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This is a bad time in history to be a Muslim. Whether as minorities or in predominantly Muslim countries Muslims live under enormous and perhaps unprecedented strain. There is war and chaos in much of the Arab Middle East be it Syria, Palestine, Iraq or Libya. Further afield in places like Myanmar Muslims are facing genocide and persecution. In Afghanistan, there has been an ongoing Western-led war for over 15 years with no immediate end in sight. In Pakistan, over 50,000 people have lost their lives fighting extremists. As a response to ‘9/11’ (in which nearly 3000 died including 500 Muslims) the US led a war on terror against majority Muslim countries resulting in the deaths of circa 370,000 people.
Muslims are simultaneously being demonised and vilified in the West whilst facing extermination in other places. In India, a genuinely hostile environment has been created for Muslims where many are persecuted on a near daily basis and killed for the pettiest of reasons (such as eating beef). In China, they are being forced to convert: imprisoned in camps, they are compelled to eat pork and drink alcohol. Even in supposedly benign places like Denmark Muslims are being targeted and treated like second-class citizens. Large numbers of the world’s refugees are Muslim. Muslims are the worlds ‘new’ Jews.
Moreover, it is Muslims who bear the brunt of Islamist terrorism. According to the Global Terrorism Index data, of the top 10 countries with the biggest threat of terrorism – eight are Muslim majority countries. According to a report by the US National Counterterrorism Centre, Muslims suffered between 82 and 97 per cent of fatalities over the past five years, and Muslims are seven times more likely than non-Muslims to be the victims of terror. Further, 98% of all terrorist attacks occurred outside the US/Western Europe even if they didn’t dominate the news cycle. Muslim lives have become cheap and expendable. At the behest of greedy dictators, lacking unity and leadership, divided by nationalism and overwhelmed by Western-led interventions the Muslim World is truly in crisis. The current Muslim predicament is akin to the period of ‘Jaliyah’ (ignorance) that pervaded much of the Arab World before the Prophet Muhammed’s (PBUH) time in the 6th Century AD.
The Islamic World has known better times. Roughly the period between the 8th century and the 14th witnessed what was an Islamic ‘Golden Age’. This period was marked by the rapid spread of Islamic Civilisation throughout much of the Mediterranean and the Middle East and further. It was a period that saw great scientific progress, the invention of algebra, technological innovation, some of the finest architecture the world has ever seen (to this day, for instance, roughly 6,000 people a day visit the Alhambra palace in Spain). It was marked by learning, outstanding philosophers and writers -like Rumi, Ibn Battuta, Al-Ghazali, Avicenna (the reputed father of modern medicine)- and religious plurality. In Europe’s dark ages the light came from Muslim Spain. While Londoners slept in mud huts beside the river Thames Muslims in the south of Spain were building modern roads and bridges, elegant buildings and using deodorants. It is now accepted wisdom that this period inspired the European Renaissance.
So, what are the solutions to the darkness that currently pervades the Islamic World? It’s clearly a predicament that is caused by a multiplicity of factors, and therefore the solutions will be no less complex. I personally don’t have all the answers beyond making a few suggestions and observations. Its pure delusion for Muslims to expect help from the ‘Christian’ West to improve their situation. It has no interest in doing so: in fact, it is the West’s wars, empires, plunder and backing of dictators that has helped create this predicament in the first place. Islam has long been perceived as a threat in the Christian world and perhaps always will be.
What the Muslim world desperately needs is inspirational leadership (not Western-backed proxies), unity and a reawakening akin to that it achieved under the direction of the Prophet Muhammed (PBUH). Muslims need to use their past achievements to inspire them: like China and India have done. They need governments that represent the aspirations of their people (rather than those of the greedy elite or foreign powers). It’s not a reformation of Islam that is required but a unity and return to the fundamentals of Islam that emphasise peaceful co-existence, a balance between Deen (religion) and Dunya (the world) and social justice whilst simultaneously embracing ideas of the moment such as democracy.
While the picture is bleak, there are signs of hope. The year 2011 saw a major uprising through much of the Arab world where people sought to overthrow often western-backed dictators. While this was brutally crushed in some places, it nevertheless reflected a powerful desire for many in the Arab Muslim world to embrace democracy. Tunisia was one of the relative success stories and is forging a no doubt difficult path to representative government. Lebanon, an Arab country, is a democracy that recognises 18 official religions. Pakistan recently held its third democratic election in a row. Countries like Malaysia represent economic success stories from which other Muslim nations can take inspiration. The Muslim world can also learn from the European Union and develop a similar system pooling resources and helping further the development of its members. None of this will be done without visionary, courageous and inspirational leadership both within and between Muslim societies.