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The Book “Following Muhammad” by Carl Ernst Essay (Book Review)

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Updated: Jun 2nd, 2020

The book Following Muhammad by Carl Ernst can be well discussed as a literary attempt to make Western readers more comfortable with the religion of Islam and to expose what accounts for the ongoing transformation of this religion’s theological coventions, as such that has been predetermined by the objective laws of history. In its turn, this defines the book’s theoretical agenda, concerned with Ernst arguing that:

  1. The Western view of Islam, as an innately wicked religion, is conceptually fallacious.
  2. Just as it is being the case with Christianity, the religion of Islam never ceases being affected by a number of the socio-economic circumstances, which in turn determine the qualitative essence of Islam’s spatial emanations.
  3. The notion of the ‘clash between (Islamic and Christian) civilizations’, promoted by American neocons (such as Samuel Huntington), is innately misleading.
  4. The religion of Islam is nearing the point when it will inevitably undergo the equivalent of Christianity’s Reformation, which in turn would make this religion much more socially appropriate.
  5. Most Westerners do not interpret the Islamic concept of jihad properly. Structurally speaking, Following Muhammad consists of six Chapters.

Chapter 1: Islam in the Eyes of the West

Ernst promotes the idea that, contrary to what many intellectually arrogant Westerners believe, the religion of Islam shares essentially the same theological ground with Christianity. Therefore, the fact that in the West, Islam is being commonly deemed ‘alien’ to the very spirit of the Judeo-Christian civilization, does not appear discursively justified, because: “By excluding Muslims from Western civilization, Europeans and Americans are claiming a questionable identity” (p. 7). The author reflects on the situation in question, as such that that cannot be discussed outside of what accounts for the intellectual legacy of ‘Orientalism’ – a literary movement in the West, which reached the peak of its popularity in the late 19th century, when many European countries used to aggressively pursue with the policy of a worldwide colonial expansion. In order for the mentioned policy to prove effective, it represented the matter of a foremost importance for its advocates to dehumanize the ethnically visible populaces by the mean of referring to them as being utterly alien – hence, the phenomenon of many Westerners deeming Muslims ‘suspicious’ even today.

Chapter 2: Approaching Islam in Terms of Religion

Ernst suggests that, in order for just about anyone to be able to gain a qualitative insight into the very nature of Islam, as a religion, he or she would have to familiarize itself with what were the dialectical preconditions that predetermined Islam’s emergence, in the first place. As the author pointed out: “Religion can be understood only with respect to context: we have to understand the actors, the time, the place…” (p. 38). What it means is that, while assessing the discursive significance of Islam, one will be much better off doing it from a secular perspective. This, however, often proves challengeable to many Westerners, because even today, they tend to deploy a strongly defined euro-centric approach, when it comes to discussing the matter of religion. In its turn, this is nothing else but the direct consequence of the fact that the metaphysical foundation of the Western civilization continues to remain the Judeo-Christian religious dogma, which refers to the rest of the world’s religions as ‘false’.

Chapter 3: The Sacred Sources of Islam

The author outlines what accounted for the historic, social and spiritual backgrounds of Islam’s emergence in the 6th century A.D., while suggesting that the concerned religion’s origins cannot be discussed outside of what were the environmental circumstances that predetermined the growing popularity of the Prophet Muhammad. Another idea, which is being promoted throughout this Chapter’s entirety, is that contrary to how many Westerners see it; there is no unity among Muslims. Just as it happened to be e case with Christians, Muslim believers that belong to Islam’s different sub-divisions (such as Shi’ites and Sunnis) offer different interpretations of the ‘message of truth’ by Muhammad. Moreover, just as it happened to be the case with Christians, many Muslims can be considered rather ‘liberally-minded’. According to the author, this alone exposes the sheer inappropriateness of the Western Medias’ tendency to treat Islamic Fundamentalism, as the truly representative version of Islam.

Chapter 4: Ethics and Life in the World

Ernst goes to show that the Western view of Islam, as an utterly totalitarian religion that seeks to control just about all the aspects of the affiliated believers’ behavior, is essentially misleading. Even though that the author does acknowledge that the Islamic law of Sharia contains a number of commandments, which Muslims are expected to never cease being thoroughly observant of, while facing life-challenges, this state of affairs appears fully justified. The reason for this is that these commandments are fully consistent with the principles of a commonsense reasoning: “There is a fair amount of overlap between the ethical prescriptions of Islamic law and many commonly acknowledged ethical injunctions… such as prohibitions on murder, theft, adultery” (p. 116). According to the author, this implies that there is indeed a good reason to consider Islam an ethically appropriate religion.

Chapter 5: Spirituality in Practice

Ernst introduces readers to the theological conventions of Sufism and Shi’ism, while outlining what accounts for the main difference between the mentioned schools of Islam. According to the author: “For the Sunni Muslims, imam… is simply a generic term for the leader of community prayer, but for the Shi‘is, the Imam is the supreme representative of divine authority on earth” (p. 169). Moreover, Ernst also points out to the fact that, given the ‘liberal’ spirit of Sufism, the school’s view on spirituality appears thoroughly consistent with that of the semi-secularized Westerners – especially, if the latter happened to be affiliated with the so-called ‘New Age’ movement: “One often encounters Sufism today in the freewheeling market of spirituality and New Age self-expression” (p. 166). In its turn, this prompted the author to suggest that there is indeed a good reason to suggest that, contrary to what many Westerners tend to believe, the Islamic concept of spirituality correlates perfectly well with what happened to be these people’s unconscious anxieties, in respect of how they relate to the concept in question.

Chapter 6: Postscript

The author argues that the very laws of history predetermine the situation that, as time goes on, the religion of Islam will grow increasingly observant of the discourse of post-modernity: “Muslims are debating the same questions that have agitated Europeans and Americans: women’s rights, human rights, Marxism, nationalism, revolution, democracy, and now globalization” (p. 208). According to Ernst, this establishes a number of the fully objective prerequisites for Islam to be progressively deprived of its fundamentalist undertones, which in turn should allow this particular religion attain a fully legitimate status in the West. The author ends his book on a positive note, while pointing out to the fact that the very realities of a post-industrial living deem the earlier mentioned scenario inevitable.

Even though that in his book

Ernst was able to prove himself an extremely effective analyst, there are a number of drawbacks to the author’s line of argumentation. The main of them can be outlined as follows:

  1. Ernst clearly glorifies Islam, as a religion utterly beneficial to the well-being of humanity. However, while doing it, the author deliberately omitted mentioning the fact that, just as it happened to be the case with just about any monotheistic religion (such as Christianity of Judaism), Islam’s theological premise is concerned with drawing a line between people, as ‘believers’, on one hand, and ‘infidels’, on the other. What it means is that, despite all of its ‘well-meaningness’, the religion of Islam naturally dehumanizes non-Muslims. This, of course, implies that there is nothing incidental about the phenomenon of Islamic Fundamentalism – it is actually the most direct byproduct of the Islamic religious dogma’s practical deployment. Therefore, even though, as the author pointed out, the notion of jihad is most properly translated as the ‘struggle for truth’ (p. 31), it is only those Muslims that are willing to slaughter as many ‘infidels’ as possible, who have what it takes to be able to succeed in this ‘struggle’, in the first place.
  2. The author does not seem to understand that there are simply no reasons to expect that Islam could ever be reformed, without ceasing to remain an ‘alive religion’. Apparently, it never occurred to the author that the strength of just about any person’s religious commitment is biologically rather than environmentally predetermined. This is the reason why the religion of Christianity is now in the state of a rapid decline. Because the average rate of IQ among Whites (who traditionally accounted for the bulk of Christians) is one of the world’s highest, these people find it increasingly harder to believe in the validity of the Biblical fables about talking donkeys and women, impregnated by the ‘holy ghost’. This is why, as of today, the majority of the most committed Christians in the West consists of elderly individuals, which in turn suggests that within the matter of the next fifty years or so, Christianity will become virtually extinct. The population of Muslims, on the other hand, does not only experience an exponential growth, but it appears to become increasingly younger and ‘dumber’ – in the statistical sense of this word. In its turn, this suggests that if Islam is ever to be ‘reformed’, the process will be concerned with this religion attaining ever more fundamentalist undertones – something that we can well observe empirically.
  3. The author’s line of argumentation appears to have been politically motivated. That is, Ernst’s book is expected to serve the cause of multiculturalism, in the sense of making Western readers (especially the ones from Britain) more emotionally comfortable with the process of their countries being taken over from within by the hordes of the legal and illegal Muslim immigrants. As such, it cannot be considered thoroughly unbiased and consequently – as such that represents an undisputed truth-value.

Works Cited

Ernst, Carl. Following Muhammad: Rethinking Islam in the Contemporary World. Chapel. Web.

Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2003. Print.

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