Islam as Counterculture

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Once Islam was on the agenda, the main issue was to determine which form of the religion was likely to gain most support. For Muslims, as for immigrant Christians, authoritarian, charismatic, and demanding styles appeal to a particular market, namely, adolescents and young adults, commonly suffering from multiple social deprivation and moreover observing gender roles in the process of rapid transition. At a time of social upheaval and chaos, rigid forms of Islam offer an island of stability and certainty, especially for young men. These developments echo Antonio Gramsci's remark: "The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying, and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear."20

For some young Muslims, Islam refers to a cultural identity much more than to strict adherence to particular beliefs or practices. In France in 2001, some 85 percent of young Muslims followed very few of the five pillars, the practices formally prescribed by Islam. Islamic identity mainly took the form of avoiding pork and ham and hostility toward alcohol. Yet in some countries, this latter belief marked quite a radical step in itself, since by the 1990s mainstream youth culture was associated with heavy drinking and, in England, with a disturbing tendency to binge drinking and the associated violence. Just by staying aloof from this world, young Muslims are making a powerful statement of faith.21

Professions of sexual purity also serve as sharp cultural markers separating Muslims from young white Europeans. In the 1997 British film My Son the Fanatic, based on a story by Hanif Kureishi, a convert to radical Islamism explains his new beliefs as part of a quest for "belief, purity and belonging to the past." He condemns white members of a society who "live in pornography and filth and they tell us how backward we areā€”their society is soaked in sex." In the Pew Global Attitudes Survey, attitudes toward gender and sexuality go far to explaining the noticeable disaffection of British Muslims. When asked whether Westerners were disrespectful of women, just 13 percent of Spanish Muslims and 23 percent of French thought they were. The figure for British Muslims was however 44 percent, which was in a similar range to the results from Turkey, Egypt, and Indonesia.22

Across Europe, radical ideas were making headway by the 1990s, urging young Muslims to separate themselves from a corrupt mainstream society. In Britain, radical Wahhabi and Salafist recruiters spread their views among students and young professionals, urging them to separate themselves from British society, condemning voting as haram, forbidden. In a recruitment video for the militant Hizb ut-Tahrir (Liberation Party), a young man with a working class British accent asserts,

Muslims in this country need to answer some very serious questions. Where does their allegiance lie? ... I think Muslims in this country need to take a long, hard look at themselves and decide what is their identity. Are they British or are they Muslim? I am a Muslim. Where I live, is irrelevant.23

Some take the Muslim identification further, to reject much of Western culture as irredeemably corrupt.24

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Beat The Battle With The Bottle

Beat The Battle With The Bottle

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