Review: Riding the Tiger of Modernity by Abdal Hakim Murad

It has been long overdue but better late than never I suppose.

Watching this lecture, I came to understand why Abdal Hakim Murad aka Timothy Winter is such a reverent figure among Muslims.

He has a fascinating way of constructing narratives that make people agree with him easily.

I will start off with the positives which is mostly the third quarter of this lecture.

He divides the modes of human thought using the ocean as an analogy. The so called surface where shallow thoughts crash against one another like waves. And the deep depths of mystical stillness where one can find a treasure trove of accumulated knowledge and wisdom.

His assessment of the shallowness in modern communities is accurate. It operates on the shallow surface of the ocean. It is metallic, it is inorganic and there is uncertainty and unease. People are caught up in shallow debates and are often bogged down by headline politics (or the latest social media trends). We live in an age of Iron where there is a systematic dissolution of hierarchy, family, priesthood, sacred and pilgrimage. All pillars of what he perceives to be the defining guidance for normative humanity.

He aptly notes that the Muslim world since the colonial era has been in a desperate bid to be modern. For example, we appropriated European ideas of male only Universities—an extension of the politics of excluding women from public institutions—something which was considered the norm in those times and is considered (obviously) misogynistic today. The core point to take here is modern society is always in flux. The only guarantee is that ethics is ever changing. Ethical practices 50 years from now will be different from what they are today. He is also correct about the coercive nature of the Liberal Discourse and how it seeks to impose and control the minute details of the individuals and the communities.

He also makes an accurate assessment of Buddhism(or the shallow Deistic interpretation of it) being the perfect religion for Capitalist West. Shallow consumerism being supplemented with vague notions of Spirituality that are just enough to satisfy the man’s fitri needs, but with no real urgency to seek the Truth. Even so, the man is still uncomfortable and uncertain all the same, seeking to distract himself with materialistic pursuits and energy expensive but shallow discourses with the aid of increasingly draining and addictive technology .

He is correct about the obsession with boundary issues in the current Masjid discourses. Such as:

  • Women not wearing the Hijab properly.
  • The Saheeh way to recite the Quran.

There is an inexplicable reluctance to delve into the finer nuances of the Islamic tradition. We are obsessed with the cosmetic and superficial.

His analysis of how Muslim scholars gave dawah to the non-Muslims in Java is interesting. The so called process of inculturation. In this context Wali Sanga and his disciples focused on teaching the people of Java the deeper depths of Islam rather than focusing on the cosmetic and the superficial. “It’s not about what you are wearing, but what you believe.” From which he seaways to reiterate his point. Islam has become a badge of identity. There is no actual depth, we are merely fighting over cosmetic issues (surface of the sea).

Another interesting thing he mentions is Wali Sanga is a formal title taken by Maulana Malik Ibrahim in order to endear himself to the natives and not isolate them. He even adapted their clothes and cultures (to an extent).

For Muslims in the West, the History of Islam in Nusantara can be a very useful case study.

So he finishes this segment with how we can approach Dawah in modernity.

Dawah in modern times can be easy and difficult. Easy because people have superficial attachment to their beliefs. They change their beliefs for a reason as shallow as getting married to a girl they like.

It is also more difficult because going to the religious depth requires commitment. An individual who is raised in an environment of shallowness requires time and deep philosophical explanations in order to understand deeper nuances of the Islamic metaphysics and rituals.

He advises Muslims to keep company of people with luminous souls. Failing that develop a shield around them and not let themselves be absorbed by modernity. He references to Evola’s use of aristocratic soul. Have confidence in your faith and inherent qualities but don’t be arrogant about it (his addendum). Exude your positive qualities so that you can make the community around you better.

He also adds a poignant point to the above. A believer with a luminous soul seeks the “light” in others, i.e good qualities. A believer with a sick soul seeks the negativity and darkness in others. We should be positive in our approach but we should be guarded enough to not let ourselves be fooled. A believer is not bitten twice from the same hole. But all the same, a believer must remain hopeful and not let himself and his soul be affected by negativity.

Now for the bad parts:

To start with he takes cheap digs at the South Asian and Arab people when he talks about lack of intellectual depth in the Muslim Community. All his examples of shallowness is in reference to Desis and Arabs.

He also thinks the Arab Pagans had no ethics or principles as opposed to the Christians or Victorian England whose rituals — he believes — had rituals supposedly had deeper meaning as opposed to narcissistic grandstanding fueled by the loot from the colonies. One of many instances where he defaults to Eurocentric perception of of history, wisdom and tradition. i.e. Catholic Modality.

He portrays the so called Islamists and other Resistance Movements as a monolithic modernist movement inspired by Marxism. Islamists are people who aren’t concerned with the metaphysical depths of humanity but shallow identity politics. He explicitly states that the idea of an Islamic Republic is antithetical to Traditional Values as opposed to Monarchy and Clergy.

There is a consistent trend where he wants Muslims to go down to the depths of the “ocean” and step back from politics. For instance, after a bit of discussion regarding the diversity of Islamic tradition in Africa, Middle East, South Asia and Nusantara as explained by the famous scholar Vincent Mansour, he laments at the fact that students who approached Vincent Mansour showed little interest regarding the esoteric texts of Razi et al. He scoffs at them for being more interested in political demonstrations. He sums up their grievances as identity politics. He also downplays the real life (economic, personal, political) issues that these students face by stating that they are all part of the turbulence of human existence anyway and Fitnah is something that is promised to be part of the Ummah’s struggle. He praises Mansour for trying to connect the students to faith, hope beauty and a sense of pride in the incomparable aesthetic, architectural, cultural, spiritual, intellectual, theological, historical, sociological fiqhi achievements of the Ummah because that’s what is real in religion. The demonstrations and the headlines politics are merely storm on the surface on the sea and people need to be diving deeper to explore the treasure trove i.e. the beautiful Islamic tradition. So in a nutshell he generalizes Muslim students (activists) as shallow modernists. While it is true that there are political activists who are indeed shallow, it is unfair to say that these students are not trying to address legitimate grievances and concerns.

When it comes to the exposition of Islamic Fundamentalism, this is where things became completely unraveled. He makes a complete mess of Ibn Taymiyyah’s philosophical positions and links him to not only modern day extremists but the so called shallow humanists of modern and postmodern era. This should explain the modern Sufi polemics against Ibn Taymiyyah and his texts. To sum it up, when it comes to Ibn Taymiyyah, Abdal Hakim Murad has no idea of what he is criticizing. It is quite apparent that he has only read the polemics that were penned against Ibn Taymiyyah and not the texts of the Shaykh Al Islam himself.

He presents Ibn Taymiyyah as an antithesis against the so called hierarchy of madhabs and inherited wisdom. The hierarchy he refers to here is the Islamic clergy who have apparently been the moral guide of the Ummah and infers that the Muslim world has declined and we are being drawn into this vortex of Jahliyya because we no longer respect this clergy and their wisdom.

He doesn’t really delve into the phenomenon of why the Ummah has lost trust in the wise clergy. The fact is that our wise clergy more than anyone else co-opted the modern state institutions. It is the clergy who have legitimized regimes. The so called traditionalists of our community happily accept donations from the nefarious corporations who have been perpetuating materialism and consumerism in our communities. To this date, there have been no serious resistance or attempts to build an alternate economic paradigm to counter these corporations.

Abdal Hakim Murad’s idealistic reverence of Islamic Scholasticism is an indication of him never really acquainting himself with how Muslim scholarship have been willing agents of the harbingers of modernity. It is the retreat of the scholars to the quiet stillness of oceanic depths that enabled the colonizers to destroy the world that we long for today.

The most egregious thing about this lecture is how he frames the “us vs. them” paradigm as a sign of Jahiliya. As if it’s an explicitly modern phenomenon. As if the otherization of people is a uniquely modern phenomenon. Never mind the Christian persecution of Jews and Muslims or the other Christian denominations they did not deem Christian enough. Never mind the abuses that the Papacy and Priest had perpetuated on their people for centuries alongside the glorious monarchies.

His eulogization of the Christian tradition is an indication of someone who has merely studied the books of Christianity and imagines what Christendom was supposed to be as opposed to someone who has studied the historical truth of what Christendom was in reality. A genocidal Empire who bulldozed over those who could not resist them.

He time and again laments the erosion of Priesthood and Monarchy because of which people are no longer able to perceive the sacred.

In line with this, he laments at the fact Muslims do not engage in the literary tradition of Evola and Guneon. To him Evola’s texts align with the Islamic eschatological narrative of decline and erosion of tradition ushering in an Age of Darkness.

This whitewashing of Evola is incredibly unfortunate because Evola was a fascist who provided metaphysical rationalization for very twisted perspectives. It is well known that he sought support from the Third Reich, but surprisingly he was too extreme even for them. And unsurprisingly, many Neo-fascists today draw inspiration from his texts.

All in all, Abdal Hakim Murad thinks Evola’s praxis of “Riding the Tiger” is the right one for Muslims to study because according to him, Evola promotes a concept of sacred spiritual power. It is unfortunate because in reality, Evola inspires a more insidious form of traditionalism through a toxic meme culture rather than a healthy intellectual discourse.

What is even more unfortunate is Abdal Hakim Murad recommends Evola over Ibn Taymiyyah. Because Ibn Taymiyyah’s texts have more depth and nuance and are far far more beneficial for the Muslim mind. Whereas Evola, at the end of day, is nothing but an intellectual patron of fascism.

Fortunately, Abdal Hakim Murad does admit that Evola et al. have inspired the virulent alt-right and their dark web but he humanizes the alt-right by stating that they have genuine concerns about their traditional world becoming unraveled rather than the political reality of Europeans being frustrated with no longer able to openly colonize lands.

He seems to evade the issue that Europeans are not lamenting the loss of tradition as much as the loss of power and dominance. Because debauchery and degeneracy of the West is not a modern phenomenon. Neither is the shallowness of thought. The so-called family values of the West were an extension of their political views of women—marginalization, exclusion and subjugation.

The mobilization of these mobs is not fueled by the loss of traditional values as much as the desire to counter threat of those they perceive to be migrant invaders.

Historically European Empires were able to send their miscreants to foreign lands to cause trouble there instead of at home. It still holds true today, but not as much as it was in the Colonial era. The point is that this problem of fanaticism and extremism is not a modern phenomenon but has existed since antiquity. The difference being “nations” were freely able to export their fanatic miscreants and misfits abroad whose exploits we read today as that of heroes and conquerors.

Abdul Hakim Murad in his lament for the erosion of the tradition — clerical hierarchy, monarchy, family values — does not truly attempt to explain why the modern world is as it is today.

Which is a shame because he has beautifully deconstructed modernity for what it truly is.

Is he trying to endear himself to the Western Communities like Wali Sanga with these rosy narratives of the past? Perhaps. Allah knows best. But it does not change the fact that there are problematic perceptions that are being perpetuated.

Overall, a lecture with a lot of insights, but unfortunately derailed by political and historical illiteracy—intentional or otherwise does not matter. No other way to say it.

It explains a lot of the views that I have been debating against for the past four years and why a class of Muslims are slowly pushing themselves towards intellectual elitism and a natural distrust and hostility against those who engage in what are deemed to be non-traditional political sciences and the increasingly despised “activists”.

We have quite an uphill challenge to undo these erroneous perspectives.

Society has always been in a flux going through booms and slumps. Between prosperity and hardship. Between piety and degeneracy. Our civilizational problems is much more magnified today because of the enormous population we have today supplemented by instantaneous flow of information. Corrupt politics and nefarious economic actors have brought forth an unprecedented challenge for humanity (which he partially touches on as a critique of how Islamists tried to deal with modernity). The erroneous ideas and ideologies, and the secularization of the communities are only part of the story. And unfortunately that is what Abdul Hakim Murad’s lecture is. A decent but incomplete analysis of modernity.

Perhaps the Shaykh expands on his views elsewhere.

But it is an insightful lecture, nonetheless. Definitely recommend but with a caveat of listening with a critical mind.

Thank you for reading.

2 thoughts on “Review: Riding the Tiger of Modernity by Abdal Hakim Murad

  1. Sarah says:

    1) Why would modernity be seen as “more shallow” than the past? The people of the past gossiped, made dirty jokes, believed rumors, and changed their beliefs for “shallow” reasons the same as we do today. The Romans had sex graffiti all over their walls in Pompeii, Shakespeare wrote comedies full of sex jokes, Chaucer wrote an entire comedy about funny characters on a religious pilgrimage (Canterbury Tales), and Samuel Pepys’ diary from the 1600s is basically one of the most high-up men in Britain recording himself reading porn, experimenting with drinking chocolate in the new tavern, and complaining that his wife was jealous of his adultery+harassment of women. Even reading 17th century political cartoons shows men loving to make disgusting jokes about their opponents and generally rolling in the muck of politics. The idea that “we are less moral today” is basically just a form of ahistorical shaming based on Victorian sexual ethics. Even the idea that Muslims are somehow less moral today – this isn’t what we see when we read the laments of scholars in the past showing that people were generally exactly what they are today…
    2) Why the jab at Buddhism? What AHM says here feeds into a white European reinterpretation of Buddhism as some feel-good spirituality, a “nice religion” as opposed to a serious philosophy of eternal reincarnation (including punishment) until one attains enlightenment, which is why so many white Westerners can’t fathom the violence of Buddhist monks against the Rohyinga. I’ve spent time with very devout Buddhists who spent time with no possessions and refused to speak for more than a year while living in a monastery on the mountain – hardly the stuff of capitalist fantasy.

    • Ibn Mosharraf says:

      Good points.

      1. I do not agree Winter’s adoption of the Khaldunian narrative. He makes an accurate assessment of the shallowness of modernity. It does not mean that I agree that there has not been instances of shallowness in the past. Perhaps I will expand on it a little more in another article where I will critique Ibn Khaldun.
      2. Perhaps I could have worded this better. Western interpretions of Buddhism is indeed little better than Deism. No actual physical or metaphysical commitment.

      It’s not that Buddhist traditions cannot be disciplined or can go in depth. He does note the depth of Buddhist thoughts in Java. But it shallow Buddhism is not just unique to the Capitalists. There are some Buddhist communities in the East who are just as shallow.

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