#Article (Archive)

Some thoughts on the road to Islamic Solidarity

Nov 5, 2010, 1:38 PM

Having diagnosed the condition of the Islamic world as one suffering from political divisions, economic disparities, cultural parochialism and sectarianism, the author calls for a return to the Islamic concept of ta 'aruf- i.e., the mutual familiarity and acceptance of all Muslims within the ummah. Four broad areas to implement ta 'aruf are explored including education, travel, the hajj and language. The article concludes with some political and economic recommendations to pave the way for Islamic solidarity.

The first step towards unity is in the diagnosis of the general Islamic condition in the world today. Unfortunately, the diagnosis does not look good. The Islamic world in our time and generation is a world of political divisions, economic disparities, cultural misunderstandings and sectarian schisms. Any attempt to consolidate the Islamic peoples of the world will be futile if these facts are ignored. Therefore, from the outset, we must acknowledge that we, the Muslims from the lands of the Orient to the lands of the Occident are divided, dispersed and segregated, and this is a fact beyond question or apology.

The Islamic world has imposed on itself a network of over sixty nation states. In the past century or so, this meshwork of nation-states has only worked to alienate Muslim peoples from each other. In this regard, the passive acceptance of these nation-states is a main contributor to the overall condition of division among Muslim peoples and societies. The Islamic world also finds itself suffering from a common human problem that relates to class stratification. Within this serious social bifurcation the affluent upper classes in Islamic societies are out of touch with the impoverished lower classes. This contributes to an internal self-inflicted malaise only to feed the centrifugal divisions that tear apart any ordinary human society. In addition, the Islamic world is sliced along cultural lines. A particular culture in some regions of Asia or Africa can become so dominant that it assimilates Islam into its own limited paradigm, thereby substituting the cross-cultural tenets of Islam with its own self-centered cultural norms and priorities. In this way, a particular culture more or less becomes "Islam", in the eyes of its own people and constituents, or at least indistinguishable from it. And finally, but not exhaustively, sectarianism is a crucial element of contemporary Islamic disunity. Although Muslims make up approximately two billion of the world's population, this number diminishes when they are labeled "Sunni" or "Shia", and even more so, when the many schools of thought or sub-schools are considered. The same is the case even at the local level when a region "sheikh" or an "imam" or some "scholar" of sorts assumes the mantle guide, and instead of contributing to an Islamic feeling of integration and consolidation with the larger assembly, congregation or the ummah, embarks on a course of adding yet another splinter to the general adverse divisive state of affairs that the Muslims already find themselves in.

The above political, economic, cultural and sectarian derelictions have rendered the two billion Muslims in the world consumers of the many divisive strategies and commodities that are presented to them. In the nature of things, this cannot go on for much longer. The past century, to be sure, has visited Muslim peoples with many a military invasion, economic strangulation, cultural alienation, and sectarian tension. That being the case, is there a solution to this state of division? We do not claim to have a magic answer to that, but we can shed some guiding light on a passageway out of this divisive status quo.

Taking a look at the lager picture, we suggest that Muslims everywhere- from whichever nation-state they inhabit, belonging to whichever class of society, identifying with whichever culture, and living within the  paradigm of whichever sect-agree on and enhance the concept of ta 'aruf. This is a Quranic and hence an Islamic concept, which demands that human beings get to know each other. The fuel for division is precisely the lack of knowledge or the misrepresentation of it with regard to other Muslims. If the concept of  ta 'aruf becomes a salient and rooted feature of Islamic societies and peoples worldwide, then one can hope that the justifications for nation-states, class divisions, cultural clashes, and sectarian misunderstandings will diminish-and in the long run, disappear altogether.

It shames us to know that many Muslims are familiar with European and American societies but are largely unfamiliar with Asian and African ones. Many Muslims plan their vacations, tourist activities and marketing projects within Europe and America. There is no "open-channel" of communication and transportation among the Muslim people themselves. An Egyptian Muslim, for example, knows much more about Britain, the Unite States and France, then he dose about Pakistan, Malaysia, Turkey, or Iran. An Arab Muslim is more aware about the Latino minority in American then he is about Muslim minority in China. A Turkey Muslim has an extensive understanding of European people, for which he is quite pleased with, but dose not give much attention to the plight of Muslims in Central Asia or Eastern Asia, even though there are many more reasons for doing so.

Breaking down the psychological and cultural barriers among Muslims would, of course, be much easier if there were no political obstacles in the way. Nevertheless, it is our opinion that if efforts are placed in four keys areas, it will help us move in the right direction. These include: 1) education, 2) travel and tourism, 3) the hajj, and 4) the Arabic language.



Our proposal is that all schools within Islamic countries remodel and refocus their social science curricula in order to give greater emphasis on the study of the various aspects of the Muslim world. Over time, it is hoped that a sufficient reservoir of information and interesting facts be accumulated regarding the different Islamic countries and their peoples, so that, in the end, an Egyptian Muslim will be thoroughly versed with and aware of all other Muslim countries and peoples the way he knows and is familiar with his own people. Of course, the same applies to all Muslims-Pakistanis, Turks, Persians, Arabs, etc.

For this to succeed, such changes must be applied to all the different levels of education from the elementary stages all the way to post-graduated studies. Government programs, scholarships, grants and research budgets must be allocated to the revamping of the social science throughout the Islamic world. No doubt, a program along this line will definitely run into difficulties and opposition from the political and economic elites, as well as from the cultural and sectarian gentries. As they stand, institutions such as the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) do not seem to have the insight to develop such strategies nor the will to implement them through their member states. As for secular governments, they are most definitely hostile to the above proposal due to its Islamic emphasis. These guardians of the segregationist status-quo in Islamic territories cannot see the syllabi in history, geography, sociology and other social sciences revamped. Nevertheless, the call is to move towards a greater Islamic reality that goes beyond the "nation-state", the economic class, the cultural background, or the sectarian indoctrination that all contribute to the multiple divisions of what is supposed to be one ummah.


Travel and Tourism

Another channel for reintegrating the ummah is to facilitate travel and tourism within the Islamic world. Any Muslim, who still values the social and ethical tenets of his faith, will agree that it is better to travel to the vast and exciting destinations within the Muslim world as part of one’s holiday plans instead of going to the "red-light" districts of the casinos and amusement parks in America and Europe where one is often forced to compromise one's own faith and morality. Islamic culture within the Muslim lands is deep, rich, versatile and multifaceted and its territory is geographically vast enough to contain both summer and winter destinations. Moreover, traveling between and within Islamic lands allows Muslims to strengthen the bond of similarities and to discover, first hand, their larger social identity and character.

(To be continued)