah, I ignored the ill-manners of some of the natives that belong there, but instead to bask in the ambience of the place. Marble enveloped my feet and cranes stood over me. Countless restaurants of chips and sandwiches glittered the surrounding areas. The malls full of Ben and Jerry, McDonalds and KFC. My hotel was nothing but luxury at its best. Was this a holiday or a journey of the inner self? So what did I do? I ate some good food on the basis that I can eat halal food now! I tried to get to know the people – which I immediately regretted. I wanted to see my heritage of graves and old markings. None to be found because the puritanical regime ruling Arabia deems it as idol worship. I was defeated and saddened. I cannot see the stones of my religious ancestors, yet the stones of towers, bricks and marble shone all around me.

Indeed, it could be argued that progression is good. Facilitating the pilgrims is a good thing. Of course it is. However, a line must be drawn where excess and materialism are not synonymous with the ‘House of God’. Instead, I found the House of Saud and the House of rampant excess. Somehow, the people of the Gulf states have confused progress with opulence. We can increase our knowledge of the world and gain enlightenment, but if we don’t, then like the emptiness of sand the buildings grow out of, it will still lay in sand, empty and meaningless. A remnant of something gone.

It could also be argued, that choice plays a part. I don’t have to partake in the hedonism and excess. I could continue my spiritual quest, stay in a humble hotel, and not go into the malls. I say, this cannot be true. It is unavoidable. The clock tower that overshadows the Ka’aba is the very swallowing picture of this. It’s all around you. Pilgrims do want the best hotel and best eateries. All the facilities you would have in the West, but wouldn’t feel comfortable in. This is further embodied in Dubai, Qatar, Abu Dhabi and the surrounding Gulf States. The Muslim Costa Del Sol.

That is the crux of the matter. We don’t integrate into the societies we’re born in, as the ‘kuffar’ (unbeliever) will corrupt us with his materialism and nudity. However, we’ll happily spend thousands of pounds to make our hedonistic holiday to Dubai ‘halal’. It is the very definition of a mirage. Built on slavery, oil and hypocrisy.

I know of people who have moved to that part of the world. To instil a more ‘Islamic’ worldview onto their children and cultural protection. However, they still come to the UK to have their new borns, so they can benefit from free healthcare and a better passport. It is truly treacherous. Like the American dream has failed it, so will the Islamic state of mind and states. Their foundation is built on ruins and emptiness.

When you have these states that employ non-Arabs, who are deemed as cheap labour, forced to work long hours, with no safety, no contracts, their passports not given to them. How dare you set foot on the blood, sweat and tears of your apartment in that land that was built on exploitation!? Also, what exactly are you teaching your children? That the version of Islam they see is the best version – with a small caveat, a foreign passport and lots of money. There’s no point being a automated being who prays and teaches their children to pray – where ‘adl (justice) is not taught. Without justice, your tasbihs (prayer beads) and salah (prayer) are of no value.

We see an extreme element of this exaggerated by migrations of youth going to Iraq/Syria, to fight for Islam and ‘justice’. This is most despairing part of the equation. The rotten salafis/Wahhabis have finally won their distilled, hijacked version of Islam into a country where south Asian parents thought they could give their children a fairer try to the world. Some of that is indeed the fault of integration of our parents and the native dwellers of our land. I do not refute the accusation of what warranted the isolation of our parents. They truly did go through a tough time being brown and different. They worked very hard for us. But with some of us they failed. I don’t say they came from another culture. I say they time travelled. From a medieval society, with strange societal rules and interactions to another time and place. Even with that said, they failed to find an identity for us. Furthermore, the instilled a rebellion in us to reject materialism, through their cult-like understanding of Islam, they validated materialism in us. Comparing us to others, pushing us towards to relationships and careers whose only function wasn’t knowledge, rather only material comfort. We rejected their version of Islam, which was arguably racist, superstitious and material. A full metal, body armoured unquestionable Islam, which we couldn’t escape the shackles of. When we replaced their archetype version of a ‘good’ Muslim, they were not equipped enough to know what version of Islam we were following. We had embraced a foreign, pandemic ‘Islam’ that has obliterated many of our families today. At other extremes, we either left Islam or became Quranists. Those aforementioned are not harmful to Islam as much as the evil that pervades in militant Islam.

So we set forth in embracing radical, ginger haired, unkempt beard preachers – who would give us a neo-Islamic identity. Harkening back to the days of glory. The purity of Islam. The interlopers won.

How wrong we were. This ‘bastardised’ version of Islam pervades us. It’s unfair to just pick on wahhabism. The truth is we handed over our hearts and minds in total submission to our religious leaders. Their edicts became binding, even if they flaunted common sense. This goes for Wahhabi, Brelvi and all our main sects. This mental state’s foundation is psychologically tormentous to us.

Intellect and rationality to make an informed decision was omitted by heretics in our early years of Islamic philosophy. By the likes of Ibn Taymiyyah, ibn Abd al-Wahhab, Albani a host of other personalities. Their word became gospel. Their rulings forever binding and enshrined in stone. Their works repeated ad-infinitum today without realising what they are actually saying. The thought process became stagnant, because these ‘luminaries’ were unquestionable. Since when did Hadith (sayings of the Prophet) become binding on the individual. In fact – to actually edify the full breadth of scrutiny, you must even approach the Quran with a sceptical brain. Question every ruling. Leaving it to the academics is like leaving your child behind at the supermarket. The onus is on you, the last breath is yours. Live your religion, like you’re going to leave it tomorrow. Live your way of life not like an exclusive cult, rather like a universal approach to spirituality and guidelines. The Quran is actually filled with very little guidelines – much of it comes from our secondary sources of Hadith and disingenuous fatwas. Academics trying to validate scrupulous sayings and texts that make no scientific, humanistic or rational sense. Problematic rulings of apostasy, music, female circumcision, stoning and equality for women persist today, with modern day ‘scholars’ trying to legitimatise these rulings. We’re more fascinated like juvenile individuals with what goes on in peoples bedrooms than we are with actually enjoying ourselves!  When you die, can you actually look at your Prophet (saw) and say – ‘well you told us this!’ No, you cannot. You cannot be sure he said any of this, which is why we need to reclaim Islam and question the scholars openly.

We’ve been had my friends, we’ve been bamboozled with all the complex machinations and mess of our scholars. Which is why we have ridiculous people in ISIS believing in stoning, throwing people of buildings, burning people. The religion of peace indeed. Yet we still hear our leaders saying, “yes but these people are a rogue element” or “Islam, as a whole categorically is against any form terror”. These are all the oft-repeated rhetorical and false convictions we often hear.

Plurality is good, but when pluralism can make the Prophet of the Almighty look as merciful and as tender as any human being alive and at the same time make him look like a lustful, bloodthirsty, ruthless marauder – then we have a problem folks. We’ve not done a good job of explaining any of these things. Instead, all hadith are Sahih (sound) – even the ones where he’s ordering the death of people in the most bloodthirsty way possible. That is what we’ve told. No filtering has taken place, no methodology implemented correctly. Instead, all we do is go around in circles trying to explain the earth resting on the back of a whale.

Hiding behind the shadows of our false Gods of stone buildings and fake tasbihs, will not rescue them from the sheer ignorance we are in. We’ve become stagnant. All the interpretive work is done by the scholars and academics. We can just relax and let go, as the scholars are inheritors of the Prophets, as the famous saying goes. Except, that’s not what it means. If scholars are inheritors of the Prophets – then we’re insulting the Prophet. Rather, it should be interpreted as, knowledge is the inheritance of the Prophet. If we align that with the spirit of the Quran insistence on education, knowledge and inquisitiveness. It can only mean those who seek knowledge, any worldly knowledge that helps progress mankind, then they are inheritors of the Prophet. Instead, we’re clamouring to dissect the finer qualities of how prayer should be read or how to do wudhu (abolution) properly. Erstwhile, the truest person seeking knowledge is dissecting the atom to find the secrets of the universe. Which of these is the inheritor of the Prophets?

But it’s okay, we’ve compensated all that by building a mirage in our minds and lands of a structure that will hide our mistakes.

In our minds – the idea of a pure, utopia of Islam that can co-exist with the world. When in reality, the very foundations are shaking and are in stark contradiction with each other. Personified by Wahhabi/Salafi Islam in its most brazen medieval form in Iraq and Saudi.

In our lands – we ban all social media and TV from the evil West, yet commemorate our enemies by copying their excess of lifestyle and materialism. All the while, the people of the land don’t have the basic freedom to speak, to drive cars. Whilst, the Bedouin oil sheikhs play to excess in London. Tasbih in one hand, funding their Deo-Wahhabi-Salafi institutions – a glass of whisky in the other hand, accepting all the weapons of mass destruction the West can give them.

For the sake of clarity, I am not calling for simplicity or criticising what money brings. Nor am I calling for the boycott of Makkah and Medina. Although, personally I’d rather spend that money backpacking the globe. I am criticising the disparity between our mental ignorance and the lifestyles we choose to live. Nor do I have an image of an Islamic utopia. There never will be one. There never has been one.

Those who call for the ‘golden age’ of Islam. Do they forget, after the death of the Prophet (saw) the amount of infighting, games and cunning during that period. The battle of Siffin and Jamal are prime examples. Perhaps, they mean the time of Ghazali or Imam Abu Hanifa, or the time of Baghdad and Spain? Well, then they forget they were better times because religion wasn’t at the forefront of their minds – philosophy for the sake of mankind was at the forefront of their ethos, and not ritual religious practise. Religion was a way of life for them. So much so, that the “neo-muslims” of today would have an aneurysm, if they discovered the sort of Islamic ideas the philosophers of old had.

The greatest victory of the West was accepting there will never be a purity of system in this world. They came to accept an imperfect, automated system that runs on money and intellectual evolution. Whilst the Muslims still want to harken back to the days where people slept under trees and lived in ragged clothing. Rather contradictorily, they aspire to piety yet at the same need their air conditioner and sex slaves to exploit whenever they want to.

I am not criticising all Muslim academics. Indeed, I respect them all for the work and effort they’ve put in. We would not have our pluralism without them or various philosophies. I am saying their work should be as springboard to be bounced off. That has not happened. The water has not flowed and now become muddy. That we have to use indefensible constructs to explain ideas we cannot be honest enough to say that they were mistakes or illogical. Rather, we have a clone army of beardy Mullahs from all sects who don’t have any reasoning whatsoever. Common sense and intellect are not allowed in the realm of sacred texts. We claim our religious knowledge is being increased by them, they are authorities. Who gave them authority? Was it perhaps the corrupt Muslim governments of the Ummayads and Abbassids – the sultans courts? You may ponder that in your own time.

These problems have a simple solution. Use your brain, rationale and intellect in harmony. If something doesn’t make sense, or contradicts the word of the Almighty, reject it. Yes, it’s okay to reject egregious texts that make God look like a monster and the Prophet (saw) like a lustful psychopath.

There is some hope. There are a host of new scholars who are doing amazing work in rescuing the faith from the hands of those who choose to enslave us. I won’t mention them just yet, nor will I quote Hadith. I think sending people to a particular form of thinking would be contradictory to the spirit of this article. So here’s my idea. Read. Read fiction. Especially, zeitgeist fiction. Read, critical histories. Read everything. Effectively, to have an independent mind, free from influence from those who would rather bamboozle you – you must stray from your confirmation biases.

The naysayers will bite back and say, our pillars are solid. We have ijtihad (independent reasoning) and ijma (consensus). We have neither. We haven’t had ijtihad for centures, because the prerequisites for doing any ijtihid are impossible today. To do ijtihiad you must be a mujaddid (renewer/reformer), the requirements to become one are silly. The prerequisites they’ve invented are such that you have to be “Rain Man” to do such a thing. Also, ijma is irrelevant. By definition you cannot have consensus if one person disagrees with you, but also so what if the majority ruled in favour for something? There was a specific time and place for that. All rulings have to change, because the interpretation of the Quran has to change according to the time and place.

Time and place. Our mirage is truly something that is stuck between medieval intellectual structures and modern glass buildings with fountains and cool air – a smoke screen to hide what’s beneath this building, a building that is built on sand and dust. Who needs heaven, when you make it on this earth? Who needs hell when you have it on this earth? We hide our Islamic ‘state’ the same way we hide the desert with our tall structures.

This dream has turned into a nightmare. Across the Muslim world, bloodshed, ignorance and violence have become synonymous with Islam. Whilst I agree that much of it the political turmoil has found an idealogical outlet, that in this case has been validated by the prevalent version of Islam we see today. This in itself it proof that the Muslims today have not awoken. We would rather remain spoon-fed from the poison of our teachers.

What do I know? I will just lay back, close my eyes. Leave me to dream and wake me when this nightmare is over. In the meantime, I shall leave it at the behest of the scholars. They know best..

Going to Makkah is not the goal Even if hundreds of prayers are offered – Going to River Ganges is not the Goal Even if hundreds of cleansing (Baptisms) are done – Going to Gaya is not the Goal Even if hundreds of worships are done – Bulleh Shah the ultimate is When the “I” is removed from the heart!

Bulleh Shah, A Sufi Punjabi poet from the 15th century.

Written by Benny Lava