Muslims are Civilization Builders

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Abstract

Only the Islamic civilization, was characterized primarily by a foundational Idea, epitomized by a specific set of principles and a broad worldview containing them.

By contrast, there has been no "Christian civilization" per se, although Christianity was a significant influence on the ancient Roman Empire, post-Roman Europe, and still (though more limited) on today’s dominant Western Civilization.

Every civilization tries to build an empire that reflects its primary values. Thus we have the Chinese Civilization and its Chinese Empire, the Roman Civilization and its Roman Empire, and so on.

Later history has seen the rise of Western Civilization and the British Empire; and now we are witnessing the construction of the American Empire.

The Islamic Empire took less than 100 years to build — the shortest such emergence in recorded history. It took the ancient Romans about a millennium to accomplish the same feat. But a preferable name for the Islamic Empire would be the Islamic Commonwealth, which describes more accurately how Islamic Civilization developed and grew.

Today there are many temptations leading Muslims to believe that they are living in a postcolonization era. Consequently, they come to consider Western culture as their standard or societal mentor, losing their Islamic identity in the process.

However Muslims today are living amid a new era of recolonization chiefly led by U.S. policies toward the Muslim world. This has resulted in a widespread malaise of defeatism, political fatalism, and the tragic loss of cultural identity.

If Muslims become aware of this reality, they can turn the tide of defeat and become successful civilization-builders, just like their ancestors.

(1). What is Civilization?

A distinctive period of human development is often referred to as a "civilization," along with an appropriate referential adjective placing it within the historical or geographical continuum of time and culture.

Hence we speak of Ancient Civilizations, Western Civilization; or in reference to peoples, the Egyptian, Chinese, Roman, or Greek civilizations.

Only the Islamic civilization, however, was characterized primarily by a foundational Idea, epitomized by a specific set of principles and a broad worldview containing them.

By contrast, there has been no "Christian civilization" per se, although Christianity was a significant influence on the ancient Roman Empire, post-Roman Europe, and still (though more limited) on today’s dominant Western Civilization.

There is no "Jewish Civilization" either, although the relatively new term, "Judaeo-Christian values" has emerged to indicate that today’s Western Civilization owes elements of its character to religious and cultural roots found in both faiths.

In fact, the term should be expanded to "Judaeo-Christian-Islamic values" to reflect more accurately the influence of all three monotheistic religions on today’s Western Civilization, since we owe so much to the influence of Muslim Spain.

(2). Civilizations and Empires

Every civilization tries to build an empire that reflects its primary values. Thus we have the Chinese Civilization and its Chinese Empire, the Roman Civilization and its Roman Empire, and so on.

Later history has seen the rise of Western Civilization and the British Empire; and now we are witnessing the construction of the American Empire.

It is not widely known that the Islamic Empire took less than 100 years to build — the shortest such emergence in recorded history. It took the ancient Romans about a millennium to accomplish the same feat. But a preferable name for the Islamic Empire would be the Islamic Commonwealth, which describes more accurately how Islamic Civilization developed and grew.

Empires typically spread by establishing colonies and dominating indigenous peoples so as to exploit their resources for the benefit of the empire’s central power base.

In Africa and Europe, for example, the Romans established colonies whose goods and labour primarily served Rome. During our post-modern era, the American Empire is being built up to serve the rich and powerful in the U.S.

The Romans perfected their celebrated road-building techniques, for example, not only to facilitate regular trade and communication, but also to keep colonies on a tight land-leash and to deploy troops rapidly to quash any regional rebellion.

Roman engineers also designed impressive amphitheatres for live public shows where the chief entertainment attraction was often the spectacle of prisoners fighting to the death, with privileged Roman champions, other prisoners, or wild animals.

Special gladiatorial games ("gladi" refers to the sword) were popular family amusements that drew men, women and children alike to watch skilled fighters being slain by more skillful opponents. Tigers, lions, bears and other beasts were set loose in these arenas, to fight one another or to devour slaves, adding more novelty to these bloody public pastimes.

Roman law demanded that every loyal subject should worship the god Jupiter and the god-emperor, Caesar. When Christianity began to spread in Rome and throughout the Empire, Christians were among those who refused to worship the Roman way and were often punished with death.

By contrast, the Islamic Commonwealth was established from the beginning on twin foundations of equality and justice. Local resources were mainly used by locals for their own benefit. Moreover, marrying from within the local or indigenous population was considered a practical way for differing peoples to become fully and peacefully integrated. Consequently, there was relatively little discrimination between "us" and "them," or between "locals" and "foreigners."

The principle underlying the benign interrelationship of formerly separate peoples comes from Quranic injunctions pertaining to human rights and universal justice, which were practiced from the earliest years of the Islamic Commonwealth. For example, most local social customs, called "al-orf," were accepted, as were the practices of other religions.

Within the Islamic Commonwealth, freedom of religion, freedom of worship, and the freedom of each community to administer its own religiously based family laws were all practiced in fact (on the ground) and not just in theory.

Thus, Islam was not forced on local indigenous populations. In fact, it took Egypt all of 400 years to change from a Muslim minority country to one with a Muslim majority.

Early Muslims understood the Quranic teaching that the Creator will not favour people, any people (including Muslims) unless and until they change themselves; so they worked very hard to improve the environment around them. In today’s political and social terminology, these early Muslims were not only the most caring citizens, but were also the most socially and politically proactive.

Local people were given equal preference for leadership roles and equal citizenship in the Islamic Commonwealth. No wonder Muslims were not regarded as hostile occupiers! Resistance against them, including armed rebellion, was virtually non-existent.

To recreate such a scenario today, the occupying Americans in Iraq would have to give all Iraqis automatic American citizenship, accept them in American schools and universities, treat them like any Americans in courts of law, allow inter-marriage, and pull out their 140,000 soldiers.

(3). Western Civilization and World Peace

Western Civilization has almost always used extreme forms of violence and oppression to expand its world dominion, to quash any perceived or real challenges to its power, as well as to settle scores among Western nation states competing for a larger share of the world’s finite natural resources.

As a result, never in human history have so many people been killed by a single "civilization" — never.

The West perfected its military machine not only to kill, to destroy and to spread misery during our present era, but also — thanks to nuclear weapons — to threaten many future generations. For the first time in human history, untold millions of the totally innocent and unborn will have to pay the price of their forebears’ war-mongering.

We have seen how Western Civilization planted European colonies in Africa, Asia and in the Americas to serve the rich and powerful elites of London, Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, et al. Now we are witnessing the frantic and aggressive building of American colonies in the heart of the Muslim world.

(4). Muslims and Today’s Western Civilization

Today there are many temptations leading Muslims to believe that they are living in a postcolonization era. Consequently, they come to consider Western culture as their standard or societal mentor, losing their Islamic identity in the process.

This is profoundly more dangerous when such loss of identity becomes systematically apparent in whole new generations of Muslims — especially among the youth of upper middle-class and well-to-do families.

These young people are exposed to formal university education which insinuates Western values into every facet of life, so it no wonder that they are slowly absorbing Western tastes and fashions, simply because these are the styles and tastes that dominate communication and consumption.

In the Muslim world today, for example, there are schools and universities run by American, Canadian, British, German and French interests which pay little attention to local language, culture, or even local issues.

The Western emphasis on racing to the bottom of the ethical denominator — via cut-throat competition, and simultaneous maximizing of profits — has led to a corresponding decline in Muslims’ traditional regard for the needs of the extended family, caring for the other, etc.

Muslim marriage now is based principally on mutual attraction, wealth or social status. And some serious cracks are beginning to show in family life, as dysfunction and divorce rates increase. As well, traditional Muslim attitudes toward caring for the frail and elderly are no longer widely accepted.

Many Muslims today are only too happy to buy into the entire Western cultural package — not just Western technology, but also the excessive individualism, the extravagant consumerism, the obsession with material wealth, etc. Today, they are all too ready to embrace the narrow Western view of human values, which are based mainly on power and wealth.

Other Muslims reject outright anything that Western Civilization offers, while yet others would like to be able to pick and choose intelligently from among the “goods” sold in their Western environment.

I believe that this third group is on the right track, because anything of real value that the West can offer Muslims today is, in reality, Muslim values repackaged and exported. Thus, Muslims must look beyond the layers of Western packaging and evaluate the real goods in relation to their lives.

Pragmaticism, activism, rationalism and humanism were all practiced by the early Muslims under different names and must be practiced by today’s Muslims, not because they are Western values but because they are Islamic values.

Muslims must Islamize and moderate the Western values of greater material well-being, democracy, nationalism, commitment to progress, personal accountability and choice, individualism and the right to a private life.

And they must learn also the strategy of communicating to the West what it needs so desperately — spirituality, universal human equality, etc.

(5). China and Japan and Today’s Western Civilization

For more than a century China has been redefining its relationship with the West. But while doing so, the strength of the Chinese family, the main character of the Chinese Civilization, was hardly affected. This is because the pace and methodology of modernization were adjusted to suit local needs and to retain the Chinese people’s identity while the nation as a whole grappled with future change.

Japan embarked upon such change much sooner than China and has been more obviously transformed as a result. Translations of Western classics such as John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty and Samuel Smiles’ Self-Help were already Japanese bestsellers during the 1870s. Yet Japan also managed to hold onto much of its core identity and its social changes have been consciously regulated.

The speed with which nineteenth-century Japan moved toward modernization helped to lessen the impact of Western colonial bullying, under which China suffered. This was not only because Japan acquired the military and technical power to stand up to the West, but also because modernization robbed Western powers of their moral grounds for interference.

The British, and later the Americans, found it difficult to deny that in Japan modernization went hand in hand with liberalization. Well before the Capitulations with Turkey, or the treaties imposed on China, their Japanese equivalents had disappeared.

Japan came to espouse key mottos such as "Eastern morality, Western technology’," and "Japanese spirit, Western expertise." As historians can now testify, both China and Japan were able to defend in some measure against the threat of the West by adopting some aspects of Westernization.

(6). Muslims — From Colonization to Recolonization:

The breakdown of civilizations, including that of the Islamic Civilization or its Commonwealth, always happens from within. The most that an alien enemy can achieve is to give a dying civilization its coup de grâce.

An alien or occupying army’s encroachment takes the form of violent attack only toward the waning of an era of complete domination, at a time when the life of the attacked people could well be finished, but could be also positively stimulated.

The Greeks were stimulated by the Persian attack at the beginning of the fifth century B.C. Europe was stimulated by the Norse and Magyar attacks of the ninth century AD, resulting in the founding of England and France as kingdoms and the reconstruction of the Holy Roman Empire by the Saxons.

In these cases, the assaulted nation did not lose its identity but instead benefited from a corrective foreign stimulus, supporting the thesis that external pressures are not always destructive to a given culture.

Muslims today are living amid a new era of recolonization chiefly led by U.S. policies toward the Muslim world. This has resulted in a widespread malaise of defeatism, political fatalism, and the tragic loss of cultural identity.

But that does not have to be the final verdict on today’s Muslims. They could in fact become a new force in Western civilization-building, living like equal partners, not as slaves.

Such revitalization, however, can happen only if they first become fully aware that they are living in a recolonization period — the recolonization of their lands, their resources, their culture, their religion and their identity.

If they become aware of this reality, they can turn the tide of defeat and become successful civilization-builders, just like their ancestors.

Western bashing of Islam must be totally rejected because it is fuelled not by incontrovertible truths but by religious and political agendas. Today you do not hear much criticism in the West about India’s deplorable and still-entrenched caste system, or about female infanticide in China. Chinese official policy restricts families to only one child, preferably male, and plentiful evidence has emerged attesting that female babies are often murdered at birth.

During the past half-century or so, we have heard often that the world is getting smaller and smaller, because people, objects, and information have come to move about more often and more quickly than ever before. Travel and transmission over long distances is increasingly easier and faster. And the electronic information revolution has caused a sudden and unprecedented rise in the volume and speed of data diffusion — mostly one way, from West to East.

Most of the world’s Muslims are faced with the immediate challenge of mastering the technology of mass communication — printing, radio and television, film, video, and especially the internet. There is the potential, being realized even as we speak, for the creation of giant technology-based enterprises throughout the Muslim world, but the key to their success lies first in nourishing local content, local issues and local culture.

On the ground, local culture means replacing the ubiquitous Western designer jeans, T-shirts, athletic shoes, music videos, games, and television programming with substantial local equivalents. At another level, local music, fine arts, and theatre must be promoted and research in science, technology and medicine encouraged.

And having any day of rest other than Friday in any Muslim country is another challenge to our identity, a manifestation of entire nations just dying to fit into the Western mould. It is a gross case of self-loss that must be turned around.

Fortunately, Muslims are not alone in feeling an urgent imperative to hold the influence of Western culture at bay. Hindus, Chinese, Japanese, and many other distinct peoples from the so-called "developing world" are experiencing growing mental and moral reservations about accepting Western culture.

(7). A Ten-Step Working Plan For Muslims:

Is there still anything like some preserved seeds of true Muslim civilization, now that the Muslim world has been fragmented into more than 50 countries? Or are even the seeds extinct? Or perhaps, Islamic civilization produced "terminator" seeds, good only for several generations and no more.

Has Islamic civilization been totally absorbed and eradicated by Westernization? Is it clinging to life but terminally ill?

And the questions do not stop here… What if the seeds of its civilization are contained within Islam itself; can they be revitalized and renourished? Can a new generation be "grown from seed" so to speak, and resist the impact of Western civilization long enough to survive independently?

I believe I can answer these last two questions in the affirmative and hereby offer my people a working plan, based on the assertion that Islam is still unmistakably visible in the daily life of Muslims.

From one end of the Muslim world to the other, there are similar beliefs, rituals, morals, family values, etc. There is still more in common among Muslims from Africa, Asia, even Europe and the Americas. From having visited more than 35 Muslim countries, I can personally testify to this fact.

The Plan

[1]. From colonization, to destabilization, to recolonization:

It is urgent that Muslims be educated to the reality of living in an era of U.S.-led recolonization, and that they must act accordingly. A key reality is that the heart of the Muslim world was never given a chance to develop after the initial colonization era ended. Instead, the Muslim world moved from colonization to destabilization and now, since 9/11, it lives under the shadow of recolonization era. It is an ugly fact; but it is the reality we must deal with.

[2]. Dealing with a bully:

U.S. policies toward the Muslim world are of the bullying type, characterized by the ignorant use of violence. Ignorance, combined with arrogance, leads to the abuse of power at the highest levels. The best strategy to deal with bullying of this magnitude is a simple and direct one — use the two letter word, “NO.” The more collectively it is said, the more effective it can be.

[3]. Muslims, unite!

If unity was always an Islamic duty, it is now our very means of survival. At the nation state level, both opposition and governments must work together even in local disagreements, to resolve their diffences without American or European interference.

[4]. Work toward a Muslim Common Market:

A good economy must satisfy local needs first, thus regional economies must be given a higher priority among Muslim countries. Nations should begin now, working together to draw up the blueprint for a Muslim common market that could be phased in and functionally implemented by the year 2020.

[5]. Tribalism is obsolete:

The pan-Islamic movement must stop the divisive practice of tribalism, sooner rather than later, if any meaningful unity of purpose and culture are to be achieved.

[6]. Muslim countries must reform:

Corruption and incompetence are not the legacy of Islam; Muslim countries the world over have the ability to reform their political, economic, social and education systems according to their own local and regional agendas. Making excuses does not make progress.

[7]. Learning positive communication strategies:

Demonization of the “other” seems to go hand-in-hand with ignorance of the “other” — in fact, they are directly proportional in civil society. Exclusion, enmity and demonization of those who differ from the numerically dominant or most powerful culture are all fed by ignorance and fear.

Muslims need to develop a strategy of positive communication which presents clear facts to Western civil society. Consistent truth and openness are the best and only effective antidotes to the current vicious campaign of Western disinformation about Islam and Muslims.

[8]. U.S. "democracy" propaganda must be exposed and challenged:

When Christian missionaries introduced Christianity to Canada’s First nations, they claimed to be selfless benefactors who offered salvation, a better lifestyle and superior culture. We now know better; they were destroyers of a culture they seldom took the trouble to understand.

Muslims must never forget this lesson and continue to be vigilant and suspicious about lofty claims for the superiority of American-style democracy; it has often proven to be a dangerous oxymoron.

[9]. Discourage Muslims who become U.S. propagandists:

Muslims who uncritically promote U.S. recolonization policies must be challenged and their backers exposed.

[10]. Follow up:

A follow-up team must be established for any Muslim conference, like this one, to produce a progress report on the status of recommendations presented and approved.

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* Paper delivered at the Islamic Conference, Cairo, Egypt, April, 2005

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