7: The challenge of globalization

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Q. 7: Globalization seems to be a new mask worn by the Western civilization. So how can we guard our cultural identity? How can we preserve our independent character so that we do not get dissolved in this new call to globalization?

Interview with "Current Islamic Issues"
1: The major stages in the intellectual progress
3: The main features Jawdat's project
4: Two sources of knowledge
5: Are you advocating the discarding of jihad
6: The basic tenets of Iqbal's project
7: The challenge of globalization
8: Patriarchal-glorification-and-infallibility
9: Is the Islamic mind in a crisis?
10: The present Arabic cultural scene
11: Muhammad Arkoun's attitude
12: Interpretation of the holy texts
*Download the full Interview

A. 7: Before I take up this question seven, let me make it clear again that my answers are not final, nor comprehensive. On the other hand, one should not be appalled by the complexity of terms, nor by some peripheral and minor aspects drawn by some individuals from great ideas to serve mean purposes. Indeed, great ideas and knowledge do eventually much good to man. It maybe true what a certain Muslim scholar had in mind when he said: "We sought to acquire knowledge for other than God, but it would not be for other than God." Now, as for globalization, it must lead to God, Lord of all mankind; no one but Allah is the Lord of all people. No nation can monopolize globalization, for it is a process that is bound to happen. The prophets all come from God; they all direct men to God, and their messages are in perfect harmony. At the same time, we all descend from Adam, and Adam was created from dust. No man is to be raised over any other except in so far as he works for the good of mankind, all mankind. In the end, it is only what is good for people that will stay and resist perdition (ref. to the Qur'an, 13:17)

For eons of time men did not know of the other peoples in their scattered habitats. And then things changed; people began to know of the existence of other people, contemporaries and old. Now, there is no niche on the earth but is known, and no small group of people but is known. Man is now working for exploring the possibility of intelligent life on other planets. It may be noted that no matter how narrow and self-centered the purpose of the person or persons who first made a great discovery was, that discovery was eventually put in the service of all mankind, a global good. That is true for instance of the domesticating of animals, the discovery of agriculture and the discovery of writing. Writing was originally confined to small groups of people; pre-Islam Arabs were not commonly literate, and they did not have books. The introduction of writing on earth is the real beginning of history, and the starting point for turning to account human intellectual faculty. Even the internet was first devised by the Pentagon to facilitate contact and the exchange of data among its personnel, but soon it was global, and for the good of all mankind, in a way that no one can now monopolize it, or exploit it to the exclusion of others. All this is true of globalization: those who wish that globalization will allot some benefits to some people can wish what they like, but we should rise to the level of not letting others exploit us.

One of the greatest things propounded and taught by the prophets is that man cannot be exploited or subdued except with his own consent, by just sticking to his ignorance. Once he is enlightened, once he has acquired knowledge, no one can exploit him or subjugate him. Hence, the main purpose of the prophets' mission is to spread knowledge, and not to keep it monopolized by a limited group. The needed techniques are now globally available; information is now accessible everywhere. It is not the others who now hold back knowledge or information; it is indeed we who dread the influx of information; we dread to be told what is happening in the world. In this we are gravely mistaken, for our only salvation is through knowledge and through reading, reading without any limits. So you see that things are there for us to put to our use, but it is Muslims who hold back from entering the realm of knowledge.

Can you really perceive the intensity of darkness and disorientation we suffer from? We seek to protect ourselves by secluding ourselves from the world. Knowledge itself spreads freely everywhere, and has entered every home, but we still dread it and refuse to admit it. It is we ourselves that choose to keep ourselves and to keep our people in the dark.

The solution is not to be scared of knowledge and thought, and not to be scared of disbelief. We seem at present to take an active intellect to be not unlike a disbelieving mind; that is why we dread thinking in the same way that we dread disbelief, while disbelief is no more than the lack of knowledge and sound thinking. We see things to be the opposite of what they are, all because of our ignorance. Jesus Christ said: "You will know the truth, and the truth will liberate you." Knowledge is power, and it is liberation; knowledge is global, and we have to enter that realm. No one will be the object of exploitation but the ignorant, so when will the Muslim World learn not to be scared of knowledge, and of being present in the world? And especially now, where can one hide himself from what is taking place; the world is a small village now, so where can we hide ourselves? Do we insist on mimicking the ostrich which is said to hide its head in the sand to protect itself from its enemies? But that is not the way to safety. The way is by boldly entering the realm of knowledge, by being witnesses of what goes on in the world. I know that there was a time when the Muslim scholars encountered new knowledge by turning their backs to it, but that is just not possible in the face of the explosion of knowledge that surrounds us. I do admit that I do not have the eloquence that is necessary for such topics, for exposing the idols that block our way to acquiring knowledge. Knowledge protects itself from corruption; it is as Malek Bennabi once said: "When science accepts nothing short of truth, it fulfils the conditions of morality." Knowledge does not tolerate errors; it will work tirelessly until mistakes are corrected. No one should suppose that science is an adversary to ethics: Ethics grows as a result of more science, it thrives on knowledge and experience. But when science was separated from ethics, ethics became chains and a hurdle in the way. The truth is that science demonstrates the outcome of behavior, good or bad, and when morality is divorced from science, it will be an aping of other people's behavior, the way of clinging fast to what has lost its justification, and has become something of the past. The behavior of the ignorant will backfire, causing him to be an utter loser; backwardness will have its toll; it will come in the form of a scourge from God, driving men to see and understand, whether they like it or not. And once something becomes a science it will have become universal. This applies to Islam. When we understand Islam as a science, it will be for all nations. That is why both Islam and science emerged concomitantly, and people must believe in both in the same way.

Therefore, those who scare us of science and knowledge with a view to protecting our belief, are really supporting polytheism, without meaning to. Abraham, peace be upon him, teaches us not to be scared; he said, as the Qur'an tells us: "How should I fear the beings ye associate with God, when ye fear not to give partners to God without any warrant having been given to you? It is those who believe and confuse not their beliefs with wrong – that are truly in security, for they are on right guidance." (6:81-82). We had better reflect on the above verses: a believer should be distinguished for good guidance. I call on believers and all men to realize that to hinder knowledge from reaching men is really supporting darkness, disbelief and persecution. As we read in a tradition of the Prophet's, peace be upon him: "Injustice comes back on its perpetrators as darkness on the Day of Judgment."

It is relevant here to contrast the behavior of prophets and that of their peoples. The prophets endeavored to spread knowledge and light; the antagonistic peoples dreaded knowledge and light. Our plight at present is seen in that those who have science and knowledge would like to hold them back, and are apprehensive of their spread to other parts of the world; they endeavor to retard the spread of science and knowledge. This is what happens when those who have science and knowledge are unbelievers; a believer, in contrast, loves, as the prophets did, to give light and knowledge. But let us not worry, for it is God's will that light will spread, as one sees in several verses of the Qur'an; indeed God's light will reach every spot in the world. "Their intention is to extinguish God's Light, by blowing with their mouths; but God will complete the revelation of His Light, even though the unbelievers may detest it;" (61:8) "Fain would they extinguish God's Light with their mouths, but God will not allow but that His Light should be perfected, even though the unbelievers may detest;" (9:32).

My affirmation that light will spread everywhere in the world is not just because I believe in the unseen, but because I see its manifestation in the concrete world; I see its manifestation in God's Signs in the near and far regions of the world, and in the world of souls. The truth has come to surface, and even if we fail to embrace it, God will cause other human beings to embrace the truth and support it; the Qur'an will have its supporters, with or without us. There will be those, as the Qur'an tells us (5:54) who love God, as He loves them, who love God's creatures, and protect them, for they are God's family; they will be nearer to God than we are.

Let it be said also that democracy is nearer to God and His Apostle than the conditions of Muslims at present; let it be said that it is not Muslims who uphold democracy and denounce of taghoots (trespassers beyond all bounds, tyrants); it is not they who have brought that to the world, nor are they capable even after democracy has taken root of adopting it at present. It is other nations who bask in the blessing of democracy, and it is others who have the power to dominate us. So how long will it take us to open our eyes; how long will there be locks on our minds? How long shall we go on having scales over our eyes, and shackles that detain us from moving? But, let me repeat, God's light is coming!

Have I answered your question? I hope at least in part.