Imran Dean, UK
This article is in response to a recent blog post by Scott Galloway titled “Losing my Religion”. (https://medium.com/@profgalloway/losing-my-religion-49f9378a2058)
Scott Galloway is a Professor of Marketing at NYU Stern School of Business, a New York Times Bestselling author, and a well-known podcaster.
His article highlights that the displacement of religion from the centre of culture has been one of the most significant changes in the American experience over the past century. He draws heavily from his experiences with Christianity and Judaism, but not Islam per se.
To him, religion works (sometimes), but other times it fails to deliver. He believes it is in decline, and there is nothing in its place right now.
His belief in atheism as a result of his experiences is stronger, and with age, his need to want to serve in the agency of others is ever-growing; he is losing his religion.
I would like to invite Scott and any other readers of his blog post to find their religion and look at the ideas of Islam, particularly the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community.
I think his views stem from a misunderstanding of the purpose of religion, hence his point that religion works (sometimes).
What is the purpose of religion?
Take the analogy of a clock; it either works by telling the time or it does not work. It either fulfils its objective or it doesn’t.
In the same way, religion should be fulfilling its objective; it appears the author explains religion through the lens of a good experience vs. a bad experience. In Islam, it is very clear in the Holy Quran, as it says:
“[…] Who has created death and life that He might try you — which of you is best in deeds; and He is the Mighty, the Most Forgiving.” (Surah al-Mulk, Ch.67:3)
It is clear that a believer may have some bad experiences, but that is to bring you closer to God. It cannot therefore be used to show how religion works, as we need to identify its objective and see if it meets that.
According to Islam, all religions, at their core, taught man to worship God; this is the purpose of religion. Religion gives a purpose to man and in its absence, there will always be a vacuum.
In Islam, it is very clear, that God says in the Holy Quran, “And I have created Jinn and men so that they should worship me” (Surah adh-Dhariyat, Ch.51: V.57).
So how does one achieve the purpose of worship?
According to Islam, to achieve that, one should act upon the commandments of Allah and follow Him, seeking His pleasure.
Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas of Qadian, the Founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, has said that the purpose of religion “is that one should cleanse one’s self of all evil, enable one’s spirit to lie forever prostrate at the threshold of God Almighty.” (Lecture Sialkot [English], p. 47)
Benefits of Religion
Scott says, “Religion is successful because it works. Participation in religious services is correlated with a reduction in mortality by a third, depression by 25%, and suicide rates by 3 to 6 times.” He highlights the positive benefits of religion and presents statistics that show religious Americans are 44% more likely to be “very happy”. Scott’s figures come from the Pew Research Centre.
However, he further states, “Much of religious experience has been insular, hostile to change, riven with corruption and abuse of power.” I firmly believe that all these points are heavily linked to his experiences in Christianity and Judaism. I will address these point by point.
I will try my best to infer what Scott meant by insularity, a religion that looks inwards and seeks to benefit its own cause and people. He does highlight the violent nature of the early English settlers in America to those who opposed their interpretation of the Bible.
If we look at Islam, some Muslims have a belief that exists today that endorses the concept of the death penalty as a punishment for apostasy within Islamic law. This was highlighted in a recent PBD podcast. However, this is not the true teaching of Islam. Ahmadi Muslims do not believe in any punishment for apostasy; rather, it goes against the Holy Quran. In Surah al-Baqarah, Ch.2: V. 257, the Quran states there should be “no compulsion in religion”. (Our full analysis of apostasy in Islam can be read at www.alhakam.org/apostasy-pbd/)
As Ahmadi Muslims, we believe Islam is far from insular. Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas, the Founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, says: “It is worth remembering that religion is based on two rights. The first is the right owed to God. This includes how one should believe and have faith in God and the manner in which He should be worshipped. The second is the rights that must be discharged to God’s creation. This comprises how one should display compassion, love, kind treatment and benevolence to God’s creation and must alleviate their afflictions, pain and sorrow.” (Malfuzat , Vol. 3, p. 119, www.alislam.org/articles/need-for-religion/)
A focus on God’s rights and God’s creation is fundamental to Islam. The fulfilment of God’s creation is one where the religion thinks beyond its believers; for example, 1.8 million meals were served to the most vulnerable in society in 2022 by Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth in the UK alone.
The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community organises regular peace symposiums to establish dialogue with other faith groups, civic leaders and parliamentarians. Islam, as followed by Ahmadi Muslims, is clearly not insular.
Hostile to change
I believe the premise of this point is completely wrong; a desire for religion to constantly change means that it doesn’t work for all times and needs to change to fit the time of the age. I would also argue that the original teachings of most religions have actually changed to fit the needs of the time, and we have seen a decline in morality.
Gallup’s Values and Beliefs poll shows that 50% of Americans think the state of moral values in the US is “poor”. This is up 10% from 2002; that figure is worrying. This statistic clearly indicates that people are in search of higher morals.
While Scott argues that most religions are hostile to change, I would argue that most religions cannot categorically say their scriptures have been preserved, so they have changed from their true teachings, according to Islam.
Islam is the only faith that claims it has been perfected. In the Holy Quran, it states:
“This day have I perfected your religion for you and completed My favour upon you and have chosen for you Islam as religion.” (5:4)
One way of its perfection is by preserving the text of the Holy Quran. In 2015, at the University of Birmingham, one of the oldest manuscripts of the Holy Quran was found. It dates from the period of 568 CE to 645 CE, which makes it a possible manuscript from the time of the Holy Prophetsa himself.
Although it has been preserved, what about the interpretation?
As Muslims, we have ahadith (sayings of the Holy Prophetsa) and his sunnah to interpret the teachings. To eliminate innovations and misunderstandings, Ahmadi Muslims, believe that Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas, came to eliminate the erroneous interpretations from Muslims, to provide knowledge and understanding of the guidance required in this era and to display the right paths to achieve this. For example, to clarify the punishment of apostasy in Islam as mentioned above.
Today, Islam is attracting many well-known figures in the West, who see a decline in morality and are lost, with no purpose, and it is they that illustrate that other religions have changed to suit the needs of the time and Islam alone provides the higher morals they are searching for.
Corruption and abuse of power
His second point is that the religious experience is rife with corruption and abuse of power. For example, last year, Pope Francis apologised for the Catholic Church’s cooperation with Canada’s “catastrophic” policy of Indigenous residential schools, saying the forced assimilation of Native Peoples into Christian society destroyed their cultures, severed families, and marginalised generations.
However, there must be a distinction between an individual who commits wrong-doing and an authoritative body. If an individual has abused power or committed corruption, it is not necessarily the entire religion that is corrupt and abuses power.
In Islam, weakness and committing mistakes are part of the God-given nature of man. In the Holy Quran, Allah the Almighty says:
“And man has been created weak.” (Surah an-Nisa, Ch.4: V.29)
Also, the Prophet Muhammadsa says:
“Every son of Adam [i.e., human being] commits mistakes, and the best of those who commit mistakes are those who repent.” (Sunan Ibn Majah, Hadith 4251)
The beauty of Islam, unlike other faiths, which might warrant turning the other cheek, is one of reformation. It is inherent in man to sin, but he must repent, arising from a sincere apology and a just punishment in accordance with their wrongdoing, to establish reformation in such an individual.
Naturally, the next question that arises is how does this mean that religion is free from corruption and abuse of power?
As I stated above, to prove that religion has corruption and abuse of power, one must assess the authoritative bodies of that religion and determine when such corruption and abuse of power exist.
I already mentioned above the Pope’s apology for the mistakes of the church in the past, and the Pope in Catholicism would be seen as the authoritative body of the faith.
For most Muslims, the authoritative body is the ulema (a body of Muslim scholars who are recognised as having specialist knowledge of Islamic sacred law and theology). However, for most Muslims, there is never any unity, and various sects are prone to being open to corruption and abuse of power as they are not divinely guided and accusations are constantly thrown at each other.
It is only in Islam Ahmadiyya that the authoritative power lies with the Khalifah (spiritual leader), following the demise of the Founder, and in line with this hadith (saying of the Prophet MuhammadSa);
“Prophethood shall remain among you as long as Allah wills. He will bring about its end and follow it with Khilafat (spiritual leadership). on the precepts of prophethood for as long as He wills, and then bring about its end. Kingship shall then follow, to remain as long as Allah wills and then come to an end. There shall then be monarchical despotism, which shall remain as long as Allah wills and come to an end upon His decree. There will then emerge Khilafat on the precepts of prophethood.” Prophet Muhammadsa then became silent.” (Musnad Ahmad bin Hanbal, Kitab ar-riqaq, Bab al-andhar wa al-tahdhir)
With Khilafat re-established, the Khalifah of the time is a legitimate decision-maker guided by Allah. It is not a position that is inherited but is appointed through elections, guiding the members towards the election of a righteous and able person as Khalifah.
The millions of Ahmadi Muslims around the world are then united behind their Khalifah.
He is solely focused on the spiritual progress of the community through conveying the true teachings of Islam vs. worldly progress.
The decisions he makes cannot create corruption or abuse of power, as he is divinely appointed by God and is following Allah’s law. The absence of such divine guidance would allow for impurity and take man away from his worship of God.
According to Scott “Religion, like old actors, doesn’t die — it’s just fading away”, with figures from Gallup that he shares, one could be compelled to agree.
The data does include mosques and synagogues, but it collects its data from a survey of 6,000 US adults. The issue I have is that today Muslims account for 3.45 million people in the US of a total population of 331.4 million (both figures come from the Pew Research Centre), which is 1% of the US population. The chart is inherently biassed towards church memberships as the overwhelming religion in the US is still Christianity, and the 6,000 poll represents this bias.
In Islam Ahmadiyya, last year more than 217,100 people joined the Community and Ahmadis participated in activities all year in our mosques, which seems to contradict the statistic Scott provided.
Scott highlights that religion has long provided the foundation and framework of society and highlights the decline, leaving a vacuum. He says “Our species hasn’t known a time when religion played such a small role in our lives”.
In the absence of religions, he believes that the human desire for meaning, craving stories and higher explanations for things is why Google has been so successful. He shares a statistic that people spend less than 30 minutes on religious and spiritual activities on the weekend vs. 3.5 hours watching TV. These statistics are from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Watching TV does not answer a person’s desire for meaning but keeps him occupied with worldly affairs.
Interestingly, the weekend is used as a statistic, likely again linked to the fact that Christians go to church on Sundays and, in the Jewish tradition of the Sabbath, on a Saturday. Both of these occur only on one day of the week. Although Jews are obligated to pray three times a day, it seems that only Orthodox Jews practise this today. It is therefore easy for people to forget God because of the lack of remembrance of Him, especially in a majority Christian America.
For Muslims, praying five times a day is obligatory. Moreover, able-bodied Muslim men pray in congregation at the mosques. Both of these help to constantly remind people of their purpose and meaning in life.
The remembrance of God gives a believer purpose and meaning. There should be no doubt left that people will move closer to God should they practise Islam.
Scott acknowledges that religion matters but is fading, and there is a vacuum left. He never actually provides an alternative solution to religion to fill the vacuum of purpose; he simply states that he is a devout atheist despite believing that the “Big Bang” without a purpose is not fulfilling.
His belief in death and knowing that he will die allow him to be bolder in life. For a Muslim, this life is also temporary, but the hereafter is eternal, and we can reach paradise as long as we follow what the Holy Quran teaches.
“Guide us in the straight path” (1:6)
He concludes by stating his longing for “wanting to serve in the agency of others”. I would say to Scott instead of losing your religion, find your religion in Islam. Look at this beautiful verse of the Holy Quran.
“Aye! It is in the remembrance of Allah that hearts can find comfort.” (13:29)
It is through the teachings of Islam that you can fulfil the rights of God and also God’s creation, which you truly want. It is Islam Ahmadiyyat that will show you a living God, a religion that gives you the purpose and guidance to live your life, and one that will enrich your religious experience.