Again, as indicated in the previous post Population Problems (even in the Islamic World), sometimes I come away from reading “the news” with the vague impression that the western world is overwhelmed with problems relating to drugs, sex, a pleasure-centered lifestyle, and a loss of religious faith while the Islamic world is filled with individuals ready to sacrifice their lives for the cause of Allah and to rid the world of these profligate western excesses. However, as in the previous discussion, such impressions do not tell the underlying story.
David Goldman, in his recent book How Civilizations Die (and Why Islam is Dying Too), offers disturbing evidence that “[t]he underside of Islam’s demographic freeze is an appalling breakdown of traditional mores.” This is, of course, not to imply that we in the West should be happy about the problems of those who have vowed to destroy us, e.g. the leaders of Iran. Rather, on the deepest level, it is reason for deep sadness and mourning that the genuine believers are few, the radicals are in charge, and the “silent majority” (though not so silent after the mass demonstrations in Iran against vote fraud in the June 2009 elections) are drifting, aimless, secular, threatened with despair, and seeking for pleasure and satisfaction here and now in this world. (Unfortunately, this doesn’t sound so different from the West). Goldman writes:
Under the façade of radical Islam, Iran suffers from an eruption of social pathologies such as drug addiction and prostitution on a scale much worse than anything observed in the West. It appears that Islamic theocracy promotes rather than represses social decay. A spiritual malaise has overcome Iran despite the best efforts of the totalitarian Islamists. Popular morale has deteriorated much faster than in the “decadent” West against which the Khomeini revolution was directed.(pp. 47-8)
He cites several facts illustrating the extent of the problem:
1) Prostitution “has become a career of choice among educated Iranian women”—more than 90% of Iranian prostitutes have passed the University entrance exam. Moreover, according to a Tehran Police Department and Ministry of Health study, “they are content with their occupation and do not consider it a sin according to Islamic law.” It is estimated that there are more than 300,000 prostitutes in Tehran alone. Moreover,
by “prostitute,” the Iranian authorities mean a woman who exchanges sexual services for money. No data are available on the extent of “temporary marriages,” [i.e., “marriage” for a few hours for the purpose of sex, followed by divorce] which are permitted in Shi’ite Islam. According to a document translated and published by Eurasia Review, the Imam Reza shrine offers temporary marriage licenses for pilgrims priced according to duration; five hours costs the equivalent of $50, twenty-four hours costs $75, and so forth.(p.48, my brackets)
Goldman opines that only in the Soviet Union after the fall of communism in 1990 “did educated women choose prostitution on a comparable scale.” But, he points out, that was because in Russia at the time they were near starving, whereas in Iran today it is done by “educated women seeking affluence.”(p.48)
2) Drug addiction is a second great problem in Iran today. The UN Office of Drugs and Crime reports that Iran has as many as 1.7 million opiate addicts. (Iran is the major transport hub for opiates from Afghanistan.) Iran’s official numbers are 1.2 million addicts and 800,000 occasional users. The BBC cites non-governmental sources who estimate that the actual number of users of hard drugs is as high as 5 million, or nearly 12% of Iran’s nonelderly adult population.(p. 49)
That is an astonishing number, unseen since the peak of Chinese addiction during the nineteenth century. The closest American equivalent, from the 2003 Nation Survey on Drug Use and Health, found that 119,000 Americans reported using heroin within the prior month, or less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the nonelderly adult population.(p.49)
3) Abandonment of religious practice is also, surprisingly perhaps (from the outside), a problem in Iran. I say “surprisingly” because the country is officially ruled by Sharia law. Indeed, it is one of the few Muslim countries where the women must be completely covered in the hijab. This is required by law. So publicly all looks well from the point of view of a radically conservative Islam. Yet, according to Zohreh Soleimani of the BBC, Iran has the lowest mosque attendance of any Islamic country (BBC broadcast “Children of the Revolution”). Further, Iranian clergy complain that more than 70% of the population do not perform their daily prayers and that less than 2% attend Friday mosques (Economist 16, Jan. 2003; also reported Goldman, p. 12). This is astounding compared to the public picture. Though western music is strictly forbidden, it is popular and widespread according to reports. When asked to name their most influential role models, 61% of students in Tehran chose “Western artists,” while only 17% chose “Iran’s officials.” (“Political Inclinations of the Youth and Students,” Asr-e Ma, n.13, 19 April 1995 in Brumberg, Reinventing Khomeini (2001), pp. 189-90—cited in Wikipedia, “History of the Islamic Republic of Iran). What all this means is that we in the West should much more respond with understanding, compassion, love and prayer—rather than fear—for those in the Islamic lands. However, this is not to deny that we have much to fear from the radicals and their leaders.
4) Conversion to Christianity is also quietly going on among Muslims, much to the concern of religious and political leaders. For example, Goldman reports, “Both Christian and Muslim sources, it appears, agree that Christianity is winning the battle for souls in Africa. One Muslim cleric asserts that 6 million Muslims convert to Christianity each year.”(p224) Of course, in the Muslim theocracies, such conversions are punishable by death. Yet conversions continue to occur—many inspired by a fervent evangelical movement, often accompanied by Pentecostal manifestations. (pp. 225-6) What this means is that even in the strict theocracies, those in positions of polico-religious power have deep reasons to fear if their rigid orthodoxy, imposed by law, were ever to be relaxed. Yet, of couse, in itself this is a sign of hope. Our Lord continues his work of seeding individual souls, regardless of the political power structure.
We must pray for the Muslim peoples. Many are caught between a temptation toward western decadence, license, and living only for this world and an authoritative imposition from above of a harsh and rigid system in the name of God—which only breeds resentment, as it always has when this approach has been tried in the name of Christ.
Let us pray, in fact, to Blessed Charles de Foucauld, the seeds of whose conversion lay in his encounter with Islam on his geographic expedition to Morocco in 1883, prior to which Foucauld had lived a completely profligate, pleasure-seeking life. Foucauld wrote, after this encounter:
Islam produced in me a profound disruption—the vision of this faith, of those souls living in the continual presence of God, made me perceive something larger and more authentic than mundane occupations. “Ad maiora nati sumus”—we are born for higher things.
Foucauld, of course, went on to become a great Catholic priest, ascetic, hermit (in the Sahara Desert), and martyr (at the hands of Muslim Bedouin marauders), while always continuing to have a deep love and respect for his Islamic brothers and sisters.