The great scientist, Sir Isaac Newton in his magnum opus, ‘Principia Mathematica’, proposed later proven laws regarding motions of objects, and I, approvingly, quote the one termed as the Third Law: ” To every action, there is always equal and opposite reaction”.
A mere physical law, right? Well, not quite. The statement cuts across, virtually, all fields of knowledge contextually. That we (the Muslim world) cannot live in isolation, and neither immune to the menacing and penetrating effect(s) of globalization, this conscious (and even forced) choice of dancing to the allurement of the 21st century goodies comes with a price. Therefore, we should be ready to accept (willingly or not) the consequence of doing so. Parts of such consequences include the appealing and refreshing alternative viewpoints. A 21st century kid might just wake up one cool morning and declare to his father that “I am gay”, “Dad, I am a freethinker, I cannot hold on to that your belief system”, “I cannot make sense of this your faith, Dad. I think I am an Agnostic, maybe an Atheist”. Shockingly, you ask, “why?” He would reply, “It sounds cool”. Cool, huh?! It might happen, at the moment, that it is the coolest thing to do/be. A certain musician, author, actor, footballer said so. Blah, blah, blah.
Internet Boom and The Coming Culture War
Gone were the days when censorship of information was the norm and modus operandi in the Muslim world. The era of censorship has eloped with the Iron Cage of Policing Thought to a land of no return. The internet boom is here to amplify discourses that will challenge those rigidly conceived orthodox thoughts and traditions. The rise of these religion-critical discourses will in turn trigger a backlash from conservative forces who fear an uprooting of traditional beliefs and identities. The coming Tsunami of culture war should be visible to anyone who knows what signs to look for. Access to internet is now growing rapidly in the Muslim world. Internet penetration rates in Muslim-majority countries have long lagged behind but this state of affairs is changing. Internet boom is occurring in some of the most conservative societies on Earth, where ideas contrary to or critical of a strict interpretation of Islam are often stigmatized or even punished.
For instance, in Nigeria, conservative religious authorities have played a critical role in shaping public attitudes and establishing social norms. The growth in Internet penetration is gradually changing the monopoly once wielded solely by the conservative religious authorities. 21st century kids are hounded with information that bestow upon them the chutzpah to offer critical appraisal of thorny issues like blasphemy, apostasy, atheism et al and they are not voicing their perspectives from behind the shadows anymore. The Internet allows likeminded people from disparate corners of the world to find one another and create virtual communities. From Hadejia to Rabat to Brussels to Sydney, all it takes is a single click from 50-naira data. But is the virtual world the only safe refuge? No. The virtual world connects people who then proceed, in most cases, to establish offline connections and build social cohesion. The Iron Cage can no longer trap the 21st century kid. He is a citizen of a world that extends beyond his visual ambience. When he/she is stigmatized and ostracized in his native community for being intransigent towards the Iron Cage, there are now available tickets that can fly him/her to the other side of the Atlantic.
The Way Forward
Dear parent (experienced and intending ones), I am not a Prophet of Doom. These are just some of the uncomfortable truths that we may not wish to read or hear. It has always been our habit to dismiss anything we cannot comprehend with a wave of the hand as a heresy or taking the lazy route: finding consolation in exercise that would prevent us from thinking and taking the needed precaution, resorting to prayer like “God forbid, it is not my portion, I reject it, Allah kar kasa naga wannan lokaci”, and their cousins in illogicality. We are no stranger to complacency and indolence. Well, for your information, God does not work according to our whims. This needs no elucidation, I suppose.
What are ahead of us, if we really want to see our kids in our own image (to be and remain Muslims in the truest sense of the word), are two suggestions:
First of all, to embark on a journey to, and delve into, the muddle water of modern knowledge, no matter how ‘dirty’ we think it is. We should be part of knowledge producers not just mere consumers. We have to thoroughly study, understand and appreciate science. What is it? What does it seek to address or achieve? What are its limits? What are its truths and contradictions? How does it arrive at its conclusion?
Secondly, there is an exigent need to go back to our inherited tradition, re-read and re-interpret it and thoroughly understand and appreciate its essence— we can then come up with mechanisms and methodologies that do NOT work against science, but seek to harmonize the two for the benefits of our shared humanity. John F. Kennedy was quoted to have said: ” The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining”. We all know that the metaphorical ‘roof’ is getting damaged by the day, and the sun is still shining so favorably.