Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

The Incompatibility of Islam with Western Civilization

“Muslims in the West: Lost within Modernity”

المسلمون في الغرب: تيه في الحداثة

By Jacob Thomas

Lately, more reformist Arab intellectuals have been addressing the problems facing Muslims who have settled in Western Europe. On Wednesday, 15 December, 2009, an article appeared on the Al-Awan website with this title “Muslims in the West: Lost within Modernity” (*).

The Algerian author has written on other problems facing first and second generation Muslims of Western Europe.  In this particular article he stressed the inner struggle that rages within the hearts and minds of these Muslims.  He says they are “lost within the modernity that is a distinguishing feature of Western civilization.” Here are excerpts from his article, in which he claims that Islam and Western civilization are incompatible. My comments follow.

Modernity is radically incompatible with Islam. According to the Islamic worldview, man’s life remains under the supervision of Allah; it is Allah who guarantees man’s freedom, and guides him in his life journey. But according to modernity’s view, man possesses an absolute value in the universe. He depends on his own reason, and by using his critical faculty, he determines his own responsibilities.

Does Islamic fiqh (jurisprudence) encourage the use of reason, and the freedom of thought? Does the Islamic mind accept the basic foundations of modernity? For example, in Islam, the ruler is not held accountable to the people; his responsibility is to Allah alone. Muslims have no right to reject the Shariah. To date, not one Arab ruler has ever dared to rethink or amend the Shariah’s requirements. It is quite evident that Islam is not compatible with democracy; the very word “democratos” (people’s rule) contradicts the essence of Islam, where rule belongs exclusively to Allah.

Thus Muslims would never be asked to cast a ballot that will change halal1 to haram,2 and haram to halal! FIS (Front Islamic to Salut),3 the now banned Algerian Islamist organisation, used to portray such slogans as “An Islamic State, without Elections,” and “Democracy is Kufr.” These slogans should not be considered simply as the opinions of radicals, because they actually represent Islamic view of politics and governance.

Recently, in Bordeaux, France, the Moroccan Consulate objected to the cremation of a Frenchman of Moroccan origin, even though he specifically stipulated before his death that he wished to be cremated. Due to the pressures of the Islamists and certain Islamic governments, and in order to avoid serious trouble, the French authorities buckled and gave in to the pressures.  One should note that in Islam an individual’s wishes are subject to the will of the community.  It is the Umma that possesses the final authority in matters of life and death. Manifesting the same Islamic outlook, the imam of the mosque in Lille, who heads the Islamic League in Northern France, declared recently: “The concept of citizenship does not exist in Islam; the group or the community is very important. To recognize a community implies the recognition of the laws that govern it.”

“Thus, as a Muslim finds himself wandering and lost in the lands of modernity, he tends to isolate himself from his social environment. Within his inner life a raging civil war goes on; in fact the clash of civilizations takes place between his faith and the modernity that governs his surroundings, invading his very home! Immigrant Muslims don’t care about what the laws of their countries say. Rather, they give heed to what the Shariah demands. In democratic lands where the rule of law reigns, Muslims prefer to seek guidance from Islamic fiqh. You would be overwhelmed and shocked to learn about the multitude of fatwas that are issued daily in the Islamic world. As a Muslim seeks to become a true believer, his behavior must conform to all the demands of the Shariah, whether dealing with a minor or a major subject. Should a Muslim deviate from the demands of his sacred law, or neglect its guidance, he would earn the wrath of Allah. Such topics seem to haunt the Muslim: Is prayer lawful while flying and how could one determine the Qiblah?4 May a woman use kohl on her eyes during Ramadan? May men become doctors of gynecology?  Is it haram or halal to frequent swimming pools where men and women bathe?

According to the London-based television channel “Hiwar,” Dar al-Fatwa in Egypt issues daily, more than 1,000 fatwas in four different languages over the telephone; not counting another 500 fatwas handed to believers who seek guidance by going to the Center. You can hardly believe the questions addressed to this television station coming from Paris, London, Rome, Lausanne, etc. As for the mufti’s answers, they are nauseating.

Modernity offers a new approach for humanity. At its core, it celebrates the values of individual liberty, and independence. Thus, the contradiction between modernity and Islam is not an unimportant matter; it is a necessary result of its internal logic. Islam and modernity by definition are in conflict, because there is no way modernity can compete with Shariah in the mind and daily existence of a true, but highly conflicted, Muslim.

For example, Britain was, for the Muslim immigrants from Britain’s former colonies, their “Land of Promise.” Now that they have settled in the country, and become British citizens, they are working hard at its Islamization. Recently, Shaheb Hassan, the official speaker for the Islamic Council of Britain, called on the British to exchange their age-long democratic political institutions for an Islamic regime! Addressing them, he said: “Simply apply the Shariah, and this country would become a peace garden: amputate a thief’s hand, and no one would steal; stone the adulterer and no one would commit adultery. British society would benefit greatly by adopting the Islamic Shariah.”

Pressures on Western societies keep mounting to conform to Islamic laws. On 12 January, 2007, a German judge refused the request of a German lady of Moroccan descent, who wished to divorce her husband because he was beating her. The judge based her decision on the fact that the Qur’an allows husbands to beat their wives. Western Europe is called upon to learn about Islam, and to deal with Muslims in the light of their traditions.  This was recently illustrated in Amsterdam where members of its police force were all handed copies of the Qur’an to study in order to become more conversant with the Islamic way of life! And in Rouen, France, the imam of its mosque was dismissed for officiating at a mixed-marriage, and for delivering his sermon in French. His action was denounced by the officials of the mosque as being heretical.

Muslims living in the West who wish to practice Islam in the way it was traditionally practiced in their homelands necessarily find their problems increasing. Even in the simple area of choosing an occupation or finding settled work of any kind, a Muslim must be careful not to displease Allah.  When looking for a restaurant, he must find one that offers halal food so as to follow Islamic dietary laws. The list goes on. In the final analysis, a practicing Muslim has a very hard time accepting and becoming a part of the Western world and its modernity.  So whichever society of the West he and his family have settled in, the conflict continues and grows deeper!


The Algerian writer shows a deep interest in and seems to be very concerned about the plight of Muslims in the West. It is obvious he would like to see them become assimilated into the rule of law and basic freedoms that Western traditions hold paramount.  He conveys to a Western reader that Muslims live conflicted lives in the cultures of freedom they inhabit.  The teachings of their authority figures do not help them assimilate but rather keep them in a conflicted state between freedom and Shariah tyranny. The basic problem, he claims, is the incompatibility of traditional Islam with Western civilization. As mentioned at the beginning of my article, a literal translation of the Arabic headline reads, “Muslims in the West: Lost within Modernity” (المسلمون في الغرب تيه في الحداثة).


This article describes the plight of North African immigrants who have settled in France and who find adjusting to life in their new homeland quite difficult.  The Algerian author lays the blame on the strictures imposed upon them by the Islamic Shariah. Guidance they receive from their imams at the mosques, or from other authority figures who issue fatwas has a strong hold on them.  The teaching of their religious leaders is meant to deal with and specifically answer the many problems they encounter in their adoptive non-Islamic milieus.  What it appears to be doing, however, according to this author, is contributing to a sense of lostness, and an inability to enjoy the peace of mind which they are taught is the reward of obedience to Sharia.

The writer does not offer any solution for the perplexed Muslims of Western Europe. As he put it in an article on the same subject published in a French-language website:

“Un islam sans prosélytisme, sans charia, sans Etat islamique, ce n’est plus l’islam… Ouvrez le Coran, vous serez bien servis!” (*)

(An Islam that does not practice proselyting, is without Shariah, and without an Islamic State, is no longer Islam.  Just open the Qur’an, and see that for yourself.”)

Having offered a definition of “true” Islam, he deems his fellow-North Africans lost, and wandering without much hope in a country that gave them many opportunities for fulfillment, especially in the area of vocation.  Yet this very environment, with both its challenges and blessings, has unsettled rather than pacified and pleased them.  They still hanker after the world of Daru’l Islam!



1 Halal:  In harmony with Shariah, and thus an allowable act or behavior.

2 Haram: Contrary to the Shariah, and thus a forbidden act or behavior.

3 FIS (Front Islamic to Salut): the Islamic Salvation Front, a radical Algerian organization that won the local elections in the early 1990s. That prompted the Military Government to annul the elections, and prevent FIS from participating in the national elections. Civil war resulted, with more than 200,000 Algerians losing their lives.

4 Qiblah points to the direction of Mecca, so that when Muslims are engaged in private prayer, or in the Friday prayers at the Mosque, they must face the Holy City; a tradition that goes back to Muhammad’s days in Medina.

Articles by Jacob Thomas
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