Islam in the West and Cognitive Dissonance


During my time in Sweden I have met and come to know many Muslims who made me keenly aware of a phenomenon in the Muslim communities living in the West, “cognitive dissonance”.

Cognitive dissonance is the mental stress or discomfort experienced by an individual who holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values.

Orwellian Doublethink exists in the Islmaic scripture to begin with even if the west is not a factor, because of seemingly contradicting teachings included in the verses, verses of loving and hating the same group of people, wage war and make peace simultaneously and other things of the like.

This cognitive dissonance is amplified and further complicated when Muslim immigrants try to integrate into western society and adopt its values. Such cognitive dissonance comes from the Islamic doctrine being in such a stark opposition to the values held by western society where they now live in.

They often face conflicting thoughts and emotions, with regards to the teachings of the Islamic scripture and the values held in western society. This becomes even more apparent among Muslims who become absorbed by the left movement or become involved with anti racism activists, because of their immigrant welcoming attitude while these movements ironically, tend to be very feminist and pro LGBTQ rights.

They are confronted with dilemmas, how to call oneself a feminist and at the same time believe that god gave license to a man to beat his disobedient wife, that a woman’s testimony is half that of a man and that Muhammad said they are deficient in mind and that they are the majority of the inhabitants of hell.

How to call oneself pro gay rights or have gay friends while Islamic scripture says homosexual relations are punishable by death.

Then of course there are the other personal life style choices that they are confronted with on daily basis, the moderate Muslim who is hesitant whether to take a beer with his friends at a party, the hijabi girl who wonders how a non marital relationship with a non Muslim guy would work in practice, in addition to the consequences she would face from her family and community that could escalate to honor violence. The gay Muslim who struggles with reconciling his sexuality with his faith and how difficult it would be for him to be open with it within his community.

It is stressful, confusing and frustrating to be trying to hold those contradicting beliefs simultaneously.

For Muslims to get rid of this cognitive dissonance, they have three different paths:

– The first path: Muslims subject the scripture to critical thinking and reject the Islamic doctrine altogether as inherently incompatible with fundamental human rights, this was my personal experience, and that of many ex-Muslims worldwide whose numbers are growing by the day.

– The second path: Reject the parts of the Islamic scripture which are incompatible with fundamental human rights principles, to try to find a middle ground. especially when it comes to the views on women, homosexuals, apostates or non Muslims and free speech.

To this however comes an obstacle since the majority of Muslims believe the Quran to be the literal word of an omniscient god, and hold sahih (authentic) Hadith which is the words and actions of Muhammad, almost as equally sacred.

The majority of Muslims, even though they don’t literally follow the Islamic doctrine in action, and logically know that the Islamic doctrine is incompatible with modern society, still simultaneously believe that it is valid for all time and all place as the final message to humanity from God. Therein lies the crucial difference between how the majority of Muslims view Islam and what people of non Muslim background view it. The latter grossly underestimate the link between Islamic scripture and Islam and call the Quran and Hadith “dusty old books” written by men in ancient times , while to Muslims they are the eternal, literal divine truth.

So for that second path to be feasible, Muslims need to change their perspective of the Islamic scripture, into something more flexible.

– The third path: Muslims reject human rights principles due to incompatibility with the Islamic scripture, and embrace religious fundamentalism, leading to isolation and parallel societies, and the poverty and crime that arises therefrom.

I, being a proponent of immigration, would like nothing better than to see the integration project succeed, so I urge all Muslim immigrants to embrace the democratic secular values of the society we now live in. Furthermore I believe the liberals, the left and the anti racist camp need to help in integration not only by battling anti-immigrant sentiment, racism and xenophobia, but also by bringing newly arrived Muslim immigrants to the fold of the secular camp, and advocate secular values to them, since many of them are actually receptive to such ideas. The pro immigration movement should not , avoid discussing values which are crucial to our society, such as gender equality and gay rights, out of misguided sense of respect, fear of confrontation or offense. If we would do so, we wold help make integration and consequently immigration succeed and also help stem the rise of the far right.


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