Last week, someone asked this question in a comment thread of an article on another site, concerning the controversy of Rev. Terry Jones’ intention to burn the Koran on the anniversary of the worst terrorist attack on US soil to date.
The question of if or why there may be more muslims now started me thinking, which started me typing. It begs an answer of me, even if the supposition may be incorrect -since I have no data to actually support it- and even if my theories of why this may be occurring can’t be proven.
I can make relatively educated guesses as to some of the reasons why the numbers of followers of Islam are or may be up from what they were prior to the attacks of 9/11, but it’s certainly not based on anything other than the extrapolation of that supposition, a decent working knowledge of human nature, and reasonable deduction. Do NOT read this to be anything of a provable scientific nature, but rather as an acedemic excercise designed to ignite the imagination and pursue interesting possibilities. I will not be drawn into arguments over the validity of anything I suggest here, when I’ve now made it clear that none of what follows is anything more than speculation.
One factor that I can see immediately, which many may overlook while accounting for these possible increases is that many communist countries have relaxed their stand on relgious practices in recent years, and are allowing more religious freedoms than they have in decades. People who were once oppressed and afraid to voice their beliefs for fear of persecution are now more able and willing to do so in places like China and Russia. This can account for relatively significant increase, which is deceptive in nature because the majority of those just now being counted in these areas were Muslim all along. We just didn’t have the correct numbers before. Also, now that they have some freedom to actively recruit new members, many branches of many faiths are doing so. It is reasonable to assume that Muslims in these countries are converting who they can, when they can, how they can.
The second factor that is likely to be in play is that Muslims are encouraged to have more children, where other religious faiths no longer actively encourage members to do so. Families with large numbers of children within the Christian faiths, even among traditional Catholics, are fewer and further between for many reasons, including the ongoing trend of marrying at a later age, financial concerns, and general paradigm shifts in what constitutes cultural norms. Not so with followers of Islam. Their average family size is rising- or at least being maintained- worldwide, while people of other faiths, especially in the western world, are still on a decline that started decades ago. I don’t have the figures and studies to cite at the moment to support this, but I did read about this recently.
The third factor, and that which I find the most compelling to study and discuss because it explores the complexity of human instinct versus learned virtuous behavior and how it affects all groups- People who are looking for ways to validate themselves are converting to Islam.
In our need to assure ourselves that life has meaning, most humans have learned to keep that need to fulfill it in line with the needs of others around us. Joining or belonging to a movement- be it a mainstream religion, special interest group, political party, fringe group or cult- is often used to fulfill the need for validation, personal empowerment, and meaning to our lives- a sense of belonging and sharing. My best guess is the majority who are turning to the Muslim faith who were not born to it fall within this group. But on occasion, when people lose their sense of self, some may turn to an often unconcious and basic selfishness in order to fill that void. I would assert that a number of those who’ve lost a sense of self, or have experienced disillusionment in what used to fill that void, have latched on to a growing, energetic, and controversial religion because it has garnered much more attention in recent years than any other faith, movement, or special interest group, specifically and conciously in order to boost their feelings of validation. I don’t necessarily believe that a large percentage of any added numbers to the Islamic faith can be attributed to this motivation, but I’m absolutely certain that a percentage of any religion or large group of any kind happen to be people with this emotional outline that’s based on self-fulfillment over all other considerations.
Negative attention does not prevent these kinds of people from exploring the possibility that this might be what they need in their lives, but rather encourages it, so it’s reasonable to assume that some people have done so, and will continue to do so.
A good example of this phenomenon is when Satanism became fashionable in the late 1960′s and early 1970s after the publication of the Satanic Bible and media exposure of Anton LaVey, the leader of the Church of Satan. The church gained legitimacy (thereby growing it’s membership) by virtue of notariety- most of it through negative media attention and public outcry- not by sound theological structure, an inherently supportive congregation, or any of the traditional ways that a religion establishes itself over time. They recruited the confused, greedy, and selfish specifically, through the church’s very structure, and the publicity they received ensured their message would be heard by those who would be enticed by it’s mystique and promises of personal empowerment.
Let me be clear- While I use this as an example, do not confuse Satanism as a parellel to Islam. They are vastly different from eachother, including the fact that Islam has a sound theology, ideology and dogma which has lasted for nearly two millenia (whether you agree with it or not is moot), while modern Satanism is clearly a fad that comes and goes in conjuction with media hype, pop culture, and the wholesale disenfranchisement of young people. I am in no way saying that Islam is Satanic, evil, or otherwise not a legitimate faith. I’m not even saying that Satanism isn’t legitimate. I merely used the rise of Satanism in recent history as an example to illustrate why someone might join a church or movement that has aquired the reputation of being violent or negative in current mainstream perception, and that it is indeed a known phenomenon often encouraged -rightly or wrongly- by sensationalistic, though not necessarily inaccurate media coverage.
Many of the converts who fall into the above description of the self-serving believer may or may not actually believe in the fundamentals of the Islamic faith, but they certainly have to believe they gain something personally by joining any group that stands apart by virtue of perceived violence or hatred. What those personal gains might be are numerous and predictable, since human nature itself is inherently selfish, and followers of any group or religion have expectations that they want to be met.
The self-centered follower gets a feeling of personal power in belonging to an established group- and an even stronger one when that group is singled out by society for any reason; often they are given a venue where they can vent their personal rage- disguised as righteousness- in ways not available to them before; they may gain tangibles such as goods and services; intangibles such as authority over or perceived superiority over others; there are usually promises of rewards in the afterlife- or when the movement succeeds- for the faithful, etc. Because of the utterly selfish nature of this type of follower, it is easy to predict that converts and lifelong believers alike who follow a belief system based on fulfillmlent of a selfish need, must continually be receiving something from it or they won’t continue to do it. They will move on to something else in that search for fulfillment when following the doctrine and rules is a higher price than what they are willing to pay for what they believe they gain from it.
Often enough to recognize, they may instead opt to stay within the original framework, but chose to attempt to alter it enough to suit their needs rather than go through the emotional work of trying something completely different.
We should all hope that these people do abandon their chosen vehicle as soon as possible rather than engaging in the latter, should they recognize that their original choice of religion/movement/interest group has failed to give them what they need. We are all safest when they are busy searching, rather than finding or creating. Need examples? Read the biographies of nearly EVERY tyrannical leader in human history. Read the bios of a few sociopathic serial killers. Then read the bios of cult leaders like Warren Jeffs, Jim Jones, Charles Manson and David Koresh. The similarities in their character flaws are easy to pick out. It is also impossible to deny the fact that once they settled on a single path to attain self-fulfillment, destruction and violence ensued.
While their overall number may be miniscule within the populations of any country, we must take note of them, since history has repeatedly shown us that this kind of follower of any religion, any movement, any special interest are the very people who are, should they stay within the mainframe of an unsatisfying group, the most likely to BECOME the fanatics- the leaders and sychophants of the fringe elements- intent on feeding fires, creating division and increasing tensions which can lead to both general and specific violence, in their misbegotten attempts to gain a sense of self.
This, I firmly believe, is the singlular most glaringly evident reason why, as a species, we have come to value the virtues of selflessness and generosity; of finding one’s self through giving rather than taking.
I’m sure there are other factors that also may lead to an increase in followers of Islam, or any other group or religion for that matter, but I will end this excercise at this point. My own personal conclusions are that the majority of new members to the followers of Islam can be attributed to previously uncounted followers, those they are actively recruiting, those newly born to it, and those who have chosen it for personal reasons based on legitimate human need for a sense of community and belonging. A minute fraction of new-and old- members of Islam must also be those who have conciously chosen it as a self-serving vehicle for personal gain of one type or another. I believe that the latter, in spite of the relatively small number, are responsible for the majority of what has become twisted and altered, causing confusion and discord within the faith itself, as well as the violence and hatred that has stemmed directly from it.
People needn’t worry about rising numbers of Muslims. We need to worry about rising numbers of those power-driven, self-serving heretics within ALL faiths who would pervert them for no other reason than to fulfill their own base and selfish needs, figure out why there seems to be more of them now than there used to be, and fix whatever it is that’s ailing humanity that can cause such a destructive phenomenon before it gets beyond our ability to do so.