What Makes Muslims Tick 4 – Manufacturing Motivation

Imagine you have been tasked with persuading Muslims to commit to a cause. Any cause. Assume you have been given free rein to cook up your motivational speech (and narrative) so that you have at your disposal all the scriptural motivations to select from as specimen. In your lab, you are a scientist. No, you are an artist. Now prove yourself a bonifide motivation artist and get as many Muslims to commit to your new cause for the longest period (a lifetime if possible) with the most dedication. If you are not sure where to begin, consider followers of some real reigning Muslims political or charity or advocacy (Da’wah) groups, then inspect the scriptural motivations behind their convictions. Now it is not so difficult is it? The trick is that the scriptural motivations may not be apparent, you might have to tease them out of chatter.

Ideologies often conceal scriptural motivations behind veils of inspiring narratives. For instance you might hear so much about how a certain Muslim group struggle to implement Shariah law (which is perfection or scary depending on the narrative you get), or the Muslim group who are quick to respond to charitable causes perhaps due to their universal concept of fraternity, or the proselytizing Muslim group that never tires from preaching regardless of rejection. But you hear very little about the Qur’an verses and traditions of the Prophet that promise rewards for these acts or praise these acts as noble, especially if you are non-Muslim (the only exception being 72 “virgins” which probably says more about those fixating on it than the militants it is attributed to).

No matter the obvious paradoxes, many abhor tribal representation of their struggles even if the discerning mind observes the contrary, especially among the political struggles. This is because the scripture frowns at any form of tribalism, racism and their derivatives. In cases where the struggle has tribalism written all over it, solace is found in having scriptural motivations (text) that one could always fall back on, in order to convince the self, or to create an uncontradictory reality. Having a scriptural motivation is very important then because it doesn’t only motivate, it legitimizes.

What would be the ultimate Muslim scriptural motivation? Well, it will largely depend on the targets of the scriptural motivation; the popular-Salafi or the popular-Sufi, which approximate the Salafi inclined and the Sufi inclined respectively. Based on common knowledge, and the previous posts, we can (mentally) correlate a target to a cause; popular-Salafis are more responsive to political radicalism whereas popular-Sufis are more responsive to charities. So to answer the question: scriptural motivations of reward and punishment (and threats of apostasy) would be more effective in political causes, while scriptural motivations of duty and pleasing God would be more effective in (sustainable) charity causes.

Scala Man - Bundled

It then is no wonder that many of the flourishing/reigning Muslim political causes have scriptural motivations of reward, punishment and Kufr behind their narrative of victimization. Thus instead of calling to establishing justice, it is the reward of fighting against “oppressors”. Instead of calling for decency in conduct, it is the fear of punishment (through natural disasters) that would engulf a nation that tolerates lewd acts. Instead of challenging a (governing or banking) system for its inadequacy and social harms (sins), it is Kufr-accusations that come with participating in those systems. Of course, in all the examples it is more a matter of emphasis rather than omission i.e. other motivations may be present but it is dominated by reward, punishment and Kufr.

Certainly Muslims have too much respect for scripture to fabricate its content in this day and age. Therefore all the scriptural motivations are validly used, and shouldn’t be an issue if used because it is then simply a matter of choice to use motivations of rewards and punishment or not. So it may seem, at first. There are two immediate implications. First, Muslims perform actions of religious importance according to the logic of the Calculating Self, which we saw is similar to the Atheistic conceptions of Muslims. Second, Islamic jurisprudence could be manipulated to extract a (legal) scriptural motivation which Muslims will feel obliged to uphold; it is a powerful tool to be able to convince a person that your cause is an obligation on them by God Himself. The first implication is self-explained, the second issue requires elucidation to understand how Islamic Jurisprudence can be used to arrive at scriptural motivations. How is this achieved?

The main tool here is interpretation (hermeneutics). A qualified Islamic jurist (Mujtahid) has the permission (Ijaza) to interpret scriptures, and following accepted methods, to arrive at juristic rulings that can be shared with the public i.e. when confronted with an issue, he/she could dive into texts guided by known methods then arrive at the legal ruling on the issue. From then on, he/she is to use the outcome of that research and he/she can proclaim it for others to follow if they care to. If another qualified jurist has tackled the same issue but arrived at a different juristic ruling, then the public (Muslims) is allowed to choose among the rulings. By virtue of this accommodation of Islamic jurisprudence, two Muslims could have different legal regard for the same issue.

Jurist Mind to Motivation


Scriptural motivations are bound to legal outcome, and legal outcome is strongly affected by the mind frame of the jurist especially when the jurist begins investigation (Ijtihad) already convinced of the outcome they want. This is what I call Manufacturing (Scriptural) Motivations (borrowing from Noam Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent). Importance of the jurist’s mind frame cannot be dismissed. The proper mind frame of a jurist should be one which seeks illumination in scripture and trusts the methodology will yield legal rulings minimally affected by the jurist’s pre-convictions (and whims). If a jurist dives into the scriptures seeking legal grounds to support a cause they already have conviction for, then they are bound to find one, albeit the jurisprudential and hermeneutic gymnastics involved. Factors that could affect the mind of the jurist include political climate and simple personal relationships. The Qur’an is aware of this tendency for a mind’s state to affect the legal implication of an act when it reminds us to “let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice.”

O ye who believe! stand out firmly for Allah, as witnesses to fair dealing, and let not the hatred of others to you make you swerve to wrong and depart from justice. Be just: that is next to piety: and fear Allah. For Allah is well-acquainted with all that ye do. (Qura’n 5:8 – Yusuf Ali)

Muslims know to uphold the principle of not having our desires steer our actions especially when we seek God’s assistance. This is Muslim common-sense. It is reflected a popular prayer for guidance in making (difficult) life choices; Salat al Istikhara. When a jurist opens the scriptures to seek guidance on a matter, are they not seeking God’s guidance like every other Muslim raising their hands, albeit intellectually? It should be no surprise then that in the past, and still persisting, jurists having the wrong mind frame by having pre-conviction on matters have reached legal positions to support sectarian and ideological biases. This is what Sectarian convictions are built upon! The paradox is when two jurists arrive at drastically opposing legal judgments using the same scriptures since they are both Muslims. How could that be? One has to give in or there is problem somewhere. Orthodoxy, which is a process of consensus across time and space, has helped to give perspective to some of these issues but not all. We can safely say that for most ideological Muslim groups, orthodoxy has dealt (and can deal) with new stuff they are coming up with. [This is what I call the Argument from Orthodoxy]

True, many Muslims claim Qalallahu wa Qalarrasul, meaning they only act if presented with scripture in the form of what God said (Qur’an) or what the Prophet said (Hadith). Unfortunately many lack the methodology to approach these texts yet they dive into it. Emphasis on scripture over methodology has lead to every Aisha , Ahmad and Fatima to deduce a legal ruling by simply being able to read the scripture, while casting an illusion of intellectual rigour, which is why many fall for these rulings… resulting in absurd conclusions… or preconceived conclusions. – Just Digressing

Yet we have Muslim political groups that have extracted all sorts of scriptural-legal motivations (cooked for the appetite of the Calculating Self), with a biased mind frame. Then these groups disregard the choice Muslims to have different legal opinion on the matter by imposing their skewed legal outcomes (which may not even be arrived at in the most straight forward way). Pick a couple of Muslim political movements, inquire about their scriptural motivations, you will be sure to find some Haram, Fard and Kufr, emphatically denying Muslims choice on the matter when there are, in addition to serving as motivation. Why? Because they said so… but of course they are smarter than to say that so they’ll say instead: because the scripture says so. As if that is all the scripture has to say. A word of caution is when certain powerful words are used in vain; in trying to persuade they say their interpretations of the scripture is clear-cut, or the technical word Qat’i. This is not the place to discuss what Qat’i actually is but it suffice to note that it is often used in vain.

Legal Manifestations of Scriptural Motivations to Different Levels of Muslims


At the heart of all this need to Manufacture Motivation is a logical fallacy I call the FarD Fallacy. I hope Muslim political groups could learn from this. Just because something feels right, it doesn’t mean it has to be FarD (obligation), nor does doing the opposite of it has to be Haraam (prohibited) or Kufr (rejection of Divine truth). Good ideas can be good ideas even without being FarD. Good ideas may not have a ready scriptural motivation beyond recommendation (MustaHabb) or abhorrence (Makruuh) . Good political ideas may even have a scriptural motivation to the Lofty Self not just Calculating Self; doing it satisfies a sense of duty, a more meaningful life, closeness to the Divine, but it doesn’t have to be an obligation, nor its opposite prohibited!

This is a good time to ask important questions about Muslim Political movements and the Manufacture of Motivations, keeping out an eye for FarD Fallacies. With Israel’s injustice ongoing, passively supported by world oligarchy, unimpeded by world wide protests, how are Muslims motivated to be active against it? (This is not to discount non-Muslim support but to focus on the subject of the post). Do Muslims need scriptural motivations? No, Twitter and Facebook seem to suffice. How are these scriptural motivations shaped by our biases against Israel (for some Israel = Jews, which is wrong). I actually feel there are scriptural motivations against these injustices, tons actually, but from where I am standing it seems to evoke a sense of duty to protest rather than fear of hellish punishment if I don’t. But I am not a jurist. Do we even need a jurist to motivate us in such cases when the Lofty Self concurs?



PS: After writing this series of posts which is more argumentative than empirical, and fortunately, I came across an actual study by Michael Hoffman and Amaney Jamal of Princeton University which investigated if personal reading of scripture (Qur’an) can be associated with motivating people to participate in political protest. It turns out it vindicates my argument! This is their conclusion:

Qur’an reading, not mosque attendance, is robustly associated with a considerable increase in the likelihood of participating in protest. Furthermore, this relationship is not simply a function of support for political Islam. Evidence suggests that motivation mechanisms rather than political resources are the reason behind this result.

Quran reading moitvation study

See the link above for more detail on the study.


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