Where do we stand? A wake up call to Muslims!

Mohammed Belal EL-MOGADDEDI

In a paper called “Changing the Present and Dreaming the Future” Prof. Tariq Ramadan (Senior Research Fellow St Anthony’s College, Oxford and at “Lokahi” Foundation, London) has rightly pointed out, that the dream of the future will be created today. Furthermore he has identified “the ideology of fear” as one of the most determining forces of our lifetime.

The application of the “ideology of fear” is not only influencing but at times also choking the interfaith dialogue and furthermore it is narrowing the space where a constructive dialogue between Muslims and Non-Muslims can be developed and practiced at eye level.

In order to change the tomorrow, so that our dreams of today become reality in the future, we have to scrutinize the present.

The “ideology of fear” is diffuse in nature, without contour and outline, but it is this shadowy property, which turns it into a potent multi-edged, multi-faceted and hence multifunctional tool. It has become a powerful instrument, not only in the hands of politicians, but generally in the hands of those who plead and strive for a general re-structuring of existing regional orders in harmony with their very own global interests. It is a formidable ideology, a force that cannot be easily sidelined and cornered because it is resistant to mind setting approaches and almost inimical to forces of reason The difficulties existing in the field of interfaith contact and multi-religious co-habitation is the obvious, but superficial symptom produced by the politics of fear. It demonstrates the rising imbalance in the relationship between Muslims and Non-Muslims; the original political disease, which creates uneasiness and pain in the local/”glocal” body, is hiding in camouflage in the background of our presence, and stays engrained in the allegedly forgotten leaves of history, wherefrom the “ideology of fear” draws its energy.

However, Muslims should not feel intimidated and retreat from the public discourse and go into sulking. They should meet the challenges but they should meet these with skill and discretion. The intense criticism, slander and contortion Islam is subjected to, a reality that is not the outcome of events of 9/11 only, but may have experienced severe aggravation through it, does posses a long and dark history of its own. It is not the result of a natural weakness and an inherent inferiority of Islam either, a popular impression projected with great fancy. The rationale behind maligning Islam and Muslims in general is very often, beyond the incredible lack of knowledge, an attempt to divert attention of the general public from the formidable, inherent strength that rests within Islam, a religion which has proven that it offers, beyond time and space, a civilizing alternative and constitutes a formidable challenge to established norms and schools of thought.

Nowadays Muslims tend to respond to the politics of fear with a reflex that could be termed “reactionism”. They scrape from one reaction to the next reaction, in order to confront the “ideology of fear” and initiative does not rest with them. But does every public or private adversary deserve consideration or rebuttal? Does every news item deserve attention and notice?

Muslims should not allow themselves to be pinned down to degrading topics that are thrown into their faces like gauntlets, even though they are accompanied by obvious or subtle negative and striking undertones directed against Islam. The agent provocateur enjoys the bath of attention so readily provided by the inclination of Muslims towards “reactionism”. But meeting a provocation with outright contempt is a reaction that makes its author sick and desperate.

A self-imposed moratorium by Muslims addressed to the by and large fruitless and senseless Muslim – Non-Muslim dialogue should be considered in order to regain the initiative from those who indulge in activities detrimental to the general and legal interests of Muslims. Muslims in Europe have to respond to the practice of a wide-spread culture of unrefined debate where Islam and Muslims are concerned by wresting the initiative from the hands of self-styled experts on Islam, Muslim and non-Muslim alike. Muslims should not indulge in a dialogue for the sake of dialogue, especially when dialogue is used and abused to project and strengthen prejudices towards Islam and Muslims. A self-imposed selective moratorium applied to the interfaith-dialogue will move the vital genuine dialogue, to the centre-stage of societal attention, so that the swampland that is sold as interfaith-dialogue is desiccated.

A cursory glance at the current quality of interfaith-dialogue, especially between Muslims and Christians will lead the discerning observer to the conclusion that it has more often than not degenerated into an activity, which serves the general European/Western perception that Islam and Muslims are unfit and unable to respond to the complexities of today’s world. There is the haughty talk of the need for an “Islamic Enlightenment”, as if the mechanics of Enlightenment applied to Christianity could hold true for Islam.

Nevertheless, self-critical Muslims have to state that on the surface there seems to be a little truth attached to this assumption, but, and this is an important “BUT” and in defiance of all the talk of the necessity for an “Islamic Enlightenment” Islam is not at fault at all! A self-critical and right-minded appraisal will demonstrate that it is the general condition of the Muslim mind that is in need of overhauling; negative evaluations of Islam cannot be linked only to the prejudice articulated by hate-preachers towards Islam! Islam has given answers to humankind for the past 14 centuries and it will continue to give answers unto the last day of universal existence, provided Muslims of the present begin to learn from their history and start to apply themselves to their religion with savvy. If Muslims look at their physical state as a whole today, they have to realise that the general situation of Muslims is far from satisfactory; one may even say that it is desolate. And if they look at their intellectual state as a whole, they should realise that it is even worse than their physical state, as Muslims range amongst the most illiterate and the most un-educated people on this planet earth. For decades Muslims have fallen into the conservation trap and succumbed by and large to a dogmatic mentality, a trademark of underdevelopment. Islam that allowed for the free and dynamic spirit of the human mind to develop seems to have been chained to thorny traditions and antiquated customs of ages long gone by. Muslim scientific research hardly exists at universities in Muslim-majority countries; it has been replaced by or misunderstood with scientific consumption. There may be different reasons for this situation; Muslims may cite colonialism, addiction to ideologies, globalisation/westernisation but if Muslims are truthful and consequent to their convictions they have to see and accept that it also boils down to the fact, that most Muslims are no longer in touch with their normative civilising religious roots. Muslims have detached themselves from the individual professional study of their religion which provides the base for the re-discovery of its innovative strength. Meeting today’s challenges is in need of much more than the replication of past wisdom and knowledge that by no means has lost its value, but Muslims have to re-discover the original spirit that allowed for hundreds of years the formulation of reasonable judgement in an Islamic context to thrive, to blossom, to spread and to inspire .

If “fear” is the formative or central element, characterizing the current relationship between Muslims and Non-Muslims, and it is first and foremost the fear that Non-Muslims claim to have of Islam and Muslims; multifaceted IGNORANCE is the root cause of this fear. Non-Muslims tend to fear Islam out of ignorance and not a few Muslims tend to make them afraid of Islam, not necessarily by intention, but through their sheer ignorance of Islamic teachings or the unreliable and non-professional and amateurish interpretation thereof.

A Non-Muslim cannot be blamed for his ignorance, and his subsequent fear of Islam, as much as a Muslim, because the Non-Muslim is not obliged to seek knowledge about Islam, but a Muslim individual is commanded by his creator to study his religion. Islam is not to be believed it is to be understood beyond any emotional attachment. An emotion is important on an individual level but not very convincing if a Muslim intends to capture earnest interest, acceptance and respect for his religion and himself, which will consequently dismantle fear amongst Non-Muslims of Islam to a considerable extent. Islam teaches Muslims to develop as role models in Muslim-majority societies and even more in Muslim-minority societies. Muslims in general, and especially Muslims living in European societies have to wake up from their slumber and stop to go to sleep and base their dreams in self-pity, dreams which are anchored only to their glorious past, dreams that have no safe harbour to be moored to in the presence. These are mostly dreams that do not seem to provide the resourceful energy for the future; these are dreams that Muslims do not empower with the strength to face the bitter realities of today, as long as they do not begin to understand, what caused the Muslim dreams of the past to see the light of the day; days that have become an integral part of our collective memory, days that Muslims can remind themselves of with a high degree of unassuming pride. But these days were the result of strenuous work and passionate personal virtuous struggle and endeavour.

A community, which on a global level became the strongest reformatory force in human history, came into being with the word “Iqra”, a command to recite and a command to read, has changed into a community that generally speaking turns its back to the world of books and study. The number of homes in Muslim majority countries, which own a collection of books other than a printed “mushaf”, not to speak of a small library, is disappointingly low. The lack and the absence of resourceful knowledge is our greatest handicap, Muslim backwardness and weakness is tightly tied to extremely high levels of ignorance in matters of religion. Contrary to the basic teachings of Islam, Muslims in general tend to reduce their religion to the practice of rituals only, and they tend to forget that every aspect, every activity of a Muslim’s life should be subject to the great cultivating spirit of Islam. Hence it becomes difficult to invite understanding for Islam and to reduce fear of Islam amongst Non-Muslims, because we as Muslims in general do not apply ourselves with a broad mind and with rationality to our religion, this makes our task as Muslims of living and communicating Islam in Europe all the more difficult. But attainment of knowledge and application of this knowledge to the practice of Islam is only the first step, if Muslims want to become an honoured and well-respected component of the societies they live in and not subjects that generate fear and fright. Fear and Fright can only be countered if Muslims, especially those in Muslim-minority countries begin to comprehend that being a Muslim is a 24-hour job, it is a dusk-to dawn and dawn-to dusk task. Muslims have to behave as Muslims while interacting with other Muslims and let there be no doubt they have to follow the Islamic norms all the more while interacting with Non-Muslims. They have to act and behave as Muslims without any consideration for race, religion, nationhood, ethnicity or any other distinction which may set people apart. And to those, who claim that Non-Muslims negative even disdainful attitude and behaviour towards Muslims has to be reciprocated in kind there can be only one clear message:

“They are not our teachers”!

Muslim’s legitimate demand for independent even-handedness and judgement, something they are naturally entitled to, will be difficult to counter if Muslims prove that their trust and their reliability is unequivocal. This is by no means a call to opportunism or subservience, but a call to offer partnership in a reliability based in the spirit of Islam, a call for analytical loyalty, a call for the unfettered practice of justice.

Muslims tend to perceive themselves as victims of ill-founded policies and very often they are. The Muslim call and demand for justice is appropriate and just, because this is a God-given human right that cannot be usurped and denied by man.

But Muslims should not raise the call for justice only when they are being victimised. They do have every right to call for the removal of injustices committed against them but their call for justice can only become credible and irrefutable if they start to condemn and decry injustices perpetrated by Muslims as much as they condemn and decry injustices perpetrated by Non-Muslims. Applied justice lies at the very heart of Islam; it is one of the central pillars human, Muslim societies and a Muslim civilization is built upon. A Muslim’s judgement has to be based on the facts and merits of a case and not on his personal preferences, affections or his attachments to fellow Muslims. With this attitude and frame of mind, Muslims in Europe will achieve more recognition for their just causes. They have to embed these in a general struggle against injustice, not for tactical reasons but for reasons of religious, Islamic honesty. If Muslims want to make a good case for Islam in Europe they have to revive the prophetic spirit of compassion and determination, critical application and independent judgment, the willingness to create and the visionary strength that brings about positive and good-natured change. The challenge before Muslims today is the extraction of the promising spirit of Islam from the pages of history where it seems to be relegated to dry and literalistic memory only. The application of Islam as a system of thought, as a creative and self-stabilizing force will allow Muslims to come out of their often narrow-minded wilderness, a jungle they have been lost in for so many years now. The challenge before Muslims is to incorporate Islam again in their lives as a point of reference as an important, paramount intrinsic measure of guidance!

Europe offers intellectual breathing space and room of activity to those Muslims who dare take up the challenge that lies before the international Muslim community. Muslims in Europe should start to deconstruct the buzzword “integration, more often nothing but a hollow, nebulous word without any reliable, manifest and characteristic definition. They should ignore the calls for “integration” and shun this demanding and segregationist term, coined by the proponents of lead-culture. Muslims do not need to be integrated, they already are an undeniable part of Europe’s present and Europe’s history, a fact many Non-Muslims are unwilling to integrate in their comprehension of Europe. Muslims should realise and carry their responsibility towards the societies they live in and consider Islam’s appeal to, one may even go as far and say demand of, the believers for societal contribution as a personal and a collective challenge -as opposed to integration and beyond the material sharing of the material development of their home societies.

Europe provides Muslims with an atmosphere of freedom and independence of thought that is the envy of the people in Muslim-majority countries. Muslims in Europe should make the best use of this free environment, not in the interest of an arcane, faceless and subdued “Euro-Islam” which is assigned a secondary status only, but in the interest of competitive intelligence and in the interest of a thought-inducing and thought-provoking “Islam as an Alternative” evolving in the very heart of Europe to the benefit of Europe and to the benefit of divine creation in general, and last but not necessarily least, in the service of our dreams of a better tomorrow.

Download this article