The northern summer of 2020 was long and hot, not least for a pathogen that the regime in China had deliberately released into the world. The flood of statistics, regulations, theories and memes was, by then, constant. If your life was somehow connected to Islam, then in June you were provided with some relief from the pervasive "corona virus." June 2020 was the month of the now legendary holes-in-the-narrative interview that Sheikh Dr Yasir Qadhi had with "advanced student of knowledge," Mohamed Hijab.
That interview, in brief, shattered one of the most sacrosanct non-negotiables of the lay Muslim's faith, the perfect preservation of the Qur'an, something the Qur'an itself attests to. It unleashed an earthquake in the ummah that saw sheikh turned against sheikh, lay Muslim against lay Muslim and, crucially, lay Muslim against sheikh. It was also the occasion for overnight mass apostasy, something that, just a five years earlier, Maajid Nawaz and Sam Harris confidently declared could not happen. "It's ...unrealistic to believe that ...1.6 billion Muslims are going to magically somehow overnight apostatise."
Muslim misery ran deep that summer and the schadenfreude of those opposed to Islam was without restraint. The da'wah industry imploded in an atmosphere that I would not have missed for anything. Unfortunately, the people able to make the most hay during that glorious sunshine were Christians missionaries, whose own da'wah had just received a welcome and most unexpected boost at Islam's expense. They seized the hole-in-the-narrative narrative and made it their own—"the kufaar weaponised this issue," in the lament of one da'i.
That weaponisation, unfortunately, went no further than to prove "the superiority of the Bible over the Qur'an" and that Muslims must, consequently, "come home to Jesus." No Jews, Hindus, Buddhists or, indeed, atheists, rejoiced at the prospect of a spike in their numbers, not that they should have. It was striking that the deepest insight the world could come up with in response to such a profound undoing of the most dangerous religion is a more confident call to "embrace Jesus as your Lord and Saviour." Conspicuously absent from the scene was any real critical analysis of what had just transpired, and the clue lay right inside the holes-in-the-narrative interview.
What was lost in the frenzy surrounding the holes-in-the-narrative was far more important than what had been animating everybody in one way or another. Yasir Qadhi had been forced to reveal the real significance of the essential power relationship within Islam as a totalitarian system. It is not just that the "scholars" were “the guardians, transmitters and interpreters of religious knowledge” that lay Muslims could not be trusted with, but that "religious knowledge" was different to what lay Muslims had been indoctrinated from early childhood to believe it was.
Moreover, if lay Muslims were to delve into this question, "if you take a deep dive," they would discover something, "unwise to reveal in public." They would discover things that it would be best they did not know until they reached the Afterlife. Lay Muslims learnt, in that frantic to and fro between scholar and lay Muslim, that they were expected to just "memorise it and regurgitate it out." Their role was one of perpetual idiocy. Mohamed Hijab had opened Islam's Pandora's box and Yasir Qadhi was trying desperately hard to put the lid back on.
The side of Islam to which the lay Muslim is permitted access is faith, in contradistinction to law. The lay world is one of the Qur'an, Tafsirs, Hadith, and Seera, on the one hand, and fatwas, on the other. Here Islam is purely a religion, along with all its rituals, practices, congregations, identifiable trappings, invocations and spirituality, and rules for everything, including thought (a "complete way of life," totalitarian, though 'peaceful' by barbarian standards). The lay Muslim experiences a religion, albeit an austere and brutal one, taught as ultimately directed by the scholars, and nothing more. To the lay Muslim, the religion is the deen is Islam. When lay Muslims see some Muslim terrorist committing mass murder and deny that that is Islam, they are not necessarily being disingenuous, for they are not necessarily privy to the monstrous horrors within the depths of shari'a from which the scholars issued the murderer his instructions.
The Shari'a is where Islam goes over from the totalitarian faith of the lay Muslim to the fascism of the scholars; the wilful destruction of the human psyche through extreme cruelty inflicted on the body and spirit, horrific even by barbarian standards. The Shari'a side is the preserve of the “the guardians, transmitters and interpreters of religious knowledge,” i.e., the scholars and their newly-inducted "advanced students of knowledge." This is the law, and it is so anti-human that even in a world of barbarism, its tomes had to be kept occult, and forbidden to lay Muslims.
What Yasir Qadhi was forced to expose is that while the scholars teach lay Muslims to lie to the kufaar, the scholars have all along been lying to them! This is the real significance of the holes-in-the-narrative fiasco. The spell is broken, and Eid al-Adha 2022 brought the crumbling of the Islamic edifice of strict hierarchical separation between scholars and lay Muslims to everyday prominence in the Muslim world, no less. Lay Muslims in several Arab countries, without necessarily intending to apostatise, are openly questioning the role of the scholars in their societies. A full-throttle debate is raging even in Egypt, against the Al-Azhar institution, with open popular rejection and ridicule of their rulings. Crucially, the complaints rapidly widened from outrage at one particular fatwa to challenging the central structure of the Islamic order: the hierarchical distinction between “the guardians, transmitters and interpreters of religious knowledge,” and those whose fate it is to hear and obey.
While the relationship between Islam and the kufaar expands Islam, the relationship between the scholars and lay Muslims sustains it. The rejection of the relationship that sustains Islam is huge, for it is existential. These protests are a far cry from the complaints Al-Azhar faced just a few short months before the outbreak of the Arab Spring, when Egyptians viewed the Sheikh of Al-Azhar as "more concerned with upholding the current regime than religious principles." The scholars' only role, historically, has been to manipulate lay Muslims as automatons for Shari'a, from breeding more Muslims to sending them to their deaths against the kufaar.
Of course, lay Muslims are aware that the world of the scholars exists. If any questions should arise beyond those they have already been instructed on in madrassa, the answer lies on the Shari'a side, for which they faithfully consult their scholars, as the Shari's instructs them to. These two worlds meet strictly on the scholars' terms.
The Shari'a manual, Reliance of the Traveller, devotes significant attention to the relationship between scholars and lay Muslims. Basically, a lay Muslim cannot know anything unless he is told it by a scholar. A lay Muslim's brain is incapable of moral judgement, such judgement can only be taken from scholars and must be accepted without question. Muhammad Idris ibn al-Shafi‘i, after whom one of the Islamic schools of jurisprudence is named, i.e., one of the fathers of Shari'a, urged:
It is fitter for them [the common people] to confine themselves to contentment with the above-mentioned absolute certainly [to believe in everything brought by the Messenger of Allah …and to credit it with absolute conviction free of any doubt].
By the time all this filters through to the lay Muslim, it becomes:
O ye who believe! Ask not questions about things which, if made plain to you, may cause you trouble. But if ye ask about things when the Qur'an is being revealed, they will be made plain to you, Allah will forgive those: for Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Forbearing. Some people before you did ask such questions, and on that account lost their faith, (5:101-102)
and, "We hear and we obey." (24:51)
The scholars do not do Shari'a's dirty work themselves. For that they have lay Muslims ready to claim their virgins in Heaven. Dutch academic, the late Professor Johannes Jansen, one of the Cassandra voices trying to warn about Shari'a, recounts a kafir's interaction with imams in the Netherlands:
In 2006/2007, a Dutch comedian got into trouble with an Islamic activist about the Theo van Gogh assassination. The comedian, on his own initiative, then consulted a local Amsterdam Imam and the board of his mosque, asking them directly whether they wanted to kill him. The Imam only looked stern, and did not say anything, acting as if he did not understand Dutch — which perhaps he did not. However, a smiling board member assured the comedian that they had no plans to kill him, because ‘for such things we have the radicals’. This perfectly illustrates the situation. The majority is silent, the Imam limits himself to looking dignified, his direct supporters bring the bad news, and the elite soldiers, true commandos, true mujahideen, do the dirty work.
Yasir Qadhi, in that fateful holes-in-the-narrative interview, observed about Western scholars, "their level of knowledge [of Islam] is leaps and bounds ahead," of what it was a hundred years ago. The lay Muslims' level of knowledge of Islam, if the scholars had their way, would be exactly the same as it was a hundred years ago. From their scholars, lay Muslims to not learn about Islam; they learn how to be Muslim. To learn about Islam, lay Muslims have to turn to the kufaar. And the kufaar have been only too willing to oblige. "We are not afraid of economic sanctions or military intervention. What we are afraid of is Western universities." Thus spake Rohullah "the Joyless" Khomeini.
It is those intrepid Western scholars who read the sources for themselves (something many lay Muslims still consider a disgraceful thing to do and that so many ex-Muslims remain reluctant to do) and whose colleagues created the means of disseminating their findings and insights to the world, who have made available to the lay Muslim a way to get around their scholars. Of course, they also had to transform their own minds into those of autonomous individuals, people who think for themselves and take responsibility for their lives. Such people are out of reach of the scholars.
This makes me think again about the meaning of the phrase: "cause corruption in the land," (Qur'an 5:33). I think what this phrase really means is: place lay Muslims beyond the reach of the scholars. Sheikh Yasir Qadhi, with pained expression, implored Muslims, "do not die in kufr," in other words, always remain under our control. Clearly, "dying in kufr" is not the bogey it once was.
Let us return to Maajid Nawaz's red-herring assertion at the start of this essay that 1.6 billion Muslims are not magically somehow going to apostatise overnight. Muslims do not have to apostatise, at least not in their own minds, for Islam to be destroyed. They merely need to cease acquiescing in their subjugation to “the guardians, transmitters and interpreters of religious knowledge,” and the totalitarian structure of Islam unravels. The architects of this evil system were well aware of this central vulnerability, and went to extraordinary lengths to ensure that lay Muslims never question, and always hear and obey the scholars. With that control gone, the scholars can declare jihad all they like, but there will be fewer young men who are offered seventy-two virgins for death and who do not smell a rat. About a decade ago some scholar tried to set up a caliphate somewhere. It drew about 30,000 out of the lauded 1.6 billion. That does not prove that Islam is peaceful; it proves that Islam is crumbling.
Freeing Muslims from Islam is not a simple matter of separation of mosque and state. In Islam, it is a matter of separation of lay Muslim and scholar. Egyptian Twitter user, Sahar el-Ja'ara, writes, "The Shiekh of Al-Azhar is not a guardian of society... This is an abuse of the state authorities." This is, indeed, a call for separation of mosque and state, but it is preceded by lay Muslims rejecting the scholars as the guardians of society, as el-Ja'ara does. This is the real revolution. This is the real Arab Spring. This is how Islam dies. And there is nothing magical about it.
Back in 2020, Yasir Qadhi declared, "By and large, our ulama in the Eastern world are not aware of what's going on in the Western side of things." Well, they are now.
- "Holes in the Narrative - Yasir Qadhi interview clip + Muslim reaction," EarnedNothing, Youtube, 15 Jan 2021 https://youtu.be/DsikKJg4ETw
- "Atheist Sam Harris and former Islamist Maajid Nawaz on the future of Islam," ABC News (Australia), YouTube, 28 Oct 2015 https://youtu.be/hwQhu1A-Ats
- What are quaintly referred to as "Islamic scholars" are not scholars at all. They are not in the business of scholarship. Knowledge, truth and facts do not interest them. Their raison d'être is very simple: at all times protect and advance Islam. Their top priority in this regards is to insulate lay Muslims both from their own humanity and from the true nature of Islam. They accomplish this by keeping lay Muslims ignorant about Shari'a, and by indoctrinating every generation from a very early age, especially with supremacism, hatred towards non-Muslims and fear of doubt. They must constantly seek or create opportunities for jihad, ensure that the Muslims always increase in number, send lay Muslims on suicidal murder missions, and so forth. They also select from amongst lay Muslims to replenish their own number. They are usually profoundly ignorant of anything that is not Islam, and are unschooled in the most rudimentary philosophy and rhetoric. For these reasons I prefer to write "scholar" in inverted commas. For avoidance of tedium, the word appears in inverted commas only at first use, but is to be understood that way throughout.
- Christian Prince offers an excellent summary of these events in Egypt. "Egyptian Muslims are challenging their Muslim scholars," CHILDREN OF LIGHT MINISTRY, YouTube, 14 Jul 2022 https://youtu.be/PKS-O5l1r3o
- Brian Whitaker, "More niqab protests in Egypt," al-bab.com, 14 January 2010. https://al-bab.com/blog/2010/01/more-niqab-protests-egypt
- Reliance of the Traveller, Book A4.2.
- "What is Sharia, where does it come from, and why does it matter so much?" Professor Dr. Johannes Jansen, Professor Dr Johannes Jansen Speaks At Inaugural Brussels Process Conference, by ICLA Admin, July 12, 2012 https://libertiesalliance.org/2012/07/12/professor-dr-johannes-jansen-speaks-at-inaugural-brussels-process-conference/