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IOS Minaret Vol-1, No.1 (March 2007)
Vol. 7    Issue 21   16-31 March 2013

Modernity, Islamic Civilization and the Muslim World-- Part III

Professor A. R. Momin

In the concluding part of this essay, we discuss the process of modernization and the discourses on modernity in the context of contemporary Muslim societies. The discussion focuses on five distinctive issues:

• The deficit of prerequisites of modernization
• Diversities in the approaches to modernization
• The Arab Spring and its bearing on modernity
• Contemporary discourses on modernity
• Selective appropriation and reinvention of modernity

Deficit of Prerequisites of Modernization

There is an evident deficit of some of the key prerequisites of modernization, such as the culture of literacy and knowledge, science and technology and women’s rights, in the Muslim world. Levels of illiteracy in the Muslim world are appalling. The Arab Human Development Report 2002 identified three major deficits in the Arab world today: knowledge, freedom and women’s rights. These deficits have a negative bearing on modernization. The report revealed that illiteracy rates in the Arab region are higher than the international average and even higher than the average in developing countries.

It is universally recognized that knowledge and education are the key to human development, progress and global competitiveness. The Arab Human Development Report 2003 concluded that the status of knowledge in the Arab world in terms of demand, production and dissemination was grossly inadequate and ineffectual. The Arab Human Development Report 2004 pointed out that scientific research in Arab countries was seriously hampered by weak basic research and the almost total absence of advanced research in fields like information technology and molecular biology. Arab countries, according to the report, have one of the lowest levels of research funding in the world and that investment in research and development is less than one-seventh of the world average. The average number of scientists and engineers engaged in research and development in Arab countries is 371 per million people, while the world average, including countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America, is 979. The number of books published in Arab countries does not exceed 1.1 per cent of world production. The number of books translated from foreign languages into Arabic is negligible. The digital divide between the industrialized countries and developing countries is particularly strikingly in the context of Arab and Muslim countries. Access to digital media, especially the Internet, in the Arab and Muslim world is among the lowest in the world.

The Arab Human Development Report 2009 noted that the preconditions for the flowering of freedom are conspicuously absent in the Arab countries, which engenders deep and widespread frustration and despair among the people. By and large, the transfer of political power through the ballot box is a rare phenomenon in the Arab world. In many Arab countries which have some semblance of democracy, elections are often manipulated. Media control and censorship are widespread in Arab countries.

There are just a handful of Muslim countries, such as Turkey, Iran and Malaysia, where levels of education and the status of science and technology are comparatively better.

Modernization in the Muslim World

One can see different variants or models of modernity and development in various parts of the contemporary Muslim world. The patterns of modernization in Turkey, Iran, Tunisia, Syria, Malaysia, Indonesia, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt are quite different from each other. Some Muslim countries, such as Turkey, Iran, Egypt and Tunisia, are moving away from the model of modernity and development followed by earlier regimes. Iran, for example, has largely abandoned the legacy of the former king Mohammad Reza, while Turkey is in the process of dismantling and reconstructing the Kemalist legacy. Similarly, Egypt is in the process of reinterpreting its embrace of modernity and redefining its national identity.

One can hardly fail to notice a serious attempt in large parts of the Muslim world to selectively and judiciously appropriate certain features of modernity, which are then adapted and redefined in accordance with Islamic ethos and traditions and local contexts. This lends credence to the idea that modernity is not a monolithic, homogeneous phenomenon and that there are multiple models or paradigms of modernity. However, the existence of multiple models of modernity in the contemporary Muslim world need not lead one to the misleading suggestion, as Aziz al-Azmeh insinuates in his book Islams and Modernities (1996), that such multiple models presuppose or represent different conceptualisations of the Islamic faith.

The process of reinterpretation and reappropriation of modernity in the Muslim world is an ongoing phenomenon and is also beset with controversy and contestation. The idea of Islamic modernism, for example, has been seriously challenged by the Salafi-minded social and political activists as well as ultra radical and militant movements like Boko Haram.

The Boko Haram, a militant movement in Nigeria, dubs everything that is even remotely associated with Western culture and modernity as illegitimate and forbidden. It is strongly opposed to Western education, science, modernity, globalization and democracy and has often indulged in violent activities, including the killing of those who are opposed to its extremist views. The movement has been condemned by Muslim groups and organizations in Nigeria and outside.

The Arab Spring

December 17, 2010 will be reckoned as a turning point in the history of the Arab region. On that day, Mohammed Bouaziz, a young educated Tunisian who eked out a living by selling fruits on a handcart, set himself on fire after being harassed and slapped by a municipal inspector who confiscated his handcart and fruits. He eventually died on January 4. The event triggered an unprecedented wave of protests and demonstrations across Tunisia. In many places the protests and demonstrations turned violent. Mercifully, Tunisia’s army refused to use force against protesters. On January 14 more than 40,000 people gathered at the historic Avenue Bourguiba to vent their ire against the government, braving torrents of teargas and bullets. On January 14, the Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled the country and sought shelter in Saudi Arabia.

In a matter of days and weeks, the reverberations of what came to be known as the Arab Spring or the Jasmine Revolution began to be felt across large parts of the Arab world, including Egypt, Yemen, Jordan, Syria, Bahrain, Libya, Kuwait, Algeria, Morocco, Oman and Saudi Arabia. Thousands of Egyptian protesters began gathering in Cairo and other cities from January 24, voicing their resentment and anger against rising prices, corruption in high places, President Hosni Mubarak’s autocratic rule, high unemployment rates and the huge gap between the rich and the poor, and demanding the ouster of the president. The police responded by bursting tear gas shells and water cannons. There were clashes between the police and protesters in several cities. Several prisons across the country were attacked and the inmates freed. The government ordered fighter jets to fly low over Cairo to intimidate the protesters, but they remained defiant. Faced with mounting popular opposition and escalating protests, Hosni Mubarak resigned on February 11, 2011.

Inspired by the events in Tunisia, tens of thousands of people took to the streets in Yemen’s capital Sana’a on January 26, 2011, demanding an end to the corrupt regime of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who had ruled the country for 32 years. The protesters also called for economic reforms in the face of mounting poverty and unemployment and political freedom. Unnerved by the rising wave of protests and demonstrations in large parts of the country, the government released all political prisoners and journalists from prison. But the protesters kept an unrelenting pressure on Saleh to quit. Finally, after more than a year of political turmoil, President Saleh resigned, and Yemen’s Vice-President, Abdurabu Mansur Hadi, was sworn in as the country’s new president on February 25, 2012. Protesters took to the streets in Jordan on January 29 and shouted slogans against rising prices and high unemployment rates and demanded the resignation of the prime minister. Thousands of people held demonstrations in Rabat, Casablanca and Marrakesh, demanding political reform, freedom and changes in the constitution.

While the Tunisian president fled the country and Egypt’s president resigned, Gaddafi was overthrown on August 23, 2011. In Algeria, a 19-year-old emergency was lifted following large-scale protests and demonstrations. In Oman, Sultan Qaboos announced economic concessions for the population, dismissed some ministers and granted law-making powers to Oman’s elected legislature. In Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah announced a package of economic concessions and conceded women’s voting rights and their right to be nominated to the Shura Council. On July 10, 2011 Morocco’s King Mohammed unveiled the outlines of a new constitution, which has been approved by a sizeable majority of Moroccans as well as the major opposition parties. According to the new constitution, nearly half of the powers previously held by the king will now be vested in the office of the prime minister, who will be appointed from the majority party in parliament. It also grants substantial political, social and cultural rights to women and the non-Arab sections of the population, including the Berbers.

A remarkable feature of the popular uprising in the Arab region was its representative character. The protesters and demonstrators included a wide cross-section of the population, including men and women, young and old, judges and lawyers, doctors, academics and research scholars, artists, writers, students, administrative staff, housewives and businessmen. Women participated in the uprisings in substantial numbers, shouting slogans, throwing stones at policemen and nursing the wounded. They defied the widely prevalent stereotype that Arab and Muslim women continue to be victims of an oppressive, male-dominated social order. Tawakkul Karman, who was awarded the Nobel peace prize in October 2011, has been a leading figure in the pro-democracy demonstrations in Yemen, camping out for months in front of Sana’a University. In Tunisia, the Ennahda Party fielded quite a few female candidates in the parliamentary elections. There are 8 women in Egypt’s new parliament.

The Arab Spring has not only brought about massive and unprecedented changes in the region’s political landscape but has also thrown up a host of key social and political issues, including pluralism, democracy, the reconceptualisation and reconstitution of the state, the role of Islam in state and society, secularism, modernity and globalisation, human rights and gender justice.

It is note-worthy that Islamic political parties that have received the popular mandate to form governments in Tunisia, Egypt and Morocco have sought to steer clear of ideological rhetoric and contestation and have instead focused attention on the core issues of democratic governance, civil liberties, social justice and development. This is clearly and significantly reflected in the nomenclature of the major political parties in Egypt (Justice and Development Party) and Tunisia (Party of Justice and Development). Ghannouchi has consistently emphasized the centrality of democracy, pluralism and justice as the core political agenda of Ennahda Party. Abdelali Benkirane, Morocco’s newly-appointed prime minister, characteristically remarked before assuming office: “If I get into government, I won’t be telling young women how many centimeters of skirt they should wear to cover their legs. That’s none of my business. It is not possible, in any case, for anyone to threaten the cause of civil liberties in Morocco.”

Leaders and activists of the Muslim Brotherhood have reiterated, during the Egyptian uprising and after their electoral victory, their commitment to the civil, non-sectarian nature of the Egyptian state. Ibrahim Zakariya, an official of Ikhwan al-Muslimun and a former member of the Egyptian parliament, told the Time magazine: “The Muslim Brotherhood takes Islam as a template, but we don’t have a religious state or God-ordained rule. We believe in democracy and all its rule. We believe in the principle that the people are the origin and source of sovereignty and that people choose their leaders in free and secret ballots.

Contemporary Discourses on Modernity

The discourses on modernity and development in the contemporary Arab and Muslim world undoubtedly reflect significant variations, which are conditioned by political, historical and social factors and regional contexts and the outlook of the political and intellectual elite. At the same time, one can notice in these discourses a conspicuous commitment to Islamic values and principles, pragmatism and flexibility, and an open but critical and selective approach to modernity.

From the 1990s there has been considerable discussion and debate about the compatibility between Islam and democracy. The Arab Spring has thrown the issue into sharp relief. Many opinion polls show that the vast majority of people in the Arab region are in favour of democratic rule. There seems to be a broad consensus among contemporary Muslim scholars, intellectuals and activists that it is possible and desirable to harmonise Islamic values and principles with democratic ethos. Shaykh al-Qaradawi declared on Al Jazeera television in 2005 that “freedom comes before Islamic law.” He has consistently spoken in favour of pluralism and democracy. Some prominent leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood like Abdel Moneim and Abdel Futuh endorse democracy as a desirable form of government for Arab and Muslim countries. Similar views are expressed by Fathallah Arsalane of Morocco’s Justice and Excellence Party and Nadia Yassine (daughter of Shaykh Yasine). Ahmad Khalil, leader of Egypt’s Al-Nour Party, says that “Shariah and democracy must be combined.” Hasan al-Turabi, Sudanese political leader, has supported democracy and pluralism.

Tunisia’s most influential leader Rachid Ghannouchi founded the Islamic Tendency Movement in 1981, which was later rechristened as Ennahda Party, which aimed, in the Tunisian context, at the “reconstruction of economic life on a more equitable basis, the end of single-party rule and the acceptance of political pluralism and democracy.”

Ghannouchi is widely credited for having emphasized the centrality of democracy, social justice, human rights and political pluralism in the current Islamic discourse and in Islam-inspired political and social movements in the Arab and Muslim world. He argues that the values of justice, human rights and public consultation are embedded in the Quran and in the Islamic tradition. For more than three decades, Ghannouchi has consistently argued that democracy and pluralism are compatible with Islamic values and principles. He espouses a tolerant and inclusive vision of society and polity and is against the forcibly establishment of an Islamic state. He has repeated denounced violence and terrorism, saying that “rulers benefit from violence more than their opponents.” He has said, “We consider that a state is more Muslim, more Islam, the more it has justice in it.” He said in an interview to BBC’s Radio 4 in February 2012 that the type of state he envisions is one that “doesn’t interfere in people’s private lives.” The state, he said, should not have anything to do with “imposing or telling people what to wear, what to eat and drink and what they believe in, and what they should not believe in.” He also said he had no plans to ban bikinis on Tunisia’s beaches or on the sale of alcohol. “I would prefer if people didn’t do that, but it is up to them,” he added.

Leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood have reiterated, during the Egyptian uprising and after their electoral victory, their commitment to the civil, non-sectarian nature of the Egyptian state. Ibrahim Zakariya, an official of the Muslim Brotherhood and a former member of the Egyptian parliament, told the Time magazine: “The Muslim Brotherhood takes Islam as a template, but we don’t have a religious state or God-ordained rule. We believe in democracy and all its rule. We believe in the principle that the people are the origin and source of sovereignty and that people choose their leaders in free and secret ballots.”

Fethullah Gulen, one of the most influential figures in Turkey in particular and in the Muslim world in general has selectively and critically appropriated elements and features from the legacy of the Ottoman Empire, the Sufi tradition, and the contemporary discourse on pluralism, democracy, human rights, globalisation and intercultural understanding, and synthesized and reinvented them in the context of modern Turkey. He has a positive view of globalization and urges his followers to harness its resources, especially in respect of education, science and technology, and the media.

Like Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, whose ideas have profoundly influenced Gulen’s thought, Gulen believes that there is no inherent contradiction between Islam and modernity and that the two are compatible. He has a positive view of Western civilization and admires many of its salient features, including the privileged place of science and technology, liberal democracy, the rule of law, modernity and respect for human rights. Gulen supports the idea of a secular state but is wary of its misuse by the ruling elite. He draws a distinction between a liberal, accommodative and benign form of secularism and one that is tyrannical, doctrinaire and repressive. He says that a secular outlook is not inherently anti-religious. If it allows freedom of religion and conscience, it is compatible with Islam. Gulen says that the “top-down” imposition of a dogmatic form of secularism by the Kemalist regime alienated the large masses of Turkish people, especially in the countryside, from the state and the ruling elite. Gulen advises his followers to partake of the opportunities offered by the secular state.

In the course of his tours of Arab countries in the wake of the Arab Spring in September 2011, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan urged Arab states to create secular polities that would give “equal rights to all religious groups, including Muslims, Christians, Jews and atheists.” He called on Egyptians to adopt a secular constitution, emphasizing that secularism did not mean renouncing religion. Drawing a distinction between secularism as a personal ideology and as state policy, he added, “As Recep Tayyip Erdogan I am a Muslim, not secular. But I am a prime minister of a secular country. People should have the freedom to choose whether or not to be religious in a secular state. Turkey defines secularism as the principle that the state is equidistant from all religions. Secularism is not atheism.”

Reinventing and Harnessing Modernity

The processes whereby certain key features of modernity and globalization are being selectively appropriated, reinvented and harnessed in the contemporary Muslim world can be observed in the growing worldwide salience and popularity of Shariah-compliant products and services, the digitization of Islamic textual sources and the increasing use of modern information and communication technologies.

Shariah-Compliant Products and Services

The halal industry includes a wide range of consumer products and services, including food and beverages, insurance, financial services, pharmaceuticals, clothing, travel and tourism, cosmetics and fashion accessories, and health-related products such as toothpaste.

According to JWT, a well-known American advertising agency, food, finance and packaged goods are the three consumer markets most affected by Islamic law. In recent years there has come about a greater awareness, concern and demand for halal food among Muslims, especially those living in Western countries. The easy availability of halal food products in most cities, the entry of global food companies in the halal food business, global tourism and international halal food festivals in Malaysia, Dubai and other countries have made halal food a conspicuous feature of Muslim culture in large parts of the world. According to the Malaysia-based World Halal Forum, halal food accounts for nearly 17 per cent of the global food market and is one of the fastest-growing segments of the food market. According to the forum, the current global market for halal food is estimated at over $700 billion annually. Sales of halal food reached $641 billion in 2010, up from $587 billion in 2004. The halal food market in Asia is worth more than $418. In Africa, the halal food market is worth $1156 billion. In Europe, sales of halal food products touched nearly $70 billion in 2011. About three million tonnes of halal meat are consumed annually in Europe. Russia is one of the fastest-growing markets for halal food products. The country produced around 65,000 tonnes of halal food in 2011. The halal food market in the Americas is worth $16.7 billion. Since halal food is not available in some parts of the US and Canada, many Muslims turn to kosher. In the US an estimated 16% of sales in the $100 million kosher industry come from Muslim customers. In Australia/Oceania, the halal food market grew by 33.3 per cent between 2009 and 2010 and is currently estimated at $1.6 billion.

The growing worldwide demand for halal food has prompted global food giants like McDonald’s as well as supermarket chains in Europe and North America to enter the halal food segment. Britain’s biggest supermarket chains such as Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and Somerfield have separate shelves for halal food products. Tesco launched halal products in 2004 and distributes halal chocolates in six of its stores in London. British pharmacy retailer Boots sells halal baby food. Nestle earns more from halal products than it does from organic food. Rotterdam Port, one of the world’s largest ports, has built a huge warehouse of halal products and is set to become “the halal gateway to Europe.” The Port of Rotterdam was officially designated as halal at the World Islamic Economic Forum.

In April 2007, when McDonald’s opened its first European restaurant with halal burgers and chicken nuggets on the menu in Southall in west London, sales rose dramatically. Halal chicken nuggets introduced by McDonald’s in Dearborn, Michigan, home to one of the largest Arab populations in the US, are immensely popular with local Muslims. Wal-Mart now stocks halal food products in its US stores. Two of McDonald’s restaurants in Melbourne and Sydney offer halal meals. Global fast food giants such as Domino’s Pizza, Pizza Hut, KFC and Subway are using halal meat in their products. KFC launched a halal-only menu in eight of its London outlets in 2009. All McDonald’s restaurants in Pakistan, Malaysia, South Africa, Singapore and India are halal certified. In the UK, hundreds of outlets serving halal fried chicken, such as Chicken Cottage, have sprung up in recent years. Los Angeles has a Chinese Islamic restaurant and a Thai Islamic restaurant where only halal food is served. The Muslim population in France is around 6 million, the largest in Europe. French supermarkets such as Casino and Carrefour have launched a wide range of halal foods. A restaurant called McHalal has been serving halal burgers for years outside the French city of Lyon. A newly-opened fast-food restaurant in Paris called Clichy-sous-Bois offers Beurger King Muslim halal hamburgers and fries. The value of the halal food market in France was estimated at €17.6 billion in 2010. A Pakistani Muslim has opened a string of halal chicken sandwich stands in Britain and France. Solis, a Paris-based research organization, reckons that the Muslims of France will soon consume around €4.5 billion worth of halal foods each year. About one-quarter of this belongs to the category of fast food.

Switzerland is the largest producer of processed halal food in the world with annual sales of $3.5 billion. Swiss companies which produce halal food make sure that their products are tested, regularly checked and certified by Islamic experts. Nestle, the world’s largest food corporation with $94 billion in sales in 2007, adheres to halal food requirements in 75 of its 480 factories worldwide. For the past two years Nestle has eliminated pork, alcohol and blood from its production process in seven of its European factories, including a sausage plant in France, a Nescafe plant in Germany and a powdered milk plant in Spain. The Nestle factory at Wangen bei Olten produces more than 41,000 tonnes of freshly made dough a year, of which a substantial amount is of the halal variety. Most of the halal puff pastry is sold to France, home to Europe’s largest Muslim population. Brazil is one of the largest exporters of halal food.

Islamic Finance

Islamic finance, which is essentially premised on Islamic principles governing trade, banking, investment and all other types of financial transactions, is steadily gathering momentum across large parts of the world, including Europe, North America and Australasia. Islamic financial institutions eschew charging interest and investing in industries that involve prohibited items such as alcohol, gambling and pornography. They operate on the Islamic principle that reward and risk should be shared among all participants in a business or financial transaction. Islamic finance embraces a wide range of institutions, products and services, including Islamic banks, Islamic investment companies and banks, mutual funds, bonds and stocks, insurance, equities, and Islamic e-commerce. Islamic finance is no longer a niche business and is increasingly becoming a mainstream component of the global banking system. Currently, more than 500 Islamic financial institutions exist in over 90 countries across the world, with an asset holding size of $ 1.3 trillion, an increase of more than 150 per cent over five years. The global rating agency Standard and Poor’s estimates that the Islamic finance market worldwide will more than double in value over the next three years to reach more than $ 2 trillion. The Islamic finance industry continues to grow at an annual rate of 20 per cent. Iran holds the world’s largest level of Islamic financial assets valued at $235.3 billion. Seven out of ten Islamic banks in the world are Iranian. Malaysia and the states that make up the Gulf Cooperation Council (Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia) form the hub of the global Islamic finance network. Al-Rajhi Bank, Saudi Arabia’s largest Islamic financial institution, has $ 15 billion in deposits. Kuwait Finance House is one of the world’s largest Islamic banks. Islamic banks in Malaysia account for 24.2 per cent (69.5 billion ringgits) of the country’s total banking assets.

Islamic bonds (sukuk) are among the highest profile products of Islamic financial institutions. In 2007, the total value of sukuk outstanding globally totaled US$82.4 billion. Standard and Poor’s expects the sales of Islamic bonds to reach US$200 billion annually by 1015. The UAE has been the world’s foremost issuer of sukuk over the past ten years, contributing over 36 per cent of global sale value, followed by Malaysia at 32 per cent. At present, investments in Islamic financial products represent just about 1 per cent of the global financial market, but the segment has grown at some 15% annually in the past three years and was worth $1,000 billion in 2010. In the UK it has grown to more than £ 500 million.

It goes without saying that financial institutions, businesses and entrepreneurs are primarily interested in making money. Sometimes, new, unforeseen avenues of making money and earning profits are discovered through fortuitous circumstances. Some years ago, car dealers in an American city noticed that sales of new cars accelerated when the interest rate on loans for new vehicles was reduced to zero. Later they discovered that a large proportion of the buyers was Muslim and that there was a positive correlation between the facility for zero interest and higher sales.

According to a report by Standard and Poor’s, Islamic bonds reached a record $51.2 billion in 2010, an increase of 34% from 2007. The value of Islamic bonds issued in the Gulf alone rose to 61% in 2010, with issuances valuing $7 billion in 2009-2010, compared to $4.3 billion in the previous year. By mid-February 2011, more than $16 billion worth had already been issued worldwide since the beginning of the year. Malaysia remains the key driving force in the sukuk market, accounting for nearly 78% or 39.8 billion of total issuances in 2010, followed by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE.

In response to the growing worldwide demand among Muslims for Islamic financial products, a number of major international banks, including Citibank, HSBC, ABN AMRO, BNP Paribas, Deutsche Bank, Barclays, Lloyds TSB, Credit Suisse and Goldman Sachs, have begun to offer Islamic financial products. Deutsche Bank, Barclays Capital and BNP Paribas are among the world’s top five issuers of Islamic bonds. All major banks in Britain now have Islamic divisions, and there are also five Islamic banks in the country. Investment bankers in the West are competing to create a range of new Islamic capital market products on a large scale. In 2003 HSBC Bank launched an “Islamic mortgage” scheme in Britain to provide loans for house purchase. A Texas-based oil and gas firm, East Cameron Partners, issued the first American sukuk (asset-based bonds) in 2006. In April 2007 the London Stock Exchange listed its maiden Islamic hedge funds.

In 2007 the International Capital Market Association and the International Monetary Fund agreed to develop standard contracts and common best practice for secondary trading of Islamic hedge funds and other Islamic instruments. A number of global banks, including Deutsche Bank, Barclays Capital and BNP Paribas, have issued Islamic hedge funds. The increasing global salience of Islamic finance may be gauged from the decision of the Harvard Law School to sponsor the Islamic Finance Project. It had set up its Islamic Finance Project way back in 1994-95, followed by several other premier educational institutions worldwide. The Eighth Harvard University Forum on Islamic Finance was held on April 18-20, 2008 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The Cass Business School in Britain offers a degree in Islamic finance. In 2008 Lancaster University Business School joined the Cass Business School and the School of Oriental and African Studies’ Centre for Financial and Management Studies in offering an optional module in Islamic finance as part of its postgraduate training. Since the global financial meltdown in 2008, Islamic financial products have also attracted the interest of conservative Christian investors. Sometime ago, the Pope’s official newsletter, L’Osservatore Romano, published an article praising the ethical concepts of Islamic banking and finance and encouraging western banks to adopt the rules of Islamic banking and finance to restore confidence amongst their clients during the economic crisis. Malaysia, a Muslim-dominated country, has more than 40% non-Muslim account holders in Islamic banks.

In Germany, banks and other financial institutions now evince a growing interest in Islamic investments and financial products. The Munich-based insurance giant Allianz and Deutsche Bank have set up Shariah-compliant funds and certificates, which are marketed in Muslim countries. Early next year, Germany’s first Islamic bank, Kuveyt Turk Beteiligungsbank, a subsidiary of a Turkish-Kuwaiti bank, will open in Mannheim in the western part of the country. Federal Financial Services Authority, known as BaFin, recently issued a limited license to the bank. There are plans to open branches of the bank in other German cities.

In recent years, financial transactions in some of the massive global purchases have been mediated through Islamic bonds. Islamic bonds worth about US$3.5 billion went into the financing of the purchase of the British Peninsular and Steam Navigation by the Dubai Port Authority in 2006. Islamic financial investment played a major role in the Ford Motor Company’s US$ 848 million sale of Aston-Martin to the Kuwait-based Islamic bank, Investment Dar in 2008. Caribou Coffee, the second-largest specialty coffee chain in the US after Starbucks, is owned by a Bahrain-based Islamic equity firm.

Sharia-Friendly Hospitality

One of the sectors in which the demand for halal products and services is rapidly increasing is the hospitality industry. A recent study conducted by Dinar Standard, a US-based consultancy that tracks the Muslim lifestyle market, found that educated, well-heeled Muslims spent about €102 billion during their travels in 2011. This figure is expected to reach €156 by 2020.

A growing number of educated, well-to-do Muslim families now look out for a Muslim-friendly holiday package, including a hotel with alcohol-free dining areas, prayer rooms, halal food and private or segregated swimming pools. A seaside resort in the town of Port Dickson offers a Muslim-friendly holiday atmosphere. The luxury villas in the hotel complex have an arrow on the ceiling indicating the direction of the qibla. It serves only halal food, and alcohol is strictly forbidden. There are prayer rooms and one can ask for a copy of the Quran together with translations in English and French. The resort also offers special Ramadan packages.

Islamic Fashion Industry

There has been a significant spurt in the Islamic fashion industry across many parts of the world. Bloomberg, an American multinational media corporation, estimates that the global Islamic fashion market could be worth as much as $96 billion. Islamic fashion festivals, the Internet and Islamic fashion magazines have played a highly important role in the growing popularity of Islamic fashion. Malaysia’s Islamic fashion festival, started in 2006 with the slogan ‘Discover the Beauty of Modesty,’ has visited Abu Dhabi, Astana, Dubai, Kakarta, Monte Carlo, New York, Singapore, Bundung and London and has been a trend setter in the Islamic fashion industry. It was included, for the first time, in the Milan Fashion Week held in 2012.

Fashionable garments for men and women, inspired by Islamic traditions and cultural patterns, are now being designed by international designers in Europe. Muslim women in the Middle East generally don what are known as abayas: body-covering black robes, which are usually accompanied by headscarves. Now well-known international designers like Christian Dior, Nina Ricci, Jean Claude Jitrois, Blumarine and Alberta Feretti have undertaken a makeover of the abaya to cater to the tastes of rich clients in the Middle East.

A fashion show with models clad in Islamic gowns was held on June 25, 2009 at the George V Hotel in Paris, where a fairly wide variety of ready-to-wear versions of the abaya were showcased. The designer outfits are expected to go on sale in Saks stores in the cities of Jeddah and Riyadh in September this year and subsequently in Bahrain and Dubai.

Sharia-Compliant Sportswear and Swimwear

Football or soccer is the world’s most popular game, played by over 250 million people in 200 countries. Though it is largely male-dominated, a fairly large number of women and girls around the world enthusiastically play the game. According to the International Federation for World Soccer (FIFA), the world football governing body, more than 29 million women and girls—and their numbers are constantly growing--play the game. In 2007 FIFA banned women wearing headscarves from playing football for safety reasons and because of rules that stipulate that religious or political symbols should not be allowed on pitch. The Iranian women’s football team had to forfeit a match against Jordan in June 2011 because they refused to remove their headscarf.

The ban on the wearing of headscarves on pitch has been contested by many Muslim and non-Muslim athletes, who have argued that the ban promotes inequality in the world’s most popular game and inhibits the potential for it in Muslim countries. The United Nations joined the calls for lifting the ban. At a meeting in London in March 2012, the IFAB agreed in principle to overturn the ban. In the midst of this controversy, a Dutch designer, Cindy van den Bremen, has designed a new, football-friendly hijab -- called “Capsters”-- that looks trendy and meets the requirements of safety. Capsters are basically a plastic wrapper of white fabric with some stitching and a Velcro closing. It requires no knots or pins to tie it around one’s head. It is made in stretchable materials so as to make it comfortable to wear. The Velcro fastening is designed in such a way that if an opponent grabs the hijab from behind, it will easily come off, thereby minimizing the risk of choking or strangulation.

A Lebanese Australian lady, Aheda Zanetti, has designed a swimsuit for Muslim women – called burqini – that meets the Islamic requirement for modesty. The suit covers the whole body except the face, hands and feet.

A Syrian firm, NewBoy Toys, has created Fulla—which has Middle Eastern features and wears a headscarf and a coat—as an alternative to the blonde Barbie doll made by an American toymaker.

Digitization of Islam: Reinventing Dawah

In the past few years the Internet has emerged as an important source of information on Islam and Muslims. The entire text of the Quran, including recitation and translations and commentaries into many languages, several collections of Hadith and Islamic legal texts and edicts (fatawa) are now available online. The major authoritative compilations of Hadith are now available in computer readable format. A pioneering contribution to this project has been made by Muhammad Mustafa al-Azami, a Saudi scholar of Indian origin, who worked on the computerization of the major source material on Hadith from the late 1970s to the mid-1990s. Unfortunately, the work remains unfinished. A similar kind of work was taken up by the Sunnah and Seerah Centre in Qatar. In 2000 more than 14,000 fatawa could be found on the Internet. The US-based IslamiCity has published more than 5000 fatawa on the Internet. A number of Islamic websites offer information as well as learned articles on the multifarious legacy of Islamic civilization.

Social networking sites such as Facebook and video-sharing sites such as YouTube contains hundreds of notices and articles on prominent Muslim scholars, scientists and physicians of past centuries, on the legacy of Islamic civilization in architecture, music and arts and crafts, and on a variety of subjects relating to Islam and Muslims. Some contemporary Muslim scholars have used modern information and communication technologies for disseminating information about Islam and for clearing misconceptions about Islamic principles. One of these prominent figures is the Egyptian-born scholar Dr Yusuf al-Qaradawi.

Dr Qaradawi hosts a hugely popular Arabic programme Al-Shariah wal-hayat (Shariah and Life) on Al-Jazeera television, which is watched by tens of millions of viewers across the Arab world. He also runs a website called IslamOnline, which he founded in 1997, where he offers his opinions and fatawa on a variety of issues. Dr Al-Qaradawi has 269,741 followers on Facebook.

Amr Khaled, a Muslim TV preacher of Egyptian origin, has emerged as one of the most popular figures in the Arab world. His devotional programmes aired on a Saudi-owned religious channel are watched and admired by millions of viewers across the Arab region. Khaled is not a traditional preacher or Imam, nor has he been trained as one. He has had a secular education and had worked as an accountant for a prestigious Cairo firm. He appears on TV in a Western-style suit or jaunty sweaters and polo shirts. His sermons are delivered in an informal manner, peppered with Egyptian slang and modern terms.

Khaled, who now lives in Birmingham with his wife and son, focuses his attention on the younger generation of Muslims who are exposed to modern Western education and tend to be torn between their Islamic roots and the modern, globalizing environment. He runs a website, where followers can chat with one another and download his sermons. The website received 26 million hits in 2005 and continues to be avidly visited by hundreds of thousands of young Muslims from around the Middle East. More than five million cassettes of his sermons have been sold in the Middle East.

Timothy Winter, or Shaykh Abd al-Hakim Murad, is a prominent British Muslim writer, translator, teacher and commentator on the relations between Muslims and Western societies and on inter-faith issues. He figures in a 2010 list of 500 most influential Muslims in the world, brought out by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre, Amman. In addition to occasionally writing for newspapers, he appears frequently on BBC Radio. The social networking site Facebook has his profile, while the video-sharing site YouTube features some of his lectures and discourses. His lectures are available on DVD and CD.

In the past few years, one of the gravest threats to peace, stability and societal cohesion in large parts of the world has come from transnational terrorist groups and networks, in which a small, extremist section of Muslims is prominently involved. The growing tentacles of global terrorism have led to the killing of thousands of innocent civilians, including Muslims, damaged property and infrastructure worth billions of dollars, created an atmosphere of fear and insecurity, and reinforced mistrust and hostility against Muslims. Global terrorism has strengthened xenophobic and racist sentiments in Europe and has reinvigorated far-right political parties across large parts of the continent.

Thankfully, the overwhelmingly majority of Muslims around the world have denounced violence and terrorism carried out by a fringe group of Muslim youth in the name of Islam. The 2007 Gallup data show that Muslims across the world denounce terrorist attacks on civilians as morally unjustified. Acts of wanton killings and reckless violence and destruction have been condemned by Muslims around the world, and especially by Muslim scholars and Islamic seminaries.

A leading Pakistani-born Muslim scholar, Dr Muhammad Tahir-ul Qadri issued an online fatwa on March 2, 2010, backed by extensive references to Islamic legal principles and precedents and judicial pronouncements, denouncing terrorists as the enemies of Islam. Dr Qadri, the founder of an influential religious and educational organization and a socio-religious movement called Minhajul Quran International, said in his 600-page edict that suicide bombers were destined for hell. “There is no room for any martyrdom and their act (of terrorism) is never, ever to be considered jihad,” he said. Dr Qadri emphasized that Islam is a religion of peace that promotes beauty, betterment, goodness and “negates all form of mischief and strife”. “Terrorism is terrorism, violence is violence, and it has no place in Islamic teachings and no justification or excuse on its behalf can be acceptable,” he said. Dr Qadri emphatically pointed out that attacks against innocent citizens are “absolutely against the teachings of Islam” and that Islam does not permit such acts under any excuse, pretext or reason.

Extremism and fanaticism need to be combated through a multi-pronged strategy, involving Islamic edicts, discourses, conferences and workshops, communitarian involvement and engagement, informal group discussions and youth outreach programmes such as summer camps. The use of modern information and communications technologies for this purpose would prove to be of great value. Minhajul Quran International organized a three-day summer camp, called Al-Hidayah 2010, On August 7-9, 2010 at the University of Warwick campus. The camp was attended by 1,300 Muslim delegates, mainly young men and women, who came from across Europe, the US and Canada. The camp comprised a series of lectures, workshops and presentations and informal discussions. The discussions focused on various ways of combating extremism and terrorism in schools, universities and in the neighbourhood and community, and sought to provide the participants with conceptual and methodological orientations and resources -- drawn essentially from the Quran, the sayings and precepts of the Prophet Muhammad and the conduct of the righteously guided caliphs and Companions of the Prophet -- to counter extremism.

In his opening address, Dr Qadri argued that radicalization was a slow process that began with an “ideological infection”. Such an infection, he emphasized, could and should be treated before the sufferer turned violent. Dr Qadri announced that a caravan of vehicles, filled with mobile libraries, books and DVDs, would soon be launched, which would travel around the UK to spread awareness and provide motivation for countering extremism among Muslims.

Shaykh al-Qaradawi was among the first Muslim scholars to realize the great potential of modern information and communication technologies, especially satellite television and the Internet, for the dissemination of Islamic principles and teachings. His regular programme on Al-Jazeera TV “Al-Shariah wal-Hayat” (Shariah and Life) is highly popular and is watched by an estimated audience of over 40 million across the Middle East and North Africa as well as by expatriate Arabs in North America, Europe and Australia and New Zealand. IslamOnline is a highly popular website which Shaykh al-Qaradawi helped found in 1997. The website regularly carried his fatawa on a wide variety of subjects and issues. He is the head of the Ireland-based European Council for Fatwa and Research. His speeches and sermons are regularly uploaded on YouTube.

Modern Information and Communication Technologies

Modern information and communication technologies, including satellite television, mobile phones, the Internet and social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter and video-sharing sites such as YouTube, are not only playing a highly important role in the dissemination of information, ideas and images but are also acting as catalysts of change. Currently the worldwide web contains 14.2 billion pages covering an incredibly vast and diverse range of subjects and themes. Facebook, a social networking site launched in February 2004, has more than 600 million active users. Twitter, which offers a social networking and microblogging service, has more than 190 million users. The website generates nearly 65 tweets a day. YouTube is an increasingly popular video-sharing website, where videos can be posted online that can be watched by a worldwide audience within a few minutes. Created in February 2005 by Chad Hurley, Steve Chen and Jawed Karim, YouTube has emerged as one of the most important components of internet culture. It is interesting to note that France, Finland and Estonia have made Internet access a basic human right.

The first Arab Social Media Report released in February 2011 says that the penetration of social networking sites is steadily on the rise in Arab countries, with the highest rate of growth was recorded among the youth between 15 and 29 years of age, a segment that makes up nearly one-third of the population in the Arab region. According to the report, the number of Facebook users in the Arab world increased by 78% in 2010 to 21.3 million, and that 75% of these belong to the younger generation. Modern information and communication technologies, including satellite television, mobile phones, the Internet and social networking sites, played a highly important role in the recent popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. Al-Jazeera television emerged as the most important and authentic source of information, including live coverage of day-to-day protests with images and videos, on the rapidly unfolding scenario in Tunisia and Egypt. Images of hundreds of thousands of people holding protests and demonstrations on the streets of Tunis, Cairo, Alexandria, Sana’a and Amman were beamed on Al-Jazeera TV, which were viewed by millions of households in the Middle East and around the world and which helped in mobilizing and coordinating protests.

Much before the uprisings, dissident activists and pro-democracy campaigners in Egypt were using the Internet to express their anger and resentment against the dictatorial regime of Hosni Mubarak. In June 2010 Khaled Said, a young Egyptian, was dragged out of an internet café and beaten to death by the Egyptian police. Many people who witnessed the police’s barbarity recorded the torture on their mobile phone cameras. The police claimed that Said died from an overdose of illegal drugs. Said’s outraged friends and sympathizers posted contrary evidence on Facebook and YouTube. In Dubai, Wael Ghonim, a young Google marketing executive of Egyptian origin, constructed a Facebook protest community based on the catchline “We Are All Khaled Said”. The Facebook group set up to condemn Said’s death was “liked” by nearly 600,000 people and was a key catalyst in the recent uprising. When thousands of people began pouring into Cairo’s Tahrir Square, Ghanim was picked up by the Egyptian police, blindfolded and tortured for 12 days, before he was released as a result of Google’s intervention. He appeared on Dream TV on February 7 and said in the course of the interview that a system that arrested people for speaking out must be torn down. He then broke down and walked out of the TV room. Minutes after the interview, Twitter and Facebook were filled with calls for all Egyptians to take to the streets the following day. Two hours after the interview, the Egyptian website Masrawy.com carried the interview with the comment, “Ghonim’s tears have moved millions and turned around the views of those who supported Mubarak staying.” “I want to meet Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook’s founder) one day and thank him,” Ghonim told the CNN afterwards.

Thousands of people, including those who were earlier sympathetic to Mubarak, thronged Tahrir Square the next day. In Cairo, Alexandria and Suez protests and demonstrations were mobilized and coordinated through mobile phones and social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Footage of protests, including scenes of arson, were filmed on mobile phones, circulated via SMSs and aired by satellite television channels. Unnerved by the escalating protests, the Egyptian government blocked social networking sites and mobile phone networks and shut off Internet services. But the blockade failed to stem the tide of protests and turned out to be an exercise in futility. After Internet services were shut down by the Egyptian authorities on January 27, John Scott Reilton, an American student, began uploading messages on to the microblogging site Twitter. He created a Twitter account for the Egyptian protests and started making calls and posting messages on the account.

Large-scale international migration is one of the defining features of globalisation. It is estimated that some 175 million people live outside of their countries of origin. According to the United Nations' International Migration Report (2000), one person out of ten living in the developed nations is a migrant. Transnational disporas have become increasingly visible in all major cities around the world.

Transnational diasporic communities are bound together by shared ties of common descent, nationality, culture, ethnicity, religion, language and identity and have maintained their links with their native countries, thanks to modern information and communication technologies. The emergence of diasporas has radically altered the notions of time and space in relation to the construction of human communities.

Large numbers of Muslims live outside of their countries of origin. There is, for example, a sizeable Arab diaspora which is dispersed across Europe, USA, Canada, South and Central America and Australasia. The largest concentration of Arabs outside the Middle East is in Brazil, which has over 12 million Brazilians of Arab ancestry. There are large Arab communities in South and Central America. In the US there are about 3.5 million people of Arab descent. There is a substantial Arab diaspora in Europe. An estimated quarter of a million Palestinians live in Europe. Over one million Iranians have emigrated in recent decades to Europe, North America, Australia and Turkey. There are approximately 500,000 Iranians living in Los Angeles. Iranian expatriates number about 110,000 in Germany, 100,000 in the UK, and some 62,000 in France. There is a sizeable Kurdish diaspora, mainly of Turkish origin, estimated at about 850,000, in Western Europe. There are some 500,000-600,000 Kurds in Germany, 100,000 in France, and about 70,000 in the Netherlands.

Muslim diasporas, like the global Muslim population, are characterized by a great deal of diversity in respect of nationality, ethnicity, language, cultural traditions, sects and denominations. Muslims in the US, for example, have come from more than 80 national backgrounds. Muslim communities in Europe, North and Latin America and Australia have migrated from over 80 countries. Europe is home to a sizeable Muslim population estimated at more than 30 million. The largest concentrations of Muslims in Europe are to be found in France (between 5 and 6 million), Germany (4 million), Britain (3 million), Italy (825,000), the Netherlands (500,000), Spain (1145,000), Belgium (300,000), Sweden (300,000) and Denmark (270,000). In most European countries, Islam is now the second largest religion after Christianity. The number of Muslims in the US, Canada, and Latin America is around 17 million.

By and large, Muslim immigrants, especially the first generation, in Europe, USA, Latin America and Australia, maintain close contacts with their countries of origin through visits and marriage alliances. Increased facilities for travel, modern information and communication technologies and the electronic and print media have reinforced the cultural links of diasporic Muslim communities with their homelands. Satellite television, telephone and the Internet have emerged as highly important instruments in strengthening such ties. Muslim diasporic communities, especially in Western countries, are increasingly using modern information and communication technologies to maintain and reinforce links with their homeland and with shared cultural traditions. The descendents of Palestinian refugees born and raised in Western countries are now discovering, thanks to homepages on the Internet, their religious and cultural traditions as well as the villages of their parents and grandparents. The growing use of computer technology is thus transforming the Palestinian refugees living in North America and Europe into a transnational virtual community and facilitating the reconstruction of their identity.

The Internet is playing a highly significant role in connecting the members of the Iranian diaspora to their homeland. One of the online Iranian magazines has links to more than 150 online newspapers and magazines in the Persian language. Interestingly, Iran's online newspapers appear much before the print editions are available on news- stands in Tehran and other cities. In Stockholm, local Iranian radio stations download programmes from the Internet and rebroadcast them for the local Iranian community.

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