A Conflict of Cultures: Being Muslim in the 21st Century
WE all recognize that humanity lives crowded together in an increasingly small world of many cultures. It is no longer possible for a Muslim to isolate himself completely from the influences of alien civilizations or from the impact of corrupt environments no matter where he happens to live.
Western culture, in particular, has become attractive to many third world inhabitants due to its aura of freedom, opportunity and prosperity, and, it must be conceded, is the dominant influence in the modern world today. The material success of that civilization, often at the expense of others, has given its people an air of superiority. It has become a culture that worships material progress and will not tolerate any challenge to that ideology.
At the same time, an overall decline of knowledge and taqwā among Muslims has lowered the ordinary person's resistance to temptations of all kinds. History bears witness to the fact that when Muslims feared and obeyed Allah, they ruled the world; but when the world ruled their hearts in place of Allah, they were overcome both militarily and psychologically.
Early efforts by the West to defeat Islam were based openly on religious motives, so they became Crusaders and sent missionaries. Later on, as it was no longer wise to admit to a religious motive, offensives into the Muslim world were carried out in the name of economics and awakening third world inhabitants to modern advancements. Their efforts shifted to the promotion of secular education with the aim of luring Muslim youth away from their religion and alienating them from the Arabic language that had linked them to it.
Western governments encouraged nationalism, regionalism, local cultural traditions and whatever loyalties could take the place of Islam in peoples' hearts, as well as the religious innovations that keep Muslims away from correct practices and social reforms. They supported various movements advocating the concept that no faith has a monopoly on truth and that all religions are equally acceptable to God. Secularism and globalization became the vogue worldwide.
Today however, religion is once again the issue as Islam is badly misrepresented not only by its enemies, but by some of its adherents as well. Many Muslims, long deprived of justice under the present world order, tend to see western culture as evil and immoral. A few are committing large scale criminal acts, erroneously assuming that the prolonged suffering of their peoples has earned them the right to take matters into their own hands. In so doing they are not only alienating public opinion but violating the most basic principles of their own religion.
All this has led to an increasingly biased and aggressive media portrayal that targets the religion rather than its errant followers. Today we see an observable revival of the ideological assault which was initially designed to eliminate the influence of Islam among Muslims and weaken their resistance to secular currents. With the categorization of practicing Muslims as fundamentalist extremists and promotion of sensational misinformation, Islam's opponents have additionally perfected the art of provocation, aware that there is no shortage of Muslims whose frustration and anger will lead them to forget religious ethics and react impulsively. All that remains after that is for the media to capitalize on the regrettable errors committed.
To many in the West, Islam has become particularly distasteful and is considered more of a cult than a religion. It is seen as something foreign, eastern, non-white, Arab, third world, adhered to by "enemies"... and is overly concerned with a life other than the life of this world. Moreover, Muslims asserting themselves to improve their lot are viewed as an open annoyance – opposing western domination and critical of its culture. They do not accept the state of Israel. They give contracts to non-western competitors. And at the same time, they are invading western countries, seeking asylum, jobs and opportunities and then retaining their own ways rather than integrating into the sacred western mold. And above all, there is "terrorism"...
Concerned Muslims have been belatedly compelled toward serious effort to correct the widespread negative impressions and to share their noble beliefs and ideals with the world, something they should have been doing all along in view of the fact that Islam is a global message for all mankind.
The solution to ignorance and misunderstanding is education. But merely explaining the five pillars to non-Muslims is insufficient; a structure based on those pillars will remain incomplete without its numerous bricks of wisdom, justice and mercy. Muslims must first educate themselves – individually, as families, communities and citizens of the world, with serious study aimed at salvaging and rebuilding our ummah – correction, amendment and reform. At the same time we must be educating others about the truth of Islam.
Every normal individual in every land wants to experience his humanity, to live in dignity and feel that there is a reason for his existence and a purpose to his life – that he is more than just another animal who exists by chance and is left to chance. Subconsciously, he longs for an important objective for which to utilize his intelligence and exert his abilities, to feel that he is valuable and appreciated.
The Prophet's companions and their followers experienced all of this. They worked and sacrificed to bring the truth of Islam to all peoples, even undertaking long and dangerous journeys to do so. Early Muslims were unique examples of morality and ethics, and their societies utilized human potential to the maximum, simply as a reflection of their understanding of Islam. And it was during that period, while the average Muslim was an outstanding role model, that Islam spread to include many new peoples in every part of the known world. This example, based on a sound understanding of the religion, is needed today more than ever before.
Abuse and attacks against Muslims cannot be countered except within the limits of Islam. Peaceful demonstrations and boycotts may be in order, but should we not as well be quietly producing scientists, technologists, inventors, doctors and engineers who, for love of their religion, do not emigrate to wealthy western countries but prefer to remain back to serve Islam and Muslims? Should not our affluent brothers invest in their own regions - even at low returns - to create employment for those would otherwise stream to the West? Should not our industries produce inexpensive but good quality goods to reduce poverty at home and enrich the world at large? Should not Muslim leadership set up institutions where free Islamic courses are offered to non-Muslim students? Should not every individual Muslim become a vibrant example of Islam within his own field and according to his own capacity and ability?
"And say, 'Work, for Allah will see your deeds, and [so will] His Messenger and the believers.'" (Qur'an, 9:105)