The book should be examined under the light of relation between Islam and the West. The author V S. Naipaul has brought out a huge volume about his travels in four Muslim countries, which all of them are the non Arab. Obviously the book is a sequel to a book he wrote on the same four places 7 years earlier. The first book was called Among the Believers: An Islamic Journey; the new one is Beyond Belief: Islamic Excursions Among the Converted Peoples.
BEYOND BELIEF received a huge attention and has been reviewed everywhere in the prestige English and American press.
Even though V.S. Naipaul gained a very high reputation and knighted as Sir in 1989, he is neither a professional Orientalist nor a thrill seeker. But his writing in this book has the same language as the one used by Orientalist like Bernard Lewis in his version of “What Went Wrong” and “The Root of Muslim’s Rage”. He believed that it was the nature of Islam that causes the problem among the believers, particularly the non Arabs whom he called as “the converts”.
In Naipaul’s opinion, the underdevelopment of countries and people in Africa and Asia are simply because the people themselves failed to absorb Western ideas like industrialisation and modernisation. These are people, Naipaul says in one of his books, who know how to use a telephone but can neither fix nor invent one. For Naipaul, Islam is worse than most other problems of the Third World. Ironically, Beyond Belief is dedicated to his Muslim wife Nadira whose ideas or feelings are not referred to.
In the first book he does not learn anything — they, the Muslims, prove what he already knows. He always believed that the retreat to Islam is “stupefaction”. He travels among Muslims and writes about it. Muslims provide him with stories, which he records as instances of “Islam.”
Thus the existence of one billion Muslims is summed up in a phrase and dismissed. Islam’s error was at “its origins — the error that ran through Islamic history: to the political issues it raised it offered no political or practical solution. It offered only the faith. It offered only the Prophet, who would settle everything — but who had ceased to exist. This political Islam was rage, anarchy.” All the examples Naipaul gives, all the people he speaks to tend to align themselves under the Islam vs. The West opposition he is determined to find everywhere.
If that is the case, why Naipaul bothered to rewrite again a huge volume of the same repeated ideas later? What can we justify is that he believed that he has a new important views upon Islam and Muslim.
If you are not an Arab — Islam being a religion of the Arabs — then you are a convert. As converts to Islam, Malaysians, Pakistanis, Iranians, and Indonesians necessarily suffer the fate of the inauthentic. For them Islam is an acquired religion which cuts them off from their traditions, leaving them neither here nor there. What Naipaul attempts to document in his new book is the fate of the converted, people who have lost their own past but have gained little from their new religion except more confusion, more unhappiness, more (for the Western reader) comic incompetence, all of it the result of conversion to Islam.
This ridiculous argument would suggest by extension that only a native of Rome can be a good Roman Catholic; other Catholic Italians, Spaniards, Latin Americans, Philipinos who are converts are inauthentic and cut off from their traditions. According to Naipaul, then, Anglicans who are not British are only converts and they too, like the Malaysians or Iranian Muslims, are doomed to a life of imitation and incompetence since they are converts.
In effect, the 400-page Beyond Belief is based on nothing more than this rather idiotic and insulting theory. The greatest pity is that Naipaul’s latest book on Islam will be considered a major interpretation of a great religion, and more Muslims will suffer and be insulted. And the gap between them and the West will increase and deepen.
V.S. Naipaul and his BEYOND BELIEF are indeed serve the new version of “White Men’s Burden’.
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