Should Muslims be Left-wing or Right-Wing? Why Muslims Don’t Need Dr Jordan Peterson

Dr Peterson, a Canadian clinical psychologist, rose to fame (or infamy) when he challenged a proposed law in Canada which would potentially criminalise as “a form of discrimination” those who use the wrong gender pronoun for people identifying as a different gender to their biological sex (e.g. “transgender”).

Dr Peterson soon became a favourite of many espousing Right-wing and centre-Left politics in the West, but soon met with an equally strong hostile reaction from far-Left activists, especially those for whom Transgender rights are the latest front in the West’s “cultural wars”.

Now, Dr Jordan Peterson, has become a figure of controversy amongst Muslims too, strangely, with Dr Peterson causing a divide between some Muslims(!), as Muslims praise or condemn each other based upon whether they praise or condemn Dr Peterson (a lot of time with foul language ignoring the prohibitions of Islam against Muslims insulting or using nicknames against each other).
I’ve seen many Muslims around the world who admire Jordan Peterson, praising him for his “self-help” guides for men and male confidence and attitude, as well as Peterson’s critique of far-left (“Radical Feminist”, “Progressive”, “Neo-Marxist” or “Postmodernist”) activism in the West.
On the other side, many Muslims in the West who have adopted left-wing ideologies – criticise Dr Peterson, but not because he’s un-Islamic or because he’s a non-Muslim who openly rejects the Prophet Muhammed (SAAW) and therefore shouldn’t be an object of emulation by Muslims. Instead, they denounce him under the pretext he’s a “Conservative” and they claim he’s even a conspiratorial cover for far-right racism or even “White Supremacism”.
Furthermore, any criticisms of the far-left Western ideologies by Muslims, are responded to very defensively by “Left-wing Muslims” with the argument that “you sound like Dr Peterson”! Which is not an intellectual argument by any stretch of the imagination. It’s about as ridiculous as saying that those against animal vivisection sound like Nazis (who weirdly were one of the first to implement laws banning vivisection against animals in Europe).
Those Muslims supporting Dr Peterson argue that he makes good points about male self-help, and good criticisms against Feminism, the totalitarianism of marxism and fascism, and anti-intellectual (and anti-essentialist) postmodernist thought.
On the other side, “left-wing Muslims” argue that Dr Peterson is supported by right-wing racists, ethno-nationalists and anti-Islam bigots.
It doesn’t seem to have occurred to many of these disputants that they’re both right (to an extent), and that the left-wing is right about the right-wing, and that the right-wing is right about the left-wing. To adapt an old joke about the halves of George Bush’s brain, what’s left isn’t right, and what’s right has nothing good left.

Muslims Unwittingly Embroiled in the Western “Culture War”

It’s bad enough that some Muslims lack the ability to have civil discourse between Islamic madhahib (schools of thought), but it becomes outright ludicrous for them to even be involved in internal Western culture wars between rival (non-Islamic) schools of thought. It then becomes tragically outrageous, that Muslims should then hate each other over the differences amongst non-Islamic Western schools of thought!
Furthermore, many Muslims simply don’t realise or understand that the right-and-left political positioning tool is a sort of measurement scale to assessment what school of thought a political position lies within the Western Enlightenment project. 

The Left & Right Scale within the Western Enlightenment Project

The “Enlightenment” [1] is a name self-congratulatory Western historians use to describe the birth of a new political philosophy and morality in the West – political individualism – or the supremacy of the individual over all things and therefore the primary concern of politics and morality.
The Enlightenment is sometimes called “the liberal tradition”, owing to the fact that the Enlightenment refers to the term used by Enlightenment philosophers, liberality (or “generosity” in politics).
The right and left originally referred to the physical wings in the French Parliament during the French Revolution, when those who were sitting to the right of the parliamentary president supported conserving the institutions of the old French government to preserve order. Those who sat on the left generally wanted to create radical change according to ideological formulas based upon their interpretation of liberté, égalité, fraternité. In today’s world, Conservatives mainly argue that institutions and traditions bring order and are the best way to protect “freedom” (the Constitution of the USA being a tradition held in such authority as a guarantor of rights), whereas the left-wing want to create changes towards a more “equal” world.
The more “far” left a position is, the more change towards equality it is associated with. For example, socialists who believe in absolute equal distribution of all resources and wealth to everyone are called far-left. The more “far” right a position is, the more conserving the political position is, and the extreme right is associated with those who want to roll back society and laws to a past time – say, e.g. a more Christian time for some Christian Dominionists.

liberalism, the American Civil War & liberalism 2.0

The current form of liberalism dominant in the West is known as “Social liberalism” – basically a type of liberalism where people and society can be interfered beyond simply preventing violence and theft, for the sake of “protecting their rights” to ensuring “equality of opportunity”. It might surprise many people to know that those who want to go back to the older form of liberalism (called today “Classical liberalism”) are today called right-wingers – despite the fact that they believe in the original (but now defunct) type of liberalism which basically argues for only “equality under the law”, and that as long as you don’t commit violence or theft, the state leaves you alone. Tax is only for a minimal police force to prevent violence and theft.

It might also surprise you to know that, in USA history, Republicans supported (and instituted) the abolition of Slavery due to arguments that Slavery contradicted the [Classical] liberal doctrine of freedom of the individuals. Perhaps more importantly for Republicans, they wanted a strongly unitary Federal state, in order for the state to be strong enough to do its job “protecting” individual freedom.

Meanwhile, the Democrats in the 19th century SUPPORTED the slave-owning agricultural-based Southern States of the USA (under the argument that agriculture makes people independent of Government, and so preserving agricultural independence preserved freedom against government control or exploitation by greedy industry owners). Of course, the Democrats “ignored” that agriculture in the South used inhumane industrialised slave labour of African-Americans. These Democrats argued against Federalism, and advocated a looser “Confederation”, giving individual U.S. States “more freedom” against the potential tyrannies of a strong centralised government.

However, in the 20th century, as liberalism failed and people suffered poor economic (and social) conditions, the demand for change and new solutions to liberalism’s failures, meant that the Republicans – who didn’t want to make major changes to the system – became identified with being Conservative, and the Democrats, who embraced implementing changes based upon the new formulas of “Social liberalism” (which promises protection of the individual against not just violence/theft, but also against “social oppression” caused by a purely Capitalist economy not giving everyone the opportunity to work for even basic necessities). Eventually, the Democrats new policies advancing Social liberalism (or liberalism 2.0 as I call it), became identified as “left-wing”.

Naming Confusions – when a liberal isn’t a Liberal

For the sake of clarity, the word “Liberal” with a capital “L”, refers to the names of left-wing parties who named themselves that in Europe (e.g. the Liberal Party, the Liberal Democrat Party). However, many Conservatives who are Classical liberals, are also liberal, but for the sake of clarity (and because it isn’t a proper noun), academia and media call them “liberal” with no capitalisation. Sometimes this causes confusion, with some Muslims being confused at the term “Conservative liberalism” used to refer to the beliefs of Classical liberals in Conservative parties. Also “Liberal conservatism” refers to Conservatives who are liberal in economics, but conservative for social institutions and culture (like the ruling UK party, the Conservative Party).

Was the Prophet Muhammed (SAAW) Left-Wing or Right-Wing?

It should be evident now that “right-wing” and “left-wing” are simply measures of the madhahib (schools of thought) within the principles of Western Enlightenment tradition, and nothing to do with Islam.
Muslims should not be Conservative or left-wing/Liberal since both sides contradict the Islamic worldview. It’s like asking whether Muslims can be Catholic Trinitarians or Protestant Trinitarians – the madhab (school of thought) really isn’t the biggest issue here!
Islam is a transformational project, which came to change the world, call to the Creator and bring justice and mercy. Therefore, Islam can’t be conservative because it advocates the change of society and culture to align all people to their created purpose outlined in the Quran and Sunnah. Islam didn’t come to preserve or conserve unIslamic aspects of cultures, customs and beliefs. It came to create change to re-centre humans back upon a way of life in accordance with their fitrah (nature)
Islam can’t be “left-wing” either, because Islam doesn’t command change towards “equality” (legal or social identicality) or greater “individualism”. Islam came to advocate justice as balance, not identicality (e.g. men are head of households, but that is balanced by men also being burdened with providing for them). Islam sets correct limits to guide human nature (by He who made it and knows best the right limits for it), and lastly, Islam ordained mercy and kindness as giving what people need, not necessarily what they wantonly desire.
Islam is therefore not Classical liberal, because the Islamic conception of state intervenes not just against violence or theft, but to prevent public corruption of morals (like acts committed or revealed publicly, such as fornication, adultery, same-sex intercourse or alcohol drinking – whether done consensually or not). Islam also prohibits interest banking, even if interest loan contracts were entered into consensually.
Islam contradicts Social liberalism on a number of matters, in that Islam positively advocates gender roles both in culture and recognised by law (which Social liberalism would consider a socially imposed “inequality”).
Secondly, Islam wouldn’t consider the public criticism and social unacceptability of un-Islamic lifestyles to be “social intolerance”. Which ironically in Social liberalist societies is the very thing it is intolerant about. And in the name of “tolerance”, Social liberal states prosecute against people for expressing opinions, and enforce education programs in public or even private schools, where children are taught to consider all lifestyle choices as being morally equal choices – so much for “state neutrality” then…
As for the far-left position of Marxism/Socialism, well, this is the next evolution of the Enlightenment’s “equality” concept. Marxism/Socialism takes equality for individuals to its ultimate and logical conclusion – absolute equality amongst all individuals.
Islam doesn’t see economic hierarchy or unequal distribution of wealth to be a problem – only the concentration of wealth in Capitalist societies that cause a lack of resources being available for individuals to meet their basic needs. [For a more detailed refutation of Socialist economics, see link at the bottom].
As for Postmodernism, well, Postmodernism would condemn Islam for being an ideological “hegemony”, imposing one “truth” on everyone, while it believes that there is no possibility of knowing objective truth. Therefore Postmodernism would consider the belief in a God to be only subjective truth, with no right to be called a certain or objective truth. Of course, both Marxism and Postmodernism consider gender roles to be “social domination” and “unjust”.

Every time you hear a Muslim claiming that the Quran can be interpreted any which way an individual wants – and the original intent of the author (Allah) is irrelevant – that’s a postmodernist (or “poststructuralist” if we’re being technical). In theory, this means that a postmodernist “Muslim” could interpret the Quranic verse “God is One”, as there being multiple gods who are united into a group called “God” (like the Christian Trinity concept, which the Christians also say doesn’t contradict “God is One”). According to Postmodernism, that’s a valid “interpretation”.

Suffice to say, Islam isn’t compatible with Postmodernism…

Why Muslims Don’t Need Jordan Peterson

Clearly, both aforementioned groups of Muslims have approached the topic of Peterson from a wrong perspective. They approached Dr Peterson from his utility (or hostility) to their position in the Western “Culture Wars”. Unfortunately, Dr Jordan Peterson hasn’t been evaluated from an Islamic perspective.

Firstly, Dr Peterson rejects the Prophethood of Muhammed (SAAW). Why should he be, then, a source of emulation for Muslims? Furthermore, Peterson describes the Prophet Muhammed (SAAW) derogatorily as a “warlord”. A warlord is defined as a military commander who controls a part of a broken or fractured state by force. 7th Century Arabia wasn’t a unitary state that was fractured before the Prophet Muhammed (SAAW), nor did the Prophet (SAAW) rule by force (alone), but by the conviction of the people (Muslims) in his call.

The current faction leaders in the Muslim world, who rule purely by fear and force, and who preside over the fractured remains of the 1,300 year Muslim Caliphate (successorship to the Prophet [SAAW]) are the dictionary definition of “warlords”.

Secondly, Dr Peterson’s self-help for males is unnecessary, as the Quran, the Sunnah of the Prophet and the good examples recorded of the companions are sufficient (and abundant) in guidance for Muslim males (and females) in how to be real males (and females) upon their fitrah.

Many Muslim males feel dejected or emasculated after colonialism. It is understandable that they would want to flock to anyone who promised them self-esteem and dignity. However, it is ironic and completely counter-productive to attempt to remedy low self-esteem and dejection over Western supremacy, by flocking to Western liberal intellectuals for guidance. Until Muslims are confident and derive self-worth from their own deen, they will never achieve dignity or honour (as a tradition of Umar narrates).

Thirdly, what genuinely can be learned from Dr Peterson are mostly studies that were conducted by others, and can equally be learned from publically available books and research papers. Dr Peterson may know a wealth of clinical data and studies, which some find easier (or lazier) to hear him (briefly) mention, rather than studying it for themselves. This is the only kind of information that can be learned for Dr Peterson. However, many studies are limited to only observing how humans behave in certain situations (but not forgetting that results vary under a specific cultural/civilisational conditions). Despite this, science only reveals how things work, not how they “should” work.

Fourthly, Dr Peterson, as a psychologist, can only offer speculative, symbolic (and thanks to Freud, cynically suspicious) interpretations of human motivations, and therefore cannot benefit real knowledge. Psychology is an attempt to study human subconsciousness, but caution must be used because a lot of Psychology is based upon speculation and theories about what psychologists believe humans want, and as such, they produce conclusions that are prescriptive but are really just assumptions of a “purpose” based upon an ideological worldview, like for example, “Evolutionary psychology,” where human motivations are assessed as desiring merely to spread genes (when they are not) – leading to incorrect interpretations of clinical results (e.g. the claim that humans weren’t meant to be monogamous as a norm).

Additionally, using the speculations of Freud and Jung also misinterprets human motivations and leads to suspicion behind even the most innocuous of actions, as being overly sexual, egotistical (ego a Greek term appropriated by Freud) or about domination.

The Quran teaches Speculation (dhunn) doesn’t avail against the truth.

Fifthly, Dr Peterson doesn’t have any real solutions. He highlights the problem of sexual harassment, revealing clothing and flirtation in the workplace, but his liberal (yes, liberal) position of individual “freedom” prevents him from advocating any legal limitations that a real and comprehensive solution to the problem requires. Islam has no such impediments.
Sixthly, Dr Peterson is confused. His love-hate admiration for Nietzsche is self-contradictory (and self-defeating) and admiration for Jung means he doesn’t take his Christianity very seriously. Peterson’s Jungian lens means he interprets the bible symbolically (just like all other liberal Christians) and not literally (as it says in the texts). His citations of Nietzsche ignores the implicit moral nihilism in his work [2]  – which ultimately destroys any pretence to real morality Peterson could ever advocate (and you’ll notice he can’t actually justify his claims to good and bad, or why “chaos” is a bad thing. In fact, Peterson advocates individualistic creativity and freedom to define one’s own morals and meanings and purpose, but then in the next breathe (so to speak) decries the “chaos” of the ideologies of the radical left-wing. Dr Peterson is a product of post-modernism (to an extent), he just doesn’t realise it, nor can he avoid the logical conclusion of it in the ideology he adopts).
Seventhly, Dr Peterson misrepresents neo-Marxism and Postmodernism and has made a number of factual errors, to the extent that his analysis of these other ideologies and movements can be not be trusted without independent study.
For example, his claim that neo-Marxists became disillusioned with Marxism after the atrocities of the Soviet Union became public, and “changed form” into postmodernists is historically and demonstrably false. Marxists were still going strong in Europe, well after the publication of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s “The Gulag Archipelago” in 1973. For example, the Communist and Socialist parties continued to win strong proportions of the populace in France well into the 1980s.
Peterson uses an argument he borrowed from another poorly researched book by Professor Stephen Hicks, that Social Justice Warriors and Postmodernists were just a secret conspiracy of failed Marxists to deliberately destroy Western civilisation from within. This too is a false and inaccurate representation of neo-Marxists and Postmodernists – who want to change the existing order into their own versions of “utopia”.
Furthermore, While Neo-Marxists and Postmodernists influenced each other, and borrowed from each other, they were, and remain, two different streams of thought. The confusion lies in the fact that many “social justice” movements today have neo-Marxist influenced thinkers, and Postmodernist influenced thinkers, and their ideas sometimes are a hybrid of both. E.g. “Radical feminism” has Marxist feminists and Postmodernist Feminists, and since Marxism is a social theory, you’ll find Feminists using Marxist social analysis with a gender-based lens (instead of the Marxist fixation of economic class), mixed with postmodernists methods for activism (like .e.g. “storytelling as a method of challenging “hegemony” of socially dominating “narratives” about gender [by the way- they’d class Islam too as one such narrative that needs to be challenged for the sake of female “liberation”].
So, if independent study and confirmation is required to check what Dr Peterson is saying is true, why do we need Dr Peterson in the first place? Study and critique Karl Marx, the Frankfurt school of Neo-Marxists, and the postmodernists of Foucault, Derrida and Lyotard yourself.
Lastly, Peterson, for all his arguments against the radical left-wing social egalitarianism, nihilism and his criticisms of fascism and Socialism (economic egalitarians), doesn’t realise that his ideological position, individualism, ultimately leads to these conclusions. Peterson is like a man stuck in a canoe upstream in a fast-moving river, which branches off into many channels, all of which end up in a different abyss. Peterson is calling people to join him in his canoe, while vehemently refusing to acknowledge the fact that the very river he is on, is the problem, not the position he occupies on it.

Conclusion

Muslims are commanded to call to justice and be witnesses to the truth, wherever we are. To achieve this, we must investigate our own Deen, work towards following it (comprehensively in the Muslim world and individually and socially as Muslims in the West) – demonstrating the truth of Islam, and showing the superiority of Islamic solutions to the problems of today, compared with the failed and ignorant solutions of those who lack guidance.
Muslims should not be confused by those who say things that appear similar to the Islamic belief in some things. Those outside Islam may only incidentally agree with Islam in somethings, but they usually only do so for different reasons, under a different basis and for different purposes.
Closeness is not a criterion for truth. We need to avoid adopting philosophies just because “they’re close(r)” to Islam.

It was narrated that ‘Umar ibn al-Khattaab (RA) came to the Prophet (SAAW) with some written material he had got from one of the people of the Book. He read it to the Prophet (SAAW), and the Prophet (SAAW) got angry and said: “Are you confused (about your religion), O son of al-Khattaab? By the One in Whose hand is my soul, I have brought it (the message of Islam) to you clear and pure. Do not ask them about anything, lest they tell you something true and you disbelieve it, or they tell you something false and you believe it. By the One in Whose hand is my soul, if Musa were alive, he would have no option but to follow me.”

This is not to say that Muslim cannot take knowledge from outside Islamic scripture, it’s simply the fact that many Muslims today don’t know what knowledge even is.
Knowledge is of two kinds, the first is, what is or isn’t (e.g. what exists, how it works) and the second is what you should or shouldn’t do (ethics or morals, what is good or bad).

Muslims can take as much (provenly observed) knowledge as possible about the universe, life and humans (e.g. within physics,  biology, mathematics, linguistics, psychiatry etc). But anything to do with what you should or shouldn’t do – are moral questions (e.g. ethics, morals, political philosophy), and have no validity or justification outside the command of God.

For example, a doctor may recommend you eat a lot of fibre for a healthy digestive system.
This isn’t actually a “should” because the doctor says so. We know that fibre is good for digestion and avoids corruption (i.e. unhealthiness) of the body. Fibre is conducive to digestion is an observed fact, a “what is”. Keeping the body healthy is an Islamically commanded “good” – because of the command that we look after the property of Allah (SWT) as a trust, i.e. our bodies. Therefore Islam renders eating sufficient fibre for health as a “should” (not the doctor).
The physical sciences, the study of rules-based balancing of quantities for real-world application (mathematics), the application of physical science models in construction and tool-making (engineering and technology) & the studies of language (linguistics) can be fully adopted by Muslims because these are to do with the observable world God created. Likewise, Muslims should study politics, history and current events in order to be able to manoeuvre our Islamic position in the world (like how the Prophet Muhammed [SAAW] as leader of Madinah kept up to date with politics and current events).
However, while Muslims can study speculative moral and ethical systems, philosophies and belief systems these must only be for refutation, Dawah (knowing how the person you speak to thinks), cataloguing for research by Muslim anthropologists (to learn lessons for how humans act, think and can deviate without guidance, like how the Quran uses the example of Qawm Lut), but nothing else.
Therefore, leave the concepts and political, moral and ethical theories of justice and ethics held by Western pundits and so-called experts, and adhere only to Allah’s commands in the Quran and the teachings of His Prophet Muhammed (SAAW) [3].
And to those who argue “isn’t it arbitrary to base morality, what’s “right” or “wrong” and what we “should” or “shouldn’t” do, on the word of God?”, let us respond: “The entire universe is based upon the word of God “Be” with which He created it – why should morality be any different?”
‘Do you not see that Allah has made subject to you whatever is in the heavens and whatever is in the earth and amply bestowed upon you His favours, [both] apparent and unapparent? But of the people is he who disputes about Allah without knowledge or guidance or an enlightening Book [from Him]’ (Quran 31:20).

[1] Many people often confuse the Enlightenment for the Renaissance or the Scientific Revolution in the West. In short, they’re all different things. The Renaissance was the 12th-century CE rebirth of learning and technological innovation in the West. The Scientific Revolution was, well the birth of the modern Scientific Method and international measurement standardisation from the 16th-century CE. The Enlightenment was later in Western history, about 17-18th-century CE, and goes to show that liberalism isn’t the cause of science and technological innovation, and therefore not a prerequisite for any civilisation looking to materially advance.
[2] While technically Nietzsche is an existentialist, who seeks for humans to create their own morality, he does so while arguing there are no higher morals other than the fictions humans invent – which is why ironically, most people think Nietzsche advocated moral nihilism.
[3] For examples of Islamic political philosophy and solutions to worldly problems, see here Islamic Economics, also see Islamic political system, Islamic social system.


Categories: ARTICLES, Liberalism, WESTERN POLITICAL THOUGHT, WRITINGS

2 replies

  1. great article as always.

  2. Salaam Abdullah,

    If you get this message, i would like to ask for your recommendation on who to listen or watch online? You mention in the article a point about why some muslims follow Jordan Peterson and i agree its intellectually lazy to watch 5 minute clips on complex issues but its a pass time that most muslim youth engage in. Would love you hear your back from you.

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