While 9/11 was an eye-opener to how destructive the forces of fundamentalism can be in the modern world, one of the saddest aftermaths have been the emergence of waves of Islamophobia across the world. It has also been stated widely that Islam is often poorly understood and under-represented in the worlds’ media as a vibrant dynamic culture. Islam, the world’s second most subscribed religion, will continue to grow in the future as long as the world population continues to grow too, and some media reports(1) that it is the ‘fastest growing’ religion in the world probably hasn’t looked at the demographics in terms of whether this growth is best explained by higher population growth rates than the world average in pockets where Islam is the dominant religion. Certainly as the Fox news report suggests, nearly 21% or so of American Muslims are converts, in a nation where Islam is around the 1 % mark in terms of religious affiliations.
I think I came to see Islam, or at least one part of Islam, as an important defense mechanism against the commercialization of the world.
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To understand modern Islam, one must realise that there has been no central worldwide political leadership since the collapse of the Ottoman Caliphate formally in 1923, when Kemal Ataturk declared Turkey a republic. The Caliphate was an unbroken chain of formal leadership for the Islamic political world since the earliest followers of the Prophet Muhammad assumed political power. Today, the emergence of fundamentalism in certain parts of the world perhaps reflects this lack of unified leadership, rather than a failure of Islam as a whole to conform to a secular world order. Interestingly, one of Al Quaeda’s main goals has been to re-establish a Caliphate, or a central leadership, although its association with criminal activities and terrorism means that it has lost any chance in the foreseeable future to emerge from the underground.
The central tenets of the Islamic faith has always been submission to the will of one God, Allah, and although there has been instances of marked intolerance towards other worldviews, there also have been instances of peaceful co-existence too throughout history in many parts of the world. If the rest of us choose to view Islam as intolerant, we would be ignoring the secular face of Islam completely, thus in a way encouraging the orthodox, fundamentalist elements to emerge dominant. Islam is a global heritage, and forgetting its role in the emergence of art, architecture, science and technology would be akin to associating nuclear energy only with mass devastation and death. Indonesia, for example, home of the world’s largest Islamic population under one nation and India, the second largest home for Muslims clearly demonstrate how Islam functions well under democratic, secular societies despite orthodox, fundamentalist sections’ attempts to destroy peace.
For the secular world, interfering with the theological beliefs of Islam is perhaps unnecessary compared to the much more pressing need to engage secular factions within Islam with modern democratic and human rights campaigns. In a way there should be an explicit process of creating a new worldwide leadership within Islam to be able to project its secular, tolerant face, on the world media and cultural stage. Personal beliefs of human beings have an evolutionary force of its own, and no amount of Crusades against ‘religions’ by atheism, or other religions, has any significant impact compared to people’s choices over matters related to their worldviews and beliefs over time, with accumulation of evidence.
But first, we need to actively fight against Islamophobia, and actually try and promote secular, peaceful movements and communities practicing Islam in an effort to better understand the culture and mindset of one mankind’s most important heritages. The fight against fundamentalism must continue with vigor too, but more in the spirit of suppressing criminal activities and disruptive behavior than at an ideological level.
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