, by DR. SYED KHALID IQUBAL HAIDER
‘Globalisation’ is a buzzword, a fashion today to use it frequently in a positive connotation. It seems it gives the message of togetherness, of world-citizenship, and of communities in a single whole world which is a village. Another argument in favour of globalisation is in the idea of self-knowledge through contacts with that culture which is unlike ours: while trying to know the other, I’m re-elaborating the image I have of myself; I develop my self-knowledge as I try to explore the essence of others. Unlike colonialism, it sounds very pleasing.
Colonialism was a crude form of globalisation while globalisation is a more refined form of colonialism. If one ceases to be a lay man and knows a little more about it, he’ll find it synonymous, so to say, to free-market policies in the world economy. It is economic liberalisation, in fact. Again, it doesn’t sound unpleasant because it provides opportunities for all and everywhere around the globe to find out unrestricted means to uplift one’s economy. But its undercurrent, as the scholars find, keeps a growing dominance of western and American forms of political, economic and cultural life, of course through the proliferation of new information technologies as well as through projecting the notion that humanity stands at the threshold of realising of single unified community in which major sources of social conflict are at the verge of vanishing away.
According to Edward Burnett Tylor and Franz Boas, “The hierarchy between cultures is abolished, there are no inferior, no superior cultures, each culture has its own value, its own traditions, its own way of life, be it more or less complex; be it more or less sophisticated.”
The term globalisation has become commonplace in the last two decades. The achievements of conquering distance and space through high-speed forms of transportation and communication propelled the wise men of the postmodern era to heighten the possibilities for human interaction across existing geographical and political divides. A noble impulse! Noble indeed: crux of all religions. Behind this noble impulse of deterritorialisation and social interconnectedness, the design of single cultural expansionism may also not be set aside – expansion of culture, ideology and values.
Learned people voiced their apprehension and fear that globalisation is just another name for westernisation or Americanisation. This fear and apprehension has more been reflected among the Muslims around the world. But to me, this is an exaggerated apprehension, for the basics for maintaining and protecting the Islamic identity are firmly established in the scriptures of Islam, the Sunnah of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be to him) and the behaviour of the first generations of Islam: companions of the Prophet. No religion or culture has such a sound foundation standing simultaneously on three strong pillars at a time as Islam is.
Colonialism and modernity in the past already presented Muslims with great number of challenges – the most gruesome among them was the effort to get the world adapted and accommodated with their traditions, all the experiences have not been negative, though. Modern transport, for example, has greatly improved Muslims’ capacity to perform the obligation of Hajj and also provided easy access to their brothers living in far-flung USA, UK and France and to successfully deliver to them Dawah. Likewise, modern media have created opportunities for a greater sense of the Ummah than ever before.
Globalisation is more a belief than a venture for changing human lot in general on earth – a belief in the progressive demystification and naturalisation of the world. Modernity and post-modernity share the thematic nature of the quest of the divided self for the lost unity and this explains the central place identity occupies in our times. This outlook is driven by an overriding optimism in the reliability of science and technology and the power of the human spirit to overcome all obstacles.
The belief in human spirit and in power of science instead of in the will of God is the basis of globalisation – science and human spirit therefore are only the two powerful waves that would sweep away all superstitions, magic and primitive religions of the world. This overture contradicts the faith especially the Muslims have in the supremacy of Allah. All the religions do have faith in the Almightiness of the Almighty but in case of Islam, it is also required to transmute it into practice, into deeds, not only to keep it locked within the chambers of heart or sputter it about. Faith must be reflected through deeds. Here is the bone of contention.
Of course human spirit, which has garnered science, has done wonders in the world, yet it entails two major deficiencies which it compulsorily ensues with all its overtures: science can’t dissipate happiness for all alike nor could it create such an atmosphere where a beggar could enter into the parliament house – the seat of law makers to discuss the well being of its nation and people; the beggars, instead, freely enter into the gates of temples, unobstructed. Science and human spirit undertook the task of human well being but they couldn’t do anything for peace provision. They couldn’t go a single step ahead from comfort, physical comfort, that too only for those who could afford it.
Development is talked about but when it comes, it is always uneven; bombs are made, which are always destructive; pesticides for longevity of plants and trees serve the cause of their extinction also. On political front the assertion is always freedom which produces brilliant creativity, but always leaves a trail of corruption, greed and depravity not unlike that exhibited in the name of gods and kings. Human spirit and science therefore can’t take the position of God.
Religion on individual basis supplies psychological solace, of course through what Marx calls, ‘sigh of the oppressed’ by offering another world more akin to the inner quest of man – a natural quest, and an escape from the rigours of technological order and the ennui that is the incidental by-product of an increasingly programmed world. All the religions of the world have therefore laid impetus on the need to vitalise spiritual aspect through different practices. But Islam provides an opportunity to forge a larger group by bringing together small fragmented identities – the task globalisation has taken today to envision one community of human being as it were living in a small village.
The breakup of Soviet Russia has revealed this power. The revolution of Iran has revealed this power. This is clearly evident of Islam in America and other minority contexts also where the minority groups feel gravitated on religious issues. And this is the factor which brought Islam at the centre stage of public life at the end of the 20th century. Despite crude secularisation, despite colonalisation in the past centuries, despite modernisation in the past few decades, Islam is at the centre stage of public life even today. To counter perhaps this Muslim identity, international companies like Coco Cola, McDonald’s or others with brand names put efforts to unite all humankind in one family. Additionally, the halal signs are exclusively put for those consumers who are reluctant to come to their fold and, therefore they are thriving in global market.
The rise of Muslim population and their adherence to their own beliefs and practices have shattered the labyrinthine of western cultural hegemony. Muslims, like everybody else in the global village, are continuously moving and making homes in parts of the world that are purely homogenous in culture. Due to clash between Muslims’ and the homogenous culture, Muslims’ firmness in their own belief and practices has all the more increased, the rising number of Masjids in the west alone is the reflection of their negation to the implied call from forums like globalisation. Sometimes forced by questions of identity and marginalisation, Muslims are tuning towards Islam and turning with stronger faith than before. The status of Muslims in many secular states today is much like that of the minorities in early Islamic empires.
Here I’m reminded of a reformist Mohamad Abduh who advocated at the turn of 19th century, the doctrine of ‘talfiq’ in Islamic jurisprudence. He advocated that one could follow the judgment of any recognised school of thought. The word ‘talfiq’ is an act of patching a garment with a variety of pieces. This may not be interpreted as opportunistic approach but a means of overcoming legal problems in one school by turning to more appropriate answers in another. In case of globalisation, we should have the same approach, which ‘ulama’ have agreed to apply in India under secularism. It suits Muslims in the post-modern culture.
Globalisation has focused religion, culture and human rights at the top of the agenda for world relations. At the founding of United Nations in 1948 the question of relation between religion and human rights was ignored because religion was thought of as a private matter. But a realisation about the fact that religion is not a private affair for most people on the globe, globalisation has assumed a new dimension – religion would be a private matter under the impact of secularisation. Religion has returned to public life with confidence and power; hence question of religion and human rights can’t be ignored. Religion is the basis of human rights culture. The call that religions should be provided with opportunities to unearth their inherent values bears credibility.
The Quran appeals to a basic human capacity inherent in all human beings to know and recognise the truth, and it is on this foundation that a culture of human rights may be built. The Quran sets forth a fundamental principle of religious liberty and unconditionally supports freedom of conscience. The religious sphere is guided by deep personal conscience while morals guide the organisation of society.
Thus, globalisation is nearer to Islamic philosophy in regard to social cohesion than modernisation and secularisation had fostered before because it has focused both ‘religion’ and ‘communities’ rather than only ‘individual freedom’ and ‘search for pleasure’ in life. Muslims around the globe instead of keeping reactionary approach should participate in all debates but must not shrink away from their belief and practices because practice asserts belief. All the symbols which invigorate their belief must not be sacrificed; they should rather be dynamically underlined to adjust, and respond – comprehensively and coherently in the modern world.
[The writer is Head, Department of English, Preston University, Ajman, U.A.E.]