Mind of the Musulman: The Psychology of the Muslim

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Islam and the
Psychology of the Musulman
By: André Servier
Chapter I: A Muslim Policy
Chapter II: Islam and the Desert
Chapter III: Arabia in the Time of Mohammed
Chapter IV: Mohammed was a Bedouin of Mecca
Chapter V: Mohammed's Doctrine
Chapter VI: The Successors of Mohammed
Chapter VII: Islam Under the Ommeyads
Chapter VIII: Islam Under the Abbassids
Chapter IX: Islam Under the Last Abbassids
Chapter X: The Dismemberment of the Empire
Chapter XI: Arab Decadence
Chapter XII: The Muslim Community is Theocratic
Chapter XIII: The Sterility of the Arab Mind
Chapter XIV: The Psychology of the Muslim
Chapter XV: Islam in Conflict with Europe
Chapter XVI: Turkey as a Hope

The psychology of the Muslim — Steadfast faith in his intellectual superiority — Contempt and horror of what is not Muslim — The world divided into two parts: believers and infidels — Everything that proceeds from infidels is detestable — The Muslim escapes all propaganda — By mental reservation he even escapes violence — Check to the attempts to introduce Western civilization into the Muslim world — Averrhoës

FROM the point at which we have arrived in this essay, it is not impossible to understand and to explain the psychology of the Arab, and consequently of the Muslim. For the Muslim, whoever he may be, subjected for centuries to the religious law, in itself an expression of the Arab mind, has received so deep an impression from it as to have become totally Arabized. To understand the psychology of the Arab, the mechanism of his brain, is by the same token to account for the psychology of any given Muslim. The African Berber thinks on the same lines, and acts on the same lines as the Syrian, the Turk, the Persian, the Cossack, or the native of Java. All these people being Islamized think and behave as the Arab does.

The religious law, of Arab inspiration, that has been imposed upon the Muslim world, has had the effect of imparting to the very diverse individuals, of whom that world is composed, a unity of thought, of feeling, of conceptions, and of judgment. The scale that has served to measure this thought, these feelings, etc., is an Arab scale; and consequently the minds of all Muslims have been leveled down to the stature of the Arab mind.

The chief characteristic of the Arab, and therefore of the Muslim, is a fixed belief in his own intellectual superiority. Incapable as he is, through the barrenness of his mind and the poverty of his imagination, of conceiving any other condition than his own, any other mode of thought, he firmly believes that he has arrived at an unequaled pitch of perfection; that he is the sole possessor of the true faith, of the true doctrine, the true wisdom; that he alone is in possession of the truth, no relative truth subject to revision, but truth intangible, imperfectible [which cannot be corrupted] — absolute Truth. As an example of this pretentious claim, we may quote one of the most influential members of the Committee of Union and Progress, Sheik Abd-ul-Hack, a civilized Young Turk; writing a few years ago in a Muslim review, published in Paris, he said:

"Yes! the Muslim religion is in open hostility to all your world of progress. Understand, you European observers, that a Christian, whatever his position may be, by the mere fact of his being a Christian is regarded by us as a blind man lost to all sense of human dignity. Our reasoning with regard to him is as simple as it is definitive. We say: the man whose judgment is so perverted as to deny the existence of a one and only God, and to make up gods of different sorts, can only be the meanest expression of human degradation; to speak to him would be a humiliation for our intelligence and an insult to the grandeur of the Master of the Universe. The presence of such miscreants among us is the bane of our existence; their doctrine is a direct insult to the purity of our faith; contact with them is a defilement of our bodies; any relation with them a torture to our souls. Though detesting you, we have condescended to study your political institutions and your military organization. Over and above the new weapons that Providence procures for us through your agency, you have yourselves rekindled the inextinguishable faith of our heroic martyrs. Our Young Turks, our Babis, our new Brotherhoods, all our sects, under various forms, are inspired by the same idea, the same necessity of moving forward. Towards what end? Christian civilization? Never! Islam is one great international family. All true believers are brothers. A community of feeling and of faith binds them in mutual affection. It is for the Caliph to facilitate these relations and to rally the Faithful under the sacerdotal standard."[1]

Convinced that he is the elect of God (Moustafa), assured that his people is the one nation chosen among all others by the divinity, the Muslim has the certitude of being the only one called to enjoy the celestial rewards. And so, for those who do not think as he does, for the wanderers who do not follow the straight way, he feels a pity made up of contempt for their intellectual inferiority, of horror for their decadence, and of compassion for the frightful future of punishment that awaits them.

This conviction, which nothing can weaken, inspires the Muslim with an inalienable attachment to his traditions. Outside Islam there can be no safety; outside its law, no truth, no happiness. The evolution of foreign nations, the increasing accumulations of their knowledge, scientific progress, the improvements effected by human effort in material well-being leave him indifferent. He is the Believer, par excellence, the superior, the perfect Being.

This conception, as has been truly remarked,[2] divides the world into two parts: Believers and Infidels. The Believer is in a state of perpetual war with the Infidel, and this right, this duty of eternal war can only be suspended: "Make war," says the Holy Book, "on those who believe neither in God nor in the last judgment, who do not regard as forbidden what God and his Prophet have forbidden, on those who do not profess the true religion, until they, humbled in spirit, shall pay tribute with their own hands.”

The Muslim, convinced of his own superiority, will not suffer any teaching. As typical of his mode of reasoning, we may quote the words of a Young Tunisian, Bechir Sfar: "The North of Africa is inhabited by an amalgam of peoples who claim descent from a celebrated race, the Arab race, and who profess a religion of unity, the Muslim religion. Now, this race and this religion conquered and colonized an empire more vast than the Roman Empire. The North Africans alone have to their credit sixty years of domination in the South of France, eight centuries in Spain, and three centuries in Sicily. . . . This slight digression is made with the object of recalling to those who might be tempted to forget it that we belong to a race, to a religion, and to a civilization equal in historical glory and in the force of assimilation to any other race whatever, to any other religion or civilization of ancient or modern peoples."[3]

Intellectually, the Muslim is, nevertheless, a paralytic; his brain, subjected in the course of centuries to the rough discipline of Islam, is closed to all that has not been foreseen, announced and specified by the religious law. He is, therefore, systematically hostile to all novelty, to all modification, to all innovation.

Whatever exists has been created by the will of the Almighty. It is not for man to modify His work. If God had wished that what exists should be different, he would have made it so, irrespective of all human volition. To act is thus, to some extent, to misunderstand the divine decisions, to wish to substitute human desires for them, to commit an act of insubordination. Such a conception puts all progress out of the question; and, in fact, immobility is the essential characteristic of every Muslim community.

As has been remarked, "the Muslim, remaining faithful to his religion, has not progressed; he has remained stationary in a world of swiftly moving modern forces. It is, indeed, one of the salient features of Islamism that it immobilizes in their native barbarism the races whom it enslaves. It is fixed in a crystallization inert and impenetrable. It is unchangeable; and political, social or economic changes have no repercussion upon it.”[4]

Renan has shown that the Semites were incapable of rising to the conception of a general idea. A Muslim would willingly associate with Europeans in Christian anti-clericalism, but he would never tolerate the least attempt against his own belief. One instance, among a hundred others, may be given of this assertion: Some years ago there met at Algiers an Oriental Congress, at which European, Egyptian and Turkish savants were present. They dealt first with biblical exegesis. Certain linguists sought to prove that several passages in the Old Testament were apochryphal and that they had consequently no historic value. Nobody protested. But, when these same savants wished to exercise their erudition and their critical powers upon the Koran, their Muslim colleagues protested with the most lively indignation against what they considered as sacrilege. The discussion became so heated that the Governor-General had to intervene.

As has been seen, the Muslim escapes from all propaganda; he even escapes from violence, because Islam authorizes him to bow for the time before superior force, when circumstances require it. The religious law in no way imposes upon him an attitude which might expose him to danger or to reprisals. It even permits him, in case of extreme peril, to transgress the dogmas. The commentators on the Koran quote numerous examples of this liberty: Ammar Ben Yasir was excused by the Prophet himself for outwardly praising pagan gods and insulting Mohammed, at a time when in his heart he was firmly attached to the Muslim religion. This procedure was admitted by the earlier doctors of the Law. Afterwards, it was recommended to employ ambiguous expressions as far as possible, words of double meaning, to give less force to these denials. The practice was called taqiyyah, after a passage in the Koran.[5] It was used by the Shiites in their constant propaganda against the Ommeyads.

We even find taqiyyah used to satisfy private interests, in oaths for instance; it consists in the use of words with a double meaning or in mental reservation.[6] The Muslim may, therefore, bend to foreign authority when he is not strong enough to resist; he may even make terms with it, and accept titles and favors; but, as soon as he feels himself in a position to revolt, he should immediately do so; it is an imperative duty.

In the twelfth century, Averrhoës wanted to Islamize Greek knowledge, in order to incorporate it into Islam. He was looked upon as an ungodly man and was persecuted.[7] In modern times, the same attempts have been made from time to time, and have ended in the same failure. It is not without profit to dwell upon these efforts, as they explain the poverty of the results attained by the efforts of European nations in Muslim countries: France in North Africa; England in India and Egypt; Holland in Sumatra; and Italy in Tripolitania.

The various societies for social emancipation, Masonic Lodges, League of the Rights of Man, Educational League, the Positivist Society, etc., have, since the middle of the nineteenth century, multiplied their efforts to spread their liberal doctrines among Muslims. They have failed in their task because the neophytes to whom they addressed themselves were not sincere. Those who seemed completely emancipated showed, at the touch-stone of events, that they had preserved their prejudices, their hatreds, and their Oriental mentality entire.

A curious example may be quoted: A member of all the Societies of free thinkers, and notably of the Positivist Committee, of which he was the delegate for Turkey, Ahmed Riza, in his newspaper Michveret, covered with obloquy the means of government employed by Abd-ul-Hamid; he demanded liberty of the Press; he proclaimed the equality of the races of the Empire, and the necessity of the existence of political parties; in this, he spoke as a free thinker, as a disciple of the French Revolution. But he changed his note as soon as he was in power. As president of the Ottoman Chamber, he had no word of pity for the victims, no word of indignation for the assassins, after the massacres of Adana, when more than twenty thousand Armenians were done to death; he allowed the new law against the Press to be voted, which suppressed all independence of thought in Turkey. In July, 1910, he silenced those liberals in the Chamber who demanded the abolition of the state of siege that had been in force since the revolution of the 18th April, he raised no protest against the executions of liberal politicians by court-martial. In Paris, he declared himself a free thinker, but at Constantinople, he regularly performed the namaz (prayer) in the Chamber, so as to assure the religious party of his profound faith.

More recently, in 1922-1923, the government of Ankara furnished a fresh example of incurable Muslim fanaticism. This Government, which claims to be actuated by modern ideas, deposed the Sultan whom it accused of making terms with foreigners and of not showing himself sufficiently firm in defense of the interests of Islam. One of its members, Abeddin Bey, deputy for Logiztan, tore off his necktie in the tribune and made the assembly, before rising, vote the prohibition of the use of wearing apparel made abroad. Other deputies declared their determination to restore the faith to its primitive austerity. They demanded punishments for Turkish women of easy virtue who sold their favors to infidels. They made the wearing of the orthodox head-dress obligatory; they forbade the use of alcohol, and even of wine; they decreed the closing of the European schools. During the war against the Greeks, the Turkish journals called the Muslim soldiers: Moujahid (from Djihad, holy war), that is to say combatants for the faith, soldiers of the holy war; and those who fell on the field of battle, Chahid, i.e., martyrs.

One might multiply examples to prove that the Muslim is beyond the reach of foreign influences; that, in spite of appearances, he preserves his peculiar mentality, his profound faith, his deep-rooted hatreds; that he is refractory to all civilization.

The Muslim community can neither be modified nor improved; it is crystallized in an unassailable formula; its ideal is exclusively religious, or rather, it is two-fold: one half religious, the other political — Mahdism and the Caliphate.1[8]

Mahdism is the realization on earth of religious aspirations, through the intervention of a personage chosen by the divinity — the Mahdi; it is the supremacy of the Islamic faith over all other religions.

The Caliphate is the ideal of the Islamic State, placed under the sceptre of a Caliph. It is the liberation of the Muslim peoples bowed beneath the infidel yoke; it is the restoration of the defunct splendor of the Muslim Empire, such as it was under the successors of the Prophet, under the Ommeyads and the Abbassids.[9]

These two forms of the Muslim ideal are not always in perfect accord: they sometimes clash, although, after all, their aim is identical, namely, the triumph of Islam.

The hopes of the Caliphites center by preference upon the most powerful independent Sultan, who is the protector and the natural champion of Islam; at the present moment it is the Ottoman Sultan; but the office and the sentiments upon which it rests are always international.

The Mahdist movements, on the contrary, are essentially the expression of local discontent. It is the Muslim form of that hatred which among all nations and at all times arrays the conquered against their conquerors. So long as Islam exists, the Mahdist doctrine will be the spark that may at any moment set ablaze the discontent of the natives. There is no colonial policy capable of indefinitely avoiding these fatal sentiments and the sudden troubles to which they may give rise.

The doctrine of the Caliphate, on the other hand, is essentially political; it is of a higher, more complex order; its conception calls for a more developed intellectual culture; it is that of the Young Turks, of the Young Egyptians, of the Young Tunisians, of the Young Algerians; and tomorrow, it will be that of the Young Moroccans, as soon as the instruction now being given in the French schools shall have partially civilized the natives of Morocco. At the outset, the Caliphate idea was religious, like every other manifestation of the Muslim spirit; but it was not long in extending its borders to embrace politics, and to dream of a formidable Muslim power, which should present itself finally as a quasi-laic restoration of the vanished Oriental civilization, in opposition to the Christian civilization of Europe.[10] In other words, it is Muslim nationalism; all the faithful of Islam forming part of one ideal country.

The strangest part of it is that this doctrine of the Caliphate has borrowed its essential principles from Europe. At the time of the fall of Abdul-Hamid, the Young Turks firmly believed that they were reviving the French Revolution; a number of them were Freemasons. One of the masters to whom they appealed, Al Afghani Leijed-Djemmal-ed-Din al-Husseini, who died in 1897, belonged to an Egyptian Lodge; he was honored by the friendship of Renan, who has devoted a eulogistic note to him, reproduced in his Essays.

Ahmed Riza Bey and Dr. Nazim, two influential members of the C.U.P., used to belong to the Positivist Society of France; but both of them have kept their Muslim mentality, in spite of appearances.

Sawas Pasha, an Ottoman Christian and a liberal thinker, but who thinks as a Christian and not as a Muslim, says, in his Studies on the theory of Muslim Law: "One can render not only acceptable to, but even compulsory on the Muslim conscience all progress, all truth, every legal disposition, not hitherto accepted by the Mohammedan community or inscribed in its Law."

Attempts to civilize the Muslims, inspired by this formula, ended in failure, because they came into collision with a religion fiercely conservative and an intransigent fanaticism. It may be admitted that, theoretically, fanaticism is not incurable; but it has to be recognized nevertheless that Muslim fanaticism is absolutely irreducible. That is why the Khairallah effort of the Young Turk party towards progress was, from the outset, checked by the mass of the faithful, hostile to all innovation. To maintain itself in power, this party was obliged to deny the principles it had in the first instance proclaimed.

The revolutionary idea had germinated in the minds of the Jewish and Christian populations subject to Turkey; and it was they who prepared the movement of emancipation; but as soon as it became an accomplished fact and the Muslim Turks attempted to set up regular authority, they reverted to the narrow ideas of religious nationalism and fanaticism. The formidable insurrection in the Yemen, which tended to the dethronement of the Sultan of Turkey in favor of a Caliph of Arab race, was nothing but a movement of reaction against new ideas: against Western ideas. It may be compared to the Wahabite movement, and had the same object — the restoration of Islam to its original purity, by ridding it of European admixture.

More recently, the popular movement which committed the actual direction of the Ottoman Empire to the government of Ankara, was inspired by identical sentiments, and the first act of the government was to depose the Sultan on the ground of too great a complaisance towards foreigners.

One of the most eminent Orientalists of the present day, Snouck Hurgronje, whose works have thrown a startling light upon the psychology of Muslim nations, has proved irrefutably the falsity of the theories of Sawas Pasha.[11] It will be useful to sum up his argument:

The Creed and the Law of Islam have become in the course of their evolution less and less flexible; the political and social happenings of modern times afford ample proof of this. The question is not what we, with our methods of reasoning, are going to do with the dogmas of Islam, but rather what Islam itself, following its own doctrine and its own history, wishes to deduce from them.

Islam would have to deny in toto its historic past to enter upon the path traced for it by Sawas Pasha. Doubtless, whether they like it or not, the Muslims have to accommodate themselves gradually to the manners and institutions proceeding from modern Europe; but it is not to be imagined that the juridical theory, springing from the very heart of Mohammedan populations, which has maintained itself against all contrary influences, is going to yield today to any action coming from outside. Islam, as soon as it sees itself attacked, withdraws to its strongest positions.

The Muslim certainly makes some concessions which do not affect any religious principle: for instance, he accepts the railway, the telegraph, the steamship; but the civilization which has produced these things, together with its legislative principles, is, for all the faithful, an abomination that they will only tolerate under compulsion. As for the young men educated in French schools, they calmly superimpose foreign science upon their traditional faith, without making any attempt to reconcile the two.

Islam forms a block of intangible traditions, of prejudices, of bigoted faith. The Muslim, bound by his religion, cannot accept Western progress. The two civilizations are too different, too much opposed ever to admit of mutual inter-penetration.

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