Why The West Craves Materialism & Why The East Sticks To Religion by Imran Khan

My generation grew up at a time when colonial hang up was at its peak.
Our older generation had been slaves and had a huge inferiority
complex of the British. The school I went to was similar to all elite
schools in Pakistan.

Despite gaining independence, they were, and still are, producing
replicas of public schoolboys rather than Pakistanis.I read
Shakespeare, which was fine, but no Allama Iqbal – the national poet
of Pakistan. The class on Islamic studies was not taken seriously, and
when I left school I was considered among the elite of the country
because I could speak English and wore Western clothes.

Despite periodically shouting ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ in school
functions, I considered my own culture backward and religion outdated.
Among our group if any one talked about religion, prayed or kept a
beard he was immediately branded a Mullah.

Because of the power of the Western media, our heroes were Western
movie stars or pop stars. When I went to Oxford already burdened with
this hang up, things didn’t get any easier. At Oxford, not just Islam,
but all religions were considered anachronism.

Science had replaced religion and if something couldn’t be logically
proved it did not exist. All supernatural stuff was confined to the

Philosophers like Darwin, who with his half-baked theory of evolution
had supposedly disproved the creation of men and hence religion, were
read and revered.

Moreover, European history reflected its awful experience with
religion. The horrors committed by the Christian clergy during the
Inquisition era had left a powerful impact on the Western mind.

To understand why the West is so keen on secularism, one should go to
places like Cordoba in Spain and see the torture apparatus used during
the Spanish Inquisition. Also the persecution of scientists as
heretics by the clergy had convinced the Europeans that all religions
are regressive.

However, the biggest factor that drove people like me away from
religion was the selective Islam practiced by most of its preachers.
In short, there was a huge difference between what they practiced and
what they preached. Also, rather than explaining the philosophy behind
the religion, there was an overemphasis on rituals.

I feel that humans are different to animals. While, the latter can be
drilled, humans need to be intellectually convinced. That is why the
Qur’an constantly appeals to reason. The worst, of course, was the
exploitation of Islam for political gains by various individuals or

Hence, it was a miracle I did not become an atheist. The only reason
why I did not was the powerful religious influence my mother wielded
on me since my childhood. It was not so much out of conviction but
love for her that I stayed a Muslim.

However, my Islam was selective. I accepted only parts of the religion
that suited me. Prayers were restricted to Eid days and occasionally
on Fridays, when my father insisted on taking me to the mosque with

All in all I was smoothly moving to becoming a pukka Brown Sahib.
After all I had the right credentials in terms of school, university
and, above all, acceptability in the English aristocracy, something
that our brown sahibs would give their lives for. So what led me to do
a ‘lota’ on the Brown Sahib culture and instead become a ‘desi’?

Well it did not just happen overnight.

Firstly, the inferiority complex that my generation had inherited
gradually went as I developed into a world-class
athlete. Secondly, I was in the unique position of living between two
cultures. I began to see the advantages and the disadvantages of both

In Western societies, institutions were strong while they were
collapsing in our country. However, there was an area where we were
and still are superior, and that is our family life. I began to
realize that this was the Western society’s biggest loss. In trying to
free itself from the oppression of the clergy, they had removed both
God and religion from their lives.

While science, no matter how much it progresses, can answer a lot of
questions – two questions it will never be able to answer: One, what
is the purpose of our existence; and two, what happens to us when we

It is this vacuum that I felt created the materialistic and the
hedonistic culture. If this is the only life then one must make hay
while the sun shines – and in order to do so one needs money. Such a
culture is bound to cause
psychological problems in a human being, as there was going to be an
imbalance between the body and the soul.

Consequently, in the US, which has shown the greatest materialistic
progress while giving its citizens numerous
rights, almost 60 percent of the population consult psychiatrists.
Yet, amazingly in modern psychology, there is
no study of the human soul. Sweden and Switzerland, who provide the
most welfare to their citizens, also have the highest suicide rates.
Hence, man is not necessarily content with material well being and
needs something more.

Since all morality has it roots in religion, once religion was
removed, immorality has progressively grown since the 70s. Its direct
impact has been on family life. In the UK the divorce rate is 60
percent, while it is estimated that there are over 35 percent single
mothers. The crime rate is rising in almost all Western societies, but
the most disturbing fact is the alarming increase in racism. While
science always tries to prove the inequality of man (recent survey
showing the American Black to be genetically less intelligent than
whites) it is only religion that preaches the equality of man. Between
1991 and 1997, it was estimated that total immigration into Europe was
around 520,000, and there were racially motivated attacks all over,
especially in Britain, France and Germany. In Pakistan during the
Afghan war, we had over four million refugees, and despite the people
being so much poorer, there was no racial tension.

There was a sequence of events in the 80s that moved me toward God as
the Qur’an says: ‘There are signs for people of understanding.’ One of
them was cricket. As I was a student of the game, the more I
understood the game, the more I began to realize that what I
considered to be chance was, in fact, the will of Allah. A pattern
which became clearer with time. But it was not until Salman Rushdie’s
‘Satanic Verses’ that my understanding of Islam began to develop.

People like me who were living in the Western world bore the brunt of
anti-Islam prejudice that followed the Muslim reaction to the book. We
were left with two choices: fight or flight. Since I felt strongly
that the attacks on Islam were unfair, I decided to fight. It was then
I realized that I was not equipped to do so as my knowledge of Islam
was inadequate. Hence I started my research and for me a period of my
greatest enlightenment. I read scholars like Ali Shariati, Muhammad
Asad, Iqbal, Gai Eaton, plus of course, a study of Qur’an.

I will try to explain as concisely as is possible, what ‘discovering
the truth’ meant for me. When the believers are addressed in the
Qur’an, it always says ‘Those who believe and do good deeds.’ In other
words, a Muslim has dual function, one toward God and the other toward
fellow human beings.

The greatest impact of believing in God for me, meant that I lost all
fear of human beings. The Qur’an liberates man from man when it says
that life and death and respect and humiliation are God’s
jurisdiction, so we do not
have to bow before other human beings.

Moreover, since this is a transitory world where we prepare for the
eternal one, I broke out of the self-imposed prisons, such as growing
old (such a curse in the Western world, as a result of which, plastic
surgeons are having a field day), materialism, ego, what people say
and so on. It is important to note that one does not eliminate earthly
desires. But instead of being controlled by them, one controls them.

By following the second part of believing in Islam, I have become a
better human being. Rather than being self-centered and living for the
self, I feel that because the Almighty gave so much to me, in turn I
must use that blessing to help the less privileged. This I did by
following the fundamentals of Islam rather than becoming a
Kalashnikov-wielding fanatic.

I have become a tolerant and a giving human being who feels
compassion for the underprivileged. Instead of attributing success to
myself, I know it is because of God’s will, hence I learned humility
instead of arrogance.

Also, instead of the snobbish Brown Sahib attitude toward our masses,
I believe in egalitarianism and strongly feel against the injustice
done to the weak in our society. According to the Qur’an, ‘Oppression
is worse than
killing.’ In fact only now do I understand the true meaning of Islam,
if you submit to the will of Allah, you have inner peace. Through my
faith, I have discovered strength within me that I never knew existed
and that has
released my potential in life. I feel that in Pakistan we have
selective Islam. Just believing in God and going through the rituals
is not enough. One also has to be a good human being. I feel there are
certain Western countries with far more Islamic traits than us in
Pakistan, especially in the way they protect the rights of their
citizens, or for that matter their justice system. In fact some of the
finest individuals I know live there.

What I dislike about them is their double standards in the way they
protect the rights of their citizens but consider citizens of other
countries as being somehow inferior to them as human being, e.g.
dumping toxic waste in the Third World, advertising cigarettes that
are not allowed in the West and selling drugs that are banned in the

One of the problems facing Pakistan is the polarization of two
reactionary groups. On the one side is the Westernized group that
looks upon Islam through Western eyes and has inadequate knowledge
about the subject. It reacts strongly to anyone trying to impose Islam
in society and wants only a selective part of the religion. On the
other extreme is the group that reacts to this Westernized elite and
in trying to become a defender of the faith, takes up such intolerant
and self-righteous attitudes that are repugnant to the spirit of

What needs to be done is to somehow start a dialogue between the two
extreme. In order for this to happen, the
group on whom the greatest proportion of our educational resources are
spent in this country must study Islam properly. Whether they become
practicing Muslims or believe in God is entirely a personal choice. As
the Qur’an tells us there is ‘no compulsion in religion.’ However,
they must arm themselves with knowledge as a weapon to fight
extremism. Just by turning up their noses at extremism the problem is
not going to be solved.

The Qur’an calls Muslims ‘the middle nation’, not of extremes. The
Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) was told to simply convey the
message and not worry whether people converted or not, therefore,
there is no question in Islam of forcing your opinions on anyone else.

Moreover, we are told to respect other religions, their places of
worship and their prophets. It should be noted that no Muslim
missionaries or armies ever went to Malaysia or Indonesia. The people
converted to Islam due to the high principles and impeccable character
of the Muslim traders. At the moment, the worst advertisements for
Islam are the countries with their selective Islam, especially where
religion is used to deprive people of their rights. In fact, a society
that obeys fundamentals of Islam has to be a liberal one.

If Pakistan’s Westernized class starts to study Islam, not only will
it be able to help society fight sectarianism and extremism, but it
will also make them realize what a progressive religion Islam is. They
will also be able to help the Western world by articulating Islamic
concepts. Recently, Prince Charles accepted that the Western world can
learn from Islam. But how can this happen if the group that is in the
best position to project Islam gets its attitudes from the West and
considers Islam backward?

Islam is a universal religion and that is why our Prophet (peace be
upon him) was called a Mercy for all mankind.


One thought on “Why The West Craves Materialism & Why The East Sticks To Religion by Imran Khan

  1. Assalaamu-alaikum

    Subhanallah! A brilliant discourse! Hits the nail on the head! The writer has shed light on issues which affect Muslims throughout the world, not only in Pakistan! Muslims are having an identity crisis! Muslims want to “fit in” AND “stand out”! This is where the difficulty comes about, because the west has put muslims under huge pressure by its failure to understand that there need not be a “clash of civilization” ! Mutual respect and tolerance of each other is a solution but unfortunately, in a climate of Islamophobia, Muslims are pushed into a compromising position! Stereotyping of Muslims just adds fuel to the fire and makes it even more difficult for Muslims to strike a balance in a quest to find a comfortable position where we can enjoy the western influenced lifestyle yet not compromise our religious values! This fear prevents spiritual growth! Its time for Muslims to become less apologetic and more assertive! And Allah knows best!

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