Islam: A Success Story?

I was speaking to a friend recently who, while at university, bathed in hedonism: drugs, sex, parties, you name it, he did it. Now, two years later, he feels lost to life.

None of that, he says, brought him happiness. In fact, it made him slightly depressed. He has thought to himself over and over: if these are supposedly the great pleasures of life, but can’t bring me happiness or any sense of satisfaction, what, then, is life about?

Sadly, he’s one among thousands, perhaps millions, of young people who feel this way. They just can’t quite figure out what this is all about, yet, they shrug off these feelings and just carry on with things. There are many others, however, who look for alternative ways of living.

Islam is, in a sense, the radical alternative. It offers certainty, meaning and it’s simple monotheism makes sense. It offers everything those disaffected with modern life seek.

If we live in a time of turbo-capitalism, nihilism and the steady erosion of moral absolutes, Islam is seen by many as an escape from this reality.

It’s emphasis on human equality is demonstrated beautifully on a daily basis in Mecca where king and commoner, president and road sweeper, rich and poor are indistinguishable, standing, literally, shoulder to shoulder to pray. Where going ‘green’ or showing a deep concern for the environment is every individual’s responsibility. Being kind to animals is not just a religious request but an obligation. Wasting water is sinful. Maintaining a good diet and eating minimal is recommended as to avoid becoming overweight and compromising your health. Sleeping only what you need to, so your days are long and productive. Speaking only when necessary as to avoid getting into trouble because of your tongue. Being somewhat of a voracious reader, as ‘read’ was the first word to be revealed in the Quran and seeking knowledge is of critical importance. Above all else, Islam asks each individual to see meaning in everything and treat each precious moment as if it could be your last.

Yes, extremism, religious abuse, some leaving the faith and internal division exists, but in a community of 1.7 billion, some are bound to get it wrong. Ultimately, you measure the success of a religion if it still appeals to people, and Islam clearly still does. Not only are people still converting to Islam in large numbers (not to mention the many who convert and practise it in private) but Mosques are still full and the basic rituals are still in tact.  Islam,  you could say, is the great success story of modernity.


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  1. This is a pleasant feel-good story but could have equally been written about an atheist or spiritual success story where Islam wasn’t credited. It would be wonderfully to see all faiths push for better animal welfare, environmental protection and tackle obesity but its not often you see imams, priests, holy people etc. lobbying for such things either with governments or to their worshippers. So much focus seems to be about the ‘after life’ when an enormous amount of pleasure could be gained right here and now.

    I enjoy reading your stories but billions of people live life without faith playing a role and are very happy/good people.

    • I don’t think Omar was ever saying that the irreligious aren’t happy/good people. In fact, I think it’s a bit churlish to think he is saying that at all. Of course the irreligious are good people. They are happy too. It all depends on the person and what they feel is best to them. Any rational person would rather have a happy unbeliever than an unhappy believer. Granted, not everyone understands that, but Omar certainly does.

      I don’t completely agree with your point on activism either. Hasn’t the Pope just spoken out against global warming denial? Haven’t many Muslim Imams recently come out and said it’s our duty to protect this earth (check the Guardian-they had a story about it today). I don’t know much about animal rights in the Muslim community but many Jewish Rabbis are famous for their advocating of vegan-ism. I’ll concede Obesity, but then again, I don’t really know that obesity is a role that faith leaders have any role in helping. The state should be providing healthier options and better education.

      Granted there are some leaders who place an emphasis on after-life but the over-whelming majority don’t. Theologically speaking, other than Calvinism, most religions place an emphasis on free-will for the reason that Humans act morally in this life in order to receive a entry ( or an early entry, in Islam) into heaven. The problem arises in that different humans have different ideas of morality, but that can be said for everything. Three Humanists will likely differ greatly in their definitions of helping humans. One might say that the only way to help humans is to eradicate religion. The other might say the only way to help them is through charity. A third might say the only way to help is through Socialism. All three are Secular Humanists.

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