How Worldview Precedes Cultural Development

From coffee to politics, everything is shaped by worldview
Developing Just Leadership

Tahir Mahmoud

Safar 23, 1440 2018-11-01

News & Analysis

by Tahir Mahmoud (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 47, No. 9, Safar, 1440)

One of the most frequently used words today is objectivity. Everyone claims to be “objective” but the fact is everyone is pushing a particular worldview (din — comprehensive Arabic term often used for religion). This phenomenon manifested itself during a recent trip to Malaysia, where a popular bookstore placed Dr. Richard Dawkins’ book titled, Science in the Soul in the general references section.

Anyone with even basic information about Dawkins and his activities might immediately feel confused. Why? Dawkins is an activist atheist preacher. Anyone thinking that Dawkins can separate his naturalist, atheist, anti-religious and anti-Islamic assumptions from his writings, lives in a world of illusion. Dawkins’ writings should be shelved under religion or more accurately pseudo-religion, preferably next to shallow Wahhabi booklets with which Dawkins shares his dogmatic style.

We all have a worldview (din) and that worldview greatly influences our positions, from science to coffee culture. This is not a problem in and of itself. It becomes problematic when we start claiming that our position and perspective is not shaped by our underlying core worldview. That is why Crescent International identifies itself as the newsmagazine of the Islamic movement. We are not in the business of deception; our perspectives are shaped by our Islamic worldview, unlike our wealthy secular counterparts we do not conceal our core underpinnings.

Worldview even shapes hard sciences. In January 2016, NPR’s Planet Money show produced a fantastic podcast titled, “The Experiment Experiment.” The podcast refers to research done by Professor Brian Nosek at the University of Virginia. A few years back Nosek put together a team that attempted to replicate several experiments from various disciplines and see if they could be repeated.

Nosek’s project attempted to replicate 100 certified studies. Only 39 could be replicated, 61 could not. Why? Confirmation bias is real in hard sciences. As Nosek correctly pointed out during his interview with NPR’s Planet Money show, “When I do research in the laboratory, I have choices I make about how to analyze the data and about what of the data that I get to report. And so I might be more likely to find a way of analyzing the data that looks good for me — right? It confirms my hypothesis. It provides a result that’s exciting, that’s very publishable. I might decide that must be the right way to analyze the data, and I might do that while thinking and trying to be genuine and accurate. But — and the fact that I have a conflict of interest in this — where the results have implications for me and my career advancement, means that I might construct stories to myself that lead me to finding results and reporting results in literature that just are exaggerations of reality that just aren’t true.”

It is not just hard sciences, even coffee culture is shaped by our worldview. How? In the Muslim world, coffee was initially used in Sufi circles to remain awake at night to perform recommended ‘ibadat (coffee was introduced to the world by the Muslims of Yemen and initially it was dubbed the “Muslim drink”!). Today, even in the Muslim world, coffee is primarily used for social intimacy with one’s social circle, not God. Coffee was once a means of “meeting” God through dhikr and salah al-layl (night prayers); today it is a means to meet your supervisor in a wakeful state in the early morning.

Even contemporary economic mechanisms are a product of a particular outlook on life. Today the standard narrative in economics is that credit is absolutely necessary for a functioning economic system. Is it? Yes, credit does at times allow one to increase productivity, but its contemporary form also fuels over-consumption and usury. Instead of advocating the usefulness of credit, why do we not advocate living within our means and increasing spending only through increase in productivity? For this to take place, the outlook on economics has to be disassociated from the wider outlook on life dominating the world. But this will not happen. Consumerism is an integral part of the contemporary secular global order; it indoctrinates humans that we are material beings with a semi-spiritual side to us that can be “taken care of” through a couple of Yoga classes at our local shopping mall. It is all very simple and neat!

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