‘… one of the most dangerous policy proposals ever to be made in the history of British politics.’ Statement by Church leaders.2
In the name of Allah, the All-Merciful, the Most Merciful
And may Allah bless His Noble Prophet, the Last of the Messengers,
and his family and companions and grant them peace
This article attempts to address the political implications of the UK government’s contemplated Covid-pass measures. Like many others, we are disquieted by the move towards a more authoritarian surveillance-based society. The dominant themes of the pandemic and the vaccines are thus addressed in order to investigate the scientific and philosophical bases underlying science and medicine.
In the land which gave us both George Orwell’s and Aldous Huxley’s piercing dystopian visions of what might be, that we should be at the point of using this pandemic, whose nature is deeply disputed – despite the ‘experts’, media and gov.uk trying to convince us otherwise – to install a surveillance society, beggars belief. I refer, of course, to the Covid pass and all the other measures that surround it.
The following forthright statement by Church leaders was heartening indeed:
‘This scheme has the potential to bring about the end of liberal democracy as we know it and to create a surveillance state in which the government uses technology to control certain aspects of citizens’ lives.’3
The letter continues:
‘As such, this constitutes one of the most dangerous policy proposals ever to be made in the history of British politics.’4
The British are a people who are repelled by the idea of ID cards, which they regard as something ‘they do on the Continent’.
That such a measure has been proposed and is likely to be adopted by a government led by a man who has used ‘British Values’ to bludgeon immigrants, Muslims and coloured people, distorting those values in a way that is recognisably not British, is shocking enough but there are deeper issues at stake.
The question of the role major pharmaceutical companies (Big Pharma) – most of whom face massive litigation for the suffering their products have caused – has to be raised. In spite of some of them offering their products cheaply in what looks like public-spiritedness, it is arguably simply a tactic to secure a share in the global market. If ‘power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely’, money matters compound the danger, palm-greasing their ways through the corridors of power; a regrettable fact indeed.
As the legitimation for this incipient totalitarianism hinges on the medical situation, we have no choice but to confront the dominant paradigm.
Our ‘health’ has become almost entirely subjugated to political and then economic ends. The single view of health and medicine being imposed on us does not reflect the great diversity of approaches available, many of which the British people choose in preference to allopathic medicine. There is, for example, a long–established tradition of herbalism in the British Isles. Other medical approaches are well established such as Chinese medicine, Osteopathy and Chiropractic, to mention a few, which have proven clinical benefits, and our Sovereign and her family use homoeopathy. While this may arouse a snigger from ignorant people, they would do well to consider the robust good health and longevity of the Royal Family despite their gruelling schedule of public engagements.
Although there is risk of quackery in these fields, almost all of the therapies mentioned above train people theoretically and practically within their own institutions in the perfectly ordinary disciplines of anatomy and physiology along with rigorous clinical training. Indeed, encouragingly, allopathic doctors are increasingly drawing on disciplines outside their own and paying attention to wellbeing and lifestyle in their treatment of patients, signalling a real convergence between what were previously regarded as entirely divergent fields.
There are too, a considerable number of dissenting voices within the allopathic paradigm itself, both as to the nature of the pandemic and the correct means to deal with it. Independent virologists, epidemiologists and immunologists of some distinction and not beholden to commercial or official interests have spoken out, belying a supposed agreement of the ‘experts’. Yet these voices have largely been stifled in favour of a dominant narrative – an institutional conformity behind which lie the sinister interests of an industry with billions of dollars at stake.
The startling clampdown on freedom of expression by the social media giants, many of whose shareholders are the same as those of the pharmaceuticals, is characterised by epidemiologist Knut Wittkowski as ‘the end of science’.5 Science, by and large, is an untidy and anarchic conversation out of which clarity arises from the data and theory, just as ijma‘ arises when everyone with a right to a view has expressed theirs and has had it endorsed or refuted with evidence. Clamping down on discussion stops that process.
What adds to the confusion is the serious defects in much research spoken of here:
“Much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue. Afflicted by studies with small sample sizes, tiny effects, invalid exploratory analyses and flagrant conflicts of interest, together with an obsession for pursuing fashionable trends of dubious importance, science has taken a turn towards darkness,” wrote Richard Horton, the editor-in-chief of The Lancet in 2015.
“It is simply no longer possible to believe much of the clinical research that is published, or to rely on the judgment of trusted physicians or authoritative medical guidelines. I take no pleasure in this conclusion, which I reached slowly and reluctantly over my two decades as an editor of The New England Journal of Medicine,” wrote Marcia Angell in 2009.
Squashing dissent and discussion produces a conformity that is doctrinaire and dogmatic. Giorgio Agamben makes the point trenchantly when he states baldly that medicine is now a religion:
[medicine] articulates these concepts in a Gnostic-Manichean sense, that is, according to an exaggerated dualistic opposition. There is a malign god or principle, namely disease, whose specific agents are bacteria and viruses, and a beneficent god or principle, which is not health, but recovery, whose cultic agents are medicines and therapy.
That we are dealing here with a cultic practice and not a rational scientific demand is immediately obvious. The most frequent cause of death in our country [Italy] by far are cardiovascular diseases and it is well known that these could be reduced if we practiced a healthier form of life and if we followed a particular diet. But it has never crossed the mind of any doctor that this form of life and diet, which they recommended to the patient, should become the object of a juridical norm, which would decree ex lege what must be eaten and how we should live, transforming our whole life into a health requirement. Precisely this has been done and, at least for now, people have accepted, as if it were obvious, renouncing their own freedom of movement, work, friendships, loves, social relations, their own religious and political convictions. Here we see the extent to which the two other religions of the West, the religion of Christ and the religion of money, have ceded primacy, apparently without a fight, to medicine and science.6
Agamben, as such, is showing how politics has been subverted by a religio-cultic practice.
Ahmed writing in ‘Post Apathy’ elaborates:
In liberal political theory, democratic and authoritarian structures are often divided according to their epistemological structures. In a democratic society, language is unrestricted and determined by a distributed consensus based on principles such as democracy by the ballot, freedom of speech, and so on. In an authoritarian society, speech is heavily censored, with official meanings and narratives maintained and disseminated by central hierarchies of control and surveillance.
Or so the narrative goes.
By 2021, it’s self-evident that the liberal conceit in its promotion of free speech is just that; arrogance that covers for the fact that western society is very much Putnamian. We do not have a system of distributed consensus resting on full freedom of speech or a “marketplace of ideas” in which anyone may hawk their theories to popular acclaim. Institutions implicitly designed as the arbiters of official narratives, such as academia and the media, very much maintain a central hierarchy of control and surveillance. This group of institutions jealously guards its right to determine what information is true and false and what narratives are communicated to the public. They maintain an epistemological chokehold through the tyranny of expertise.7
I would emphasise that a “marketplace of ideas” is even more important for science than it is for democracy.
For Muslims to subscribe to the pseudo-orthodoxy being imposed by the media and state, conflating ijma‘ in shari’ah with the seeming consensus of scientific ‘experts’ makes no sense. Scientific consensus can all too easily be wrong and historically has often been so. Many a time a radical outsider has overturned it; starting with the overthrow of Aristotelianism all the way up to quantum theory and relativity replacing classical Newtonian physics. Science only exists by such revolutions, which are, however, unthinkable in shari’ah.
So it is inappropriate to apply ideas like consensus and even majority opinion to the physical sciences. It is also counter-scientific to regard science as sacred truth. Thus it is that, by and large, Muslims have accepted the viral thesis somewhat uncritically, although nervously trying to reconcile it with specific hadith that refute the idea of contagion. We have subscribed almost unquestioningly to the efficacy of vaccines and thus to what Shaykh Abdalhaqq Bewley pointed out as Francis Bacon’s contribution to our sorry plight:
After Francis Bacon’s famous dictum, “God works in nature only by secondary causes”, theological truth and scientific truth parted company, and the depth to which the scientific materialist worldview has penetrated human consciousness cannot be overestimated. It is a thorough and continual indoctrination process with which we are bombarded every day of our lives. In the so-called “real world” the Divine has nothing to do with what goes on and we are told that, in fact, it is secondary causes that really make things happen.8
The scientific worldview of Bacon confines God to acting in the world through secondary causes, whereas we believe that Allah is the direct cause of everything that is and that happens. In our understanding, it is not whether we should or should not take the vaccine that is the issue, but rather whether we see it as an effective agent on its own.
Diderot, in his famous last words to his sister was right: ‘The beginning of philosophy is scepticism’, and you might substitute ‘science’ for ‘philosophy’ in that. In terms of scientific knowledge, authority and ‘experts’ have no place. Scepticism is very necessary. Science is an untidy and quarrelsome conversation, just as are democracies and republics. If science is to be replaced by a dogma and democracy by despotism, we are in trouble.
My contention here, however, is not that we must adopt a specific position vis-à-vis the viral outbreak and the use of vaccines, for or against. We should accept that these are scientific and medical issues and not simply adopt the views of ‘the authorities’, who have previously lied in so many cases that it is unthinkable to take their word. Similarly, we should be wary of ‘experts’, whose consensus or otherwise is simply no proof. The views of the mainstream media are equally suspect. They are in the business of selling news, and regrettably there seems to have been a brisk market in panic.
However, it is in our understanding of health, from the treasury of the deen, that Muslims have a very real contribution to make in this area. Tibb, medicine, also called hikmah, wisdom, assumes that health is a positive in itself that must be first defined and then worked towards. Life is a dynamic constantly tending to imbalance. The work of man, equally, being to re-balance, constantly, much in the same way as homeostasis9 in the body.
Diet has always been considered of prime importance and almost all works on Tibb have comprehensive accounts of what and what not to eat, sometimes with a great deal of detail as to regimens in different climatic settings.10 It is evident that a great deal of the most devastating effects of the pandemic have come from what are called underlying conditions or co-morbidities, obesity and diabetes being the most prominent. In other words, diet and lifestyle play a greater part than the virus itself which, as one observer noted, simply ‘unmasks’ the underlying condition.
From a fiqh perspective, as Ibn Juzayy al-Kalbi points out, correct attention to our diet can raise the act of eating and satisfying the appetites to an act of ‘ibadah. With the purpose of gaining health, vital for the worship of Allah, together with a striving for deeper knowledge indeed brings the deen into effect.
Health is not merely the elimination of disease.
Treatment of illness is included in a chapter at the end of many works on Prophetic medicine after the vital material on the nature of reality, the nature of the human being and on how to live. Indeed, the Prophetic understanding is that illness itself has beneficial aspects, and is not just something to be defeated, rather a purification.
We have elaborated the medical and scientific subversion of politics at some length; the pandemic being declared an emergency. It was Carl Schmitt who wrote:
‘Sovereign is he who decides on the exception.’11
Emergencies are used as excuses for the suspension of liberties and the creeping introduction of totalitarianism.
The Muslim perspective on politics lately has been done a great disservice by certain adherents of the so-called ‘Islamic state’. Rather than contesting the political power of the state, we could best contribute something by embodying good polity: community leadership constrained by the limits of the shari’ah and by sh?r? – mutual counsel. The time for committees – an institution from French Revolutionary Paris not from Mad?nah al-Munawwarah – along with tame or disgruntled imams must be over. As Ibn Khaldun avows, the scholar is not equipped to lead, and we are sorely in need of leadership, in however humble a community. Possibly the most significant issue such new leaders can attend to is the local collection and local distribution of zakat.12 Such work and the salat itself cannot be carried out by people who are socially distanced, wearing masks and in a state of fear for their life, all the while monitored by an intrusive police-state.
In our confronting the issues before us and trying to evaluate where we stand, there is a treasure trove in the Muslim understanding of the word ‘aql. Commonly, ‘aql is equated with the rational intellect, something which has been absorbed into the dominant culture to a disastrous effect. ‘Aql, as any intelligent person since Plato knows, is a multi-dimensioned form of intellection, of which rationality is only a single dimension. We certainly have more than a clue when Allah, exalted is He, speaks of the heart as ‘exercising ‘aql’. Reprimanding the unbelievers, He says, ‘and do they not have hearts to understand (ya‘qilun) with.’ (Surat al-Hajj 22:46) This is underscored in recent discoveries made in neuroscience which show that there is no such thing as a thought without an emotion,13 that the very idea of purely objective thinking does not exist, and that thus the fundaments of all the sciences, not excluding neuroscience, are deeply flawed. Clearly the response to this is not to simply flip into a ‘religious’ way of thinking (or the lack of it) but to have a deeper understanding of what intellection might be in order to regain revelation. One of the most fatal oversights in the nihilistic contemporary misunderstanding is just that; the psychopathic and sociopathic response that a purely Cartesian approach comes close to expressing.
Returning to our main theme – the over-management by corporation and state – Mussolini defined fascism as the marriage of corporation and state, a good idea he thought although most of us do not, allowing for the imposition of a single view of existence, life, health and illness. In the UK today we are being subjected to a similar overarching orientation from mainstream allopathic corporate-backed practice, which in spite of its undeniable gains in some areas, has no right to lay claim to.
Troublingly, the British people are led by a man and a party who trumpeted the undemocratic ways of Strasbourg and Brussels. Yet now Britons find themselves locked up on a small island with a political class that seem to take pleasure in rule by diktat and Prime-Ministerial executive orders.
The theory of democracy, although an often untidy and anarchic affair, is that it is dependent on an informed population able to find out what they need to know about any issue, and who are mature enough to make good decisions for their own wellbeing and those of their loved ones and indeed for society at large. Dispensing with that aspiration is ominous for us all, reducing us to so many worker drones to be managed from birth to death. In the seesaw between democracy and autocracy, we have a unique perspective since our way is of leadership being constrained by shari’ah and moderated by the mutual counsel that pervades Muslim society from top to bottom, and which is an obligation on leadership to avail of.14
So, we are faced with a situation: a government imposition of extraordinary powers after declaring ‘an emergency’, those emergency powers then becoming a part of the status quo. The historical precedents for such a predicament are not reassuring, indeed our political thinkers and philosophers warn us against such.
The government would be well advised to back off before the public seize the option of civil disobedience that retired Supreme Court Justice Lord Sumption appears to have sanctioned:
‘I do not believe that there is a moral obligation to obey the law… You have to have a high degree of respect, both for the object that the law is trying to achieve, and for the way that it’s been achieved. Some laws invite breach. I think this is one of them.’15
Although many people have been panicked into accepting emergency measures in the belief that they are for the common good and limited to dealing with a state of exception, many are becoming cynical if not outright recalcitrant. This resistance does not come out of nowhere. The people – remember ‘the people’? – are not happy and rightly so. Not only is it politically deeply suspect, as the Church leaders say, but ‘the science’ (remember ‘the science’?) – of both the viral outbreak, the vaccine, and the other measures taken to combat it – are so contended by serious people, not merely ‘conspiracy theorists’ and social media pundits, that it would be deeply wrong and quite arbitrary to impose Covid passes and the other arguably totalitarian measures that now appear to be on the agenda.
That apparently dismal picture betokens the desperation of an order that senses its time is over. As a Palestinian proverb says:
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‘When something increases and goes beyond the limit, it is overturned and transformed into its opposite.’
While that doesn’t necessarily presage an ‘age of Aquarius’ or any other utopian delusion, it must alert us to the fact that our current situation is so extreme that some great change is necessarily in the offing, and the future belongs to those who do not build their camp in the past but avail of its best aspects to forge something new.
31/5/2021 & 19th Shawwal 1442
1 This article owes its origin to a request by Imam Abdullah Hasan of the BBSI. I am indebted to Shaykh Abdalhaqq Bewley for his encouragement, Hajj Abdarrazzak Goodall for his careful editing, and Hajj Abdalhasib Castiñeira for some valuable suggestions.
6 Giorgio Agamben, ‘Medicine as Religion’: https://itself.blog/2020/05/02/giorgio-agamben-medicine-as-religion/?fbclid=IwAR3leFhbiFzdbCeHf6EP3YeZOyC67r0_QDLwJwkEX55yVgl9PPz7EuZiLkQ
8 Abdalhaqq Bewley, The Natural Form of Man, p. 19, Diwan Press.
9 ‘the tendency towards a relatively stable equilibrium between interdependent elements, especially as maintained by physiological processes.’ Oxford Dictionary
See also: Dr Muhammad Jordi Dalmau, ‘The Metamorphosis of the Self – A Neurobiology of Consciousness’, https://themuslimfaculty.org/metamorphosis-self/
10 If from the perspective of four element theory which we have less access to than previously. Nevertheless, the lesson about the importance of diet and lifestyle is worthwhile and one very consonant with much of contemporary thinking.
11 Carl Schmitt, ‘Definition of Sovereignty’, Political Theology – Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty.
13 See the work of neuroscientist Antonio Damasio.
14 Aisha Bewley, Democratic Tyranny and the Islamic Paradigm.