The Future of Secularism: Chapter 3


Turns out I really had to use the bathroom, so I sat down in one of the stalls and, well, you know...

What caught my eye was some graffiti. Written in Arabic (which I could rarely understand -- except when the words were the same as our language, which in this case they were) and also in our language, the graffiti read: “Thawra Islamiya. Hizb Fazilat!” and the rest was illegible.(1)

From time to time I’d hear of the fearsome Party... the Party of Virtue: Hizb Fazilat (‘One God, one Party,’ they’d say)... arrested members, fatwas(2) issued against government policies and underground militias. The graffiti, however, caught my eye because it meant that even at the Academy, there were people who sympathized... well not sympathized, it must’ve been strongly supported... the policies of those anti-secularists. Some people in this very school, this bastion of the elite – most of whom, I had to admit, had massive inferiority complexes – were on their side. We were not safe from the tide of political Islam. But, maybe it was just a janitor.

I followed this line of thought and it satisfied me: I was happy that the fundamentalists must be lower-class workers or something... happy, at least, until I looked up and realized my mistake.

There was a security camera in the bathroom and it was focused on me.

Some paranoid guards had seen me stare at Islamist propaganda for at least a good minute. I was in deep trouble now. I swore, loudly: “Oh shit.”

Suddenly I heard a voice from the stall next to me.

“You don’t have a lota, akhi?”(3)

There was silence for a second. My anonymous brother in the stall next to me had just uttered the dreaded, revealing catch-phrase used by all Wahhabis(4) throughout the world. If those security guards didn’t know he was an Islamist, they knew now.

He swore too.

“Oh shit."

Without waiting a second, he was up and out of the bathroom.


1.Thawra Islamiya -'Islamic Revolution!' (in Arabic). In Turkish, it is called "Inklap" and in Persian and Urdu it is "Inqilaab."

2. A non-binding decree on a legal matter of concern to Muslims, issued by a scholar of Islamic law. Fatwas can cover any topic, whether music, sexuality, economics or politics. The most famous of these is the generally misunderstood fatwa against Salman Rushdie.

3. I guess this is only funny if you know what a 'lota' is. It's what non-Muslims use to water plants with, and what Muslims use to wash themselves after using the bathroom. (By 'themselves,' I am not referring to the hands, by the way. Muslims wash directly, as Islam places high emphasis on cleanliness, and toilet paper just isn't the same).

4. A group of Muslims that follow the teachings of Muhammad ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab, a reformer in the Arabian peninsula during the 18th century who called to purify Islam from the heavy, and deadening, effects of errant Sufi teachings, decadence and hidden idolatries which had crept into Islamic doctrine. 'Abd al-Wahhab was very successful, and his followers became the supports for the current Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which is ideologically Wahhabi. Wahhabis thus have massive oil dollars behind them, and exert a profound influence on Islamic movements throughout the world through the liberal use of their petrodollars. On the negative side, Wahhabi Islam is generally very inflexible and not very open-minded. It has trouble coping with the reality of a globalizing, modern world, and tend to negates much of the creative, beautiful and life-affirming aspect of Islam.

However, many of its ideas will be present in the Islam of the future, since it presents a powerful basis for a global Islamic 'High Culture.' Wahhabi Islam places strong emphasis on the individual, and on the simplification of Islam (in a positive sense). The Wahhabi mindset can be adapted to provide an Islamic perspective perfect for the challenges we currently face.

As a side note, the term 'Salafi' is often used interchangeably with Wahhabi. Salafis are those Muslims who greatly emphasize the 'salaf' - the predecessors - and focus Islam on their actions. By predecessors they are of course referring to the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, and his Family, his Companions and all those who follow them in righteousness. However, a Wahhabi is not necessarily a Salafi. Their common goals and overlapping focus often cause them to be confused with one another.

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