Allah hu Akbar

Ever since 9/11 I have held two different and apparently contradictory views of radical Islam. On the one hand, as I came to understand Osama and his followers and the ideology that drove them, it was clear that they lived the world of the Crusades. That they saw the West through a medieval lens untransformed by either Reformation or Enlightenment. But something also made me feel that they were thoroughly modern people as well – post Reformation and post Enlightenment. I have oscillated between the two over the last five years trying to resolve the contradiction.

Over Christmas a friend made the point that when militant Muslims say ‘Allah hu Akbar’ (God is Great) it often feels more like they are really saying ‘We are great.’ Like they have identified with Allah and like any modern people they live from a condition that Jung called ego inflation. My friend and I are both Jungians so it made communicating the idea easier, but knowing Jung is not necessary to get the general idea. I am talking about overconfidence of a particular kind. hubris, pride, or as Australians put it – being up one’s self.

But Jung’s specialist psychological concept pertains specifically to the way our egos and religion can interact in a dangerous way and so is worth exploring. Here are two definitions from Internet glossaries of Jungian terms: The first is quite directly to the point – the individual identifying with something bigger then themselves – all the way up to God.

Inflation: An over expansion of the personality through identification with an archetype or, in pathological cases, with a historical or religious figure, which exceeds individual limitations.

The second definition address the more subtle aspects of exactly how things go wrong when individuals confuse themselves with great impersonal forces.

Inflation: identifying with a nonpersonal part of the psyche as though it were acquired individually. A regression into unconsciousness. … Inflation causes dissolution of the ego into its paired opposites (inferiority/megalomania, good/evil, etc.).

Without going into it further in this post this explanation of how people lose their balance and fall into extremism goes a long way toward understanding the Fascist identification with historical and racial archetypes, and hard core Communism’s insistence that the mass slaughters in Russia and China were justified because they served an idea of History as an impersonal force that was believed , incorrectly as it turned out, to be inevitable.

Because I have been involved with Islam and worshiped in the Islamic way praying as best I could in Arabic I have some feel for the basic stance of Islamic prayer and the attitude it takes toward God. I also have some academic background in comparative religion so I have some basis for understanding what various religions teach. Allah hu Akbar which is also the beginning words of the call to prayer – is not in any way something that should induce inflation. It is not bragging or a declaration of the superiority of the individual worshipers or of Islam itself. Implicit is the recognition and acknowledgment of God’s superiority. It is a confession of humility and I have always heard that attitude expressed among Muslims I have been with in prayer. But once an ordinary human being identifies with God they can easily forget their human limitations, of which prayer is designed to remind us, and become drunk with power. I can’t help but think of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran reporting that he saw himself surrounded by a luminous glow as he delivered a speech to the UN. The prospect of him being in control of nuclear weapons is not an encouraging thought. Those extremists slaughtering Muslim and non Muslim alike are clearly carried away by a fanaticism that bears no relationship to normal religious practice.

So my friend finished her thought by saying that we are getting the worst of both worlds – religious fanaticism combined with modern ego inflation. They are both medieval religious absolutists and puffed up moderns who have fallen into an identification with transpersonal forces much as those other early modern extremists Fascists and Communists did.

It reminds me of the German belt buckles from both World Wars that bore the legend, “Gott mit uns.” (God is with us.) The irreverent English Tommies that faced them just said: “We got mittens too.” Ridicule of inflation is good way to remind ourselves that when facing seriously deluded people we must be careful not to become deluded ourselves. In the end keeping our balance will go along way to defeat extremists who have lost their balance and with it their humility and far too much of their humanity.


One Response to “Allah hu Akbar”  

  1. 1 John

    Bob Dylan’s With God On Our Side says it all— but with reference to western and American history. And the history being “created” by those now in the White House etc. Bringing “jesus” and “freedom” to the “unchurched”.
    All summed up in the title of a book: One Market Under God.

    Aaron Nevilles’s version of the song is heart breaking.

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