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Islam and Globalization: Friends or Foes?

Question and answer details
Solomiya Yuriyvina Zinko
How do you see a connection between Islam and globalization?
Amani Aboul Fadl Farag

Salam Dear Sister,

Thank you for your question and for contacting Ask About Islam.

The attitude of Islam towards globalization cannot be apprehended, unless I can first define the term "globalization" in the light of:

1. The way globalization is supposed to be
2. The way it really is

Globalization, as it is supposed to be, is an aspect of human life that has always been there since the beginning of humanity. It corresponds with the natural human instinct and Man’s tendency towards being a "social animal". It is the tendency with which God has created Man to live on exchanging his sources and experiences with others around him, in order to achieve and realize the best chances of life.

The more civilized Man was getting, the more he widened his social circle till he reached, at some point, the global level. Therefore globalization, in its original sense, targets the narrowing of the gaps, separating between the different communities. This is by exchanging benefits in all aspects of life - economic, social, scientific and political governance. That is, as well as exchanging information, understanding each other’s values and codes of ethics and building a common ground, which defends the human nature as God has created it.

Through this understanding, the whole world becomes like a small village, where the less advanced communities can develop their capacities. In that sense also, globalization tends to be a two-way street process, which makes it possible for each community to "take" as well as to "give".

Even the most primitive societies, if we consider them in an objective way, have something to give to others. Again, my understanding of this term implies that globalization is a process that takes place through the free will of different communities.

Let us compare this vision with the way globalization actually took place, since the expansion of colonialism in the 19th century. This is along with the domination of Western powers, which became even fiercer during the post-colonialism era.

First, it has become a process that exploits natural and strategic resources, while based on only "giving" when it comes to market expansion and consumerist life styles - without offering the know how! Globalization, in its contemporary sense, has become a one-way process directed definitely from the North and West to the South and East. It has been subject of economic, political and ideological imperialist greed, which aims at accumulating wealth in the western half of the world, by marginalizing and sometimes enslaving the other half.

It is no longer an optional process, based on peoples’ free will and which allows different alternative paths of development, as much as being a compulsory policy. That is to say a policy enforced by military power, in order to control other communities through the superpowers. It does not aim at helping the less advanced and marginal economies, but rather to design their social and political spaces according to the interests of the capitalist center.

In the past, scholars and philosophers, as well as merchants, were the agents of globalization. But now, they are the politicians and economists who carry its banner! Take Iraq, Afghanistan and Latin America as examples for the modern sense of this term…

Now, let us move to the Islamic position towards globalization. Islam lays emphasis on the universal nature of its peaceful message. Allah says in Surah 49, verse 13:

{O you mankind! surely We have created you from a male and a female, and made you nations and tribes that you may know each other; surely the most honorable of you with Allah is the one among you most careful [of his duty]; surely Allah is Knowing, Aware.}

Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) also narrated a Qudsi hadith, which Allah, the All Merciful and the All Just has said:

"O My servants, I have forbidden oppression for Myself and have made it forbidden amongst you, so do not oppress one another." (Reported by Muslim)

As a matter of fact, since Islam never adopted a Machiavellian approach towards life, it has never approved exploiting others and devastating their lives, in order to gain benefits.

Even historical experience shows that Muslims tended to keep the wealth of nations within the Pax Islamica, in the boundaries of the regions where the wealth is based. In many cases, the governance depended heavily on different ethnicities and beliefs, which contributed to the Islamic civilization.

The Holy Quran is full of verses talking about oppressors and tyrants, not only being burnt in Hell-Fire, but also to be themselves the fuel of that very Hell-Fire! This should be extended in our understanding to the modern capitalist oppressors such as the multinational companies, especially the oil ones!

Islam, since its revelation, has always considered the global dimension of its call and its potential in international relations. It considered it to be an indispensable and unavoidable aspect of human societies. The prophet (peace be upon him) was directed to address the whole humanity with his message and to go beyond the political and geographical boundaries.

The Quran says in Surah 34, verse 28:

{And We have not sent thee [O Muhammad] save as a bringer of good tidings and a warner unto all mankind; but most of mankind know not.}

Also, in Surah 21, verse 107:

{And We have not sent you but as a mercy to the worlds.}

In addition, Surah 25, verse 1 says:

{Blessed is He who sent down the criterion to His servant, that it may be an admonition to all creatures.}

At the same time, the prophet (peace be upon him) was ordered to convey the message to whoever wants to embrace it and never to force anybody to believe in it. The Quran says in Surah 10, verse 99:

{And if your Lord had pleased, surely all those who are in the earth would have believed, all of them; will you then force men till they become believers?}

Allah also says in Surah 2, verse 256: :

{There is no compulsion in religion; truly the right way has become clearly distinct from error; therefore, whoever disbelieves in false deities and believes in Allah he indeed has laid hold on the firmest handle, which shall not break off, and Allah is Hearing, Knowing.}

Muslim scholars, during the Middle Ages, were keen to transfer the light of their knowledge to the entire world, even to the non-Muslims. It was without any kind of discrimination. Thus, mathematics, architecture and natural science were inspiring the enlightenment, which brought Europe out of the dark ages to establish the modern civilization, a fact no fair reason can ever deny!

Beside this "unconditioned" engagement and contribution of Muslims to human civilizations of their different eras, early Muslims learned many things from other societies. That is such as the administrative organization of the emerging Arab-Islamic state from the Persians, who were not yet Muslims at that time and the ideal organization of army from the Romans. Besides also the Aristotelian philosophy, which became the basis of the genius Muslim philosophy, which in turn was "recycled" and taken by the European Renaissance thinkers. All that endeavor of civilizational interaction took place, with an open mind and a will to share any benefits with all humanity.

Nowadays, Muslim scholars and scientists are spread all over the world to exchange their experience with the others. Islam is now becoming a leading front in emphasizing the values and ethics of humanity, in contrast with the anti-humanist imperialism.

In many circles of interfaith dialogues, alternative developmental strategies and re-framing global debates on democratic governance, Muslims are active and are defending their humanist visions. They are struggling to bring about peaceful change in their societies towards democracy and respect of civil liberties, a struggle that is not always supported by the superpowers, which prefer stability of margins-center relations, to a change that would bring about a shift towards justice and global equality!

Actually, it is a long debate, which we can only refer to quickly as we are answering your profound question.

Many Muslims are active in these networks, as well as in participating in social summits and NGOs forums to defend social and economic rights of the South and underdeveloped countries. The writer of this reply herself participated, since 1994, in many conferences and platforms to represent the Muslim views in issues related to social rights, women rights and family rights.

Unfortunately many Islamic networks do not have home pages. But, as I mentioned, many Muslims are active in the international networks of anti-globalization, though I have my own reservations on that term, as I would rather prefer to use the term alternative globalization, based on the ideas mentioned above.

I hope this helps answer your question.

Salam and please keep in touch.

Useful Links:

Global Order and Global Challenge

Quran: Global Text or Local Context?

Rising to the Global Challenge

The Universality of Islam