Based on the notes for a talk delivered in Edinburgh at the ISLAM IN EUROPE CONFERENCE 2005 on Sunday 27th March 2005, this article contains both less and more than that talk, concluding slightly differently. Those interested can probably get the entire conference on CD or DVD from http://www.education-clinic.co.uk
On my way here, because of various crises and minor dramas I had to call on an old friend to drive me to Stansted. Coincidentally, he is about to deliver two talks in Italy, the first on the topic of George Orwell and the idea of Big Brother, and the second on Mary Shelley and her unique creation Frankenstein. We talked about a book recommended to me by Idris Mears called Jihad vs Macworld, in which Macworld stands for all corporate globalising and centralising forces, which he was hoping to identify with Orwell's Big Brother, and jihad for everything that stands against that including the anti-globalisation movement and indigenous peoples' struggles for autonomy, for example. The author's thesis is that these two forces are shaping our world and that somehow they are related while being opposed. My friend was intrigued very much by the myth of Frankenstein and his creation, the poor monster who so much wanted the love that Dr Frankenstein could not give, and he wanted to posit the al-Qaeda movement as such a monster desperately hoping for love from the force which created it, the West.
Our conversation came to the French Revolution which had divided Mary Shelley's contemporaries sharply into those such as Wordsworth and others who supported it and longed for it to happen in Britain, and those, such as my countryman Edmund Burke, who deplored it and saw it as the overthrow by everything ignoble and low of an ancient and noble order of society. That led us to one man who saw the event in a way that no one else did, a seeing that had much more of balance in it, along with a remarkable sense of realism and a willingness to look the hard facts in the face. That man was a Scot who studied here in this city and, as I only recently discovered, studied mathematics, Thomas Carlyle. In his book The French Revolution he documented with an unsparing honesty the appalling nature of the event without at the same time romanticising the criminally useless and corrupt aristocracy and monarchy who bore the brunt of its storm. This is important for us because that ferocious event has shaped all of our lives today and continues to do so. So it is men such as Carlyle whom I want to call as witnesses for the case I wish to present.
In our title, we have not been clear as to whether we are contrasting people of prophetic guidance with Europe, or whether we are talking about people of prophetic guidance in Europe, and I hope you will be patient with me as I leave that important ambivalence hanging in the air.
As our previous speakers have made clear there is quite an emphasis on exploring this topic within a historic time-frame, which I intend also to continue. It is clear too that people of prophetic guidance have already been here, and indeed even before christianity. It must be remembered that part of the significance of a man such as Columcille, or Columba, was that his christianity absorbed and transmitted a Gaelic culture which was already ancient and carried within itself evident signs of prophethood. I would only mention the Brehon law which was very sensibly retained by the early christians with some adjustments of some of its rulings. This non-statist law is important for us, and it continued long after the actual eclipse of the Gaelic order, in Ireland up until the Elizabethan times and in Scotland until Cullodden and possibly later in the Hebrides. And one of its most important supporters was the Scot MacBeth, perhaps the last Scottish king to rule according to it. These signs of a pre-existing prophetic way are something we would expect, since our long view, our perspective on human history is that it begins in prophetic knowledge of the Divine Unity, falls into decadence and decay, until when the situation is very far gone, the whole thing is cyclically renewed by revelation to a prophet, and the cycle begins again.
This is contrary to the dominant view today that things began in animism, evolved to polytheism such as that of the Greeks and Romans, then moved to monotheism such as that of the Children of Israel, and so on up to our completely agnostic and implicitly superior age. This evolutionary idea of the universe is very deep in our society, and the speculators who devised the idea of the Anthropic principle project it very far forward and to the outer stretches of galactic space. However, we invite you to see this other cyclical view, which first of all does not see ancient peoples, and thus indigenous peoples, as primitive and thus sees us moderns as sophisticated. Indeed, the historian Ibn Khaldun shows clearly that a clear evidence of the decadence of a society is the great degree of sophistication and culture that it shows.
So picking up our historical trail from the earlier speakers we follow a pattern of decline, which will on occasion be seen by others as rebirth, and reformation. However, in that process we will see also that seeds of something new are present and a reaching out beyond this downward slide. It is that element which is most interesting to us, since it is that that holds the possibility of genuine renewal and some hope for us humans.
We have seen the church's institution of a sword-arm in the person of Clovis the Merovingian, so that thus Europe is saddled with the divine right of kings and a kingship transmitted to subsequent generations by primogeniture, as well as with an ecclesiastical and priestly hierarchy. Not so well known is that behind the stage at varying degrees of closeness and remoteness to the throne is the force that will become in our world today the banking establishment. This was probably a major aspect of the deal done with those early christians when the Roman empire apparently capitulated to them: don't touch the bankers. The nature of this force and its working out its destiny in our society is a part of our history which if you are not aware of it, you simply have not got a full picture of history.
Journalists say, "Follow the money". Historians are, or ought to be, bound by the same rule. Why? Because, someone once calculated that a pound invested at 6% compound interest two thousand years ago would today be worth several planets the size of the earth made of solid gold. I tried to duplicate the calculation and found that the pound would have grown to:
£4.09007x1050 i.e. £409,007,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000
Part of the point is that some of our national debts have been around for quite some time and have grown exponentially. For example do the same calculation for 200 years, which takes us back to the Napoleonic wars, a very significant time for banking and for national debts, and we get that single pound having grown to:
Clearly a force that can utilise such arithmetic is one to be reckoned with.
The next watershed in our story, if we pass over the renaissance, is the protestant reformation, and here we encounter a set of elements which arrive almost simultaneously together and endure down to our most recent times. They are:
This hidden banking force emerges somewhat from the shadows and becomes a known institution of the society. This is famously through Calvin's legitimisation of 4% on loans under various circumstances hedged around with qualifications. This was as near as Calvin dared to come to his actual desire to abolish the rampant usury that he discovered, whose interest rate was around 250%, but paradoxically by his judgement he was the person to legitimise what had been always an illegal and disreputable activity. From his act came the great dissenter christian mercantile, industrial and banking elites.
The new scientists appear, and in particular Descartes, Galileo and Newton. By their putting in place the science of mechanics and explicitly likening the universe to a machine, and thus implicitly the human being also, they unleash a metaphor which will dominate until our very day. The essence of this metaphor is a term which is the key to what is called classical physics up to and including Einstein: determinism. This machine like universe is understood to be such that people seriously consider that given a knowledge of the initial conditions one ought in principle to be able to calculate every subsequent moment. Everything is determined. However, this determinism is completely different in character from some possible theological expressions, because it does not need a god, and moreover it is much more imprisoning than the theological expression of determinism, because it intrinsically contains a kind of belief that the political and economic order of things as they are is inescapable and inevitable. This determinism is the ideal tool for statists. It results in the kind of passivity which we have today when we see utterly immoral people in charge of the world's affairs and confine ourselves to some impotent protests to salve our consciences rather than considering seriously such actions as would bring their control of things to an end, and I am not suggesting any kind of illegal or subversive activity. We have been pacified.
This aspect of science, this unwarranted interpolation of determinism is something that we will discover more and more in our story. Similar to it is the idea that everything is relative, which is indirectly inferred from Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity even though that rather dry work is specifically about the behaviour of objects moving at speeds close to that of light.
We referred already to this evolutionary mode of thinking, and we see that the idea of the survival of the fittest is in fact used to justify a rapacious and brutal capitalist society, something that Darwin's biographers are clear was also in his understanding in spite of Darwinists' attempts to clear his name of that.
Parallel with all of these things, there spring up these associations of people which meet in secret, the Freemasonic societies. These curious institutions serve different functions in different societies: in Britain they are royalist and conservative, but on the continent they are revolutionary and atheist. There is no contesting their influence on later events such as the French and Russian Revolutions, and the overthrow of the caliphate of Islam. We say this without necessarily considering them as conspiratorial organisations in the way conspiracy theorists have done. It is out of the Freemasonic organisations that the ideas of a new order, a democratic state with a constitution will emerge.
And of course the new dissenter protestant worldview, which was in a very short time to proliferate into a number of quite disparate and often mutually hostile movements.
In the above mentioned, the ones we would concentrate on are science and usury-finance. And we would link them. Galileo found patronage under the Medicis, those famous Italian bankers and at one time invented a slide-rule for calculating compound interest.
Newton, significantly at one of the most fundamental transitions in the history of the world found employ as first warden of the mint and subsequently master of the mint during the years of the foundation of the Bank of England. In 1717, curiously the date of the foundation of the first official masonic lodge in London of which Newton was probably not a member, Newton established the price of gold at £4 4s 111/2d per troy ounce. However, to understand the volcanic nature of this act you have to realise that gold and silver were still money. However, what was new in the equation was the paper money which the Bank of England began to issue in 1694 itself one of those monumentally significant acts which official history often totally overlooks. One major work on William and Mary simply does not mention that it was during their reign that the Bank of England was founded, that paper money was issued in England for the first time it being the first time in Europe apart from a brief Swedish wartime issuance of paper money, and during whose reign the British National debt was established. None of these things mentioned. So Newton, who was a dissenter and like some later figures a unitarian, chose to use his then substantial reputation to endorse the new banking dispensation.
All of that leads up to the situation we have today about which eminent geneticist R. C. Lewontin avers, "No prominent molecular biologist of my acquaintance is without a financial stake in the biotechnology business." This only indicates to a tiny decree the extent to which science has become the handmaiden of commerce, and specifically usury-finance.
This is not to put science in the villainous corner, because there is certainly something admirable about the desire to see beyond human subjectivity to indubitable facts. However, that science emerges in its modern now classical form in tandem with these other forces and in particular with the new force of banking is not accidental.
The issuance of paper money is one of those watersheds which we must note. We earlier referred to the mathematics of compound interest, but we are now dealing with something which puts even that in the shade. By the medium of what is known as fractional reserve banking, the bankers have been able basically to put money into circulation on the basis of deposits far in excess of those deposits and then earn interest from money which to all intents and purposes does not exist. No wonder that in our time it is openly admitted that some four hundred people now own a half of the planet. This is a promethean endeavour indeed.
Returning to the science, the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were indeed the great epochs of discovery, and I think it is impossible not to be excited at the outpouring of discoveries in that time. All the major openings in physics came under the rubric of the determinism that is the essence of classical physics.
In those two centuries most major thinkers, people like Goethe and other thinkers and artists, moved to being post-christian if not positively anti-christian. The best of people were reaching out towards whatever the new form would be, which they recognised there had to be. Indeed, in the nineteenth century many thinkers felt quite keenly that something was seriously amiss and that there was a serious and urgent need of a new direction. Nietzsche, a very misunderstood thinker, was one of the most alarmed at what he saw was a new epoch of nihilism approaching, and he famously tried to meet it, not by retreating to christianity but by his proposal of a revaluation of all values. Significantly, in the midst of the most vigorous attack on the sickness he perceived in christianity, Nietzsche has a strikingly positive endorsement of Islam.
The next critical moment in our investigation is arguably its end: the first world war. Not a few saw the carnage as the end of western civilisation. D.H. Lawrence in his little-known work Movements in European History said that civilisations like trees have a growing tip which if it is removed or damaged then that civilisation will cease to grow. He saw the first world war as the destruction of that growing tip. He, along with many other people, set out to find a new way of life. He cannot be understood except as someone in earnest religious search for a new way to live, worship and be in community.
However, as in our impressionistic look at the era around the reformation, we see here a number of key themes coming together. As well as this event of destruction, which one author called The First Bankers' War, things were happening in science. The millennia old quest for the atom, that small solid particle which is indivisible and which along with the void comprised the materialist Greek thinker Democritus' universe, was drawn to a conclusion and then simply blown to pieces. The materialist thesis from which it sprang was also blown to pieces. The nature of the entities comprising this now very much divisible atom was to cause turmoil to the best minds of that time. The nature of physical reality was not the substantial and solid thing that materialists still smugly thought it to be. This watershed in science was reached and Einstein famously baulked at the prospect of an indeterminate reality and fought the new quantum science with all his will. He said, "I refuse to believe that God plays dice with the universe." What is less well known is Bohr's riposte, "Is it for us to tell God how to run His universe?"
The interesting thing is that the sciences came face-to-face with paradox, some earlier than others. Paradox leads the intellect to bewilderment, and the Sufis of Islam have said that bewilderment is potentially the beginning of genuine knowledge.
If the first world war was not unequivocally the end of a great culture, the second world war with its barbarities left few in doubt that the culture that had given us Beethoven and Shakespeare had run its course. After the war, the modern state with its intrusive and controlling nature was put in place piece by piece. Remember that Orwell wrote 1984 in 1948 about what he saw happening before his eyes. Since then we have seen what Lawrence refers to in the following passage as "a mysterious force" emerge more fully from the shadows:
And meanwhile, there is one mysterious Force which is under no control. A mysterious Force, like a Secret Society spreading through all nations and controlled by no nation. This is the Force of Finance. A few hundred men on the face of the earth, with huge sums of money behind them, exert their wills and minds in order that money shall and must go on producing money, no matter what lives or loss of honour it may cost. Here is a great irresponsible Force which has escaped from the control of true human power, and which is likely to work enormous evil.
Movements in European History – D.H. Lawrence
Now, we are in this post-christian era quickly moving towards the world state. And into this picture Islam has been injected sometimes in utterly bizarre and confrontational forms. The truth is that Islam is daily in our media and yet we cannot say that we have yet seen its true face.
Our history and this quote from D. H. Lawrence give us a clue to the Islam that is needed in this post-modern, post christian age. In that we follow the lead given by Imam al-Ghazali, may Allah show him mercy, when he said words to the effect that in their transmission of the din, the 'ulama' lay stress on those things for which their age is most in need. The need is indicated by the themes we have explored and traced in this talk so far, chief among which are leadership and the economic.
Inevitably a medical metaphor suggests itself to us, that a false form of leadership – initially European christian kingship and later representative democracy – and usury with its false currency are the illnesses and the Islamic modes of rule and trade the cure. However, by using this metaphor in this way we have also adopted the current medical paradigm that illnesses are problems that have to be solved rather than the traditional view that illnesses are themselves a part of the natural order and that as much as the traditional healer's role is to restore the patient to health by combating the illness, his real task is much more to help people attain and maintain optimal health and well-being even when they are outwardly well.
Thus, health is itself something to be understood and cultivated, rather than simply being what's left when the illness has been defeated. In this metaphor then our task is to create healthy communities united in obedience to amirs working with sane economic modes of transaction for their own sake and not simply for the destruction of the modern usurious order. Health does not arise from the destruction of sickness.
Before we deal with this theme we have to hark back to a note that is in our title: the reference to the people of prophetic guidance. Having come this far we must then understand properly what many consider the ultimate manifestation of prophetic guidance for the late peoples towards the end of time: the Mahdi, literally "The Guided One".
We have written elsewhere that this concept is nowhere an essential of the 'aqidah of Islam. That is not the same as denial of the idea, but rather locating it within our fiqh. This idea clearly receives an unbalanced treatment in our time in the Mahdi becoming an apocalyptic fantasy figure in people's minds, a kind of unseen heavenly figure who will arrive and miraculously unite those who have been disunited, raise up those who have been oppressed and defeat their enemies. This is clearly a delusional fantasy.
However, it is interesting that it arises at precisely this moment in history and at this moment in our story. It is because it is exactly the interpretation of the situation that will guarantee that nothing will essentially happen. It is the ideology that most favours the banking funded political order of our time. It leads people into a passive anticipation of messianic events, or, perhaps worse, into actively preparing for such messianic events, when what is actually needed is the restoration of genuine amirate of ordinary and quite imperfect leaders among the Muslims.
The greatest shaytanic element in this concept of the Mahdi is precisely the unrealistic anticipation of an unearthly and utterly unreal 'good' man. We are almost no longer able to recognise actual real goodness because we are never content with anything less than supernatural goodness of gargantuan proportions. The reality is that we are deeply in need of being able to recognise actual people living among us who will make the best amirs of our local situations right now, whether or not we are living at the end of time. The concept of the Mahdi, as interpreted by the current figures who are misleading the Muslims, is one that negates this real work of uniting under imperfect Muslim leaders now to work hard for the restoration of Islam.
That genuine and real political work will be fired by the need to restore the zakat according to its real fiqh, and that restoration is the key to the entire nexus of sound currencies and non-usurious trading modes that will be vital for the revivification of society. That is because in the collection of the zakat by zakat collectors appointed by amirs, and their collection of it in gold, silver, crops and cattle, something very important will happen. When the zakat is collected and distributed in gold and silver – concentrating on the zakat of cash for the moment, and given the necessary preconditions being fulfilled of there being gold and silver coins available and there being outlets in which the zakat recipients can spend them – then at that point gold and silver become currency. They are intrinsically non-inflationary currencies. When we have such a currency among the world's Muslims, at a certain point we simply have the end of the banking system. It will no longer function. This is widely anticipated and well known even to non-Muslim economists.
That collapse is unthinkable unless there is in place at least the foundations of a healthy functioning Muslim society with sane economic transactions free of usury and for that it will be key for us to be knowledgeable in what are known as the mu'amalat or the ordinary transactions. For that we will take just some headlines:
1. The gold dinar is the most visible emblem and symbol of the Islamic economic order to which we would add:
2. Free and open markets for which no rent is charged and on whose trade no taxes are imposed, remembering that it is an obligation on a Muslim ruler, whether amir, sultan or khalifah, to establish such markets for people, just as the Prophet @ while establishing the mosque in Madinah also established a market and the rules which govern it.
3. Legitimate investment transactions, such as the qirad which has to be done in gold and/or silver and which has very specific conditions in the Shari'ah, and also partnerships (shirkah).
4. Open modes of distribution in which producers themselves or traders take goods to free markets for sale, rather than the monopolistic distribution networks which are owned and controlled by a few people in our time, moving goods between highly controlled global markets.
5. Open modes of production in which producers inter-relate in co-operation rather than in the outmoded Darwinian competitive manner of today's businessmen, and in which they arrange for the training and education of the younger generation to the highest standards as well as for the social welfare of their members and of the wider society.
6. The re-establishment of the awqaf endowments which underpinned so much of Muslim society, to such an extent that it is estimated that something like 60% of Ottoman land and property were awqaf. These institutions undertook much of the charitable and welfare work that the modern state claims to do, and on which promises it is now reneging as usury eats up nations' wealth.
It is in the restoration of sane modes of Islamic governance which bring about the revival of zakat that Muslim society, and thus all human society will be restored. This is real work and not idealism or apocalyptic fantasy. Those who engage in it will see wonders.
Copyright ©2005 Bookwright