The large majority of Muslims, either in barren deserts of Middle East or in lush green tropical landscape; either in high mountains of the Himalayas or in swampy lands of river deltas, uphold very dearly the supremacy of their religion, Islam. Islam is their primary identity; any other identity – be it national or linguistic or regional – is subservient to religious identity. Without Islam, as if, their existence in this world and their purpose in life, their transition to after-life would become totally and utterly meaningless!
How did Muslims acquire such an extreme delusional view, which is almost unique to this religion? Of course, in other monotheistic religions strong parochial views do exist – the views that only their religion is God’s chosen religion – but then there are doubts and suspicions as to the supremacy of their religion and religious orthodoxy; but not in Islam. That is what makes Islam different from other monotheistic religions.
When somebody blows himself up, he does it with the utmost conviction that he is doing it for the good of the religion and in the process, good for himself – he is going to be a martyr and hence go to paradise. When somebody beheads infidels, he does that with clear conscience that he is doing it for the religion and hence he is virtuous. The Jihadists can kill enemy soldiers, even after their surrender; the women of the enemy soldiers and civilians can be taken as slaves and used for sex purposes and all these actions have the virtuous sanctions of the religion!
These are, of course, the theological teachings of fundamentalist Wahhabi/Salafi ideology of Sunni Sect which is endorsed and propagated by Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia had spent tens of billions of dollars over the past fifty years or so to promote and glorify this ideology. The Sunni Muslims all over the world are gradually adhering to this ideology like a massive herd of goats.
Why Muslims are demonstrating such herd mentality in this enlightened age of the 21st century is hard to fathom. It seems, though, that there isn’t one single reason for this behaviour; there are multiple inter-twined and complex reasons.
The most important one is what religion teaches and demands of Muslims. Islam requires adherents to congregate in mosques five times a day where prayers are to be performed, Quranic verses are interpreted and general teachings or fatwas are given by mullahs to the Muslims. These teachings are not confined to theology only, they stray well into social, political and economic matters. This practice is quite natural as Islam is not a pure theological religion, but a political religion giving out a code of conduct in life. These teachings are to be followed by Muslims in every sphere of life.
The incessant barrage of religious teaching starts from the very child birth. As soon as a child is born, Quranic verses are recited by a mullah so that the child can hear it. Although it is symbolic, but it shows the subliminal aspiration of the parents that the child would grow up as per Islamic teachings. Even before the child is ready to go to normal school at the age of five or so, the parents hire mullahs to give private coaching to the child in reading Quran.
With such perpetual reinforcement of religious teachings – from child birth to the whole life – it is of no surprise that the Muslims, particularly the illiterate and semi-literate mass, cease to think independently and rely on the interpretations dished out by the mullahs. Even educated people under constant barrage of fatwas may be brainwashed and lose capacity to think objectively and critically. They follow the fellow Muslims under the guidance of mullahs. It must also be remembered that mullahs round the world, except in small enclaves in the Middle East, are totally illiterate in Arabic language and hence they preach what they fancy.
As Islam claims to be the latest religion purporting God’s messages to human beings through the last Prophet (Prophet Mohammad), it cannot be revised or reformed. In other words, the messages which are claimed to have come to Prophet Mohammad, some 1400 years ago, in the remote corner of Arabia (in Mount Hira, near Makkah) from God Himself must remain untouched and frozen. God’s messages as depicted in Quran are sacrosanct, final and invariant. These are the strong messages that are reinforced in Muslim brains five times a day, 365 days a year.
Islam does not make any attempt to establish the existence of God or Allah – His existence had already been established in the other two monotheistic religion – Judaism and Christianity. Many of the edicts from those religions had been incorporated in Islam, almost verbatim, and they also remain unaltered. However, Quran specifies in clear terms God’s reward in the after-life to the followers of Islam and punishment to those who fail to accept Islam (the infidels). Under this twin approach of carrot and stick, Muslims are made to adhere to the edicts of the religion like robots and collectively they demonstrate the herd mentality.
The other important reason for herd mentality comes from strong bonding that the religion enforces on Muslims – Muslims must stick together, stand together and support one another – and that is why one Muslim calls another Muslim a brother. This attitude comes right from the 7th century Bedouin tribal culture, where members of individual tribes used to stick together and fight together. Loyalty to the tribe was not just an altruism, but a survival instinct. This mentality had become almost genetically embedded in the psyche of Muslims.
Another reason why Muslims, whether living in the East or in the West, are made to follow religious ritual is because of social pressure. All human beings are social animals and they have the mental attitude or natural inclination to copy others, particularly the peers of the group or society, in order to demonstrate solidarity with them. The urge to follow the peers is so overwhelmingly compelling that it overrides common sense and critical thinking. This situation may be dubbed as brainwashing or mind infection, almost similar to biological virus that infect the body. Needless to say, that the people who are most prone to such copycatting or mimicking behaviour are either of low intellect, or low self-esteem, or weak mental aptitude.
If a Muslim does not adhere to religious teachings, he may be regarded by his peers as a renegade and excluded from the social grouping. This social pressure can impose various things on various sections of Muslims – hijab, burqa and abaya are blatant examples. Although there is no religious obligation at all for women to wear these things, once religious brainwashing has been made, it is extremely difficult to wipe it out, it becomes religious requirement. This is a delusion in practice.
Delusion is a strong mental disease, an aberration of mind. Once it is set, the person concerned loses his capacity to think clearly and rationally. Obvious things can become unimaginable or wrong. It can strike all sorts of people – from top politicians to street beggars. Delusional suicide bombers are convinced that they are going to go to heavens when they kill infidels and heavens are places of unimaginable luxury and opulence in perpetuity. Admittedly, there is a strong element of revenge in their actions, but when they perceive that they can do these two things in one go, their motivation becomes stronger.
It is true that human beings have natural tendencies to believe in God and after-life, as the recent study conducted by the University of Oxford shows (Ref. 1). However, this research study also points out that the belief in God is not all taught, rather a combination of nature and nurture. In Islam, when human natural tendency is perpetually reinforced by human nurture, it becomes firmly embedded in human minds and the teachings become universal truth.
Nothing can be done about the natural tendencies of human beings, at least not in the short term, as they are, to a large extent, embedded in our genetic makeup. But the nurture element can easily be terminated by eliminating perpetual reinforcement provided in mosques, congregations, madrasas etc. Unless this nurture element is cut out, the delusional adherence of the Muslims will continue.
Ref. 1 ‘The Cognitive, Religion and Theology Project’ by Dr Justin Barrett of the Centre for Anthropology and Mind, University of Oxford.
- Dr A Rahman is an author and a columnist