Amr Khaled’s submission and prayers for his Facebook followers, whether real or fake, and whether they aim to serve God or get rich and famous, raise important questions about piousness and the phenomenon of new preachers and extremism. Fans of the famous preacher were angry that he was criticized and said that Amr has the right to do whatever he wants with his page.
They are right as he is certainly free to do whatever he wants, even if t mean digitalizing humility. However, others have the right to criticize him and to voice opposing opinions. Criticism here is not directed against him as a person but against an entire phenomenon.
In order to understand this complicated problem, it is important to divide it into different phenomena. First, there is the phenomenon of the new preachers for whom Amr Khaled is an icon. This is a major flaw, which has turned religion into business and a tool to achieve stardom.
Also read: Amr Khaled and the stardom of preaching
These preachers make millions of dollars and live in fancy castles simply by turning religion – which is supposed to be a deep spiritual bond between God and man – into a supermarket where they sell programs, books and recordings. This is in addition to advertisements on Twitter and Snapchat.
The commodification of religion hit a new low when we started receiving text messages asking us to subscribe in a preaching channel and claiming that this counts as a good deed towards building houses in heaven. They totally exploit people’s emotions to make money in the name of religion.
They turned every figure, memory and incident in Islamic history into a packaged commodity that can be sold and bought, just like doughnuts and candy.
One of the Muslim societies’ biggest problems is making a legend out of the past in order to make them very difficult to criticize itMamdouh AlMuhaini
Commodification of religion
People do not realize this commodification of religion and fall for it. They end up helping these preachers succeed. An environment of acquiring quick wealth and an emotional audience thus made turns into a formula for producing religious preachers who know that all they have to do is grow their beards and shorten their gowns in order to elevate their status and make money.
This is why we hear about frauds who pretended to be pious to make money but were later exposed and punished. There are thousands of people like that hiding among us. Serious accusations are often made against anyone who criticizes these preachers – even when this criticism is polite. It is clear why this happens. Its because these preachers’ status has been sanctified by millions and they’ve thus become protected symbols that are difficult to come near.
The commodification of religion to make money, and have more supporters on Facebook, has another disadvantage. These preachers’ discourse is shallow though some think it is modern and cool. A modernized rhetoric comes up with new and different theories and helps one develop a deep and renewed perspective toward religion. However, these preachers’ rhetoric reproduces ideas from the past in a new way without changing thinking patterns.
Legends of the past
One of the Muslim societies’ biggest problems is making a legend out of the past in order to make them very difficult to criticize it. This is how ideas from past centuries, such as those related to women, science and non-Muslims, are reintroduced today. These preachers do not address these concepts or criticize them but they narrate them to us. We thus fall in three problems at the same time.
The first problem is that the past has been reintroduced as it is. The second one is that it’s been reintroduced in a shallow way for marketing purposes. The third problem is that people think they are civilized for doing so and they do not have to review their ideas again.
If you have the latest version of high religious ideals and morals, then why reconsider anything again! These preachers’ fans oil their hair, wear ties and modern clothing, speak modern languages and go to fancy restaurants but their ideas date back to ancient times. Deep inside, they hide a sectarian, intolerant and brutal man who will expose himself at the slightest criticism.
However, is it possible to avoid this type of religiousness? It is difficult at the time being because there are people who promote it and protect it to secure their own interests. Many people are willing to commodify religion for objective reasons. Some honestly want religious purification at the cheapest prices while some practically want to be modern Muslims.
Culture and logic
This is what new preachers advertise to them. This phenomenon will weaken when religious culture becomes logical, individual and critical and when the relation between man and God becomes special and focused on essence rather than appearance. This phenomenon will not end though as even in developed societies, there are new preachers from different religions.
A large segment of people has fallen prey to these preachers because there is no alternative. I once interviewed a pious man who he voiced his anger at those commodifying Islam. I remember he told me: “I cannot use religion as a ladder towards money and fame.”
These are beautiful words but the man saying them is a hardliner. This reveals the other category that competes with the phenomenon of new preachers. This other phenomenon reflects a religious rhetoric that believes in the intellect of the disciplined institution which does not seek fame and commodification of religion.
However, they adopt extremist principles that do not harmonize with our current times. New preachers embellish hate speech but these other preachers brag about it under the pretext that they commit to their original ideas which cannot change with time and place. This is why they make strange statements about scientific discoveries.
One of them tried to criticize the fact that the earth is round and said that the earth must be flat and this is how the airplane covers horizontal distance. The role of the mind and logic is thus completely eliminated because the past says so.
Glorifying the past
Those who are convinced by this practically belong to the past, glorify it and want to return to it. They fight change and only forcefully adopt it. It is true that they do not commodify religion but they monopolize it and they close the door on it and expel you via fatwas (religious edicts).
There’s a third phenomenon that competes with the aforementioned two and that would be terrorism which is a normal development of extremist ideas. Hate is transformed into a sick idea producing suicide bombers or murderers ramming children.
It is a violent and extremist rhetoric, which goes all the way to turning statements into actions. All these discourses try to exile others; and they are actually linked as they also destroy minds and spirits. What is the salvation from these three troubles? Can it be through seeking spiritual and intellectual depth and creating a special spiritual bond with modern awareness?
These are all important questions, the answers to which certainly do not lie with those stuck in the past or with those commodifying religion. And we will most certainly not find answers with terrorists and murderers.
This article is also available in Arabic.
Mamdouh AlMuhaini is the Editor-in-Chief of Al Arabiya News Channel’s digital platforms. He can be followed on Twitter @malmhuain.