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Globalization and the National

Identity:
An Islamic Perspective

By
Dr. Mazin S. Motabagani
Associate Professor Orientalistics
Al-Madinah Center for the Study of Orientalism

www.medinacenter.org
  Introduction

Once the notion “globalization” became widespread and


discussed widely by intellectual circles, the idea of the national
identity being in danger was one of the main themes of discussion.

Learned people all over the world voiced their apprehension


and fear that “globalization” is just another name for westernization or
Americanization”. When you consult the internet on ‘globalization and
culture’ you will find thousands of sites on this topic surpassing all
other topics in the field of globalization.

But in Islam even though such fear and apprehension exists,


the basics for maintaining and protecting the Islamic identity are firmly
established in the scriptures of Islam (Qura’an and Sunnah) and the
behavior of the first generations of Islam (that is the prophet’s
companion and the early period of Islam.)

This paper will be divided into two sections: The first will look
briefly into the definition of "Globalization" and its relation to national
identity.

The second will look into the methods globalization tries to alter
or affect the national or Muslim identity and the sources for the basic
principles governing the way a Muslim identifies himself. What are the
basic characters a Muslim must posses in order to be a Muslim.

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We will also try in this section to search the possibilities
whether such teachings can stand the challenges of globalization and
how we can use them as an effective tool for that purpose.

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Section I

Brief Definition of Globalization and the position of Islam

The innocent definition of the term says that "Globalization is the


spread and exchange of people, goods, and ideas across the globe"
however, M. Miasami argues that "Islam is not against the process of
globalization per se, but rather that the tension is due to the process
of Westernization". (1)

Another scholar defines "globalization" as the clear intermixing of all


things economical, social political cultural and behaviour without
giving political importance to the political boundaries of sovereign
countries and without any need to governmental procedures. (2). The
same author adds:" but globalization in contemporary perspective is
not merely domination and control of politics, economy only, it is
much more than that. It expands to reach the culture and identity of
other nations. It aims at spreading patterns of behaviour and sets of
values and ways of living. It carries American culture."(3)

Even though we always hear that the world has become a small
village or we all live in one place. There is still a big fight for the
defense of the national identity. A western scholar wrote saying:" the
emergence -- seemingly everywhere -- of identity politics whose
1
-Fountain ,August 2003

‫ نقلً عن محمد آدم "العولمة وأثرها‬.‫ الكوكبة الرأسمالية العالمية في مرحلة ما بعد المبريالية‬، ‫ إسماعيل صبري عبد ال‬- 2

)‫ ( من النترنت‬2000 ‫ شباط‬42 ‫على اقتصاديات الدول السلمية" في مجلة النبأ العدد‬


‫م ص‬14/3/1997 ‫الصادر بتاريخ‬603 ‫ المرجع نفسه ويشير الباحث إلى مقالة نشرت في مجلة السبوع الدبي العدد‬- 3

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explicit aim is the restoration of rooted tradition, religious fervor and/or
commitment to ethnic or national identities.(1) At the same time, we
have in recent years witnessed the growth, in very many societies in
all continents, of political movements seeking to strengthen the
collective sense of uniqueness, often targeting globalization
processes, which are seen as a threat to local distinctiveness and
self-determination.(2)

Other Muslim scholars are very fearful and apprehensive of the


concept of Globalization. They insist that it is Westernization then
Americanization of the whole world. Though such scholars do not
mention specific examples of such trend but screening the hundreds
of the T.V satellite channels one would come up with the idea that
those owners of these channels are either agents to the globalizers or
they lack goals and objectives or their only goal is to make money.
But most likely they are westernized or Americanized themselves.

Here are some of the examples of the television programs "who wins
the million?", "super star", "star academy", the match making
programs, and last but not least "the Big Brother". And would like to
mention here that the programme "the big brother" has been
suspended after two or three episodes, due to the objection of the
Bahraini public and Islamists. Some Lebanese satellite stations
adapted some American television programs that are more than thirty
years old and added to them some Lebanese or globalized taste such
1
-Thomas Hylland Eriksen, "Globalization and the politics of identity" in, UN
Chronicle, autumn 1999.

2
-ibid.

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as unnecessary presence of women with minimum clothes on them
and lots of seductive gestures.

We have been infected with the twenty four hours a day fm radios
that are established almost for some nonsense chatting between the
very naive radio broadcaster and the men and women from around
the Arab world. The shortest of the programs are those serious ones
while the program about requesting songs is two or three hours long.

Stuart Umpleby and two other scholars within the GW Center for the study
of Globalization discussed the standardization of markets across the globe,
privatization, and the spread of management methods. Umpleby's study
showed a wide gap between developing and developed countries in
relation to GDP per capita, business periodicals, Internet usage and ISO
9000 certification. (1)

True we have introduced privatization of the economy, but we have not


transmitted the idea of transparency accountability. Some of the huge firms
that have been privatized are still run by the same old bureaucratic ways.

ٍSome very optimistic scholars believe that globalization can never be a


contradictory to the national identity and will never be a replacement to it.
Globalization in this context and this conceptual understanding and in the

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- Globalization and American Hegemony: Is Globalization "Americanization" in
Disguise? GLOBALIZATION BROWN BAG SERIES Globalization and American
-Hegemony: Is Globalization "Americanization" in Disguise?
Wednesday, April 23, 2003

-1

‫" الهوية والعولمة من منظور حق التنوع الثقافي في ضوء فلسفة حوار الديان والحضارات" في موقع‬،‫محمد عادل التريكي‬
www.medinacenter.org ‫مركز المدينة المنورة لدراسات وبحوث الستشراق‬

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light of the high level of dialogue between religions and civilizations is the
only alternative left to humankind, and it will lead in the end to deepening
the mutual respect between all nations.(1)

However, some scholars feel that we have to join the forces of


globalization, because it brings with it democracy and stability and
prosperity: "globalization must be embraced because it significantly
expands the horizons of individual liberty. Muslims now want political,
economic, and social systems that better their lives, and in which they have
some say. They want a system which features majority rule, fraud-free
elections, a free independent press, protection of minority groups, equality
of secular and religious political parties, and full women's rights in
everything from the top dollar job in government to the right to have a
driving license." (2)

But do we really attain all these great benefits if we embrace globalization. I


think that instead of troubling ourselves with such ideas as joining the
forces of globalization we turn to out immediate problems such as the lack
of real freedom of thought and speech, the lack of real human dignity, and
the lack of real respect for knowledge and innovation. It seems that the
west invents or creates such terms and we spend so much time in the
Muslim word to identify these words of terms instead of doing the real work.
Instead of writing hundreds of pages defending Islam and that Islam is not
anti-globalization (or modernity, which is considered to be a by-product of
globalization) in its original sense, we have to tackle the real problem.

2
- M. Miasami " Islam and Globalization" . www.about.com
Archives > 2003 Issues > July-September 2003: Issue 43

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We should also ask is it "Globalization" that is going to bring answers to all
these questions? If we take the concept of transparency, do we really need
globalization to attain this goal? Transparency and honesty are basics
elements in the Islamic political theory and practice Qur'an criticized
Pharaon for claiming that he owns everything in the kingdom of Egypt and
the rivers of the land.(1) Islamic tenets called for the highest transparency
possible. The prophet (PBUH) sent a man to collect the zakat, when he
came back he said to the prophet this is yours ( the states') and this was
given to me as a gift). The prophet became angry and addressed the
people of Madinah:" we send the man for a chore and he comes back
saying this is yours and this was given to me as a gift, let's see if he was
staying in his parents' home whether he would be presented with any gifts.
Omar Ben Al-Kattab when appointing any man to a post he would ask him
to declare what he owns and when he resigns or asked to step down his
wealth we be evaluated. Omar shared the wealth of some prominent
companions of the prophet (pbuh).

)‫ ونادى فرعون في قومه قال يا قوم أليس لي ملك مصر وهذه النهار تجري من تحتي أفل تبصرون‬- 1

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Section II

The Muslim Identity in the face of Globalization:

In his excellent paper Adel Al-Turky tried to define the term" identity"
according to linguistic and philosophical definition saying that the
general perspective of the term does not change as it means "what
makes us differ from the others and makes us in harmony with
ourselves. Or what distinguishes the individual or the society from
others in terms of characters, values and basics.

Al-Turky summarizes that the cultural and civilizational identity of any nation
is the fixed amount and paramount and common which distinguishes a
civilization from other civilization and which makes the national personality.
(1 )

One of the main concerns of researchers and scholars about


globalization is the apprehension of how globalization may affect
Islamic Identity. This was stated in an article written by Abdul Kader
Cheref who wrote:" " One of the underlying causes of such anxiety has
been a multifaceted cultural concern: how to protect a unique heritage in
the face of global pressure while upholding Islamic traditions; to preserve
“linguistic purity;” to defend social institutions; and, ultimately, to maintain a
viable identity in the midst of a rapidly changing (2)

‫ " أي منظور لمستقبل الهوية في مواجهة تحديات العولمة؟" في موقع مركز المدينة‬.‫ عادل التركي‬-1
‫ صفحة النقاشات‬www.medinacenter.org ّ ‫المنورة لدراسات وبحوث الستشراق‬
2
- Abd-El-Kader Cheref." Globalization, Islam & Democracy " in
www.septemberhearts.com 30 November 2002

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But how what are the most effective tools for spreading the notions of
Globalizations? Some would say the economic tools such as the multi
national companies or the military might of the super powers or the
only super power (USA) which justified to some to call "Globalization"
"Americanization".

As for Multi-national companies they are the vehicle which capitalism


is using to pull the world economy towards globalization, because
these companies dominates more than third of the foreign investment
and two thirds of the international trade in field of goods and
services.(1)

Globalization as propagated by the Media and the "multi national


companies" such as Nestle, Coca Cola, Pepsi, Shell and others who
also support the media should be faced by the real understanding of
the Islamic identity and the Muslim role in this World in the field of
ethics, economics, politics and social issues.

The basic lines for the Muslim or rather the faithful established in the
Quraanic Chapter "Suratul Bagara differentiated between three types
of people: the faithful, the unbelievers and the hypocrites: The faithful
were described in five verses, while the unbelievers were described in
two verses, the hypocrites were described in thirteen verses. It is
rather outstanding that the faithful are those who believe in the
metaphysical and perform prayers and spend from what they are
given. They are unlike followers of other religions they believe in all
revealed books and they also believe in the Day of Judgment or the

.‫ مرجع سابق‬،‫ آدم‬- 1

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hereafter. Those who have these characters are those who are
guided and those are who are the successful. These five verses are
enough to give us the true picture of what a Muslim is.

The Muslim behaviour is governed by these verses and the teaching


of the prophet -peace be upon him- from the minute he rises from bed
to the minute he rests in his bed trying to sleep. A Muslim is the one
who believes that he is responsible and accountable for every deed
or word he utters, and he also believes that he is accountable for
every penny he gains or spends.

The Muslim's firm belief in the oneness of the creator and that He is
who created and who has the well to take this life, and he is the one
who is responsible for our welfare and wellbeing. This belief made the
Muslim Umma the strongest nation on earth not in military power or
materialistic might but Muslims were the best in terms of dignity of
every person living with the boundaries of this great nation. One of
the soldiers of the Muslim army attaching the Persian army was
asked to come to the presence of the Persian ruler (Kisra). When he
entered the court he immediately went to sit with kisra on his throne.
The guards tried to prevent him. He said to them first "you called for
my presence and I did not come from my own. Secondly we had an
idea that you have social equality but in fact I found that you are
enslaving one another." And added as a conclusion: such nation is
bound to collapse." To comment one might say who has taught this
soldier of Islam or this beduin this deep philosophy in rising and
decline of nations and states?

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And with all that he is required to say "Good things to people"

(ً‫ )وقولوا للناس حسنا‬He is supposed to be Mercy to the whole world. A


Muslim is required to treat nonbelievers with ( Allah does not forbid
you from showing kindness and dealing justly with those who have
not fought you about religion and have not driven you out of your
homes. Allah loves just dealers (1)

I love to mention some of the things that maybe looked at as trivial


but surely are significant in determining the character of the Muslim.
When Jaafar Ben Abi Talib was in the presence of The Ethiopian
leader Al-najashi, he was asked to enlighten the king of this new
religion. Jaafar said:" we were a nation in ignorance worshiping idols,
we ate the dead animals perform wicked deeds, unkind to our
relatives, unkind to our neighbors and the strong overwhelm the
weak. Then a prophet from amongst ourselves whom we know his
descent and honesty, he called us to leave our worshiping of what our
fathers worshiped whether they are stones or idols. He ordered us to
be honest, loyal, be good to our relatives, and neighbors. He ordered
us to abandon the forbidden and killings. He forbade us from evil
deeds, dishonesty in words and deeds."(2)

The Muslim character is governed by a great message is to be moral.


The Prophet summarized his message in the hadith saying:" I have
been sent only for the purpose of perfecting good morals" (Al-
Muwata) Then the whole body of Islam is to attain the great level of

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- ( Qur'an, 60:68) ( ‫ل ينهاكم ال عن الذين لم يقاتلوكم في الدين ولم يخرجوكم من دياركم أن تبروهم وتقسطوا‬
‫)إليهم وال يحب المقسطين‬
.62 ‫م) ص‬1999/‫هـ‬1420 ،‫ مؤسسة الرسالة‬:‫ (بيروت‬24 ‫ط‬.‫ تهذيب سيرة ابن هشام‬.‫عبد السلم هارون‬- 2

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morality. When we see the world around us deteriorating we
immediately think that morals have fallen to a very low level or even
have been superceded. Some like to think of the world in duality:
good and evil, faith and unfaith, black and white. But when we refer to
the Muslim Identity we are less fearful that he would fall a prey to the
corrupted world.

Muslim identity calls for spreading of love and kindness among


Muslims. The Prophet- May peace be upon him- denies the Muslim to
have full faith unless he loves for others what he loves for himself.(1)
Another hadith tells the Muslim not to look down at the small things of
good things even such as smiling in the face of his brother.( 2) The
Arabic phrase cannot be easily translated because it means much
more than just smiling. It describes the face of being open.

There are other things in the identity of the Muslim, he is kind to


women. One of the last advices of the Prophet peace be upon him is
that men should be kind to women. During the last sermon of the
farewell Hajj he also pressed the idea of men kindness to women.

Identity and Economics: Muslim identity in the economic sphere


calls for reasonable spending as mentioned in the characters of the
"slaves of Arrahman" "those who when spending are between the
lavish and the thrifty.(3) The hadith also stresses this point when
saying "he who spends reasonably will not face poverty"(4) And even

.‫ ل يؤمن أحدكم حتى يحب لخيه ما يحب لنفسه‬- 1

.‫ ل تحقرن من المعروف شيئا ولو أن تلقى أخاك بوجه طََلق‬- 2

(ً‫) والذين إذا أنفقوا لم يسرفوا ولم يقتروا وكان بين ذلك قواما‬- 3
.‫ما عال من اقتصد‬- 4

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more striking that being gentle to the orphan and preaches the
feeding of the poor is connected directly with believing in the
Religion(1)

A Muslim's faith is considered incomplete if he spends one night full


and his neighbor is hungry (2). Islam calls for social welfare to the
degree that you have no right to keep in your house anything beyond
your needs. This was evident when the Muslims were coming back to
Madinah from a battle when the Prophet – peace be upon him- said
that he who has extra back to look for somebody who doesn’t have,
he who doesn’t have food to give who doesn’t have food. The
narrator of the Hadith said that he mentioned many items to the
degree we felt that no one has the right to keep to himself anything
beyond his immediate needs.

To this effect the Prophet- peace be upon him- praise the tribe of
"ashairah who face hardships when in the battle or traveling by
bringing every thing they have in one place and then divide it equally
amongst themselves. The prophet added I belong to them and they
belong to me."(3)

Islam brought a great economic principal which states that people


have shared ownership in three things: fire, water and grass

)‫(أرأيت الذي يكذب بالدين فدلك الذي يدع اليتيم ول يحض على طعام المسكين‬- 1

.‫ وال ل يؤمن من بات شبعان وجاره جائع‬- 2

،‫ يقول الرسول صلى ال عليه وسلم ( إن الشعريين قوم إذا جاعوا أو كانوا في الغزو جمعوا ما عنده واقتسموه بالسوية‬- 3

)‫فأنا منهم وهم مني‬

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(Shepard's grass), where in other nations some capitalists (and in
Muslim countries run by Capitalism) own great wealth.

Islamic identity socially.

Allah has created humans in two sexes: male and female.


Globalization lead by western culture invented a new term called
"gender" to allow for the present deviations which allows the deviated
practices such as lesbianism and homosexuality. The gender became
a fixed term in the literature of the United Nations and most non
governmental documents.

Islamic society is built with great love. We have mentioned that a


Muslim does not belittle

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