January February 2005Leading Posts

Globalization: A Muslim Viewpoint

Future Islam

We are living in hard times. This simple expression may be a cliché for others but we Muslims who are undergoing through the fifth major crisis of our centuries long history know it well what this ordinary expression means to us. Earlier we had witnessed the derailment of our caravan from the divinely ordained paths of history, the first being the civil strife leading to the murder of Othman, the third Caliph; secondly, the sack of Abbasid Baghdad; thirdly, the fall of Grenada; and fourthly the termination of the Ottoman Caliphate. However, living in a shrunken globe, a total techno polis we feel there is no space left for us to pause and reflect back on causes of our decline. The poetic expression that Muslims live like a sun, if on decline in some parts of the world yet at the same time emerging high in the other parts of the globe is no more a comforting argument owing to the complete and total grip of this monster called globalization on our only planet earth. When President Bush declares to his enemies that ‘there is no place to hide’ he in fact echoes what the most brilliant prophet of globalization can utter at the peak of his glory. This acute sense of no space left for any dissenting voice have further aggravated our concern for this seemingly ‘global’ way of life. I’m afraid if the ideological challenges posed by the process of globalization are not properly met the entire world will be converted into a Guantanamo Bay or an extension of what has happened and still happening in Iraq. If in the past the Capitalist mind has created torture cells and serfdoms to dehumanize the fellow humans today too agents of globalization are basically working the same, dehumanizing the fellow humans.

Globalization is a logical and eventual destination of a civilization that has for long been involved in its own undoing. The yoke of globalization has threatened all the human rights charter, the much-celebrated American dream and the call for individual liberty and freedom. What the MacWorld has made available to the common people around the world is the monotony of burger, fries and coke and not an equal opportunity of intellectual development or higher standards of living. The ever-shrinking world is not only effectively handing out to us its less nutritious food but more so it is now setting up for the traditional societies the limits to think or mould their lives on their own. The coercive attempts to export the American social model to traditional societies, the much hyped ho-ha about the alleged violations of women and children rights in the Muslim east and the recent concern about the syllabi of Islamic education on the pretext of fighting terrorism are indications that Muslims are caught unaware in the web of globalization.

Living in a post Christian era and in a purely secular society where god is either dead (Nietzsche) or at least eclipsed (Buber) the socio-political philosophy in the west has lost its human concern while coming to judge the New Age religions. Post-modernity that once was supposed to be an appropriate phrase to depict the intellectual landscape in the west is no more an issue of concern. Not only a break-up from the enlightenment tradition is total but owing to strong doubts about the very development of philosophical thinking (Derrida), very few people in the west today are in a position to pass any valid strictures about this new age devil, globalization.

For the Muslim intellectuals too it is no easy to realize that globalization is no by-product of the implied smallness of our globe, rather it is a full-fledged religion in itself, a deen that demands a utopia for the few. If our intellectuals miss the theological implications of this new deen it is primarily because of our long alienation from ‘Islamic internationalism’ and also because, like contemporary western thinkers, we share the same cultural universe and experience almost the same level of secularity as they do. And above all, our thought pattern has been hampered by Freud, Sartre, Hegel, Melville and Kierkegaard. Nevertheless, while in Nietzsche the mad man’s murder of god was much intentional, the absence of ‘Islamic internationalism’ is mainly due to our self-engineered dismissal from the seat of authority and guidance.

For all those aware of the nature and demands of Islamic internationalism, globalization stands as a broken symbol of man’s unity and equality. The emergence of seemingly stateless society, the softening of political borders and almost global reach of ‘Pepsi-youth-fun’ syndrome may give us the impression that our journey towards a more humane and much compact globe is progressing well. But can we afford to ignore the alternatively emerging power islands, the capitalism’s eventual victory and the naked aggression of consumerism leaving for us almost no choice of an escape?

While in the past we were able to expose the Capitalist fallacy no matter in what shape it come to us today we Muslims as also the ‘other Muslims’ lack on two counts. Firstly, as already stated we are forced to breathe in the same obnoxious secularity that has colonized our minds secondly, at such a crucial point of history there is no scheme of a divine intervention through a prophet. Though aware of its true potential as the last Ummah, the upholder of the Last Revelation, I have no hesitation to say that those who were supposed to deliver the world from the yoke of modern day Pharaoh are themselves undergoing the greatest crises of all time; should they reinvent themselves or perish on the margins of history.

Our dismissal cannot be taken as a mere internal issue. It has put the entire human history into a wayward mode. A frank, honest and passionate discussion on the causes of our decline, then, is the need of the hour. Instead of relying on the wisdom of the dead souls or mindlessly quoting from this scholar or that seer, the time has come to apply our own minds, to look into the Qur’an for a fresh guidance in our time. Some might consider this idea abhorring or almost a blasphemy to approach the Quran afresh, without solely relying on the great minds of the past. But those aware of the Prophet’s primary mission, so explicitly mentioned in the Qur’an, to liberate human mind from all kinds of colonial impulse – the أصر و أغلال – be it intellectual or otherwise, will certainly appreciate this call. The Qur’an does not confer on any person, whosoever it may be, the sole right to interpret God’s word. In Qura’nic weltanschauung any attempt to monopolize interpretative activities is highly undesirable and amounts to polytheism. The agency of احبار ورهبان is simply unacceptable. Anyone attempting to intercept God’s message or for that matter come in between God and man is condemnable, be he called a Rabbi, an Ahbaar, a Pope, a Maulvi or a Shaikh. No one is authorized to decide whose faith is valid or who can be taken as an authentic Muslim. Leave Muslims alone, the Qur’an warns us of falling in this evil trap, ever. It’s God’s prerogative, we are told: إن الله يفصل بينهم يوم القيامة

As stated earlier, our dismissal has caused the greatest crisis of all time. It has resulted into a directionless globe, into un-mindful development causing serious ecological problems and the enslavement of the entire human population. Even those who appear to be modern day masters of the world are in fact no better slaves knowing not where they are heading for or if there could be a way to get off this monster called globalization.  To redress the situation it is imperative to think what shall we do now? The decline of the Muslim community should be analyzed not from the perspective of the decline of a community of people, but the decline of a way of life. Only then will it be possible for us to come to grip with the phenomenon of decline in all its dimensions. In this respect, ‘Islamic culture’ is a false metaphor. It is not possible to limit Islam to a specific cultural straitjacket. A heavenly message cannot be made a prisoner to any racial, linguistic or local culture. Those who consider the Baghdad of the Abbasid period as the golden period of Islamic culture are not, in fact, familiar with the greatness of the culture at Medina at the time of the Prophet. Their gaze is caught up in the outward and superficial manifestation of pomp and glory. Islam certainly did not come for the establishment of the Arab empire, though, in practice, it did happen that a significant section of Islamic thinkers had provided Islamic justification to the rulers for the extension of the empire. The deviant political leadership and unjust rulers organized and built up states and extended them in the name of Islam. This spectacle had left the general impression among the people that Islam was meant to consolidate the domination of the Muslim community rather than the guidance of the whole humanity. This particular concept of Islam and its cultural manifestation are not consistent with the Madani model, which was built on the strength of the Word — a revolutionary idea — and no history of communities was behind it, and which did not throw its weight behind the so-called Muslims of the time, i.e., the Jews and the Christians. On the contrary, it maintained a distance from them by asserting, صبغة الله ومن أحسن من الله صبغة

This heavenly call for becoming righteous Muslims and “become the followers of the Lord” (كونوا ربانين) was related to the power of divine revelations, and its strength lay in the internal strength of divine revelations, not in the culture impacted upon by divine revelations or in its periphery. At that time the invitation to follow the Prophet was extended not on the basis of cultural identity but on the basis of transformation in the world of thought and action.  To become true Muslims was considered to be a lofty ideal, beyond all the bounds of cultural determination, a thought that had declared all the earlier bases of collective life as redundant. The righteous Muslim who was a product of the revolutionary Word was a universal citizen in the true meaning of the word. At that time every invitation to become a righteous Muslim would open immense possibilities of servitude. Salman, the Persian and Bilal, the Ethiopian considered themselves, just like Abu Bakr or Omar, as members of this school of thought that made no distinction on the conventional criteria of Arab and Non-Arab, Black and White, color and race. The practical demonstration of إن أكرمكم عند الله أتقاكم  introduced Islam as a way of life, not as a marker of identity. Then Islam was an open gate through which caravans of the lost humanity entered zestfully in their millions and everyone found the scope for salvation open to him, according to his own potentialities. So much so that even those who were busy institutionalizing the religion or involved in the wrong-headed task of reducing the timelessness of the faith into the faith of the community of the Moses or that of Christ, were invited to participate in the creation of a universal society. In other words, the assertion, يا أهل الكتاب تعالوا إلى كلمة سواء بيننا وبينكم was a common invitation to all. The invitation was extended to all conscientious people so that they are not deprived of joining the caravan of people who had come together on the basis of their desire for surrender and their belief in the oneness of humanity, beyond the considerations of color and race and beyond any narrow tribal or cultural bonds. It seemed as though this optimistic, heavenly message of the divine revelation would take in all kinds of sinners and worthless people in its blessed embrace. At that time, the divine revelation gave one the feeling of forgiveness, and the feeling that an open door policy would ignite hope even among the most downtrodden and the depressed. On the contrary, when people started reading this Book not as a Book of Guidance but as a Book of law or jurisprudence, and our interpreters became, in practice, the heralds of قالوا كونوا هوداً أو نصارى, rather than creating the righteous Muslim, we concentrated all our energies in creating conventional Muslims who were just like the Jews or the Christians. Islam began to be known more as a marker of identity than as an attitude towards life. The interpretation of the Holy Qur’an in the light of jurisprudence not only gave others the feeling that Islam’s doors are closed to them, but it created serious confusion and dissensions within the community. One group from the same community considered it their religious duty to declare another group as infidels (kafir). In the deluge of allegations and counter-allegations it became difficult to determine who could be called true Muslims. Centuries passed without the jurists coming to a consensus about the fundamental articles of faith. Different books related to faith written in different periods stand witness to the fact as to how the agenda of complete surrender enjoined upon Muslims by the Holy Qur’an was lost in the intellectual speculation of Islamic jurists. On the one hand, there is this reminder in the Holy Qur’an, إن الله يفصل بينهم يوم القيامة, and on the other hand, there is this insistence in the books compiled by the people of different groups that it was necessary to accept their statements in order to become a Muslim. Instead of regarding themselves as students of divine revelations, when the scholars of Islam declared themselves as religious authorities, it became natural that such delusions should occur.

The divine revelations united the disunited and mutually divided groups of humanity into one mutual bond. It declared publicly that all the earlier prophets and their pure-hearted followers belong to the same community that believes in the oneness of Allah – be it Abraham or Jacob or their lineage, or the Prophet Muhammad who belonged to the lineage of Ismail. All of them belong to the same dazzling galaxy of pure-hearted souls. Those who want to join this caravan of the pure-hearted, it is not possible for them to remain indifferent to the followers of the earlier prophets. The assertion لا تفرقوا بين أحد من رسله has bound the pure-hearted Muslims from all parts of the world and all nations into one. The racial pride of the Jews or the claim of the Christians that salvation was possible when one joined their faith had lost their meanings in the context of this universal message. The Qur’an insisted that Prophet Muhammad had not come with a new message or new faith, nor did he want to build a new community of followers, but his job was the revival of the faith of Abraham. The same Abraham who is an exemplar for Muslims of all periods. This mode of address in the Qur’an was a commendable effort to bind pious Muslims from all parts and nations of the world into one humanity, and Muhammad was appointed for their leadership till the final moment. The key to the success of the brief prophetic life of Muhammad for 23 years lies in this breadth of vision envisaged in the Holy Qur’an.

The book that begins with the claim of هدىً للمتقين seems, from the interpretation of Islamic jurists, to have closed its doors for the متقين (pious souls) of other cultures. The consequence of the mere jurisprudic interpretation of the divine revelation and to declare it as the kernel of faith was that very soon this universal community that had been ensconced on the sovereign position got trapped in the psychology of the Mohammedan community. By turning our face away from the problems of the world and the welfare of the common humanity, we began to concentrate all our attention on the specific cultural identity of a particular community that happens to be Muslim. So much so that our Jurists divided the entire world into two parts – Darul Islam and Darul Kufr, and it seemed as though apart from the Islamic part we had nothing to do with the countries of the other part. Our abdication of the responsibility of world leadership was, in fact, due to the misguided interpretation of the divine revelations. As the centuries advanced, divine revelations were shrouded by layers of ignorance that grew thicker and thicker.

As long as we do not rectify our past mistakes, every next step would lead us to more delusions. Our cultural journey running over almost eleven centuries confirms this truth. What is needed is that we must immediately try to identify the dangerous consequences of our past delusions. This will actuate us to come out of the quagmire of evils into which we have fallen. And then as Allah has promised – الذين جاهدوا فينا لنهد ينهم سبلنا  – we will discover new terrains of possibilities for ourselves.

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