Here is the refutation of the refutation of the refutation, on and on ad nauseam, droning on in full public view online and in private forums, chat groups, YouTube videos and heated arguments amongst friends and enemies. It never ends.
Of course, there is nothing new to see here. I had my first introduction to refutation culture within weeks of my shahada, twenty-two years ago. Indeed, I seem to recall that my very shahada was being refuted by some, in the immediate aftermath of that earth-shattering event, who held me in utter contempt for what they perceived to be my reality. Sorry folks, I’m still here, although, yes, I am a heretic.
Of course, back then, there was no Twitter or Facebook to take the verbal diarrhoea global, though the Maajids and Afzals certainly tried. No, back then the forum of choice was the large table on the landing outside the first-floor university prayer room, around which the Salafis, Iqwanis and Hizbs would do battle daily, raising voices and upsetting passing academics who had work to do.
There, the refutation to the refutation to the refutation, on and on, and the attempted coups, sectarian squabbling, religious bullying, public shaming and hyper-inflation of the ego. And what was the point of it all? Of all those voices, the loudest of them are now railing against everything they once stood for — reformists railing even against revelation.
In another decade or two, it will be the same for today’s belligerent zealots warring online, fighting for the supremacy of their institution, startup, sect or political movement. Some of them will leave the faith. Some will become great critics. Some will be given MBEs and lucrative publishing contracts. Some will become wealthy consultants for investment capital companies, advising millionaires how to get the best yield on their high-interest savings. Some may even play their hand at politics, making deals with neo-nazis to appear relevant.
And then those who come after them will pen more refutations, castigating these backsliders, who themselves will pen refutations of their young detractors, confident that their vast experience and longevity grants them authority. Here again the refutation of the refutation of the refutation. The young zealot thinks himself the voice of truth, a grassroots activist, uncompromised by brushes with power, free of political influence, and everyday this conviction grows as adoring admirers egg them on, celebrating their role in the revival and defence of tradition. Yes, because we have seen this over and over, ad nauseam.
But still the bright young converts, rejoicing in their ijazas from traditional ulema or their degree from an Islamic university quarrel with their opponent with vaguely different opinions, in full public view, dispensing insults and dispatching lengthy pseudo-academic papers in their service of The Truth. And the activist fires back with refutations and insults of his own, galvanising his army of trolls sent marching from multiple incognito browser windows, minting new ones if he has to, thinking his audience, if he has any left, utter idiots.
Not much has changed in twenty years then, except that childish arguments now take place before all the world, for all to witness in full glorious technicolour on slabs of handheld glass. It is 2008 2.0, when the wannabe ulema had their first great virtual schism, solidifying sectarian self-admiration on one side, while haemorrhaging a generation of young believers on the other, who wandered off to enjoy their lives free of religious cults and the constant threat of excommunication.
The present squabble will pass soon enough — this one but a footnote amidst copious footnotes in the refutation of the epoch. The next really great virtual schism will probably take place inside Alexa, or some weird AI contraption those that survive the impending depression will find themselves wearing on their heads. These refutations of refutations of refutations will be with us forever, through every generation, only the medium and reach changing. Once just ink on parchment. Today bits of data flying through the sky. Tomorrow, perhaps pure telepathy. Who knows?