A retelling of Albert Camus’s The Stranger, The Meursault Investigation is a philosophical novel taking place within an increasingly religious society. Harun often criticizes religion, which makes him a pariah in his conservative Muslim community. Ironically, his aversion to religion links him to Meursault, his enemy, who refuses efforts to convert him to Christianity throughout his own narrative. However, while Meursault’s rejection of religion seems to spring from extreme nihilism (the belief that nothing in life has inherent value) and a philosophy developed by Camus called absurdism (the idea that existential conflict springs from the desire to find meaning in a meaningless world), Harun’s stems from a more optimistic belief that religion prevents people from embracing their own lives and being truly free.
Harun’s criticism of religion in an increasingly religious country makes him an outcast. He refers to the Koran as “their book,” distancing himself both from Islam and the people around him who practice the religion; he describes the contents of the holy book as “redundancies, repetitions, lamentations, threats, and daydreams.” In another passage, he says that he “loathes” the mosque he can see from his window, with its “big finger pointed at the sky.” Rather than something reflecting a natural or divine order, Harun sees religion as an obstacle to that order.
While Harun doesn’t give many details about his adult life, the reader can infer that this unconventionality is one of the reasons he’s growing old alone, rather than with a wife and family. At one point he mentions an imam who exhorted him to “at least pray like the others,” emphasizing the extent to which disavowal of Islam has led to his solitary life, perhaps as much as the traumatic circumstances of his youth or the murder he eventually commits in order to avenge Musa’s death.
Harun’s disgust with religion is one of his strongest links to Meursault, Musa’s murderer and the novelistic hero he despises. Meursault is also notable for his rejection of Christianity, and this makes him an aberration in the eyes of society, just like Harun. For example, he doesn’t cry or pray at his mother’s funeral, and this fact is levied against him at his trial as evidence of his antisocial and immoral nature. At the end of the novel, Harun recalls an earlier episode in which he exploded in anger against the visiting imam, railing against religion and telling him that “none of his certainties was worth one hair on the head of the woman I loved,” in other words that religious dogma is less worthwhile than meaningful lived experience, which for Harun is represented by his brief affair with Meriem. His statement here is an overt reiteration of Meursault’s monologue when a priest visits him in jail and he says that all Christian doctrine is worth “no more than the hair on a woman’s head.” By pushing away imam and priest, both men reject conventional worldviews and the possibility of conventional redemption for their crimes; although Harun is never punished for his crimes, he imagines himself breaking into the mosque in order to shout blasphemies from the minaret, and subsequently being executed. Here, he’s putting himself in Meursault’s exact situation at the end of his own narrative.
However, while Meursault’s rejection of religion represents the culmination of his nihilism, Harun rejects religion in order to emphasize the value and glory inherent in everyday life, regardless of the presence or absence of a divine plan. Meursault’s comment that religion is worth “no more than one hair on a woman’s head” is impersonal and bleak, denigrating the church without offering anything to replace its centrality in human society. Harun transforms this comment by talking instead of the “the woman I loved.” Instead of replacing religion with nihilism, he’s comparing it to the most meaningful experience of his life, his love for Meriem. Even though Harun is an extremely cynical character with a grim life story, at the end of the novel he draws strongly on this one positive experience to find faith in the beauty and value of life, thus differentiating himself firmly from Meursault, who remains apathetic towards his own life until the moment of his death.
Harun’s skepticism of religion links him to Meursault, reminding the reader that their two stories are inextricably linked, despite Meursault’s indifference and Harun’s anger and resentment. At the same time, Harun’s fundamentally more optimistic imagination of a human society without religion is perhaps his most meaningful departure from Meursault’s worldview. Religion thus illuminates the similarities and differences between these two central characters.
Religion and Nihilism ThemeTracker
Religion and Nihilism Quotes in The Meursault Investigation
I realized very young that among all those who nattered on about my condition, whether angels, gods, devils, or books, I was the only one who knew the sorrow and obligation of death, work, and sickness. I alone pay the electric bill, I alone will be eaten by worms in the end. So get lost!
I killed a man, and since then, life is no longer sacred in my eyes. After what I did, the body of every woman I met quickly lost its sensuality, its possibility of giving me an illusion of the absolute. Every surge of desire was accompanied by the knowledge that life reposes on nothing solid.
It shocks me, this disproportion between my insignificance and the vastness of the cosmos. I often think there must be something all the same, something in the middle between my triviality and the universe!
I often look out at it from my window, and I loathe its architecture, the big finger pointed at the sky, the concrete still gaping. I also loathe the imam, who looks at his flock as if he’s the steward of the kingdom.