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.