Islam and West
The impact of the current globalization on the Muslim world has been varied, with positive and negative outcomes for different nations.
The positive impact of the West on Islam
Malaysia, for instance, has benefited enormously from one particular aspect of globalization, namely, trade, the interwoven international financial networks proved disastrous to the Indonesian economy during the 1997–1998 Asian financial crisis.
The globalization of communication technologies, for its part, is exerting tremendous impact across the Muslim world, particularly on youth.
One of the vehicles of that variety is brought on by global migration and the accompanying visibility of a plethora of cultural mores (articulated through food, music, films, and religious practice). Consequently, as goods are transported and sold all over the world, companies are also assembling multicultural workforces. Yet such variety can also create tension, which can lead to additional gaps between nations and civilizations, as in the case of Islam and the West.
The reaction of the Muslim World to Globalization
The Muslim world is reacting in manifold ways to recent global transformations, with some countries and populations appearing to be able to engage with the new realities more successfully than others. What is certain is that key components of that successful engagement— human liberties, rule of law, equal opportunity, independent media—are universal rather than merely Western values, and that, as the 2004 Arab Human Development Report indicated, these elements are often lacking in Muslim societies.
Impact of Islam on the West
Most Westerners continue to demonstrate a widespread lack of basic knowledge about Islam. That lack is compounded in the West by social secularization and the accompanying death of religious taboos, which decreases interest in and empathy with non–Western religions. Similarly, many Westerners view Islam as a monolith, and indeed the demonstrations that took place in the wake of the cartoon controversy were regarded as confirmation of this.
Can Islam and the West Merge?
Effective models of modernization and development in the Muslim world are Malaysia and Turkey. What is needed within the Muslim world, as these examples demonstrate, is better governance that encourages modernization and enables Muslim nations to prosper from globalization, rather than suffer its losses.
Muslim countries have four institutional challenges to surmount:
(1) an uneven and often insufficient knowledge base,
(2) a lack of empowerment of the female population,
(3) an absence of participatory governance, and
(4) the prevalence of ethnic conflicts.
Malaysia is an example of a country that has had success with modernization despite the pressures of globalization. This is due to five major reasons:
- A lasting balance of power among national ethnic groups;
- A socially responsible and relatively honest political leadership since the late 1950s;
- A sustained economic growth accompanied by redistribution to bridge the gap between indigenous and nonindigenous peoples;
- An emphasis on education, irrespective of gender; and
- An ever–more ingrained cultural sense of tolerance at the societal level.
The Role of Islam in the Modern World
“The relevance of Islam in the modern world” is the most talked-about topic in the discussions on religion. One often finds oneself in a quest to find the answer to the question: “Are Islamic traditions (shariah) relevant to the problems faced by the modern world?” The most argued point in this regard is the situation of the Muslim world in contrast with the progressive ‘Modern’ West.
One may be justified in saying that the vast majority of Muslims are not concerned with the problems of the modern world. No doubt, part of the reason for this is that they are uninformed and short-sighted; they have the immediate worldly and spiritual concerns of everyday life to keep them occupied. But a profoundly positive attitude can also be discerned behind this ‘lack of concern”. To the extent that Muslims are faithful to their own heritage and partially uninfluenced by the new ideologies, they are certain of Islam’s Truth and its ability to provide them with everything that is necessary for this worldly life and the hereafter.
Today many people, belonging to all religions, are not sure about what their own religions teach. So many compromises have been made with the ‘Modern World’, especially in the last few decades, that the boundary between truth and error, goodness and evil, beauty and ugliness has been totally obscured. Fundamental concepts such as ‘Truth” and “Goodness” have been held up to doubting scrutiny that many ‘believers’ of these religions no longer think they have any meaning. Modernism has been used as a cover to introduce the principles of secularism into the minds of people. A better definition would be the changing of religion from a religion to a complete sham. Perhaps, this also answers the question, the clarity and lack of ambiguity in the basic tenets of Islam may help some people in reconsidering the bases of their faith.
The above description of most Muslims shows that the Islamic traditions are far from dead despite living in a time of immense skepticism. A time where humans rely on oft-repeated norms’ and ‘truths’ rather than look at the reality of our situation and the divine Truth. Skeptics may ask; how can a way of life that was implemented fourteen centuries ago be applicable today? Humans have ‘progressed’ and our lives have changed dramatically since then. Our tools of production, means of trading, and modes of communication would be unrecognized by the desert Arab of the 6th Century CE.
What is Modernism?
So, what of Modernism? The utterances of illusionists are no longer ‘abracadabra’ and ‘hey presto’. The magic words are now; ‘new and improved’ and ‘best ever’. This modern, plastic disposable society is obsessed with what is new and what is modern. The spin used to sell us soft drinks is also used to sell us ideas about life, culture, society and politics. Does new really mean better? Just because this is repeated to us over and over again ad nauseam, it does not mean that it is true. The average speed of travel in Alfa Romeo t-spark on the grid-locked streets of London is no faster than horse-back in the Middle Ages. This example may seem flippant, but we should all be quicker to question modernity than we are to question Islam.
The complexities of human existence and communal living are bewildering. If we are to take stock of ‘who we are’ and ‘how we live,’ we will find that certain basics remain constant. We have certain organic needs and instincts that have never changed. The first man was in need of food, water and air to breathe, etc. All other human beings since have all had these necessities. Islam had various laws revealed concerning the intake of food. Because we have not done away with the need to eat those laws may still be lived by today. 21st-century living has not stopped Muslims from being mindful of Islamic dietary laws. Take for example:
“O you who believe! When the call is proclaimed to prayer on Friday (the day of Jum’ah), hasten earnestly to the Remembrance of Allah, and leave off business (bai’a): That is best for you if you but knew! And when the Prayer is finished, then may you disperse through the land, and seek of the Bounty of Allah: and celebrate the Praises of Allah often (and without stint): that you may prosper.” [62:9]
The law that Allah has laid down in this verse is that it is forbidden for the male mature Muslims to trade at the time of Friday prayers. The word bai’a (trading) is explicitly mentioned. However, it is not only trading that is forbidden during this period. To be more accurate, a Muslim may not busy himself during this time. ‘Busying oneself’ is still the same today and ever since the time of the Prophet (PBUH). ‘Busying oneself’ has never changed and never will change.
The principle of studying the text of Islam and finding its application today is a whole science in its own right. These are the principles that have not changed in essence since the time of the Prophet (PBUH). The fine details of these things have obviously changed but the essence and hence the rule is still apt, appropriate, and applicable. Almighty Allah has blessed people with intelligence and knowledge to make them capable of deducing rules from the Qur’an and the Sunnah.
What sustains the strength of the Islamic Shariah is not only the authority of government. The citizens must have belief and have confidence in Islam. This confidence and belief not only helps them in this life and the hereafter as individuals, but also helps in implementing Islam as a whole unit. These are the political implications of believing in Islam as a complete way of life. Muslims should naturally have the strength to participate in the dialogue concerning problems of the modern world, presenting Islam as the ideological alternative to secular Capitalism.
The philosophy that ‘new is good’ instills in Capitalist nations an insatiable need for ‘newness’. The principles that fuel Capitalism are the same principles that fuel consumerism. Muslims should consider consumerism, capitalism, and secular philosophy inextricably linked. Moreover, we should consider them all alien to Islam, i.e. Kufr. We may be justified in asking; how is it that these ideas become so popular amongst Muslims? We must remember that these ideas were not adopted in the Islamic lands over-night. They were slowly injected into the Ummah in a most subtle and devious way.