“Wisdom is to have both the courage and modesty to look into the mirror to see the ugly spots on your face, accepting your imperfections and deal with them.” Abubakar Gimba, paraphrased.
One of the biggest challenge the Muslim world is yet to sufficiently appreciate and understand is the dynamics of the modern world. The Muslim world could not keep up with the pace at which the world is changing, at least for now. The Muslim world is stunned and perplexed by the rate at which old and known frame of references are becoming obsolete while new and unfathomable ones are emerging. Today, a new type of discursive space – one that will foster a very different set of ideas – is burgeoning in the Muslim world. So, confusion is palpable albeit not excusable and justifiable.
The shrinkage and collapse of border where virtually there exists, relatively speaking, free movement among culturally distinct and socially different group of people has led to a cultural shock which the Muslim world is yet to comprehend and come to term with. The melting of cultures and invasion of alien traditions have led to a devastating effect where what was once considered a taboo has become fashion, and what was once fashionable has become out of place. The pervasiveness of the virtual world, by their nature, give marginalized social and political groups a space to organize, mobilize, and ultimately challenge the status quo.
Our problem, in my opinion, lies in our insistence on using old methods that worked well at other times, but are totally unsuitable for new and modern times, in all times. In effect, we are using methods suitable for a ‘closed society’ in what is clearly now an ‘open society’. We live in a world where time is shrinking, distance is ‘dying’ and almost all intermediation mechanisms between people, institutions and nature are daily being eliminated. Information on everything is available to just anyone and no special skill— or, even, literacy— is required to access it. And this, seemingly, set to continue unabated. In the following subheadings, I will try to discuss what the above description portends to the Muslim world:
Information Glut, Ignorance Glut
“In the past, censorship worked by blocking the flow of information. In the 21st century censorship works by flooding people with irrelevant information. People just don’t know what to pay attention to, and they often waste their time investigating and debating side issues. In ancient times having power meant access to data. Today having power means knowing what to ignore. So of everything that happens in our chaotic world, what should we focus on?” Yuval Noah Harari.
Information is the cheapest and commonest means of empowerment and, as it is, requires no policy intervention to be obtained and used, at least as things are now. Much of this information offers appealing and refreshing alternative viewpoint together with evidence that rationalizes behavior(s). It is of little wonder, then, that it is the main weapon of change. But instead of confronting this fact and use the opportunity the Information Age presents by creating and communicating our own suitable alternatives, we are wasting time sermonizing, condemning, pointing accusing fingers and all. We have continued to say the same thing, do the same thing and expect change. And we are offended when charged with hypocrisy. Astonishing!
We have to find better and more effective, pragmatic and practical ways to manage information and use it to create the society we want. Once we are done, we must also have the capacity to enforce it. It is that simple. We cannot pretend to want a solution by failing to teach our kids morals and allowing someone else to do it and then feel content to lament the outcome.
The Death of Dogmatism
Given the breakthrough in the fields of Medicine, Genetic Engineering and Information Technology; and our penchant for empirical evidence, increasing curiosity to unravel the mystery of Nature, accepting information, pronouncements and (sometimes even) religious texts at face value is no longer tenable. Unquestionable belief and passive acceptance is a thing of the past. This is the reality an intending parent must come to term with in the 21st century and, perhaps, beyond. For instance, to think that your kid would accept hook, line and sinker the rational legality of killing a “gecko”, “magana da Aljanu”, “killing of apostate or blasphemer” for no other justifiable and comprehensible reason is to misconstrue “MTN Group” as a charity organization. Dogmatism is busy preparing its farewell speech, tell anyone.
Those in denial of this visible reality are potential victims of backhanded compliment. This was the case of Dr. Zaghloul al-Naggar, a founding member of the World Commission of Scientific Miracles in the Qur’an and Sunnah, who was recently assailed by a group of young Moroccan students headed by Najib Mokhtari for expounding theories of scientific bases for Islam and the Qur’an. In an interview on Al-Jazeera, Dr. Zaghloul al-Naggar claimed that Mecca is located at the center of the earth. Najib Mokhtari and other Moroccan students challenged this claim with empirical scientific evidence which proves that the earth is spherical and therefore all land is earth’s centers, meaning not only the Kaaba can be considered the world’s center since planet earth is actually round. 21st century parent should be prepared to deliver 21st century answers to the imminent salvos of questions from the 21st century kid who will be less appealed to the cultural-intrinsic apothegm “since the Imam said so, therefore Ma gana Ya kare.”
And the mention of reform due to the inevitable influence of time dynamics is been frown at or worse misconstrued to being apologetic. The need for rethinking our methodology of teaching Islam especially to our kids is critical to the survival of our religion. The privilege of being an accidental Muslim is gradually disappearing and the current system is not packaged in a way that will produce a Muslim by conviction particularly with the literalists occupying the driver’s sit in a world that is increasingly becoming more reasonable.
The impossible has now become a routine and yet most Muslims are associating faithfulness to their delusion of strict adherence to the ways of the past in practicing a religion that claims universality and timelessness. We are in an era of democratization of scholarship and the paradox in this case is that the voices that seems loudest are the less informed.
Resurgence and Rejuvenation of Rational Thinking
Perhaps, given the absolute power the Muslim leaders of the past commanded, and given the existence of central leadership, limited access to information or its deliberate suppression, or both, rational thinking as represented by the Mu’tazilite school of Islamic theology might have been forcefully suppressed or totally abolished in the Muslim world. What we are witnessing today in the Muslim world is the rejuvenation of such thought. Rational thinking is taking the centre stage. The 21st century kids are busy asking, probing, interrogating, searching and mapping the limit of faith and revelation and the boundary of rationality and reason.
Literalism would be worse hit in this millennium for its static, limited and non-malleable interpretation of text. To survive the tsunami of the 21st century, Muslims should get themselves prepared to answer earthshaking and nerve-shattering questions. “Why should I not eat Christmas food?”, “Where does fate end and freewill begin?”, “Does the destiny of a Muslim differ from that of a non-Muslim?”, “What is the scope, boundary and limit of preordainment and predestination?”, “For what reason should I hate non-Muslim even though it has been stated, clearly, that there is no compulsion in religion?”. With time, concepts like “Al wala wal bara” would become obsolete.
Next week, we will share the concluding of this interesting article.